Boney, Hank

Player Name: Boney, Hank
Position: Relief pitcher
Birthplace: Wallace

First, Middle Names:  Henry Tate
Date of Birth:  Oct. 28, 1903   Date and Place of Death: June 12, 2002, Lake Worth, FL
Burial: Wauchula City Cemetery, Wauchula, FL

High School: Undetermined
College: University of Florida, Gainesville, FL

Bats: L Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-11, 176
Debut Year: 1927        Final Year: 1927          Years Played: 1
Team and Years: New York Giants, 1927

Career Summary
G          W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
3          0         0          0         2.25     4.0       0          0.1

Hank Boney was 23 years old and fresh out of college when he stepped onto a big-league pitching mound for the first time on June 28, 1927. Professional baseball was less structured then and its players little more than talented chattels. A manager, like the New York Giants’ John McGraw, could pluck a promising kid from college for a pittance to fill a roster hole, throw him into a game or two, and then discard him like yesterday’s newspaper if he didn’t work out. For the rest of his life, though, the kid would likely thank his manager for giving him a chance.

Down 7-3 to the Philadelphia Phillies in the eighth inning, McGraw figured it was a suitable time to see what the rookie could do. Boney didn’t disappoint by retiring the three batters he faced. He gave up a single in his next outing two days later, a 6-1 loss to the Boston Braves, and then one run in a couple of innings against the Cincinnati Red two weeks after that. And then he was gone for good, though his professional resume of a sole run in four innings would seem to have warranted a longer stay.

Boney kicked around the minor leagues for a few seasons and then settled down in Florida for a long life. He raised cattle, grew oranges, became a leader in his church, and ran companies that distributed fuel along the state’s Gold Coast. He outlived three wives in the process. He died just a few months shy of his 99th birthday.

The Boney name is an old one in Duplin County, North Carolina. After the American revolution, William Boney owned much of the land that is now the town of Wallace in the southern end of the county.[1] Most of his holdings were included in a grant from England’s King George II. William Tate Boney was born in 1903 into a particularly large contingent of the clan. His parents, Jacob and Julia, worked a farm near Island Creek north of Wallace where they raised eight children.

The family moved to Wauchula in central Florida sometime in the 1910s where Jacob continued to farm. Henry likely attended old Wauchula High School, but no existing records confirm that. He also likely pitched, either in school or for local semipro teams, because he was on the starting staff for the University of Florida in Gainesville in the mid-1920s. Boney apparently dropped out of school when he was signed by the Giants in 1927.

After his brief stay in New York, he pitched for minor-league teams in New Jersey and Connecticut. He returned to Florida in 1935 to live with his mother who owned a boarding house in Wauchula. His father had died six years earlier.

He married Viola Smith in 1938. Known as Brownie, she came from Wauchula’s most-prominent family. Her father was one of Hardee County’s first citrus growers and its largest landowner. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, a private, women’s school in Georgia, Brownie was a talented singer and became a local celebrity. For most of her life, she was in high demand as a vocalist, singing at veterans’ memorials, social-club meetings, and holiday celebrations. In fact, she is more likely to turn up in searches for “Henry Boney” in Florida newspapers than her husband.

The couple moved to Lake Worth on Florida’s east coast in the late 1930s where they both worked for a company that distributed oil and gasoline. He was its manager; she was its bookkeeper. Boney would remain with Atlantic Fuel Company for more than 30 years, rising to become its president. He would also own a company that distributed propane.

A leader in the Presbyterian Church, Boney was a ruling elder at his local church and a member of the national board that published the annual church histories.

He didn’t seem to dwell on his former life as a professional baseball pitcher. There are no newspaper clips of his talks on the subject, no stories about him throwing out the first pitch at a local minor-league game. About the only remnant of his former life that pops up is a boxer puppy named Muggsy, the nickname for McGraw that the manager detested. Boney took out classified ads in several newspapers asking readers to be on the lookout for his lost dog. There’s no record that the errant Muggsy found his way back home.

Brownie died in 1966. Boney remarried. When that wife, Lida, died, he married again. Reta left him a widower for the third time. He had no children.

Boney died in June 2002 in Lake Worth.

Footnote
[1] For a small, rural town, Wallace is the home of a surprising number of professional athletes. M.L. Carr starred in the American and National basketball associations and was the head coach and general manager of the Boston Celtics in the NBA. Wray Carlton and Javonte Williams were running backs in the National Football League and Nate Irving was a NFL linebacker. Wallace was also the birthplace of the scion of North Carolina’s most-famous athlete, James R. Jordan Sr., the father of Michael Jordan.

 

 

Crowson, Woody

Position: Relief pitcher
Birthplace: Fuquay Springs

First, Middle Names:  Thomas Woodrow
Date of Birth:  Sept. 9, 1918   Date and Place of Death: Aug. 14, 1947, Greensboro, NC
Burial: Springfield Friends Meeting House Cemetery, High Point, NC

High School: Undetermined
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: R Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-2, 185
Debut Year: 1945        Final Year: 1945          Years Played: 1
Team and Year: Philadelphia Athletics, 1945

Career Summary
G          W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR

1           0          0          0        6.00     3          2           0.0

It had been a meaningless game – even in August — between two teams heading nowhere. The dismal, hometown A’s of Martinsville, Virginia, were destined for last place in that 1947 season of the Carolina League, a lowly Class C congregation of eight teams, most in North Carolina, that had formed two years earlier to compete in the subbasement of the minor leagues. The fifth-place Patriots of Greensboro, North Carolina, were little better. The A’s won 9-4 that night, but the outcome made little difference in the final league tally. A game of no athletic significance would however have tragic human consequences.

Long bus rides along dark, country roads were staples of life for minor leaguers back then. They were endured but rarely enjoyed by the 15 Patriots who boarded the team bus for the 50-mile trip back to Greensboro. Third baseman James “Sheepy” Lambe slipped behind the wheel, while the others settled into their seats. Some likely cracked open bottles of beer. A few played cards or read. Many tried to follow Woody Crowson’s example and take a nap. He chose the long seat at the back of the bus to stretch out. By all later accounts, he was fast asleep by the time the bus pulled out of town.

If a fifth-place team could claim a pitching ace, Crowson, with a 12-13 record and the lowest earned-run average among the starters (3.51), was it. At 28, he was also one of the oldest Patriots. He had pitched six years in the minors, preceded by several more seasons in the industrial leagues that flourished amid the textile plants near his home in High Point, North Carolina. He was also the only player on the team who had pitched in the big leagues. It was only a few innings in one game, but the big leagues all the same.

Thomas Woodrow was born in Fuquay Springs in southern Wake County in 1918 to Sam and Alberta Crowson.[1] The family, which included an older brother, Milton, moved to Sam’s family farm in adjacent Harnett County a couple of years later. By 1930, the Crowsons, which included an infant daughter, were living in High Point where Sam was a police officer.

Wooddy Crowson married Ruth Wood of High Point in 1938 and worked in area hosiery mills while pitching for their teams, once hurling 21 innings in a 6-5 loss. He signed his first professional contract with the Cleveland Indians in 1940 and spent the next five seasons in the low minors. Signed by the Athletics in 1945, he started the season in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Manager Connie Mack hoped he would bolster a pitching staff that had been depleted by World War II. He sent Crowson out on April 17 to start the sixth inning of a game against the Washington Senators that his team was already losing 10-2. Crowson gave up two more runs in three innings, and Mack shipped him back to the minors within days.

Steve Laney knew none of that history, of course. He very likely had never heard of Woody Crowson or the Greensboro Patriots for that matter. He was from Pageland, South Carolina, and worked for a trucking company owned by the town’s most-famous son, Van Lingle Mungo. A retired All-Star pitcher, he was a ballplayer most fans had heard of.[2]

Laney that night of August 13 was driving one of Mungo’s trucks loaded with watermelons to customers in Virginia. Sometime just before midnight on a curve in US 220 near the town of Mayodan, North Carolina, Laney and his watermelons heading north met the Greensboro Patriots on their bus going in the opposite direction. One of the vehicles strayed across the center line, which one would become a matter of dispute. They sideswiped each other. Metal crunched and glass broke before the bus and the truck came to jarring halts on the road’s shoulders. Laney was unhurt. The players filed out of the bus, some bruised, some cut by flying glass, but no one with serious injuries.

Woody Crowson wasn’t among the dazed players gathering outside the bus. He lay unconscious inside on the floor where his teammates tried unsuccessfully to revive him. Rushed by ambulance to Wesley Long Hospital in Greensboro, Crowson died early the next morning of a compound head fracture, the only serious injury in an otherwise minor accident.

His widow later sued Mungo, claiming his driver caused her husband’s death by crossing the center line. Some writers claimed, but without offering evidence, that Mungo had never properly insured his trucks and was forced to close the trucking business because of legal claims arising from the accident.

Footnotes
[1] Named for one of its early settlers, Fuquay Springs was incorporated in 1909. It merged with the nearby town of Varina in 1963 to become the modern Fuquay-Varina.

[2] Van Lingle Mungo pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants from 1931-1945. The five-time All-Star led the National League in strikeouts in 1936. He achieved legendary status in Brooklyn where he was the most-colorful and most-talented pitcher on terrible teams. Many of the stories centered around his carousing after games or his sour disposition during them. One of his managers and a colorful character himself, Casey Stengel, once famously said of his combative pitcher: “Mungo and I got along just fine. I just tell him I won’t stand for no nonsense, and then I duck.” (“Van Lingle Mungo” by David Frishberg, Baseball-Almanac.com, https://www.baseball-almanac.com/poetry/vanlinglemungo.shtml)

 

Chambers, Rome

Position: Relief pitcher
Birthplace: Weaverville

First, Middle Names: Richard Jerome       Nicknames: Rome
Date of Birth: Aug. 31, 1875   Date and Place of Death: Aug. 30, 1902
Burial: Chambers Family Cemetery, Weaverville

High School: Undetermined
College: Weaver College, Weaverville

Bats: L Throws: L        Height and Weight: 6-2, 173
Debut Year: 1900        Final Year: 1900          Years Played: 1
Team and Year: Boston Beaneaters, 1900

Career Summary
G          W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
1          0          0          0          11.25   4.0       2          -0.2

Rome Chambers was the third North Carolinian to play in the major leagues and the first from the state’s mountains. His stay was brief, a mere four innings in one game in 1900, but his manager liked what he saw and thought he’d be back after a bit of seasoning in the minors. Chambers didn’t get the chance. Two years later, he was dead, a day shy of his 27th birthday.

Richard Jerome Chambers was born in 1875, the same year the small community of Reems Creek north of Asheville was incorporated and renamed Weaverville after a prominent local resident. His parents, Robert and Bathilda, raised five children on the family farm outside town. The oldest, Ogburn, would become a well-known dentist in Asheville whose passing would be deeply mourned in 1929 after he was struck by a bicycle on a city street.

There are a few tidbits here and there in the historical and genealogical records about Rome, the next in the family’s lineup of kids. Census reports indicate that he lived with his parents all his life, working on the family farm. It’s not known when he started playing baseball. We know he pitched a few innings for the Richmond, Virginia, Giants of the Atlantic League in 1897 and one season two years later for Weaver College, a local Methodist school.[1] He was described by his contemporaries at the time: “When the style for pitching balls with a steam engine or shooting them from a cannon to the batter comes in fashion, Mr. Chambers will lose his job, but not before. If he could write letters as nicely as he plays ball, he would doubtless hear from his sweetheart oftener than once a month.”[I]

Chambers traveled the 150 or so miles to Greensboro, North Carolina, in the spring of 1900 to attend a tryout camp sponsored by the Boston Beaneaters, one of the original members of the National League.[2] A few weeks later, on May 7, the “North Carolina mountaineer,” as the Boston’s newspapers called him, found himself on the mound at the Beaneaters’ South End Grounds for the 15th game of the new season. Manager Frank Selee sent the rookie in to start the fourth inning against the New York Giants. Chambers pitched four innings and gave up five runs in an 18-11 slugfest won by Boston, though he wasn’t credited with the victory.

A summation of his work that day resides in the archives of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York “He had speed and nerves but lacked control,” it says.[II] Selee was a bit more diplomatic three days later when he shipped Chambers to Toronto, Canada, in the Eastern League. He told the press that he had “great faith in Chambers becoming a good man after a year on a minor-league team.”[III]

Chambers never made it back. He died in Weaverville in 1902 of unknown causes. His will lists no heirs.

Footnotes
[1] Weaverville College was founded as a Methodist, coeducational academy in 1851 by the local Sons of Temperance. The school was renamed Weaver College in 1912 to honor Montraville Weaver who donated land for the first buildings. The Methodist Church merged it with Rutherford College in 1933 to create Brevard College in Brevard, NC. (Hill, Michael, “Weaver College.” NCPedia, 2006. https://www.ncpedia.org/weaver-college).
[2] The Boston Red Stockings were one of the charter franchises of the National League in 1876. Its name was changed to the Beaneaters seven years later. While colorful, the name always irked some Bostonians. After two  more changes, the “Braves” was adopted as the official name in 1912 when no one much cared about what Native Americans might think. Except for a brief sojourn as the Bees in the 1930s, the Braves name stuck. The team played in Boston until 1953 when it moved to Milwaukee. It now resides in Atlanta, where it’s been since 1966.

References
[i] Goode, Tyler Norris. “Rome’s Big Day.” Asheville (NC) Citizen-Times, May 7, 2006.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] “Rome J. Chambers Farmed Out to Toronto.” Boston (MA) Globe, May 10, 1900.

 

 

Chakales, Bob

Position: Relief pitcher
Birthplace: Asheville

First, Middle Names: Robert Edward            Nickname: The Golden Greek
Date of Birth:  Aug. 10, 1927  Date and Place of Death: Feb. 18, 2010, Richmond, VA
Burial: Westhampton Memorial Park, Richmond, VA

High School: Benedictine High School, Richmond, VA
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-1, 185
Debut Year: 1951       Final Year: 1957          Years Played: 7
Teams and Years: Cleveland Indians, 1951-54; Baltimore Orioles, 1954; Chicago White Sox, 1955; Washington Senators, 1956-57; Boston Red Sox, 1957

Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
171     15       25        11        4.54     420.1  187      0.3

Bob Chakales was a serviceable and, at times, effective relief pitcher during his seven years of bouncing around the American League. When he retired, he turned an avocation, golf, into a lucrative second career building courses all over the country.

Edward Peter – Eddie Pete to all who knew him – and Blanche Chakales (pronounced SHACK-ulls) named the first of their six children Robert Edward when he was born in August 1927. Eddie Pete was the son of Greek immigrants who had settled in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1902, the year Eddie Pete was born. His family moved around, first to Salisbury, North Carolina, by 1910 and then to Asheville 10 years later, where Eddie Pete met and wooed Blanche Wiggs.

They both had jobs when The Depression began two years after their first child’s birth — Eddie Pete was a waiter and Blanche sold women’s clothing in a downtown store – but they moved to Rocky Mount, North Carolina, by 1930 where Eddie Pete repaired hats for a dry cleaner. They moved again, when Bob was in the fifth grade, to Dunn, North Carolina, where his father opened a café.

The youngster kicked around the town’s sandlots playing pick-up baseball games with the other kids. “We used to stitch corncobs together to make balls,” he remembered.[i] He was also an expert marbles shooter and once won the state shooting contest.

When he got older, Chakales played for a youth league, which posted its statistics in a downtown barber shop. “Every week the baseball stats were prominently displayed for everyone to see. I was hitting so well I could get a free lollipop anytime I wanted,” he said.[ii]

As a teenager, he played third base for the local American Legion team. When he was hort of pitching one season, his coach asked him to take the mound for one of the last games. Chakales won, and he was a pitcher when the new season began.

The family moved again, this time to Richmond, Virginia, soon before Chakalas started high school. The American Legion team, though, wanted him back so badly that Dunn’s mayor, Herbert Taylor, offered him room and board to return for one season. Taylor even went to Richmond and drove the team’s star hurler back. Chakales opened the season striking out 18 and pitched Dunn into the state finals. He was named the tournament’s outstanding pitcher.

There was a price for stardom, however. The mayor was an undertaker, and Chakales spent the summer in his funeral home, sleeping above the coffins and corpses. During a vicious thunderstorm one night, one of the bodies sat up on the table, not that uncommon under the right combination of rigor mortis and tendon contraction, it was explained to him later. The terrified kid bolted out of the building and aimlessly ran across town in the pelting rain. “A funeral home is no place for a young person to spend their summer,” he later decided.[iii]

Three-sport stardom awaited Chakales at what was then Benedictine High School, a Catholic military school in Richmond known for its strong sports programs.[1]  He pitched, played quarterback, and was a guard on the basketball team. He won eight in a row, which included a no hitter, and batted .353 his senior year in 1945 when he was named to the all-state teams in all three sports.

Colleges came calling, but the offer that intrigued Chakales the most was the one that arrived from the Philadelphia Phillies, who invited the youngster to a tryout at their home field, Shibe Park. The team’s scouts were impressed enough that they offered him a contract that included a $7,500 bonus, equivalent to about $100,000 today, and $4,000 for college, though he would never attend. He signed, of course, and pitched that summer in the low minors.

After a year in the Army playing for the base team at Fort Lee, Virginia, Chakales spent three more years at the bottom of the minor leagues, pitching for the Phillies and then the Cleveland Indians, who picked him up in 1949. His breakout came a year later in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the Indians’ Class A franchise. He won 16 games, while giving up an average of just two runs a start, and was named an Eastern League All-Star. He made the jump to the majors the following spring.

We don’t know if Chakales brought his nickname with him to the big leagues or how frequently he was called the Golden Greek. Its origins are apparent but whether he acquired it on the sandlots of Dunn, as a three-sport prep star, or in the minor isn’t.

He did arrive at the Indians’ training camp in Tucson, Arizona, lugging 10 suits, 17 pairs of pants, and 25 shirts. “Man, I didn’t come here just for a visit. I came here to stay,” he explained.[iv] Hal Lebovitz of the Cleveland News was much taken with the youngster, calling him “a likable rookie with a friendly smile … as colorful as Dizzy Dean’s … something like a character in a Ring Lardner yarn.”[v]

Unless he pitched like Dean, it wasn’t likely that a rookie just up from the depths of Class A would break into one of the best starting rotations in baseball history. It included future Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Early Wynn and Bob Lemon and featured three pitchers who would win 20 games in each of the next two seasons.[2] “With any other major-league team, he would be a starting pitcher,” manager Al Lopez would later say of Chakales.[vi]

He broke camp as a reliever, but he managed to start 10 games that year, his career high. He won just three of them, but his earned-run average, or ERA, of 4.74 was respectable. His walks – 43 in just 68 innings – were not, however.  Chakales would average about five walks a game throughout his career, a number that likely contributed to his frequent travels to the minors.

That’s what he did over the next three years with Cleveland, moving up and down to and from its Class AAA team in Indianapolis, Indiana, appearing in a total of 15 games for the big-league club. He was traded in June 1952 to Baltimore and gave the Orioles three months of solid pitching. Working mostly out of the bullpen, he appeared in 38 games with a 3.73 ERA.

Two trades later, Chakales was in Washington in 1956 and probably his best season in the major leagues. He pitched 96 innings for the Senators and limited opponents to about four runs a game.

The next season was his last in the major leagues. He spent it split between the Senators and Boston Red Sox and pitching sporadically and ineffectively. After three more years in the minor leagues, Chakales retired in 1961.

He and his wife, Anne, who were married in 1952, had never left Richmond. They would raise five children there. Chakales sold insurance after he retired and played a lot of golf. He and a partner later built par-three golf courses and then championship courses, including the original TPC Sawgrass course in Ponte Vedra, Florida, the site of the PGA’s Player’s Championship. “I was gone more than I wanted to be,” he said of his second career.  “I was good at what I did, but fearful I would not get that next job – so fortunately I had many offers so I kept my plate full.”[vii]

He was 83 when he died in Richmond in 2010.

Footnotes
[1] Benedictine monks from Belmont Abby, North Carolina, opened a military college in Richmond, VA, in 1911. It was a high school by the time Bob Chakalas enrolled in 1942. The high school still exists and is now called Belmont College Preparatory School.
[2] The 20-game winners on the Cleveland Indians’ pitching staff in 1951 and their win totals were Bob Feller, 22; Mike Garcia, 20; and Early Wynn, 20. In 1952, the 20-game winners and their win totals were: Wynn, 23; Garcia, 22; and Bob Lemon, 22.

References
[i] Nowlin, Bill. “Bob Chakalas.” Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/bob-chakales/.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Ibid.
[vi] Ibid.
[vii] Ibid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blackburn, Ron

Position: Relief pitcher
Birthplace: Mount Airy

First, Middle Names: Ronald Hamilton
Date of Birth:  April 23, 1935  Date and Place of Death: April 29, 1998, Morganton, NC
Burial: Carolina Memorial Park, Kannapolis, NC

High School: A.L. Brown High School, Kannapolis, NC
Colleges: Catawba College, Salisbury, NC; Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC

Bats: R Throws: R       Height and Weight: 6-0, 160
Debut Year: 1958       Final Year: 1959          Years Played: 2
Teams and Years: Pittsburgh Pirates, 1958-59

 Career Summary
G          W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
64        3          2         4          3.50    108.0  50       0.8

In the era of baseball bonus babies, Ron Blackburn made it to the majors the old-fashioned way. Teams didn’t throw wads of money at him or promise him a spot on the roster when he graduated from high school in 1953, as they had done to his older brother a few years earlier. He was among the 80 kids who showed up for a Pittsburgh Pirates’ tryout in Burlington, North Carolina, that summer. “We got up at 5:30 in the morning and drove 100 miles to get there,” he recalled years later.[I]

He stood out among the horde, and the Pirates’ scout asked him to come back. “When I was called to pitch the next day in a squad game, I faced only six batters but struck out four of them,” he remembered. “That’s when the Pirates offered me a contract and I signed.”[II]

Unlike his brother and other promising youngsters who got bonuses, Blackburn received no additional money for signing and no guarantee that he would be on a major-league roster. Like thousands before him, Blackburn was shipped to the minors where he labored for most of his career. He was different from his brother and most other bonus babies in another regard: He made it to the majors. He spent parts of two seasons in Pittsburgh.

Blackburn was born in Mount Airy in 1935 but grew up in Kannapolis, North Carolina, where his parents, Henry and Virginia, moved with their four children for jobs in the textile mills. He pitched and played basketball at A.L. Brown High School and led his American Legion team to a state championship in 1952.

Henry had pitched semipro ball in Virginia and his oldest son, Gerald, had been a pitching sensation at Brown. A coveted prospect wooed by several teams, he had signed in 1950 with the Cincinnati Reds after agreeing to a $30,000 bonus, or almost $340,000 today.[1] Wild and overweight, he never made it to the majors. The Reds, said Blackburn, released his brother “when he got so fat.” He ended up in Kannapolis working in a mill and pitching on industrial teams.[III]

Blackburn played four years in the Pirates’ farm system before being called up in 1958. The 22-year-old won his debut on April 15 after tossing three-innings of shutout ball against the world champion Milwaukee Braves. Though he pitched well as a rookie reliever – 3.39 earned-run average in more than 63 innings — Blackburn became the forgotten man in a talented bullpen led by Roy Face and Don Gross.[2] Though he had a good start the following season, he was shipped to the minors in July and remained there until his retirement in 1964.

He always returned home in the offseasons and, starting in 1957, he began attending Catawba College in nearby Salisbury, North Carolina, and was even their pitching coach for a season. It took almost eight years, but Blackburn earned a degree in physical education.

He worked a bit faster with Sandra Lower. He met the Catawba student from Pennsylvania, probably during his freshman semester. They were married in June the following year and would have two sons.

After he retired, Blackburn became the head baseball coach at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, in 1964. The teams were competitive during the four seasons he was at the helm, compiling a 78-65 record. When he wasn’t on the ballfield or on the road recruiting, Blackburn was in the classroom working for his master’s degree in physical education, which he received in 1965.

He put the degree to work in 1972 as the recreational director of the Western Correctional Center, a new, 16-story state prison near Morganton, North Carolina. The state soon designated it as a prison for youthful offenders and changed its name to the Western Youth Institution.[3] Blackburn developed a therapeutic recreation program for handicapped inmates that was adopted by all state prisons and was used as a model in other states.

Blackburn died in Morganton in 1998, six days after his 63rd birthday.

Footnotes
[1] Major-League Baseball instituted the Bonus Rule in 1947 to prevent wealthy teams from accumulating talented youngsters and stashing them in their minor leagues. The original rule stipulated that when it signed a player to a contract worth more than $4,000, a major-league team had to keep that player on its 40-man roster for two full-seasons. That was the rule in place when the Cincinnati Reds signed Gerald Blackburn, Ron’s brother, in 1950. Though he was on the Reds’ protected roster for the required two seasons, Gerald was never promoted to the next step, the 25-man roster, and to the majors. The Reds released him after he spent five years in their farm system. The Bonus Rule was rescinded in December 1950 because teams found ways to circumvent it, but a stronger one was re-instituted three years later. It required affected players to remain on the major-league roster for two seasons. The rule was abandoned for good in 1965 when the amateur draft was started. Rookies signed under the rule were derisively called “bonus babies” because they bypassed baseball’s usual training in the minors and took roster spots normally reserved for more-seasoned players. (https://tht.fangraphs.com/cash-in-the-cradle-the-bonus-babies/.)
[2] A six-time All-Star, Elroy Face pitched 16 years in the major leagues and was one of the era’s premier relievers. Though the “save” wasn’t an official statistic until 1969, Face’s last season, he is credited retroactively with 191 of them. Don Gross was a workhorse relief pitcher during much of six-year career. He appeared in 40 games and pitched more than 74 innings during Ron Blackburn’s rookie season in 1958.
[3] The Western Youth Institution could house up to 800 inmates, making it one of the largest prisons in the state. Known for its innovative programs to help young offenders stay out of prison once they were released, the prison closed in 2013 and was imploded in July 2020.

References
[I] Eck, Frank. Associated Press. “Jerry Blackburn Cost Reds $30,000, But Bucs Obtained Ron for Nothing.” Daily-Times (Burlington, NC), April 26, 1958.
[II] United Press International. “Ron Blackburn Had Bright Hopes.” New Castle (PA) News, September 20, 1958.
[III] Eck.