Goodman, Billy

Player Name: Goodman, Billy
Positions: Second base, first base, third base
Birthplace: Concord

First, Middle Names: William Dale
Date of Birth:  March 22, 1926       Date and Place of Death: Oct. 1, 1984, Sarasota, FL
Burial: Mount Olivet Methodist Church Cemetery, Concord

High School: Winecoff High School, Winecoff, NC
College: Did not attend

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-11, 165
Debut Year: 1947       Final Year: 1962          Years Played: 16
Teams and Years: Boston Red Sox, 1947-57; Baltimore Orioles, 1957; Chicago White Sox, 1958-1961; Houston Colt 45s, 1962

Awards: NC Sports Hall of Fame, 1969; batting title, 1950; All-Star, 1949, 1952

 Career Summary
G               AB          H            R          RBI      HR       BA.       OBP.     SLG.      WAR
1623      5644     1691    807    591      19        .300     .376      .378       26.9

Billy Goodman played everywhere on the infield and most spots in the outfield during his 16-year career. That he could play so many positions and play them well surprised most veteran baseball people. To many of  them, the guy didn’t even look like a ballplayer, let alone like the most versatile one to ever put on a uniform. At 5-foot, 11 inches and maybe 165 pounds, Goodman was “built like an undernourished ribbon clerk,” noted the Saturday Evening Post.[I] He looked almost frail and certainly out of place.

“I’ve never seen a ballplayer like Goodman. He fools you more than any other player I can remember,” said Jimmy Brown, a fellow North Carolinian and an All-Star second baseman who first saw Goodman when he managed in the minors after his playing days. “The first time I saw him he was playing the outfield. He didn’t look like an outfielder but he could go and get them.  Then I saw him playing shortstop. He didn’t field like a shortstop but he dug them out of the dirt. He didn’t throw like a shortstop but I didn’t see him make a bad throw. And he always got his man.”[II]

Most so-called utility players are known primarily for their defensive skills, but Goodman was even better at the plate then he was in the field. He wasn’t a power hitter – he hit only 19 home runs in his career – but the little lefty sprayed the ball all over the field on the way to a career .300 batting average, tied for fourth-highest among North Carolina natives with at least 1,000 lifetime at bats. He’s a leader in nine other offensive categories as well. In one of the most-unusual seasons in baseball history, Goodman played six different positions in 1950 and won a batting title while doing it. The two-time All-Star was also almost impossible to strike out. He had more than a 1,100 at bats during the 1953 and ’54 seasons, for instance, and struck out only 26 times.

Joe McCarthy had seen some pretty fair players during his run as the New York Yankees’ skipper. Stars like Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Bill Dickey and Frank Crosetti had helped him win eight pennants. One could say that Marse Joe had seen them all. Then, he came out of retirement in 1948 to manage the Boston Red Sox and first laid eyes on Billy Goodman. “Look at that boy,” he said admiringly of the rookie that spring. “He’s all ballplayer.”[III]

The second of three brothers, William Dale Goodman was born in 1926 in Winecoff, a small community that once existed north of Concord in Cabarrus County. Named after one of the area’s prominent families, it has since disappeared amid the clutter of Interstate 85. The Goodman boys grew up on their father Fred’s 300-acre dairy farm. The family’s roots ran deep in that part of Cabarrus. The boys’ grandfather, C.J. Goodman, owned the ancestral homestead up the road.

Goodman was a three-sport star at Winecoff High School.[1] Although he was voted the best all-around athlete in the school as a senior in 1943, he wasn’t particularly noted for his baseball skills. He was the high scorer and captain of the basketball team for two seasons and a star halfback on the football team. As a baseball player, he was “steady and dangerous, but never spectacular,” a former teammate remembered.[IV]

It was during childhood that Goodman began honing his skills at various positions on the diamond. Small kids, he once explained, play more if they’re willing to go wherever needed. As a senior in high school, he often pitched one game and caught the next.

He played semipro ball for a season after he graduated and in 1944 signed with the Crackers in Atlanta, Georgia. Playing second base and in the outfield, Goodman was an All-Star for his first professional team, hitting .336 and leading the Class A Southern Association in runs scored.

Inducted into the Navy after the season, Goodman spent the remainder of World War II serving in the western Pacific.[2] He was discharged in June 1946 and was back with the Crackers a month later, picking up where he left off. He hit .389 in those last 86 games and .418 in the playoff.

The Red Sox bought his contract the following February for $75,000, or almost $900,000 today. He got his first look at major-league pitching during an intrasquad game that spring against Boo Ferris, who had won 25 games the previous season. Goodman reached for an outside pitch with “the ease of a grocer’s clerk reaching for a package of biscuits” and ripped a line double to left, reported the Sporting News.[V] Though he made his major-league debut in 1947, Goodman played in only a dozen games for the Red Sox before being sent to their Class AAA club in Louisville, Kentucky, where he hit .340.

Goodman made the big-league team in 1948 but cracking the starting lineup was a tall order. The Red Sox were a talented bunch that featured perennial All-Stars all over the field.[3] As would be the case for most of his career, Goodman didn’t have a starting position when the season began, but he was soon filling in for the injured Bobby Doerr at second base. He moved to first on May 25 after an injury sidelined another teammate and remained there for the rest of the season, finishing with a .310 average.

Over the next decade, Goodman became Boston’s one-man bench, competently filling in for injured or slumping teammates at numerous positions. The exception was 1950, one of the few seasons he started with an assigned role. He was slated to be the Red Sox’s first baseman, but irony intervened. He fractured his ankle early in the season, and Walt Dropo was called up from Louisville to take his place. Dropo started crushing homers at a steady pace and would end up leading the American League with 144 runs batted in. He would be named the league’s Rookie of Year.

When he returned after a few weeks, Goodman once again had nowhere to play. Then, the Red Sox’s stars started dropping with alarming regularity, but Goodman was there to step in: for Doerr at second, for Vern Stephens at short, for Johnny Pesky at third, even for the great Ted Williams in left. The loss of Williams, who broke his elbow during the All-Star Game, was considered a mortal blow to the team’s pennant hopes. “But Billy the Kid outWilliamsed Williams,” wrote Arthur Daley of The New York Times, “again giving the team that tremendous inspirational lift he always furnishes.”[VI]

He was hitting .355 by the first of August and was the top hitter in the American League. “I don’t care where I play, as long as I play,” he said.[VII]

Steve O’Neill, who had replaced McCarthy as the team’s manager during the season, had never seen anyone like Goodman. “I think he’d be able to pitch if I asked him to pitch,” he said. “He’s the marvel of baseball.”[VIII]

No marvel, however, could long take the place of the Splendid Splinter. Goodman would again be without a job when Williams returned in mid-September and without the required at bats to qualify for the batting crown. Pesky, though, made it easy on O’Neill. In an act of selflessness rare then and unheard of today, he volunteered to give up his position. “I’ll gladly sit on the bench if it means we will win the pennant,” Pesky, who was hitting .314 at the time, explained. “Steve (O’Neill) owes it to Bill to play him after what he’s done to keep the team up there.”[IX]

Goodman ended the season at third base. Though the Red Sox didn’t win the pennant – they came in third – the super utility man won the batting title going away with a .354 average. He finished second to the Yankees’ Phil Rizzuto as the league’s Most Valuable Player.

During his decade in Boston, Goodman was an All-Star twice but never played in a World Series. That happened in 1959 with the Chicago White Sox. He had been traded two years earlier to the Baltimore Orioles, with whom he had played a season before ending up in Chicago. Goodman platooned at first base for the “Go-Go” White Sox, which won their first pennant since the Black Sox scandal of 1919.[4] He batted .350 during the season and played in five of the six Series games against the Los Angeles Dodgers and got three hits, all singles.

Used sparingly during the next two seasons, Goodman angrily left the White Sox training camp after a salary dispute in 1962 and signed with the expansion Houston Colt 45s. He hit .255 in a utility role and was released at the end of the year.

After a season as the player/manager for the Durham, North Carolina, Bulls, Goodman spent 12 years as a minor-league instructor and scout for several teams. He retired from baseball in 1976.

Goodman had married Margaret Little, his childhood sweetheart, in 1947. They had moved to Sarasota, Florida, three years later where they had raised their two children. In the offseasons, Goodman would wake his daughter up for a breakfast he always made, pick her up at school, take her fishing or hunting and allow her to pal around with his close baseball friends, such as Pesky and Williams. “He was totally my idol, the coolest man I’ve ever known,” Kathy Goodman Simpkins remembered years later.[X]

After retiring, he continued to run his successful commercial real-estate business and to manage his 30-acre orange grove. He also helped Margaret with her antiques business. He became ill with multiple myeloma in 1983 and died a year later. Margaret was once asked if she ever thought of remarrying. “Oh no,” she said. “We grew up together and there’s one love in a lifetime, and I had him.”[XI]

She died in 2011.

Footnotes
[1] The first school opened on the site of the present elementary school in 1877. Martin Henderson Winecoff donated the land, cut the timber and helped build the school so that his children and those of his neighbors would have a local school to attend. C.J. Goodman, Billy’s grandfather, also donated land and provided housing for the teachers. The school has been a high school, middle school and elementary school. https://www.cabarrus.k12.nc.us/domain/1112.
[2] Billy Goodman was stationed in Ulithi, an atoll in the Caroline Islands in the southwestern Pacific Ocean so tiny and remote that it was often left off maps. It’s made up of 40 islets almost 1,000 miles east of the Philippines. They total about two square miles of land, surrounding a lagoon. Most barely rise above the sea and only four are inhabited. The deep, calm anchorage afforded by the lagoon attracted the Navy, which made it a major staging area for in the final year of WWII.
[3] The Red Sox All-Stars during the 10 years Billy Goodman was on the team, 1947-56, and the number of times they were chosen: Left fielder, Ted Williams, 9;  second baseman Bobby Doerr, 4; shortstop Vern Stephens, 4; center fielder Dom DiMaggio, 4; catcher Birdie Tebbetts, 2; and right fielder Al Zarilla, 1.
[4] In the Black Sox Scandal , eight players with the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. In response, team owners appointed Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the major leagues’ first commissioner with absolute authority to restore the sport’s integrity. Landis banished the accused players from baseball.

References
[I] Anderson, Ron. “Billy Goodman.” Society of American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/billy-goodman/.
[II] Hurwitz, Hy. “Jimmy Brown Sings Praises of Goodman and Babe Martin.” Boston Globe, April 9, 1948.
[III] Marin, Whitney. Associated Press. “Versatile Bill Goodman Keeping Bosox in Race.” Charlotte (NC) Observer, August 23, 1950.
[IV] Anderson.
[V] Anderson.
[VI] Daley, Arthur. “Sports of the Times.” The New York Times, February 2, 1951.
[VII] Ibid.
[VIII] Allen, Eddie. “Sports Asides.” Charlotte (NC) Observer, August 24, 1950.
[IX] Holbrook, Bob. “Pesky Suggested Goodman Stay In on Ted’s Return.” Boston Globe, September 15, 1950.
[X] “Art of the Red Sox: Baseball Great Billy Goodman Part of Rockwell Masterpiece.” Salisbury (NC) Post, May 11, 2014.
[XI] Anderson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fonville, Chad

Position: Second base, shortstop
Birthplace: Jacksonville

First, Middle Names: Chad Everette
Date of Birth:  March 5, 1971
Current Residence: Jacksonville

High School: White Oak High School, Jacksonville
College: Louisburg College, Louisburg, NC

Bats: S             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-6, 155
Debut Year: 1995       Final Year: 1999          Years Played: 4
Teams and Years: Montreal Expos, 1995; Los Angeles Dodgers, 1995-97; Chicago White Sox, 1997; Boston Red Sox, 1999

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
226   546    133     80       31        0          .244     .302     .269     0.0

In the City of Angels, Chad Fonville seemed heaven sent in the summer of 1995. He had spent most of his career in the remotest reaches of the minors. Few fans in Los Angeles had ever heard of him, but they soon loved the little guy who came off the bench to provide the spark the Dodgers needed to win their division. He hustled, swiped bases, got big hits, and exhibited a genuine enthusiasm for the game.

If heaven sent him, opposing pitchers dispatched him. Fed a constant diet of breaking balls, Fonville floundered the following year. His batting average plummeted. He was in the minors again before the season ended. Except for a few brief excursions back to the major leagues, that’s where he would remain until his retirement. He has spent the years since teaching, coaching and passing on his love of baseball to another generation.

Chad Everette Fonville was born in Jacksonville in 1971 to Charlie and Mary Yvonne Fonville. He was an all-conference baseball, basketball, and soccer player at White Oak High School and led the soccer team to a state championship in 1988.

Fonville attended Louisburg College, a private, two-year school in Louisburg, North Carolina, on a baseball scholarship. The switch-hitting shortstop hit .375 as a freshman in 1991 on a team that won 44 games and was ranked tenth in the nation among junior colleges. He was rated in the top 20 of junior-college players by Baseball America the following year when the San Francisco Giants chose him in the eleventh round of the amateur draft.

He spent the next three years on the lowest teams in the Giants’ farm system. Fonville hit over .300 at each stop and was among the leaders in stolen bases. The Giants, though,  never put Fonville on their major-league roster. That made him eligible in 1994 to be taken by another team. The Expos did, and he appeared in 14 games in Montreal before being waived in June and chosen by the Dodgers. According to the rules, such players have to remain on the major-league team for the season or be returned.[1]

Fonville was pressed into service on June 17 in Chicago after an injury to the Dodgers’ shortstop. He went four-for five. The ecstatic rookie called his mother after the game. He went three-for-four the next day and impressed Manager Tommy Lasorda with his speed, beating out two slow rollers. “The little guy might be there tomorrow,” he said of his new, 5-foot, six-inch shortstop. “He’s a streak of lightning going down the baseline.”[I]

He moved into the leadoff spot after slumping Delino DeShields went down with a leg ailment, and he continued to hit. Though his fielding was erratic, Fonville was batting .280 by mid-August as the Dodgers took over first place in their division. They had been a fourth-place team playing .500 ball when Fonville arrived. Lasorda even began treating the kid as his good-luck charm, removing Fonville’s hat and rubbing and kissing the top of his head when the team needed a big hit. What others saw as an exhibition of the manager’s over-the-top Dodger Blue spirit, the most-prominent black newspaper in town interpreted as a racial insult.

If Fonville minded, he didn’t complain publicly. He seemed to enjoy being the least likely success story in baseball. He had 12 at bats with the Expos when they put him on waivers. Before then, his career had consisted of 251 Class A games spread over three seasons. “I play hard every inning,” Fonville said. “I was blessed to get the opportunity to play here and I’m trying to take advantage of it. I’m having fun winning and being involved in a pennant race.”[II]

Though his future looked bright when the season ended, those four months would be the highlight of his major-league career. He was a player without a position when he reported to spring training in 1996. The Dodgers had resigned DeShields to play second and had signed free agent Greg Gagne for short. Fonville, Lasorda said, would be a “super” utility player.

Coaches lectured him during the exhibition season about being sullen and pouting over his status. He conceded that training camp was difficult, but he insisted that he was happy. “I’m not going to lie. It’s been tough. It’s not an easy job coming off the bench,” he said. “But I knew my role coming in. I knew I’d be a utility player.”[III]

Teammates’ injuries and slumps during the season once again gave him his chances, but opposing pitchers were ready the second time around. They were unrelenting with their breaking balls in the dirt that Fonville kept missing. He went into long hitting tailspins. That resulted in reduced playing time. He was traded to the Chicago White Sox in September.

He spent two seasons in the minors before appearing in three games for the Boston Red Sox in 1999. He retired two years later after a couple of more minor-league seasons. “My body was changing and I was getting older,” Fonville said. “I was just playing for the love of the game. I just played until I couldn’t play and that was it.”[IV]

Fonville returned to Jacksonville in 2006 where has coached baseball at area high schools. “Baseball has given me a lot, and now it’s my turn to give back in any way I can,” said Fonville.[v] 

Footnote
[1] The Montreal Expos chose Fonville in the Rule 5 Draft, which has been held every December since the current rule was established in 1985. The rule, with roots that reach back to 1892, allows players more opportunities to crack big-league rosters and prevents teams from stashing talented players in the minor leagues. While tweaks have made to the format over the years, the basic premise of the Rule 5 Draft has remained the same over the past five decades. Players who have spent multiple years in the minors (the current threshold is four or five seasons, depending on the age they signed their first contract) that are not protected on their affiliate’s 40-man roster can be selected by another team in the Rule 5 Draft.  A player selected in the draft is immediately added to his new team’s active roster, where he must remain for the entire season.

References
[I] Daley, Ken. “Fonville Making Persuasive Case for Playing Time.” Los Angeles Daily News, June 19, 1995.
[II] Malamud, Allan. “Notes on a Scorecard.” Los Angeles Times, August 16, 1995.
[III] It’s Hard to Tell, But Fonville’s Happy.” Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1996.
[IV] Miller, Chris. “Fonville: Baseball Had Been Good to Me.” Jacksonville (NC) Daily News, April 27, 2013.
[V] Lingafelt, Lance Cpl. Jared. “Former MLB Baseball Player Gives Back to Community.” Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, June 19, 2014. https://www.dvidshub.net/news/133829/former-mlb-baseball-player-gives-back-community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Culler, Dick

Position: Shortstop
Birthplace: High Point

Full Name: Richard Broadus
Date of Birth:  Jan. 15, 1915   Date and Place of Death: June 16, 1964, Chapel Hill
Burial: Floral Garden Park Cemetery, High Point

High School: High Point High School 
College: High Point University

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-9, 155
Debut Year: 1936       Final Year: 1949          Years Played: 8

Teams and Years: Philadelphia Athletics, 1936; Chicago White Sox, 1943; Boston Braves, 1944-47; Chicago Cubs, 1948, N.Y. Giants, 1949

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
472      1527    371      195      99        2          .244     .320     .281     2.4

Though he played parts of eight seasons in the major leagues, Dick Culler saw most of his playing time on rosters depleted by World War II. After baseball, Culler returned to his lifelong home of High Point where he owned a sporting-goods store, founded a company that mass produced team-autographed baseballs and was a prominent business and community leader.

Richard Broadus Culler was the most-athletic of Claude and Della’s five children. Known by his middle name throughout his childhood, Culler played Little League baseball and three sports — basketball, baseball and soccer — in high school. At High Point College, he was the player/coach for a state championship soccer team, an all-conference basketball player and captain of the basketball and baseball teams his senior year. His number 9 basketball jersey was retired after his final season in 1936 when he was named the most-outstanding athlete to play at the college.

The Philadelphia Athletics signed him in September of that year, and Culler appeared in nine games before the end of the season. He spent some of his $500 signing bonus on a used Ford when he married his college sweetheart, Evelyn Williams, a month later.

The newlyweds settled in High Point, which would always be Culler’s home. He would return each offseason to work in hosiery mills, furniture plants, service stations or at the local YMCA. Culler would also referee high-school and college basketball games to stay in shape. He would become one of the best refs in the Southern Conference. Culler would quit in 1948 after a call during a N.C. State College game in Raleigh led to an altercation with fans that almost turned into a brawl. “No man should have to take that kind of abuse,” he would say later.[I]

The A’s released Culler at the start of the 1937 season, and he spent the next six years in the minors acquiring a reputation as a good-fielding, light-hitting shortstop. Culler did, however, have something that few other players possessed when America entered the war: a 3-A draft classification that exempted him from military service because he was supporting a wife and two children.

The Chicago White Sox signed Culler in 1943 as a backup for their all-star shortstop, Luke Appling, another High Point native. He played in just 53 games and was sold to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the American Association at the end of the season.

Culler hit .309 against wartime-depleted pitching, which was good enough for the last-place Boston Braves. They signed the 30-year-old to be their starting shortstop for the 1945 season.[1] Culler hit well enough — .262 — in his first full major-league season to keep his job when the regulars returned in 1946. He once again played solid defense and hit just enough as a full-time shortstop.

Culler sprained his ankle to start the 1947 season and found himself sharing the job with two war veterans when he returned four weeks later. He also landed in Manager Billy Southworth’s doghouse by complaining to reporters about his playing time. “I don’t like riding the bench,” said Culler, who was hitting just .248 at the time. “Either I play every day or I’m quitting.”[II]

How strained was the relationship? In seventh inning of one game, Southworth told the bench-warming Culler to get his glove after watching his shortstop make his third error of the day. The manager was nearsighted and couldn’t quite make out the numbers on the outfield scoreboard. He asked a coach what the score was.

“They got us 6-2, Skip,” replied the coach.

Southworth turned to Culler. “Sit down,” he said. “We ain’t giving up yet.”[III]

The Braves traded Culler to the Chicago Cubs at the end of the season. He would play in just 55 games over the next two years and retired at the end of the 1949 season.

Culler went back to the sporting-goods store he had opened in High Point in 1946 and the Autographed Ball Company, which he had founded two years later after perfecting a way to reproduce players’ signatures on baseballs. He sold the team-autographed balls at ballpark concessions stands throughout the major leagues. The company went out of business in 2014.

Coaching American Legion baseball and YMCA basketball became Culler’s athletic outlets in retirement. He took the High Point team to the “Y” finals in 1953. Its opponent was a team from Philadelphia, the Christian Streeters, that featured a 6-11, 16-year-old named Wilt Chamberlain. The kid was averaging 33 points a game during the tournament, but Culler devised a defense that held him to 15. His team lost anyway.

Culler, Evelyn and the kids lived on a 200-acre farm south of town. He raised cows and became a pillar of the community. He was president of the merchants’ association, the director of the Chamber of Commerce and the executive director of the Downtown Development Corp. that spearheaded the first effort to revitalize High Point’s downtown.

For 17 months, starting in 1963, Culler was in an out of hospitals with what doctors diagnosed as inflammation of his intestines. He died of organ failure in June 1964. Culler was only 49.

Footnote
[1] By 1945, the wartime shortage of players was acute: almost 500 current or former major leaguers were serving in the armed forces. Eighty percent of the starters on opening day rosters in 1941 were missing when the teams took the field four years later.

References
[I] Hodges, Bill. “Dick Culler, 1915-1964.” High Point (NC.) Enterprise, June 17, 1964.
[II] Utley, Hank and Warren Corbett. “Dick Culler.” Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/dick-culler/.
[III] Hodges.

 

 

Corbitt, Claude

Position: Shortstop
Birthplace: Sunbury

First, Middle Names: Claude Elliott

Date of Birth:  July 21, 1915   Date and Place of Death: May 1, 1978, Cincinnati, OH
Burial: Arlington Memorial Gardens, Cincinnati

High School: Undetermined  
College: Duke University, Durham, NC

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-10, 170
Debut Year: 1945       Final Year: 1949          Years Played: 4
Teams and Years: Brooklyn Dodgers, 1945; Cincinnati Reds, 1946. 1948-49

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
215    630    153    60       37         1          .243     .297     .286     1.3

Claude Corbitt may have given his baseball career to his country. Like many ballplayers of his generation, Corbitt put down his glove and bat to serve in the armed forces during World War II. Before enlisting in 1942, Corbitt was a slick-fielding shortstop who had been among the batting leaders at every stop in the minor leagues. The Brooklyn Dodgers thought he would compete with eventual Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese for the starting job. When he returned from war three years later and finally made his major-league debut, Corbitt was a 30-year-old with diminished skills. He would be no more than a utility player.

The youngest of three children, Corbitt grew up on a farm near Sunbury in Gates County. He entered Duke University in 1933 and came under the tutelage of Jack Coombs. The star major-league pitcher who had tossed a record 15 shutouts in 1910 had signed on as the Duke coach in 1929. He would be a fixture in Durham for the next 24 years, winning more than 400 games, picking up the nickname Mr. College Baseball and turning out more major-leaguers than any college coach.

Corbitt was one. He signed with the New York Yankees after graduating in 1937 and hit over .300 during his next three years in the minors while playing almost flawlessly at shortstop. The Yankees, though, traded him crosstown to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1941. Corbitt was among the batting leaders in the International League while playing for the Montreal Royals that year, and Brooklyn Manager Leo Durocher intended to call him up in 1942 to compete with Reese for the starting shortstop job. After his second year with the Dodgers and hitting a pathetic .229, Reese offered little hint of the career to come.

Corbitt changed Durocher’s plans and assured Reese’s place in Dodgers’ history by enlisting in the Army Air Force. He was commissioned a lieutenant, earned his wings and was shipped to England. Corbitt was hoping for a short war and a quick return to the ballfield. “I’m only 27,” he told his local newspaper before departing. “I am still young and have several good playing years ahead of me.”[I]

He wouldn’t return until 1945. He appeared in two games for the Dodgers that season and was traded to the Cincinnati Reds. Corbitt would play a part-time role with the Reds over the next three years, never appearing in more than 87 games or hitting higher than .256.

Corbitt played a few more years in the minors before retiring in 1953. He settled in Cincinnati with his wife, Theodora, a champion track athlete from Quebec. Their son, Claude Jr., is a prominent dentist in Cincinnati. Corbitt worked for a local department store chain for 23 years. He died in 1978.

Reference
[I] Fullerton, Hugh Jr. “Sports Roundup.” Rocky Mount (NC) Telegram, July 3, 1943.

 

Brown, Jimmy

Position: Second base, third base, shortstop
Birthplace: Jamesville

Full Name: James Roberson  

Date of Birth:  April 25, 1910 Date and Place of Death: Dec. 29, 1977, Bath
Burial: Brown Family Cemetery, Jamesville

High School: Jamesville High School 
College: N.C. State University, Raleigh

Bats: Both                   Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-8, 165
Debut Year: 1937       Final Year: 1946          Years Played: 8
Teams and Years: St. Louis Cardinals, 1937-43; Pittsburgh Pirates, 1946
Awards: All-Star, 1942

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
890    3512    980    465      319      9          .279     .326     .352     8.6

There was a time in baseball when players like Jimmy Brown were called pepper pots. Such players were, like the 5-8 Brown, small in stature but scrappy in nature. Like him, their uniforms were always dirty, and their shirttails were usually hanging out. Also, like Brown, they played aggressively, attacking every pitch and diving for every ball. And they were loud. Brown’s rapid-fire chatter in the infield was once compared to one of those tobacco auctioneers back home.

Brown anchored the pre-World War II infield for the St. Louis Cardinals for seven years, playing every position but first base. One of the toughest batters to strikeout in the National League, he usually led off and hit .300 or close to it most seasons. His .279 career batting average ties for 20th place among North Carolina players with at least 1,000 at bats. He was an all star one of those seasons and a Word Series victor.

Mike Gonzalez, a Cardinals’ coach, once said this about the team’s spark plug, as relayed by a sportswriter trying to mimic his Cuban accent: “I satisfy if I have nine Jingy Browns. I do win plenty pennant and make many buckerinos.”

Brown grew up on a small farm along the Roanoke River in Martin County. Tragedy struck when Brown’s father, Archie, was killed in an accident when Jimmy was a teenager. His mother, Dare, struggled to raise her nine children.

A pitcher and shortstop at old Jamesville High School, Brown could throw effectively with either arm. A natural right-hander, he had taught himself to throw left handed after breaking his right arm as a child.

Brown was in and out of N.C. State College, probably because his money kept running out, and he left for good before the end of his senior year in 1933 to sign with the Cardinals.

After struggling at the plate during his second year in the minors, Brown learned to switch hit and batted .309 in 1936. He was in the majors the following year.

Brown was one of the leaders of the 1942 Cardinals team that closed a 10-game gap and overtook the first-place Brooklyn Dodgers by winning 44 of its last 53 games. The team included fellow North Carolinian Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial, playing his first full year, in the outfield. They went on to beat the heavily favored N.Y. Yankees in the World Series.

 That was also the year that Brown was selected as an all star, though he hit just .256, the lowest in his major-league career. He did, however, knock in 71 runs from the leadoff position.

Drafted into the Army in 1943, Brown spent the war coaching baseball and basketball teams at a base in Tennessee.

The Cardinals sold Brown for $30,000 to the Pittsburgh Pirates when he returned to the majors in 1946. The layoff had eroded bis batting eye and age – he was 36, old for an infielder –had sapped his speed. He hit .241 that season as a part-time player. He was credited, however, in helping defeat another union attempt.

Robert Murphy, a Harvard-educated labor lawyer from Boston, formed the American Baseball Guild in 1946 to unionize major-league players. It was at least the fourth attempt to organize players against the tyranny of team owners who controlled every aspect of a player’s career. Murphy wanted the teams to set minimum salaries for its players, provide for arbitration to settle salary disputes and grievances, and allow players who are sold to get a share of the purchase price.

Murphy chose the Pirates for the union’s first test because of the city’s large union workforce. He claimed to have induced most of the players to join the guild, but William Benswanger, the team’s owner, wouldn’t negotiate. Murphy called for a strike on Friday, June 7, a night game at the Pirates’ Forbes Field. Two-thirds of the team had to approve the strike.

At a tense, players-only meeting on the day of the game, support for the strike collapsed after fierce opposition from Brown and pitcher Rip Sewell. The vote fell four shy of the required super majority. Fans booed the home team when the Pirates took the field that night. About a month after the vote, four men attacked Brown outside the ballpark. He said the men were drunk and that he didn’t know the reason for the attack. Brown wasn’t badly hurt.

Brown never publicly explained his opposition. He was among the highest-paid players on the team. He also was at the end of his career and from a state where unions weren’t popular.

In any case, Brown retired as an active player at the end of the season. Maybe as a reward for his loyalty, the Pirates gave him the managing job at their top farm club in Triple A. That began a 13-year career as a manager in the minor and winter leagues.

 Brown left baseball for good in 1964, and he and his wife, Sarah, lived the rest of their lives on a farm in Bath.