Altman, George

Position: Outfield, first base
Birthplace: Goldsboro

Full Name: George Lee           Nicknames: Daddy Long Legs

Date of Birth:  March 20, 1933                     

Current Residence: O’Fallon, Missouri

High School: Dillard High School, Goldsboro
College: Tennessee State University, Nashville, Tenn.

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-4, 200
Debut Year: 1959       Final Year: 1967          Years Played: 9
Team(s) and Years: Chicago Cubs, 1959-62; St. Louis Cardinals, 1963; N.Y. Mets, 1964; Cubs, 1965-67
Awards: All-star, 1961-62

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
991      3091    832      409      403      101      .269     .329     .432     13.0

George Altman’s playing career spanned almost three decades, crossed two continents and embraced white, black and Asian cultures. It was a journey that started in the Negro Leagues, where he played under the universally beloved Buck O’Neil, made a nine-year stop in the major leagues, where he was an all-star, and ended finally in Tokyo, where he swatted home runs into his 40s.

Born in Goldsboro, Altman was the only child of Willie, a tenant farmer who later became an auto mechanic, and Clara, who died when her son was four.

One of Dillard High School’s most accomplished athletes, Altman graduated in 1951 and went to Nashville, Tenn., to play basketball for the legendary John McLendon at what is now Tennessee State University. He began patrolling the outfield when the school started its baseball program during Altman’s junior year.

 Altman hoped to play professional basketball after graduation in 1955, but the NBA didn’t draft him. He ended up in Kansas City, instead, where he tried out for the city’s Monarchs, the oldest team in the Negro Leagues. O’Neil, the team’s manager, liked what he saw and proceeded to turn Alston into a first baseman.

“I had been an outfielder all of the way,” Altman wrote in his 2013 autobiography, “but Buck taught me how to play first base and I played first base for the Monarchs that summer. He taught me all of the moves around the bag when receiving the throws from the infielders.”

Starting with the pathfinder, Jackie Robinson, the Monarchs supplied more players to the majors than any other Negro League team: Satchel Paige, Ernie Banks, Elston Howard, Willard Brown and Hank Thompson.

Altman joined the list at the end of the Monarch’s season when he signed with the Chicago Cubs. After a couple of years in the minors and a couple of more in the Army, Altman was the starting centerfielder in Wrigley Field in 1959. Two years later, he was a National League All-Star when he hit .303-27-96 with a league-leading 12 triples. Altman made the all-star team again in 1962 when he hit .318, even though a sprained wrist in June hampered his power production.

They would be his two best seasons in the major leagues. Maybe the Cubs’ saw something because the team traded Altman, along with pitcher and fellow North Carolinian Don Cardwell, to the St. Louis Cardinals at the end of the 1962 season. Altman said all the right things at the time, but he later wrote, “To say that I was shocked would definitely be an understatement.”

He had a disappointing season with St. Louis and was traded to the cellar-dwelling N.Y. Mets where he played hurt and hit just .230.

For the third time in three years, Altman was traded again, back to the Cubs, in January 1965. His last two years in the majors were uninspiring. He hit .228 in 178 games with only 9 homers and 40 RBI.

Demoted to the minors, Altman at age 34 in 1968 embarked on new and fruitful career in Japan. During eight seasons with the Tokyo Orions, Altman hit 205 home runs and drove in 656 in 935 games. He hit below .300 only in 1969 and 1975, his last year in baseball when he was 42 and recovering from colon cancer.

Altman returned to Chicago where he married for the second time in 1976 to Etta Allison, a piano teacher. They had two children.

He had worked in the offseason for more than a decade on the Chicago Board of Trade as a commodities trader. He continued trading from his home in retirement, while volunteering with groups that mentored kids.

Altman and Etta moved to O’Fallon, a suburb of St. Louis, in 2002 where they live still.

Alston, Tom

Position: First base
Birthplace: Greensboro

First, Last Names: Thomas Edison    

Date of Birth: Jan. 31, 1926   Date and Place of Death: Dec 30, 1993, Winston-Salem, NC
Burial: New Goshen United Methodist Church Cemetery, Greensboro

High School: Dudley High School, Greensboro
College: N.C. A&T State University, Greensboro

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-5, 210
Debut Year: 1954       Final Year: 1957          Years Played: 4
Team and Years: St. Louis Cardinals, 1954-57

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
91        271    66      30        36       4         .244     .311      .358     -0.1

Tom Alston’s story isn’t a happy one. He possessed a tormented soul. He heard voices that told him to slit his wrists and to set a church on fire. He was sent off to mental hospitals where electrodes were attached to his head. He couldn’t hold a job, never married. He lived in abject poverty until rescued by friends he didn’t know he had. And in the end, cancer got him.

This should be an inspiring story. Because Tom Alston was among the pioneers of baseball. He was the first black man from North Carolina to play in the major leagues, the first to don a uniform for the St. Louis Cardinals.

But, no, this is not a Jackie Robinson tale of courage and perseverance. Maybe it could have been had Alston stuck around the majors for a while. Yes, maybe Tom Alston’s story would be different if he could have only hit an inside fastball.

Seven years after Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947, St. Louis was still very much a Southern town. Most of its stores and restaurants wouldn’t serve blacks. The owner of its baseball team, Fred Saigh, refused to sign them. The Cardinals had the sport’s largest radio network, blanketing the South and Midwest, and the team had cultivated a white, Southern fan base. Its ballpark would be the last to abolish segregated seating. When Robinson played there as a visitor, Cardinal players yelled from the dugout that he was a black bastard and worse. Their manager, Eddie Stanky, told the local newspaper that he didn’t think that should offend anyone.[I]

August Busch Jr.

The changes began in 1953 when Anheuser-Busch bought the team. The new owner, August A. Busch Jr., was by no means a civil-rights crusader, but he was an equal-opportunity capitalist. He wanted to sell beer to everyone, regardless of race. By then, most of the 16 major-league clubs had black players on their rosters. Busch decided it was time for his Cardinals to have a few as well. He hired a Negro League veteran to search out the best black ballplayers and signed more than a dozen in his first year of ownership.

That search eventually led to Tom Alston.

Thomas Edison Alston grew up in the black community of Goshen, which has since been swallowed up by Greensboro. He was one of five sons and two daughters of Shube and Anna Alston, a maid who brought home newspapers from the houses she cleaned. Young Tom became an avid reader of the sports pages and later had a paper route delivering a black newspaper.

His segregated Dudley High School didn’t have a baseball team. Tom played in the pastures around the house with broom handle bats and balls made of twine. He joined the Navy after graduating in 1944 and played his first organized baseball. Alston continued playing after his discharge at what was then called the Negro Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina, now N.C. A&T State University, in Greensboro. He hit .400 during his three years on the varsity team.

Alston played for black semipro teams after graduating in 1951 with a degree in physical education. He signed his first professional contracts a year later, first in the Class C Southwestern International League and then with the San Diego Padres in the Pacific Coast League, the country’s premier minor league that had produced superstars like Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams.

Lefty O’Doul, former major-league star himself and the Padres manager, gushed about his 6-5 first baseman, who was agile in the field and fast on the base paths. “I believe Tom has a chance of hitting 50 homers this year,” he said at the start of the 1953 season. “He has improved so much I can hardly believe it.”[II]

 Alston hit only 23 but knocked in 101 runs while batting .297.

The Cardinals came calling. They bought Alston’s contract from the Padres in January 1954 for $100,000. They also threw in four players. Baseball people then were shocked that Busch would pay so much for an unproven player.[1]

Alston’s reaction? “I can’t believe it,” he said. “Me on the same team with Stan Musial?”[III] 

The Cardinals made the signing a media event, renting a suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Hollywood, with Busch himself arriving from St. Louis to sign the contract. Sportswriters sipped Bud while nibbling on caviar. “The only blacks in the room were me and the valet who served the beer,” Alston recalled years later.[IV]

Although he was the black, $100,000 man, Alston didn’t remember any open resentment. “The Cardinals had the rap of being bigoted,” he later said. “I didn’t experience anything real bad. None of the players were friendly to me, but they weren’t rude.”[V]

National League pitchers were far from friendly. They soon discovered Alston’s weakness: He couldn’t hit high, inside fastballs. Alston batted only hit .181 in June of his debut with no home runs. Brooks Lawrence, a black, rookie pitcher who joined the Cardinals that month, was Alston’s roommate. “I’d wake up some nights and hear him praying,” Lawrence told author Peter Golenbock. “He’d be saying, ‘I can hit. I know I can hit.’ And he’d go out the next day and he wouldn’t hit anything.”[VI]

Tom Alston, far right, with Stan Musial, center, and Wally Moon during his better days with the St. Louis Cardinals. Photo: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

At the end of the month, the Cardinals sent Alston down to Class AAA Rochester. He would get token call-ups for the next two seasons, only because Busch insisted on it.

By then, the voices had started. Alston later said he began hearing them during his first year with the Cardinals but told no one. In 1956 or ’57 – Alston was never firm on the year — a woman’s voice told him, “It’s time to meet your maker.” He drove out into the country of Guilford County and slit his wrist with a razor blade, luckily inflicting only a minor wound. Deputy sheriffs found him and sent him home.[VII]

Alston was a wreck at the start of the 1957 season. He had lost 15 pounds and his behavior was erratic. “The poor guy is so weak, the bat seems to be swinging him,” Musial said.

The Cardinals sent Alston to see a doctor, who hospitalized him for “a nervous condition.” He saw a psychiatrist for the first time. “He didn’t ask no questions or nothing,” Alston told an author in the 1990s. “He just administered shock treatment.”[VIII]

He returned briefly to the Cardinals in September and went home to live with his father after the season. Alston never returned to baseball.

He was arrested for assault a few months later, in early 1958, and spent 30 days on a chain gang before his sentence was suspended. One night that September he set fire to the New Goshen Methodist Church. It was the church where he had grown up and had taught Sunday school and where he would be buried. Alston offered various explanations over the years. He had an argument with his sister and did out of spite; the voices told him to set the fire because the congregation needed a new building.

The fire did about $500 worth of damage.

Alston was arrested but was judged mentally incompetent to stand trial. He spent the next eight years in a state psychiatric hospital. Two months after his release in 1967, Alston set fire to his apartment and was committed again. Released in 1969, Alston remained on drugs for the rest of his life. His later interviews ranged from lucid to barely coherent. He never married or held a steady job, subsisting on Social Security disability benefits.

N.C. A&T inducted Alston into its sports hall of fame in 1972. He had shown up occasionally on campus to give batting tips to varsity players.

By 1990, Alston was destitute and living in a nursing home when Joe Garagiola called. The former Cardinal catcher and longtime broadcaster had heard of Alston’s plight. “He was so lonely,” Garagiola remembered.[IX]

Joe Garagiola

Garagiola was one of the founders of the Baseball Assistance Team, or B.A.T., which provides financial aid to needy players and their families. With B.A.T.’s help, Alston was able to move into his own apartment.

The Cardinals invited him to a game where he threw out the first ball and recognized his place in team history.

Alston was diagnosed with prostate cancer soon afterwards and spent his last months in hospice. He died at age 67 on Dec. 30, 1993.

Alfred Fleishman, a rabbi and a columnist for a Jewish newspaper in Indianapolis, noted at the time that Augie Busch had asked him to talk with Alston when the Cardinal signed him, to try and prepare him for what life might be like in a city like St. Louis. When the rabbi was done, Alston put a hand on his knee.

“Mr. Fleishman, I guess you are trying to tell me there are people who don’t like Negroes. I am a Negro. I know that,” Alston said. “I guess what you and Mr. Busch want to know is how I feel. I’ll be glad to tell both of you. I feel sorry for them. I don’t think you have to pity people who don’t like you because they don’t have the same color of skin as you, don’t cut or comb their hair the same as you, don’t wear the same clothes and don’t go to the same church as you. You gotta pity people like that.”

“That’s what I’ll never forget,” Fleishman concluded in his column.  “The only tragedy with Tom Alston was that he couldn’t hit major-league pitching and dint last a full season. Too bad.”[X]

References
[I]Costello, Rory. “George Altman.” Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/george-altman/.
[II]Ibid.
[III]Ibid.
[IV]Ibid.
[V]Ibid.
[VI]Golenbock, Peter. The Spirit of St. Louis. New York: William Morrow and Co., 2000.
[VII]Costello.
[VIII]Ibid.
[IX]Ibid.
[X]Fleishman, Alfred. “Using Dignity, Not Chutzpah.” Jewish Post (New York). January 19, 1994.
Footnote
[1]Augie Busch told the press that his scouts and manager, Eddie Stanky, were urging him to sign Alston. Stanky, however, threatened to resign if he did.

 

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.

 

Aderholt, Morrie

Position: 3b, 2B
Birthplace: Mount Olive

First, Last Names: Morris Woodrow
Date of Birth:  Sept. 13, 1915            Date and Place of Death: March 18, 1955, Sarasota, Fla.  
Burial: Appomattox Cemetery, Hopewell, Va.

High School: Undetermined  
College:  Wake Forest College, Wake Forest, NC

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-1, 188
Debut Year: 1939       Final Year: 1945          Years Played: 5
Teams and Years: Washington Senators, 1939-41; Brooklyn Dodgers, 1944-45; Boston Braves, 1945

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
106    262    70      36         32       3          .267    .317      .351      -0.2

Morrie Aderholt could hit a ball pretty good. Catching one, though, was another matter.

“He’s the world’s worst third baseman,” Brooklyn Dodgers’ President Branch Rickey bluntly told the press shortly after he brought Aderholt up from the minors in September 1944.[I]

A native of Mount Olive, Aderholt was a child when Clarence and Annie moved their growing family to Hopewell, Va. He would eventually have six brothers and sisters.

Aderholt played baseball and tennis at Wake Forrest College where he drew the attention of “Papa Joe” Cambria, the Washington Senators’ super scout, who signed Aderholt shortly after graduation in 1938. The youngster began his professional career the following year in Charlotte of the Piedmont League, batting .297 in 142 games. The Senators called him up late in the season.

The lanky lefthander made his big-league debut against the Chicago White Sox on his 24th birthday on Sept. 13. Aderholt celebrated by launching a mammoth home run over the scoreboard in right center in what was said to be the longest homer hit in Washington’s Griffith Stadium that year. He came down to earth the following day, however, committing three errors in a game against the St. Louis Browns.

Aderholt was up and down in the minors, making cameo appearances with the Senators during the 1940 and ‘41 seasons. During his brief trials with Washington, Aderholt committed an eye-opening nine errors in 11 games at second and third bases.

Moved to the outfield to minimize his defensive liabilities, Aderholt returned to the majors with the Dodgers in 1944. In 17 games, he batted a respectable .271, but continued to pile up the errors, committing four in 31 chances in the outfield for a horrendous fielding percentage of .871.

The following season, he got off to a slow start, batting .217 after 39 games, and was sold to the Boston Braves for the waiver price of $7,500. He was released at the conclusion of the season, ending his big-league career.

Aderholt went on to manage in the minor leagues for several clubs. His last stop was Scranton, Pa., where he guided the Miners of the Class A Eastern League. He suffered a heart attack in the spring of 1953 after running from a practice field in Florida to escape a sudden shower. Though he recovered, Aderholt announced he would retire at the at the end of the season.

It would have been tough, final year for a healthy man. The Miners lost 100 games that summer, finishing 51 games out of first place.

One doubleheader loss on the road was so galling that the skipper refused to ride on the team bus back to the motel. He hitched a ride with a Scranton newspaperman instead. “I can’t say anything nice to them,” Aderholt told the newsman, “so I guess I better not say anything at all. They feel bad enough as it is.”[II]

A bachelor during his playing career, Aderholt married Eloise Stancell of Richmond, Va., in 1954 and began scouting for the Senators. He was on a trip to Sarasota, Fla, to look at a prospect in 1955 when Aderholt’s heart failed him again. He died on March 18 at the age of 39.

“He didn’t leave his name in any record books and he’ll never be compared with the likes of Speaker, Wagner and Ruth,” the Scranton newsman wrote at the time. “But Morrie Aderholt was a gentleman, as nice a fellow as you hope to meet in baseball.”[III]

References
[I] Dodger Profiles. “Morrie Aderholt.”  http://dodgerprofiles.blogspot.com.
[II] Butler, Joe M. “Sports Scope.” Times-Tribune (Scranton, PA), March 20, 1955.
[III] Ibid.