Gulley, Tom

Positions: Right field, pinch hitter
Birthplace: Garner

First, Middle Names: Thomas Jefferson
Date of Birth:  Dec. 25, 1899  Date and Place of Death: Nov. 24, 1966, St. Charles, AK
Burial: Roselawn Memorial Park, Little Rock, AK

High School: Tallahatchie Agricultural High School, Charleston, MS
College: Mississippi College, Clinton, MS

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-11, 178
Debut Year: 1923       Final Year: 1926          Years Played: 3
Team(s) and Years: Cleveland Indians, 1923-24; Chicago White Sox, 1926

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
25      58        12       10        9          0         .207     .303     .345     -0.1

Tom Gulley was born on Christmas Day and drowned in a freak accident on Thanksgiving 66 years later. In between, he had a brief major-league career and a more substantial one in the minors where he often challenged for batting titles. After baseball, he spent two decades in Arkansas politics, winning elections as a sheriff, alderman, tax collector, and judge.

Thomas Jefferson Gulley was born in Garner in 1899, the fifth of Robert and Annie Gulley’s seven children. The family moved to Hammond, Louisiana, by the time Gulley was nine and then to Brookhaven, Mississippi. He attended Tallahatchie Agricultural High School, a boarding school about 200 miles from home in Charleston, Mississippi. We don’t know if he played baseball there.

He was the leading hitter for Mississippi College, a private Baptist school in Clinton, and a star running back on the football team.

The Cleveland Indians invited Gulley to their spring training camp in Dallas, Texas, in 1922 and told him to come back when he finished college. He signed with the team after graduating the following year and appeared in two games. He was sent to Lakeland, Florida, and led the Florida State League in hitting in 1924. He appeared in eight more games for the Indians that year.

After hitting .378 for Little Rock, Arkansas, in the Southern Association the following season, Gulley found himself with the Chicago White Sox in 1926. He had his last and longest stint in the majors: Sixteen games and thirty-five at bats. He hit just .229.

Gulley spent the next six years in the minors, most of them with Montreal, Canada, in the International League. Even Canadian summers were too cold for a Southern boy, he said when first joining the Royals. Gulley acclimated quickly, however. He hit better than .320 while in Canada and became a feared slugger.

Failing eyesight that doctors attributed to a sinus condition forced Gulley to retire in 1932.

He returned to Little Rock where he had lived since at least 1930. Gulley had married a local girl, Donnie Holiman, two years earlier. They would have two children.

Gulley opened a drugstore and coached youth teams. The store and its soda fountain quickly became the hangout for every kid in town.

He won his first election in 1933 as a town alderman. He won successive terms until he was appointed deputy sheriff in 1941. Elected sheriff five years later, Gulley would be the head lawman in Pulaski County for twelve years. He was elected county tax collector in 1960 and county judge six years later.

 A couple of weeks after that election, on Thanksgiving Day, Gulley and a friend went on a deer hunting trip. The car he was driving rolled down the ramp to the St. Charles, AK, ferry and across the 60-foot-long barge before crashing through a restraining cable and into the White River. The friend jumped from the station wagon before it plunged into the water. Fishermen found Gulley’s body a week later about three miles downstream.

 

Wright, Taffy

Position: Right field, left field
Birthplace: Tabor City

First, Middle Names: Taft Shedron   Nickname: Taffy
Date of Birth:  Aug. 10, 1911  Date and Place of Death: Oct. 22, 1981, Orlando, FL
Burial: Meadowbrook Cemetery, Lumberton, NC

High School: Undetermined
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-10, 180
Debut Year: 1938       Final Year: 1949          Years Played: 9
Team(s) and Years: Washington Senators, 1938-39; Chicago White Sox, 1940-42, 1946-48; Philadelphia Athletics, 1948

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
1029  3583    1115    465      553      38        .311     .376     .423     16.7

To be blunt about it, Taft Wright tended to look more like the fat guy at the end of the bar than a ball player. Throughout his 20-year career in professional baseball, he endured all the adjectives sportswriters could conjure: Tubby, stocky, plump, round, rotund, roly-poly. One writer noted he was built like a “beer can.” Burton Hawkins of the old Evening Star in Washington got it right, though, when he wrote in 1939, “Taft Wright will plaster major-league pitching as long as he can waddle up to the plate.”[I]

For most of the nine years that he played in the big leagues, Wright was one of the top hitters in baseball. No less a judge than Hall of Famer Bob Feller ranked Wright among the most-dangerous hitters he faced in the American League, along with Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Charlie Gehringer. In 75 career at-bats against Feller, Wright hit .320, about 100 points higher than the league average.[II]

An intense competitor, he viewed every at bat as a fierce struggle with a pitcher who was trying to take money out of his pocket and food off his table. He hated all pitchers and himself if he didn’t smack one of their offerings to an outfield gap. Spraying line drives all over the field, Wright hit .300 most seasons and challenged for the batting title in a couple of them. He finished with a .311 career batting average, the highest among North Carolina players with at least a thousand at bats. He’s in the top 20 in six other offensive categories.

Playing the outfield was another matter entirely. Wright was a born designated hitter. Unfortunately, the position was more than a half a century in the future when he was born

That would have been in 1911 in Tabor City, a tobacco and lumber town on the South Carolina line in Columbus County that in Wright’s day also turned out crates for strawberries and watermelons. Someone once asked Taft Shedron Wright why a son of the then solid Democratic South was named after a Republican president. “I dunno,” he responded. “The family must have run out of names.”[III][1]

Isaac and Rosa Jane moved with their four children to Lumberton, about 30 miles away in Robeson County, by the time Taft was nine years old. There, Isaac worked in a cotton mill and in tobacco fields.

Fred Wright, the catcher for the town team, drafted his younger brother to pitch. Taft joined the team as a teenager and fancied himself a pretty good pitcher. When he tried out for a team in the Piedmont League in 1931, however, Wright was cut during spring training.

Pitching for a semipro textile team in Lancaster, South Carolina, the following year, he was on the mound in an exhibition game against the Class B club in Charlotte, North Carolina. His pitching didn’t impress Jimmy Dobbs, the Charlotte manager. His line drives, however, did. “Son, a fellow who can hit like you doesn’t have any business pitching,” Dobbs told him. He invited Wright to join his club as an outfielder the following season.[IV]

He did and went five-for-five in his professional debut, capping the performance with a grand slam in the ninth inning. The Washington Senators signed him in 1934, and Wright spent three seasons in their minor leagues, hitting better than .300 in two of them.

The 5-foot, 10-inch Wright reported to the Senators’ spring training camp in 1938 tipping the scales at 220 pounds. Manager Bucky Harris ordered him to run laps in the outfield wearing a rubber suit. Despite his weight and suspect outfield play, Wright made the team because there was no denying that the rookie could hit.

He started the season platooning with fading star Al Simmons in right field, but that arrangement lasted eight days. After dropping a fly ball in a critical spot during a game, Wright was sent to the bench as a pinch-hitter. Appearing in 100 games, only 61 of them in the field, he finished the season hitting .350, but he didn’t qualify for the batting title, which Boston’s Jimmie Foxx won with a .349 average.

Though he hit .309 in 129 games the following year, the Senators traded Wright at the end of the season to the Chicago White Sox. He started the 1940 season with an 18-game hitting streak and battled teammate Luke Appling, a fellow North Carolinian, for the lead in the race for the batting title most of the year. Wright cooled at the end and finished with a .337 average, good for seventh place.[2]

The White Sox sent Wright and two other players – dubbed the Fat Man Club – to a resort in Hot Springs, Arkansas, to boil off some flab before the new season began. A coach went along to guard the mashed potatoes. Wright caught the flu, spent time in the hospital and missed the first two weeks of the 1941 season. He was hitting .300 by mid-July, though, and finished with .322 average while knocking in a career-best 97 runs.

Teammates by then were accustomed to the particularly harsh criticisms Wright would hurl at himself whenever he was retired by a pitcher for whom he had little respect, which was most pitchers. That guy was on the mound to make a fool of him, he’d tell them. His job was to return the favor. “I don’t worry now,” Wright told a reporter at the time. “I know every time I’m up there, the pitcher’s going to give me one good ball. That’s the baby I’ll park down his throat.”[V]

This was war and he went to the plate prepared for battle. “I used to study a pitcher every minute he was on the mound,” Wright recounted years later. “I might not remember his name, but I knew what was his best pitch and what he liked to throw in a situation.”[VI]

He was in the middle of another .300 season in 1942 when the Army drafted Wright in August for a real war. He spent World War II playing baseball.

Wright was 34 when he returned to the White Sox in 1946 and for the first time in his career finished a season batting less than .300. He rebounded the following year and even challenged Boston’s Williams for the batting title, but he had become a slap hitter with only 17 extra-base hits.

His final two seasons in the majors were desultory affairs. He batted just .235 in the last one, 1949, as a pinch hitter for the Philadelphia Athletics.

He played or managed in the minor leagues for five more years. Wright was hitting .406 for Ottawa, Ontario, in 1953 when he fractured his skull after getting hit in the head by a pitch. He spent a month in the hospital. When he was released, the team tossed a party for the International League’s leading hitter. Six thousand fans showed up. “There was something fine and wholesome about the tribute to leftfielder Taft Wright…” the Ottawa newspaper commented. “It had the appearances of a spontaneous outpouring of affection and esteem for a good sportsman, one who is no glamour boy by most standards but who has caught the imagination of baseball enthusiasts here by quietly going about his business and turning in a workmanlike job whenever called upon.”[VII]

Hobbled by a bad knee, Wright made the tough decision to quit for good in 1955. “You don’t do that,” he said years later. “They quit you, is what happens.”[VIII]

Wright had sold his farm in Lumberton in 1947 and had moved to Orlando, Florida. That’s where he settled after baseball with his wife, Marie, and their three children. He could be found most days at the Taft Wright Bar and Package store downtown. It didn’t take much prompting to get him talking about growing up with little during the Depression, or playing semipro ball at age 17, or pulling a Feller fastball to gap in right. “Playing baseball is all I ever wanted to do,” said the old ballplayer, who actually was that fat guy at the bar.[IX]

Failing health forced Wright to sell the place. He tended bar at a local VFW hall until he died of a heart attack at age 70.


Footnotes
[1] William Howard Taft, the 27th president, was a great baseball fan who played second base as a youngster and started the tradition of presidents throwing out the first ball at season home openers. Taft first did that on April 14, 1910 at a Washington Senators’ opener.
[2] The New York Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio won his second consecutive batting title in 1940 with a .352 average. Luke Appling was second at .348.

References
[I] Corbett, Warren. “Taft Wright.” Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/taft-wright/.
[II] Brietz, Eddie. Associated Press. “Dopey Dean. Charlotte Clown May Get Schacht’s Old Role.” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), July 9, 1940.
[III
] Condon, David. “Taffy Wright Was a Big Sox Hit.” Chicago (IL) Tribune, Oct. 28, 1981.
[IV
] Corbett.
[VI] Conzelman, Jimmy. International News Service. Journal and Courier (Lafayette, IN), March 12, 1941.
[VII] Beebe, Bob. “Taft Wright – Could Be a Designated Hitter.” Minneapolis (MN) Star, March 28, 1973.
[VII] Ruby, Earl. “Ruby’s Report.” Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), July 28, 1953.
[VIII
] “Taft Wright… Toasting Baseball.” Orlando (FL) Sentinel. April 1, 1973.
[IX]
Ibid.

Graham, Moonlight

Player Name: Graham, Moonlight
Position: Right field

Birthplace: Fayetteville
First, Last Names: Archibald Wright  Nicknames: Moonlight, Doc

Date of Birth:  Nov. 12, 1877 Date and Place of Death: Aug. 25, 1965, Chisholm, MN
Burial: Calvary Cemetery, Rochester, MN

High School: Davidson High School, Charlotte, NC
College: University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC; University of Maryland-Baltimore, Baltimore, MD

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-11, 170
Debut Year: 1905       Final Year: 1905          Years Played: 1
Team and Years: New York Giant, 1905

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
1          0          0          0          0          0          0          .000     .000     0.0

Few baseball fans have ever heard of Johnny O’Connor, Henry Stein, Eddie Hunter, Terry Lyons or any of the other 43 non-pitchers who played in one major-league game but never got a chance to hit. They were in the big leagues just long enough for that proverbial cup of coffee. Their dreams merely patted them on their heads. All but one were quickly forgotten. Because of a mysterious nickname, that exception has achieved baseball immortality.

There’s no evidence that anyone ever actually called Archie Graham “Moonlight” while he was alive. If they didn’t refer to him by his first name, his teammates and sportswriters down in the minors likely called him Doc because that’s what Graham was, a medical doctor. That’s what the townspeople of Chisolm, Minnesota, where he practiced for almost 50 years, called him. The nickname appears in print once, soon after Graham reported to the majors. Where it came from is anyone’s guess. Some have speculated that Graham’s speed had something to do with it. The problem with that explanation, however, is that no standard dictionary suggests that “moonlight” was ever used as slang or in an idiom to describe someone who was fleet of foot. Others think his moonlighting as a doctor in the offseason was the genesis, but he was a licensed physician for only the last two years of his minor-league career.

Whatever the reason, it was “Moonlight” Graham that appeared in the Baseball Encyclopedia that W.P Kinsella received as a Christmas gift. It was Moonlight that caught the novelist’s eye. “I thought, ‘What a wonderful name. This is better than anything I could invent,’” Kinsella remembered decades later.[I]

 A character of that name based on the real Graham appeared in Kinsella’s 1982 novel about Shoeless Joe Jackson, the Chicago White Sox star who was expelled from baseball after being suspected of helping throw the 1919 World Series. From the book came the hit movie Field of Dreams seven years later. That’s how it came to pass that an unknown player whose career line consists of a long string of zeros was portrayed by Burt Lancaster no less and grew into a baseball myth more than two decades after his death. There is now a Doc “Moonlight” Graham Festival every August in Chisholm. A Moonlight Graham Scholarship Fund provides college money to deserving high-school students. A biography was written about him and the Moonlight Graham Podcast features athletes who never made it. Moonlight Graham has become the surrogate for every ballplayer who was denied their chance at greatness.

The truth is more mundane. Graham had a few good years in the minor leagues, but there’s nothing in the numbers to suggest a budding superstar. Neither do we really know what he thought about his brief big-league showing or about his baseball or medical careers. There are no surviving letters, no quotes in newspapers. No one wrote about him until the movie was released after he died. That’s one of the problems with post-mortem fame, especially for someone who toiled quietly in the backwater along the Canadian border. Graham’s life, while he was living it, wasn’t considered remarkable enough for his contemporaries to record his thoughts or to preserve details about him. Speculation and myth-making filled the void.

None of that is to suggest that Graham’s life isn’t worth celebrating. He was a beloved town doctor, who got the people of Chisholm though flu epidemics and bouts with cholera. He birthed their babies, comforted their dying. His pioneering research on childhood hypertension was respected by his peers.

There is every indication that once his playing days were over, Dr. Archie Graham never looked back. The mythological figure hints of that in the movie. When asked about his short big-league career, Lancaster’s Graham famously says, “If I‘d only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes, now that would have been a tragedy.”

Alexander and Katherine Graham were probably satisfied enough that their second child, Archibald Wright, born in 1877 had become a respected doctor after trying his hand at baseball. Education was important to the Grahams. Alexander had been the captain of the baseball team at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill before the Civil War. He fought with the 3rd North Carolina Regiment and was captured at the Battle of Bentonville in North Carolina in 1865. He attended Columbia University after the war and became a lawyer. Alexander went home to Fayetteville, where he worked tirelessly to establish a public-school system, serving as its first superintendent.

 At a time when college-educated women were a rarity in North Carolina, Katherine had a degree from Peace College in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The Grahams sent each of their nine children to college, another rarity. One son became a lawyer. A daughter was a college professor. Frank Porter became president of the University of North Carolina and then a United States senator.

Alexander moved the family to Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1888 to become the city’s school superintendent. A firm believer in physical fitness, he expected all his children to complete a daily exercise program. Archie grew up to be best athlete in the family. He played baseball and football on Charlotte sandlots and then at Davidson High School, where he developed an interest in science and medicine.

Like his father, Graham played baseball at UNC, making the varsity team during his sophomore year in 1898. He was the center fielder and leadoff hitter for the next three seasons.

Archie Graham played center field for UNC. Photo: UNC

Graham remained in Chapel Hill for two years after his graduation in 1901 to take courses for medical school. He played minor-league baseball in the summers, probably to earn extra money.

Always an exceptionally fast runner, he bulked up to about 170 pounds when he entered the University of Maryland’s medical school in Baltimore in 1903. He was the school’s halfback on the football team each fall and the centerfielder each spring. Lax rules allowed him to continue in the minor leagues in the summers.

The New York Giants bought Graham’s contract in September 1904 from Manchester, New Hampshire, after he hit .272 that season in the New England League. Graham joined the Giants after graduating from medical school the following May. “He is fast on his feet and a strong hitter,” The New York Evening World reported. “(Manager John) McGraw believes he has in Graham a great find.”[II]

The same newspaper a couple of weeks later used the name that would open the door to fame. The new player, the World reported, “is known as ‘Moonlight’ because he’s supposed to be as fast as a flash.”[III] Before Field of Dreams was released, this is the only reference to Graham and the nickname that appears in online archives that include millions of newspaper pages from every state dating back to the 1860s.

Graham made his debut about a month later, on June 29, against Brooklyn at the Superbas’ Washington Park.[1] McGraw sent the rookie in to play right field in the eighth inning of a lopsided game the Giants would win 11-1. He was in the on-deck circle getting ready to bat when the Giants’ last out was recorded in the top of the ninth.

He went back to bench until July 5 when he was sold to the Scranton Miners of the New York State League. This may have been what’s now called a rehab assignment. The New York Times noted that Graham was “unavailable” to play while with the Giants. That could have meant that a lingering injury, maybe from his football days at Maryland, prevented him from playing. The Miners had an informal working agreement with the Giants and would have sold Graham back to New York when he was healthy enough to play.[IV]

Graham probably killed any hope of returning to the Giants, though, when he skipped the last five games of the Miners’ season to take post-graduate medical courses in Baltimore. The team was more than 15 games out of first, but that wouldn’t have made a difference to McGraw, who demanded loyalty and dedication from players. Though newspapers reported that Graham, who hit .288 in Scranton, would get another chance with the Giants, McGraw left him off the reserve list for the 1906 season. Though he reported to spring training, it was clear that Graham wasn’t going to make the team. He remained with Scranton.

Eddie Ashenbach, a career minor leaguer who managed the Miners that season, remembered a fast, scrappy player. “Graham was not much of a batsman but was chain lightning on the bases and in the outfield,” Ashenbach wrote in his memoirs. “He had some scruples about playing Sunday baseball, his father having strictly forbidden him to play on the Sabbath.”[V]

Ashenbach couldn’t afford having one of his player sit out Sunday doubleheaders, especially on a club playing for a pennant. Graham agreed to play by his middle name Wright. “He was quite a fighter while in the game and his aggressiveness once led him into a fracas on a bright Sunday at Scranton when he and the umpire indulged in a battle of fisticuffs in the middle of the diamond,” Ashenbach wrote. “On another Sunday at Syracuse, Graham, alias Wright, had a glorious day at the bat. Out of four times up, he hit out a home run, two three-base-hits and a single. He was very much pleased at his big day’s work, and after the fourth time at bat he rushed wildly up to the press-box saying to the reporters, “Look here, boys, my name is not Wright today, it’s Graham.” Four hits killed off the alias.”[VI]

It’s important to note that the manager never once referred to his outfielder as “Moonlight.”

Graham was practicing medicine by 1907, when he received his Pennsylvania license.  He opened an office in Scranton and saw patients in the offseason during his final two years in the minors. He intended to make Scranton his home when he retired from baseball after the 1908 season but a chronic respiratory condition forced him to look for a cleaner, drier air.

Soon after his retirement, Graham accepted a residency at a Chicago hospital. He was attending a medical conference at the end of 1908 in Rochester, Minnesota, when he saw an ad in the local paper for a doctor in Chisholm. He wired his resignation to Chicago and boarded a train.

The mining town, 70 miles from the Canadian border in Minnesota’s Iron Range, was the last stop on the line. Connected by rail to Duluth and with plenty of mining work nearby, Chisholm had boomed since its incorporation in 1901. About 6,000 people lived there when Graham got off the train. He didn’t know any of them as walked the streets of a town that smelled of burnt wood. A forest fire several months earlier had destroyed a significant portion of Chisholm. The fire was so bad that many residents had sought refuge in Longyear Lake at the edge of town.

Walking past construction crews rebuilding whole blocks of town, Graham found the hospital and announced himself as Chisholm’s new doctor. He would remain for 57 years.

Dr. Archie Graham provided free eye glasses to the children of Chishol, MN. Photo: Duluth News Tribune

“When he first came here, he was regarded as something of a quack,” Veda Ponikvar, the founder of The Chisholm Free Press and Tribune, told a reporter in 1994.[VII]

Graham soon became the trusted physician to the immigrant miners and their families who had come to America from Croatia, Serbia and other eastern European countries. He became a familiar sight, walking around town in his black, flowing overcoat, its pockets filled with fruits that he’d give to kids that he met. He’d go to local high school games, tending the needs of the injured and treating the home team to a bag of oranges or a crate of apples. He was, they said, “the friendliest man in Chisholm.”[VIII]

For years, people all over the county sent Graham used eyeglasses. Every Saturday, the children of Chisholm could go to Doc Graham’s office for a free eye exam and a pair of glasses. “And there were times when children could not afford eyeglasses or milk or clothing,” Ponikvar wrote. “Yet, no child was ever denied these essentials because in the background there was always Dr. Graham. Without any fanfare or publicity, the glasses or the milk or the ticket to the ballgame found their way into the child’s pocket.”[IX]

Graham over the years conducted numerous studies on the effects of hypertension in children. He presented his finding in 1941 at a conference at the Mayo Clinic. Two doctors at the conference joined with Graham, and their combined research showed that kids could get high blood pressure, contrary to the then prevailing theory.

Kinsella, who interviewed dozens of townspeople to learn about Graham, was relieved that his subject had such a sterling reputation. “I mean, what I was afraid of, was that this was going to be a guy who sat in the American Legion bar and bragged about playing in the major leagues for 40 years,” the author said.[X]

Graham, who was also the physician for city schools since 1911, was elected to the school board in 1963. In failing health, he retired two years later. He was dead within a month.

Bob McDonald, Chisholm High School’s basketball coach for 50 years, noted that baseball was important to Graham but it was nothing compared to being the town’s doctor. “That’s the big item you see,” he said. “In baseball, you kind of help yourself and you entertain. Athletics are like that, you entertain people. But he comforted people.”[XI]


Footnote
[1] Washington Park, between Third and Fourth avenues on First Street in Park Slope, opened in 1898 and was the second Brooklyn ballpark. It closed in 1912 when Ebbets Field was completed. Part of the clubhouse wall still stands on Third Avenue as a wall for a Con Edison yard. It’s likely the oldest remnant of a major-league ballpark still in existence. (“Washington Park.” Ballparks.com. https://ballparks.com/baseball/national/washin.htm.)

References
[I] Olberman, Keith. “’Moonlight Graham Remembered.” Countdown with Keith Olberman. NBC News, 2013. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/8423741.
[II] Keenan, Jimmy. “Moonlight Graham.” Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/moonlight-graham/.
[III] Ibid.
[IV] Ibid.
[V] Shieber, Tom. “A Glimpse of Moonlight.” National Baseball Hall of Fame, https://baseballhall.org/discover-more/stories/short-stops/a-glimpse-of-moonlight.
[VI] Ibid.
[
VII] Betts, Jack. “Doctor Moonlight.” Charlotte (NC) Observer, October 23, 1994.
[VIII] Ibid.
[IX] Olberman.
[X] Olberman.
[XI] Olberman

 

Deal, Lindsay

Player Name: Deal, Lindsay
Position: Right field, pinch hitter
Birthplace: Lenoir

First, Middle Names: Fred Lindsay
Date of Birth:  Sept. 3, 1911    Date and Place of Death: April 18, 1979, Little Rock, AK
Burial: Pine Crest Memorial Park, Alexander, AK.

High School: Oak Hill High School, Lenoir
College: Rutherford College, Rutherford College, NC; Lenoir-Rhyne University, Hickory, NC

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-0, 175
Debut Year: 1939       Final Year: 1939          Years Played: 1
Team and Year: Brooklyn Dodgers, 1939

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
4          7          0          0          0          0      .000     .000     .000     -0.2

Though he played just three weeks in the major leagues, Lindsay Deal shocked the barons of baseball and captured headlines on sports pages around the country by persuading the sport’s authoritarian commissioner, who had a soft spot for minor leaguers, to come to his aid in a contract dispute with a major-league owner. Even with such help, Deal lost the argument and may have killed his career in the process by earning the owners’ lasting enmity. Though he was an excellent defensive outfielder who hit .300 in the minor leagues, Deal only got that one, brief shot at the big leagues at a time when players routinely journeyed to and from the minors.

He quit after 13 years in professional baseball and became a law-enforcement officer in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he was positioned to write what might be the most important letter in the history of the Baltimore Orioles.

The oldest of Fred and Mamie Deal’s seven children, Deal grew up in the Little River section of Caldwell County, outside Lenoir, where Fred delivered the mail. He attended old Oak Hill High School and then Rutherford and Lenoir-Rhyne colleges where he played baseball and basketball.

A year after graduating, Deal signed his first professional contract in 1935 with the Knoxville, Tennessee, Smokies of the Class A Southern Association. He spent the next four years in the low minors, in places like Little Rock, Arkansas, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, honing his batting skills and earning rave reviews from managers and sportswriters about his defensive prowess. Deal was hitting .316 for the Montreal Royals in 1939 and was considered one of the best outfielders in the International League, then one step down from the majors, when the Dodgers brought him to Brooklyn at the end of the season. Used as a pinch hitter and defensive replacement, Deal appeared in four games and didn’t get a hit. The Dodgers sent him back to their farm team in Montreal at the end of the year.

Deal protested to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis that he “hadn’t been given a fair trial.”[I]Team owners had hired Landis, a federal judge, as baseball’s first commissioner to restore the game’s reputation in the wake of the Black Sox scandal, when players on the Chicago White Sox were suspected of throwing the 1919 World Series. Landis famously banned eight of the players for life and would go on to rule baseball with an iron hand for almost 25 years.

Though he was a slight man at 5-6 and 130 pounds, Landis was an intimidating presence. His finely chiseled features seemed to be locked in a perpetual expression of seriousness. He allowed his snow-white hair to grow to tragedian lengths and topped it with a battered, black hat. Landis’ small frame seemed to disappear in his oversized clothes with stiffly starched stand-up collars that hinted at a personal rigidity. “They hired him right out of Dickens,” Leo Durocher once quipped.[II]

Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s first commissioner, ruled the sport with an iron fist for almost 25 years, but had a soft spot for the kids down in the minors. Photo: Major League Baseball

When he took the job as commissioner, Landis laid out his hard terms. The owners had to “yield all their rights – even the right to think.” He could fine players and owners any amount. He could suspend them, even ban them forever. There was no appeal. Landis was the court of last resort. As a result, players and owners alike quaked when they were called to his Chicago office.

Landis could be as unmoving as the mountain in Georgia after which he was named when it came to the game’s integrity.[1] He rooted out gamblers and shady players, banning 18 of them during his tenure. Even the gods weren’t spared. Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Babe Ruth all crossed the commissioner and each paid a price.

Less known was Landis’ fight against farm clubs owned by major-league teams. On the federal bench, Landis was sympathetic to the underdog and the little guy and very hard on labor. He was the trust-busting judge who had slapped a $29 million fine on Standard Oil Co.

Branch Rickey’s innovation seemed like another trust to Landis. Rickey, who then ran the St. Louis Cardinals, pioneered the modern minor-league system in the 1920s.  Before then, farm teams were independent, and their owners sold or traded their best players to the big-league clubs. Under Rickey’s system, which was soon adopted by all the owners, major-league teams owned all their farm clubs, moving young players from one team to the next to fill gaps on the field or save money in the ledgers. The players, who were contractually bound to the teams for as long as they played, had no say in the matter.

The system abused the youngsters, Landis charged, and allowed teams to hoard players and hide them from other teams in defiance of the rules at the time. Landis waged a long and, in the end, losing campaign against the new farm system. He, for instance, freed minor leaguers on a case-by-case basis, either individually or by the busload. Landis freed 73 Cardinals’ farmhands in 1938. A year later, he made 90 players in the Detroit Tigers farm system free agents.

Deals’ appeal, then, found a willing audience. Landis ordered the Dodgers to invite the rookie to spring training in 1940 and give him a chance to make the club. The Dodgers and Deal couldn’t agree on a contract, however, and Landis interceded again. The Associated Press reported that the commissioner conferred by phone with the team and the player and, for the first time, fixed a contract amount.

That set the sporting press abuzz. “So, there you have it, a new worry for the men who have fortunes invested in baseball,” wrote a sports editor in Ohio. “Landis can tell them which players they must take to camp and how much they must pay for their services.”[III]

An angry Larry McPhail, the Dodgers’ president, complained to reporters that Landis hadn’t set a contract amount but had merely made “suggestions.” Landis replied, with a wry smile, “Everyone knows that all I do is make suggestions.”[2][IV]

Whatever Landis said didn’t help. Deal started the year in Montreal and then was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the middle of the season. He spent eight more years in the minors, the last as a player-manager in Greenville, Mississippi, and retired at the end of the 1948 season.

Deal returned to Little Rock, where he had been living since at least 1939. He raised five children there and spent his life after baseball as a deputy sheriff, a state trooper and a U.S. marshal.

In 1955, Deal wrote to Paul Richard, then in his first season as the Orioles’ general manager. The two had played together as minor leaguers in Atlanta. Deal urged Richard to take a look at a senior at Little Rock High School named Brooks Robinson. Deal attended church with the Robinsons and had watched the boy grow up. “I think he measures up to having a good chance in major-league baseball,” Deal wrote in a bit of understatement. “Brooks has a lot of power, baseball savvy and is always cool when the chips are down.”[V]

Richard dispatched two scouts to Arkansas. They signed the kid with a $3,000 bonus. Robinson, of course, would become a legendary Oriole, playing 23 years and setting a standard for defensive excellence at third base. A perennial All Star and Gold Glove winner, Robinson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.

The man who discovered him didn’t live long enough to attend the induction ceremony. Deal died in 1979 at age 69.


Footnotes
[1] Landis’ father, Abraham, was a surgeon in the Union army during the Civil War. He named his son, born a year after the war in 1866, after a battle in Georgia where he was wounded by a cannonball. “Kennesaw” is the correct modern spelling of the mountain, but one “n” was accepted in the late 19th century.
[2]
It’s not clear from the existing records what Landis said and what McPhail understood. It’s unlikely, though, that the commissioner ordered the Dodgers to pay Deal a certain salary, as some of the first media reports implied. It is clear, however, that Deal, regardless of his salary, was the loser. He was sent to the minors and never returned to the major leagues.

References
[I] The Associated Press. “Landis Fixes Salary of Brooklyn Player.” The Daily Illini (University of Illinois, Champaign, IL), March 28, 1940.
[II] Busby, Dan. “Kenesaw Mountain Landis.” Society for American Baseball Research. 2020. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/kenesaw-landis/.
[III]Schlemmer, Jim. “McCarthy’s Plan to Stand Pat Means Better Team for Akron; Landis Now Deciding Salaries.” Akron (OH) Beacon Journal. March 28, 1940.
[IV] The Associated Press. “Deny Landis Set Deal’s Salary.” The Daily Illini (University of Illinois, Champaign, IL), March 29, 1940.
[V] Hatter, Lou.  “U.S. marshal paved the way for signing.” The Baltimore (MD) Sun. July 29, 1983.


 

Davis, Butch

Position: Left field, right field
Birthplace: Williamston

Full Name: Wallace McArthur            Nickname: Butch
Date of Birth:  June 19, 1958
Current Residence: Garner, N.C.

High School: Williamston High School
College: East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-0, 190
Debut Year: 1983       Final Year: 1994          Years Played: 8
Teams and Years: Kansas City Royals, 1983-84; Pittsburgh Pirates, 1987; Baltimore Orioles, 1988-89; Los Angeles Dodgers, 1991; Texas Rangers, 1993-94

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
166      453      110      56        50        7          .243     .274     .380     0.2

Butch Davis played about a season’s worth of games stretched over an eight-year career in the major leagues and has been a coach, mostly in the minors, going on three decades now. Many players have similar resumes. Davis has something on his, however, that no other Tarheel who made it to the major leagues can claim: He is the only one who appeared in the iconic baseball movie Bull Durham.

Davis was 29 in 1987 and had just finished his third season in the majors having played in eight games for the Pittsburgh Pirates that year. The Williamston native had moved to Garner by then and saw an ad for extras for a baseball movie that was going to be filmed in nearby Durham. A manager he had played for in the minors who was one of the film’s advisers urged Davis to try out because the filmmakers wanted some real ballplayers. Davis was cast as one of the Bulls’ players. Though he has no lines, he appears in some of the movie’s most-famous scenes. Davis is a bystander in the conversation on the pitching mound when Kevin Costner and other players discuss bridal gifts and voodoo hexes. He’s also briefly naked in the shower with his back turned toward the camera when the Bulls’ manager tosses an armful of bats into the shower room and accuses the players of lollygagging. Wearing number 15, Davis strikes out in another scene and the PA announcer says, “Too bad, Butch.”

“It’s a lot of standing around and just waiting,” is how he described move making to a newspaper reporter 30 years later. “You do a shoot, and you have to retake and retake and retake until they get it right. That’s what I did. I didn’t go every day, but I was out there enough.”[I]

 Waiting around could also sum up Davis’ major-league career.

He told an interviewer in 2014 that he always remembered being outside while growing up in Williamston in Martin County and playing baseball. “I guess it sort of found me. It really did,” he said.[II]

As a freshman at Williamston High School, Davis didn’t make the baseball team. He made it the following year and also played high-school basketball and on Williamston’s American Legion baseball teams.

He lettered in baseball for three years at East Carolina University in Greenville. During his last year at the school in 1980, Davis led the team in batting average (.362), home runs (12) and RBI (27). He graduated as the school’s all-time leader in home runs with 26 and total bases with 250.  Davis was inducted into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2008.

Despite those numbers, Davis was surprised when the Kansas City Royals drafted him in the 12th round of the 1980 amateur draft. He was surprised again three years later while playing for the Royals’ Triple A team in Omaha. His manager called him at home to tell he had to be in Kansas City that night. “I really didn’t have time to even think about it,” Davis said in 2014, “because it happened so quickly. You’re in the minor leagues one minute and the next minute you’re in the major leagues.”[III]

When he entered the big-league clubhouse, Davis knew it was all true. This wasn’t Omaha. “You always hear all those stories about how great the major leagues are,” he said, “First class this, and it’s true. You name it, it’s there for you, and you just walk in and say ‘Man, OK, this is what it’s like.’”[IV]

Unfortunately, Davis never had much time to savor it. He appeared in 74 games for the Royals over the next two seasons and then in just 26 big-league games during the next eight years, as he shuttled around the minors for four different teams.

Davis always kept it in perspective. “The simple fact is, there’s so many kids that play this game, have that dream and never make it,” he said. “I was one of the ones that had the dream and was very fortunate to make it.”[V]

It’s a message Davis has preached during his coaching career, which started after he retired as a player in 1994. He’s been a long-time hitting coach in the Baltimore Orioles’ minor leagues and also managed Orioles’ farm teams. Davis was also the first-base coach for the Minnesota Twins for six seasons. “I can tell the kids what it takes to get there,” Davis said. “I tell them ‘You’ve got to be determined. You’ve got to be willing to go the extra mile. Don’t think that it’s going to be handed to you.'”[VI]

Davis and his wife, Cassandra, also from Williamston, married in 1984 and have two children. They made their home in Garner.

References

[I] Hall, David. “30 years later, Tides Hitting Coach Butch Davis Recalls ZHis Role in ‘Bull Durham.’” Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA), June 13, 2018.
[II] “Interview Part 1: Butch Davis, Home Crowd.” The Greatest 21 Days, September 8, 2014. http://www.greatest21days.com/2014/09/interview-part-1-butch-davis-home-crowd.html.
[III] Ibid.
[IV] Ibid.
[V] “Interview Part 2: Butch Davis, Simple Fact.” The Greatest 21 Days, September 9, 2014. http://www.greatest21days.com/2014/09/interview-part-2-butch-davis-simple-fact.html.
[VI] “Interview Part 4: Butch Davis, Two Things.” The Greatest 21 Days, September 11, 2014. http://www.greatest21days.com/2014/09/interview-part-4-butch-davis-two-things.html.