Benson, Vern

Positions: Third base, left field
Birthplace: Granite Quarry

Full Name: Vernon Adair

Date of Birth:  Sept. 19, 1924             Date and Place of Death: Jan. 20, 2014, Granite Quarry
Burial: Rowan Memorial Park, Rowan

High School: Granite Quarry High School
College: Catawba College, Salisbury

Bats: L Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-11, 180
Debut Year: 1943       Final Year: 1953          Years Played: 5
Teams and Years: Philadelphia Athletics, 1943, 1946; St. Louis Cardinals, 1951-53

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
55        104      21        17        12        3          .202     .291     .356     0.1

Vern Benson was a baseball lifer. Though he only appeared in 55 games over a sporadic five-year career in the major leagues, Benson devoted his life to the sport, spending more than half a century as a player, coach, scout, and minor-league manager. He was also perfect during his short but odd tenure as a big-league skipper.

Vernon Adair Benson grew up in Granite Quarry in Rowan County, the younger son of William and Ruth Benson. In a 1946 questionnaire, he credited his parents for turning him into a ballplayer by allowing him to play instead of requiring him to find a job during the Depression.

He played baseball and basketball at the local high school and for the American Legion. He entered Catawba College in nearby Salisbury in 1942. Playing only baseball, Benson set a school record with 16 consecutive games with a run scored. He would be inducted into the school’s sports hall of fame as part of its second class in 1978.

Connie Mack, the owner and manager of the Philadelphia Athletics, was looking for wartime replacements when he signed Benson on July 29, 1943. The 18-year-old made his major-league debut two days later at Shibe Park as a pinch hitter.

But Benson was drafted a few days later and spent two years at Fort Bragg playing ball for the army before being shipped to France.

He returned to the Athletics in 1946 but made it into only seven games, four as a pinch runner. At his request, Benson was sent back to the minors in May so that he could play regularly. He wouldn’t resurface in the majors for another five years.

After his best year as a pro in 1951 — .308-18-89 with 111 walks – for the St. Louis Cardinals’ Double a team in Columbus, Benson was a late-season call-up. He appeared in 13 games and hit his first major-league homer. He played sporadically for the Cardinals during the next two seasons before retiring from active play in 1953.

Benson began coaching in the minor and winter leagues the following year and took his first major-league coaching job with the Cardinals in 1961. He was on the coaching staff when the team won the World Series four year s later.For the next two decades,

Benson coached for the four big-league clubs and even took a spin as a manager. That was 1977 for the woeful Atlanta Braves. The team had lost 16 in a row when new owner Ted Turner sent manager Dave Bristol away for a few days and donned a uniform to skipper the team. “Our attitude was, anything goes that’s legal and acceptable,” Bob Hope, the Braves public-relations director at the time told a newspaper reporter in 2015. “We didn’t have a great team and couldn’t compete financially, so we’d always say we have to keep the smoke going after the fire goes out.”

It didn’t help. The Braves lost again.

Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn stepped in, ruling that Turner couldn’t manage again because of rules against a manager having a financial interest in a club.

Coach Benson was quickly pressed into service for a game until Bristol could return to the team. The Braves won, and Benson retired as an undefeated manager.

 He left coaching entirely in 1981 and returned to Granite Quarry where he worked from home for 15 years as the Cardinals’ scouting supervisor for the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee.

Benson had married Rachael Lyerly in 1946. They had two daughters and a son. They had been married for almost 61 years when she died in April 2008. Benson followed her six years later at age 89.

“I was in the game 56 years and I never missed a payday,” he had told an interviewer a few years earlier. “I never made much money, but just about every year was enjoyable.”

Baker, Bill

Position: Catcher
Birthplace: Paw Creek

Full Name: William Presley

Date of Birth:  Feb. 22, 1911  Date and Place of Death: April 13, 2006, Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Burial: Unity Church Cemetery, Woodleaf

High School: Boyden High School, Salisbury

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-0, 200
Debut Year: 1940       Final Year: 1949          Years Played: 7
Team(s) and Years: Cincinnati Reds, 1940-41; Pittsburgh Pirates, 1941-43, 1946; St. Louis Cardinals, 1948-49

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
263      588      145      45        68        2      .247     .328     .316     0.6

Bill Baker spent a decade in the minor leagues as an everyday catcher before getting his shot in the majors in 1940. Though he would spend seven years with three National League clubs, Baker was never more than a backup catcher.

Born in the rural community of Paw Creek in Mecklenburg County, William Presley Baker was the second of Iva and Lawrence Edward’s seven children. Edward, a merchant, moved the family to nearby Salisbury when Bill was 14 and opened a clothing and dry good store. Years later, Baker would often return home during the off seasons to work in his father’s store.

A football and baseball player at Boyden High School, Baker began playing semipro baseball around Charlotte after graduating as jobs became scarce at the start of the Great Depression.

Baker signed his first professional contract in 1931 to play for the Greensboro Patriots in the Class C Piedmont League. He was an outfielder and pitcher but converted to catcher the following year on the advice of a teammate. He would be a dependable starting catcher over the next eight years in the minors.

Baker was 29 when the Cincinnati Reds, the defending National League champions, finally called him up as a backup to Ernie Lombardi, an established star and future Hall of Famer. Baker appeared in only 27 games that year. The Reds won another pennant, and Baker singled in one his four at bats in the World Series against the Detroit Tigers.

Two years in the Navy during World War II interrupted a major-league career in which Baker never saw much playing time. His best year was 1943 with the Pittsburgh Pirates when he hit .273 in 63 games.

After quitting as an active player after the 1949 season, Baker coached for a couple of years and umpired in the minor and major leagues until knees ravaged by years of squatting forced his retirement from baseball in 1959.

Baker returned to North Carolina and settled in Granite Quarry in Rowan County with his wife, Valdois. They had married in 1936 and had lived in Woodleaf, a small community near Salisbury where they raised three children.

In Granite Quarry, Baker was elected as a town alderman and served as commander of the local American Legion post. His work as commissioner of the county’s American Legion baseball earned him induction to the N.C. American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975.

Bill and Valdois had been married for 52 years when she died in the summer of 1989. Over the years, Baker had become one of the oldest living major-league veterans. He eventually moved to the Myrtle Beach, S.C., to be closer to his daughter, Susan. He died there at age 95.