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.