Chambers, Rome

Position: Relief pitcher
Birthplace: Weaverville

First, Middle Names: Richard Jerome       Nicknames: Rome
Date of Birth: Aug. 31, 1875   Date and Place of Death: Aug. 30, 1902
Burial: Chambers Family Cemetery, Weaverville

High School: Undetermined
College: Weaver College, Weaverville

Bats: L Throws: L        Height and Weight: 6-2, 173
Debut Year: 1900        Final Year: 1900          Years Played: 1
Team and Year: Boston Beaneaters, 1900

Career Summary
G          W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
1          0          0          0          11.25   4.0       2          -0.2

Rome Chambers was the third North Carolinian to play in the major leagues and the first from the state’s mountains. His stay was brief, a mere four innings in one game in 1900, but his manager liked what he saw and thought he’d be back after a bit of seasoning in the minors. Chambers didn’t get the chance. Two years later, he was dead, a day shy of his 27th birthday.

Richard Jerome Chambers was born in 1875, the same year the small community of Reems Creek north of Asheville was incorporated and renamed Weaverville after a prominent local resident. His parents, Robert and Bathilda, raised five children on the family farm outside town. The oldest, Ogburn, would become a well-known dentist in Asheville whose passing would be deeply mourned in 1929 after he was struck by a bicycle on a city street.

There are a few tidbits here and there in the historical and genealogical records about Rome, the next in the family’s lineup of kids. Census reports indicate that he lived with his parents all his life, working on the family farm. It’s not known when he started playing baseball. We know he pitched a few innings for the Richmond, Virginia, Giants of the Atlantic League in 1897 and one season two years later for Weaver College, a local Methodist school.[1] He was described by his contemporaries at the time: “When the style for pitching balls with a steam engine or shooting them from a cannon to the batter comes in fashion, Mr. Chambers will lose his job, but not before. If he could write letters as nicely as he plays ball, he would doubtless hear from his sweetheart oftener than once a month.”[I]

Chambers traveled the 150 or so miles to Greensboro, North Carolina, in the spring of 1900 to attend a tryout camp sponsored by the Boston Beaneaters, one of the original members of the National League.[2] A few weeks later, on May 7, the “North Carolina mountaineer,” as the Boston’s newspapers called him, found himself on the mound at the Beaneaters’ South End Grounds for the 15th game of the new season. Manager Frank Selee sent the rookie in to start the fourth inning against the New York Giants. Chambers pitched four innings and gave up five runs in an 18-11 slugfest won by Boston, though he wasn’t credited with the victory.

A summation of his work that day resides in the archives of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York “He had speed and nerves but lacked control,” it says.[II] Selee was a bit more diplomatic three days later when he shipped Chambers to Toronto, Canada, in the Eastern League. He told the press that he had “great faith in Chambers becoming a good man after a year on a minor-league team.”[III]

Chambers never made it back. He died in Weaverville in 1902 of unknown causes. His will lists no heirs.

Footnotes
[1] Weaverville College was founded as a Methodist, coeducational academy in 1851 by the local Sons of Temperance. The school was renamed Weaver College in 1912 to honor Montraville Weaver who donated land for the first buildings. The Methodist Church merged it with Rutherford College in 1933 to create Brevard College in Brevard, NC. (Hill, Michael, “Weaver College.” NCPedia, 2006. https://www.ncpedia.org/weaver-college).
[2] The Boston Red Stockings were one of the charter franchises of the National League in 1876. Its name was changed to the Beaneaters seven years later. While colorful, the name always irked some Bostonians. After two  more changes, the “Braves” was adopted as the official name in 1912 when no one much cared about what Native Americans might think. Except for a brief sojourn as the Bees in the 1930s, the Braves name stuck. The team played in Boston until 1953 when it moved to Milwaukee. It now resides in Atlanta, where it’s been since 1966.

References
[i] Goode, Tyler Norris. “Rome’s Big Day.” Asheville (NC) Citizen-Times, May 7, 2006.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] “Rome J. Chambers Farmed Out to Toronto.” Boston (MA) Globe, May 10, 1900.

 

 

Stafford, Robert

Position: First Base
Birthplace: Oak Ridge

First, Middle Names:  Robert McGibboney Jr.
Date of Birth:  June 26, 1872  Date and Place of Death: Aug. 20, 1916. Moore’s Springs, NC
Burial: Oak Ridge Cemetery, Greensboro, North Carolina

High School: Undetermined
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: R Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-0, 180

Bob Stafford, according to most baseball references, was barely in the major leagues long enough for that proverbial cup of coffee — one at bat in the last game of the 1890 season. That Bob Stafford, though, may not have gotten close enough to a big-league clubhouse to even smell the java brewing. It seems likely that researchers a century ago mistakenly linked the “Stafford” who was listed in that box score with the sheriff’s kid from Oak Ridge, North Carolina, who starred in the minor leagues. Though it’s unlikely that he ever made it to the majors, Stafford appears here to help set the historical record straight.

The Athletics were one of the six charter members of the American Association when the professional league formed in 1882.[1] They had won a pennant in their second season, but 1890 was a disaster. The team had lost 21 straight at the end of the season on the way to a next-to-last-place finish. It faced Syracuse on October 12 in Gloucester, New Jersey, for mercifully the final game of the season. Manager Bill Sharsig picked four locals to play. All we really know about them are the last names that appear in the box score of the day’s game: McBride, Sterling, Sweigert, and Stafford. Researchers for early baseball encyclopedias came along later and gave them the first names of known baseball personalities. John McBride was an umpire at the time and John Sterling, Hampton Sweigert and Robert Stafford were minor leaguers.

That Bob Stafford had been born in Oak Ridge, in eastern Guilford County, in 1872, the son of the county’s longtime sheriff. He had a 17-year career in the minors as a player, coach, and umpire. There’s no evidence in the existing historical or genealogical records to suggest that the 18-year-old in North Carolina had any reason to be in New Jersey when the Athletics manager was casting about for players.

He began his playing career in 1894 for a minor-league team in Petersburg, Virginia. By the turn of century, Stafford was a well-known ballplayer whose name appeared often in North Carolina newspapers. None of the stories that survive in online archives note his alleged one at-bat in the majors. It wasn’t until after he retired that a newspaper reported in 1913 that “Bob once went up to the big show but did not remain for a full season, going back to Atlanta, from which place he was drafted.”[I] The writer was either trying to be kind or, more likely, didn’t know that his supposed big-league career didn’t last an inning, let alone a season. Stafford did play for the Atlanta Crackers in 1903-04, but that was more than a decade after his mysterious appearance in New Jersey.

Biographers at the Society of American Baseball Research are a particularly persnickety bunch in their quest to ensure that facts about these early players are correct.[2] They determined more than a decade ago that the four Athletics’ players were misidentified. “Since these players have not been positively identified, I am removing all the biographical information we have and we can start from scratch to figure out who they are,” Bill Carle, the committee’s chairman, wrote in his report in October 2007. “I doubt we will ever be able to identify them.” He added that doubts existed about the identities five other players on that 1890 Athletics’ team. “This might be baseball’s most ‘mysterious’ team,” Carle concluded.[II]

Footnotes
[1] The American Association existed for 10 seasons from 1882 to 1891. It set out to distinguish itself from the rival National League, which formed in 1876, by chartering teams in what the puritanical leaders of older league pejoratively called “river cities” – Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Louisville – because of their implied lower moral and social standards. In contrast to its rival, the American Association offered cheaper ticket prices and allowed games to be played on Sundays and beer to be sold at the ballparks.
[2] The Society for American Baseball Research is a membership organization founded in 1971 to promote historical and statistical baseball research. It’s acronym SABR was used to coin the term “sabermetrics,” the use of sophisticated mathematical tools for statistical analysis.

References
[I] “Bob Stafford Ill.” Charlotte News, April 18, 1913.
[II] Carle, Bill. “Biographical Research Committee September/October 2007 Report.” Society of American Baseball Research.

 

Chakales, Bob

Position: Relief pitcher
Birthplace: Asheville

First, Middle Names: Robert Edward            Nickname: The Golden Greek
Date of Birth:  Aug. 10, 1927  Date and Place of Death: Feb. 18, 2010, Richmond, VA
Burial: Westhampton Memorial Park, Richmond, VA

High School: Benedictine High School, Richmond, VA
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-1, 185
Debut Year: 1951       Final Year: 1957          Years Played: 7
Teams and Years: Cleveland Indians, 1951-54; Baltimore Orioles, 1954; Chicago White Sox, 1955; Washington Senators, 1956-57; Boston Red Sox, 1957

Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
171     15       25        11        4.54     420.1  187      0.3

Bob Chakales was a serviceable and, at times, effective relief pitcher during his seven years of bouncing around the American League. When he retired, he turned an avocation, golf, into a lucrative second career building courses all over the country.

Edward Peter – Eddie Pete to all who knew him – and Blanche Chakales (pronounced SHACK-ulls) named the first of their six children Robert Edward when he was born in August 1927. Eddie Pete was the son of Greek immigrants who had settled in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1902, the year Eddie Pete was born. His family moved around, first to Salisbury, North Carolina, by 1910 and then to Asheville 10 years later, where Eddie Pete met and wooed Blanche Wiggs.

They both had jobs when The Depression began two years after their first child’s birth — Eddie Pete was a waiter and Blanche sold women’s clothing in a downtown store – but they moved to Rocky Mount, North Carolina, by 1930 where Eddie Pete repaired hats for a dry cleaner. They moved again, when Bob was in the fifth grade, to Dunn, North Carolina, where his father opened a café.

The youngster kicked around the town’s sandlots playing pick-up baseball games with the other kids. “We used to stitch corncobs together to make balls,” he remembered.[i] He was also an expert marbles shooter and once won the state shooting contest.

When he got older, Chakales played for a youth league, which posted its statistics in a downtown barber shop. “Every week the baseball stats were prominently displayed for everyone to see. I was hitting so well I could get a free lollipop anytime I wanted,” he said.[ii]

As a teenager, he played third base for the local American Legion team. When he was hort of pitching one season, his coach asked him to take the mound for one of the last games. Chakales won, and he was a pitcher when the new season began.

The family moved again, this time to Richmond, Virginia, soon before Chakalas started high school. The American Legion team, though, wanted him back so badly that Dunn’s mayor, Herbert Taylor, offered him room and board to return for one season. Taylor even went to Richmond and drove the team’s star hurler back. Chakales opened the season striking out 18 and pitched Dunn into the state finals. He was named the tournament’s outstanding pitcher.

There was a price for stardom, however. The mayor was an undertaker, and Chakales spent the summer in his funeral home, sleeping above the coffins and corpses. During a vicious thunderstorm one night, one of the bodies sat up on the table, not that uncommon under the right combination of rigor mortis and tendon contraction, it was explained to him later. The terrified kid bolted out of the building and aimlessly ran across town in the pelting rain. “A funeral home is no place for a young person to spend their summer,” he later decided.[iii]

Three-sport stardom awaited Chakales at what was then Benedictine High School, a Catholic military school in Richmond known for its strong sports programs.[1]  He pitched, played quarterback, and was a guard on the basketball team. He won eight in a row, which included a no hitter, and batted .353 his senior year in 1945 when he was named to the all-state teams in all three sports.

Colleges came calling, but the offer that intrigued Chakales the most was the one that arrived from the Philadelphia Phillies, who invited the youngster to a tryout at their home field, Shibe Park. The team’s scouts were impressed enough that they offered him a contract that included a $7,500 bonus, equivalent to about $100,000 today, and $4,000 for college, though he would never attend. He signed, of course, and pitched that summer in the low minors.

After a year in the Army playing for the base team at Fort Lee, Virginia, Chakales spent three more years at the bottom of the minor leagues, pitching for the Phillies and then the Cleveland Indians, who picked him up in 1949. His breakout came a year later in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the Indians’ Class A franchise. He won 16 games, while giving up an average of just two runs a start, and was named an Eastern League All-Star. He made the jump to the majors the following spring.

We don’t know if Chakales brought his nickname with him to the big leagues or how frequently he was called the Golden Greek. Its origins are apparent but whether he acquired it on the sandlots of Dunn, as a three-sport prep star, or in the minor isn’t.

He did arrive at the Indians’ training camp in Tucson, Arizona, lugging 10 suits, 17 pairs of pants, and 25 shirts. “Man, I didn’t come here just for a visit. I came here to stay,” he explained.[iv] Hal Lebovitz of the Cleveland News was much taken with the youngster, calling him “a likable rookie with a friendly smile … as colorful as Dizzy Dean’s … something like a character in a Ring Lardner yarn.”[v]

Unless he pitched like Dean, it wasn’t likely that a rookie just up from the depths of Class A would break into one of the best starting rotations in baseball history. It included future Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Early Wynn and Bob Lemon and featured three pitchers who would win 20 games in each of the next two seasons.[2] “With any other major-league team, he would be a starting pitcher,” manager Al Lopez would later say of Chakales.[vi]

He broke camp as a reliever, but he managed to start 10 games that year, his career high. He won just three of them, but his earned-run average, or ERA, of 4.74 was respectable. His walks – 43 in just 68 innings – were not, however.  Chakales would average about five walks a game throughout his career, a number that likely contributed to his frequent travels to the minors.

That’s what he did over the next three years with Cleveland, moving up and down to and from its Class AAA team in Indianapolis, Indiana, appearing in a total of 15 games for the big-league club. He was traded in June 1952 to Baltimore and gave the Orioles three months of solid pitching. Working mostly out of the bullpen, he appeared in 38 games with a 3.73 ERA.

Two trades later, Chakales was in Washington in 1956 and probably his best season in the major leagues. He pitched 96 innings for the Senators and limited opponents to about four runs a game.

The next season was his last in the major leagues. He spent it split between the Senators and Boston Red Sox and pitching sporadically and ineffectively. After three more years in the minor leagues, Chakales retired in 1961.

He and his wife, Anne, who were married in 1952, had never left Richmond. They would raise five children there. Chakales sold insurance after he retired and played a lot of golf. He and a partner later built par-three golf courses and then championship courses, including the original TPC Sawgrass course in Ponte Vedra, Florida, the site of the PGA’s Player’s Championship. “I was gone more than I wanted to be,” he said of his second career.  “I was good at what I did, but fearful I would not get that next job – so fortunately I had many offers so I kept my plate full.”[vii]

He was 83 when he died in Richmond in 2010.

Footnotes
[1] Benedictine monks from Belmont Abby, North Carolina, opened a military college in Richmond, VA, in 1911. It was a high school by the time Bob Chakalas enrolled in 1942. The high school still exists and is now called Belmont College Preparatory School.
[2] The 20-game winners on the Cleveland Indians’ pitching staff in 1951 and their win totals were Bob Feller, 22; Mike Garcia, 20; and Early Wynn, 20. In 1952, the 20-game winners and their win totals were: Wynn, 23; Garcia, 22; and Bob Lemon, 22.

References
[i] Nowlin, Bill. “Bob Chakalas.” Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/bob-chakales/.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Ibid.
[vi] Ibid.
[vii] Ibid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hamby, Jim

Position: Catcher
Birthplace: Wilkesboro

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

Career Summary
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.

 

 

 

Baldwin, James

Position: Starting pitcher
Birthplace: Pinehurst

First Name: James Jr.
Date of Birth:  July 15, 1971
Current Residence: Pinehurst

High School: Pinecrest High School, Southern Pines, NC
College: Did not attend

Bats: R                         Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-3, 210
Debut Year: 1995       Final Year: 2005          Years Played: 11

Teams and Years: Chicago White Sox, 1995-2001; Los Angeles Dodgers, 2001; Seattle Mariners, 2002; Minnesota Twins, 2003; New York Mets, 2004, Baltimore Orioles, 2005; Texas Rangers, 2005

Awards/Honors: All-Star, 2000

 Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
266   79       74       2          5.01     1322.2 844      9.3

James Baldwin was a much-heralded prospect as he pitched his way through the Chicago White Sox’s minor leagues. If not for a kid named Derek Jeter, he would have been recognized as the best rookie in the American League in 1996. He would spend 10 more years in the majors and be an All-Star in one of them, but most of those other seasons were marred by puzzling inconsistency. He was never able to string together winning seasons, or even successful halves. Baldwin ended up as a journeyman and finished his career with just a few more wins than losses.

Born in Pinehurst in 1971, Baldwin played baseball, basketball and football at Pinecrest High School in Southern Pines, North Carolina. He was an all-conference pitcher during his senior year in 1990 when the White Sox picked him in the fourth round of the amateur draft.

The joy that came with signing his first pro contract was overwhelmed a few days later by the death of his father, James Sr. “Coming out of high school, coming into the world on your own for the first time… it was tough for me,” Baldwin said of those first days at rookie camp in Sarasota, Florida. “I didn’t know how to deal with the outside world at the time.”[I]

He got the hang of it, though, and steadily pitched his way up the White Sox minor-league system. At Birmingham, Alabama, in 1993, he led the Class AA Southern League in earned-run average (2.25), or ERA, before being promoted to Class AAA Nashville, Tennessee, where he won 12 games and cemented his standing as one of the top pitching prospects in the organization.

Baldwin was favored to open the 1994 season as Chicago’s fifth starter. He trained with the club in Sarasota that spring and was the first professional to pitch to His Airness, Michael Jordan, during an intrasquad game.[1] Baldwin’s general wildness, however, persuaded team coaches that he needed more time in Nashville, where he won 10 games that season while striking out about a batter an inning.

He earned a spot In the White Sox rotation to start the new season and debuted on April 30. It didn’t go well. He got tagged for four runs by the Boston Red Sox, though his team managed to win 17-11. Baldwin lasted for only two outs in his second start after giving up five runs and was pounded by the Detroit Tigers for four home runs in his next turn. The White Sox shipped him back to Nashville the next day. He wasn’t much better there, however, losing his last six games along with his confidence. “There was one night in Indianapolis,” Baldwin remembered. “I was on the mound, getting knocked around again, and I looked into the dugout. I almost walked off for good right there and then. So frustrated. So lost.”[II]

He returned to Pinehurst after the season. “I got down on myself, but my mother, Lucille, and my little boy (James III was four at the time) got me through it,” he said “I knew I still had my family. No one could take that away from me.”[iii]

The road back to the majors started in Venezuela where Baldwin played that winter. “I went there to sort things out,” he remembered. “I had a lot of support in America, from a lot of friends I made with the Sox, but I didn’t need any more advice, as much as I appreciated it. I needed to get up on my own two feet, relax and start over. I needed to be a man about things.”[IV]

Though he began the 1996 season in Nashville, Baldwin was summoned to Chicago in late April to replace an injured starter. He won eight games before the All-Star break but faltered afterwards. His 11-6 record, however, was good enough for second place behind the New York Yankees’ Jeter in the balloting for Rookie of the Year.

Baldwin became a reliable, but erratic, starter for the White Sox over the next five seasons, acquiring a reputation as a second-half pitcher. He had, for instance, a combined 7-12 before the All-Star break in 1998 and ’99 with an ERA approaching 7.00 and was 18-7 after the break with a 3.61 ERA. “I wish we could figure him out,” moaned Ron Schueler, the team’s general manager.[V]

The 2000 season was the exception. He was 11-4 at the midway point and was chosen to the American League All-Star team He pitched almost as well in the second half, but injuries sidelined him for almost two months. He finished 14-6. He had surgery after the season to remove a bone spur in his right shoulder and to repair his rotator cuff.

He was never the same pitcher. The White Sox traded him the Los Angeles Dodger midway through the 2001 season. Baldwin signed with eight different clubs over the next five years, appearing in games for five of them, mostly out of the bullpen. He retired after being released by the Toronto Blue Jays in April 2006.

Baldwin returned to Pinehurst to become the pitching coach at his high school where he helped his son, James, develop into a centerfielder who was drafted by the Dodgers in 2010. The youngster played six years in the minors.

Baldwin was also a coach for the Cincinnati Reds.

He and his wife, Sharon, live in Pinehurst.

Footnote
[1] Michael Jordan, who grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina, retired from basketball in 1993. He surprised the sports world early the following year by signing a minor-league contract with the Chicago White Sox. He spent two years in the club’s minor leagues, advancing as far as Class AA Birmingham, Alabama, where he hit .202 and struck out 114 times. He quit in March 1995 because he feared Chicago would promote him to the majors as a replacement player during the player’ strike that season.

References
[I] Sullivan, Paul. “2nd Time up, Baldwin a Cut Above.” Chicago Tribune, July 16, 1996.
[II] Verdi, Bob. “Baldwin’s Gains Far Outweigh Friday’s Pain.” Chicago Tribune, September 14, 1996.
[III] Sullivan
[IV] Verdi
[V] Sullivan, Paul. “Baldwin Again Tries to Put It All Together.” Chicago Tribune, February 17, 2000.