As any writer knows, only a small percentage of research done on a subject ends up in the published book. That’s for the good of the reader, who deserves a well-told, gripping story, not a collection of dates and events.
But for most writers, there’s probably a piece of research they wish they could have squeezed into their books. Such was the case with me when I was writing Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball. One of the stories that I really, really wanted to include was that of Edna Dreisewerd. Try as we might, neither my editor nor I could fit the story into the book.
But now we have blogs and I’m able to publish the story online. When I did the research back in the 1990s, I had the pleasure of interviewing Clem Dreisewerd several times. The article below is printed as I wrote it back in 1993, when Clem was alive.
About to be released from military service in World War II, the 6’-2”, 202-pound pitcher was hitting fly balls to his catcher, who was chasing them down in the outfield. One ball sailed toward the 5’-4”, 100-pound catcher, soared upward, and tore the catcher’s fingernail away from the flesh, splitting the skin below.
“I got sick just looking at it,” remembers Clem Dreisewerd, the pitcher. He rushed the catcher to an emergency rom, where the nail bed required four stitches and the finger was bandaged with splints. Doctors gave the catcher pain pills, but she didn’t take them. “I took the pills,” jokes Clem. “Edna was never sick a day in her life.”
What catchers and pitchers are to one another is a complex subject. Mark Harris explored it through fiction, his Bang the Drum Slowly depicting a pitcher protective of his dying battery mate. Tim McCarver, who caught Steve Carlton for the Phillies, once remarked that when he and Steve died, they would be buried 60’6” apart. On the opposite end of the experience, pitchers and catchers have fought in the dugout following a miscalled (or mis-thrown) pitch. But the relationship between Clem and Edna was unique in baseball. During their years in the minors and majors, Edna was Clem’s friend, companion, and wife, as well as his warmup catcher.
Edna McIntosh and Clem Dreisewerd were both born in Old Monroe, Missouri, a small town near St. Louis. She was born in 1914 and spent her childhood in the smaller town of Peruque, where her father was a section foreman on the Burlington Railroad. Clem was born in 1916 and grew up on a farm, one of eleven children. Although they lived only twelve miles apart, Clem and Edna never met until 1935.
Both grew up playing baseball. Outside a one-room schoolhouse, Edna played on teams that never mustered nine to a side. Her father took her to all levels of baseball games, including major league ones at Sportsman’s Park. Clem, a hard-throwing southpaw, pitched local games whenever and wherever he could, striving for a tryout in professional baseball. During the Depression he was lucky to get a job as a section laborer with the CB & Q Railroad — partly so he could pitch for the railroad team.
When Clem was seventeen he tried out for the New York Giants during one of their St. Louis trips. The Giants promptly signed him and shipped him to their Jackson, Mississippi, club, where he pitched a 1-0 victory, allowing only two hits in twelve innings. In another game he struck out fourteen batters. At the end of the season he returned to Old Monroe, and in 1935 he again pitched in the minors.
Clem and Edna met by accident when she and two of her cousins were driving to Old Monroe and their car stalled on a cold, damp October day. In order to stay warm until one cousin arrived with help, Edna and the other cousin walked to the Dreisewerd farm, where Clem was busy cooking bacon and eggs for breakfast. This impressed Edna, who had grown up in a family where none of the men cooked. As they talked, she learned that Clem knew all about her: during the days he had worked for the railroad, Edna’s father had told Clem all about his baseball-playing daughter.
The meeting generated electricity. Clem and Edna were married on January 25, 1937, one day after his twenty-first birthday. With the temperature ten below and six inches of snow on the ground, the Dreisewerds drove to their new apartment in St. Louis. Seven weeks later, Clem reported for spring training in Florida. He rented an apartment in Pensacola and Edna joined him, ready to settle down to a baseball life. A few weeks later, Clem was told to report to Macon, Georgia. The couple immediately packed and left, realizing that the baseball life meant more moving around than it did settling down.
In Macon there was nobody to catch the new arrival. That was when Edna stepped in. “It happened by accident,” Clem remembers. “She had a finger mitt with her, a treasured possession. You wouldn’t put this mitt on a ten-year-old kid. She took out that little finger mitt and she warmed me up with it. She was so determined.”
Even though she had been playing baseball most of her young life, Edna found that catching high voltage fastballs was no breeze. “At first she just stood there,” says Clem. “She couldn’t catch anything I threw below the knees.” A catcher on the team gave Edna his old mitt and she retired her tiny glove. But she had difficulty turning the mitt down. When she did turn it down, “she wasn’t Carlton Fisk backhanding. She turned it so that the ball hit it and bounced up. One of my pitches bounced and hit her on the shin and the ball bounced all the way back to me.” Clem chuckles. “She learned fast the right way.”
Off the baseball diamond, life in the minor leagues consisted of low pay, roach-infest apartments, greasy food, long bus rides, and frequent sale of players. The Dreisewerds’ goal was for Clem to reach the major leagues — but they wanted a good life in the process. In 1938 they purchased a new car and a 21-foot-long all-steel trailer. Not only did this give them a clean mobile home, it also gave them access to land (to park the trailer on), part of which turned into a garden so they could grow vegetables.
When the baseball season of 1939 ended, Clem and Edna decided to move to New Orleans, where the weather was warm year-round. Conveniently, they parked the trailer across the street from a semipro ball park where they worked out almost every day. When he could get it, Clem did factory work for 36 cents an hour. Bobby Brown of the Yankees lived nearby, and when the Yankees sent Brown 100 new baseballs to work out with, Clem pitched batting practice to him and Edna shagged fly balls.
They hoped Clem would be called up to the majors. In 1940 he won 23 games in four months. One day he struck out sixteen players, and the next night he struck out fifteen. But the major leagues had plenty of pitchers, and they kept many a good one in the minors.
Early in his career Clem Dreisewerd pitched only fastballs, well over 90 mph. One year he led the league, racking up 195 strikeouts in 219 innings. “I was a lousy pitcher at that time,” he reflects ironically. “I was fast and they couldn’t hit me. But they learned to change their timing. I’d strike a guy out three times. The fourth time, he’d learned to swing faster and he’d hit a home run. Lots of times I lost games in the last inning. I was not a good pitcher then.”
Fast as he was, Clem never had any doubts about pitching to Edna, not even the first time. “She could handle it,” he asserts. When they were first married, they would wrestle playfully, and one day Edna challenged: “I’ll bet I can carry you.” Her husband replied that of course she couldn’t do that. “I weighed 202 pounds and she weighed 101 pounds,” he explains logically. But just in case, “I made myself as heavy as possible. But she picked me up and carried me across the room fifteen or sixteen feet.”
Clem recalls that his fastball had a hop on it. “It would jump up four or five inches.” At one point his team-assigned warmup catcher was an ex-Cub. Three times in a row his pitch hit the ex-Cub in the stomach. But Edna always caught the ball. “She got used to the rise. She was better catching than any of the ballplayers. It was a lot of fun.”
Fun is partly what Edna had in mind when she became Clem’s battery mate. As was togetherness. “Clem and I agreed from the very beginning of our marriage that we loved each other enough that somehow or other we would always be together,” she said. “I remember talking to one player whose wife was never with him, and he remarked that he thought the wife’s place was at home. Of course, I disagreed, telling him that was why Clem and I had gotten married, so we could be together.”
Having Edna for a catcher helped Clem in unexpected ways. When called to the minors again in 1941, he pitched opening day without any spring training and struck out twelve batters. “I was in shape,” he says. “Other people in higher leagues had six days of training. But I was the only one that could throw the ball. The others came in out of the snow.” Articles called Clem the best-conditioned pitcher in the business, thanks to Edna. If not for his early performance, he feels he would have once again been caught in the shuffle of pitchers. Instead, he moved from Class C to AAA that year. “My record was 15-6 that year, all because I was in shape before getting there.”
While staying in shape during one offseason, he accidentally refined his screwball. “If I hadn’t been working out with Edna,” he says, “I never would have developed it.”
The previous season Clem had injured his arm and as a result had lost his main fastball. “I was throwing the screwball sidearm. It moved sideways, not down. Then I slipped on the rubber one day in the rain. It was muddy. When I fell forward I threw the ball anyway. It hit Edna.”
“What did you do?” she asked. “The ball did something funny.”
“Hell, I fell off the damn mound.”
“The ball dropped out of sight,” she said.
Clem worked on duplicating the pitch that dropped out of sight. Eventually, it got him into the majors.
During the offseason of 1941-42, Edna and Clem had a daughter, Karen. Five weeks after giving birth, Edna was back to catching. Karen grew up in a trailer in the minor leagues and, finally, the majors.
In 1944, his eleventh year in the minors, Clem was pitching in the Pacific Coast League. He had a 20-9 record with Sacramento when the Boston Red Sox bought his contract and called him up. He had always maintained he wouldn’t fly, but according to Edna, “when they gave him his plane ticket to join the Red Sox in Philadelphia, he didn’t offer any objections. . . . he would have flown even without a plane!”
After Clem won the first game he pitched for the Red Sox (against the Yankees, 8-1), newspaper reporters praised his pitching and quipped that it had taken him ten years to go from the Polo Grounds to Yankee Stadium. “I can still remember my feeling of pride as I read the article and realized that our diligent efforts had paid off,” remembered Edna.
While Clem flew from California to Massachusetts, Edna and Karen made the trip by car to St. Louis, then took a train to join Clem when the Red Sox were in Cleveland. Naturally Edna warmed him up. When Clem pitched to Ted Williams in practice, Edna would catch in the outfield. You might say she got to “catch” Ted Williams, too.
After finally making the major leagues, Clem Dreisewerd, 29 years old, was drafted and inducted into the Navy. This occurred in 1945, after V-E Day. “He had been inducted with mostly seventeen-year-olds,” remembered Edna, “and they stood watching him get his haircut, saying ‘He’s a big-league baseball player; you can’t cut his hair short.’” In revenge, the military barber sheared it even shorter than usual. Clem was scheduled to be shipped to Guam, but before that happened news of the Japanese surrender arrived and he was shipped instead to Pensacola.
His military service over, Clem became mainly a relief pitcher in the majors, hurling for the Red Sox, the Browns, and the Giants. Bouncing between the majors and minors, appearing in 46 major league games from 1944-48, he played in the 1946 World Series for Boston against St. Louis. In a brief relief appearance he struck out Enos Slaughter after Slaughter had collected four straight hits in the fourth game of the Series.
For seventeen years the Dreisewerds were part of professional baseball. From 1934-49 Clem pitched for 21 different teams. In 1944 he led the Pacific Coast League with a 1.61 ERA, and in 1947, playing for Louisville, he led the American Association with a 2.15 ERA. He even played briefly in Caracas, Venezuela. Edna and Karen joined him, naturally.
Then: “I tore my muscle loose from my shoulder blade. It’s a rotator cuff deal. Now they sew it back on. I got hurt one day and they released me the next day without pay.” In 1950, at the age of 33, Dreisewerd retired from baseball. He had never made more than $12,000 in any one year playing ball, but he and Edna had saved all his bonuses. Retiring the trailer as well as themselves, they built a house in New Orleans. “We lived in it for four years, sold it, and made $8,000 profit. We figured we could make good money doing this.”
From building houses they progressed to building a 28-unit apartment building in 1960. Edna managed the complex for eleven years, then announced: “I’ve had enough of it. I’m going to quit.” According to Clem she sat around for three months and then one day declared she was going to write a book.
“She got all the clippings down out of the attic,” he remembers. “There were four boxes of them. She lined them all up. She typed up the book as she thought it. It took her three years to write.” Quite naturally the book delineated the experience central to Edna’s life with Clem. The Dreisewerds paid to have The Catcher Was a Lady published in 1978. When the publisher did nothing to promote the book, they bought the copies back and eventually sold them all.
Clem describes himself and Edna as “great companions.” They worked hard, but not all the time. They took cruises. “Edna loved them dearly. We took time off, enjoyed ourselves.”
In 1971 the St. Louis Cardinals held a 25th Anniversary reunion of all who had played in the 1946 World Series against the Red Sox. There Edna Dreisewered was one of only two women introduced by Joe Garagiola, who reminded the audience she had caught for Clem during his playing days.
During 52 years of marriage, Edna McIntosh Dreisewerd never even had a headache. Then she developed pancreatic cancer. “She couldn’t lick it,” says Clem. Edna died on May 24, 1989. The Sporting News ran an obituary and Clem received 240 letters of condolence from ballplayers. “She was highly respected,” he says, “and well liked.”
He reflects on his battery mate. “She was not hard to look at over the breakfast table. What a wonderful life we had.”
In Barbara Gregorich’s She’s on First, the shortstop is not a lady — but she is a woman.