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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gooch, Lee

Position: Left field
Birthplace: Oxford

First, Middle Names: Lee Currin
Date of Birth:  Feb 23, 1890   Date and Place of Death: May 18, 1966, Raleigh, NC
Burial: Wake Forest Cemetery, Wake Forest, NC

High School: Horner Military School, Oxford
College: Wake Forest University, Wake Forest, NC; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-0, 190
Debut Year: 1915       Final Year: 1917          Years Played: 2
Teams and Years: Cleveland Indians, 1915; Philadelphia Athletics, 1917

 Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
19       61        18       4          8          1          .295     .338     .377       0.2

Lee Gooch was worried. Wake Forest College invited him to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in 1960 to manage a team of baseball alumni against the varsity squad. It was the school’s way to honor one of its most-illustrious coaches, the skipper who had won more than 60 games in two glorious seasons, coming just shy of a national baseball championship. He had made the little Baptist school, then still in its hometown of Wake Forest, North Carolina, the talk of the state.[1]

But it was only two seasons more than a decade earlier and Gooch, 70, wondered whether anyone would remember or care. He had arrived early at Ernie Shore Field and fretted, nervously chain smoking while pacing the dugout as the stadium slowly filled.

The place was packed when the announcer finally got around to introducing the participants. The fans applauded generously when each player took his place along the foul line. “When the announcer called his name, Gooch removed his hat and his white hair glistened in the sun,” a newspaper reported. “The cheers were long and loud, a moment of emotion at a homecoming at the ballyard.”

Gooch let the applause shower over him, his body rigid, his face firm. They remembered. He fought back tears as he returned to the dugout.  “Here,” he said, handing his half-filled pack of cigarettes to a bystander, “take these things. I quit smoking, on doctor’s orders, years ago.”[I]

Lee Currin Gooch was born in 1890 on the family farm outside Oxford, the seat of Granville County. His father, Daniel, died when Gooch was a teenager. His mother, Mary Alice, or Allie, moved her large family of nine children to town, where she ran a boarding house.

Gooch played baseball and football for four years at Horner Military School in Oxford.[2] He graduated in 1912 at age 22, old for a high-school senior. He entered Wake Forest, then in neighboring Wake County, and was the leading hitter on the 1913 team that won a state championship. It’s puzzling, then, that the team’s hitting star would leave for the University of North Carolina. Before reporting to Chapel Hill in the fall of 1914, Gooch played outfield for the Winston-Salem Twins, his first professional team.

Newspaper reports imply that Gooch wasn’t happy about his lack of playing time at UNC and quit before the season ended to sign with the Durham, North Carolina, Bulls in the old North Carolina State League.

He got his first taste of the major leagues in 1915 when he appeared in two games for the Cleveland Indians. He hung around a little longer two years later, playing in 19 games for the Philadelphia Athletics. He was released and spent the rest of the season playing or managing for minor-league clubs in Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina.

A war in Europe then intruded. Gooch was drafted in September 1917 and assigned to the Army’s 81st Infantry Division at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. Before being shipped to the Western Front the following August, Sgt. Gooch married Mary Holding, a local Wake Forest girl he had met while in school.

The division was at the front lines near Verdun, France, in early November 1918. Gooch, by then a second lieutenant, was with the 322nd Regiment that captured the ruined village of Moranville on the morning of November 9. Though it suffered heavy casualties, the regiment had to withdraw to a safer position by nightfall. It was preparing to try again two days later when the battlefield went eerily silent. The armistice had been signed. The war was over. The division returned to the United States in June 1919.

Gooch spent the next 10 years playing and managing in the minors, first in such far-off places like Maine and Washington state and later closer to his home in Oxford and then nearby Henderson, North Carolina: Greensboro, Durham, Fayetteville and Rocky Mount. As a player, he was known for his potent bat and slick outfield defense. Only twice did his average dip below .300, and he hit three home runs in a game in 1927. He won two pennants as a manager and even tried his hand coaching the kids at Trinity College, now Duke University, in Durham for one season.

Approaching 40 in 1929, Gooch retired from baseball to spend fulltime on his second career, the one that paid the bills. He had managed or owned tobacco warehouses in the offseasons since the early 1920s.

Gooch had been out of baseball for two decades when he took over the Wake Forest team in 1949. He said that he was “glad to get back to my first love.”[II] He also said he liked his club’s chances. He inherited a veteran team with 15 returning players, including future All-America’s Charlie Teague at second base and Gene Hooks at third. Russell Batchelor, the conference’s best catcher, was back, as was a trio of savvy pitchers: Vernon “Deacon” Mustian, Moe Bauer and Harry Nicholas.

The team sent a message in the opener by pounding out 15 hits in trouncing Randolph Macon College, 14-1. The umpires mercifully called it off after five innings because of heavy rain. They followed that up with another 15 hits, including four homers, in an 11-5 walloping of Cornell University. Two Deacon pitchers then combined to toss a no-hitter against Lumberton’s minor-league team. Wake Forest beat them 17-0 two weeks later.

The winning streak reached 20, one of the longest in collegiate history in the state. Their games were drawing overflow crowds. Good pitching and harmony were the ingredients of success, their rotund coach said. “There’s not the least bit of friction,” Gooch noted. “When a sub goes in, he slapped on the back by the man he replaces. There’s hustle, spirit, fight and scrapping on every play. The boys go all out to win.”[III]

Wake Forest ended up 38-6. Against college teams, it lost only two games. The runaway winner of the Southern Conference faced Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA double-elimination tournament. Wake won two straight. The heavily favored University of Southern California, the defending national champion, was next. The Deacons won two 2-1 thrillers, both going extra innings, to advance to Wichita, Kansas, for the final round. No North Carolina college baseball team had ever advanced so far. Only the UNC basketball team in 1946 had been the runner up in a national collegiate tournament.[3]

The formidable Texas Longhorns, a perennial baseball powerhouse, proved to be too much. They handed Wake its worst drubbing of the year in the first game, getting 15 hits on the way to a 8-1 victory. The second game was even worst, a 10-3 loss.

More than a thousand fans, though, greeted the Deacons when they landed at Raleigh-Durham Airport after the tournament. Their coach, though, wasn’t with them to bask in the applause. He followed on a train. Like a lot of baseball players, Gooch was very superstitious. He carried a rabbit’s foot wherever he went, never rode on airplanes and wouldn’t allow photographers in the dugout during games.[IV]

The Deacons again had the class of the conference in 1950, and everyone expected them to repeat as champions. Many thought they would win it all this time. Though it won 31 more games and the Southern Conference, the team faltered in the first round of the NCAA tournament, losing to eventual champion University of Alabama.

After two championship seasons, amassing 69 wins in 81 games, Gooch retired. He was 60 and getting too old, he said. The tobacco warehouses needed his attention, he said.

He and Mary lived their final years in Wake Forest. She died in 1959. Gooch died of a heart attack seven years later.

Footnotes
[1] Founded in 1834 in Wake Forest, the school moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in 1956.
[2] James Hunter Horner opened a secondary school on the outskirts of Oxford in 1855. His nephew, Jerome Horner, turned it into a military school in 1880. It was a great success until a fire burned down the barracks in 1913, the year after Lee Gooch graduated. It reopened in Charlotte, North Carolina, a year later and officially closed in 1920. (Anderson, Jean B. “Horner School,” NCPedia, 2006. https://www.ncpedia.org/horner-school).
[3] The 1949 tournament was the third NCAA-sanctioned tournament to determine a national baseball champion. The championship round was played for the first and only time in Wichita, KS. It moved to Omaha, NB, in 1950 where it’s been ever since.

References
[I] Helms, Herman. “Homecomings, at 76, Can Be Painful.” Charlotte (NC) Observer, April 10, 1960.
[II] “Gooch Named Deacon Coach for Baseball.” News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), Feb 13, 1949.
[III] Associated Press. “Gooch Attributes Wake’s Success to Team Spirit.” Charlotte (NC) Observer, May 11, 1949.
[IV] Garrison, Wilton. “Wilton Garrison’s Sports Parade.” Charlotte (NC) Observer, February 24, 1951.

 

 

Whisenant, Pete

Positions: Centerfield, left field
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

Player Name: Andrews, Nate
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

Award: All-Star, 1944

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

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.

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.

 

 

Abernathy, Ted

Position: Relief pitcher
Birthplace: Stanley

First, Last Names: Theodore Wade
Date of Birth:  March 6, 1933   Date and Place of Death: Dec. 16, 2004, Gastonia
Burial: Gaston Memorial Park, Gastonia

High School: Stanley High School
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-5, 215
Debut Year: 1955       Final Year: 1972          Years Played: 14
Teams and Years: Washington Senators, 1955-57; Senators, 1960; Cleveland Indians, 1963-64; Chicago Cubs, 1965-66; Atlanta Braves, 1966; Cincinnati Reds, 1967-68; Cubs, 1969-70; St. Louis Cardinals, 1970; Kansas City Royals, 1970-72

Award: Fireman of the Year, 1965, 1967

Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
681    63      69       149      3.46   1148.1 765      16.0

One of the best relief pitchers to come out of North Carolina, Ted Abernathy occupies a special niche in the evolution to the modern major-league bullpen. He and a few of his contemporaries — Clay Carroll, Stu Miller, Don McMahon and Hoyt Wilhelm of Huntersville – are the first links in a decades’ long chain that ended with Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Lee Smith and the other great closers of the modern era.

When Abernathy debuted in 1955, pitchers who started games were expected to finish them, as it had been since the days of Cy Young and Kid Nichols. Relief pitchers were either sore-armed veterans trying to hang on or inexperienced kids hoping to impress. Managers turned to them only in dire emergencies, usually with the game’s outcome already determined. None would think of bringing one in at an important juncture late in a game to preserve a lead.

Fourteen years later, when the well-traveled Abernathy was done scrapping his knuckles in the dirt of every big-league pitching mound with his unusual submarine delivery, managers viewed their bullpens differently. They still expected their starters to go the distance, but the good pens had a quality reliever who could take over if the starter faltered and who could pitch well enough to hold on to the lead. There was, by that time, even a statistical category to quantify what that pitcher did. The “save” didn’t exist as an official stat when Abernathy was a rookie.

He accumulated 149 of those new-fangled saves. While that’s good enough for third place among N.C. pitchers, the total isn’t much by modern standards – Rivera and Hoffman, for instance, have more than 600 career saves. But those numbers helped spark a profound strategic change in the game and they marked a pretty good finish for a pitcher who re-invented himself at least twice to become one of the most effective relievers of his era.

A Star in Stanley

Ted Abernathy restored to an underhanded throwing motion after a shoulder injury and surgery. Source: MLB

Abernathy and his two brothers grew up on a farm during the depths of the Depression in Stanley, a small community in northern Gaston County, where their parents, Wade and Genora, also worked in a textile mill.

At Stanley High School, Abernathy had a normal overhand pitching delivery. After an arm injury, however, he found that throwing sidearm was less painful. Abernathy used the new delivery to help Gastonia’s American Legion team win a state championship and to impress scouts when he pitched in an industrial league after graduating.

The Washington Senators signed him before the start of the 1952 season and sent him to Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, the first stop in their minor-league system. Abernathy was a sensation, winning 20 games with a 1.69 earned-run average, or ERA, while leading the league in strikeouts with 293.

Abernathy spent the next two years in the Army and was discharged in time to join the Senators for spring training in 1955 where teammates compared him to Ewell “The Whip” Blackwell, a recently retired National League all-star whose sidearm delivery and meanness made him genuinely feared by hitters.[1]

No one told Mickey Mantle, it seems. The N.Y. Yankees’ future Hall of Famer launched a long, three-run home run against Abernathy when he made his debut in relief on April 13. Abernathy was used as a spot starter and in long relief during that rookie season. He won five games, which included the only two shutouts of his career.

Sent to the minors in 1956 to work on his control, Abernathy returned to the Senators in September. On a cold night in Boston, the Abernathy who helped change baseball started to painfully take shape. He surrendered seven runs to the Red Sox in an 8-4 defeat that night. After the game, his pitching elbow swelled to the size of a grapefruit. Back then, you iced it and continued to pitch. That led to a shoulder injury that caused Abernathy to miss the 1957 season.

After pitching a year in the minors, Abernathy underwent surgery in 1959 to remove bone chips in his elbow and fix ligaments in his shoulder. He rejoined the Senators the following season, but seemed destined to be, at best, another sore-armed, bullpen castoff.  At age 30, he had made 34 starts in the majors and had appeared in 39 other games as a reliever and wasn’t very good in either role with an ERA close to 7.00.

Abernathy came back, though, throwing underhanded, a submariner, and, for the first time in years, without pain. “I was going to have to be a reliever, and a reliever with something unusual going for him is at an advantage,” Abernathy explained years later. “So, I went to the submarine pitch.”[I]

The Submariner

There haven’t been many major-league pitchers who throw that way. Because they are such a rare breed, batters have difficulty adjusting to an odd throwing motion that they may be seeing for the first time in their lives. Good hitting is all about split-second timing. Batters, from thousands upon thousands of pitches thrown toward them from Little League onward, are accustomed to seeing the ball released at specific points above the pitchers’ shoulders. It’s from those points that the hitters’ brains begin making all the calculations necessary that will get the needed body parts moving in unison to hit the ball when it arrives at home plate less than two seconds later. A ball that comes from somewhere south of the knees throws a wrench in all that, delaying the batters’ response just long enough to make a difference. [2] Abernathy threw from such a low arm angle – he literally did scrape his knuckles in the dirt — that the ball came at a hitter from shoe-top level, rising as it approached home plate. Add his size – 6-foot, 5-inches and 215 pounds – and the experience could be intimidating for the batter.

Abernathy, though, was facing the best hitters in the world. Throwing them off their game with a weird pitching motion would take some practice. After two ineffective appearances in 1959, the Senators released Abernathy. He would disappear from the majors for three years.

Abernathy used the time to hone his new delivery in minor-league way stops like Austin, Louisville and Vancouver. He put it all together in Salt Lake City, Utah, which was home to the Cleveland Indians’ club in the Pacific Coast League. Abernathy went 7-3 there in 1961 with a 3.72 ERA, all in relief. He was even better the following season for the Jacksonville, Florida,  Suns, Cleveland’s top farm club. Abernathy appeared in 45 games with a 1.88 ERA and helped the team win the International League flag.

After a strong start with the Suns to open the 1963 season, Abernathy was called up to Cleveland and recorded his first save on May 28. He established himself that year as a dependable and valuable reliever, appearing in 43 games, earning 12 saves while pitching to a 2.88 ERA. He faltered a bit the next season but still saved 11 games.

The Save Leader

Jerome Holtzman, right, sits with Don Zimmer, then the Chicago Cubs manager, in the dugout in this 2004 photo. Holtzman invented the “save.” Photo: Chicago Tribune

Wilhelm, Carroll and the others were also entering games to preserve leads. Recognizing this developing trend, Jerome Holtzman, the legendary Chicago Tribune sportswriter known in the press box as “The Dean,” in 1959 created a new statistic to quantify the value of these late-inning specialists. He compiled these saves assiduously until they became an official stat 10 years later. Using Holtzman’s numbers, The Sporting News combined saves with wins to determine the Fireman of the Year Award.[3] 

Pitching for the Chicago Cubs in 1965, Abernathy appeared in a record 84 games and set another in saves with 31. He won his first Fireman award. Abernathy won his second two years later with the Cincinnati Reds with 26 saves and a 1.27 ERA.

The knock on Abernathy had always been that he couldn’t string together two consecutive successful seasons. In 1968, though, he was almost as good as he had been the previous year. He appeared in 78 games, winning 10 of them and saving 13 others with a 2.46 ERA.

Judging that Abernathy’s time was about up, the Reds in 1969 traded the 35-year-old reliever to the Cubs, who sent him to the St. Louis Cardinals a year later.. Abernathy pitched in 11 games for the Cards before being shipped to Kansas City, Missouri. He had two more effective years and pitched his last major-league game, at age 39, on Sept. 30, 1972.

Abernathy played a year in the minors before retiring. He ended up in 681 games, third among North Carolina pitchers. His career 3.46 ERA is tied for 15th place among Tarhell pitchers with at least 500 innings.

He returned to Gaston County with his wife, Margie, his high-school sweetheart. They had married in 1952 and had two sons. Abernathy worked for a home builder in nearby Dallas and later for his son’s landscaping business.

Suffering from Alzheimer’s, Abernathy was living in a nursing home in Gastonia when he died on Dec. 16, 2004 at age 71.

Footnotes
[1] The great New York Times sportswriter Red Smith wrote that Blackwell was “built like a slouchy flyrod, being composed largely of arms and neck and ears.” Another writer thought his delivery looked like “a Picasso impression of an octopus in labor.” That unorthodox delivery combined with a surly disposition to make Blackwell feared. “I was a mean pitcher,” Blackwell said in retirement. He won 22 games in 1947 when he was the most-intimidating pitcher in baseball. Though he was a perennial all-star, Blackwell spent most of his career with the Cincinnati Reds, perennial losers. (Corbett, Warren. “Ewell Blackwell.” The Society for American Baseball Research, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/ewell-blackwell/.)
[2] Submariners are a rare breed of pitchers. Abernathy filled a gap in the chain between Joe McGinnity, Carl Mays and Elden Auker and Kent Tekulve and Dan Quisenberry.
[3] Jerome Holtzman, a Chicago native, worked for his hometown newspapers for more than 50 years. He was considered the dean of American baseball writers. After his retirement in 1999, he was the official historian for Major League Baseball until his death in 2008.

Reference
[I] Gajus, Greg. “Ted Abernathy and his remarkable 1967 season.” Redleg Nation, May 17, 2015. https://redlegnation.com/2015/05/17/ted-abernathy-and-his-remarkable-1967-season/.