After foolishly quitting the game in 1960, I definitely had some serious regrets. Most of my time in the next two years was spent at the racetrack. You see my love for racehorses had always been with me, since I was a little kid. My dad started taking me to the track and I had an uncanny knack of picking winners. Don’t laugh, most of my success as an adult revolved around my knowledge of the horses.
But, let’s get back to baseball. It took two years to obtain my release from the Dodgers. In 1962, one day a blue piece of paper arrived in the mail with the news that I was no longer blackballed. I was 25 now. Was it to late to try again? I posed the question to my best friend Isaac Berger. Isaac was a famous Olympic Champion in weightlifing from Israel. Could I get back in shape to compete. Isaac said ” Let me train you for 6 months and I’ll have you in the best shape of your life. ” Every day I followed a punishing schedule of weight training, running and batting practice. After a few months I moved to California and continued to work hard. My fortunes were looking up when I connected with the Milwaukee Braves in the Instructional League. This is a place where young players can stay sharp during the winter.
Our first game was against the Angels in Anaheim. I batted third and played first base. I was a little concerned, since I hadn’t faced live pitching in almost three years. The result was encouraging. I got three hits in the game and played errorless ball at first base. The next game was scheduled against the N.Y. Mets in Inglewood. My coaches were happy with me and my prospects for making it back were excellent. Little did I know what was in store for me.
When I took the field that fateful day, it never occurred to me, this would be the last day I would wear a Major League uniform. Before the game we usually took infield practice and I went to my regular position at first base. Everything went normally until the last throw I had to make to third base. The coach hit me a grounder. I picked it up and as I completed the throw, there was a sharp pain in my elbow. At first I ignored it, but when I came to bat in the first inning, the pain was so severe, I couldn’t swing properly. The coaches removed me from the game and sent me home. The next day they made an appointment for me with the orthopedic specialist for the Los Angeles Rams, Dr. Daniel Leventhal.
The rest of the story is very cut and dried. Dr. Leventhal took several x-rays and when he was finished, he found bone chips in my elbow. With no arthroscopic surgery available in the 60′s, he gave me two choices. Operate now and miss another year or play with the pain and have surgery after the season. Neither choice made sense. I mulled it over for a couple of minutes and then realizing my situation, I said to the Dr. ” If I really hurry, I can make post time at Santa Anita. ” I never looked back and as one career abruptly ended, my next career in racing began…