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Original Issue

A Mailman Moves a Mountain

Baseball Commissioner Landis once backed down on one of his edicts because of a friendship between Joe Judge and an obscure postman

Joe Judge was a small man (5 feet 8½ inches, 155 pounds), yet he spent 17 consecutive seasons with the Washington Senators, batted over .300 nine times and was considered one of the finest fielding first basemen ever to play in the major leagues.

Judge started his baseball career as a left-handed shortstop for the Yorkville Orients, a fast semi pro team in the Yorkville section of New York City. "It never dawned on me that I was one of the rare southpaws in the country playing short," Judge said before his recent death. "And I probably would be the only 67-year-old, left-handed shortstop in creation today if it hadn't been for Bud Hannah."

Hannah, a neighborhood mailman, used to pause in his rounds every day to watch the Orients work out and was quick to spot the talents of the skinny kid called "Josie" at short.

"One day Hannah called me over," Judge said, "and told me I was wasting my time playing short, that a left-hander could never play that position in the big leagues—and I had my heart set on making it to the bigs even then. He told me to get myself a first baseman's mitt and start practicing with it.

"Well, I was a poor kid and I told him the finger glove was all I was likely to own in the way of baseball equipment for years to come. And that ended the conversation."

But the next day Hannah was back at the field. He called Judge over and handed him a box, saying, "This is for you, kid. Use it well."

"Inside was the most beautiful first baseman's mitt I've ever seen, before or since," said Judge. "I don't know how he could afford it. Mailmen didn't get much in those days. It must have set him back a week's pay."

Judge immediately started putting that mitt to good use, as Hannah had urged, and it was not long before scouts for the Giants, Dodgers, Senators, Indians and Red Sox were casually dropping by the East Side ball field to take a look at the kid first baseman. Judge signed with Boston in 1914 and was on his way to the majors.

"I played at Buffalo for a while with Joe McCarthy [the old Yankee manager] who was our second baseman," Judge said, "and then I was sold to Washington toward the end of the 1915 season. I never forgot Bud Hannah, though, when I got to the majors."

Judge always left a pair of tickets for Hannah whenever Washington came in to New York to play the Yankees. "Before each game I would walk over to Hannah's box, shake hands with him and maybe have our picture taken together. He got a big kick out of it, and whatever friend he brought with him would be greatly impressed. It was little enough after all he had done for me."

Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the Commissioner of Baseball, did not look at it that way. Because of the Black Sox scandal he had forbidden ballplayers to converse with anyone in the stands, hoping that cloistered ballplayers would be free of temptation and unlikely to meet gamblers and other undesirables.

"I picked up a paper one day in 1921 and read that I had been fined $50 for talking to someone in the stands," Judge said. "If you played ball for Washington in those days you looked on $50 as a princely sum."

The next time the Senators came in to face the Yankees Judge left the usual tickets for Hannah but failed to walk over and pay his respects before the game. "Gee, I was embarrassed," Judge said. "Hannah kept calling to me, and I guess he had been bragging to his pal that he knew me. But I was afraid to go near him. I thought Landis might suspend me."

The next day Judge left tickets again but Hannah did not show up. He was absent again the third day, nor did he arrive for the fourth and final game of that series. Judge began to brood. "I had been hitting about .325 all season," he said, "and then my average fell down around .260. I couldn't buy an extra base hit."

The slump continued throughout the Senators' home stand. Judge thought of writing to Hannah, but how does one explain to a decent, hard-working postman that he is not considered a fit person to be associated with a ballplayer?

Washington came back to New York some weeks later with Judge still in the worst slump of his career. Hannah's box was again empty for the opening game of the series. Finally, unable to stand the embarrassment any longer, Joe went to Washington Owner Clark Griffith and explained the whole situation.

Griffith nodded and smiled. Then he said, "Joe, my boy, you get that man, Hannah, out to this ball park tomorrow if you have to drag him. Then go over and talk to him all you want before the game. Have your pictures taken if you wish. I'll worry about Judge Landis."

Judge called for Hannah at his home and explained matters as best he could on the way to the ball park. Hannah's boss went with them, greatly impressed. At the park Judge paused for a long chat with both of them and had a newspaper friend take some pictures. He gave them each an autographed ball.

The next day Landis fined him $100. Griffith paid the fine. Judge talked to Hannah again before game two. Another $100 fine. Griffith paid up once more. "I talked with Bud Hannah before every game for the rest of that season—and finished above .300," Judge said.

Griffith tried to explain to Landis the wonderful appreciation Judge had for Hannah's early efforts in his behalf, but the Commissioner said he could make no exceptions. He continued to fine Judge the next season, and Griffith continued to pay the fines.

"Then the fines just stopped," Judge said, "I guess Landis finally got tired of the whole thing. Besides, if he had ever suspended me the publicity would have made him look bad." Judge played in the majors until 1934 and, despite Landis' chagrin, shook hands with Bud Hannah every time he came to New York.