Wynne, Bill

Position: Starting pitcher
Birthplace: Neuse

First, Middle Names: William Andrew

Date of Birth:  March 27, 1869          Date and Place of Death: Aug. 7, 1951, Raleigh, NC
Burial: Oakwood Cemetery, Raleigh

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

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-11, 161
Debut Year: 1894       Final Year: 1894          Years Played: 1
Team and Year: Washington Senators

Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
1          0          1          0          6.75     8.0       2          -0.2

Bill Wynne was the first North Carolinian to pitch in the major leagues. Only outfielder Charley Jones of Alamance County preceded him to the majors – by about 20 years. Jones was a party-loving ladies’ man, known as the Knight of the Limitless Linen, and a superstar of early baseball. Wynne had a forgettable career that lasted all of eight innings. He didn’t hang around long enough to acquire a reputation or earn a nickname. If it centered on the baseball diamond, Wynne’s story would end about here. Baseball, however, was little more than a footnote in the life of this unconventional man.

Telephones and radios and, of all things, bicycles, play far larger roles in Wynne’s story. He was North Carolina’s most-famous cyclist of the 19th century, riding thousands of miles and capturing headlines wherever he went and thrilling audiences with daredevil stunts. A tinkerer with electricity since childhood, Wynne started a telephone company after his brief baseball career that provided some of the first phone service in Raleigh, North Carolina, and he waged a decades-long and, in the end, quixotic fight against his main competitor, the grasping monopoly that was Southern Bell. Wynne then operated the first radio station in the capital and in several Eastern North Carolina towns. Oh, and he also found time to open a drug store up in the mountains.

This eccentric life started on a farm along Barton’s Creek in central Wake County where William Andrew Wynne was born in 1869, four years after Appomattox. His parents, William and Elizabeth, or Lizzie, moved to Raleigh two years later. Except for long-distance jaunts on his bicycle or summers in the minor leagues, Wynne would never leave.

There’s nothing in the surviving archives that hints of Wynne’s early baseball exploits – no accounts of high-school no hitters or fond recollections of games in cow pastures. Wynne tells us in a newspaper interview in 1930, when he was 61, about some of the other things that helped form him. The telegraph, for instance. “They couldn’t keep me away from there,” he said of the local telegraph office. “They had a few old sets they would let interested boys work with and I spent most of my time down there when I wasn’t out on the streets trying to build a line of my own.”[I]

In a hint of what was to come, Wynne succeeded, when he was 10, in building a crude, but working telephone system for his neighborhood. He strung tin cans that his uncle custom made for the project into every house along two blocks of South Hillsboro Street. Rubber bladders from snuff cans served as speakers. “Just wet it and stretch it over the can and when it got dry you could talk around the block with it, if the string was dry,” he explained.[II]

We know that Wynne played baseball at Wake Forest College, then still in Wake County. The rules being what they were at the time, he once pitched Wake Forest to a victory over Trinity College, now Duke University in nearby Durham, and then pitched for Trinity the next day against a different opponent.

It was the bicycle, though, that initially brought Wynne to prominence. The first contraption that resembles a bicycle dates to the late 18th century. Bike design proceeded along – peddles were added and wheel size got smaller and then bigger – until the 1870s when the so-called high wheeler was the dominate bike. We’ve all seen photos of this odd vehicle with the huge front wheel and the tiny rear one. The rider, usually a daring young man, sat high above the street where he could reach breakneck, literally, speed. Quickly stopping one of those things was near impossible, and a rut or bump in the road could have devastating results. Sensible people and most horses shied away. “That bicycle has scared more horses than the automobile,” Wynne remembered.[III]

The advent of the bike we know today — chain-driven with uniform-sized wheels — in the 1880s changed everything. In a couple of decades before the coming of automobiles, people suddenly had a safe, fast way to get around that they didn’t have to feed, shelter, and clean up after. The golden age of bicycles, short-lived in America, dawned.

They became a popular form of personal transportation, thanks in part to promoters like Bill Wynne. He rode everywhere on one, or so it seemed, because his name appears in newspapers wherever he stopped. He rode from Raleigh to Maine in 1891, stopping along the way to pitch in local baseball games at $5 a game. That was good money for a young man then, since it amounts to about $140 today. Wynne covered the 1,100 miles in about six weeks and was welcomed with a parade in Bangor.  

Like avid bikers John D. Rockefeller, John Jacob Astor and 100,000 other Americans, Wynne belonged to the League of American Wheelman, the most-prominent advocacy group for road improvements before the arrival of automobiles. He, for instance, repeated his trip to Maine in 1909, starting from Atlanta that time, to highlight the route of a highway that the league proposed.

Though he may have shared a love of bikes with Rockefeller and Astor, Bill Wynne rode one like Evel Knievel. For much of the 1890s, Wynne traveled the Southeast thrilling crowds at county fairs, conventions and holiday celebrations with aerial, acrobatic displays of daring do on a bicycle. He rode down the long steps at the Customs House in Norfolk, Virginia, and the U.S. Capitol and was chased away from doing the same at the Washington Monument. At the Atlanta Exposition in 1895, he showed a real streak of Knievel wackiness. He raced a boat down a 500-yard-long chute into a lake. Mathematicians on the scene estimated that he reached speeds approaching 60 miles an hour. “Even before a cheer could be given or the dazed onlookers realized that the start had been made, all was over,” the newspaper reported. “They had whizzed by, blurred and indistinct, in the twinkling of an eye.”[IV]

The boat hit the water and bounced high in the air. Wynne hit the water and sank. He was safely pulled from the lake and was disappointed to learn that the boat had beat him by two seconds.

This, though, is supposed to be a story about a baseball player, but that’s the part of Wynne’s life that hardest to decipher. There is a smattering of newspaper clips about his time in the minor leagues but nothing before 1894 when Wynne debuted with the Washington Senators. Professional baseball then consisted of the 12-team National League. Why Wynne was standing on the mound to start the second game of a doubleheader against the Phillies in Philadelphia is a mystery. He completed the game, an 11-5 losing effort to a powerful Phillies team that featured three future Hall of Famers. Wynne gave up six earned runs and walked eight. He left the mound in the eighth inning that afternoon and was out of big-league baseball.

Wynne’s baseball career ended the following year after he pitched for four minor-league teams.

He got married in Raleigh that year to Mary Avera of Smithfield in adjoining Johnston County.  The wedding featured a special effect that displayed Wynne’s skills at manipulating electricity while highlighting 19th century America’s view of a woman’s role in society. “There will be a novel electrical effect,” the newspaper reported. “The initial letter of the contracting parties will be above the pulpit and when the preacher says the words which unite, the bride’s initial fades away.” The couple would remain married for more than 50 years and raise four children.[V]

Wynne started the Raleigh Telephone Company in 1902, one of four companies that provided phone service in the city. Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company, the largest provider, would be a Wynne target for the next 20 years. To fight the Bell monopoly, Wynne helped organize 61 other small, independent companies into a trade group and served as its president. He joined state lawsuits charging that Bell was violating antitrust law. In the end, it didn’t matter. Raleigh Telephone went out of business in 1921 after Bell refused to transmit its customers’ long-distance calls over its lines.

Wynne partnered with a local businessman to open a drugstore in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He managed a tire shop for a while and then opened a radio-repair store in Raleigh in 1922. From there it was a short hop to broadcasting. He and his son, Avery, started the first permanent station in Raleigh. An earlier station broadcasting from the campus of North Carolina State College quit in less than a year. Wynne later had stations in Rocky Mount and Wilson.

He was still in the radio business when he died of pneumonia in 1951.

References
[I] Reynolds, Carolyn L. “Will Wynne Has Pioneer Streak.” News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), April 20, 1930.
[II] Ibid.
[III] Ibid.
[IV] “Raced on the Chute.” Roanoke News (Weldon, NC) November 21, 1895.
[V] “State News.” Roxboro (NC) Courier, May 27, 1896.

 

Cooke, Dusty

Position: Outfield
Birthplace: Swepsonville

First, Middle Names: Allen Lindsey        Nicknames: Dusty

Date of Birth:  June 23, 1907  Date and Place of Death: Nov. 21, 1987, Raleigh, NC
Burial: Westview Memorial Gardens, Lillington, NC

High School: Durham High School, Durham, NC  

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-1, 205
Debut Year: 1930       Final Year: 1938          Years Played: 8
Team(s) and Years: New York Yankees, 1930-32; Boston Red Sox, 1933-36; Cincinnati Reds, 1938

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
608    1745    489      324      229      24      .280     .384     .416     7.1

Life had been good to Dusty Cooke as he trotted out to right field at Griffith Stadium in Washington on that Sunday afternoon in April 1931. He was 24 years old, a kid from the sticks of Alamance County, batting third for the great New York Yankees, and playing in place of The Babe himself, who was nursing an injury. In his second year as a big leaguer, Cooke was beginning to show why one of his managers down in the minors called him “the game wrecker.” Through the first week of the new season, he was playing every day, hitting a torrid .353 and stealing bases with abandon. The kid had greatness written all over him, and his time had come.

Ossie Bluege, the Senators’ leadoff hitter that inning, lofted a flyball to shallow right. Cooke showed his dazzling speed by almost reaching the spot where the ball would land. He dove to make up te last couple of feet, and, in the instant it took to hit the ground, life turned mean. Cooke writhed in pain on the freshly mowed grass. The ball bounced toward the wall. No one thought to chase it down, as worried teammates gathered around the prone kid in obvious pain. Bluege was credited with an inside-the-park home run.

They carried a broken Dusty Cooke off the sun-drenched field that afternoon. Doctors later determined that his shoulder was separated and his collarbone splintered. Surgery would be required.

Injury once again exacted its heavy toll on greatness. Cooke would come back and have a decent eight-year career. His .384 on-base percentage is second among North Carolina players with more than a thousand career at bats and his .280 batting average is tied for 18th. Cooke, though, was never the star that everyone knew he should be. “You will not find his name in the Baseball Hall of Fame and present-day sportswriters have probably never heard of him, but he was denied baseball immortality by a quirk of fate,” wrote a teammate in his memoirs published in 2001.[I]

 If Dusty Cooke is remembered at all these days, it’s how the arc of his altered career later intersected with that of Jackie Robinson’s. Unfortunately, the encounter left such an indelible smear on Cooke and the character of a city that its leaders felt the need to apologize more than 60 years later.

Dusty was thought to be a replacement for the aging Babe Ruth. That’s him, second from right, standing next to The Babe in this 1930 photograph. Photo: Baseball Hall of Fame

Euclid Monroe Cooke survived the grisly horrors of the battlefields of Virginia and a wound received at one of them, Chancellorsville. He returned from the Civil War to the family farm on Swepsonville Road in Alamance County, where he survived two wives. Allen Lindsey, born in 1907 to his third wife, Nannie, was the last of Euclid’s 10 children. Euclid died when the child was 18 months old.

The teenager attended high school in Durham, North Carolina, but may not have graduated. The principal told Cooke that he would have to cut out football or baseball and focus on his studies. “I sorta agreed with the principal,” Cooke said years later. “I remembered the old saying, ‘If business interferes with your pleasure, cut out business.’ So, I quit school and concentrated on baseball, which I figured would be combining business with pleasure if I made good.”[II]

Cooke played for the mill teams that flourished at the time. He became a professional in 1927 when he joined the Durham Bulls. He was big for his era, six-foot, one-inch, and pushing 200 pounds, and he could run. Cooke was hitting .319 for the Bulls and was leading the league in stolen bases with 33 when Ed Barrow in New York took notice.

An able boxer who once fought John L. Sullivan in an exhibition, Barrow was pugnacious, loudly opiniated and a tyrant with players, but there was no better judge of baseball talent. Through shrewd trades, astute signings, and a budding farm system, he put together some of the greatest rosters in baseball history as the Yankees’ general manager from 1920 to 1945. Barrow sent his best man, head scout Paul Krichell, to Durham to take a look.

Ed Barrow

During his 37 years with New York, Krichell would sign many of the players who would make the Yankees one of the great dynasties in American sports. Krichell’s successes included both quality—such as Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Phil Rizzuto, and Whitey Ford—and quantity. He knew a star when he saw one.

 “When I saw him, I knew he was the ballplayer I had been dreaming about,” Krichell said of Cooke in 1946. “He had everything. A big guy and strong, and he could run like a deer. He could hit and throw and he could go get the ball in the outfield.”[III]

Krichell paid the Bulls $15,000 for Cooke, or more than $220,000 in current dollars. That the tight-fisted Barrow approved what was then a princely sum is an indication of what everyone thought this kid could be.          

At his first stop in the Yankee farm system, the Asheville, North Carolina, Tourists in the Class B South Atlantic League, Cooke in 1928 merely hit .362, four points shy of the battling title, and had 30 triples, a measure of his speed. Promoted to Double A St. Paul in Minnesota the following year, Cooke won the league’s triple crown (.358-33-148). Next stop: New York.

Newspapers by then were referring to him as “Dusty.” There’s some dispute about the origins of Cooke’s nickname. One newspaper columnists claimed high-school friends started calling him that after following him on a long car ride down dirt roads outside Durham. A Cooke relative offered a more colorful alternative that had to do with the cloud of dust Cooke created when he slid into second base. “You get that kind of speed with that kind of size and you’re going to have a lot of dust,” a nephew told a newspaper in 1987.[IV]

By whatever name, Cooke was a Yankee in 1930. He played in only 92 games that first season, but he impressed people with his size – John Kiernan of the New York Times wrote that “he has shoulders as big as an icebox” – and his moxie. It was rumored that Cooke had gotten so fed up with Babe Ruth’s needling during a card game on a team train that he picked Babe up and stuffed him into an upper berth. Ruth was said to get a kick out of the manhandling.

The injured shoulder was still ailing Cooke in 1932, and surgery was needed to fix splintered bone. He hurt himself again while throwing batting practice and appeared in only three games that season.

Sensing that their star had faded, the Yankees traded Cooke to the perennial league doormats, the Boston Red Sox, in 1933. He played well that year, appearing in 119 games, hitting .293 and scoring 86 runs, but another injury required a minor operation on his right elbow. Cooke became a utility outfielder for the rest of his career.

Bill Werber, Cooke’s Red Sox roommate, said Cooke would occasionally get depressed about the injuries and his diminished skills and quietly nurse a bottle of Jack Daniels. He’d pass out and fall out of bed. Werber covered him with a blanket on the floor.[V]

In a hint of what was to come, Cooke was driving in Durham during the offseason in 1935 and hit a black teenager, Henry Griffin, on a bicycle. Cooke put the teen, who had a compound leg fracture, in the back seat of his car and dropped him off at the steps of Lincoln Hospital. He was later charged with assault and battery with a deadly weapon. Cooke told the arresting officer that he had been in “quite a bit of a hurry.”[VI] The charges were dropped three months later after Cooke paid Griffin $600.

He was at the time honeymooning in Florida. Cooke had married Daphne Rouse of Fuquay Springs, North Carolina, in February 1936. The newlyweds would make the Wake County town their home.

The Red Sox traded Cooke to the Cincinnati Reds in 1938, his last year in the majors.

Cooke played in the minor leagues before enlisting in the Navy’s Aviation Cadet Training Program on the Chapel Hill campus of the University of North Carolina in 1943. One of the first recruits he met was Ted Williams, the American League batting champ.[1] Cooke didn’t complete the training and spent the World War II as a pharmacist’s mate. He treated war-related injuries and also gained experience in fitness conditioning. Cooke saw combat during the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Jackie Robinson, left, and Ben Chapman, the Philadelphia Phillies’ manager, staged this photo in 1947. Neither looks happy about it. Photo: N.Y. Times

The Philadelphia Phillies, in an ironic twist, hired the oft-injured Cooke as a trainer when he returned from the Pacific in 1946. We don’t know much about his abilities healing sore muscles and aching bones, but there’s plenty of evidence that Cooke was a first-class bench jockey. Pitcher Robin Roberts said he had the loudest voice in baseball. Cooke used it to viciously ride opposing players in an attempt to get them off their games. It was, at the time, a common strategy.

The insults, though, took an ugly, mean, racial tone with Jackie Robinson. As the first African-American to play in the major leagues, Robinson had to endure verbal abuse wherever his Brooklyn Dodgers played, especially during his first season in 1947. The City of Brotherly Love, however, may have been the worst stop on the schedule.

The newspapers at the time didn’t record what the Phillies, led by Cooke and their manager Ben Chapman of Tennessee, yelled at Robinson, but it was so vile that some fans expressed embarrassment. The Dodgers were so incensed by the constant barrage of racial slurs that they rose to their teammate’s defense. Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella, two other black Dodgers, later got the same treatment.

Chapman defended his team’s actions by noting that opposing players used slurs against Joe DiMaggio, an Italian, and Hank Greenberg, a Jew. “It was all part of the game back then,” Chapman said in 2013. “You said anything you had to say to get an edge.”[VII]

Using prejudice to justify prejudice is a novel approach, but it misses a major point. DiMaggio and Greenberg could defend themselves. Robinson would not. To become the trailblazer, he had promised Dodgers’ management that he wouldn’t retaliate, that his response to the abuse would be silence. Cooke and Chapman knew that. Insulting a man who wouldn’t fight back could then be viewed as cowardly. That’s the way the Philadelphia City Council saw it in 2016 when it unanimously passed a resolution apologizing for the team’s behavior in 1947.

Cooke was the Phillies’ first-base coach and even interim manager for a dozen games when Chapman was fired during the 1948 season until he was fired in 1953.

He became co-owner of Mobley’s Art Center, an art-supply store in Raleigh, North Carolina, after baseball. He suffered a stroke in 1968 that left him unable to speak or write. He died in 1987 after a second stroke.

Footnote
[1] After a year of incessant fan heckling because of the military deferment he received, Ted Williams, the Boston Red Sox’s Hall of Fame outfielder, enlisted in in the Navy reserve in 1942 and was called to active duty in November. He spent three years in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and elsewhere learning to fly. He didn’t see active combat before being discharged in December 1945. He was called up again in 1952 and flew fighter planes in Korea.

References
[I] Nowlin, Bill. “Dusty Cooke.” Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/e46d5d86.
[II] Ibid.
[III] Ibid.
[IV] Ibid.
[V] Ibid.
[VI] “Arrest Dusty Cooke for Auto Accident.” The News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), December 10, 1935.
[VII] Barra, Allen. “What Really Happened to Ben Chapman, the Racist Baseball Player in ‘42?” The Atlantic, April 15, 2013.