Narron, Sam

Position: Catcher
Birthplace: Emit (Johnston County)

First, Middle Names:  Samuel Woody
Date of Birth:  Aug. 25, 1913  Date and Place of Death: Oct. 31, 1996, Raleigh, NC
Burial: Antioch Baptist Church, Middlesex, NC

High School: Wakelon School, Zebulon, NC
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: R Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-10, 180
Debut Year: 1935        Final Year: 1943          Years Played: 3
Team and Years: St. Louis Cardinals, 1935, 1942-43

Career Summary
G          AB       H          R          RBI       HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
24        28       8          0          1            0          .286     .310     .286      0.0

 

Sam Narron expected to be paid $125 a month after signing his first professional baseball contract with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1934. He could use the money. Though only 20, he was the head of his family after the death of his elderly father. He had a mother and three siblings to care for back on the farm in Johnston County, North Carolina. This was his first job that paid real money, at least while the baseball season lasted.

He found himself in Albany, Georgia, to start the following season, however, catching and playing third base in a Class A league. His monthly pay was cut $35, but Narron didn’t squawk. He vowed instead to improve and convince his coaches that he deserved a promotion to a higher and better-paying league.

The famed tightwad Branch Rickey took notice. No one could squeeze a dollar harder than the Cardinals’ general manager, particularly if it was meant for one of his players. “Rickey believes in economy in everything except his own salary,” a sports columnist at the time quipped.[I] He could also be a bible-thumping moralist who regularly raged against the evils of Communists, liberals, and liquor. He had a fondness for oratorical excesses that could, noted The New York Times’ venerable Arthur Daly, make a hitter’s batting line sound like the Gettysburg Address. As a baseball executive, however, Branch Rickey was a man far ahead of his time, a pioneering innovator in an industry of plodding money men. With the Cardinals, he remade baseball by building the first modern minor-league system. With the Brooklyn Dodgers a decade later, he helped reshape America by bringing Jackie Robinson to the major leagues. In his players he valued loyalty above all else, and in Sam Narron, Rickey believed he had found a loyal man.

When minor-league play ended in 1934, Rickey promoted Narron to the big club for the final three weeks of its season. That the burly farm boy had led the Georgia-Florida League with a .349 batting average was a powerful recommendation, but his bat apparently wasn’t needed in St. Louis because Narron appeared in only four games. He was, however, paid $100 a week. “Nobody told Sam Narron that Branch Rickey had given him that $300 September assignment with the Cardinals as a reward for having a fine disposition in the spring,” wrote a St. Louis sports columnist. “But it actually was that.”[II]

From then on, Rickey looked after Narron. He was the one who had suggested that he switch positions from third base to catcher to improve his opportunities in the big leagues. Though he made the switch, Narron remained in the minors for most of his playing career, but Rickey brought him back up as the third-string catcher on two pennant-winning Cardinals’ teams in the early 1940s. Narron followed Rickey to Brooklyn, New York, where he became the Dodgers’ bullpen catcher after he retired as a player. He ended his career as the Pirates’ bullpen chief when Rickey moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In both places, he coached on pennant-winning teams.

Though his major-league playing career consisted of a mere 24 games spread over three seasons, Narron could count more than 30 years in professional baseball when he finally returned to the family farm for good. He raised tobacco and became a baseball ambassador. In retirement, he was a tireless promoter of the sport, especially in Eastern North Carolina, where he spoke at meetings of hot-stove leagues and attended high-school, American Legion, and college games, proudly showing off his World Series rings. If a guy like him could wear one, he’d tell the kids, so could they if they worked at it. Having a benefactor like Branch Rickey somehow didn’t figure into those inspirational bromides.

Narron’s kin seemed to provide living examples of dedication’s fruits. His son, also named Sam but called Rooster, played in the minor leagues. His grandson, another Sam, pitched briefly in the majors before becoming a pitching coach. His nephew, Jerry, also a catcher, played eight years in the majors and managed for five more. Since the mid-1930s, seven other family members played organized ball, making Sam Narron the patriarch of one of North Carolina’s most-prolific baseball families.

Most of his people came from Emit, a farming community in northeastern Johnston County. Middlesex, about six miles up the road in neighboring Nash County, is the closest place of any size and where the mail was likely postmarked. Baseball references can be forgiven, then, for mistakenly listing it as Narron’s birthplace.

He was the youngest of five kids. Their father, Troy, was 50 when he married their mother, Rachel, who was half his age. He was 65 when Narron was born and he died when the boy was 11.

Like his older siblings, Narron worked in the family’s tobacco fields and grew into a stout teenager by the time he attended Wakelon School in nearby Zebulon, North Carolina, in the early 1930s.[1] He played baseball, basketball, and football at the high school and would in old age fondly recall the boys changing into their uniforms before games at Kermit Corbett’s barbershop downtown.

Annie Rose Southerland was one of those beloved teachers that all schools at the time seemed to cultivate. According to Narron’s later telling, she recognized that the boy could play and in 1934 wrote a letter to Rogers Hornsby to tell him so. Hornsby was, at the time, with the St. Louis Browns, at the end of an illustrious 17-year career that would earn him a berth in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. More importantly to Southerland, Hornsby was a parttime instructor at the Ray Doan Baseball School in Hot Springs, Arkansas, then the place where several big-league teams went to get in shape each spring.[2]  Schools that employed big leaguers to instruct kids who aspired to professional careers weren’t uncommon in the towns where the teams trained. They would proliferate when spring training later shifted to Florida.

Hornsby replied that the school would welcome her former student. “I shall always be indebted to Miss Southerland,” Narron said more than 20 years later. “It was through her inspiration and help that made it possible for me to attend the Ray Doan Baseball School. She truly had a hand in helping to shape my future.”[III]

No scholarship offer came with the letter, however, and Narron didn’t have the tuition money. His former classmates, though, came to his aid. “Oh, they were great. They got together and began to play benefit basketball games,” he remembered. “The proceeds went to help pay for my tuition at the baseball school. I shall always be grateful to these fellows.”[IV]

With the donated tuition money in his pocket, Narron stuck out his thumb in the spring of 1934 and hitchhiked the 600 miles to Little Rock. He did well enough at the school to attract the attention of a Cardinals’ scout, who invited Narron to a tryout camp in Greensboro, North Carolina. The team signed him to that first contract after his performance there and sent him that summer to play with its farm team in Martinsville, Virginia.

After his reward callup to St. Louis a year later, Narron was warming up a pitcher on September 15 when Bill DeLancey, the Cardinal’s starting catcher and a fellow Tarheel, ran out to the bullpen to fetch him. Manager Frankie Frisch wanted him to pinch hit. Narron made his debut that inning against the New York Giants’ future Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell. “I was so nervous, excited and scared that I would have probably swung if Hubbell had made a pick-off attempt toward first base,” he remembered.[V] He grounded out.

Desperate to fill the roster hole created when DeLancey had to unexpectedly leave the team because of a lung ailment, the Cardinals had all their catching prospects in training camp before the 1936 season. Among them were Narron and Cap Clark, a North Carolinian from Alamance County. An emergency appendectomy in March dashed any hope Narron may have had in making the team, and its lingering effects limited him to just 57 games that season for the Cardinals’ farm club in Sacramento, California.

He spent the next five seasons in the minor leagues, including a summer playing for the Tourists in Asheville, North Carolina. Rickey called him up to the majors in June 1942 to be the third-string catcher on a team heading for a pennant. Though he appeared in only 10 games and not at all in the World Series, his teammates voted him a full winning share of $6,192.53. Narron also spent much his time in the bullpen the following season as the Cardinals won 105 games and cruised to another pennant. He did get into the Series that year, appearing as a pinch hitter in Game 4, a 2-1 loss to the New York Yankees.

The Cardinals assigned him to their farm club in Columbus soon after the Series, but Narron chose to retire instead. He spent the following season at home on the farm raising tobacco.

Rickey had left the Cardinals at the end of the 1942 season to become the president and general manager of the Dodgers. He signed his old catcher in 1945, and Narron spent three seasons in the minors before retiring as an active player in 1949 and becoming the team’s bullpen coach and catcher. He did the same for the Pirates after Rickey became their general manager in 1951. He retired for good in 1964 with 28 at bats in the major leagues but with four appearances in the World Series – two as a player with the Cardinals and two as a coach, one with the Dodgers in 1949 and other with the Pirates in 1960.

He put that all behind him and returned to Emit. That’s where his roots were, where he and his wife, Susie, raised their two children. He got back to growing tobacco and started promoting the sport that made him who he was. He suffered from Alzheimer’s late in life and died of congestive heart failure in 1996.

Two years later, the family started a scholarship fund and an awards program in his honor. The Sam Narron Award has been given each year since to the Johnston County high-school player who best exhibits the skills, desire, and determination needed to succeed in baseball. Some scholarship money accompanies the award.

“He was a baseball purist,” a prep coach who knew Narron noted upon his death. “He had great faith in young people and continued to follow the game and teach it as he thought it should be.”[VI]

Footnotes
[1] Wakelon School opened in 1908, one of the nearly 3,000 schoolhouses built in North Carolina in the first decade of the 20th century as part of Gov. Charles B. Aycock’s crusade for public education. The town later used the handsome brick-and-stone building as an elementary school. A drug manufacturer bought the building in 1986 and used it for office space. Voters in 2007 approved repurchasing Wakelon for a new town hall. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
[2] Ray Doan, a sports promoter, ran the school, also known as the All-Star Baseball School, in Hot Springs, AR, from 1933-38. Some baseball players were instructors, including Hall of Famers Dizzy Dean, Burleigh Grimes, Grover Cleveland Alexander, and Rogers Hornsby. At the height of its popularity, the school attracted as many of 200 students a year. Doan moved the school to Mississippi and then to Florida where it eventually faded amid the abundance of similar schools. Critics charged that schools like Doan’s merely pocketed tuition fees from teens with big dreams but little talent. Sam Narron is the only school attendee who made it to the major leagues.

References
[I] McCue, Andy. “Branch Rickey.” The Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/branch-rickey/.
[II] Stockton, J. Roy. “Extra Innings.” St. Louis (MO) Post-Dispatch, February 9, 1936.
[III] “Earpsboro Scribblin’s.” Zebulon (NC) Record, July 19, 1955.
[IV] Ibid.
[V] Futrell, Brownie. “The Gas House Gang Rides Again in Tar Heel Memory.” Washington (NC) Daily News, September 11, 1973.
[VI] Ham, Tom. “Baseball Loses Fine Ambassador.” Wilson (NC) Daily Times, January 3, 1997.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blackburn, Ron

Position: Relief pitcher
Birthplace: Mount Airy

First, Middle Names: Ronald Hamilton
Date of Birth:  April 23, 1935  Date and Place of Death: April 29, 1998, Morganton, NC
Burial: Carolina Memorial Park, Kannapolis, NC

High School: A.L. Brown High School, Kannapolis, NC
Colleges: Catawba College, Salisbury, NC; Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC

Bats: R Throws: R       Height and Weight: 6-0, 160
Debut Year: 1958       Final Year: 1959          Years Played: 2
Teams and Years: Pittsburgh Pirates, 1958-59

 Career Summary
G          W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
64        3          2         4          3.50    108.0  50       0.8

In the era of baseball bonus babies, Ron Blackburn made it to the majors the old-fashioned way. Teams didn’t throw wads of money at him or promise him a spot on the roster when he graduated from high school in 1953, as they had done to his older brother a few years earlier. He was among the 80 kids who showed up for a Pittsburgh Pirates’ tryout in Burlington, North Carolina, that summer. “We got up at 5:30 in the morning and drove 100 miles to get there,” he recalled years later.[I]

He stood out among the horde, and the Pirates’ scout asked him to come back. “When I was called to pitch the next day in a squad game, I faced only six batters but struck out four of them,” he remembered. “That’s when the Pirates offered me a contract and I signed.”[II]

Unlike his brother and other promising youngsters who got bonuses, Blackburn received no additional money for signing and no guarantee that he would be on a major-league roster. Like thousands before him, Blackburn was shipped to the minors where he labored for most of his career. He was different from his brother and most other bonus babies in another regard: He made it to the majors. He spent parts of two seasons in Pittsburgh.

Blackburn was born in Mount Airy in 1935 but grew up in Kannapolis, North Carolina, where his parents, Henry and Virginia, moved with their four children for jobs in the textile mills. He pitched and played basketball at A.L. Brown High School and led his American Legion team to a state championship in 1952.

Henry had pitched semipro ball in Virginia and his oldest son, Gerald, had been a pitching sensation at Brown. A coveted prospect wooed by several teams, he had signed in 1950 with the Cincinnati Reds after agreeing to a $30,000 bonus, or almost $340,000 today.[1] Wild and overweight, he never made it to the majors. The Reds, said Blackburn, released his brother “when he got so fat.” He ended up in Kannapolis working in a mill and pitching on industrial teams.[III]

Blackburn played four years in the Pirates’ farm system before being called up in 1958. The 22-year-old won his debut on April 15 after tossing three-innings of shutout ball against the world champion Milwaukee Braves. Though he pitched well as a rookie reliever – 3.39 earned-run average in more than 63 innings — Blackburn became the forgotten man in a talented bullpen led by Roy Face and Don Gross.[2] Though he had a good start the following season, he was shipped to the minors in July and remained there until his retirement in 1964.

He always returned home in the offseasons and, starting in 1957, he began attending Catawba College in nearby Salisbury, North Carolina, and was even their pitching coach for a season. It took almost eight years, but Blackburn earned a degree in physical education.

He worked a bit faster with Sandra Lower. He met the Catawba student from Pennsylvania, probably during his freshman semester. They were married in June the following year and would have two sons.

After he retired, Blackburn became the head baseball coach at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, in 1964. The teams were competitive during the four seasons he was at the helm, compiling a 78-65 record. When he wasn’t on the ballfield or on the road recruiting, Blackburn was in the classroom working for his master’s degree in physical education, which he received in 1965.

He put the degree to work in 1972 as the recreational director of the Western Correctional Center, a new, 16-story state prison near Morganton, North Carolina. The state soon designated it as a prison for youthful offenders and changed its name to the Western Youth Institution.[3] Blackburn developed a therapeutic recreation program for handicapped inmates that was adopted by all state prisons and was used as a model in other states.

Blackburn died in Morganton in 1998, six days after his 63rd birthday.

Footnotes
[1] Major-League Baseball instituted the Bonus Rule in 1947 to prevent wealthy teams from accumulating talented youngsters and stashing them in their minor leagues. The original rule stipulated that when it signed a player to a contract worth more than $4,000, a major-league team had to keep that player on its 40-man roster for two full-seasons. That was the rule in place when the Cincinnati Reds signed Gerald Blackburn, Ron’s brother, in 1950. Though he was on the Reds’ protected roster for the required two seasons, Gerald was never promoted to the next step, the 25-man roster, and to the majors. The Reds released him after he spent five years in their farm system. The Bonus Rule was rescinded in December 1950 because teams found ways to circumvent it, but a stronger one was re-instituted three years later. It required affected players to remain on the major-league roster for two seasons. The rule was abandoned for good in 1965 when the amateur draft was started. Rookies signed under the rule were derisively called “bonus babies” because they bypassed baseball’s usual training in the minors and took roster spots normally reserved for more-seasoned players. (https://tht.fangraphs.com/cash-in-the-cradle-the-bonus-babies/.)
[2] A six-time All-Star, Elroy Face pitched 16 years in the major leagues and was one of the era’s premier relievers. Though the “save” wasn’t an official statistic until 1969, Face’s last season, he is credited retroactively with 191 of them. Don Gross was a workhorse relief pitcher during much of six-year career. He appeared in 40 games and pitched more than 74 innings during Ron Blackburn’s rookie season in 1958.
[3] The Western Youth Institution could house up to 800 inmates, making it one of the largest prisons in the state. Known for its innovative programs to help young offenders stay out of prison once they were released, the prison closed in 2013 and was imploded in July 2020.

References
[I] Eck, Frank. Associated Press. “Jerry Blackburn Cost Reds $30,000, But Bucs Obtained Ron for Nothing.” Daily-Times (Burlington, NC), April 26, 1958.
[II] United Press International. “Ron Blackburn Had Bright Hopes.” New Castle (PA) News, September 20, 1958.
[III] Eck.

 

 

 

Wade, Ben

Position: Relief pitcher
Birthplace: Morehead City

First, Middle Names: Benjamin Styron
Date of Birth:  Nov. 25, 1922 Date and Place of Death: Dec. 2, 2002, Los Angeles
Burial: Cremated

High School: Morehead City High School, Morehead City, NC
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-3, 195
Debut Year: 1948       Final Year: 1955          Years Played: 5
Team(s) and Years: Chicago Cubs, 1948; Brooklyn Dodgers, 1952-54; St. Louis Cardinals, 1954; Pittsburgh Pirates, 1955

Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
118     19       17        10        4.34     371.1   235      1.0

Ben Wade didn’t display his real talent, as it turned out, on the pitching mound. Prone to wildness and home runs, he bounced around the National League in a five-year career as an average major-league pitcher. He showed his real skill later, as a scout and then longtime scouting director for the Los Angeles Dodgers. His ability to project the type of players youngsters would become was the foundation for a decade of Dodgers’ dominance.

Wade and his older brother, Jake, who pitched eight years in the American League, join Tom and “Tobacco Chewin’ “Johnny Lanning of Buncombe County and Gaylord and Jim Perry of Williamston as North Carolina’s only brothers who pitched big-league ball.

Benjamin, born on November 25, 1922, was the last of a large brood of Wades that filled the small house on Fisher Street in Morehead City. His father, Jacob, worked on commercial fishing boats and his mother, Lorine, whom everyone called Lovie, probably had her hands full with eleven children.

Like his two older brothers, young Ben grew to have an aptitude for baseball. When he was 14, he led his American Legion Juniors team to a regional championship. “Ben was the only pitcher we had,” Joe DuBois, manager of the Morehead City Chamber of Commerce, recalled more than a decade later when Wade became a local celebrity by making it to the major leagues. “When he pitched we won and when he didn’t, he played first base. There were many games he won with his hitting. There was an important contest against Kinston which he won by hitting two homers.”[I]

The team lost to Hamlet, North Carolina, for the state title and then disbanded when financial support dried up.

Ben, though, went on to star on the baseball team at old Morehead City High School. His brothers Charles Winfield, known to all in town as Croaker, and Jake, had played for the school’s predecessor Charles S. Wallace School. Croaker, an outfielder, advanced as far as the minor leagues and also managed in the minors. The Wade boys became the now-demolished schools’ most-famous alumni. A ballfield at a city park near the school was named in their honor.

Wade was 17 when he played his first professional ball with New Bern, North Carolina, in the Coastal Plain League. The Cincinnati Reds signed him in 1940 and sent him to their farm club in Durham, North Carolina.

He was working his way up the Reds’ farm system when World War II intervened. He enlisted in the Army Air Force in February 1943 and spent three years playing ball at air bases in Florida and California.[II]

Picked up by the Pittsburgh Pirates after his discharge in 1946, Wade was traded to the Chicago Cubs after the season. He was in a hurry to get to the big leagues. “But when I got out of service I tried too hard to make up for lost time and hurt my arm,” he noted several years later. “The trouble was up in my shoulder and I couldn’t raise my arm up high without real pain, so I had to learn how to pitch sidearm.”[III]

The Cubs wanted him to undergo surgery, but Wade refused. Instead, he sidewinded his way to 31 victories in two minor-league seasons and earned a brief call up to Chicago in 1948. He walked four and gave up four runs in five innings of work and was sent back down to the minors.

The Brooklyn Dodgers bought his contract after the 1949 season, and Wade began to mature as a pitcher. He started throwing overhand again in 1951 and went 16-6 with the Hollywood Stars to lead the Triple A Pacific Coast League in winning percentage.

The Dodgers brought him to Brooklyn for the new season, hoping that the 29-year-old rookie would bolster a starting rotation that would be without its ace, Don Newcombe, who was drafted into the Army. Wade’s first start, against the crosstown rival New York Giants at the Dodgers’ Ebbets Field, was less than auspicious. He walked five and gave up two home runs in a 3-0 loss.

Wade, though, went on to have his best year in the majors in 1952, winning 11 games in 24 starts with a 3.60 earned-run average, or ERA. He pitched well as a reliever the following season with seven wins and a 3.79 ERA and made his only World Series appearances that fall. They didn’t go well. He gave up four runs in a little over two innings of work in two games.

After he stumbled to an ERA of over 7.00 through the first half of the 1954 season, the Dodgers put Wade on waivers. The St. Louis Cardinals picked him up and relegated him to mop-up roles out of the bullpen. He was back with the Pirates in 1955 but was released after eleven games. Wade spent six years pitching on the West Coast for five teams in the Pacific Coast League and retired in 1961 to become a scout for the Dodgers, who had by then moved to Los Angeles.

He was promoted to scouting director in 1973 and supplied the team with the players who won eight pennants and four Word Series’ titles. Mike Piazza, Rick Sutcliffe, Orel Hershiser, Mickey Hatcher, Steve Sax, Mike Scioscia, John Wetteland, Fernando Valenzuela, and Eric Young were among the players drafted during his tenure. Seven of them won rookie of the year awards.

Not only could he accurately forecast a kid’s future on a baseball diamond, Wade also knew veteran talent when he saw it. He watched Tommy John throw against a wall in 1975 and predicted he would return to the mound. A year earlier, the talented Dodger lefthander was the first player to have what was considered radical surgery to repair a torn ligament in his pitching elbow. During his yearlong recuperation, no one was sure he would ever pitch again. “The only people who thought I would were my wife, Sally, Ben Wade and me,” John said at the time.[IV]

John returned to the Dodgers in 1976 and won 164 games over the next 14 seasons, retiring in 1989 at age 46 with 288 career victories.[1]

Though he’s remembered as one of baseball’s shrewdest judges of talent, Wade suffered through a series of bad amateur drafts in the late 1980s that left the Dodgers with few high-level prospects in their minor leagues. He was forced to retire in 1990 after thirty years in the Dodgers’ organization.

Wade and his wife, Betsy, had moved to Pasadena, California, in the early 1950s when he first played for Hollywood in the Pacific Coast League. A Morehead City native, she married Wade in 1948. They had two children. Betsy died in 1979, and Wade married Marjorie Cocks two years later. He died in December 2002 after a long bout with cancer.


Footnote
[1] Ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, known colloquially as Tommy John surgery, is now a common surgical procedure in several sports, especially in baseball. The ulnar collateral ligament is replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body or from a cadaver. Eighty percent of the pitchers who have the surgery return to pitch at the same level.  

References
[I] Herbert, Dick. “The Sports Observer,” News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), May 14, 1952.
[II] Bedingfield, Gary. “Ben Wade.” Baseball in Wartime, August 29, 2008. https://www.baseballinwartime.com/player_biographies/wade_ben.htm.
[III] Holmes, Tommy. “Wade Must Wait for the Big Day.” Brooklyn (NY) Daily Eagle, April 17, 1952.
[IV] Verrell, Gordon. “Dodgers Make Room for T.J.?” Independent (Long Beach, CA), Nov. 6, 1975.

     


Yount, Eddie

Player Name: Yount, Eddie
Position: Outfield
Birthplace: Newton

First, Middle Names: Floyd Edwin   
Date of Birth:  Dec. 19, 1916 Date and Place of Death: Oct. 27, 1973, Newton
Burial: Eastview Cemetery, Newton

High School: Undetermined
College: Wake Forest University, Wake Forest, NC

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-1, 185
Debut Year: 1937       Final Year: 1939          Years Played: 2
Teams and Years: Philadelphia Athletics, 1937; Pittsburgh Pirates, 1939

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
6         9          2          1          1            0          .222     .222     .222     -0.1

Eddie Yount’s big-league career was brief and undistinguished: six games over two seasons, a couple of years apart. In a minor-league career that stretched over 13 years, however, he was a feared slugger and the beloved manager of his hometown team.

Floyd Edwin Yount was born in 1916 in Newton in Catawba County, the younger of two sons of Floyd and Annie Yount. Floyd owned a grocery store where young Eddie and his brother, Sidney, worked while growing up. We can assume that he graduated from old Newton High School but no evidence has surfaced to confirm that.[1]

We do know that he attended Wake Forest College in Wake County, North Carolina. He very likely played baseball, though, again, no surviving records indicate that he did, because the Philadelphia Athletic ssigned him when he graduated in 1937.

Yount played in four games for the A’s at the end of that season and then pinched hit in two games for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1939. That was the extent of his major-league career.

He had a more satisfying career in the Army. Yount enlisted about a week after Pearl Harbor in 1942 and started playing baseball while stationed with the 12th Armored Division in Camp Campbell, Kentucky. He began managing the team in 1943 and also attended special services school at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. The division was sent to Europe in 1945, and its team started playing again after Germany surrendered.[I]

Yount continued to play, coach and manage in the minor leagues when he returned home in 1946. He hit .420 two years later as the player-manager of the Newton-Conover Twins in the Western Carolina League, which occupied the very lowest rung in professional baseball. None of its teams was affiliated with a big-league club. He managed and caught for the Twins for four years and was among the league’s leading hitters each year. Yount attributed some of his offensive prowess to a juiced ball – a “rabbit ball,” he called it – and slick infields that turned routine grounders into singles through the holes.[II]

Well-liked by teammates and fans, the homegrown manager had to step aside in 1951 because of vision problems in his left eye.[2] He tried to stage a comeback the following season by was forced to retire after only 51 games. Trying to see out of the eye, he said, was like driving through a thick fog. He put himself back on the roster because he thought the struggling team needed him. Yount still managed to hit .305 with one eye.[III]

After baseball, he was a salesman at a flour mill for a time and then opened a general store in Newton.

His wife, Margaret, died in 1967. A native of Scotland, she had met Yount in Toronto, Ontario, while he was playing ball there. They got married in 1941 and had no children.

Yount committed suicide in 1973.


Footnotes
[1] Newton’s first high school was built in 1923. It burned and was rebuilt in the 1930s. “North Main Avenue Historic District.” Living Places Neighborhoods, https://www.livingplaces.com/NC/Catawba_County/Newton_City/North_Main_Avenue_Historic_District.html).
[2] Eye specialists diagnosed Andrews’ problem as “chorditis.” The modern, medical definition of the condition relates to inflammation of the vocal cords.

References
[I] Bedingfield, Gary. “Eddie Yount.” Baseball in Wartime. https://www.baseballinwartime.com/player_biographies/yount_eddie.htm
[II][1] Helms, Herman. “Baseball’s Leading Hitter Awes ‘Em.” Charlotte (NC) Observer, July 21, 1948.
[III] _________ “Sport Shorts.” Charlotte (NC) Observer, May 22, 1951.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Young, Pep

Player Name: Young, Pep
Position: Second base
Birthplace: Jamestown

First, Middle Names: Lemuel Floyd  Nicknames: Pep, Whitey
Date of Birth:  Aug. 29, 1907  Date and Place of Death: Jan. 14, 1962, Jamestown           
Burial: Guilford Memorial Park, Greensboro, NC

High School: Jamestown High School, Jamestown   
College: Did not attend
Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-9, 162
Debut Year: 1933       Final Year: 1945          Years Played: 10
Teams and Years: Pittsburgh Pirates, 1933-40; Cincinnati Reds, 1941; St. Louis Browns, 1945

Awards: NC Sports Hall of Fame, 2000

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
730  2466  645   274     347     32       .262     .308     .380     6.0

For most of baseball’s history, players like Pep Young were the epitome of middle infielders. No one expected them to hit balls out of the park or drive in many runs. They had to field their positions with aplomb, expertly turn the double play and hit just well enough and at the right times. During his four years as a Pittsburgh Pirates’ starter, Young was considered the best defensive second baseman in the National League, while hitting a respectable .260. He teamed with Hall-of-Fame shortstop Arky Vaughan to give the Pirates the best double-play combination in the league.

Born in 1907 in Jamestown, a Quaker settlement in Guilford County, Young was the second of John, a mill worker, and Bertie Young’s six children. He pitched on area sandlot teams and then for old Jamestown High School.[1]

Young signed with Fayetteville, North Carolina, of the Class D Eastern League as an outfielder in 1928 and batted .307. He moved up a rung the following season to the Class C Piedmont League where he played second and the outfield for teams in Greensboro and High Point, North Carolina, and hit 22 home runs.

The Pirates, who bought his contract after the season, invited him to train with the big-league team in 1930, but Young spent most of the spring at home with an illness. He played three infield positions and everywhere in the outfield in the Pirate farm system during the next three years and was called to Pittsburgh late in the 1933 season. He was used as an utility infielder for the next two years until starting second baseman Cookie Lavagetto pulled a leg tendon in May 1935.

Manager Pie Traynor inserted his 27-year-old reserve into the lineup on May 18. Young hit .429 over the next month with six doubles, three triples and a homer. He endeared himself to fans at Forbes Field after collecting two triples and a pair of singles against Carl Hubbell in a home game against the hated New York Giants. “So enthusiastically did Pep fling himself into his work that it now appears nothing short of a broken leg will cause the erstwhile utility man and pinch hitter to vacate the newly won position in favor of Lavagetto’s return,” the Sporting News, baseball’s bible, gushed.[I]

His slick, acrobatic fielding was also turning heads. Dizzy Dean, the St. Louis Cardinal’s Hall-of-Fame pitcher, became an baseball announcer after his retirement who was known for his colorful use of fractured English. He once had this to say about Young, “Pep scampers all around and eats up them grounders like a little old owl picking up mice, and he don’t never drop none.”[II]

All that scampering impressed the great Honus Wagner, a Pirates’ coach when Young joined the team. He said he never saw anyone play with such hustle and pep. The name stuck. Young had been called Whitey in the minors because of his light, blonde hair.[III]

He and Vaughan anchored the Pirates’ infield through much of the late 1930s. They turned 120 doubles plays in 1938 to lead the league. The Giants tried to trade for Young that season to shore up their infield for a pennant run. The deal went through until the Pirates had second thoughts and called if off. “We owned Pep Young for a few hours one night last June,” said Horace Stoneman, the Giants’ owner. “Young would have made the difference in the pennant race. The deal would have made us and ruined them.”[IV]

The Pirates released Young at the end of the 1940 season after he suffered through a couple of injury-plagued, lackluster years. The Brooklyn Dodgers picked him up in October and traded him to the Cincinnati Reds two months later. Young appeared in four games in 1941 and was released after the season. He pinch hit in two games for the St. Louis Cardinals late that season. He spent three years in the minors before returning briefly to St. Louis in 1945. He left baseball the following year after another season in the minors.

He returned to Jamestown where he had driven trucks and worked in the area mills during the offseasons and where he and his wife, Mabel, had raised their two children. He was working as a shipping clerk in one of those mills in 1962 when he died of a heart attack. He was only 54.

Young was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.


Footnote
[1]Also known as Jamestown Public School, the historic school building was built in 1915. It is a 2 1/2-story, Classical Revival style brick building with cast stone detailing. It features a full-height tetrastyle entrance portico supported by Ionic order columns and pilasters. The building underwent a major rehabilitation in 1986 and 1987 and now houses the public library. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

References
[I] “Floyd Linwell (sp.) (Pep) Young.” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), June 13, 1935.
[II] Firesheets, Tina. “Pep Young\Jamestown Resident Steve Crichfield Shares Story About Baseball Star From the 1930s.” News & Records (Greensboro, NC), October 18, 2003.
[III] Ibid.
[IV] Russell, Fred. “Sideline Sidelights.” Nashville (TN) Banner, August 29, 1938.