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: 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.

 

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: 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Davis, Butch

Position: Left field, right field
Birthplace: Williamston

Full Name: Wallace McArthur            Nickname: Butch
Date of Birth:  June 19, 1958
Current Residence: Garner, N.C.

High School: Williamston High School
College: East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-0, 190
Debut Year: 1983       Final Year: 1994          Years Played: 8
Teams and Years: Kansas City Royals, 1983-84; Pittsburgh Pirates, 1987; Baltimore Orioles, 1988-89; Los Angeles Dodgers, 1991; Texas Rangers, 1993-94

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
166      453      110      56        50        7          .243     .274     .380     0.2

Butch Davis played about a season’s worth of games stretched over an eight-year career in the major leagues and has been a coach, mostly in the minors, going on three decades now. Many players have similar resumes. Davis has something on his, however, that no other Tarheel who made it to the major leagues can claim: He is the only one who appeared in the iconic baseball movie Bull Durham.

Davis was 29 in 1987 and had just finished his third season in the majors having played in eight games for the Pittsburgh Pirates that year. The Williamston native had moved to Garner by then and saw an ad for extras for a baseball movie that was going to be filmed in nearby Durham. A manager he had played for in the minors who was one of the film’s advisers urged Davis to try out because the filmmakers wanted some real ballplayers. Davis was cast as one of the Bulls’ players. Though he has no lines, he appears in some of the movie’s most-famous scenes. Davis is a bystander in the conversation on the pitching mound when Kevin Costner and other players discuss bridal gifts and voodoo hexes. He’s also briefly naked in the shower with his back turned toward the camera when the Bulls’ manager tosses an armful of bats into the shower room and accuses the players of lollygagging. Wearing number 15, Davis strikes out in another scene and the PA announcer says, “Too bad, Butch.”

“It’s a lot of standing around and just waiting,” is how he described move making to a newspaper reporter 30 years later. “You do a shoot, and you have to retake and retake and retake until they get it right. That’s what I did. I didn’t go every day, but I was out there enough.”[I]

 Waiting around could also sum up Davis’ major-league career.

He told an interviewer in 2014 that he always remembered being outside while growing up in Williamston in Martin County and playing baseball. “I guess it sort of found me. It really did,” he said.[II]

As a freshman at Williamston High School, Davis didn’t make the baseball team. He made it the following year and also played high-school basketball and on Williamston’s American Legion baseball teams.

He lettered in baseball for three years at East Carolina University in Greenville. During his last year at the school in 1980, Davis led the team in batting average (.362), home runs (12) and RBI (27). He graduated as the school’s all-time leader in home runs with 26 and total bases with 250.  Davis was inducted into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2008.

Despite those numbers, Davis was surprised when the Kansas City Royals drafted him in the 12th round of the 1980 amateur draft. He was surprised again three years later while playing for the Royals’ Triple A team in Omaha. His manager called him at home to tell he had to be in Kansas City that night. “I really didn’t have time to even think about it,” Davis said in 2014, “because it happened so quickly. You’re in the minor leagues one minute and the next minute you’re in the major leagues.”[III]

When he entered the big-league clubhouse, Davis knew it was all true. This wasn’t Omaha. “You always hear all those stories about how great the major leagues are,” he said, “First class this, and it’s true. You name it, it’s there for you, and you just walk in and say ‘Man, OK, this is what it’s like.’”[IV]

Unfortunately, Davis never had much time to savor it. He appeared in 74 games for the Royals over the next two seasons and then in just 26 big-league games during the next eight years, as he shuttled around the minors for four different teams.

Davis always kept it in perspective. “The simple fact is, there’s so many kids that play this game, have that dream and never make it,” he said. “I was one of the ones that had the dream and was very fortunate to make it.”[V]

It’s a message Davis has preached during his coaching career, which started after he retired as a player in 1994. He’s been a long-time hitting coach in the Baltimore Orioles’ minor leagues and also managed Orioles’ farm teams. Davis was also the first-base coach for the Minnesota Twins for six seasons. “I can tell the kids what it takes to get there,” Davis said. “I tell them ‘You’ve got to be determined. You’ve got to be willing to go the extra mile. Don’t think that it’s going to be handed to you.'”[VI]

Davis and his wife, Cassandra, also from Williamston, married in 1984 and have two children. They made their home in Garner.

References

[I] Hall, David. “30 years later, Tides Hitting Coach Butch Davis Recalls ZHis Role in ‘Bull Durham.’” Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA), June 13, 2018.
[II] “Interview Part 1: Butch Davis, Home Crowd.” The Greatest 21 Days, September 8, 2014. http://www.greatest21days.com/2014/09/interview-part-1-butch-davis-home-crowd.html.
[III] Ibid.
[IV] Ibid.
[V] “Interview Part 2: Butch Davis, Simple Fact.” The Greatest 21 Days, September 9, 2014. http://www.greatest21days.com/2014/09/interview-part-2-butch-davis-simple-fact.html.
[VI] “Interview Part 4: Butch Davis, Two Things.” The Greatest 21 Days, September 11, 2014. http://www.greatest21days.com/2014/09/interview-part-4-butch-davis-two-things.html.

 

 

Coan, Gil

Position: Outfield
Birthplace: Monroe

First, Middle Names: Gilbert Fitzgerald
Date of Birth:  Jan. 18, 1922   Date and Place of Death: Feb. 5, 2020, Brevard, NC
Burial: Gillespie Evergreen Cemetery, Brevard

High School: Mineral Springs High School, Mineral Springs, NC
College: Brevard College, Brevard

Bats:    L          Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-0, 180
Debut Year: 1945       Final Year: 1956          Years Played: 11
Teams and Years: Washington Senators, 1946-53; Baltimore Orioles, 1954-55; Chicago White Sox, 1955; N.Y. Giants. 1955-56

Career Summary
G          AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
918      2877    731      384      278    39        .254     .316     .359     1.9

Gilbert Fitzgerald Coan was a 23-year-old, fleet-footed kid outfielder when he debuted with the Washington Senators in 1946. He would play 10 more years in the major leagues, most of them for the woeful Senators. The team, a charter member of the American League in 1901, had once been competitive back in the days when Walter Johnson commanded the pitching mound and Goose Goslin and Sam Rice roamed the outfield.

But by the time Coan arrived, the Senators could count only three winning seasons since their last pennant in 1933 during Franklin Roosevelt’s first term. Frustrated fans had resurrected the ditty about Washington that Charles Dryden, a legendary baseball writer, coined during an earlier period of team futility: First in war, first in peace and last in the American League.

Senator fans had reason to hope, though, when Coan took the field on that April afternoon. The team had finished in second place in a wartime-depleted league in 1945. This new kid was considered a can’t-miss prospect. Many thought he would play a big part in that brighter future.

“Gil Coan was the most promising rookie ever to arrive on the Washington baseball scene,” declared Joe Engel, the Senators’ chief scout who had discovered Goslin, Rice and Bucky Harris. Coan, he said, was the best of them all.[I]

The third son of George and Florence Coan’s four boys, Gil was born in Monroe but grew up in nearby Mineral Springs, in a house next to the Methodist Church. Coan would become a lifelong Methodist.

He played baseball and football for the local high school, and Duke University was considering entice him to Durham, North Carolina, with a football scholarship, but Coan headed for the mountains instead. He enrolled in what was then Brevard Junior College in 1940 where he played baseball and, more importantly, met Dovie White.

The two married in September 1941, when Coan dropped out of college to take a job at the Eucusta Paper plant that paid 40 cents an hour. He remained after Pearl Harbor because he was ineligible for the battle fields after a childhood infection had required amputating a portion of his left thumb.

While playing for the company’s baseball team, Coan caught the eye of Washington scouts who signed the Papermaker in 1944 and shipped him off to their minor leagues, first to Kingsport, Tennessee, then to Chattanooga. Coan tore the cover off the ball. He hit over .330 in the minors while playing all three outfield positions and was named The Sporting News’ Minor League Player of the year in ’45 when he hit .372 and stole 37 bases.

Alas, the Cinderella story came to an end in Tennessee. The rookie didn’t take Washington by storm as well. Coan hit .209 in just 132 at bats – welcome to The Show, kid – and was sent back down to the minors for more seasoning.

 
Gil Coan, left, with Gen. Dwight Eisenhower in 1946. Photo: Major League Baseball

Coan returned a year later. This time he made noise, hitting .500 in 42 at bats. This time he would stick around.

While he and the Senators never fulfilled the lofty expectations of the rookie’s first afternoon, Coan compiled a solid, workman-like career while mostly playing for a laughingly bad team. His best year was probably 1951 when he hit over .300. He even got some votes for Most Valuable Player. During a game against the New York Yankees that April, Coan tied a major-league record by hitting two triples in one inning. His second three-bagger gave the Senators the lead, which of course they relinquished. They eventually lost the game. And, so it went.

When he hung up it up in 1956, Coan had played in over 900 games and had over 2,800 at bats. He got a hit about a quarter of the time. Respectable. “I got to travel all over the country and meet great people just because I could hit a ball and run fast,” is the way Coan summed it up to an interviewer several years ago.  “I was a pretty decent player, nothing special.”[II]

He was also a pretty fast runner. So fast, in fact, that someone thought it grand promotion to match him against a racehorse. It was fan appreciation night in 1956. Coan had spent the last two years bouncing around baseball. He had been traded to the New York Giants a year earlier and was playing for their minor-league Millers in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Here’s Coan’s description: “I was fairly well-known for being a fast runner, you know?… and they asked me to race a horse from the right field wall to home plate. They gave me a little head start on this horse that they got from some local racetrack, but I won. They gave me $25 and I was thrilled.”[III]

Coan retired soon afterward and returned to Brevard. He was only 34. He bought an interest in Brevard Insurance Agency, which he owned outright by 1962. He would actively sell insurance until he retired at age 65. His grandson, Jay, later ran the agency.

While selling insurance and real estate, Coan managed the Brevard College baseball team for a couple of years and a was longtime member of the school’s board of trustees.

Coan and Dovie lived in a house overlooking Glen Cannon Country Club. He would stop by his cattle farm that he sold to his son, Kevin, to feed the cattle. He’d also stop by Gil Coan Field, the ballfield at Brevard College, to watch the kids play. After the field was renamed in his honor in 1994, Brevard residents would often see him mowing the grass or lining the infield.

Dovie died in November 2019. She was 97. She and Coan had been married for 78 years. Coan died three months later. Also 97, he was one the last remaining players of the original Baltimore Orioles and one of the oldest major-league players still alive.

“I think I was a part of baseball history that fans appreciated more than any other,” Coan said once. “Baseball gave me an entrée that would have never been available otherwise.”[IV]

References
[I] Willis, C. Norman. Washington Senators All-Time Greats. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris Publishing, 2011. 272.
[II] Attanasio, Ed. “An Interview With Former Ballplayer Gil Coan.” Sports Collectors Digest.com, 2013. https://sportscollectorsdigest.com/news/an-interview-with-former-ballplayer-gil-coan
[III] Ibid.
[IV] Ibid.

 

Bowens, Sam

Position: Right field, left field
Birthplace: Wilmington

First, Middle Names: Samuel Edward Jr.

Date of Birth:  March 23, 1938          Date and Place of Death: March 28, 2003, Wilmington
Burial: Greenlawn Memorial Park, Wilmington

High School: Williston High School, Wilmington
College: Tennessee State University, Nashville, Tenn.

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-1, 195
Debut Year: 1963       Final Year: 1969          Years Played: 7
Team(s) and Years: Baltimore Orioles, 1963-67; Washington Senators, 1968-69

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
479   1287   287    141      143      45      .223     .283     .375     0.0

Much was expected of Sam Bowens when he joined the Baltimore Orioles at their spring training camp in Miami, Florida, in 1964. He had been a star athlete in high school and college and had hit .346 in the minors the previous year before pulling a groin muscle in July and struggling through the rest of season. He hit with power and played the outfield with grace. His throwing arm was a weapon that base runners respected. Bowens would team with Boog Powell, another powerful youngster, to give the Orioles a potent, lasting tandem.

“You don’t give up on a guy like that,” manager Hank Bauer said that spring, “not at least until the day after tomorrow.”[I]

Young Sam, it seems, was made for this moment. “He was born like that, I would say,” Sam Sr. once said of his son’s athletic ability. “We would be in the yard, playing catch, and I’d have to tell him to cool down a little. He was throwing too hard.”[II]

He attended Williston High School where he won 12 letters in basketball, baseball and football during his four years , the most anyone at the school had ever won.[1] He pitched and played shortstop on the baseball team, quarterbacked the football team and was the center on the basketball team. He was captain of all three teams his junior and senior years and was all-state in each sport.

At what is now Tennessee State University in Nashville, Bowens started on dynastic basketball teams that won three straight small-college, national championships, starting in 1957. He was also an outfielder on the baseball team. Bowens would be inducted into the school’s hall of fame in 1983.

So, yes, much was expected that spring of 1964. And, by and large, Bowens delivered. He hit 22 home runs and drove in 71 that year as one of the Orioles’ regular outfielders. He got some votes for rookie of the year. That season, as it would turn out, would the highlight of his major-league career.

An injury shelved him for seven weeks the following year. By the time Bowens returned, rookie Curt Belfry had taken his job. Then, it was Paul Blair in 1965. Relegated to pinch hitting and late-inning defensive duties, Bowens’ average plummeted. Though the Orioles made it to the World Series in 1966, Bowens didn’t appear in a game.

He was dealt to the Washington Senators in 1968, where he was a part-time player for a couple of seasons. He was out of baseball by 1970.

Bowens moved to Indianapolis, the hometown of his wife, Pheola, and he was largely forgotten. His name would occasionally come up in discussions of one-season wonders, usually followed by the question: What happened?

Newspaper stories late in Bowens’ life attributed some of his decline to a beaning incident in a game against the Boston Red Sox in September 1965. “It affected my hitting,” Bowens told a reporter in 2002. “I’d pull my head out up there. I wouldn’t stay with the inside pitches. I would bail out and drop my hands.”[III]

The story was repeated in his obituary the following year.

The records, though, indicate that Bowens didn’t play in the three September games against Boston that year. In fact, he wasn’t hit by a pitch the entire season.

High, inside fastballs and alcohol are the more likely answers. Bowens couldn’t hit one and may have hit the other too often. American League pitchers exploited his weakness for high pitches. Alcoholism likely made them harder to hit. He said the drinking started when he reached the major leagues when beer was available in the clubhouse after every game. “I would drink six or seven a day,” he told a reporter. “It was like drinking soda pop.” He tried to do something about it by entering a rehab center in Boston during his career.[IV]

Divorced from Pheola, Bowens returned to Wilmington in the late 1980s. His three surviving children lived in Indianapolis at the time.

Bowens’ health continued to deteriorate, and he was living in a Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, nursing home when he died in 2003. His room was partially paid for by a Major League Baseball program to help destitute and disabled players.

Sam Bowens was inducted into the Greater Wilmington Sports Hall of Fame in 2018.

Footnote
[1] Williston High School was an important historic and athletic landmark for African Americans in Wilmington. The school, now a middle school for gifted students, traces its roots to abolitionists who started a school in 1866 for freed slaves. Among its graduates are Meadowlark Lemon of the Harlem Globetrotters and Althea Gibson, the first black tennis star.

References
[I] “Sam Bowens: He’s Unnoticed Oriole.”  High Point (NC) Enterprise, April 10, 1964.
[II] Voorheis, Mike. “Former Williston Star, Oriole Sam Bowens, Dies in Wilmington.” Wilmington (NC) Star-News, April 1, 2003.
[III] Ibid.
[IV] Carree, Chuck. “Unfulfilled Promise.” Wilmington (NC) Star-News, September 2, 2002.