Monday, April 6, 2009

Catching Up with Joey Jay, Part II

Joseph Richard Jay, born in 1935 in Middletown, Connecticut, should be a familiar name to anyone who followed National League baseball in the 1950s and 1960s. Better known as Joey Jay, he broke into the big leagues as a 17-year-old and pitched as a member of the Milwaukee Braves from 1953-1960. A trade sent him to the Cincinnati Reds, where he enjoyed his success from 1961-1966. A 21-game winner in 1961 and 1962, Jay made his lone All-Star appearance in 1961, and started and won Game 2 of the World Series against the New York Yankees. Just one win shy of 100 for his career, Jay retired in 1966 due to arm injuries after a brief stint with the Atlanta Braves. In 2008, he earned an induction into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame. A resident of the Tampa Bay area, Jay recently took some time to talk about his memorable playing career. The following is the second of a two-part interview with Joey Jay.

Q. So was it your connection with the Reds that brought you here to Tampa?

A. No, actually we moved to Tampa while I was still with the Braves. They were training in Bradenton. I can’t remember all the circumstances, but we actually lived in Lutz because we found a piece of property we liked. We went into the chicken business at the time (laughs). We were raising chickens. It just happened to work out that we already had a home nearby when I got traded to the Reds, who had their training headquarters here.

Q. In Milwaukee, you got to play with a young Hank Aaron, and when you were traded to Cincinnati, Pete Rose had just come on the scene. What are your memories of a young Pete Rose?

A. I remember him very well when he came up. Charlie Hustle! I was always impressed with his hustle. I mean he had a lot of enthusiasm and that impressed everyone. I got to play with him early in his career. I also saw Johnny Bench when he first came up. I didn’t get to play with him, but he was in our Spring Training camp. He was very impressive as a young man, and saw that the Reds had the making of a great future.

Q. You finished your career with the Braves in 1966, their first season in Atlanta.

A. Yeah, I got traded back there. I was having arm trouble and that was just a stop on the way out. I think they got me back out of sentiment, probably. The years I was in Cincinnati, I had very good success against the Braves. When we’d go to Milwaukee to play them, the writers always tried to extract some kind of story out of me that would show some bitterness. I never gave them the satisfaction, because I really did have a lot of respect for the Braves. They treated me well and a trade was just part of the business, so I never said anything bad against them. So I think that was kind of their way of paying me back by giving me that last chance. My arm was giving me a lot of trouble, and they didn’t have the sports medicine back then that they do today. I just wasn’t able to recover. So I retired at 30 years old, which was kind of young.

Q. What did you do with your life after you left baseball?

A. A bit of everything. We lived in New York, all over the country really. I’ve done different things. We raised cattle for a while. At one point, I owned a taxi cab company in West Virginia. Back then, you had to have another career. Even during the off-season, players were working on other careers. It wasn’t the pay scale they have today where you can afford to train year-round. So after I got out of baseball, I just started another life.

Q. Do you still keep up with the game today?

A. In the sense that I still watch it on television. I don’t keep in touch with the players too much. We’ve been dispersed all over the country. But baseball has a fraternity, and I belong to it. I don’t follow it as closely as I used to, but I still keep up with it. I enjoy watching the local team, the Rays. They’re a great team and very exciting. I watched them a lot last year. Cincinnati honored me with the (team) Hall of Fame induction last year, so I keep in touch with them a little bit. They offer to bring me up there occasionally for appearances and things like that. Other than that, I’m basically retired.

Q. Do you have any thoughts on the so-called “Steroid Era” of baseball? As a one-time teammate of Hank Aaron, was it hard to see his record broken in what may have been a dirty manner?

A. It’s nothing I know anything about, really. I’m not an expert in the field. I don’t know what steroids do. I know they don’t hit the ball for you. They don’t perform for you. As I understand it, they enhance your physical ability to some degree. It seems they enhance a player's strength, so I suppose that equates into hitting more home runs. I don’t really know that for a fact, though if you look at the statistics home runs have gone down now.

There are other things that are involved too. When Henry Aaron played, I don’t know what he did in the off-season, but most of us players had jobs. Now, the players train all year 'round. They can do that because of their contracts. The training and medicine available is better too. In my day, I probably could have pitched another six years with what’s available today.

There have been other controversies in baseball, such as the live ball era. There were years when the ball was dead, then all of a sudden you had a lot of home runs, so they’d accuse them of livening the ball up.

You look at the Pittsburgh Pirates. They moved the fence at Forbes Field about 30 feet in for Hank Greenberg. They called it “Greenberg’s Gardens.” Ralph Kiner ended up taking advantage of it. So there were all those things going on, but steroids are not a good thing. I don’t mean to sound like I’m glossing over it. Still, I blame the players less than I blame leadership in baseball. They should have come out more strongly against it. They either didn’t know what they were doing, or didn’t know the so-called force of steroids.

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