Player Name: Yount, Eddie Position: Outfield Birthplace: Newton
First, Middle Names: Floyd Edwin Date of Birth: Dec. 19, 1916 Date and Place of Death: Oct. 27, 1973, Newton Burial: Eastview Cemetery, Newton
High School: Undetermined College: Wake Forest University, Wake Forest, NC
Bats: R Throws: R Height and Weight: 6-1, 185 Debut Year: 1937 Final Year: 1939 Years Played: 2 Teams and Years: Philadelphia Athletics, 1937; Pittsburgh Pirates, 1939
Career Summary G AB H R RBI HR BA. OBP. SLG. WAR 6 9 2 1 1 0 .222 .222 .222 -0.1
Eddie Yount’s big-league career was brief and undistinguished: six games over two seasons, a couple of years apart. In a minor-league career that stretched over 13 years, however, he was a feared slugger and the beloved manager of his hometown team.
Floyd Edwin Yount was born in 1916 in Newton in Catawba County, the younger of two sons of Floyd and Annie Yount. Floyd owned a grocery store where young Eddie and his brother, Sidney, worked while growing up. We can assume that he graduated from old Newton High School but no evidence has surfaced to confirm that.
We do know that he attended Wake Forest College in Wake County, North Carolina. He very likely played baseball, though, again, no surviving records indicate that he did, because the Philadelphia Athletic ssigned him when he graduated in 1937.
Yount played in four games for the A’s at the end of that season and then pinched hit in two games for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1939. That was the extent of his major-league career.
He had a more satisfying career in the Army. Yount enlisted about a week after Pearl Harbor in 1942 and started playing baseball while stationed with the 12th Armored Division in Camp Campbell, Kentucky. He began managing the team in 1943 and also attended special services school at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. The division was sent to Europe in 1945, and its team started playing again after Germany surrendered.[I]
Yount continued to play, coach and manage in the minor leagues when he returned home in 1946. He hit .420 two years later as the player-manager of the Newton-Conover Twins in the Western Carolina League, which occupied the very lowest rung in professional baseball. None of its teams was affiliated with a big-league club. He managed and caught for the Twins for four years and was among the league’s leading hitters each year. Yount attributed some of his offensive prowess to a juiced ball – a “rabbit ball,” he called it – and slick infields that turned routine grounders into singles through the holes.[II]
Well-liked by teammates and fans, the homegrown manager had to step aside in 1951 because of vision problems in his left eye. He tried to stage a comeback the following season by was forced to retire after only 51 games. Trying to see out of the eye, he said, was like driving through a thick fog. He put himself back on the roster because he thought the struggling team needed him. Yount still managed to hit .305 with one eye.[III]
After baseball, he was a salesman at a flour mill for a time and then opened a general store in Newton.
His wife, Margaret, died in 1967. A native of Scotland, she had met Yount in Toronto, Ontario, while he was playing ball there. They got married in 1941 and had no children.
Yount committed suicide in 1973.
Footnotes  Newton’s first high school was built in 1923. It burned and was rebuilt in the 1930s. “North Main Avenue Historic District.” Living Places Neighborhoods, https://www.livingplaces.com/NC/Catawba_County/Newton_City/North_Main_Avenue_Historic_District.html).  Eye specialists diagnosed Andrews’ problem as “chorditis.” The modern, medical definition of the condition relates to inflammation of the vocal cords.
First, Middle Names: Gilbert Fitzgerald Date of Birth: Jan. 18, 1922 Date and Place of Death: Feb. 5, 2020, Brevard, NC Burial: Gillespie Evergreen Cemetery, Brevard
High School: Mineral Springs High School, Mineral Springs, NC College: Brevard College, Brevard
Bats: L Throws: R Height and Weight: 6-0, 180 Debut Year: 1945 Final Year: 1956 Years Played: 11 Teams and Years: Washington Senators, 1946-53; Baltimore Orioles, 1954-55; Chicago White Sox, 1955; N.Y. Giants. 1955-56
Career Summary G AB H R RBI HR BA. OBP. SLG. WAR 918 2877 731 384 278 39 .254 .316 .359 1.9
Gilbert Fitzgerald Coan was a 23-year-old, fleet-footed kid outfielder when he debuted with the Washington Senators in 1946. He would play 10 more years in the major leagues, most of them for the woeful Senators. The team, a charter member of the American League in 1901, had once been competitive back in the days when Walter Johnson commanded the pitching mound and Goose Goslin and Sam Rice roamed the outfield.
But by the time Coan arrived, the Senators could count only three winning seasons since their last pennant in 1933 during Franklin Roosevelt’s first term. Frustrated fans had resurrected the ditty about Washington that Charles Dryden, a legendary baseball writer, coined during an earlier period of team futility: First in war, first in peace and last in the American League.
Senator fans had reason to hope, though, when Coan took the field on that April afternoon. The team had finished in second place in a wartime-depleted league in 1945. This new kid was considered a can’t-miss prospect. Many thought he would play a big part in that brighter future.
“Gil Coan was the most promising rookie ever to arrive on the Washington baseball scene,” declared Joe Engel, the Senators’ chief scout who had discovered Goslin, Rice and Bucky Harris. Coan, he said, was the best of them all.[I]
The third son of George and Florence Coan’s four boys, Gil was born in Monroe but grew up in nearby Mineral Springs, in a house next to the Methodist Church. Coan would become a lifelong Methodist.
He played baseball and football for the local high school, and Duke University was considering entice him to Durham, North Carolina, with a football scholarship, but Coan headed for the mountains instead. He enrolled in what was then Brevard Junior College in 1940 where he played baseball and, more importantly, met Dovie White.
The two married in September 1941, when Coan dropped out of college to take a job at the Eucusta Paper plant that paid 40 cents an hour. He remained after Pearl Harbor because he was ineligible for the battle fields after a childhood infection had required amputating a portion of his left thumb.
While playing for the company’s baseball team, Coan caught the eye of Washington scouts who signed the Papermaker in 1944 and shipped him off to their minor leagues, first to Kingsport, Tennessee, then to Chattanooga. Coan tore the cover off the ball. He hit over .330 in the minors while playing all three outfield positions and was named The Sporting News’ Minor League Player of the year in ’45 when he hit .372 and stole 37 bases.
Alas, the Cinderella story came to an end in Tennessee. The rookie didn’t take Washington by storm as well. Coan hit .209 in just 132 at bats – welcome to The Show, kid – and was sent back down to the minors for more seasoning.
Coan returned a year later. This time he made noise, hitting .500 in 42 at bats. This time he would stick around.
While he and the Senators never fulfilled the lofty expectations of the rookie’s first afternoon, Coan compiled a solid, workman-like career while mostly playing for a laughingly bad team. His best year was probably 1951 when he hit over .300. He even got some votes for Most Valuable Player. During a game against the New York Yankees that April, Coan tied a major-league record by hitting two triples in one inning. His second three-bagger gave the Senators the lead, which of course they relinquished. They eventually lost the game. And, so it went.
When he hung up it up in 1956, Coan had played in over 900 games and had over 2,800 at bats. He got a hit about a quarter of the time. Respectable. “I got to travel all over the country and meet great people just because I could hit a ball and run fast,” is the way Coan summed it up to an interviewer several years ago. “I was a pretty decent player, nothing special.”[II]
He was also a pretty fast runner. So fast, in fact, that someone thought it grand promotion to match him against a racehorse. It was fan appreciation night in 1956. Coan had spent the last two years bouncing around baseball. He had been traded to the New York Giants a year earlier and was playing for their minor-league Millers in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Here’s Coan’s description: “I was fairly well-known for being a fast runner, you know?… and they asked me to race a horse from the right field wall to home plate. They gave me a little head start on this horse that they got from some local racetrack, but I won. They gave me $25 and I was thrilled.”[III]
Coan retired soon afterward and returned to Brevard. He was only 34. He bought an interest in Brevard Insurance Agency, which he owned outright by 1962. He would actively sell insurance until he retired at age 65. His grandson, Jay, later ran the agency.
While selling insurance and real estate, Coan managed the Brevard College baseball team for a couple of years and a was longtime member of the school’s board of trustees.
Coan and Dovie lived in a house overlooking Glen Cannon Country Club. He would stop by his cattle farm that he sold to his son, Kevin, to feed the cattle. He’d also stop by Gil Coan Field, the ballfield at Brevard College, to watch the kids play. After the field was renamed in his honor in 1994, Brevard residents would often see him mowing the grass or lining the infield.
Dovie died in November 2019. She was 97. She and Coan had been married for 78 years. Coan died three months later. Also 97, he was one the last remaining players of the original Baltimore Orioles and one of the oldest major-league players still alive.
“I think I was a part of baseball history that fans appreciated more than any other,” Coan said once. “Baseball gave me an entrée that would have never been available otherwise.”[IV]
First, Middle Names: Allen Lindsey Nicknames: Dusty
Date of Birth: June 23, 1907 Date and Place of Death: Nov. 21, 1987, Raleigh, NC Burial: Westview Memorial Gardens, Lillington, NC
High School: Durham High School, Durham, NC
Bats: L Throws: R Height and Weight: 6-1, 205 Debut Year: 1930 Final Year: 1938 Years Played: 8 Team(s) and Years: New York Yankees, 1930-32; Boston Red Sox, 1933-36; Cincinnati Reds, 1938
Career Summary G AB H R RBI HR BA. OBP. SLG. WAR 608 1745 489 324 229 24 .280 .384 .416 7.1
Life had been good to Dusty Cooke as he trotted out to right field at Griffith Stadium in Washington on that Sunday afternoon in April 1931. He was 24 years old, a kid from the sticks of Alamance County, batting third for the great New York Yankees, and playing in place of The Babe himself, who was nursing an injury. In his second year as a big leaguer, Cooke was beginning to show why one of his managers down in the minors called him “the game wrecker.” Through the first week of the new season, he was playing every day, hitting a torrid .353 and stealing bases with abandon. The kid had greatness written all over him, and his time had come.
Ossie Bluege, the Senators’ leadoff hitter that inning, lofted a flyball to shallow right. Cooke showed his dazzling speed by almost reaching the spot where the ball would land. He dove to make up te last couple of feet, and, in the instant it took to hit the ground, life turned mean. Cooke writhed in pain on the freshly mowed grass. The ball bounced toward the wall. No one thought to chase it down, as worried teammates gathered around the prone kid in obvious pain. Bluege was credited with an inside-the-park home run.
They carried a broken Dusty Cooke off the sun-drenched field that afternoon. Doctors later determined that his shoulder was separated and his collarbone splintered. Surgery would be required.
Injury once again exacted its heavy toll on greatness. Cooke would come back and have a decent eight-year career. His .384 on-base percentage is second among North Carolina players with more than a thousand career at bats and his .280 batting average is tied for 18th. Cooke, though, was never the star that everyone knew he should be. “You will not find his name in the Baseball Hall of Fame and present-day sportswriters have probably never heard of him, but he was denied baseball immortality by a quirk of fate,” wrote a teammate in his memoirs published in 2001.[I]
If Dusty Cooke is remembered at all these days, it’s how the arc of his altered career later intersected with that of Jackie Robinson’s. Unfortunately, the encounter left such an indelible smear on Cooke and the character of a city that its leaders felt the need to apologize more than 60 years later.
Euclid Monroe Cooke survived the grisly horrors of the battlefields of Virginia and a wound received at one of them, Chancellorsville. He returned from the Civil War to the family farm on Swepsonville Road in Alamance County, where he survived two wives. Allen Lindsey, born in 1907 to his third wife, Nannie, was the last of Euclid’s 10 children. Euclid died when the child was 18 months old.
The teenager attended high school in Durham, North Carolina, but may not have graduated. The principal told Cooke that he would have to cut out football or baseball and focus on his studies. “I sorta agreed with the principal,” Cooke said years later. “I remembered the old saying, ‘If business interferes with your pleasure, cut out business.’ So, I quit school and concentrated on baseball, which I figured would be combining business with pleasure if I made good.”[II]
Cooke played for the mill teams that flourished at the time. He became a professional in 1927 when he joined the Durham Bulls. He was big for his era, six-foot, one-inch, and pushing 200 pounds, and he could run. Cooke was hitting .319 for the Bulls and was leading the league in stolen bases with 33 when Ed Barrow in New York took notice.
An able boxer who once fought John L. Sullivan in an exhibition, Barrow was pugnacious, loudly opiniated and a tyrant with players, but there was no better judge of baseball talent. Through shrewd trades, astute signings, and a budding farm system, he put together some of the greatest rosters in baseball history as the Yankees’ general manager from 1920 to 1945. Barrow sent his best man, head scout Paul Krichell, to Durham to take a look.
During his 37 years with New York, Krichell would sign many of the players who would make the Yankees one of the great dynasties in American sports. Krichell’s successes included both quality—such as Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Phil Rizzuto, and Whitey Ford—and quantity. He knew a star when he saw one.
“When I saw him, I knew he was the ballplayer I had been dreaming about,” Krichell said of Cooke in 1946. “He had everything. A big guy and strong, and he could run like a deer. He could hit and throw and he could go get the ball in the outfield.”[III]
Krichell paid the Bulls $15,000 for Cooke, or more than $220,000 in current dollars. That the tight-fisted Barrow approved what was then a princely sum is an indication of what everyone thought this kid could be.
At his first stop in the Yankee farm system, the Asheville, North Carolina, Tourists in the Class B South Atlantic League, Cooke in 1928 merely hit .362, four points shy of the battling title, and had 30 triples, a measure of his speed. Promoted to Double A St. Paul in Minnesota the following year, Cooke won the league’s triple crown (.358-33-148). Next stop: New York.
Newspapers by then were referring to him as “Dusty.” There’s some dispute about the origins of Cooke’s nickname. One newspaper columnists claimed high-school friends started calling him that after following him on a long car ride down dirt roads outside Durham. A Cooke relative offered a more colorful alternative that had to do with the cloud of dust Cooke created when he slid into second base. “You get that kind of speed with that kind of size and you’re going to have a lot of dust,” a nephew told a newspaper in 1987.[IV]
By whatever name, Cooke was a Yankee in 1930. He played in only 92 games that first season, but he impressed people with his size – John Kiernan of the New York Times wrote that “he has shoulders as big as an icebox” – and his moxie. It was rumored that Cooke had gotten so fed up with Babe Ruth’s needling during a card game on a team train that he picked Babe up and stuffed him into an upper berth. Ruth was said to get a kick out of the manhandling.
The injured shoulder was still ailing Cooke in 1932, and surgery was needed to fix splintered bone. He hurt himself again while throwing batting practice and appeared in only three games that season.
Sensing that their star had faded, the Yankees traded Cooke to the perennial league doormats, the Boston Red Sox, in 1933. He played well that year, appearing in 119 games, hitting .293 and scoring 86 runs, but another injury required a minor operation on his right elbow. Cooke became a utility outfielder for the rest of his career.
Bill Werber, Cooke’s Red Sox roommate, said Cooke would occasionally get depressed about the injuries and his diminished skills and quietly nurse a bottle of Jack Daniels. He’d pass out and fall out of bed. Werber covered him with a blanket on the floor.[V]
In a hint of what was to come, Cooke was driving in Durham during the offseason in 1935 and hit a black teenager, Henry Griffin, on a bicycle. Cooke put the teen, who had a compound leg fracture, in the back seat of his car and dropped him off at the steps of Lincoln Hospital. He was later charged with assault and battery with a deadly weapon. Cooke told the arresting officer that he had been in “quite a bit of a hurry.”[VI] The charges were dropped three months later after Cooke paid Griffin $600.
He was at the time honeymooning in Florida. Cooke had married Daphne Rouse of Fuquay Springs, North Carolina, in February 1936. The newlyweds would make the Wake County town their home.
The Red Sox traded Cooke to the Cincinnati Reds in 1938, his last year in the majors.
Cooke played in the minor leagues before enlisting in the Navy’s Aviation Cadet Training Program on the Chapel Hill campus of the University of North Carolina in 1943. One of the first recruits he met was Ted Williams, the American League batting champ. Cooke didn’t complete the training and spent the World War II as a pharmacist’s mate. He treated war-related injuries and also gained experience in fitness conditioning. Cooke saw combat during the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
The Philadelphia Phillies, in an ironic twist, hired the oft-injured Cooke as a trainer when he returned from the Pacific in 1946. We don’t know much about his abilities healing sore muscles and aching bones, but there’s plenty of evidence that Cooke was a first-class bench jockey. Pitcher Robin Roberts said he had the loudest voice in baseball. Cooke used it to viciously ride opposing players in an attempt to get them off their games. It was, at the time, a common strategy.
The insults, though, took an ugly, mean, racial tone with Jackie Robinson. As the first African-American to play in the major leagues, Robinson had to endure verbal abuse wherever his Brooklyn Dodgers played, especially during his first season in 1947. The City of Brotherly Love, however, may have been the worst stop on the schedule.
The newspapers at the time didn’t record what the Phillies, led by Cooke and their manager Ben Chapman of Tennessee, yelled at Robinson, but it was so vile that some fans expressed embarrassment. The Dodgers were so incensed by the constant barrage of racial slurs that they rose to their teammate’s defense. Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella, two other black Dodgers, later got the same treatment.
Chapman defended his team’s actions by noting that opposing players used slurs against Joe DiMaggio, an Italian, and Hank Greenberg, a Jew. “It was all part of the game back then,” Chapman said in 2013. “You said anything you had to say to get an edge.”[VII]
Using prejudice to justify prejudice is a novel approach, but it misses a major point. DiMaggio and Greenberg could defend themselves. Robinson would not. To become the trailblazer, he had promised Dodgers’ management that he wouldn’t retaliate, that his response to the abuse would be silence. Cooke and Chapman knew that. Insulting a man who wouldn’t fight back could then be viewed as cowardly. That’s the way the Philadelphia City Council saw it in 2016 when it unanimously passed a resolution apologizing for the team’s behavior in 1947.
Cooke was the Phillies’ first-base coach and even interim manager for a dozen games when Chapman was fired during the 1948 season until he was fired in 1953.
He became co-owner of Mobley’s Art Center, an art-supply store in Raleigh, North Carolina, after baseball. He suffered a stroke in 1968 that left him unable to speak or write. He died in 1987 after a second stroke.
Footnote  After a year of incessant fan heckling because of the military deferment he received, Ted Williams, the Boston Red Sox’s Hall of Fame outfielder, enlisted in in the Navy reserve in 1942 and was called to active duty in November. He spent three years in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and elsewhere learning to fly. He didn’t see active combat before being discharged in December 1945. He was called up again in 1952 and flew fighter planes in Korea.
References [I] Nowlin, Bill. “Dusty Cooke.” Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/e46d5d86. [II] Ibid. [III] Ibid. [IV] Ibid. [V] Ibid. [VI] “Arrest Dusty Cooke for Auto Accident.” The News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), December 10, 1935. [VII] Barra, Allen. “What Really Happened to Ben Chapman, the Racist Baseball Player in ‘42?” The Atlantic, April 15, 2013.
Date of Birth: Sept. 28, 1891 Date and Place of Death: June 21, 1969. Kenedy, Texas Burial: Kenedy City Cemetery, Kenedy, Texas
High School: Undetermined College: Davidson College, Davidson, NC
Bats: L Throws: R Height and Weight: 5-8, 165 Debut Year: 1913 Final Year: 1914 Years Played: 2 Teams and Years: Pittsburgh Pirates, 1913; Indianapolis Hoosiers, Buffalo Buffeds, 1914
Career Summary G AB H R RBI HR BA. OBP. SLG. WAR 125 352 77 43 22 0 219 .289 .210 -2.0
The “e” in Everett Booe’s last name is silent, and he played baseball in a time before public-address equipment and names printed on the back of jerseys. To introduce players to fans, umpires bellowed out their names when they stepped to home plate for the first time.
Those were the circumstances under which Everett Booe met Bill Klem. The year was 1913. Booe was a 21-year-old rookie who was warming the bench for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He had been born in Mocksville, but his family had moved to Davidson, North Carolina, where his father owned a market and his mother ran a boarding house.
Klem was about a quarter of the way through an almost 40-year career that would make him one of the most-respected umpires of all time and one of the first inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He would introduce several innovations, such as hand signals that allowed fans even out in the bleachers to know the umpires’ decisions. Calling balls and strikes was a serious matter to Klem and he instructed other umpires how to position themselves to best judge the strike zone. They still stand in Klem’s “slot” between the batter and catcher to get the best view of home plate. Most importantly, Klem injected much-needed professionalism into a job that had known more than its share of drunks and rowdies.
Klem, though, had a notoriously short fuse. He would throw out a record 251 players during his career, including the sainted Christy Mathewson and any player who called him “Catfish.” Klem’s jowly appearance as he got older had led to the nickname that he detested. He much preferred his other moniker, The Old Arbiter.
Pirates players started riding Klem early in the game in question on June 9 for close calls that had gone against them. He angrily strode to their dugout in the fourth inning and threatened to throw out the next bench jockey he heard as well as the players sitting on either side of the offender just for good measure. The players quieted down.
It was at this juncture that Pirates Manager Fred Clarke decided to send in Booe to hit for the pitcher. Klem didn’t recognize the kid stepping to the plate.
“What’s your name?” he demanded so that he could announce it to the crowd.
“Boo,” said the kid.
“What did you say?” said a now glowering Klem as he stepped out from behind the catcher.
“Boo,” repeated the retreating Booe.
“Why you damn busher, I’ll run you out of here,” roared an enraged Kle It took a lot of sweet talking by Clarke to convince the umpire that Booe was really the kid’s name.[I]
Booe stayed in the game. He struck out.
If he could have just run the bases without first hitting the ball, Booe may have had a long major-league career. His speed had been turning heads since his days at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina, where he played baseball and football and ran track. Down in the minors, Booe, a lefty, once laid down a bunt and reached first base in three seconds.
While sportswriters in Pittsburgh rhapsodized about his speed and his acrobatic catches in the outfield, Booe sat on the bench, thanks largely to his .200 batting average. By the end of June, he was back in the minors.
Booe had been making money in professional baseball since at least 1909 when, as a teenager, he played for a semipro team in Waynesville, North Carolina. While in college, he spent summers playing for the Portsmouth Truckers and the Petersburg Goobers, yes, the Goobers, in the Virginia League.
He seemed ready to give up that line of work in 1913 when he took the job to coach the first football team at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina. He also coached the basketball and track teams and was preparing the baseball team for its season the following spring when he decided to join the Indianapolis Hoosiers in the upstart Federal League.
The league had started as a six-team minor league in 1913. It added two teams the following year and challenged the established American and National leagues by enticing its players with more money and the freedom to move around. The established leagues’ so-called reserve clause restricted players to the same team for life. Several established stars made the jump. Benny Kauff, for instance, left the New York Yankees to join Booe on the Hoosiers. The “Jewish Ty Cobb” would lead the league in hitting (.370) and stolen bases (75). Booe was the only North Carolinian to make the switch.
Unfortunately, changing leagues didn’t improve Booe’s hitting. He appeared in only 10 games for the Hoosiers before being sold to Buffalo Buffeds.
His one-year stint in the Federal League would be Booe’s last in the major leagues. He would play or manage in the minors for another 16 years.
World War I was the only interruption. Booe was playing for a team in San Antonio, Texas, in 1917 when he enlisted in the Army. He was an infantry lieutenant and saw considerable action in France. “He fought in the open and was not in the trenches at all,” the Davidson student newspaper reported. “In spite of this, he escaped without a wound.”[II]
After baseball, Booe, his wife, Analois, and their two children moved to Kenedy, Texas, where he owned a lumber and building materials store and became a pillar of the community: city commissioner, president of the farm loan association, member of the State Highway Committee, an elder in the Presbyterian Church, and a volunteer with Little League and Boy Scouts.
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/Honors: 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.