Primary Position: Catcher
First, Middle Names: James Sanford Nickname: Cracker
Date of Birth: July 29, 1897 Date and Place of Death: October 21, 1991, Springfield, IL
Burial: Camp Butler National Cemetery, Springfield, IL
High School: Undetermined
College: Did Not Attend
Bats: R Throws: R Height and Weight: 6-0, 170
Debut Year: 1926 Final Year: 1927 Years Played: 2
Team and Years: New York Giants, 1926-27
G AB H R RBI HR BA. OBP. SLG. WAR
22 55 10 6 5 0 .182 .274 .218 -0.5
The only player from Wilkes County to make it to the major leagues, Jim Hamby appeared in 22 games over two seasons for the New York Giants. Though his big-league career was forgettable, Hamby was a respectable catcher during his 12 years in the low minor leagues. He retired to Springfield, Illinois, where he worked in a brewery. He was among the oldest former major leaguers when he died in 1991 at age 94.
Hamby was born in 1897 to a large farm family near Wilkesboro. He was the fifth of Jackson and Julianna’s nine children. All but one was a boy.
He was inducted into the Army in September 1918 and likely did his basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. World War I ended before he completed training, and he was discharged in December.
Fueled by the phenomenal growth of its tobacco and textile industries, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was booming when Hamby moved there in 1921. According to the census that year, he lived in a boarding house and worked at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the largest tobacco manufacturer in the world and the city’s biggest employer.
Hamby played his first professional baseball two years later when he hit .278 in 33 games for the Twins, the city’s entry in the Class C Piedmont League. He was the starting catcher by 1923, when he led the league with a .332 average. He continued his torrid hitting as he moved up the lower minor league — .301 for Rocky Mount, Virginia, in 1925 and .332 for Norfolk, Virginia, the next season. Somewhere along the way, he picked up the nickname Cracker, a common moniker for any rural player, especially those from the South.
Looking for catching help, John McGraw, the manager of the Giants, signed him, and Hamby made his major-league debut on Sept. 20, 1926. He went hitless in three at bats and, worse, made two errors behind the plate. That was the only game he played that season. McGraw, though, had him back the next year, though, as his backup catcher. Hamby appeared in 22 games and hit .192. McGraw had seen enough. He shipped him back to the minors.
He played six more years in the low minors before injuries forced his retirement in 1933 at age 35. In almost 1,000 games over a dozen minor-league seasons, he hit .300 and was considered a solid defensive catcher.
Springfield was one of his many stops. He played for the city’s Senators in 1929 and ’30 and may have met and married a local woman, though no online records exist. In the 1940 census, though, Hamby is listed as a widower living with his brother-in-law and working at a brewery. He later married Julia Hamby. There are no records that he had children.