A chat with former Tigers great Charlie Maxwell

Charlie Maxwell, spent 15 years playing Major League Baseball, including eight with the Detroit Tigers (1955 through 1962). Nicknamed “Paw Paw” for his hometown in southwest Michigan, Maxwell also spent time with Boston, where he began his career, as well as Baltimore and the Chicago White Sox, where his playing career ended.

Maxwell was known for his defense — he had just one error in each of the 1957 and 1960 seasons and a career .988 fielding percentage — but he hit 148 homers, had 532 runs batted in and a .264 batting average. In 1959 he had 31 homers and 95 RBI.

Highlights included playing behind Ted Williams when Maxwell first came up with the Red Sox, and playing alongside a young Al Kaline when the future Hall of Famer began his career in Detroit. He lost his left-field starting job in 1961 when the Tigers signed Rocky Colavito.

The 86-year old Maxwell was a “Tiger Night” guest of the West Michigan Whitecaps earlier this summer. I had a chance to talk with the 1997 Michigan Sports Hall of Fame inductee before he threw out a ceremonial first pitch.

Q: You played behind Ted Williams in Boston and Al Kaline was just coming up when you got sold to Detroit. Did you learn anything from those future Hall of Famers?

A: When I got there (to Detroit) a guy named Jim Delsing was the left fielder and he got sick one day. I got in the lineup and they couldn’t get me out. Eventually they got rid of him. That’s the first time I really got to play. When I was in Boston all those years I didn’t get to play a lot (207 at-bats in four seasons). I got to pinch-hit a lot, but I never got a chance to play except when we got way ahead or when Williams didn’t want to play. He did show me how to play the wall (the Green Monster) in Boston. I don’t know how high that wall is (37 feet), but the top part is cement so if the ball went over your head, you had to start running toward the infield because the ball was going to sail back. But if it hit the tin part, it would come straight down to you. You had to know where the ball was going to hit so you would now which way to run.

I would throw a lot of batting practice (in Boston), too. When another team would come in and a left-hander was going to pitch, Ted would call me up and say, ‘Hey, Paw Paw, would you throw to me today to get me ready?’ I tell you, the coaches would get so mad because every ball I threw he would lose it. We only had so many balls for batting practice and when Williams would lose one (hit one out), the coaches would tell me not to do that anymore. I would throw them right down the middle about 70 miles an hour and he would just kill the ball. Just KILL it. Kaline was a right-fielder, so I didn’t do much with him. I learned more from Williams about hitting and all that stuff.

Q: Is there anything about baseball today that is different from when you played that really bothers you or troubles you?

A: The biggest thing is the pitchers. Back in my era, the pitchers got paid for wins and complete games. Like the other night when (Detroit manager Jim) Leyland took out (Justin) Verlander with a 2-0 lead in the seventh inning. In my era, that would have never happened. I played a lot of first base and I saw pitchers, that when the manager would come out of the dugout, they would tell (the manager) to ‘get back, I’ll tell you when I’m going to come out. Not you.’ Now, you’ve got somebody, the pitching coach or somebody, calling pitches. Back then, the pitcher knew what he wanted to throw and he and the catcher would get together on what they wanted to do. And there wasn’t any pitch count. The guys got paid for complete games. I don’t know how many pitches the guys threw back then. The manager didn’t really control the game as much as they do now, from what I can see. You see the catcher always looking over and somebody is always telling him what pitches to call.

Another things, we didn’t play long games back then, either. We played a lot of nine-inning games where we’d start at 7 and be done by 8:30 or 9. People would come to our games and be home early. You look at the guys know, they’re fooling with their (batting) gloves, they’re walking out of the batter’s box, they’re pulling on their pants … once we got in the batter’s box, we’d stay there.

Q: Today, players have used steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs to gain an advantage. Did you guys use anything back in the day that you used to try to gain an advantage?

A: Heck, even if they did, we didn’t have any money to buy anything anyway. We only got four dollars a day in meal money on the road. How much do you think that was going to buy. You can’t even buy a bottle of aspirin for four dollars today, can you? When we would take batting practice, we would hit four or five (balls) and we knew by then whether we had a good rhythm going or not. We wouldn’t swing at the ball, we would attack the ball. You get the bat out in front, that’s where your power is.

Q: Who were some of the characters you played with?

A: Hank Aguirre was a notoriously bad hitter (33 for 388 lifetime, a .085 batting average and just eight extra base hits). One time he got on first base and somebody got a long double and he finally made third. We had a guy named Billy Hitchcock who was the coach. Aguirre turned to Hitchcock and said, ‘You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to steal home.’ And Hitchcock says to him, ‘Why you gonna do that? It’s taken you 10 years to get this far, why do you want to spoil it?’ (Paul) Foytack was very witty, too.

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