Primary Positions: Third base, left field
Birthplace: Granite Quarry
Full Name: Vernon Adair
Date of Birth: Sept. 19, 1924 Date and Place of Death: Jan. 20, 2014, Granite Quarry
Burial: Rowan Memorial Park, Rowan
High School: Granite Quarry High School
College: Catawba College, Salisbury
Bats: L Throws: R Height and Weight: 5-11, 180
Debut Year: 1943 Final Year: 1953 Years Played: 5
Teams and Years: Philadelphia Athletics, 1943, 1946; St. Louis Cardinals, 1951-53
G AB H R RBI HR BA. OBP. SLG. WAR
55 104 21 17 12 3 .202 .291 .356 +0.1
Vern Benson was a baseball lifer. Though he only appeared in 55 games over a sporadic five-year career in the major leagues, Benson devoted his life to the sport, spending more than half a century as a player, coach, scout, and minor-league manager. He was also perfect during his short but odd tenure as a big-league skipper.
Vernon Adair Benson grew up in Granite Quarry in Rowan County, the younger son of William and Ruth Benson. In a 1946 questionnaire, he credited his parents for turning him into a ballplayer by allowing him to play instead of requiring him to find a job during the Depression.
He played baseball and basketball at the local high school and for the American Legion. He entered Catawba College in nearby Salisbury in 1942. Playing only baseball, Benson set a school record with 16 consecutive games with a run scored. He would be inducted into the school’s sports hall of fame as part of its second class in 1978.
Connie Mack, the owner and manager of the Philadelphia Athletics, was looking for wartime replacements when he signed Benson on July 29, 1943. The 18-year-old made his major-league debut two days later at Shibe Park as a pinch hitter.
But Benson was drafted a few days later and spent two years at Fort Bragg playing ball for the army before being shipped to France.
He returned to the Athletics in 1946 but made it into only seven games, four as a pinch runner. At his request, Benson was sent back to the minors in May so that he could play regularly. He wouldn’t resurface in the majors for another five years.
After his best year as a pro in 1951 — .308-18-89 with 111 walks – for the St. Louis Cardinals’ Class A team in Columbus, Ohio, Benson was a late-season call-up. He appeared in 13 games and hit his first major-league homer. He played sporadically for the Cardinals during the next two seasons before retiring from active play in 1953.
Benson began coaching in the minor and winter leagues the following year and took his first major-league coaching job with the Cardinals in 1961. He was on the coaching staff when the team won the World Series four years later.
For the next two decades, Benson coached for the four big-league clubs and even took a spin as a manager. That was 1977 for the woeful Atlanta Braves. The team had lost 16 in a row when new owner Ted Turner told manager Dave Bristol to take a few days of vacation told and donned a uniform to skipper the team. “Our attitude was, anything goes that’s legal and acceptable,” Bob Hope, the Braves public-relations director at the time told a newspaper reporter in 2015. “We didn’t have a great team and couldn’t compete financially, so we’d always say we have to keep the smoke going after the fire goes out.”
It didn’t help. The Braves lost again.
Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn stepped in, ruling that Turner couldn’t manage again because of rules against a manager having a financial interest in a club.
Coach Benson was quickly pressed into service for a game until Bristol could return to the team. The Braves won, and Benson retired as an undefeated manager.
He left coaching entirely in 1981 and returned to Granite Quarry where he worked from home for 15 years as the Cardinals’ scouting supervisor for North and South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.
Benson had married Rachael Lyerly in 1946. They had two daughters and a son. They had been married for almost 61 years when she died in April 2008. Benson followed her six years later at age 89.
“I was in the game 56 years and I never missed a payday,” he had told an interviewer a few years earlier. “I never made much money, but just about every year was enjoyable.”