4 baseball players’ bizarre off-season jobs (including a burlesque dancer’s assistant!)
Baseball players catch headlines for multimillion dollar contracts, but even today many minor leaguers (and some in the majors) take off-season jobs. In the past, almost all players did. Many of those jobs read like a catalog of All-American work, from setting railroad tracks to running bowling alleys (J.G. Preston has a good sample list). But not all off-season jobs were humble and normal—these are four that were very, very weird.
1. The pitcher and burlesque clothes-catcher
Don Rudolph was a southpaw pitcher who played for four different teams, but he could catch, too. Specifically, he could catch the clothes his wife threw off stage.
Don Rudolph was married to Patricia Artae Hardwick, but on stage she was known as Patti Wagon. She was a burlesque dancer in the 1950s and 60s, and Rudolph went on the tours with her. You can learn more about her own fascinating story at this NSFW site. The couple met after Don sat through three of her shows in a row (later, he called it “love at third sight”). After marriage, he became her publicity manager and assistant, and her fame eclipsed his as she became one of the top ten strippers in the country.
As noted in the anthology Go-Go To Glory, Rudolph was more than just a cheerleader for the eclectic Patti. To the Baltimore News-Post, he said, “I see how she looks, check the routine, and see if her lipstick is the right color. Sometimes it looks too pink under certain lights.” He was proud enough of his wife’s profession that it even showed up on his Topps baseball card (albeit as a more vague professional dancer).
2. The catcher and international spy
Over the years, Morris Moe Berg has become a legendary figure, and with good reason: he was a genius catcher who also spied for the United States.
In addition to going to Princeton and Columbia Law, Berg reportedly spoke 12 languages and, of course, was still good enough to be a major league catcher. But the most notable line on his resume might be his tenure as a spy. As detailed in The Catcher Was A Spy, Berg’s considerable skills were used to national advantage. Before World War II, he did reconnaissance when he and other players traveled to Japan for an exhibition game. After that, he traveled around Europe and gathered information about German nuclear plans. In addition to playing for both the White Sox and Red Sox, Berg could also claim he’d been employed by the OSS and CIA.
3. The third baseman and gravedigger
Richie Hebner was a third baseman who notched more than 200 home runs in his major league career, as well as a lot of RBIs. In 1971, he won the World Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was also a gravedigger the entire time.
“I dug graves for 35 years with a pick axe and a shovel,” Hebner told reporter Dean Holzwarth. His family owned a cemetery in Massachusetts and, without fail, he got the job done (he once bragged that nobody ever “dug their way out”). As he told the Nashua Telegraph, “I should write a book. Dug graves for 35 years, worked at a funeral home for 10, I got 22 years in the big leagues, I have 16 years in the minor leagues. I’ve got stories and a half.”
4. The pitcher and milkman
The baseball off-season job has gone the way of the milkman, so it’s fitting that a few players would have held that job. Jim Turner was one of the most famous to deliver dairy.
Pitcher, 1940 and 1943 World Series Champion, Yankee, and milkman, Jim Turner’s family had a farm in Antioch, Tennessee, earning him the nickname Milkman Jim. Though he later became a legendary Yankees pitching coach, his 14 years in the minors gave him plenty of time to milk cows and deliver the goods himself.