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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hodgin, Ralph

Positions: Left field, third base
Birthplace: Greensboro

First, Middle Names: Elmer Ralph
Date of Birth:  Feb. 10, 1915  Date and Place of Death: Oct. 4, 2011, Burlington, NC
Burial: Guilford Memorial Park, Greensboro

High School: Jamestown High School, Jamestown, NC
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-10, 167
Debut Year: 1939       Final Year: 1948          Years Played: 6
Teams and Years: Boston Bees 1939; Chicago White Sox 1943-44, 1946-48

 Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
530      1689    481      198      188      4          .285     .330     .367     5.1

When he took the mound at Briggs Stadium in Detroit on that cold, windy April day for his second start of the 1947 season, Hal Newhouser could legitimately claim to be the best pitcher in the American League. Playing for his hometown Tigers, the 26-year-old lefty had won 80 games over the past three years and two Most-Valuable Player Awards.

The pitcher who faced the visiting Chicago White Sox on that April day, however, wasn’t that Hal Newhouser. Maybe it was the weather. Maybe the stiff wind blowing off Lake Erie carried with it the raw rookie, the wild Newhouser of 1939 or ’40 who walked six or seven batters a game.

In any case, the Tiger hurler walked the leadoff hitter, Floyd Baker, in the first of what would be five free passes in a few innings of work that day. He then grooved a fastball to shortstop Luke Appling, a North Carolina boy and two-time batting champion, who promptly lined it to the gap in right for a double, sending Baker to third. Newhouser struck out Dave Philley for the first out and issued an intentional walk to load the bases for a double play. Up stepped Ralph Hodgin, all five-foot, 10-inches of him. Sportswriters liked referring to him in print as the “little left fielder” or the “little lefty” when he was batting since he hit from that side of the home plate.

At 32, Hodgin was getting on in baseball years and, unlike Newhouser, had just a couple of major-league seasons to brag about. As a rookie back in 1943, he had hit .314 for the White Sox, finishing second in the league’s batting race. He had followed that up by hitting close to .300 the next season, while striking out only 14 times in nearly 500 at bats. The Sporting News had reported then that Hodgin was “a splendid fly hawk, has a fine arm and is a tough little left-handed hitter.”[I]

But then, the little guy could always hit.

The second-youngest of seven children, Hodgin had grown up on his family’s dairy farm in Friendship, a community founded by Quakers in western Guilford County. When he wasn’t helping his father, Elmer, milk or feed cows, Hodgin had played baseball, first at old Jamestown High School and then for independent teams near home.[1]

Signed by the Tigers in 1935, he had been the second-best hitter in all of the minor leagues that season after batting .387 for the club’s Class D franchise in Fieldale, Virginia. He had continued to hit as he graduated through the minor leagues – from Charleston, West Virginia, to Charlotte, North Carolina, to Evansville, Indiana, to Hartford, Connecticut. The Bees, which had bought Hodgin’s contract in 1937, had called him to Boston two years later where he played in 32 games in his first major-league season and hit only .208.[2]

Hodgin had toiled three more years in the minors, including a season with the San Francisco Seals of the Class AAA Pacific Coast League in 1942. There, he had been the team’s best and most-consistent hitter. Some had said at the time that he was the Seal’s best outfielder in a decade. “He’s the quiet type, saying little in the clubhouse or on the bench, but he hustles all the time,” a reporter had noted at the time.[II]

White Sox coaches had certainly liked Hodgin’s bat when they drafted him from the Seals after the season, but they may have been more enamored of his draft status. Hodgin had married Frances, or Frannie, Huckabeee in 1939 and they had an infant daughter. As the family’s only means of financial support, Hodgin was temporarily excused from serving in the armed forces at a time when World War II was quickly depleting team rosters. A reliable bat that could remain in the lineup, at least for a little while, was an attractive proposition.

It had paid off during Hodgin’s first two years with the Sox, but he had missed all of the 1945 season and part of the next one after his draft board reconsidered his status and cancelled his deferment. He was inducted into the Army in January, but the war was over before he finished training.

When he dug into the box on April 21, 1947, Hodgin was eager to re-establish himself as a hard-hitting regular. We don’t know where in the count it happened because 73-year-old records aren’t that precise, but at some point in the at bat Newhouser unleased a fastball. He rarely hit anyone with errant pitches. But this one hit Hodgin. In the right temple. At a time when few players wore protective batting helmets.[3] The sound of ball hitting bone cracked through the stadium, and Hodgin went down as if shot. A hush settled over the old ballyard as the 7,000 or so spectators held their collective breath. The umpires called for a stretcher and Hodgin was carried off the field. Doctors at the hospital said later he suffered a concussion and a bad bruise. They expected him to fully recover.

Newhouser lost the game and would end up having an off year dominated by wildness, losing as many games as he won. He would recover, however, and pitch effectively for eight more seasons. His plaque now hangs in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Hodgin’s major-league career effectively ended on that cold afternoon. He was out for three weeks and was ordered back to bed after playing in one game and complaining of headaches. Though he hit. 294 in the 59 games, Hodgin seemed tentative at the plate.

He declared himself fully recovered when he reported for spring training in 1948. “I’m feeling fine,” he said. “At first I had some short lapses of memory, then some terrible headaches. But my head has not bothered me at all during the past few months.”[III]

The little guy who could always hit lost his aggressiveness at the plate, batting just .266, and a few steps in the outfield. The White Sox sold him to Sacramento, California, in the Pacific Coast League at the end of season. Hodgin ended his major-league career with a .285 lifetime average, 14th best among North Carolina players with at least 1,000 at bats.

Hodgin spent the next eight years playing or managing in the minors. He won a Carolina League championship with the Reidsville, North Carolina, Luckies in 1952. He retired from baseball four years later and drove trucks or was a dispatcher for oil-delivery companies in Greensboro. He and Frannie had moved there with their two surviving daughters.

Frannie died in 1995. Hodgin was the oldest surviving White Sox and the fourth-oldest major leaguer when he died in 2011 at age 96.

Footnotes
[1] Jamestown High School opened in 1915 on a prominent hill in town. It functioned as a high school until Ragsdale High opened in 1959. The building housed an elementary school until 1982 when it underwent extensive renovations and reopened as the Jamestown Public Library six years later. The Classical Revival-style brick building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.
[2] The National League’s Boston franchise had several names since its founding in 1870 as the Red Stockings. Sportswriters began calling the team the Beaneaters in the late 1880s, but the Braves became the official nickname in 1912. Bob Quinn bought the financially struggling franchise in 1936 and renamed it the Bees. Five years later, a new owner, Lou Perini, changed the nickname back to the Braves. The team has kept the name despite moving twice, first to Milwaukee, WS, and  then to Atlanta, GA.
[3] A few batters as far back as the early 1900s devised crude protective helmets after being struck in the head by pitches. The Brooklyn Dodgers in 1941 became the first major-league team to require its players to wear helmets during the regular season. The Washington Senators, the NY Giants, and the Chicago Cub quickly followed. It would be another 15 years, though, before the National League required helmets. The American League followed two years later, but the requirement wasn’t strictly enforced and many players ignored it. Finally, Major League Baseball began strictly enforcing the mandatory use of batting helmets during the 1971 season.

References
[I] “20 Players Move Up From Coast League.” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), November 12, 1942.
[II] McGee, Jim. “Hodgin Hustlin’ Outfielder.”  Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), November 12, 1942.
[III] “Ralph Hodgin Fully Recovered.” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), March 10, 1948.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Benson, Vern

Positions: Third base, left field
Birthplace: Granite Quarry

Full Name: Vernon Adair

Date of Birth:  Sept. 19, 1924             Date and Place of Death: Jan. 20, 2014, Granite Quarry
Burial: Rowan Memorial Park, Rowan

High School: Granite Quarry High School
College: Catawba College, Salisbury

Bats: L Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-11, 180
Debut Year: 1943       Final Year: 1953          Years Played: 5
Teams and Years: Philadelphia Athletics, 1943, 1946; St. Louis Cardinals, 1951-53

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
55        104      21        17        12        3          .202     .291     .356     0.1

Vern Benson was a baseball lifer. Though he only appeared in 55 games over a sporadic five-year career in the major leagues, Benson devoted his life to the sport, spending more than half a century as a player, coach, scout, and minor-league manager. He was also perfect during his short but odd tenure as a big-league skipper.

Vernon Adair Benson grew up in Granite Quarry in Rowan County, the younger son of William and Ruth Benson. In a 1946 questionnaire, he credited his parents for turning him into a ballplayer by allowing him to play instead of requiring him to find a job during the Depression.

He played baseball and basketball at the local high school and for the American Legion. He entered Catawba College in nearby Salisbury in 1942. Playing only baseball, Benson set a school record with 16 consecutive games with a run scored. He would be inducted into the school’s sports hall of fame as part of its second class in 1978.

Connie Mack, the owner and manager of the Philadelphia Athletics, was looking for wartime replacements when he signed Benson on July 29, 1943. The 18-year-old made his major-league debut two days later at Shibe Park as a pinch hitter.

But Benson was drafted a few days later and spent two years at Fort Bragg playing ball for the army before being shipped to France.

He returned to the Athletics in 1946 but made it into only seven games, four as a pinch runner. At his request, Benson was sent back to the minors in May so that he could play regularly. He wouldn’t resurface in the majors for another five years.

After his best year as a pro in 1951 — .308-18-89 with 111 walks – for the St. Louis Cardinals’ Double a team in Columbus, Benson was a late-season call-up. He appeared in 13 games and hit his first major-league homer. He played sporadically for the Cardinals during the next two seasons before retiring from active play in 1953.

Benson began coaching in the minor and winter leagues the following year and took his first major-league coaching job with the Cardinals in 1961. He was on the coaching staff when the team won the World Series four year s later.For the next two decades,

Benson coached for the four big-league clubs and even took a spin as a manager. That was 1977 for the woeful Atlanta Braves. The team had lost 16 in a row when new owner Ted Turner sent manager Dave Bristol away for a few days and donned a uniform to skipper the team. “Our attitude was, anything goes that’s legal and acceptable,” Bob Hope, the Braves public-relations director at the time told a newspaper reporter in 2015. “We didn’t have a great team and couldn’t compete financially, so we’d always say we have to keep the smoke going after the fire goes out.”

It didn’t help. The Braves lost again.

Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn stepped in, ruling that Turner couldn’t manage again because of rules against a manager having a financial interest in a club.

Coach Benson was quickly pressed into service for a game until Bristol could return to the team. The Braves won, and Benson retired as an undefeated manager.

 He left coaching entirely in 1981 and returned to Granite Quarry where he worked from home for 15 years as the Cardinals’ scouting supervisor for the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee.

Benson had married Rachael Lyerly in 1946. They had two daughters and a son. They had been married for almost 61 years when she died in April 2008. Benson followed her six years later at age 89.

“I was in the game 56 years and I never missed a payday,” he had told an interviewer a few years earlier. “I never made much money, but just about every year was enjoyable.”

Allie, Gair

Position: Shortstop, third base
Birthplace: Statesville

First, Last Names: Gair Roosevelt     
Date of Birth:  Oct. 28, 1931  Date and Place of Death: Oct 14, 2016, Tucson, Ariz.
Burial: Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, San Antonio, Tex.

High School: Statesville High School 
College: Wake Forest University, Wake Forest, NC

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-1, 190
Debut Year: 1954       Final Year: 1954          Years Played: 1
Team and Year: Pittsburgh Pirates, 1954

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
121      418    83      38        30        3          ,199     .294     .268     -1.5

Marjorie Allie had seen the name in a movie magazine. She liked it so much that she decided to give it her only son. Her husband, Kermit, apparently didn’t mind.[1]

Gair grew up to be a strapping six-footer by the time he went to high school, lettering in football, baseball and basketball. He may be one of the best athletes to ever play at Statesville High. He was co-captain of the football and basketball teams and made the all-conference and all-state teams. Six colleges offered him football scholarships when he graduated in 1950, but Allie chose Wake Forest College because there he would play baseball.

The college season apparently wasn’t enough because Allie played for a semipro team in Nova Scotia in the summer of 1951. A teammate knew a scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates, the teammate wrote, had to check out this shortstop Allie. That led to a tryout at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Branch Rickey, the team’s general manager and among the shrewdest judges of baseball talent, offered Allie $20,000 to sign, or about $200,000 in current dollars. It was an eye-opening amount back then.

Goodbye Wake Forest; hello New Orleans.

There, Allie spent 1952 playing for the Pirates’ Class AA team. He hit only .216, but he impressed his coaches with his deft fielding and power. At 190 pounds, Allie was big for the diminutive shortstops of the era, who went by nicknames like Pee Wee and Scooter. Rickey was sure his powerfully built shortstop was a key piece to a pennant.

He invited Allie to train with the big-league club in Havana in the spring of 1953, but Allie broke his leg sliding into home, ending his season. He effectively ended his major-league career the following year when he made the club as the starting shortstop but hit a horrendous .199 in 121 games. He found himself competing for the job in the spring of 1955 with Dick Groat, the Duke University star who had returned from military service. Groat would anchor the Pirates’ infield for 14 years, winning a MVP award and playing in two World Series.

Allie went back to the minors where he lingered until 1961, with the Army claiming two of those years.

He settled in San Antonio, Texas, after baseball. He owned several bars and restaurants, ran unsuccessfully for the town council in 1963 on a platform of expanding the city’s parks and playgrounds, worked as an executive for many years for Falstaff Brewing Co., and raised five children with his second wife, Rita.[2]

Allie died in 2016, two weeks shy of his 85th birthday.

Footnotes
[1]Marjorie’s other children were also unusually named: Carrola, Sherwyne and Deema.
[2]Allie’s first bar, The Tiffany, was the meeting place of local sports figures. He also played for a recreational softball team at the time called the Flamingo Lounge Lizards. Allie opened the Raffle Restaurant and Bar in San Antonio in 1987. He ran it with his family until 2015.