Henry, Snake

Primary Positions: First base, pinch hitter
Birthplace: Waynesville

First, Middle Names:  Frederick Marshall
Nickname: Snake

Date of Birth:  July 19, 1895   Date and Place of Death: Oct. 12, 1987, Wendell, NC
Burial: Montlawn Memorial Park, Raleigh, NC

High School: Wendell High School, Wendell, NC
College: Barton College, Wilson, NC

Bats: L Throws: L  Height and Weight: 6-0, 170
Debut Year: 1922        Final Year: 1923          Years Played: 2
Team and Years: Boston Braves, 1922-23

Career Summary
G          AB       H          R          RBI       HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
29       75       14        6          7            0          .187     .218      .267      -0.6

Fred Henry played in 29 games in the major leagues, stretched over parts of two seasons, and he didn’t do much in any of them, hitting a measly .187. His career Wins Above Replacement of -0.6 is among the lowest of any North Carolinian who played in the majors.[1] It means that his teams lost almost a full game over his short career with him in the lineup.

Yet, the man with the flimsy big-league resume was among the best minor-league players in history. During his 25 years in the minors, playing for 20 different clubs in 13 different leagues, Henry amassed almost 3,400 hits. He batted over .300 in more than half the seasons he played, finishing with a .304 average. His .345 in 1930 was an International League record until Jackie Robinson surpassed it 16 years later by a mere four points. Henry is among the career minor-league leaders in hits, games played, doubles and triples, an enviable tally that should earn him a spot in the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.

Lillie and Marshall Henry had nine children, enough to fill a lineup card. Frederick Marshall, appropriately, was fourth, in the clean-up spot. He was born in 1895 in Waynesville, North Carolina, but the family moved halfway across the state to Granville County by the time he was five years old. By 1910, the Henrys had settled in Wendell in adjoining Wake County where Marshall was a lumber dealer and Lillie a milliner.

Fred played baseball at Wendell High School and then went off to what’s now Barton College, a private, religious school in nearby Wilson, North Carolina. After graduating in 1914, he signed his first minor-league contract with the Patriots, a Class D club in Greensboro, North Carolina.

He crisscrossed the continent over the next two-and-a-half decades moving up the minor leagues – from the Petersburg Goobers in Virginia and the San Antonio Bears in Texas to the Montreal Royals and Toronto Maple Leafs in Canada – and back down again to the Triplets in Binghamton, New York, and the Serpents in Tarboro, North Carolina. Along the way, he challenged for batting titles, won two Most-Valuable Player awards and was a perennial All-Star.

On one of his first stops, at the Wheatshockers in Hutchinson, Kansas, in 1917, Henry acquired the nickname that would follow him for the rest of his life. At a dinner to start the season, pitcher Ed Hovlik thought it important that all his teammates have sobriquets. He noted the agility and quickness of their new first baseman. “He presented me as ‘Rattlesnake’ Henry. I lost the rattle part of the handle,” Henry remembered. “Not a very pleasant-sounding name, is it?”[I] The name even followed him to Cuba, where he played years later. There, he was Senor Reptil.

Henry was hitting .343 for the Class A Pelicans in New Orleans in 1922 when the Boston Braves signed him late in the season. He finished out the season playing first base for the National League club while hitting .197. His limited engagement apparently didn’t impress anyone on the Braves because aging veteran Stuffy McInnis was signed to play first for the new season. Henry asked to be traded if he wasn’t going to play regularly. The Braves sent him back to New Orleans the next day.

He remained in the minors for almost two more decades. His last stop was in Kinston, North Carolina, playing and managing the Class D Serpents. The team lost the first 15 games of the 1939 season. The frustration became too much for Henry. In a game against the Greenies of nearby Greenville, North Carolina, he attacked an umpire over a call at third base, kneeing him in the groin, knocking him down, and then “stomping on his feet,” according to the judge at the suspension hearing. He threatened “to get” the umpire as he was escorted off the field.[II] Suspended for 120 days, Henry chose to retire. Ironically, the Eagles righted themselves and made it into the Coastal Plain League playoffs, losing in the final round.

By then, Henry was back in Richmond, Virginia, where he lived with his wife, Mary Jane. They were part owners of a popular, local grill in the early 1940s and then managed hotels, first in Florida and then in southeastern Virginia.

They moved back to Wendell, where Mary Jane died of colon cancer in 1963. Henry remarried in 1972 when he was 77 years old. He was 92 when he died in 1985.

Reference
[1] Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, is an advanced statistic that attempts to summarize a player’s total contributions to his team by estimating how many games a team can be expected to win with the player in the lineup instead of an average player coming off the bench or called up from the minors. The player’s value to his team accumulates over the course of his career. The resulting number is expressed in plus or minus games. See Tarheel Boys of Summer Top 100 for a fuller explanation.

Footnotes
[I] Siegel, Morris. “’Snake’ Henry Settles Down After 25 Years of Baseball.” Times Dispatch (Richmond, VA), March 24, 1941.
[II] “’Snake’ Henry Is Ousted for Attack Upon Empire.” The Enterprise (Williamston, NC), May 23, 1939.

 

Rich, Woody

Primary Position: Starting pitcher
Birthplace: Morganton

First, Middle Names: Woodrow Earl
Date of Birth: March 9, 1916    Date and Place of Death: April 18, 1983, Valdese, NC
Burial: South Mountain Baptist Church Cemetery, Morganton

High School: Morganton High School
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-2, 185
Debut Year: 1939       Final Year: 1944          Years Played: 4
Teams and Years: Boston Red Sox, 1939-41; Boston Braves, 1944

Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
33      6          6          0         5.06     117.1  42        0.5

Woody Rich had all the makings of a great Depression-era newspaper hero. He was a shy farm boy from the hills of North Carolina – the kind of kid sportswriters ended up calling “Rube.” He had come out of nowhere with lightning in his right arm. Before he had even thrown a ball in a regulation, big-league game, the sports scribes primed the pump by comparing him to the legendary pitchers of yore. The lanky string bean, it seems, was being groomed to take his place among the pantheon of star athletes who had been born and had lived on the sports pages – Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Seabiscuit. Times were tough, and readers thirsted for heroes.

Woodrow Earl Rich came along at the right time. He had indeed been born on a farm outside Morganton in Burke County in 1916. He was fifth in the batting order of David and Callie’s eight children.

His high-school years are murky. Some newspapers reported at the time he debuted in the majors that he had pitched for the two years he attended Morganton High School. Others note that he lasted only a semester before dropping out to work for a hosiery mill and play for a semipro team. Paying jobs during the Depression were paying jobs, after all. That would seem to agree with Rich’s military discharge records that list the eighth grade as his highest level of education. To confuse matters even more, a profile of Rich compiled by the Society of American Baseball Research notes that he graduated from high school in 1936, though no source is cited.

Of this there is no doubt: he married Lucy Durline Walker, a minister’s daughter, a year earlier when he was playing for a semipro team in Valdese, North Carolina. In was there that the myth begins to take form with the tale of his discovery by the Boston Red Sox. It has it all: the kindly club executive, the touching act of charity, and the  sense of wonder at first seeing the rising, unknown star. The details varied with the telling, but it went something like this: Billy Evans, a former umpire, directed the Red Sox farm system. He ran into another former umpire or maybe it was a former player on one of his scouting trips. Anyway, the guy was down on his luck and Evans, known as a soft touch in an industry famous for its hard dealings with players, gave him $5. A year later, the grateful ex-ump — or was it ex-player? – wrote Evans about this kid pitching for Valdese who was, according to one newspaper account, “quite a propeller of the pellet.”[I]

Evans went south to look for himself. “You can knock me over with a five-dollar bill if this kid hasn’t got the motion of a Grover Cleveland Alexander or a Dizzy Dean,” he recalled. “He’s as loose as a goose.”[1][II]

And so it started.

Evans signed Rich on the spot, of course. The kid had no formal training as a pitcher. His father, who knew nothing about baseball, said his son learned the game by playing with “the Negro folk” at home.[III] All that considered, Rich’s first season as a professional with Boston’s lowest-level farm club in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 1937 wasn’t so bad – 12-15 with a 4.42 earned-run average.

Evans thought he was ready to move up to Class A Little Rock, Arkansas, but Travelers’ Manager Doc Prothro wasn’t so sure. He kept Rich on the bench for the first three weeks of the 1938 season. Evans, though, kept pestering him. Prothro finally relented and sent Rich into a game after his starter had been rocked for five runs. The bases were loaded with no out when Rich took over. He retired the side with no further damage and didn’t allow a run the rest of the way, allowing the Travelers to come back and win. He won 19 games that year, including a no-hitter against the powerful Atlanta Crackers, who featured two of the league’s leading hitters.

The stage was set.

Rich grabbed the spotlight in the spring of 1939 at the Red Sox’s training camp in Sarasota, Florida. He didn’t allow a run in his first two appearances, and his smooth, sidearm motion reminded Coach Tom Daly of the guy he used to catch with the Chicago Cubs a decade earlier. “When Woody started to loosen up and put a little something on the ball with that sidearm delivery of his, I saw ol’ Alex all over again,” Daly said, referring to Alexander. “Their styles are almost identical.”[IV]

The scribes needed no further invitations. They started writing stories about this sensational rookie in Sarasota – strike that, make it the best pitching prospect since the Big Train himself, Walter Johnson.

Rich roomed that spring with another Red Sox rookie with a future, a bean pole of an outfielder named Ted Williams. While Williams was a brash, loud-talking city kid from San Diego, Rich was the quiet farm boy. “He’s a man of one word,” a reporter noted. “His favorite monosyllables are ‘Yeah’ and ‘nope.’”[v]

But when he let loose, there were gems like this: “When I wasn’t plowing, chopping wood or hoeing corn, I used to throw a lot of stones at snakes and birds,” Rich told one of the writers that spring. “Maybe that’s how I developed my arm. But if, as you say, I’ve got big, powerful-looking wrists I reckon I got them from hoeing that corn and chopping that wood. We used to make bats out of hickory logs, but maybe we didn’t have enough bats. But we had plenty of birds and snakes.”[VI]

Or this reaction when seeing Yankee Stadium for the first time: “Garsh!”[VII] 

The rube from Palookaville who becomes a star has a long and treasured history in baseball. Writers reminded their readers that no one had ever heard of Elba, Nebraska, before Alexander came along or Humboldt, Kansas, before Johnson. Their successor Lefty Grove, then dominating the American League, came from Lonaconing, Maryland, which was down the road from Nikep somewhere up in the mountains. “Morgantown,” as it was often misspelled, could be next.

Rich did his part when the season opened, winning four of his first six games. He was among the leading pitchers in the league when he took the mound on May 27, but he had to leave the game after hurting his arm while making a throw to first base. The injury wasn’t thought to be serious, but he couldn’t raise his arm within a few days. He didn’t get another start until July 4 but couldn’t survive the first inning. He lasted only three innings two weeks later. After a few more rough outings, the Red Sox in early August sent Rich to their farm club in Louisville, Kentucky, where he remained for the rest of the season.

The Red Sox gave him second and third chances in 1940 and ’41 but he never regained the form that reminded people of Ol’ Alex. The city’s National League entry, the Braves, called him up in 1944, hoping he’d shine during the talent-depleted war years. He didn’t. He was shipped out after seven games.

Rich’s major-league days were over but his baseball career was just beginning. His arm was strong enough to allow him to pitch 14 more years in the minor leagues, often quite effectively. After a one-year stint with the Marine Corps at the end of World War II, Rich spent the late 1940s with the Class D Anniston, Alabama, Rams. He won 19 games in 1947 on a last-place team and led the league in strikeouts. He made the All-Star team the following season and won two games in the league playoffs. The appreciative Rams held a Woody Rich Night in his honor at their home ballyard in 1949. Not much later, Rich abruptly left the team to pitch for a semipro club in Iowa.

His arm obviously wasn’t the problem. His weight, however, may have been. Rich’s waistline expanded as his career lengthened. The 155-pound kid who reported to Clarksdale in 1937 routinely tipped the scales at 230 a decade later when he became “Big” Woody Rich. “Portly” and “bulky” were also common adjectives. He was prominently featured in a 1947 article in Baseball Magazine about players with weight problems. “One of the most tragic cases in the memory of the writer is that of Woody Rich,” Hub Miller wrote. “But Rich’s fame was short-lived. He did stay with the club long enough to win a few games and, at times, showed flashes of greatness. But the boy had such an uncontrollable appetite that he soon was fat and well beyond big-league hurling condition. It was not long before he even had trouble winning in the higher minors.”[VIII]

Approaching 40, it was the “venerable” Rich who led the Hi-Toms of High Point and Thomasville, North Carolina, to back-to-back Carolina League championships in 1955 and ’56. He won 49 games in his three years with the Hi-Toms, but they would be his last productive seasons. Rich retired in 1958 at age 42.

He lived with his wife and their daughter, Martha, in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he was an auto mechanic. They returned to Burke County in 1968 where they lived in a log cabin near Valdese. He died in 1983 of lung cancer.

Footnote
[1] Grover Cleveland Alexander, one of the pitching stars of baseball’s Deadball Era, won 373 games in a 20-year career that took him to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Dizzy Dean, another Hall of Famer, was a four-time All-Star who led the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930s.

References
[I] Hurwitz, Hy. “What About It.” Boston (MA) Globe, January 31, 1939.

[II] Ibid.
[III] Armour, Mark. “Woody Rich.” Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/woody-rich/.
[IV] Moore, Gerry. “Woody Rich Reminds Tom Daly of Old Alex.” Boston (MA) Globe, March 9, 1939.
[V] Cuddy, Jack. United Press International. “Young Tar Heel Arrives in Big City and – Garsh.” News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), April 21, 1939.
[VI] Armour.
[VII] Cuddy.
[VIII] Armour.

Whisenant, Pete

Primary Positions: Centerfield, leftfield
Birthplace: Asheville

First, Middle Names: Thomas Peter
Date of Birth:  Dec. 14, 1929  Date and Place of Death: March 22, 1996, Port Charlotte, FL
Burial: Cremated

High School: Paw Creek High School, Paw Creek, NC
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-2, 190
Debut Year: 1952       Final Year: 1961          Years Played: 8
Teams and Years: Boston Braves, 1952; St. Louis Cardinals, 1955; Chicago Cubs, 1956; Cincinnati Redlegs, 1957-60; Cleveland Indians, 1960; Washington Senators, 1960; Minnesota  Twins, 1961; Cincinnati Reds, 1961

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
465   988    221     140     134      37       .224     .284     .399     1.6

 An intense competitor, Pete Whisenant was thought to be just a few steps from stardom when he signed his first professional contract as one of North Carolina’s most-prized prep players. It was not to be, however. After an eight-year career on seven big-league clubs, Whisenant retired as a reserve outfielder with a .224 career batting average.

He had short careers as a major-league coach and minor-league manager after his playing days and longer ones as the director of a popular baseball camp and as a businessman who owned vending machines and sold baseball memorabilia. That last endeavor led to a partnership with Pete Rose, the game’s all-time hits leaders, that didn’t end that well.

Born in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1929, Thomas Peter Whisenant grew up in Paw Creek, in western Mecklenburg County, after his mother, Pearl, married Jim Todd, a local farmer. Murphy Barnes, Whisenant’s father, was a longtime resident of Raleigh, North Carolina, where he worked for the United States Department of Agriculture.

Paw Creek, now a neighborhood of Charlotte, was then a small village of cotton mills six miles from the city. Baseball players were another community export. Whisenant grew up idolizing Hank Greenberg, the Detroit Tigers’ slugger, and Whitey Lockman, an older local boy who made it to the majors a few years before he did. Bill Baker had proceeded them both. Ken Wood and Tommy Helms would make it later.[1]At one time,” Whisenant said, “that small mill village had more major-league ballplayers than the entire state of Arkansas.”[I]

He was the captain of the high-school baseball team and a starter on its basketball squad, though he had a habit of fouling out of games. A star on the local American Legion team, he was chosen in 1946 to a team of Eastern prep all-stars who played their Western counterparts in a game in Wrigley Field sponsored by Esquire magazine. The teenager had never ventured far from home and was awestruck by the sprawling station in Cincinnati where he had to change trains to Chicago. “Grandpa, this place is bigger than all of Paw Creek,” he wrote on the back of a postcard of the station that he mailed home.[II]

The Eastern team lost 10-4, but Whisenant had three of the team’s six hits and shared the dugout with Manager Honus Wagner. Ty Cobb piloted the opposing team. Imagine the stories that must have impressed the folks back home.

Whisenant was considered “the finest major-league prospect in the country” when he graduated in May 1947. Major-league scouts and college recruiters had filled the stands during that final season. “You should have been out here Monday night,” one reported. “There were so many bird dogs out here that they should have worn badges to keep from signing up each other.”[III]

Scouts camped out on the kid’s front porch for two weeks trying to get his name on a contract. Gil English, a former major-leaguer from High Point, North Carolina, finally did. The Boston Braves had to pony up about $100,000 in current dollars for the teen’s signature.

Whisenant spent several years in the Braves’ minor leagues and was expected to make the big-league club in 1951, but he joined the Navy rather than be drafted.

When he returned to the Braves the following spring, the six-foot, two-inch Whisenant had filled out to 190 pounds. He hit well in exhibition games and covered a lot of ground in centerfield. Old hands noticed that like Ted Williams the rookie spent a good deal of time when he wasn’t chasing down fly balls practicing his swing. They also saw that unlike the Boston Red Sox star Whisenant wasn’t an indifferent fielder. In fact, he was considered one of best defensive outfielders in the Braves’ system. His can-do demeanor also left an impression. “I like the boy,” said Braves’ Manager Tommy Holmes. “He has that old-time spirit. He’s a fiery competitor.”[IV]

He made his debut with the Braves in April 1952 but lasted only 24 games before being sent back down to the Class AAA club in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He reappeared in the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1955 and then the Chicago Cubs the following season, his best in the big leagues. He played in 103 games and had career highs in home runs (11) and batting average (.239).

Whisenant became a valuable reserve and pinch hitter for the Cincinnati Redlegs for three seasons, starting in 1957.[2] He had five pinch-hit homers that year. He played his last two years on three teams before returning to Cincinnati in 1961. Whisenant retired as an active player in the middle of the season and became the batting coach on a team headed to the World Series. He paced the dugout with a bat, swatting sleepy players and malcontents. He was the consummate cheerleader and Manager Fred Hutchinson’s right-hand man. “Pete Whisenant was our rah-rah guy,” pitcher Joey Jay remembered. Old-school in his outlook, Whisenant was irritated by players discussing their investments or one, Jim Brosnan, pecking away at his typewriter.[3] “Think baseball, nothing else” was his constant litany.[V]

Released as the Reds’ outfield coach at the end of the 1962 season, Whisenant started a vending machine company in Evansville, Indiana, and moved it to Punto Gordo, Florida, seven years later where he also directed a baseball clinic for boys that Rose and Johnny Bench, Reds’ teammates, sponsored. He ran the popular clinic each winter into the mid-1970s.

Whisenant and Rose signed a contract in 1979 to capitalize on Rose’s assault on Cobb’s career hits record.[4] They were to sell souvenirs and merchandise bearing the caricature known as Little Charlie Hustle. They were to split the profits. Rose sued Whisenant over the character in 1985. Whisenant countersued two years later, claiming that Rose’s company sold merchandise without paying him. The lawsuits were settled out of court and the details were never disclosed.

Whisenant had better luck with the Modesto A’s in California. He managed the A’s to the California League championship in 1982. Billy Martin, the Oakland A’s manager, got his good friend the job as skipper of the club’s Class A affiliate. During his one season at Modesto, Whisenant was described variously as “cantankerous,” “hard-living,” “hard-drinking,” and a “masterful motivator.”[VI]

He was promoted to manage the Double A Huntsville Stars in 1983 but was fired at mid-season and moved to Costa Rica.

“He was tough on the outside and soft on the inside,” his son, Pete Jr., said.[VII]

Whisenant, who was married three times, had seven children.

He was living back in Cincinnati in 1996 when he died in Port Charlotte, Florida, of liver failure.  


Footnotes
[1] Bill Baker was a catcher in the National League in the early 1940s. Whitey Lockman was an outfielder in the major leagues for 15 years, starting in 1945. Ken Wood, also an outfielder, debuted three years later and played for eight years. Tommy Helms was an all-star and Gold Glove second baseman and shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds in the mid-1960s. Baker was the only Paw Creek native. See their profiles for more information.
[2] The Cincinnati Reds officially changed their name to the Redlegs in 1953 because they wanted to avoid getting caught up in McCarthyism’s consuming search for communists in government and business. They became the Reds again in 1959.
[3] A modestly effective relief pitcher, Jim Brosnan was known as an intellectual and was called The Professor by teammates because he puffed on a pipe and read books during games. He later wrote controversial books that, for the first time, realistically depicted life in a baseball locker room.
[4] Rose broke the record on September 11, 1985 with his 4,192nd hit.

References
[I] Heiling, Joe. “Astros Walking on Air Over Super Helms-Man.” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), July 21, 1973.
[II] Lawson, Earl. “Red’s Helms – Courage Wrapped in a Small Package.” Sporting News (St. Louis. MO),
January 13, 1968.
[III] Howe, Ray. “Here’s Howe.” Charlotte (NC) News, April 30, 1947.
[IV] Warner, Ralph. “City’s Pete Whisenent Thrills Holmes, Braves With His Spirit,” Charlotte (NC) Observer, March 23, 1952.
[V] Murray, Jack. “O’Toole ‘Tried’ to ’61.” Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer, Oct. 9, 1970.
[VI] “Modesto’s A’s Championship Skipper Whisenent Dies.” Modesto (CA) Bee, March 23, 1996.
[VII] Ibid.

Andrews, Nate

Primary Position: Starting pitcher
Birthplace: Pembroke

First, Middle Names: Nathan Hardy
Date of Birth:  Sept. 30, 1913 Date and Place of Death: April 26, 1991, Winston-Salem, NC
Burial: Rowland Cemetery, Rowland, NC

High School: Rowland High School, Rowland, NC
Colleges: Presbyterian Junior College, Maxton, NC; University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-0, 195
Debut Year: 1937       Final Year: 1946          Years Played: 8
Teams and Years: St. Louis Cardinals, 1937, 1939; Cleveland Indians, 1940-41; Boston Braves, 1943-45; Cincinnati Reds, 1946; New York Giants, 1946

Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
127     41       54      2          3.46     773.1   216     8.5

Awards/Honors: All-Star, 1944; Boys of Summer Top 100

Maybe it was happening. Maybe Nate Andrews was finally rediscovering the form that had made him a formidable pitcher back in Chapel Hill, that kid who had no-hit Wake Forest. He was a 29-year-old righty with a wicked curve, who had battled his waistline, booze, and bad luck in his first four seasons in the big leagues. He had been up and down from the minors and had just one major-league victory to his credit and an earned-run average, or ERA, approaching 8.00.

No one on the Boston Braves expected much from him when the 1943 season began. Everyone’s attention was drawn elsewhere, to a war in Europe and on pieces of rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that no one had ever heard of. With little notice, the guy with the 8.00 ERA won four of his first five starts, limiting opponents to less than two runs a game.

Then, it started. On May 23, he pitched nine innings of shutout ball, only to lose 1-0 when he surrendered a run in the 10th. He lost the next three games, also each by a run. The hard-luck losses kept piling up. When the season ended, Andrews had 20 of them. With a 2.57 ERA – the lowest of any 20-game loser in history – he deserved better. Sixteen of those losses came in games when the anemic Braves scored two or fewer runs. When his teammates briefly awoke to score at least three, Andrews was 11-4.

He rebounded to have an All-Star season the following year, but his odd, erratic behavior – one has to presume triggered or enhanced by alcoholism – forced Andrews to end his major-league career. He had a losing record, but his lifetime 3.46 ERA ties him for 15th place among North Carolinians who pitched at least 500 innings. He’s 74th on the Tarheel Boys’ of Summer Top 100 list.

The middle of three surviving children, Nathan Hardy Andrews Jr. was born in 1913 in Pembroke in Robeson County. Founded on the rail lines to Charlotte and Wilmington, the community was called Scuttletown during Andrews’ childhood because it was a good place to get into a fight.[1] His father, Nathan Sr., was a country doctor who dispensed care for chickens, eggs, hams, and whatever else patients had to barter. His mother, Leona, was known as a stern disciplinarian. A music teacher, she passed her love for song to her eldest son, who became adept with various musical instruments.

Baseball, though, was Andrews’ passion. He started pitching during his senior year at Rowland High School and then at Presbyterian Junior College in Maxton, North Carolina.[2] He was also the fullback for the football team. Andrews transferred to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill in 1933, the year he threw that no-hitter against Wake Forest College. He would always consider it his greatest achievement in baseball.

The St. Louis Cardinals signed him the following year, and Andrews would toil in their minor leagues for he next six seasons. The Cardinals that year made their fifth World Series appearance in nine years mostly on the strength of their pitching. They simply didn’t need him. He also irritated the team’s manager and coaches by being overweight and not always in top physical condition. He had pitched nine forgettable innings for the big-league club in 1937.[I]

Andrews responded to the criticism by shedding 15 pounds in 1939 and reporting early to the Cardinals’ training camp in Columbus, Ohio. He won 17 games that season for the farm club in Rochester, New York, and started in the American Association All-Star Game.

That led to a second call-up in mid-summer. Andrews expected to be plugged into the Cardinals’ starting rotation. Manager Ray Blades stuck him in the bullpen, instead, where he got shelled. Words were exchanged in a heated quarrel, and the Cardinals traded Andrews to their poor sisters, the Browns, at the end of the season. “[Nate] was the best pitcher in the American Association,” said Browns’ general manager Bill DeWitt. “He came up expecting to be pitched regularly. He didn’t do so well after the first game, then was thrown into the [bullpen as] a relief pitcher. It hurt his pride [and he] became sulky. He quarreled with Ray Blades and broke training. That’s how we happened to get him. He was a swell pickup for the money. Mind you, he’s really not a bad actor, just a victim of circumstances.”[II]

“Broke training” may indeed be a euphemism. He started drinking.

Andrews would never pitch for the Browns, who sold him to the Cleveland Indians in 1940. The next two years were difficult. He was suspended for more “training” violations. The Indians, for instance, left him in Florida in March 1941 for violating “training rules” in Cuba where the team had played a series of exhibition games.

His drinking also led to problems at home. His wife, Ellen, whom everyone called Virginia, left him for a time, taking their daughter with her. A farm girl from nearby Fairmont, North Carolina, she met her distant cousin at a barn dance. The couple got married in 1936. She alleged in court papers three years later that Andrews had become a “habitual drunkard” and that she “lives in constant fear of bodily harm.” She ask the court for $100 a month to support their daughter, Virginia Dare. She said Andrews paid only $45 a year to help the family.[III]

Andrews was living in South Carolina when he registered for the draft in 1940 and listed his father as a contact. There’s no evidence, however, that the couple was legally divorced. In fact, they would have two more children together.

After a brief stop in Cincinnati, Andrews found himself with the Braves to start the 1943 season. “We may be able to get out of seventh place,” Manager Casey Stengel said of the new arrival.[IV]  They did. The Braves finished sixth that year despite the new guy losing 20 games.

Andrews revived the following year, winning 16 games – the most on the staff – and pitching in the All-Star Game for a league that lost most of its stars to war. It was a remarkable comeback for a pitcher who was a wreck when he reported to Braves’ camp in Connecticut in March. He was drinking, taking “nerve pills” and enduring columns of bad publicity. He was pale, weak and unsteady. All he could do was lob the ball wildly to the pitcher.

He started attending Alcoholic Anonymous meetings and soon became the prize example for the Boston AA chapter. Andrews spoke often at meetings, and leaders later said he probably saved 150 alcoholics that summer.

Good natured and well-liked by his teammates, Andrews was open about his alcoholism and vowed to stay off the stuff this time. “The last time I went off the wagon three years ago, I swapped a brand new Gladstone bag for a two-dollar bottle of corn,” he said.[3][v]

To pass the time on long road trips, he bought books to read instead of whiskey to drink. During a dugout conversation about how many beers a man could drink at one sitting, Andrews said, “My own personal record is 50 pints in a day. I didn’t drink it because I liked it, but to put the fire out.”[VI]

That fire must have burned out of control in 1945. That was the year Andrews became what the Boston newspapers called the “lost pitcher.” He disappeared three times during the season without telling anyone. Once, relatives called the Braves to let the team know that Andrews had come home. In August, he failed to show up to pitch the opener of a doubleheader. He later claimed to have a sore arm and decided not to report to the ballpark. “I’ve pitched good ball for this club for three years,” he said. “I’m no goldbrick. I’ll do my share. My arm was sore today and I knew I couldn’t have pitched so what was the use of going out there.”[VII]

A week later, the Braves sold Andrews to the Reds for the $7,500 waiver fee. Reds Manager Bill McKechnie thought Andrews could win “if he could be induced to abstain.”[VIII] He didn’t show up for 10 days and was given permission to go home for the rest of the season. He promised to make a fresh start the next year.

Andrews pitched for two teams in 1946, his last in the major leagues, and wasn’t good with either. In a June game, the Cardinals were slapping him around. Red’s catcher Ray Lamanno called time and walked out to the mound.

“Do you feel all right, Nate?” he asked his pitcher.

“I’m all right, Ray,” Andrews replied. “I ain’t got no pain; I ain’t got no misery” – and then after a pause, “and I ain’t got nuthin’ on the ball.”[IX]

The Reds traded him to the New York Giants. He voluntarily walked away from the majors soon after. “I came home … of my own accord,” he explained. “I decided I had had enough of the Big Show and the time had come for me to return to North Carolina, where I could be with my family. I had a lot of years up there and too many away from home.”[X]

Andrews played, coached or managed in the minors for two more years. He also worked in the family drugstore, later opened his own dry-cleaning business and scouted for the Chicago White Sox in the 1950s.

He moved  in 1959 to work for a dry cleaner in Stokes County, North Carolina. After retiring he volunteered for a senior-citizens group in Stokes and advocated for programs for the elderly.

Late in life, poor circulation required the amputation of both legs below the knees. Andrews died in 1991 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Footnotes
[1] Pembroke is now the center of culture for the Lumbee Indians, a state-recognized tribe.

[2] Presbyterian Junior College merged with Flora MacDonald College in Red Springs, North Carolina, in 1958. A groundbreaking ceremony was held the next year in Laurinburg, North Carolina, for the campus of the new school, now called St. Andrews University.
[3] By Andrews day, Gladstone bags were long considered the epitome of fashionable travel. Made in England, the bag was a kind of suitcase built on a rigid frame that could be split into two separate parts.  It was usually made of very strong leather and was often ‘tied’ with lanyards also made of leather. (Gladstonebag.com, https://web.archive.org/web/20091031082308/http://www.gladstonebag.com/).

References
[I] Evans, Louis. “Rowland’s Nate Andrews Coming Back as Hurler.” Robesonian (Lumberton, NC), April 10, 1939.
[II] Skelton, David E. “Nate Andrews.” Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/nate-andrews/.
[III] “Alimony Suit Filed Against Nate Andrews.” Robesonian (Lumberton, NC), November 20, 1939.
[IV] Skelton.
[V] Kaese, Harold. “Nate Andrews Merits Best Comeback Award.” Boston (MA) Globe, November 30, 1944.
[VI] Ibid.
[VII] “Andrews Repeats Act.” Des Moines (IW) Tribune, Aug. 17, 1945.
[VIII] Husted, Bob. “The Referee.” Dayton (OH) Herald, March 28, 1946.
[IX] Skelton.
[X] O’Brien, Frank. “Move From Majors to Class D ‘Own Idea,’ Says Nate Andrews. Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), August 21, 1946.

 

Culler, Dick

Primary Position: Shortstop
Birthplace: High Point

Full Name: Richard Broadus
Date of Birth:  Jan. 15, 1915   Date and Place of Death: June 16, 1964, Chapel Hill
Burial: Floral Garden Park Cemetery, High Point

High School: High Point High School 
College: High Point University

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-9, 155
Debut Year: 1936       Final Year: 1949          Years Played: 8

Teams and Years: Philadelphia Athletics, 1936; Chicago White Sox, 1943; Boston Braves, 1944-47; Chicago Cubs, 1948, N.Y. Giants, 1949

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
472      1527    371      195      99        2          .244     .320     .281     2.4

Though he played parts of eight seasons in the major leagues, Dick Culler saw most of his playing time on rosters depleted by World War II. After baseball, Culler returned to his lifelong home of High Point where he owned a sporting-goods store, founded a company that mass produced team-autographed baseballs and was a prominent business and community leader.

Richard Broadus Culler was the most-athletic of Claude and Della’s five children. Known by his middle name throughout his childhood, Culler played Little League baseball and three sports — basketball, baseball and soccer — in high school. At High Point College, he was the player/coach for a state championship soccer team, an all-conference basketball player and captain of the basketball and baseball teams his senior year. His number 9 basketball jersey was retired after his final season in 1936 when he was named the most-outstanding athlete to play at the college.

The Philadelphia Athletics signed him in September of that year, and Culler appeared in nine games before the end of the season. He spent some of his $500 signing bonus on a used Ford when he married his college sweetheart, Evelyn Williams, a month later.

The newlyweds settled in High Point, which would always be Culler’s home. He would return each offseason to work in hosiery mills, furniture plants, service stations or at the local YMCA. Culler would also referee high-school and college basketball games to stay in shape. He would become one of the best refs in the Southern Conference. Culler would quit in 1948 after a call during a N.C. State College game in Raleigh led to an altercation with fans that almost turned into a brawl. “No man should have to take that kind of abuse,” he would say later.[I]

The A’s released Culler at the start of the 1937 season, and he spent the next six years in the minors acquiring a reputation as a good-fielding, light-hitting shortstop. Culler did, however, have something that few other players possessed when America entered the war: a 3-A draft classification that exempted him from military service because he was supporting a wife and two children.

The Chicago White Sox signed Culler in 1943 as a backup for their all-star shortstop, Luke Appling, another High Point native. He played in just 53 games and was sold to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the American Association at the end of the season.

Culler hit .309 against wartime-depleted pitching, which was good enough for the last-place Boston Braves. They signed the 30-year-old to be their starting shortstop for the 1945 season.[1] Culler hit well enough — .262 — in his first full major-league season to keep his job when the regulars returned in 1946. He once again played solid defense and hit just enough as a full-time shortstop.

Culler sprained his ankle to start the 1947 season and found himself sharing the job with two war veterans when he returned four weeks later. He also landed in Manager Billy Southworth’s doghouse by complaining to reporters about his playing time. “I don’t like riding the bench,” said Culler, who was hitting just .248 at the time. “Either I play every day or I’m quitting.”[II]

How strained was the relationship? In seventh inning of one game, Southworth told the bench-warming Culler to get his glove after watching his shortstop make his third error of the day. The manager was nearsighted and couldn’t quite make out the numbers on the outfield scoreboard. He asked a coach what the score was.

“They got us 6-2, Skip,” replied the coach.

Southworth turned to Culler. “Sit down,” he said. “We ain’t giving up yet.”[III]

The Braves traded Culler to the Chicago Cubs at the end of the season. He would play in just 55 games over the next two years and retired at the end of the 1949 season.

Culler went back to the sporting-goods store he had opened in High Point in 1946 and the Autographed Ball Company, which he had founded two years later after perfecting a way to reproduce players’ signatures on baseballs. He sold the team-autographed balls at ballpark concessions stands throughout the major leagues. The company went out of business in 2014.

Coaching American Legion baseball and YMCA basketball became Culler’s athletic outlets in retirement. He took the High Point team to the “Y” finals in 1953. Its opponent was a team from Philadelphia, the Christian Streeters, that featured a 6-11, 16-year-old named Wilt Chamberlain. The kid was averaging 33 points a game during the tournament, but Culler devised a defense that held him to 15. His team lost anyway.

Culler, Evelyn and the kids lived on a 200-acre farm south of town. He raised cows and became a pillar of the community. He was president of the merchants’ association, the director of the Chamber of Commerce and the executive director of the Downtown Development Corp. that spearheaded the first effort to revitalize High Point’s downtown.

For 17 months, starting in 1963, Culler was in an out of hospitals with what doctors diagnosed as inflammation of his intestines. He died of organ failure in June 1964. Culler was only 49.

Footnote
[1] By 1945, the wartime shortage of players was acute: almost 500 current or former major leaguers were serving in the armed forces. Eighty percent of the starters on opening day rosters in 1941 were missing when the teams took the field four years later.

References
[I] Hodges, Bill. “Dick Culler, 1915-1964.” High Point (NC.) Enterprise, June 17, 1964.
[II] Utley, Hank and Warren Corbett. “Dick Culler.” Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/dick-culler/.
[III] Hodges.