Whisenant, Pete

Positions: Centerfield, left field
Birthplace: Asheville

First, Middle Names: Thomas Peter
Date of Birth:  Dec. 14, 1929  Date and Place of Death: March 22, 1996, Port Charlotte, FL
Burial: Cremated

High School: Paw Creek High School, Paw Creek, NC
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-2, 190
Debut Year: 1952       Final Year: 1961          Years Played: 8
Teams and Years: Boston Braves, 1952; St. Louis Cardinals, 1955; Chicago Cubs, 1956; Cincinnati Redlegs, 1957-60; Cleveland Indians, 1960; Washington Senators, 1960; Minnesota  Twins, 1961; Cincinnati Reds, 1961

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
465   988    221     140     134      37       .224     .284     .399     1.6

 An intense competitor, Pete Whisenant was thought to be just a few steps from stardom when he signed his first professional contract as one of North Carolina’s most-prized prep players. It was not to be, however. After an eight-year career on seven big-league clubs, Whisenant retired as a reserve outfielder with a .224 career batting average.

He had short careers as a major-league coach and minor-league manager after his playing days and longer ones as the director of a popular baseball camp and as a businessman who owned vending machines and sold baseball memorabilia. That last endeavor led to a partnership with Pete Rose, the game’s all-time hits leaders, that didn’t end that well.

Born in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1929, Thomas Peter Whisenant grew up in Paw Creek, in western Mecklenburg County, after his mother, Pearl, married Jim Todd, a local farmer. Murphy Barnes, Whisenant’s father, was a longtime resident of Raleigh, North Carolina, where he worked for the United States Department of Agriculture.

Paw Creek, now a neighborhood of Charlotte, was then a small village of cotton mills six miles from the city. Baseball players were another community export. Whisenant grew up idolizing Hank Greenberg, the Detroit Tigers’ slugger, and Whitey Lockman, an older local boy who made it to the majors a few years before he did. Bill Baker had proceeded them both. Ken Wood and Tommy Helms would make it later.[1]At one time,” Whisenant said, “that small mill village had more major-league ballplayers than the entire state of Arkansas.”[I]

He was the captain of the high-school baseball team and a starter on its basketball squad, though he had a habit of fouling out of games. A star on the local American Legion team, he was chosen in 1946 to a team of Eastern prep all-stars who played their Western counterparts in a game in Wrigley Field sponsored by Esquire magazine. The teenager had never ventured far from home and was awestruck by the sprawling station in Cincinnati where he had to change trains to Chicago. “Grandpa, this place is bigger than all of Paw Creek,” he wrote on the back of a postcard of the station that he mailed home.[II]

The Eastern team lost 10-4, but Whisenant had three of the team’s six hits and shared the dugout with Manager Honus Wagner. Ty Cobb piloted the opposing team. Imagine the stories that must have impressed the folks back home.

Whisenant was considered “the finest major-league prospect in the country” when he graduated in May 1947. Major-league scouts and college recruiters had filled the stands during that final season. “You should have been out here Monday night,” one reported. “There were so many bird dogs out here that they should have worn badges to keep from signing up each other.”[III]

Scouts camped out on the kid’s front porch for two weeks trying to get his name on a contract. Gil English, a former major-leaguer from High Point, North Carolina, finally did. The Boston Braves had to pony up about $100,000 in current dollars for the teen’s signature.

Whisenant spent several years in the Braves’ minor leagues and was expected to make the big-league club in 1951, but he joined the Navy rather than be drafted.

When he returned to the Braves the following spring, the six-foot, two-inch Whisenant had filled out to 190 pounds. He hit well in exhibition games and covered a lot of ground in centerfield. Old hands noticed that like Ted Williams the rookie spent a good deal of time when he wasn’t chasing down fly balls practicing his swing. They also saw that unlike the Boston Red Sox star Whisenant wasn’t an indifferent fielder. In fact, he was considered one of best defensive outfielders in the Braves’ system. His can-do demeanor also left an impression. “I like the boy,” said Braves’ Manager Tommy Holmes. “He has that old-time spirit. He’s a fiery competitor.”[IV]

He made his debut with the Braves in April 1952 but lasted only 24 games before being sent back down to the Class AAA club in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He reappeared in the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1955 and then the Chicago Cubs the following season, his best in the big leagues. He played in 103 games and had career highs in home runs (11) and batting average (.239).

Whisenant became a valuable reserve and pinch hitter for the Cincinnati Redlegs for three seasons, starting in 1957.[2] He had five pinch-hit homers that year. He played his last two years on three teams before returning to Cincinnati in 1961. Whisenant retired as an active player in the middle of the season and became the batting coach on a team headed to the World Series. He paced the dugout with a bat, swatting sleepy players and malcontents. He was the consummate cheerleader and Manager Fred Hutchinson’s right-hand man. “Pete Whisenant was our rah-rah guy,” pitcher Joey Jay remembered. Old-school in his outlook, Whisenant was irritated by players discussing their investments or one, Jim Brosnan, pecking away at his typewriter.[3] “Think baseball, nothing else” was his constant litany.[V]

Released as the Reds’ outfield coach at the end of the 1962 season, Whisenant started a vending machine company in Evansville, Indiana, and moved it to Punto Gordo, Florida, seven years later where he also directed a baseball clinic for boys that Rose and Johnny Bench, Reds’ teammates, sponsored. He ran the popular clinic each winter into the mid-1970s.

Whisenant and Rose signed a contract in 1979 to capitalize on Rose’s assault on Cobb’s career hits record.[4] They were to sell souvenirs and merchandise bearing the caricature known as Little Charlie Hustle. They were to split the profits. Rose sued Whisenant over the character in 1985. Whisenant countersued two years later, claiming that Rose’s company sold merchandise without paying him. The lawsuits were settled out of court and the details were never disclosed.

Whisenant had better luck with the Modesto A’s in California. He managed the A’s to the California League championship in 1982. Billy Martin, the Oakland A’s manager, got his good friend the job as skipper of the club’s Class A affiliate. During his one season at Modesto, Whisenant was described variously as “cantankerous,” “hard-living,” “hard-drinking,” and a “masterful motivator.”[VI]

He was promoted to manage the Double A Huntsville Stars in 1983 but was fired at mid-season and moved to Costa Rica.

“He was tough on the outside and soft on the inside,” his son, Pete Jr., said.[VII]

Whisenant, who was married three times, had seven children.

He was living back in Cincinnati in 1996 when he died in Port Charlotte, Florida, of liver failure.  


Footnotes
[1] Bill Baker was a catcher in the National League in the early 1940s. Whitey Lockman was an outfielder in the major leagues for 15 years, starting in 1945. Ken Wood, also an outfielder, debuted three years later and played for eight years. Tommy Helms was an all-star and Gold Glove second baseman and shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds in the mid-1960s. Baker was the only Paw Creek native. See their profiles for more information.
[2] The Cincinnati Reds officially changed their name to the Redlegs in 1953 because they wanted to avoid getting caught up in McCarthyism’s consuming search for communists in government and business. They became the Reds again in 1959.
[3] A modestly effective relief pitcher, Jim Brosnan was known as an intellectual and was called The Professor by teammates because he puffed on a pipe and read books during games. He later wrote controversial books that, for the first time, realistically depicted life in a baseball locker room.
[4] Rose broke the record on September 11, 1985 with his 4,192nd hit.

References
[I] Heiling, Joe. “Astros Walking on Air Over Super Helms-Man.” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), July 21, 1973.
[II] Lawson, Earl. “Red’s Helms – Courage Wrapped in a Small Package.” Sporting News (St. Louis. MO),
January 13, 1968.
[III] Howe, Ray. “Here’s Howe.” Charlotte (NC) News, April 30, 1947.
[IV] Warner, Ralph. “City’s Pete Whisenent Thrills Holmes, Braves With His Spirit,” Charlotte (NC) Observer, March 23, 1952.
[V] Murray, Jack. “O’Toole ‘Tried’ to ’61.” Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer, Oct. 9, 1970.
[VI] “Modesto’s A’s Championship Skipper Whisenent Dies.” Modesto (CA) Bee, March 23, 1996.
[VII] Ibid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cole, Alex

Position: Centerfield
Birthplace: Fayetteville

First, Middle Names: Alexander Jr.
Date of Birth:  Aug. 17, 1965                         

Current Residence: Undetermined

High School: Jefferson-Huguenot-Wythe High School, Richmond, VA
College: State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, FL

Bat: L   Throws: L        Height and Weight: 6-0, 170
Debut Year: 1990       Final Year: 1996          Years Played: 7
Team(s) and Years: Cleveland Indians, 1990-92; Pittsburgh Pirates, 1992; Colorado Rockies, 1993; Minnesota Twins, 1994-95; Boston Red Sox, 1996

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
573   1760  493   288     117      5          .280     .360     .351     4.2

Alex Cole arrived in the major leagues accompanied by the promise of stardom. He departed seven seasons later as merely a good player, his road to greatness blocked by injuries and indifferent outfield play. His life later spiraled out of control into the depths of drugs and included time in federal prison.

Cole was born in Fayetteville where his father, Alex “Fuzzy” Cole Sr., had played football for what’s now Fayetteville State University. The family moved to Richmond, Virginia, where the younger Cole played high-school baseball and football. He later concentrated on baseball at State College of Florida, a two-year school near Sarasota.

The St. Louis Cardinals, enamored at the time with Vince Coleman-type players., drafted Cole, a speedy, slap hitter, in the second round of the 1985 amateur draft. He languished for six years in the Cardinals’ farm system, however, before being traded to the San Diego Padres and then to the Cleveland Indians midway through the 1990 season.

In the final 63 games of the year, Cole stole a staggering 40 bases for the Indians while hitting .300. He swiped five in one game to set a major-league record. Indians’ management and fans rightfully thought that this speedster with the distinctive goggle eyeglasses was a budding superstar who would top their lineup for a decade or more. So convinced were they of Cole’s potential that the team’s owners moved the centerfield fence back at old Municipal Stadium before the 1991 season to take advantage of Cole’s ability to hit the gaps for doubles and triples.

All those hopes slipped away when Cole did as he stumbled out of the box in spring training trying to beat out a slow tapper. He hit the ground hard, dislocating a shoulder. The team’s manager later blamed the injury for the cautiousness that Cole displayed on the base paths throughout the season and his hesitancy to slide headfirst into second base. Cole would end up with 27 stolen bases – only 10 more than his failed attempts. He also developed a habit of being picked off. His batting average was a respectable .295, but a full season exposed his poor defensive play in centerfield. His inconsistent defense would be a liability for the rest of his career.[I]

The Indians traded Cole in 1992 to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who let him go in the expansion draft later that year. Cole was the starting centerfielder for the first Colorado Rockies team. Then, it was on to Minnesota, where Cole seemed to be reaching the potential everyone saw in him as a rookie. He was hitting .342 during the first 28 games of the 1995 season for the Twins, while getting on base more than 40 percent of the time. It was the best start of his career.

And the end of it, as it turned out. Cole broke his right leg and dislocated an ankle while chasing a fly ball. His season and career were over. His attempted comeback with the Boston Red Sox in 1996 ended after only 24 games and a .222 average.

Though stardom eluded him, Cole played well wherever he landed. His 148 career stolen bases rank eighth among North Carolina players with more than 1,000 at bats. His .360 lifetime on-base percentage is 14th and his .280 batting average is tied for 18th.

Cole settled in Florida where he was a mortgage broker. He played ball in Mexico and in independent leagues in the United States. Cole was playing for the Bluefish in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in the Atlantic League on Aug. 9, 1991 when federal agents arrested him at the ballpark for selling heroin to undercover agents. He pleaded guilty the following year to conspiring to possess heroin with the intent to distribute and was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison. Four years later, a judgment in excess of $30,000 was entered against him for running up credit card debts under a friend’s name.[II]

References
[I] Kreitzer, Chris. “Alex Cole: Tales from the Teepee.” Bleacher Report,  May 29, 2008. https://bleacherreport.com/articles/26048-alex-cole-tales-from-the-teepee.
[II] “Ravens On the Move?” Hartford (CONN) Courant, June 7, 2002.