Narron, Sam

Position: Catcher
Birthplace: Emit (Johnston County)

First, Middle Names:  Samuel Woody
Date of Birth:  Aug. 25, 1913  Date and Place of Death: Oct. 31, 1996, Raleigh, NC
Burial: Antioch Baptist Church, Middlesex, NC

High School: Wakelon School, Zebulon, NC
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: R Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-10, 180
Debut Year: 1935        Final Year: 1943          Years Played: 3
Team and Years: St. Louis Cardinals, 1935, 1942-43

Career Summary
G          AB       H          R          RBI       HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
24        28       8          0          1            0          .286     .310     .286      0.0

 

Sam Narron expected to be paid $125 a month after signing his first professional baseball contract with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1934. He could use the money. Though only 20, he was the head of his family after the death of his elderly father. He had a mother and three siblings to care for back on the farm in Johnston County, North Carolina. This was his first job that paid real money, at least while the baseball season lasted.

He found himself in Albany, Georgia, to start the following season, however, catching and playing third base in a Class A league. His monthly pay was cut $35, but Narron didn’t squawk. He vowed instead to improve and convince his coaches that he deserved a promotion to a higher and better-paying league.

The famed tightwad Branch Rickey took notice. No one could squeeze a dollar harder than the Cardinals’ general manager, particularly if it was meant for one of his players. “Rickey believes in economy in everything except his own salary,” a sports columnist at the time quipped.[I] He could also be a bible-thumping moralist who regularly raged against the evils of Communists, liberals, and liquor. He had a fondness for oratorical excesses that could, noted The New York Times’ venerable Arthur Daly, make a hitter’s batting line sound like the Gettysburg Address. As a baseball executive, however, Branch Rickey was a man far ahead of his time, a pioneering innovator in an industry of plodding money men. With the Cardinals, he remade baseball by building the first modern minor-league system. With the Brooklyn Dodgers a decade later, he helped reshape America by bringing Jackie Robinson to the major leagues. In his players he valued loyalty above all else, and in Sam Narron, Rickey believed he had found a loyal man.

When minor-league play ended in 1934, Rickey promoted Narron to the big club for the final three weeks of its season. That the burly farm boy had led the Georgia-Florida League with a .349 batting average was a powerful recommendation, but his bat apparently wasn’t needed in St. Louis because Narron appeared in only four games. He was, however, paid $100 a week. “Nobody told Sam Narron that Branch Rickey had given him that $300 September assignment with the Cardinals as a reward for having a fine disposition in the spring,” wrote a St. Louis sports columnist. “But it actually was that.”[II]

From then on, Rickey looked after Narron. He was the one who had suggested that he switch positions from third base to catcher to improve his opportunities in the big leagues. Though he made the switch, Narron remained in the minors for most of his playing career, but Rickey brought him back up as the third-string catcher on two pennant-winning Cardinals’ teams in the early 1940s. Narron followed Rickey to Brooklyn, New York, where he became the Dodgers’ bullpen catcher after he retired as a player. He ended his career as the Pirates’ bullpen chief when Rickey moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In both places, he coached on pennant-winning teams.

Though his major-league playing career consisted of a mere 24 games spread over three seasons, Narron could count more than 30 years in professional baseball when he finally returned to the family farm for good. He raised tobacco and became a baseball ambassador. In retirement, he was a tireless promoter of the sport, especially in Eastern North Carolina, where he spoke at meetings of hot-stove leagues and attended high-school, American Legion, and college games, proudly showing off his World Series rings. If a guy like him could wear one, he’d tell the kids, so could they if they worked at it. Having a benefactor like Branch Rickey somehow didn’t figure into those inspirational bromides.

Narron’s kin seemed to provide living examples of dedication’s fruits. His son, also named Sam but called Rooster, played in the minor leagues. His grandson, another Sam, pitched briefly in the majors before becoming a pitching coach. His nephew, Jerry, also a catcher, played eight years in the majors and managed for five more. Since the mid-1930s, seven other family members played organized ball, making Sam Narron the patriarch of one of North Carolina’s most-prolific baseball families.

Most of his people came from Emit, a farming community in northeastern Johnston County. Middlesex, about six miles up the road in neighboring Nash County, is the closest place of any size and where the mail was likely postmarked. Baseball references can be forgiven, then, for mistakenly listing it as Narron’s birthplace.

He was the youngest of five kids. Their father, Troy, was 50 when he married their mother, Rachel, who was half his age. He was 65 when Narron was born and he died when the boy was 11.

Like his older siblings, Narron worked in the family’s tobacco fields and grew into a stout teenager by the time he attended Wakelon School in nearby Zebulon, North Carolina, in the early 1930s.[1] He played baseball, basketball, and football at the high school and would in old age fondly recall the boys changing into their uniforms before games at Kermit Corbett’s barbershop downtown.

Annie Rose Southerland was one of those beloved teachers that all schools at the time seemed to cultivate. According to Narron’s later telling, she recognized that the boy could play and in 1934 wrote a letter to Rogers Hornsby to tell him so. Hornsby was, at the time, with the St. Louis Browns, at the end of an illustrious 17-year career that would earn him a berth in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. More importantly to Southerland, Hornsby was a parttime instructor at the Ray Doan Baseball School in Hot Springs, Arkansas, then the place where several big-league teams went to get in shape each spring.[2]  Schools that employed big leaguers to instruct kids who aspired to professional careers weren’t uncommon in the towns where the teams trained. They would proliferate when spring training later shifted to Florida.

Hornsby replied that the school would welcome her former student. “I shall always be indebted to Miss Southerland,” Narron said more than 20 years later. “It was through her inspiration and help that made it possible for me to attend the Ray Doan Baseball School. She truly had a hand in helping to shape my future.”[III]

No scholarship offer came with the letter, however, and Narron didn’t have the tuition money. His former classmates, though, came to his aid. “Oh, they were great. They got together and began to play benefit basketball games,” he remembered. “The proceeds went to help pay for my tuition at the baseball school. I shall always be grateful to these fellows.”[IV]

With the donated tuition money in his pocket, Narron stuck out his thumb in the spring of 1934 and hitchhiked the 600 miles to Little Rock. He did well enough at the school to attract the attention of a Cardinals’ scout, who invited Narron to a tryout camp in Greensboro, North Carolina. The team signed him to that first contract after his performance there and sent him that summer to play with its farm team in Martinsville, Virginia.

After his reward callup to St. Louis a year later, Narron was warming up a pitcher on September 15 when Bill DeLancey, the Cardinal’s starting catcher and a fellow Tarheel, ran out to the bullpen to fetch him. Manager Frankie Frisch wanted him to pinch hit. Narron made his debut that inning against the New York Giants’ future Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell. “I was so nervous, excited and scared that I would have probably swung if Hubbell had made a pick-off attempt toward first base,” he remembered.[V] He grounded out.

Desperate to fill the roster hole created when DeLancey had to unexpectedly leave the team because of a lung ailment, the Cardinals had all their catching prospects in training camp before the 1936 season. Among them were Narron and Cap Clark, a North Carolinian from Alamance County. An emergency appendectomy in March dashed any hope Narron may have had in making the team, and its lingering effects limited him to just 57 games that season for the Cardinals’ farm club in Sacramento, California.

He spent the next five seasons in the minor leagues, including a summer playing for the Tourists in Asheville, North Carolina. Rickey called him up to the majors in June 1942 to be the third-string catcher on a team heading for a pennant. Though he appeared in only 10 games and not at all in the World Series, his teammates voted him a full winning share of $6,192.53. Narron also spent much his time in the bullpen the following season as the Cardinals won 105 games and cruised to another pennant. He did get into the Series that year, appearing as a pinch hitter in Game 4, a 2-1 loss to the New York Yankees.

The Cardinals assigned him to their farm club in Columbus soon after the Series, but Narron chose to retire instead. He spent the following season at home on the farm raising tobacco.

Rickey had left the Cardinals at the end of the 1942 season to become the president and general manager of the Dodgers. He signed his old catcher in 1945, and Narron spent three seasons in the minors before retiring as an active player in 1949 and becoming the team’s bullpen coach and catcher. He did the same for the Pirates after Rickey became their general manager in 1951. He retired for good in 1964 with 28 at bats in the major leagues but with four appearances in the World Series – two as a player with the Cardinals and two as a coach, one with the Dodgers in 1949 and other with the Pirates in 1960.

He put that all behind him and returned to Emit. That’s where his roots were, where he and his wife, Susie, raised their two children. He got back to growing tobacco and started promoting the sport that made him who he was. He suffered from Alzheimer’s late in life and died of congestive heart failure in 1996.

Two years later, the family started a scholarship fund and an awards program in his honor. The Sam Narron Award has been given each year since to the Johnston County high-school player who best exhibits the skills, desire, and determination needed to succeed in baseball. Some scholarship money accompanies the award.

“He was a baseball purist,” a prep coach who knew Narron noted upon his death. “He had great faith in young people and continued to follow the game and teach it as he thought it should be.”[VI]

Footnotes
[1] Wakelon School opened in 1908, one of the nearly 3,000 schoolhouses built in North Carolina in the first decade of the 20th century as part of Gov. Charles B. Aycock’s crusade for public education. The town later used the handsome brick-and-stone building as an elementary school. A drug manufacturer bought the building in 1986 and used it for office space. Voters in 2007 approved repurchasing Wakelon for a new town hall. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
[2] Ray Doan, a sports promoter, ran the school, also known as the All-Star Baseball School, in Hot Springs, AR, from 1933-38. Some baseball players were instructors, including Hall of Famers Dizzy Dean, Burleigh Grimes, Grover Cleveland Alexander, and Rogers Hornsby. At the height of its popularity, the school attracted as many of 200 students a year. Doan moved the school to Mississippi and then to Florida where it eventually faded amid the abundance of similar schools. Critics charged that schools like Doan’s merely pocketed tuition fees from teens with big dreams but little talent. Sam Narron is the only school attendee who made it to the major leagues.

References
[I] McCue, Andy. “Branch Rickey.” The Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/branch-rickey/.
[II] Stockton, J. Roy. “Extra Innings.” St. Louis (MO) Post-Dispatch, February 9, 1936.
[III] “Earpsboro Scribblin’s.” Zebulon (NC) Record, July 19, 1955.
[IV] Ibid.
[V] Futrell, Brownie. “The Gas House Gang Rides Again in Tar Heel Memory.” Washington (NC) Daily News, September 11, 1973.
[VI] Ham, Tom. “Baseball Loses Fine Ambassador.” Wilson (NC) Daily Times, January 3, 1997.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hamby, Jim

Position: Catcher
Birthplace: Wilkesboro

First, Middle Names: James Sanford             Nickname: Cracker
Date of Birth:  July 29, 1897   Date and Place of Death: October 21, 1991, Springfield, IL
Burial: Camp Butler National Cemetery, Springfield, IL

High School: Undetermined
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-0, 170
Debut Year: 1926       Final Year: 1927          Years Played: 2
Team and Years: New York Giants, 1926-27

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
22        55        10        6          5          0          .182     .274     .218     -0.5

The only player from Wilkes County to make it to the major leagues, Jim Hamby appeared in 22 games over two seasons for the New York Giants. Though his big-league career was forgettable, Hamby was a respectable catcher during his 12 years in the low minor leagues. He retired to Springfield, Illinois, where he worked in a brewery. He was among the oldest former major leaguers when he died in 1991 at age 94.

Hamby was born in 1897 to a large farm family near Wilkesboro. He was the fifth of Jackson and Julianna’s nine children. All but one was a boy.

He was inducted into the Army in September 1918 and likely did his basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. World War I ended before he completed training, and he was discharged in December.

Fueled by the phenomenal growth of its tobacco and textile industries, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was booming when Hamby moved there in 1921. According to the census that year, he lived in a boarding house and worked at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the largest tobacco manufacturer in the world and the city’s biggest employer.

Hamby played his first professional baseball two years later when he hit .278 in 33 games for the Twins, the city’s entry in the Class C Piedmont League. He was the starting catcher by 1923, when he led the league with a .332 average. He continued his torrid hitting as he moved up the lower minor league — .301 for Rocky Mount, Virginia, in 1925 and .332 for Norfolk, Virginia, the next season. Somewhere along the way, he picked up the nickname Cracker, a common moniker for any rural player, especially those from the South.

Looking for catching help, John McGraw, the manager of the Giants, signed him, and Hamby made his major-league debut on Sept. 20, 1926. He went hitless in three at bats and, worse, made two errors behind the plate. That was the only game he played that season. McGraw, though, had him back the next year, though, as his backup catcher. Hamby appeared in 22 games and hit .192. McGraw had seen enough. He shipped him back to the minors.

He played six more years in the low minors before injuries forced his retirement in 1933 at age 35. In almost 1,000 games over a dozen minor-league seasons, he hit .300 and was considered a solid defensive catcher.

Springfield was one of his many stops. He played for the city’s Senators in 1929 and ’30 and may have met and married a local woman, though no online records exist. In the 1940 census, though, Hamby is listed as a widower living with his brother-in-law and working at a brewery. He later married Julia Hamby. There are no records that he had children.

 

 

 

Watlington, Neal

Positions: Catcher, pinch hitter
Birthplace: Yanceyville

First, Middle Names: Julius Neal
Date of Birth:  Dec. 25, 1922  Date and Place of Death: Dec. 29, 2019, Yanceyville
Burial: Yanceyville Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Yanceyville

High School: Bartlett Yancey High School, Yanceyville
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-0. 195
Debut Year: 1953       Final Year: 1953          Years Played: 1
Team and Year: Philadelphia Athletics, 1953

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
21        44        7          4          3          0        .159     .213     .182     -0.3

Neal Watlington went off to war in 1943. Unlike other ballplayers of his generation, Watlington actually fought the enemy. He didn’t play ball to entertain the troops. He was one of them who slogged through France and Germany. He went back home to Yanceyville in Caswell County when it was all over with a Purple Heart for wounds he would always pass off as mere “nicks.” He later played a few weeks in the big leagues and then settled in to become a pillar of his hometown. He died in 2019, a few days past his 97th birthday, as one of the oldest-living ballplayers.

Born on Christmas Day in 1922, Julius Neal Watlington was the only son among Julius and Laura’s seven children. As a teenager, he worked in his father’s general store and played baseball and football for the local high school.

He signed his first professional baseball contract with the Mayodan, North Carolina, Millers of the Class C Bi-State League. “Back in 1941 when I was 17 and just out of high school, a team of the old Bi-State League ran out of catchers,” Watlington explained later. “They asked if I’d catch a few games. I caught two games, got my release and forgot about it. So did everybody else. But a couple of years ago somebody went through some records, discovered those two games and added six years to my career.”[I]

That career was interrupted by war. Watlington joined the Army in 1943 and arrived in Europe with the 89th Infantry Division two years later. He spent six months on the front driving a Jeep and operating a machine gun as the division fought its way from northern France into Germany. He was hit in the hands and head by artillery shrapnel but told an interviewer in 1953 that the wounds were “nothing worth talking about.” Patched up, Watlington was wounded again but never applied for a second Purple Heart. “What do I need two for?” he once told his son.

Stuart Watlington, his only child who became a lawyer in Yanceyville, once offered to take his elderly father to Europe to revisit the battlefields. “I was so glad to get home,” Watlington said, “why would I want to go back?”[II]

When he arrived home in 1946, he worked at Caswell Knitting Mills in Yanceyville and played amateur baseball. A local fan recommended him to New York Giants’ scout Herb Brett, who signed him a year later to play with the Giants’ Class C Danville, North Carolina, Leafs. He hit .328 with 21 doubles and was one of the team’s offensive leaders.

Watlington was also the pride of Yanceyville. The local Rotary Club sponsored a Neal Watlington Night in Danville and hundreds of his Caswell County neighbors showed up to present him with a pocket watch.

He spent the next five years playing for the Giants’ Triple A farm clubs. He was a tobacco auctioneer in the offseasons and delighted his teammates with demonstrations.

The Philadelphia Athletics acquired Watlington before the start of the 1952 season. Manager Jimmy Dykes called him up from the Class AAA club in Ottawa, Canada, when the starting catcher, Joe Astroth, was injured in the middle of the season. The 30-year-old rookie debuted on July 12 against the Boston Red Sox and singled in his first at bat against Hal “Skinny” Brown, a Greensboro, North Carolina, native.

Watlington appeared in only 21 games and was used mostly as a pinch hitter, ending his only big-league season with a .159 batting average. “Both [Ray] Murray and Astroth only hit .250 in the big leagues, but both of them hit in the .290s that season,” he explained. “Both of them had good years, and there just wasn’t any place for me. You can’t get a better batting average by pinch-hitting.”[III]

After five more years as a solid Class AAA catcher, Watlington retired from baseball in 1958 and returned home to run the department store that he and his wife, Katherine, had bought five years earlier. Watlington’s on the Square was a downtown fixture for more than 50 years.

During that time Watlington became one of the most-respected men in town. He coached youth baseball teams and was the president of the Rotary Club, a board member of the Chamber of Commerce, an elder at the Yanceyville Presbyterian Church, and a charter member of the local Veterans of Foreign War post.

At 75, Watlington decided to plant a few fruit trees in his back yard. Within two years, he planted more than 200 apple, peach and pear trees and worked the orchard until his late 80s.

At the time of his death, he and Katherine had been married for 67 years. She died about six months later.

References
[I] Obituary: Neal Watlington (1922-2019).” RIP baseball, https://ripbaseball.com/2020/01/06/obituary-neal-watlington-1922-2019/
[II] Ibid.
[III] Diunte, N. “Neal Watlington, Former Philadelphia Athletics Catcher Dies at 97.” Baseball Happenings, January 6, 2020, https://www.baseballhappenings.net/2020/01/neal-watlington-former-philadelphia.html

 

DeLancey, Bill

Position: Catcher
Birthplace: Greensboro

First, Last Names: William Pinkney
Date of Birth:  Nov. 28, 1911 Date and Place of Death: Nov. 28, 1946, Phoenix, AZ
Burial: St. Francis Catholic Cemetery, Phoenix, AZ

High School: Bessemer High School, Greensboro
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-11, 185
Debut Year: 1932       Final Year: 1940          Years Played: 4
Team and Years: St. Louis Cardinals, 1932, 1934-35, 1940

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
219      598    173      79        85        19       .289     .380     .472     4.0

At age 22, Bill DeLancey was a promising rookie and a fiery leader on the famed Gas House Gang that won a World Series. At 23, he was bed-ridden in a hospital and wracked with pain from a serious lung disease. At 35, he was dead.

Everyone who saw DeLancey play during his brief major-league career agreed that he was one of the game’s best young catchers. The kid had it all: a potent bat, a powerful throwing arm and the leadership skills that can’t be taught. “The greatest young catcher baseball ever looked at,” Frankie Frisch, DeLancey’s manager on the St. Louis Cardinals, told Grantland Rice, the legendary sportswriter. “Another Dickey, Cochrane or Hartnett. Maybe better.”[1][I]

William Pinkney DeLancey was born in 1911 to a large Irish family that eventually numbered 14 children. His parents, William and Rosa, ran a boarding house in Greensboro and worked in cotton mills.

DeLancey played baseball at old Bessemer High School on teams that starred his older brother, Jimmy, who was also a catcher.[2] Bill would take over when his brother moved to first base. He didn’t land the regular catching job until his senior year.[II]

After graduating in 1930, DeLancey played briefly for semipro teams near home and then for several independent minor-league clubs. The Cardinals signed him in 1932 and sent him to their Class C affiliate in Springfield, Ohio. DeLancey was the best player on a team that won a pennant. He hit .329 with a .414 slugging percentage, thanks largely to his 20 triples – proof that the kid could run, a rarity for a catcher — and 18 home runs. He also knocked in 110 runs to lead the team.

The Cardinals called DeLancey up at the end of the season. He made his debut on Sept. 11, 1932 at the Polo Grounds in New York and singled off Carl Hubbell, the Giants’ Hall of Fame pitcher.

After an equally impressive year the following season with the Cardinals’ top farm team in Columbus, Ohio, DeLancey was slated to back up veteran catcher Virgil “Spud” Davis on the big-league club in 1934. This, however, was the Gas House Gang, a bunch of talented, hard-nosed players who would win 95 games and the World Series.[3] Made up mostly of veterans, the team featured five regulars who would hit at least .300, a 30-game winner in Dizzy Dean, four All-Stars and seven future Hall of Famers.[4]

Frisch was understandably reluctant to put such a group in the hands of a rookie catcher. DeLancey didn’t get his first start until May 30. He went 4-for-5 with a triple and a homer and knocked in four runs. He also dispelled any doubts his manager had.

DeLancey started almost half the games the rest of the way. He responded by hitting .316, which included 18 doubles and 13 homers. He also threw out almost half the base stealers.

As talented as he was standing at the plate, DeLancey may have been even better behind it. A good defensive catcher, Cardinals’ pitchers preferred throwing to him. It was a varied bunch that included the young, phenom brother duo, Dizzy and Paul Dean, and grizzled veterans Burleigh Grimes and Jesse Haines. They all respected DeLancey’s fearlessness and trusted his judgment behind the plate. “On the field, he knew everything,” Branch Rickey, the Cardinals’ general manager, wrote in his autobiography. “He knew the movements of the baserunner backwards and forwards and learned the hitting traits of batsmen overnight. He anticipated managerial tactics and acted on his judgment. He had a remarkable pitching sense.”[III]

He also had a short fuse. DeLancey could be prickly. He argued with and swore at umpires and even at his manager. Frisch, at the tail end of a Hall of Fame career, also played second base. He advised the youngster before one game to try and lay off high fastballs because he was popping them up. On his next at bat, DeLancey deposited a high fastball on the roof of the Cardinals’ Sportsman’s Park. “That’s how much you know, you dumb Dutchman,” he snapped when he got back to the dugout.[IV]

It was a measure of the trust that Frisch had developed in his bad-tempered backstop that DeLancey started every game of the World Series against the Detroit Tigers. He only hit .172, but that included three doubles and a homer. He also expertly handled the pitching staff through the seven games and angered an umpire.

Mickey Cochrane, the Tigers’ manager and catcher, relayed the details to reporters. Umpire Brick Owens judged the first pitch DeLancey saw in the fifth game to be a strike. DeLancey snapped out a few choice expletives. The umpire told him they would cost him $50.

“Why don’t you make it a hundred, you thieving bum?” DeLancey responded.

Owens did.

“Make it two,” DeLancey screamed.

Owens obliged.

Cochrane then interceded, advising the kid to shut up before he spent his Series money on fines.[V]

Kenesaw Landis, the baseball commissioner, later ruled that umpires weren’t empowered to levy fines. He reduced DeLancey’s penalty to the original $50.

All that aside, the starting catching job was DeLancey’s in 1935, but a nagging cough prevented him from claiming it. Though he appeared in 103 games, DeLancey hit just .279 and often appeared weak.

After the season, DeLancey, a chain smoker, was hospitalized with a lung infection that the newspapers reported to be pneumonia. He didn’t improve, and doctors later said that fluid was accumulating in the lining of his lungs, and they suggested that DeLancey move to the Southwest where the dry climate would aid his recovery. [5]

DeLancey took his doctors’ advice. He and his wife, Frances, a nursing student he had met in Dayton, Ohio, and their baby daughter, Doris Ann, moved to Phoenix, Arizona. DeLancey was so weak when he was released from the hospital that he had to be carried to the train on a stretcher. He was bed-ridden for eight months, and his lungs had to be drained every 48 hours. The Cardinals paid for the training to teach Frances how to perform the task.

He recovered well enough that he managed the Cardinals’ new farm team in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for three seasons, starting in 1937. The club won back-to-back pennants.

DeLancey returned to the Cardinals in 1940. By then, his story had captured the hearts of baseball fans – a World Series hero at 22 and a deathly ill hospital patient a year later. Writer Marlowe Branagan of the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah summed it up in the dramatic fashion of the time: The white, hot, penetrating sun of the Arizona wastelands and the dead-game heart of a Mick who was sick combined in 1936 to fight a lonely battle that few survive.”[VI]

There would be no storybook ending this time, no comeback for the ages. DeLancey played in only 15 games in 1940. He retired for good two years later.

He returned to Arizona where he was a salesman for a sporting-goods company. He and Frances had another daughter.

His health worsened, though, and DeLancey died on Thanksgiving Day in 1946. It was also his 35th birthday.


Footnotes
[1] Bill Dickey, Mickey Cochrane and Gabby Hartnett are all in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
[2] The school , which held its first commencement in 1906, was in Bessemer, then a small community near Greensboro. It was merged with Page High School in 1963.
[3]
Though its exact origins are debated, the nickname certainly derived from the team’s general shabby appearance and rough on-the-field tactics. A “gas house” at the time was a factory that converted coal to “town” gas for cooking and lighting. They were common in most cities before the advent of natural gas. Foul-smelling, they were in the worst parts of town.
[4]
The players who were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame: Pitchers Dizzy Dean, Dazzy Vance, Burleigh Grimes and Jesse Haines; infielders Leo Durocher and Frisch; and outfielder Joe Medwick.
[5]
Pleurisy is a symptom of numerous diseases and conditions — viral and bacterial infections, congestive heart failure, autoimmune disease, lung cancer, to list a few – but the exact cause of DeLancey’s was never publicly reported. Newspapers later reported that he suffered from tuberculosis, which can lead to a buildup of fluid around the lungs.

References
[1] Rice, Grantland. “Sportlight.” Ignacio (CO) Chieftain, March 12, 1943
[II] “With N.C. Boys in Majors Yesterday.” News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), June 26, 1934.
[III] Ayers, Thomas. “Bill DeLancey.” The Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/bill-delancey/.
[IV] Ibid.
[V] Associated Press. “Umpire Fines DeLancey $200 for ‘Slander.’” Asheville (NC) Citizen-Times, October 8, 1934.
[VI] Branagan, Marlowe. “Down the Middle.” Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, UT), February 18, 1941.


 

 

Crouch, Jack

Position: Catcher, pinch hitter
Birthplace: Cooleemee

First, Middle Names: Jack Albert            Nickname: Roxy
Date of Birth:  Oct. 12, 1903  Date and Place of Death: Aug. 25, 1972, Leesburg, Fla.
Burial: Woodlawn Park Cemetery, Miami, Fla.

High School: Undetermined  
College: Did not attend

Bats: R            Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-9, 165
Debut Year: 1930       Final Year: 1933          Years Played: 3
Teams and Years: St. Louis Browns, 1930-31, 1933; Cincinnati Reds, 1933

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
43        72        9          7          8          1          .125     .182     .181     -0.9     

Jack Crouch spent parts of three seasons as a backup catcher and pinch hitter and then spent his life in the lumber business in Georgia and Florida.

Though he was born in Cooleemee in 1903, Crouch wasn’t in Davie County long. His large family, which would eventually include six brothers and sisters, moved around the Southeast a lot. After Jack’s birth, the family lived in South Carolina and Georgia before settling in Richmond, Virginia, where Jack’s father, Pierce, listed his occupation in the 1910 census as “spinning room boss” in a cotton mill.

By the time the census counters came around again 10 years later, Crouch’s parents were divorced. His mother, Theodora, or Dora, still lived in Richmond with Jack and three other children. All worked. Jack, 16, was a clerk at the railroad.

We know nothing about this phase of his baseball life, whether he played in high school or for the American Legion. Crouch next appears in the historical record in the 1923 Atlanta, Georgia, city directory, which lists him living by himself and working as a ticket-taker for the railroad.

Crouch’s professional baseball career started seven years later for the Wichita Falls Spudders, the St. Louis Brown’s Class A farm team. He was hitting .324 with 11 home runs in 1930 when he got called up to St. Louis as the third-string catcher. He played in less than 50 games for the Browns over the next three seasons, appearing as a fill-in catcher or pinch hitter. He never batted higher that .167. He closed out his big-league career with the Cincinnati Reds in 1933.

After five more seasons in the minors, Crouch retired from baseball and settled with his wife, Ruth, and their son, Jack Jr., in Albany, Georgia, where he joined a brother in the lumber business. They moved to Miami, Florida, in 1945 where Crouch worked for a retail lumber and building-supply store. Jack Jr. was a high-school and collegiate baseball standout who played in the minors for the Detroit Tigers.

Crouch was living in nearby Fort Lauderdale, when he died at age 69 in Leesburg, Florida, where his son lived.