Meet Jackie Price, the acrobatic shortstop who turned baseball into a delightful circus
Jackie Price only played for a short time in the Major Leagues -- just seven games with the Indians in 1946. But he played in the Minors for eight years and was known there as "The Clown Prince of Baseball," a nickname he shared with Al Schacht (who you may remember from this photo) and Max Patkin.
But, in the words of Bill Veeck, the nickname didn't really fit any of them.
Baseball is soaked in tradition -- I might even say it is pickled in tradition -- and one of the most inviolate of these traditions is that baseball humor has to be unfunny. This has enabled Schacht to last a long time.
Patkin and Jackie Price are usually associated together in the public mind because I brought them to Cleveland at about the same time … There is no similarity. Patkin is a comic and Price is an artist.
And if anyone should know, it was Veeck, who orchestrated some of the greatest high art/entertainment baseball has ever seen. In his autobiography, he described some of Price's athletic feats: He could throw three balls to three different players at the same time, play catch standing on his head and, like in the photo above, catch balls while strapped upside down.
But he was best known for his work at the plate. Not when it comes to actual play -- he only had 14 career plate appearances -- but for all the times he would bring a portable trapeze to batting practice, install it in the batter's box, and hang by his knees while hitting pitched balls.
Too bad it wasn't allowed in real games, because apparently that's how Price hit best:
"I hit nearly .300 this way," [said Price]. "That's better than I was ever able to do upright in my playing days."
You might imagine these were Price's only quirks … and you'd be wrong. Veeck also tells a story about Price's affinity for snakes. Allegedly he would wear his pets like the world's creepiest belts. Here's Veeck again:
Jackie was one the most identifiable men I have ever known; I mean, he was the one with the snake around his waist …
The club was on a train to make an exhibition game in California. In the diner with them were some women bowlers. Jackie was eating his grapefruit happily; the snake around his waist was resting comfortably, content with his life of usefulness and ease and the knowledge that he was loved …
All that peace was too much for [Joe] Gordon to take. He suggested to Jackie that it might be interesting to let the snake loose down the aisle. Which Jackie did. Women bowlers began to leap onto the tables and race screaming down the aisle. Men, to put it delicately, lost their appetites. The conductor, following the snake back to its source, grabbed Jackie and demanded to know his name. Jackie quite naturally told him his name was Lou Boudreau and politely requested that he be unhanded.
We're thinking the creators of a certain Samuel L. Jackson movie owe Price a debt of gratitude.