Jones, Charley

Player Name: Jones, Charley
Position: Left Field
Birthplace: Alamance County

First, Middle Names: Benjamin Wesley Rippay         Nicknames: Baby, Knight of the Limitless Linen

Date of Birth:  April 30, 1852       Date and Place of Death: June 6, 1911, New York
Burial: Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery, Queens, NY

High School: Undetermined
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-11, 202
Debut Year: 1875        Final Year: 1888          Years Played: 12
Teams and Years: Keokuk Westerns, 1875; Hartford Dark Blues, 1875; Cincinnati Reds, 1876-77; Chicago White Stockings, 1877; Cincinnati Reds, 1878; Boston Red Stockings, 1879-80; Cincinnati Red Stockings, 1883-87; New York Metropolitans, 1887; Kansas City Cowboys, 1888

Awards/Honors: NC Sports Hall of Fame, 1992

 Career Summary
G          AB       H          R          RBI       HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
895   3741  1115    733      553      56       .298    .345    .444     26.3

Charley Jones, as baseball historians insist, is likely the first North Carolinian to play in what’s now the major leagues. He was in the vanguard of professional athletes who, in the 1870s, began to transform a game played by amateurs, mostly in Eastern cities, into a national sport that would reach into every crossroad hamlet and schoolyard playground in America.

Despite what his plaque says at the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame or what previous biographers have written, much of Jones’ life before baseball remains a mystery. We don’t even know with certainty who is parents were or where in the state he was born. Frankly, much of what has been written about his early life is wrong.

The picture becomes clearer after Jones stepped onto a baseball diamond. He had, for instance, weaknesses for fine clothes, fast women, and hard liquor. Guess which one of them may have led to his delicious and oddly suggestive nickname, The Knight of the Limitless Linen? He also was a demanding player who insisted on being paid and refused to take the field when he wasn’t. That so irritated team owners in the infant National League that they blacklisted him. He has the distinction, then, of being one of only two North Carolinians banned from baseball.[1]

First and foremost, though, Charley Jones was a gifted baseball player at a time when most people didn’t know what that was. He helped set the standards by which we now judge players. In his 12 seasons in the three professional leagues of his day, Jones became the pro game’s first slugger. He led the National League in home runs, was the first to hit two in one inning, and was always among the leagues’ leaders in slugging and driving in runs. More than 400 North Carolinians followed Jones into the major leagues, but few have been better hitters. He remains among the state’s leaders in 10 career offensive categories, including second in triples (102) and seventh in batting average (.298). It was that bat, along with being the first, that likely earned him that hall of fame plaque in 1992.

Who Is Charley Jones?
In describing the new inductee, officials at the state hall simply repeated what others had written about Jones: He was born in Alamance County in 1852, his father likely died in the Civil War, and his mother passed on from some unknown cause, leaving the orphan to be raised by a relative in Indiana.

Those biographies report that Jones was born Benjamin Wesley Rippy, also spelled “Rippay” and Rippey” in the official records, the fifth of Abel and Delilah Rippy’s seven children. Nothing in those records, however, supports that basic family history. If not for a notation in a marriage register in Ohio in in 1886, there would be no official evidence that Benjamin Wesley Rippy became Charley Jones, the baseball player. Abel and Delilah in the 1850 census list a son named Benjamin, who had been born a year earlier, but he would be crippled by rheumatism as an adult and never play baseball. It seems doubtful that they would give two sons the same first name. Anyway, two Benjamins don’t appear in the Rippy household in the 1860 census.

Had there been another Benjamin, the boy would have grown up knowing his parents. Delilah lived until 1885. If he served in the Confederate army, Abel survived the war only to be murdered by a drunken son more than 20 years later.[2]

Neither do the existing records provide a clue as to why the boy was raised by Reuben Jones, a wagonmaker in Indiana. He’s the alleged relative who took in the young orphan and whose surname the boy adopted. Reuben, a native of Virginia, married a North Carolina girl, Susan Doswell of Caswell County, in 1843. Neither of their genealogies indicates that either was related to Abel or Delilah, though Susan’s mother is unknown as are Delilah’s parents. It’s possible that Susan and either Abel or Delilah shared a parent or were otherwise related through this unidentified link.

The Joneses lived in Rockingham County, where Reuben worked for the railroad, when the census takers came around for the 1850 count. Rockingham borders Alamance. Though traveling any distance by horse or buggy on the dirt roads of mid-19th century North Carolina was a chore, we can’t discount the possibility, no matter how slim, that the Joneses and Rippys knew each other, and that young Benjamin was the result of a relationship that grew too familiar.

Brad Rippey offers another possibility. A cousin of Abel’s, he has spent decades researching the family’s history. He’s convinced Jones isn’t Abel’s son, but he’s probably a Rippy or Rippay because the name isn’t common and Jones used it for that marriage license. Early biographers, Brad Rippey speculates, simply connected Charley with the wrong family. A better choice, he thinks, is William Rippey, who married Mary Truitt. She married Abraham Jones after Rippey died in 1837 and had several children with him. One may have had a child named Benjamin, who was orphaned and was raised by Reuben, who may have been related to Abraham.[I]

How the original story came about is anyone’s guess. The few existing biographies are short and list no original sources. They all cite each other. Newspapers offer no help either. Though Jones was among the most-popular players of his day, little was written about him that survives in digital newspaper archives. Sports writing, like professional baseball itself, was in its infancy in the 1870s and ‘80s. They would grow up together. Reporters in Jones’ day didn’t write feature stories about players. Nor were they much interested in their personal lives unless women, cops, booze, or wads of cash, preferably in some combination, were involved. If he had been an illegitimate child, Jones also had reason to avoid talking about his childhood.

Reuben and Susan were in Gibson County, Indiana, in 1860 with an eight-year-old whose fading, handwritten name on a census form looks like “Beryl.” Could it be “Benji?” No relationship is listed for the boy in the census, but it’s noted that he was born in North Carolina. In 1870, Beryl or Benji disappears from the Jones’ household and Wesley Jones, 18, appears in the census as a “farm laborer.” He, too, is listed as having been born in North Carolina. They are likely the same person.

As an adult, Wesley “Charley” Jones certainly treated Reuben and Susan as his parents, and they apparently thought of him as their son and only child.  Jones’ son, Charley Jr., lived with them for a time, and they list the boy as their grandson in the 1880 census. Reuben named Charley and his son as his only heirs. On Charley Jones’ death certificate Reuben and Susan are identified as his father and mother.

Neither do we know anything about Jones’ baseball career before he turned professional, but we can make some educated assumptions. Indiana was still on the edge of the frontier when Reuben and Susan moved there, probably in the mid- to late-1850s. They joined thousands of new settlers who had been lured to the southwestern corner of the state by the cheap farmland that became Gibson County. The Evansville and Terre Haute Railroad, which arrived in Princeton, the county seat, in 1852, gave those farmers easier access to markets. It may have also brought baseball to that remote corner of the state.

Elysian Fields in Hoboken, NJ, was the site of many amateur baseball games in the 1850s and ’60s.

A Railroad Story
Many ball-and-stick games were played in colonial America, but the one we’ve come to call baseball evolved from the game played in New York since the early 1800s, first on Manhattan Island and later in neighboring Brooklyn, now a New York borough but then a separate city. By 1840, amateur clubs formed throughout the two cities to promote the game as a healthy form of outdoor recreation. Discard the modern notion of neighborhood sports clubs. These weren’t beer-bellied bar denizens who got together on weekends to drink and hit a baseball around. The clubs attracted doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers, firemen, butchers, and others who made up the growing cities’ emerging middle class. Women, Catholics, and blacks, of course, need not apply. These were white, Protestant men with money, the political connections that allowed them to find plum patronage jobs for favored team members, and the time to recreate.

They also took their baseball seriously. The clubs practiced a couple of times each week and played intrasquad games. By the 1850s, they had summer schedules of games against each other using common rules that they had approved at annual conventions. Over time, the teams were identified with the regions in the cities or the institutions that provided most of the members. Doctors and medical students at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Manhattan, for instance, formed one club. Fire stations started many others. People living near those stations, in those neighborhoods, or connected with those institutions began rooting for their teams. By 1860, they were paying to see them play. The sports fan was born.

In those years just before the Civil War, New Yorkers took their form of baseball on the road, playing other clubs on the East Coast from Boston to Baltimore and spreading the seed from which their game took root. Living in the country’s most-populous city that was fast becoming its commercial and financial center with its busiest port, biggest banks, and numerous rail connections, New Yorkers got around, and many took baseball with them. It rushed out to California along with the city’s gold seekers in the 1850s and found a home in San Francisco. It became a major diversion in hundreds of Union Army encampments during the Civil War, and many of those soldiers took the game back home.

Maybe returning veterans brought baseball to Gibson County, but it likely arrived earlier with the railroad. The transformation of an amateur game into a national sport with professional leagues is a railroad story, notes baseball historian John Gilbert. Just as the Boeing 707 allowed the Major Leagues to expand to the West Coast in the late 1950s, the dramatic growth of rail lines a century earlier took an urban game to villages all along the line. “The small Vermont towns of Irasburg, Brandon and Pawlet all had baseball clubs before the state’s largest cities because they were on advancing railroad lines,” Gilbert writes. “If you draw a line on a map connecting Hamilton, Burlington, St. Thomas, London, Ingersoll, Guelph, and Toronto — southern Ontario cities where Canada’s first baseball clubs appeared between 1856 and 1860 — you will be tracing the lines of the Great Western Railway, which linked Niagara Falls, near Buffalo, to Windsor, near Detroit, in 1854.”[II] Railroad growth in the booming Midwest was especially dramatic. Indiana, for instance, had about 20 miles of rails in 1840. By the Civil War, it had more than 2,000.[3]

It’s likely, then, that baseball stepped off the Evansville and Terra Haute, maybe with an immigrant New Yorker, and took hold in Princeton. It’s also likely that young Charley Jones first played for a local amateur club before he took up with a team in Ludlow, Ohio, in the mid-1870s. The teams probably paid him under the table.

A Professional Game
The early amateur clubs in New York had strict rules banning direct payments to players, though the larger and more-influential clubs often found city government jobs for their stars. As baseball expanded across the country, many of the new clubs weren’t as committed to the amateur ethic. Players also began demanding a share of the proceeds when fans started paying to watch them play. So many clubs were paying their players by 1869 that the association that governed amateur baseball created a professional category.  Several of the larger clubs broke away two years later and formed the short-lived National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, the first professional team sports league of any kind.

Jones debuted in 1875, its last year, with the association’s Keokuk Westerns in Iowa. The team was awful, winning just one of its 13 games before disbanding, but the 23-year-old outfielder was second on the team in hitting and knocked in 11 runs. No one else had more than five. After the Westerns, Jones showed up halfway across the country in Hartford, Connecticut, where he appeared in one game that season for the association’s Dark Blues.

The league wasn’t very competitive. The Boston Red Stockings, winner of four of the five pennants, finished first in that final year with a 71-8 record. Though it won 54 games, Hartford was second, 18.5 games behind. Neither was the league financially stable or particularly well run. Teams came and went, and there was no central authority to enforce the rules.

The six strongest teams bolted in 1876 and formed the National League of Professional Baseball Teams, or simply the National League.[4] Jones turned down offers from Boston and Chicago to play center field for the Cincinnati Reds. He became the star of another bad team. The Reds won only nine games that first season, but he led the team in hitting with a .286 average. On May 2, he became the second player in the National League to hit a home run when he blasted one in the seventh inning against the Chicago White Stockings, today’s Cubs. An opposing player had edged Jones for first honors when he homered two innings earlier. Jones hit three more that season. They were the only home runs hit by the team.

The Panic of 1873 and the resulting depression created financial turmoil during the early years of the new league. Club turnover was constant. Only two of the original teams, Chicago and Boston, would make it to 1880. The cash-strapped Reds looked to be an early casualty. The team disbanded in June 1877, and the defending champ White Stockings signed Jones and another Reds’ player. The Reds, however, raised enough money to keep the team going within days of the signings, and Jones made it clear he wasn’t happy in Chicago. The Reds petitioned the league to return Jones, but the request went nowhere. A Cincinnati lawyer wrote a letter to the White Stockings, appealing to the team’s sense of fair play. “We, as you probably know, have succeeded in reorganizing the base-ball club here. The task has been a hard one, and even now we find that it will be almost impossible for us to get along without Jones… I ask you, as a favor that our club will always appreciate, that you will honorably release Jones and permit him to rejoin us.”[III]  It worked. After two games, Jones was returned to the Reds. It was, indeed, a different time.

Jones established himself as a star in the young league over the next two seasons. He hit better that .300 each year and led the team in triples and runs batted in. He also hit five of its 11 home runs.  He cemented his reputation as a power hitter in 1879 while playing for the Boston Red Stockings, now the Atlanta Braves, with nine homers, which led the league. He also scored 85 times, almost a run a game, and knocked in 62. Those also led the league. His nearly flawless play in center made him one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball. There was little doubt after June 10, 1880, who was baseball’s home-run king when Jones became the first to hit two homers in an inning in a 19-3 shellacking of Buffalo.

Jones’ potent bat wasn’t much help to the fading Red Stockings, though. The team that had once been the cream of the National League, winning back-to-back pennants in 1877-78, was losing more games than it won as the 1880 season ground on, and its finances were even more precarious. Jones hadn’t wanted to return to Boston when the season began because of disputes with manager Harry Wright and with team co-owner Arthur Soden, a notorious penny-pincher, who was often slow to pay his players. Jones had held out to start the season, not for more money but just to be paid.

Banned From Baseball

Arthur Soden

His contract called for Boston to pay him $250 on the first of each month during the season, $1,500 in all, wrote the late Lee Allen, the former historian of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. By late August, Jones apparently grew weary of constantly haranguing Soden for his back pay. While the team was on its way to Cleveland, Jones demanded that Wright pay him the $378, about $12,000 when adjusted for inflation, that he claimed he was owed. When the manager turned him down, Jones refused to play. Wright cabled Soden, who suspended and fined Jones for insubordination. The league blacklisted him in 1881, ending his National League career.[5] Banned from the diamond, Jones took his beef to the courtroom. He won when a judge later that year ordered the club to give Jones a game’s gate receipts to pay what it owned him.

While the court victory must have been satisfying, Jones was still out of baseball. Unemployed, he and a partner opened Star Laundry in a three-story building on Lodge Street in Cincinnati, Ohio. It would become the largest in the city.

Jones cut quite a dashing figure in town. Handsome and ruggedly built, he stood close to six feet tall and was always neatly barbered and dressed in the latest fashions. An equally fashionable woman usually accompanied him. His sartorial splendor may account for the “knight” reference in his nickname, which has origins as mysterious as its recipient’s. The “limitless linen” part may slyly refer to his reputation for bedding desirous women, but it likely alludes to something more mundane, his laundry business.

Tending to the laundry was all Jones had to do for two years. He was about to resume his baseball career when the American Association of Professional Base Ball Clubs formed at the end of 1881. The Cincinnati Red Stockings, which had been thrown out of the National League for selling alcohol at its ballpark, was a founding member of the new league, and it dearly wanted its old star back. The new association initially agreed that its teams wouldn’t sign players on the older league’s blacklist who had been booted for drunkenness, dishonesty, or other “venal” reasons.[IV] The policy was carefully worded to accommodate the Red Stockings, which promptly signed Jones. The National League, though, retaliated. American Association teams that signed any blacklisted players, it announced, wouldn’t be allowed to play exhibition games against National League clubs. Fearing the loss of revenue and publicity that such games could generate, the new league agreed to honor the blacklist, and the Red Stockings promptly voided Jones’ contract. They worked it out after that first season, and Jones was back in the distinctive Cincinnati uniform with its high, red leggings in 1883.

He resumed where he had left off, becoming one of the league’s leading hitters over the next four seasons while establishing himself as a local star. “Charley Jones is very popular in this city, where he has a host of friends,” a Cincinnati newspaper noted. “He has been playing ball for many years, and his name to known to everyone, from the small boy who witnesses the games from the telegraph pole to the spectator in the grandstand.”[V]

There was, however, one person in town who wasn’t a fan, at least not in 1885. Jones had been living with C.F. Arnold, who referred to herself as Anna Jones, though there’s no evidence that the two had ever been married. Neither do we know if Arnold is the mother of Jones’ only child, who was born in 1877. That little Charley lived with his grandparents in Indiana would seem to indicate that his mother was out of the picture. Newspapers later that year began linking Jones with Louise Horton, a married woman. Jones left Arnold, claiming they weren’t married. “Since that time, she has dogged him about and threatened vengeance,” a newspaper reported.  “Miss C.E. Arnold is a good-looking lady, aged 31, stylish and spirited – in fact, awfully spirited. She reminds one of an A1 conductor constantly surcharged with electricity.”[VI]

On the night of Dec. 14, she approached Jones on a downtown street. He tried to give her some money to shake her off.  “She followed him and gave him his several pieces of her mind in a subdued but energetic tone of voice,” the newspaper said. Jones tried to ignore her.

“I’ll fix you,” Arnold is quoted as saying. She reached into her pocket and came out with a handful of cayenne pepper, which she threw in his face. Jones snorted and howled in pain. He was taken to a nearby drugstore, and a doctor was called. He applied some ointments and said there shouldn’t be any lasting damage.

Anna was arrested. “Well, I did it simply because I thought I would make him suffer a little for what he has made me suffer,” she told the reporter in a “saucy tone.” A presumably bleary-eyed Jones bailed her out.[VII]

After a “sensational divorce suit,” Horton married Jones the following July. The clerk of court in Hamilton County, Ohio, recorded that the happy groom’s name was “B.W. Rippay.” It’s the only surviving official record linking Jones to a Rippey family. Either the marriage didn’t last or Horton died before her husband because Jones’ death certificate lists him as “single” at the time of his death.

His baseball career wound to its close at the end of the 1880s. Whether it was the lasting effects of the pepper or just the combination of age and hard living, Jones’ batting average plummeted and his defensive skills deteriorated as he kicked around the American Association in his final two seasons. Pitchers on the New York Metropolitans in 1887 even complained about his poor fielding. He retired the following year after appearing in only six games for the Kansas City Cowboys.

Jones umpired for a few years before once again disappearing into the haze of history. Fittingly, it seems, his end is as mysterious as his beginning. We know he settled in New York City at some point because that’s where he died in 1911 of tuberculosis. He was a night watchman. North Carolina’s first professional baseball player and one of the game’s earliest sluggers is buried in an unmarked grave off the Long Island Expressway in Queens, New York.

Footnotes
[1] A judge banned Gus Brittain of Wilmington, NC, from baseball in 1946 for helping incite a brawl as a minor-league manager. He had played briefly for the Cincinnati Reds in 1937. He was reinstated in 1948 but had retired from baseball.
[2] Albert Rippy, 35, confessed to shooting his father after an argument at Abel’s home in Alamance County on Oct. 5, 1888. Albert said he was drunk, overdosed on morphine, and temporarily insane at the time of the shooting. A jury found him guilty the following March and sentenced him to hang. The state Supreme Court, though, ordered a new trial after finding that the trial judge had failed to give the jury proper guidance about insanity pleas. Albert agreed to a reduced charge of manslaughter and, in October 1890, was sentenced to 10 years in the state penitentiary.
[3] Before the advent of routine and safe passenger air flight, baseball teams traveled by train, forming an intimate bond that lasted more than 70 years. That closeness is seen today in baseball terms that have their roots in the rail yard. A “double header,” two games played by the same teams on the same day, is a train with two locomotives on its front  ends. A pitch in a batter’s “wheelhouse” is one he can “turn around” and usually hit with authority. It’s originally a turntable at the end of the line to send trains back to where they came. “Schedules” used to be just secondary financial forms appended to the main form. They still are to the Internal Revenue Service. By the mid-19th century, because of the railroad and baseball, they became lists of intended events and times.
[4] The six teams that left the National Association to form the National League were the Boston Red Stockings, Philadelphia Athletics, Hartford Dark Blues, St. Louis Brown Stockings, Chicago White Stockings, and New York Mutuals. They were joined by the Cincinnati Reds and the Louisville Grays to make up the eight-team league.
[5] Player discipline was a major issue in the early years of the National League. The infractions ranged from insubordination to throwing games for gamblers. Four players on the Louisville club were banned permanently for such dishonesty. But players were tossed for lesser causes, such as drunkenness and poor play. Individual clubs decided who to suspend or ban. The league started the blacklist in 1881. Players weren’t given the chance to defend themselves before being added.

References
[I] Email exchange with author.
[II] Gilbert, John. “Baseball and the Railroad.” How Baseball Happened, September 12, 2020. https://howbaseballhappened.com/blog/great-western-rrhttps://howbaseballhappened.com/blog/great-western-rr.
[III] “If Jones Refrains From Any More ‘Baby’ Whining.” Baseball History Daily. https://baseballhistorydaily.com/tag/charley-jones/.
[IV] Hershberger, Richard. “The First Baseball War: The American Association and the National League.” Baseball Research Journal, Society of American Baseball Research, Fall 2020.
[V] “Charley Jones Released by Cincinnatis.” Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer, August 1, 1886.
[VI] “Square in the Eyes.” Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer, December 15, 1885.
[VII] Ibid.

 

 

 

Blackburn, Ron

Position: Relief pitcher
Birthplace: Mount Airy

First, Middle Names: Ronald Hamilton
Date of Birth:  April 23, 1935  Date and Place of Death: April 29, 1998, Morganton, NC
Burial: Carolina Memorial Park, Kannapolis, NC

High School: A.L. Brown High School, Kannapolis, NC
Colleges: Catawba College, Salisbury, NC; Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC

Bats: R Throws: R       Height and Weight: 6-0, 160
Debut Year: 1958       Final Year: 1959          Years Played: 2
Teams and Years: Pittsburgh Pirates, 1958-59

 Career Summary
G          W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
64        3          2         4          3.50    108.0  50       0.8

In the era of baseball bonus babies, Ron Blackburn made it to the majors the old-fashioned way. Teams didn’t throw wads of money at him or promise him a spot on the roster when he graduated from high school in 1953, as they had done to his older brother a few years earlier. He was among the 80 kids who showed up for a Pittsburgh Pirates’ tryout in Burlington, North Carolina, that summer. “We got up at 5:30 in the morning and drove 100 miles to get there,” he recalled years later.[I]

He stood out among the horde, and the Pirates’ scout asked him to come back. “When I was called to pitch the next day in a squad game, I faced only six batters but struck out four of them,” he remembered. “That’s when the Pirates offered me a contract and I signed.”[II]

Unlike his brother and other promising youngsters who got bonuses, Blackburn received no additional money for signing and no guarantee that he would be on a major-league roster. Like thousands before him, Blackburn was shipped to the minors where he labored for most of his career. He was different from his brother and most other bonus babies in another regard: He made it to the majors. He spent parts of two seasons in Pittsburgh.

Blackburn was born in Mount Airy in 1935 but grew up in Kannapolis, North Carolina, where his parents, Henry and Virginia, moved with their four children for jobs in the textile mills. He pitched and played basketball at A.L. Brown High School and led his American Legion team to a state championship in 1952.

Henry had pitched semipro ball in Virginia and his oldest son, Gerald, had been a pitching sensation at Brown. A coveted prospect wooed by several teams, he had signed in 1950 with the Cincinnati Reds after agreeing to a $30,000 bonus, or almost $340,000 today.[1] Wild and overweight, he never made it to the majors. The Reds, said Blackburn, released his brother “when he got so fat.” He ended up in Kannapolis working in a mill and pitching on industrial teams.[III]

Blackburn played four years in the Pirates’ farm system before being called up in 1958. The 22-year-old won his debut on April 15 after tossing three-innings of shutout ball against the world champion Milwaukee Braves. Though he pitched well as a rookie reliever – 3.39 earned-run average in more than 63 innings — Blackburn became the forgotten man in a talented bullpen led by Roy Face and Don Gross.[2] Though he had a good start the following season, he was shipped to the minors in July and remained there until his retirement in 1964.

He always returned home in the offseasons and, starting in 1957, he began attending Catawba College in nearby Salisbury, North Carolina, and was even their pitching coach for a season. It took almost eight years, but Blackburn earned a degree in physical education.

He worked a bit faster with Sandra Lower. He met the Catawba student from Pennsylvania, probably during his freshman semester. They were married in June the following year and would have two sons.

After he retired, Blackburn became the head baseball coach at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, in 1964. The teams were competitive during the four seasons he was at the helm, compiling a 78-65 record. When he wasn’t on the ballfield or on the road recruiting, Blackburn was in the classroom working for his master’s degree in physical education, which he received in 1965.

He put the degree to work in 1972 as the recreational director of the Western Correctional Center, a new, 16-story state prison near Morganton, North Carolina. The state soon designated it as a prison for youthful offenders and changed its name to the Western Youth Institution.[3] Blackburn developed a therapeutic recreation program for handicapped inmates that was adopted by all state prisons and was used as a model in other states.

Blackburn died in Morganton in 1998, six days after his 63rd birthday.

Footnotes
[1] Major-League Baseball instituted the Bonus Rule in 1947 to prevent wealthy teams from accumulating talented youngsters and stashing them in their minor leagues. The original rule stipulated that when it signed a player to a contract worth more than $4,000, a major-league team had to keep that player on its 40-man roster for two full-seasons. That was the rule in place when the Cincinnati Reds signed Gerald Blackburn, Ron’s brother, in 1950. Though he was on the Reds’ protected roster for the required two seasons, Gerald was never promoted to the next step, the 25-man roster, and to the majors. The Reds released him after he spent five years in their farm system. The Bonus Rule was rescinded in December 1950 because teams found ways to circumvent it, but a stronger one was re-instituted three years later. It required affected players to remain on the major-league roster for two seasons. The rule was abandoned for good in 1965 when the amateur draft was started. Rookies signed under the rule were derisively called “bonus babies” because they bypassed baseball’s usual training in the minors and took roster spots normally reserved for more-seasoned players. (https://tht.fangraphs.com/cash-in-the-cradle-the-bonus-babies/.)
[2] A six-time All-Star, Elroy Face pitched 16 years in the major leagues and was one of the era’s premier relievers. Though the “save” wasn’t an official statistic until 1969, Face’s last season, he is credited retroactively with 191 of them. Don Gross was a workhorse relief pitcher during much of six-year career. He appeared in 40 games and pitched more than 74 innings during Ron Blackburn’s rookie season in 1958.
[3] The Western Youth Institution could house up to 800 inmates, making it one of the largest prisons in the state. Known for its innovative programs to help young offenders stay out of prison once they were released, the prison closed in 2013 and was imploded in July 2020.

References
[I] Eck, Frank. Associated Press. “Jerry Blackburn Cost Reds $30,000, But Bucs Obtained Ron for Nothing.” Daily-Times (Burlington, NC), April 26, 1958.
[II] United Press International. “Ron Blackburn Had Bright Hopes.” New Castle (PA) News, September 20, 1958.
[III] Eck.

 

 

 

Glass, Tom

Position: Relief pitcher
Birthplace: Greensboro

First, Middle Names: Thomas Joseph

Date of Birth:  April 29, 1898 Date and Place of Death: Dec. 15, 1981, Greensboro
Burial: Moriah Methodist Church Cemetery, Greensboro, NC

High School: South Buffalo School, Guilford County, NC
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-3, 170
Debut Year: 1925       Final Year: 1925          Years Played: 1
Team and Year: Philadelphia Athletics, 1925

 Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
2          1          0          0          5.40     5.0       2          -0.1

Tom Glass was in the major leagues for only four days. He pitched five innings in two games, winning one of them thanks to one of the greatest late-inning comebacks in baseball history.

Connie Mack, manager and part owner of the Philadelphia Athletics, bought Glass from the Canners of Cambridge, Maryland, in the Eastern Shore League in September 1924. Though the Class D team played at the lowest level of the minor leagues, the youngster had won 31 games in two seasons. Glass reported to Philadelphia the following year and joined a talented group of A’s rookies that included Lefty Grove and Mickey Cochrane.[1] In his debut on June 12 in the A’s Shibe Park, Glass took the mound in the eighth inning against the Chicago White Sox with his team already down 13-0. He gave up a run on a couple of hits in the 15-1 loss.

Mack called on him again three days later against the Cleveland Indians. He entered the game in the sixth in a little better shape – the A’s were down just 12-2. He yielded three more runs, only one was earned, in his three innings of work, but this time the Athletics didn’t roll over. They scored a run in sixth and the seventh and 13 in the eighth. Glass got the win in the 17-15 victory that Baseball Roundtable, a highly respected website, considers the greatest late-inning comeback. The outburst in the eighth included seven singles, a triple, a home run and three walks. Ten different players crossed the plate and in one stretch, ten straight batters reached base.[I]

Mack apparently wasn’t impressed because he released Glass a week later.[2] His major-league career over almost as soon as it started, the 27-year-old returned home to Guilford County, North Carolina.[II]

Glass was born there in 1898. He was among the 10 children that David and Mary Magnolia, known as Maggie, would raise on their farm along South Buffalo Creek northeast of Greensboro. He attended South Buffalo School and played for local semipro teams after graduating around 1916.[3]

Before joining the Canners, Glass pitched professionally for Reidsville, North Carolina, in the Bi-State League and for the Newark, New Jersey, Bears, in the International League. His control and Popeye forearms developed from years on the farm set him apart. “Glass has hams on the end of his arms like a steam shovel’s scoops. He could make a living dredging for oysters  any time he quit baseball,” a Newark newspaper reporter noted. “But most rooks are (as) wild as Barnum’s alleged wild man from Borneo. This fellow is as accurate as the pitching needle on a sewing machine. You never saw better control.”[III]

After his release from the Athletics, Glass got married and eventually moved to Greensboro where he worked as a carpenter and house painter. His wife, Pearl, died in 1964. He died in 1981. They apparently had no children.

Footnotes
[1]Lefty Grove was the dominant pitcher of his era. He won 300 games in a 17-year career and is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Catcher Mickey Cochrane played 13 years, won two Most-Valuable Player Awards and ended with a .320 average. He, too, is in the Hall of Fame.

[2] Along with Tom Glass, Connie Mack released a catcher named, according to the newspapers at the time, James Fox. Glass’ career was over, but Jimmie Foxx came back in 1926 and would become one of baseball’s most-feared sluggers. Double X would play 20 years and win three Most-Valuable Player Awards, two batting titles and a Triple Crown. He’s enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
[3] South Buffalo School opened in 1902 on the site of Gillespie Park Elementary School in Guilford County. It accommodated about 40 students. A larger building was built in 1916. The current building was completed in 1929.

References
[I] “
Tom Glass’ Remarkable (and only) Win …. and a Look at Some of MLB’s “Backs-Against-The-Wall” Comebacks.” Baseball Roundtable.com., March 6, 2021. http://www.baseballroundtable.com/tom-glass-remarkable-and-only-win-and-a-look-at-some-of-mlbs-back-against-the-wall-comebacks/.
[II] Bevis, Charlie. “Tom Glass.” Society of American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/tom-glass/.
[III] “Tom Glass Makes ‘Em Sit Up and Take Notice.” Reidsville (NC) Review. April 16, 1923.

 

 

 

 

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/Honors: 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fonville, Chad

Position: Second base, shortstop
Birthplace: Jacksonville

First, Middle Names: Chad Everette
Date of Birth:  March 5, 1971
Current Residence: Jacksonville

High School: White Oak High School, Jacksonville
College: Louisburg College, Louisburg, NC

Bats: S             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-6, 155
Debut Year: 1995       Final Year: 1999          Years Played: 4
Teams and Years: Montreal Expos, 1995; Los Angeles Dodgers, 1995-97; Chicago White Sox, 1997; Boston Red Sox, 1999

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
226   546    133     80       31        0          .244     .302     .269     0.0

In the City of Angels, Chad Fonville seemed heaven sent in the summer of 1995. He had spent most of his career in the remotest reaches of the minors. Few fans in Los Angeles had ever heard of him, but they soon loved the little guy who came off the bench to provide the spark the Dodgers needed to win their division. He hustled, swiped bases, got big hits, and exhibited a genuine enthusiasm for the game.

If heaven sent him, opposing pitchers dispatched him. Fed a constant diet of breaking balls, Fonville floundered the following year. His batting average plummeted. He was in the minors again before the season ended. Except for a few brief excursions back to the major leagues, that’s where he would remain until his retirement. He has spent the years since teaching, coaching and passing on his love of baseball to another generation.

Chad Everette Fonville was born in Jacksonville in 1971 to Charlie and Mary Yvonne Fonville. He was an all-conference baseball, basketball, and soccer player at White Oak High School and led the soccer team to a state championship in 1988.

Fonville attended Louisburg College, a private, two-year school in Louisburg, North Carolina, on a baseball scholarship. The switch-hitting shortstop hit .375 as a freshman in 1991 on a team that won 44 games and was ranked tenth in the nation among junior colleges. He was rated in the top 20 of junior-college players by Baseball America the following year when the San Francisco Giants chose him in the eleventh round of the amateur draft.

He spent the next three years on the lowest teams in the Giants’ farm system. Fonville hit over .300 at each stop and was among the leaders in stolen bases. The Giants, though,  never put Fonville on their major-league roster. That made him eligible in 1994 to be taken by another team. The Expos did, and he appeared in 14 games in Montreal before being waived in June and chosen by the Dodgers. According to the rules, such players have to remain on the major-league team for the season or be returned.[1]

Fonville was pressed into service on June 17 in Chicago after an injury to the Dodgers’ shortstop. He went four-for five. The ecstatic rookie called his mother after the game. He went three-for-four the next day and impressed Manager Tommy Lasorda with his speed, beating out two slow rollers. “The little guy might be there tomorrow,” he said of his new, 5-foot, six-inch shortstop. “He’s a streak of lightning going down the baseline.”[I]

He moved into the leadoff spot after slumping Delino DeShields went down with a leg ailment, and he continued to hit. Though his fielding was erratic, Fonville was batting .280 by mid-August as the Dodgers took over first place in their division. They had been a fourth-place team playing .500 ball when Fonville arrived. Lasorda even began treating the kid as his good-luck charm, removing Fonville’s hat and rubbing and kissing the top of his head when the team needed a big hit. What others saw as an exhibition of the manager’s over-the-top Dodger Blue spirit, the most-prominent black newspaper in town interpreted as a racial insult.

If Fonville minded, he didn’t complain publicly. He seemed to enjoy being the least likely success story in baseball. He had 12 at bats with the Expos when they put him on waivers. Before then, his career had consisted of 251 Class A games spread over three seasons. “I play hard every inning,” Fonville said. “I was blessed to get the opportunity to play here and I’m trying to take advantage of it. I’m having fun winning and being involved in a pennant race.”[II]

Though his future looked bright when the season ended, those four months would be the highlight of his major-league career. He was a player without a position when he reported to spring training in 1996. The Dodgers had resigned DeShields to play second and had signed free agent Greg Gagne for short. Fonville, Lasorda said, would be a “super” utility player.

Coaches lectured him during the exhibition season about being sullen and pouting over his status. He conceded that training camp was difficult, but he insisted that he was happy. “I’m not going to lie. It’s been tough. It’s not an easy job coming off the bench,” he said. “But I knew my role coming in. I knew I’d be a utility player.”[III]

Teammates’ injuries and slumps during the season once again gave him his chances, but opposing pitchers were ready the second time around. They were unrelenting with their breaking balls in the dirt that Fonville kept missing. He went into long hitting tailspins. That resulted in reduced playing time. He was traded to the Chicago White Sox in September.

He spent two seasons in the minors before appearing in three games for the Boston Red Sox in 1999. He retired two years later after a couple of more minor-league seasons. “My body was changing and I was getting older,” Fonville said. “I was just playing for the love of the game. I just played until I couldn’t play and that was it.”[IV]

Fonville returned to Jacksonville in 2006 where has coached baseball at area high schools. “Baseball has given me a lot, and now it’s my turn to give back in any way I can,” said Fonville.[v] 

Footnote
[1] The Montreal Expos chose Fonville in the Rule 5 Draft, which has been held every December since the current rule was established in 1985. The rule, with roots that reach back to 1892, allows players more opportunities to crack big-league rosters and prevents teams from stashing talented players in the minor leagues. While tweaks have made to the format over the years, the basic premise of the Rule 5 Draft has remained the same over the past five decades. Players who have spent multiple years in the minors (the current threshold is four or five seasons, depending on the age they signed their first contract) that are not protected on their affiliate’s 40-man roster can be selected by another team in the Rule 5 Draft.  A player selected in the draft is immediately added to his new team’s active roster, where he must remain for the entire season.

References
[I] Daley, Ken. “Fonville Making Persuasive Case for Playing Time.” Los Angeles Daily News, June 19, 1995.
[II] Malamud, Allan. “Notes on a Scorecard.” Los Angeles Times, August 16, 1995.
[III] It’s Hard to Tell, But Fonville’s Happy.” Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1996.
[IV] Miller, Chris. “Fonville: Baseball Had Been Good to Me.” Jacksonville (NC) Daily News, April 27, 2013.
[V] Lingafelt, Lance Cpl. Jared. “Former MLB Baseball Player Gives Back to Community.” Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, June 19, 2014. https://www.dvidshub.net/news/133829/former-mlb-baseball-player-gives-back-community.