When Joe McCarthy Retired

Weary from influenza and pleurisy, Joe McCarthy walked into his colonial house on the evening of June 22, 1950 feeling a wave of relief coursing through him with the sedation that only one’s home can provide after a long trip.  Weakened by the illnesses plus the two-hour plane ride from Chicago to Buffalo, McCarthy craved the familiar quiet of his 61 acres of farmland in East Amherst, a Buffalo suburb.  It provided a psychic succor, if not a medicinal one, particularly because the illnesses prevented the 63-year-old McCarthy from leaving a Chicago hotel room for a couple of days until earlier that afternoon.  Still, he needed rest and a doctor’s attention.

Reporters were not interested in his physical or emotional health, however,  They wanted to know if McCarthy, the venerable but worn manager of the Boston Red Sox, resigned during the present road trip to play the Chicago White Sox.  Red Sox management spiced the issue by labeling the time of McCarthy’s return as indefinite.

McCarthy’s trip was difficult enough without the press questioning job security.  Frustration overwhelmed patience when McCarthy touched down at Buffalo Municipal Airport at 5:20 p.m.  The June 23, 1950 edition of the New York Times reported that McCarthy “used through the gate swinging at a photographer’s camera” while looking for his wife, Elizabeth.  A native of the Buffalo area, Mrs. McCarthy navigated the airport trip with the ease of an autopilot.  She became her husband’s mouthpiece, deflecting press speculation about her husband resigning.

The following day, McCarthy stepped down from the Red Sox helm.  Upon the suggestion, perhaps insistence of his physician, Dr. Arthur Burkel, McCarthy put his baseball career in the rear view mirror.  Stating that he was “physically tired, physically exhausted,” McCarthy anticipated more time for his hobbies of fishing and hunting during his sunset years in western New York, not a geographical area prized by retirees—unless a retiree is a western New York native.  Or married to one.  But baseball was no longer a vocational option.  Like termites chomping on wood, the pressures of managing wore down McCarthy.  After more than 40 years and thousands of innings as a minor league player, a minor league manager, and a major league manager, McCarthy could not rely on youth, adrenaline, or passion to fight another battle from the dugout.

According to the June 24, 1950 edition of the Boston Globe, Red Sox players empathized with their former leader.  “I’m a little surprised,” said Bobby Doerr.  “But then this is a nerve wracking business and I guess it was getting on Joe’s nerves.  I am happy that I was able to play for him.  He was a great manager.”

Ted Williams offered, “I’m awfully sorry to see him go but perhaps it’s the best thing because you could see it was killing him.  There was never a harsh word said between us and there were times when he could have spoken harshly to me.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on November 15, 2013.

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