Chakales, Bob

Position: Relief pitcher
Birthplace: Asheville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was 83 when he died in Richmond in 2010.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rich, Woody

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.

 

 

 

Wade, Whistling Jake

Position: Starting pitcher, relief pitcher
Birthplace: Morehead City

First, Middle Names: Jacob Fields Jr.             Nickname: Whistling Jake
Date of Birth:  April 1, 1912   Date and Place of Death: February 1, 2006, Wildwood, NC
Burial: Bayview Cemetery, Morehead City

High School: Charles S. Wallace School, Morehead City
College: N.C. State University, Raleigh, NC

Bats: L             Throws: L        Height and Weight: 6-2, 175
Debut Year: 1936       Final Year: 1946          Years Played: 8
Team(s) and Years: Detroit Tigers, 1936-38; Boston Red Sox, 1939; St. Louis Browns, 1939; Chicago White Sox, 1942-44; New York Yankees, 1946; Washington Senators, 1946

Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
171     27       40       3          5.00    668.1  291      0.3

Johnny Allen had to be pleased when he saw who was the warming up in the Tigers’ bullpen to face him on what he hoped would be a historic October afternoon in Detroit for the last game of the 1937 season. The Tigers were sending out the whistling wild man, Jake Wade, the worst pitcher on the team, a guy who could be depended on to walk six or seven while giving up four or five runs. Allen had to figure this one was in the bag. Move over Lefty Grove.

 An orphan from Thomasville, North Carolina, Allen could be ill-tempered on the mound, arguing with umpires and brawling with opponents and teammates who made errors behind him. He was, however, a very talented pitcher. The ace of the Cleveland Indians’ staff, he had won 20 games the previous year and would have been even better in 1937 had he not missed almost the entire first half of season with appendicitis. He had not lost a game since coming back, however, and was looking for his 16th consecutive victory to tie an American League record held by league immortals Grove and Walter Johnson.

Standing in Allen’s way was a fellow North Carolinian, a 24-year-old righthander in his second year in the major leagues. There was no denying Jake Wade’s stuff – good fastball and a decent-enough breaking pitch.  If he could only find the plate. He had walked 107 so far during the season. Add the hits he had given up and an unwieldy 267 batters had reached base in only 165 innings of pitching. Little wonder, then, that when he took the mound that afternoon of Oct. 3, Wade had allowed an average of more than five runs a game and had lost ten while winning only six. His rookie year hadn’t been much better. No, he was no Johnny Allen.

Managers, however, usually don’t quickly give up on youngsters with hop on their fastball. They hope that they’ll one day learn how to control it. The Tiger skipper, Mickey Cochrane, had to wince, though, when Wade walked the second batter in the game after getting the first to pop out. Here we go. The kid, however, threw the third strike past the dangerous Earl Averill, and catcher Frankie Pytlak’s strong throw nabbed the runner trying to steal second. Double play. Inning over. Cochrane exhaled.

Tigers’ slugger Hank Greenberg singled in a run in the home half of the inning, and Wade retook the mound with the slimmest of leads. None of the 22,000 in Navin Field figured it would be enough.

Jacob Fields Wade Jr. was born on April Fool’s Day in 1912 to what would eventually become a small tribe of Wades in the house on Fisher Street in downtown Morehead City. He was named after his father, a commercial fisherman. To everyone in town, his mother, Lorine, was Lovie. Her eleven children would always win the church prize for the largest family in the congregation.

Like his two brothers, Wade excelled on the baseball diamond. His elder brother Charles Winfield – some called him Winny, but to most in Morehead City he was Croaker – would play and manage in the minors. His baby brother, Ben, would pitch for five years in the National League. The Wades are one of three sets of North Carolina brothers to pitch big-league ball. The others are Tom and “Tobacco Chewin’“ Johnny Lanning of Buncombe County and Gaylord and Jim Perry of Williamston.

Wade played first base, like Croaker, when he entered old Charles Wallace School in Morehead City, but his coach quickly made him a pitcher. Opposing batters complained that he often loaded his pitches with saliva and other substances. Though unsavory, such doctoring was legal at the time. After high school, he pitched for three years, starting in 1929, for what is now N.C. State University in Raleigh.

He made his pro debut in 1931 for the Raleigh Capitals in the Class D Piedmont League. The Tigers bought his contract the following season, and Wade spent the next four years in their farm system, walking more than five batters a game. He made his major-league debut on April 22, 1936, lasting one inning in which he gave up three runs on five hits. The Tigers sent him to their double A team in Montreal, Canada, but called him back in late July because of injuries to their pitchers. Wade ended his first big-league season with a lackluster 5.29 earned-run average, giving up 93 hits and walking 52 in 79 innings.

Given that history, Wade may have been the most surprised guy in the park when he took the mound that day to open the seventh inning. He had walked only two batters, struck out four and had not given up a hit. He was pitching the game of his life. Allen had been almost as good, allowing that first-inning run and no more.

The magic, though, may have run its course. A walk, a single and a hit batter loaded the bases with two outs. In spots like these in the past, Wade crumbled under the pressure and started walking everyone in sight. “He got nervous and excited and tightened up in tough going and the going on this afternoon was tough, if it ever was,” a sportswriter noted at the time.[I]

But on that October day, Whistling Jake induced Bruce Campbell, the Indians’ right fielder, to lift a harmless fly to left for the final out. “Inning after inning, the chance of Allen winning 16 in a row became more and more remote due to the hurling of Wade, the one pitcher on the Detroit staff Cleveland felt sure of beating,” that sportswriter observed.[II]

About that nickname.. Some at the time said Wade acquired it because of his knack for imitating bird songs. This account left by a Detroit newspaper columnist suggests there may have been more to it. “A lot of fellows like to whistle, but they can take their whistling or let it alone. Not so Jake,” he wrote when Wade joined the Tigers in 1936. “He practices whistling like a Paderewski would practice on the piano.[1] A couple of hours a day. And make no mistake about it, Whistlin’ Jake really can whistle.”[III]

A roommate in the minors reported that Wade would sit in front of a mirror for hours whistling at his image. “This Wade is a screwball or I’m a goldfish,” the roomy told the newspapers.

Wade didn’t deny it. “I just like to keep my lips limbered up,” he said. [IV]

The kid better known for his whistling than his pitching breezed through the last two innings without giving up another hit. He won 1-0, denying Allen a place in the record books. “That’s the way I should have been pitching in April,” Wade said after the game. “I do everything backwards.”[V]

It would be wonderful to report that on that day Jake Wade became the pitcher that all his managers hoped he would. That’s not how it turned out. He went to and from the major leagues for seven more years and would never again pitch like he did on that Sunday afternoon in October. In fact, the Tigers lost faith that Wade would ever find his control after he walked 48 in 70 innings of relief in 1938. They traded him to the Boston Red Sox. Wade was even worse, allowing 105 runners in less than 48 innings pitched. Boston sold him to the St. Louis Browns during the 1939 season.

“I woke up one morning in the spring of 1940 at the Browns’ training camp with a sore arm,” he explained. “I kept right on trying to pitch the soreness out, but it was no use.”[VI] Wade spent the next two years in the minors trying to find his way back.

He was pain free and pitching for the Cincinnati Reds’ farm team in Indianapolis to open the 1941 season, but he had nothing on the ball. He returned home after appearing in seven games. “I went back home to Morehead City entirely satisfied that I was washed up,” he said.[VII]           

Wade settled in for a life without baseball. He had married a local woman, Rosalie Watson, in 1937. They had moved to Wildwood, a small community west of Morehead City where they would raise five children. To support that growing family, Wade pitched for minor-league teams in New Bern and Greensboro, North Carolina, and worked as a laborer and truck driver at the Marine Corps’ air station in nearby Havelock, North Carolina.

The following spring, however, Rosalie found him packing his bags. She asked where he was going. To Florida, Wade said, to find a real job in the big leagues. He tried to audition for a number of clubs at their training camps, but most wouldn’t even give him a tryout. With his money running out, Wade returned home when the season opened. Maybe, it really was over.

Hundreds of miles away in Chicago, Jimmy Dykes, the manager of the White Sox, was fretting about his faltering pitching staff. He summoned Wade in mid-June. “It (the salary) wasn’t what I wanted, but I’m back in the majors and after all, what more could a fellow ask?” Wade said after signing.[VIII]

In his first outing, he took over for the starter in the first inning and hurled eight scoreless frames, giving up three hits. He pitched two more scoreless innings three days later. In his first start a week after that, he mowed down the Philadelphia Athletics on three hits. He beat them again 12 days later.

Wade had his best years during the early 1940s. Playing for three American League teams, he pitched mainly out of the bullpen to lineups largely depleted of major-league caliber players because of World War II. While the walks were still high, Wade managed to limit the damage and became a serviceable reliever.

He joined the war effort by enlisting in the Navy in 1945 and spent a year pitching for base teams before being discharged. He played in his last major-league game in 1946 and retired from baseball after pitching four more seasons in the minors.

Wade returned to Wildwood and became an electronics repair technician at the Marine air base. He retired in 1976.

He died in 2006 at the age after suffering a stroke several years earlier.


Footnotes
[1] Ignacy Jan Paderewki (1880-1941) was a Polish composer and pianist who was a favorite of concert audiences around the world. A spokesman for Polish independence, he became prime minister in 1919 when the country was created after World War I.

References
[I] Fuqua, John. “Jake Wade.” Society for American Baseball Research, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/jake-wade/.
[II]Salsinger, H.G. “Jake Wade, Who Snapped Allen’s Victory String, Keep Knocking at Front Door, Entering at Back.” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), January 13, 1938.
[III] Ibid.
[IV] Ward, Charles P. “Ward to the Wise.” Detroit (MI) Free Press, August 3, 1936.
[V] Ibid.
[VI] Holst, Doc. “Wade Beats Allen on One Hit; Goslin Released.” Detroit (MI) Free Press, October 4, 1937.
[VII]  Farrington, Dick. “Everything Turned Out Jake in Wade’s Comeback Hop, But Not Until He Whistled Long and Loud for Chance.” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), December 2, 1942.
[VIII] Ibid.