Stafford, Robert

Position: First Base
Birthplace: Oak Ridge

First, Middle Names:  Robert McGibboney Jr.
Date of Birth:  June 26, 1872  Date and Place of Death: Aug. 20, 1916. Moore’s Springs, NC
Burial: Oak Ridge Cemetery, Greensboro, North Carolina

High School: Undetermined
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: R Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-0, 180

Bob Stafford, according to most baseball references, was barely in the major leagues long enough for that proverbial cup of coffee — one at bat in the last game of the 1890 season. That Bob Stafford, though, may not have gotten close enough to a big-league clubhouse to even smell the java brewing. It seems likely that researchers a century ago mistakenly linked the “Stafford” who was listed in that box score with the sheriff’s kid from Oak Ridge, North Carolina, who starred in the minor leagues. Though it’s unlikely that he ever made it to the majors, Stafford appears here to help set the historical record straight.

The Athletics were one of the six charter members of the American Association when the professional league formed in 1882.[1] They had won a pennant in their second season, but 1890 was a disaster. The team had lost 21 straight at the end of the season on the way to a next-to-last-place finish. It faced Syracuse on October 12 in Gloucester, New Jersey, for mercifully the final game of the season. Manager Bill Sharsig picked four locals to play. All we really know about them are the last names that appear in the box score of the day’s game: McBride, Sterling, Sweigert, and Stafford. Researchers for early baseball encyclopedias came along later and gave them the first names of known baseball personalities. John McBride was an umpire at the time and John Sterling, Hampton Sweigert and Robert Stafford were minor leaguers.

That Bob Stafford had been born in Oak Ridge, in eastern Guilford County, in 1872, the son of the county’s longtime sheriff. He had a 17-year career in the minors as a player, coach, and umpire. There’s no evidence in the existing historical or genealogical records to suggest that the 18-year-old in North Carolina had any reason to be in New Jersey when the Athletics manager was casting about for players.

He began his playing career in 1894 for a minor-league team in Petersburg, Virginia. By the turn of century, Stafford was a well-known ballplayer whose name appeared often in North Carolina newspapers. None of the stories that survive in online archives note his alleged one at-bat in the majors. It wasn’t until after he retired that a newspaper reported in 1913 that “Bob once went up to the big show but did not remain for a full season, going back to Atlanta, from which place he was drafted.”[I] The writer was either trying to be kind or, more likely, didn’t know that his supposed big-league career didn’t last an inning, let alone a season. Stafford did play for the Atlanta Crackers in 1903-04, but that was more than a decade after his mysterious appearance in New Jersey.

Biographers at the Society of American Baseball Research are a particularly persnickety bunch in their quest to ensure that facts about these early players are correct.[2] They determined more than a decade ago that the four Athletics’ players were misidentified. “Since these players have not been positively identified, I am removing all the biographical information we have and we can start from scratch to figure out who they are,” Bill Carle, the committee’s chairman, wrote in his report in October 2007. “I doubt we will ever be able to identify them.” He added that doubts existed about the identities five other players on that 1890 Athletics’ team. “This might be baseball’s most ‘mysterious’ team,” Carle concluded.[II]

Footnotes
[1] The American Association existed for 10 seasons from 1882 to 1891. It set out to distinguish itself from the rival National League, which formed in 1876, by chartering teams in what the puritanical leaders of older league pejoratively called “river cities” – Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Louisville – because of their implied lower moral and social standards. In contrast to its rival, the American Association offered cheaper ticket prices and allowed games to be played on Sundays and beer to be sold at the ballparks.
[2] The Society for American Baseball Research is a membership organization founded in 1971 to promote historical and statistical baseball research. It’s acronym SABR was used to coin the term “sabermetrics,” the use of sophisticated mathematical tools for statistical analysis.

References
[I] “Bob Stafford Ill.” Charlotte News, April 18, 1913.
[II] Carle, Bill. “Biographical Research Committee September/October 2007 Report.” Society of American Baseball Research.

 

Cooper, Pat

Position: Pinch hitter, first base
Birthplace: Albemarle

First, Middle Names: Ogre Patterson    

Date of Birth:  Nov. 26, 1917 Date and Place of Death: March 15, 1993, Charlotte
Burial: Sharon Memorial Park, Charlotte

High School: Albemarle High School 

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-3, 180
Debut Year: 1946       Final Year: 1947          Years Played: 2
Team and Years: Philadelphia Athletics, 1946-47

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
14        16        4          0          3          0          .250     .250     .375     0.0

A faded black-and-white photograph in a book about the baseball teams that textile mills in North Carolina sponsored through much of the 20th century shows a group of men – mostly men, anyway – posing with bats and balls and in dirty uniforms with “Knitters” embroided on their chests. They are the Wiscasset Knitters of 1935. Wiscasset Mills Co. was one of three textile factories in Albemarle at the time.

Pat Cooper is standing in the back row. He was just 18, a senior at the local high school. He had grown up in Stanly County and was part of Elijah and Ella Cooper’s large family.  The Knitters were Cooper’s first stop on an almost 20-year career in organized baseball. Most of that time would be spent in the minor leagues or on industrial teams in North Carolina’s piedmont.

After serving in the Army during World War II, Cooper played briefly in the majors, appearing sparingly over the parts two seasons for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1946 and ’47. He was used mostly as a pinch hitter.

He and his wife, Marzelle, lived in Charlotte after Cooper’s baseball day were over where he was an independent building contractor. Cooper died in 1993.

Campbell, Paul

Position: First Base
Birthplace: Paw Creek

First, Middle Names: Paul McLaughlin  

Date of Birth:  Sept. 1, 1917   Date and Place of Death: June 22, 2006, Charlotte, NC
Burial: Forest Lawn West Cemetery, Charlotte

High School: Paw Creek High School 
College: Brevard College, Brevard, NC

Bats: L             Throws: L        Height and Weight: 5-10, 185
Debut Year: 1941       Final Year: 1950          Years Played: 6
Teams and Years: Boston Red Sox, 1941-42, 1946; Detroit Tigers, 1948-50

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
204   380    97       61        41        4         .255     .308     .358     -0.9

A long career in the major leagues requires skill, of course, but a bit of luck sometimes doesn’t hurt. Paul Campbell was a bit short on the hitting skills expected of first basemen, and he had the awful luck of playing on the same teams with some big-hitting ones.

Though he was a part-time player for six years, Campbell lasted more than 50 years in professional baseball as a minor-league manager and coach, a front-office executive and a scout.

Born in the small community of Paw Creek in western Mecklenburg County, Campbell and his two younger sisters grew up in nearby Charlotte where their father, Charles, worked first in a cotton mill and then managed a grocery store that he later owned. He would be murdered in the store in 1959.

Campbell played competitive baseball as a 12-year-old on the Chadwick-Hoskins Mill team, which played in one of the industrial leagues that flourished in North Carolina through the middle of the last century. He was a fan favorite in American Legion ball, hitting .407 for the Charlotte, North Carolina, club in 1934.

Two years later, after attending junior college in Brevard, North Carolina, Campbell signed his first professional contract with the Danville Leafs in Virginia. He got his first call to the big leagues in 1941 after two solid years for the Boston Red Sox’s Class AA franchise in Louisville, Kentucky. Campbell appeared in one game at first base for the Sox before being demoted. He made it into 26 games when the Red Sox beckoned again the following year, but he hit a paltry .067.

Tradition was working against him. First base in the major leagues has always been a power position. The guys who play there are usually big and bulky and hit a lot of home runs. Think Lou Gehrig or Harmon Killebrew, Hank Greenberg or Albert Pujols. Campbell, at 5-10 and 185 pounds, was small in comparison and never hit more than 15 homers in a season and that was back in Class D ball.

He was also trying to take the job from two of the most prolific power hitters of their era. Though at the tail end of a Hall of Fame career, Jimmie Foxx was still a dangerous hitter when Campbell first joined the Red Sox. Rudy York, who hit almost 300 homers during his career, held the job when Campbell returned from World War II in 1946.

Campbell had joined the Army Air Force three years earlier and had toured American air bases in England playing baseball.

Sent back down to Louisville again after appearing in only 28 games for the Red Sox in 1946, Campbell was frustrated. “I have to convince myself that I can play ball,” he said at the time. “For the last five seasons, I’ve been at-bat only 41 times. I’ve played only three full seasons since the start of 1942. Sitting on the bench with the Red Sox in 1942 and again last season after three years in the service has made me feel uncertain of my ability. I don’t know whether I can play because I haven’t had a chance to play.”[I]

But at 29, Campbell turned in his finest season in 1947. In 152 games with Louisville, he batted .304 with 71 RBIs, received MVP honors and prompted manager Harry Leibold to say: “There’s no finer fielding first baseman anywhere. I think he would be a handy guy for any big-league club to have around.”[II]

Campbell was excited to get a fresh start with the Detroit Tigers in 1948, but the results were same – hitting .270 or thereabouts with no power led to sparse playing time. After five more years in the minors, Campbell retired as an active player in 1954.

He was a minor-league coach, manager and executive before becoming a scout for the Cincinnati Reds in 1958. Campbell was promoted to traveling secretary six years later, a position he would hold until 1978. He would continue scouting for the Reds in some fashion until his retirement in 1993, 57 years after his first professional job in Danville.

Campbell and his second wife, Lillian, — his first, Mary Ellen, had died in 1961 – retired to the Charlotte area, where Campbell died at age 89 in a nursing home.

References
[I] Bedingfield, Gary. “Paul Campbell.” Baseball in Wartime, 2008. http://www.garybed.co.uk/player_biographies/campbell_paul.htm.
[II] Ibid.

 

 

Burrus, Dick

Position: First base
Birthplace: Hatteras

First, Middle Names: Maurice Lennon   Nicknames: Dick

Date of Birth:  Jan 29, 1898    Date and Place of Death: Feb. 2, 1972, Elizabeth City, NC
Burial: New Hollywood Cemetery, Elizabeth City

High School: Elizabeth City High School, Oak Ridge Academy, Oak Ridge, NC
College: N.C. State University, Raleigh, NC

Bats: L             Throws: L        Height and Weight: 5-11, 175
Debut Year: 1919       Final Year: 1928          Years Played: 6
Teams and Years: Philadelphia Athletics, 1919-20; Boston Braves, 1925-28

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
560     1760    513      206      211      11       .291     .247     .373     0.9      

Cornelius McGillicuddy, the manager and part owner of the Philadelphia Athletics, was a hard man to impress. Few men would ever match Connie Mack, as he was known to all, as a judge of baseball talent. He would remain in the game for more than 50 years as a player, manager or owner, acquiring nicknames along the way that reflected what his contemporaries thought of his acumen — The Tall Tactician, the Tall Tutor and the Great Old Man of Baseball.

Mack traveled down to Columbia, South Carolina, in June 1919 to check out a talented, 21-year-old minor-league first baseman. Dick Burrus got five hits that day and fielded his position with the grace that reminded Mack of Hal Chase, a peerless first baseman who was in the last year of a 15-year career. Reserved by nature and calculating in his evaluation of talent, Mack was reduced to a gushing suitor.[I]

“When I signed Burrus, I believed I was getting the greatest first sacker the Athletic club ever had,” Mack later remembered. “I said he wouldn’t be just a good player, but a player who will get big, black headlines.”[II]

Mack bought Burrus from the Columbia Comers in the Class C South Atlantic League for the unheard price of $5,000, or about $75,000 in current dollars. He later said he would have gone as high as $25,000, or almost $400,00 when adjusted for inflation.

It was real money, more than most men in Hatteras saw in a decade of fishing. Maurice Lennon Burrus grew up in the remote fishing village on an island of the same name that was a day’s sale from the N.C. mainland. Hatteras Island had yet to be marketed to the world as a part of the famed Outer Banks. Burrus would be the only person from the region to play in the major leagues.

He was the youngest of seven children. Their father, Capt. Dozier Burrus, was a well-respected elder who had been the keeper of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the mid-1870s, soon after it got its famous black and white stripes. Their mother, Achsah, died when Burrus was five. The family moved to Elizabeth City, North Carolina, on the mainland in 1909 so that the kids could get a better education.

A teacher at the local high school, where Burrus first showed real talent on the baseball diamond, suggested he transfer to Oak Ridge Academy in Guilford County, more than 300 miles west. The private military school had become something of a cradle for major-league players.[1]

Burrus finished high school at Oak Ridge and received a partial athletic scholarship to attend what is now N.C. State University. He arrived in Raleigh in 1916 intending to study textile engineering, but World War I intervened. Burrus was drafted into the Army and spent two years at a base in Georgia.

He returned to State to play the last three games of the 1918 football season — he was on the team that Georgia Tech humiliated 128-0. Burrus played the entire baseball season the following spring and was signed by Columbia when it ended.

Within a few weeks of his signing, Dick Burrus from a far-off fishing village on the North Carolina coast, was heading to Philadelphia as a major leaguer. Mack wanted him at Shibe Park for the first game of a Sunday doubleheader, but Burrus got off the train at the wrong station and arrived during the second game. He walked into the A’s dugout just as George Burns, the team’s star first baseman, launched a deep home run. Mack intended to move Burns to the outfield to make room for his promising rookie.

“Burrus’ first words were, ‘What a hit that was. Who was the batter?’” Mack remembered. “When he was told the hitter was George Burns, the player he had been signed to succeed, his face fell. I will always believe that this entrance licked him. He had been signed to take the place of a man who in his first view of a major-league ball game had hit one of the longest homers he had ever seen. ‘What chance have I?’ he must have thought.”[III]

Burrus hit a respectable .258 that season for a hapless team that lost 104 games. His average, however, dropped more than 70 points after 71 games in 1920. Mack had seen enough and shipped Burrus back to the minors. “He was no more like the Burrus I saw at Columbia than a harmonica resembles a piano,” he said.[IV]

During the next four years, Burrus built a strong minor-league resume. His .365 average and near flawless play at first base in 1924 led the Atlanta Crackers to the Class A Southern Association pennant.

Having earned another shot at the majors, Burrus seemed to be reaching the potential that Mack envisioned. Playing in all 152 games for the Boston Braves in 1925, Burrus hit .340, ranking third in the National League. He rapped out 200 hits, including 50 for extra bases, and drove in a career-high 87 runs.

Hernias, not a destroyed psyche, stopped him. He played another three years in Boston, but hobbled by abdominal hernias, his playing time and numbers decreased each year. Though he hit .318 in 1927, Burrus played in less than half of the Braves’ games. He played two more years in the minors before being released in 1930. His .291 lifetime batting average ranks as ninth among North Carolina players with at least 1,000 at bats.

Burrus owned a restaurant in Atlanta for a time before moving with his wife, Beck, back to Hatteras. He was an oil distributor and fish dealer on Hatteras Island and was elected to the Dare County commissioners.  Burrus died of lung cancer a few days past his 74th birthday in 1972.

His daughters, Dixie Burrus Browning and Mary Burrus Williams, are prolific writers and artists. Dixie Browning has written more than 100 romance and historical novels, mostly about life on the Outer Banks. The sisters have collaborated on several works of fiction under the pen name Bronwyn Williams, a combination of their married names.

Footnote
[1] Oak Ridge’s Coach Earl Holt had already sent pitchers George Suggs, Dixie Davis and Jakie May to the majors. Wes Ferrell and his Hall of Fame brother, Rick, would come later.

References
[I] “Mack Very Fond of Dick Burrus.” Charlotte (NC) News, June 23, 1919.
[II] Ison, Wade. “The Isonglass.” Charlotte (NC) News, April 6, 1931.
[III] Ibid.
[IV] Ibid.

 

Altman, George

Position: Outfield, first base
Birthplace: Goldsboro

Full Name: George Lee           Nicknames: Daddy Long Legs

Date of Birth:  March 20, 1933                     

Current Residence: O’Fallon, Missouri

High School: Dillard High School, Goldsboro
College: Tennessee State University, Nashville, Tenn.

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-4, 200
Debut Year: 1959       Final Year: 1967          Years Played: 9
Team(s) and Years: Chicago Cubs, 1959-62; St. Louis Cardinals, 1963; N.Y. Mets, 1964; Cubs, 1965-67
Awards: All-star, 1961-62

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
991      3091    832      409      403      101      .269     .329     .432     13.0

George Altman’s playing career spanned almost three decades, crossed two continents and embraced white, black and Asian cultures. It was a journey that started in the Negro Leagues, where he played under the universally beloved Buck O’Neil, made a nine-year stop in the major leagues, where he was an all-star, and ended finally in Tokyo, where he swatted home runs into his 40s.

Born in Goldsboro, Altman was the only child of Willie, a tenant farmer who later became an auto mechanic, and Clara, who died when her son was four.

One of Dillard High School’s most accomplished athletes, Altman graduated in 1951 and went to Nashville, Tenn., to play basketball for the legendary John McLendon at what is now Tennessee State University. He began patrolling the outfield when the school started its baseball program during Altman’s junior year.

 Altman hoped to play professional basketball after graduation in 1955, but the NBA didn’t draft him. He ended up in Kansas City, instead, where he tried out for the city’s Monarchs, the oldest team in the Negro Leagues. O’Neil, the team’s manager, liked what he saw and proceeded to turn Alston into a first baseman.

“I had been an outfielder all of the way,” Altman wrote in his 2013 autobiography, “but Buck taught me how to play first base and I played first base for the Monarchs that summer. He taught me all of the moves around the bag when receiving the throws from the infielders.”

Starting with the pathfinder, Jackie Robinson, the Monarchs supplied more players to the majors than any other Negro League team: Satchel Paige, Ernie Banks, Elston Howard, Willard Brown and Hank Thompson.

Altman joined the list at the end of the Monarch’s season when he signed with the Chicago Cubs. After a couple of years in the minors and a couple of more in the Army, Altman was the starting centerfielder in Wrigley Field in 1959. Two years later, he was a National League All-Star when he hit .303-27-96 with a league-leading 12 triples. Altman made the all-star team again in 1962 when he hit .318, even though a sprained wrist in June hampered his power production.

They would be his two best seasons in the major leagues. Maybe the Cubs’ saw something because the team traded Altman, along with pitcher and fellow North Carolinian Don Cardwell, to the St. Louis Cardinals at the end of the 1962 season. Altman said all the right things at the time, but he later wrote, “To say that I was shocked would definitely be an understatement.”

He had a disappointing season with St. Louis and was traded to the cellar-dwelling N.Y. Mets where he played hurt and hit just .230.

For the third time in three years, Altman was traded again, back to the Cubs, in January 1965. His last two years in the majors were uninspiring. He hit .228 in 178 games with only 9 homers and 40 RBI.

Demoted to the minors, Altman at age 34 in 1968 embarked on new and fruitful career in Japan. During eight seasons with the Tokyo Orions, Altman hit 205 home runs and drove in 656 in 935 games. He hit below .300 only in 1969 and 1975, his last year in baseball when he was 42 and recovering from colon cancer.

Altman returned to Chicago where he married for the second time in 1976 to Etta Allison, a piano teacher. They had two children.

He had worked in the offseason for more than a decade on the Chicago Board of Trade as a commodities trader. He continued trading from his home in retirement, while volunteering with groups that mentored kids.

Altman and Etta moved to O’Fallon, a suburb of St. Louis, in 2002 where they live still.