Upright, Dixie

Primary Position: Pinch hitter
Birthplace: Kannapolis

First, Middle Names: Roy Theophilus
Date of Birth: May 30, 1926    Date and Place of Death: Nov. 13, 1986, Concord, NC
Burial: Greenlawn Cemetery, China Grove, NC

High School: Kannapolis High School, Kannapolis, NC
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: L Throws: L        Height and Weight: 6-0, 175
Debut Year: 1953        Final Year: 1953          Years Played: 1
Team and Year: St. Louis Browns, 1953

Career Summary
G          AB       H          R          RBI       HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
9          8          2          3          1               1       .250     .333     .625       0.0

Dixie Upright hit everywhere he went in the minors. At his first stop in 1947, a lowly Class D league in Oklahoma, he scorched the ball at a .360 clip. Promoted up the ladder, he continued to hit: .336 in Class B, .343 in Class A, .300 in Class AA. Once, in a doubleheader in Memphis, Tennessee, he reached base nine consecutive times. He often challenged for batting titles each season and was among the league leaders in home runs and runs batted in. When he was done after 12 seasons in the minor leagues, he boasted a career .311 average. Yes, Dixie could hit.

About the only place he didn’t was in St. Louis, Missouri. The American League’s Browns bought his contract in 1953 after Upright had hit .318 for the Memphis Chicks the previous season. He appeared in nine games in early May as a pinch hitter. He got two hits, including a home run against future Hall of Famer Bob Lemon of the Cleveland Indians. It wasn’t enough, however. The Browns sold him to the Chicago Cubs who promptly sent him back to the minors, where he remained until he retired in 1958. By the way, he hit .343 that final season.

“He would always say that he was good with the wood but not the glove,” said his wife, Marcelle, years later.[I]

After a season as a minor-league scout, Upright returned to Kannapolis, North Carolina, where he was born in 1926. His father, Gother, spent most of his life working for Cannon Mills, the local company that then was the largest towel and sheets manufacturer in the world. His mother, Marie, had her hands full with seven children. Roy Theophlus was the second oldest of the brood.

Growing up, he was known as Bud to his brothers and sisters and to everyone else in town. Like so many other Southerners, he was tagged with the unimaginative nickname during his first year in the minors. It stuck. He was forever Dixie, even to his family and friends back home.

Upright played first base and the outfield at Kannapolis High School and for the local American Legion team. He enlisted in the Army after graduating in 1944 and spent World War II at a base in California. He was playing semipro ball in Kannapolis after his discharge when the Pittsburgh Pirates signed him to his first professional contract.

After his career, Upright sold furniture at several local stores. He served on the executive board of the local Chamber of Commerce and raised money for the blind and for disabled children as a member of the Lions and Optimists clubs. For his humanitarian efforts, Upright received the state’s Governor’s Volunteer Service Award.

He died of an undisclosed illness in 1986 at age 60. His obituary lists no children.

Reference
[I] DeAdwyler. Ted. “R.T. ‘Dixie’ Upright, Ex-Baseball Player.” Charlotte (NC) Observer, Nov. 15, 1986.

Ferrell, Rick

Player Name: Ferrell, Rick
Primary Position: Catcher
Birthplace: Durham

First, Middle Names:  Richard Benjamin
Date of Birth:  Oct. 12, 1905  Date and Place of Death: July 27, 1995, Bloomfield Hills, MI
Burial: New Garden Cemetery, Greensboro, NC

High Schools: Guilford High School, Greensboro, NC; Oak Ridge Military Academy, Oak Ridge, NC
College: Guilford College, Greensboro, NC

Bats: R Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-10, 160
Debut Year: 1929       Final Year: 1947          Years Played: 18
Teams and Years: St. Louis Browns, 1929-1933; Boston Red Sox, 1933-37; Washington Senators, 1937-41; Browns, 1941-43; Senators, 1944-45

Career Summary
G            AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
1884  6028   1692 687    734     28       .281     .378     .363     30.8

Awards/Honors: National Baseball Hall of Fame, 1984; N.C. Sports Hall of Fame, 1965; All Star, 1933-38, 1944; Boys of Summer Top 100

Rick Ferrell, one of seven North Carolina natives in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, was an unassuming farm boy from Guilford County who spent much of his time in the big leagues crouching in the shadows of some of the sport’s legendary catchers.[1] While contemporaries like Mickey Cochrane, Ernie Lombardi, Gabby Hartnett, and Bill Dickey dominated the sports pages, Ferrell quietly went about his 18 years in the majors, acquiring a reputation as a durable, defensive catcher and a smart handler of pitchers. Unlike most good-glove catchers, Ferrell could be dangerous with a bat in his hands. He could coax a timely walk and would hit around .300 each season. A seven-time All-Star, he caught the entire inaugural game for the American League in 1933 while the great Dickey sat on the bench. He ended his playing career with more games behind the plate than any other league catcher, a record that stood for almost four decades.

Only two other North Carolina major leaguers played more seasons than Ferrell. Only seven appeared in more games. He was cagey hitter with a deft feel for the strike zone, striking out only 277 times in more than 6,000 at bats. Always among the league leaders in walks, he ended his career with a .378 on-base percentage, higher than all but four other natives with at least 1,000 lifetime at bats. Thirteenth on the list of the state’s Top 100 players, he is still among the leaders in a dozen career offensive categories.[2]

After retiring, he spent more than 40 years as an executive and scout for the Detroit Tigers. He became a respected elder whose opinions shaped the team. “In all the years I was with the Tigers, I don’t think I ever made a deal without discussing it with Rick,” said Jim Campbell, his friend and longtime Detroit general manager. “We didn’t always agree and if there was a disagreement, Rick usually won.”[I]

The baseball establishment finally recognized Ferrell’s skills when he was a surprising and controversial choice in 1984 to be the third North Carolinian inducted into the Hall of Fame. His bronze plaque now hangs on the wall with all those other great catchers who cast those long shadows. North Carolina had chosen him for its hall of sports luminaries 19 years earlier.

His younger brother, Wes, was a big-league pitcher whose plaque seemed destined to hang beside Rick’s before a bum arm intervened. “Brother or no brother, he was a real classy catcher,” said Wes, who played with Rick on two teams in the majors. “You never saw him lunge at the ball. He never took a strike away from you. He got more strikes for a pitcher than anybody I ever saw because he made catching look easy.”[II]

A  Baseball Family
Richard Benjamin Ferrell was born in 1905 in Durham, North Carolina, the fourth of seven boys that Rufus and Clara raised on the family’s 160-acre dairy farm in Friendship, a community in western Guilford County founded by Quakers. A talented sandlot player, Rufus helped his sons fashion a diamond in a pasture on the farm and passed along the baseball gene to most of them. Aside from the two sons who made it to the majors, there was Marvin, a promising minor-league pitcher whose arm went dead, and George, a brilliant hitter in the minors who might have been the best of the clan, but he never wanted to stray too far from home. The remaining boys — Basil, Kermit, and Ewell — followed other lights

All the brothers attended Guilford High School, but the four athletes among them transferred to nearby Oak Ridge Institute because of its respected baseball program.[3]

Rick in 1923 entered Guilford College, a private school in Greensboro, North Carolina, with Quaker roots and a reputation as another baseball powerhouse.[4] He played baseball and basketball and was included in the first class of inductees to the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 1970.

To pay for classes, Ferrell boxed professionally as a middleweight, winning 18 of 19 bouts. His only loss was to a lighter, faster welterweight, who knocked him down. “How sweetly the birds did sing to me as I lay there on the canvas,” he recalled later. “They had to carry me to my corner, but I left the ring under my own steam.”[III]

The Tigers signed him for $1,500, or about $23,000 when adjusted for inflation, after he graduated in 1926. He spent the next three seasons in the minor leagues, honing his skills while showing those who controlled his destiny that he wasn’t just another dumb, Southern farm boy, a hayseed they could tag with the nickname Rube. Like all professional baseball players before the dawn of free agency in the early 1970s, Ferrell was contractually bound to his team for life. He could be traded from one team to another with no control over where he eventually landed. Without the ability to negotiate with other teams, the only leverage he had during yearly salary negotiations was to walk away and spend the season on the farm. The men who controlled baseball had all the advantages, and they usually took them. It started in the minor leagues, where owners often ignored the rarely enforced rules and colluded with their brethren in the bushes to stockpile promising youngsters to keep them from the clutches of competitors.

A vast universe of teams independent of the major professional associations stretched across the continent by the time Ferrell signed his first contract. Only big-city newspapermen called them “the minor leagues.” Fiercely loyal fans filled the little ballparks in big cities and small burgs. They rooted and they booed, and they spent money with local businesses whose signs plastered the outfield fences. Opening day was a gala occasion with a parade and speeches by the owner and manager about the virtues of this season’s nine. The teams competed in leagues with letter designations that signified whether they were a step up from college – Class D — or a step down from the big time – Class AAA – or somewhere in between. They existed by selling talented kids to the majors or to teams higher up the ladder for cash or for more players.

Ferrell reported to Kinston, North Carolina, in the spring of 1926 to play for the Eagles in the Class B Virginia League. The team’s owner likely had a legal agreement with Detroit to play the 20-year-old rookie. The Tigers continued to pay his salary and would control where he went next and when. That would be Columbus, Ohio, where Ferrell played the following season with the Senators of the Class AA American Association. It was a big jump to one of the premier minor leagues in the country, one that in a few years would produce three Mount Olympians: Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays.

Then, something happened. It’s not clear from this distance whether the Tiger front office screwed up and let Ferrell’s contract lapse without renewing it or, more likely, exceeded what the rule stipulated was the maximum number of times a player could be moved to another minor-league team, or “optioned,” without being promoted to the majors. Ostensibly, the rule was meant to advance the kids’ careers, but it was all wink-and-nod stuff. For whatever reason, the Tigers didn’t have room on their major-league roster for Ferrell when the 1928 season began. Frank Navin, the team’s president, worked out a deal with Joe Carr, owner of the Senators, to “cover up” Ferrell and return him to Detroit later. Navin, though, didn’t know that the kid wouldn’t be so easily manipulated and didn’t anticipate that he would hit .333 that season, make only eight errors, and become an All-Star and hot commodity.[IV]

Kenesaw to the Rescue

Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s commissioner, had a soft spot for the powerless, like minor leaguers.

When the season ended, Ferrell took a train to Chicago, Illinois, to see the authoritarian commissioner of baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis. See the profile on Lindsay Deal for a more detailed look at Landis and his battle with owners over a minor-league system that he knew took advantage of young players. He was a trust-busting federal judge before he took the job as baseball czar, and he had a soft spot for the powerless. He used his unquestioned authority over the owners and players during his 25 years as commissioners to free hundreds of kids by declaring them free agents.

While Landis was considering Ferrell’s complaint, Navin had heard that Carr planned a double cross, that he was going sell his young, All-Star catcher to the Cincinnati Reds despite their hand-shake agreement. It was likely that Navin also knew that the commissioner’s hammer was about to fall. A confession might soften the blow. The Tigers’ owner called Landis, who cut Ferrell loose in November. “I was very popular with players, but not with owners,” Ferrell said.[V]

He was popular enough, however, to attract eight bids for his services. Ferrell chose the St. Louis Browns because their contract included a $25,000 ($400,000) signing bonus. He gave some of the money to his father to pay off the farm.

He debuted on April 19, 1929 as the second-string catcher and hit only .229 in 64 games. He was the starter the following season and was recognized as one of the premier catchers in the league by 1932, when he hit .315 with 65 runs batted in while having the second-highest number of assists (78) of any catcher in the league.

Ferrell was relieved by the assist he got from the official scorer during a game in Cleveland on April 29, 1931. Wes was pitching for the Indians on his way to a 25-win season. He had a no-hitter with two outs in the eighth when his brother stepped to the plate. Rick ripped a liner that shortstop Bill Hunnefield somehow knock down, but his wild throw pulled Lou Fonseca off the bag at first. The official scorer originally ruled it a hit. “I never saw anybody run harder than Rick did going down that line,” Wes said at the time, “and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”[VI]

Wes set the Browns down the rest of the way, and the official scorer thought better of his ruling and charged Hunnefield with an error, preserving the no hitter. “I didn’t want a base hit, but I had to get up there and try my best,” Rick recounted a few days later. “Even if it hadn’t been my brother, I’d rather not get a base hit at that stage of the game. Ball players are like that – most of ’em. They know they got all summer to get them base knocks, but a no-hit game – well, they only come once in a lifetime.”[VII]

Ferrell wasn’t nearly as magnanimous at contract time. The Browns were a bad team during his first go-round in St. Louis, never finishing higher than fourth place in the American League. Old Sportsman’s Park was nearly empty most days. Lagging attendance and a deepening economic depression combined to panic owner Phil Ball, who responded by cutting salaries. Ferrell returned his contracts unsigned in 1932 and ’33. He eventually agreed to terms after his short holdouts persuaded Ball to lessen the cuts, but Ferrell told the press after the last dispute that he wanted to be traded to a team that could afford him. Ball complied by selling him and a pitcher to the Boston Red Sox for $50,000 ($1 million) in May 1933.

The Battery of Brothers

Wesley, left. and Rick Ferrell were the Boston Red Sox’s battery of brothers. Photo: National Baseball Hall of Fame

A year later, his brother joined him. Rick had been encouraging Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey to acquire Wes, a contract holdout who was pitching semi-pro ball back in North Carolina that spring after vowing not to return to Cleveland. For the next three seasons, Boston boasted a battery of brothers.

The Ferrells were always close but quite different in appearance and demeanor. Rick was slight but muscular with dark hair. Wes was bigger – 6-foot, two inches and 195 pounds – and was Hollywood handsome with thick, wavy, hair and a big, welcoming smile. While Rick was quiet, mild-mannered, and led by example, Wes was loud, outspoken, and hotheaded. Both were extremely competitive but loyal to each other. They roomed together and got along well.

Rick had his best years in Boston. He established himself as one of the premier defensive catchers in baseball, whose strong arm was respected by base runners. He also became an accomplished hitter, who batted over. 300 through most of the season until the heat of summer conspired with wool uniforms and the normal physical rigors of catching to drag his average down in September. Even so, he hit over .300 five times during his career and ended with a .281 lifetime average, good for 16th place among North Carolina natives with more than 1,000 career at bats.

A perennial All-Star while with the Red Sox, Ferrell was chosen to represent the American League in the first recognized All-Star Game at Comiskey Park in Chicago in 1933. An exhibition game in the middle of the season wasn’t popular with team owners, who worried about injuries to their star players. They tried to downplay the entire affair. The players arrived by train the night before the game and left as soon as it was over. “I think we got a ring worth about $25,” Ferrell said years later.[5]

Given those circumstances, it’s not a stretch to assume that Joe McCarthy, the manager of the New York Yankees, prevailed on his buddy Connie Mack, the Philadelphia Athletics’ skipper who managed the American League team, to limit the playing time of Yankees’ star Dickey, who was the only other catcher on the team. His team, McCarthy might have argued, was fighting for a pennant while Boston was mired in seventh place. Ferrell caught the entire game while Dickey sat. His team won 4-2 after the Yankees’ Babe Ruth hit two home runs.

The Red Sox traded the Ferrell brothers to the Washington Senators in June 1937. Rick left Boston as the best catcher in franchise history, having set team records at the position in batting average, home runs, doubles and runs batted in.

Knuckleball Hell
Ferrell played his last 10 years with two teams that were regular tenants of the American League’s second division. The Senators traded him to the Browns in 1941 and got him back three seasons later because they needed his defensive skills. He was one of the few catchers in the game who would have had any chance with the four knuckleballers in the team’s starting rotation.[6] Such pitchers rarely know where the erratic pitch is going, and catching one is a nightmare. Bob Uecker, part major-league catcher, broadcaster, and humorist, once summed it up. “The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling and pick it up,” he quipped.

Ferrell was approaching 40 when he took on the task. Though he led the league in passed balls in 1944 and ’45, “Pops,” as the players called him, did a credible job. “I know the knuckleball makes me look bad at times,” he said. “But what the hell? As long as we get men out and win games, what’s the difference? The ones I can’t catch, I’ll run down.”[VIII]

In one of those games in July 1945 while he was running down errant knuckleballs, Ferrell broke Ray Schalk’s American League record for most games caught (1,722). He would end his career with 1,806 games, a record that would stand until 1988 when the Chicago White Sox’s Carlton Fisk surpassed it. Ferrell would be in the stands that night.

All those fluttering pitches were too much, however. Ferrell retired in 1946 to become a Senators’ coach but came back the following season when all the knuckleballers were gone. “Shucks, I could sit in a rocking chair and catch these other fellows,” said Ferrell, who would be 42 at season’s end.[IX] He played every fourth or fifth day and was the team’s leading hitter with a .303 average. “He’s done an amazing job for us,” said Manager Ossie Bluege. “I’d like to put him in the lineup more often but it wouldn’t be fair to him.”[X]

He retired for good at the end of the season and became a Senators’ coach. He signed on as a scout for the Tigers in 1950, the start of a 45-year career with the team that first signed him and tried to screw him. He became director of the team’s minor leagues in 1958, then assistant general manager a year later.

That job required that Ferrell and his wife, Ruth, move from their longtime home in Greensboro to Detroit, where they would finish raising their four children.

A Controversial Choice

Jim Campbell, the Detroit Tigers’ general manager, lobbied to get his friend in the Hall of Fame. Photo: Detroit Free Press

On March 4, 1983, Ferrell was in Clearwater, Florida, for a Tigers’ spring-training game when he got a call from his boss, JIm Campbell, the team’s general manager. Ferrell was by then Campbell’s trusted advisor and what the team called a “super scout.” Campbell broke the news: Ferrell had been elected to the Hall of Fame. “It came as a surprise to me,” Ferrell said at his induction ceremony the following year in Cooperstown, New York. “I hardly knew how to answer.”[XI]

Members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America were equally surprised, and they weren’t shy about responding. The writers have picked most Hall of Famers since the first class in 1936.  The screening and voting processes have been tweaked several times. In the 1980s when Ferrell was elected, retired players remained eligible for as long as 20 years after their retirement if they got at least 5 percent of the ballots cast each year. If he didn’t meet that minimum threshold for three consecutive years, the player was disqualified. Then and now, it takes 75 percent of the ballots cast in any one year to make it into the hall.

There is, however, a back door. In Ferrell’s day it was called the Veterans Committee, 15 people selected by the Hall of Fame who considered players the writers had rejected or team executives, umpires, journalists, managers, and other non-players who weren’t included in the normal voting process. Campbell had been lobbying committee members to let his friend in.

The charge of cronyism arose after almost every committee selection: Old buddies selecting old buddies based on things other than stats and quality of play. The Ferrell selection, the writers charged in a strongly worded letter to hall officials, was the worst of the breed. They reminded the officials that Ferrell received a total of three votes in the three years he was eligible. That he got one vote a year suggests that it might have been cast by the same writer. Ferrell shrugged off the criticism. He was proud that was selected by peers, by people who played against him and knew him as a player. “I really appreciate it coming from that group,” he said.[7][XII]

Well into his 80s, Ferrell continued working. He’d report to his lavish office each day at 11 a.m. He’d eat lunch, take a nap, and go home. The old man finally retired in April 1995, He died that July in a nursing home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, three months shy of his 90th birthday. He was the oldest living member of the Hall of Fame.

Footnotes
[1] The other state natives in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and their induction year: Luke Appling (1964), Jim Hunter (1987), Buck Leonard (1972), Gaylord Perry (1991), Enos Slaughter (1985), and Hoyt Wilhelm (1985).
[2] Here are Rick Ferrell’s lifetime stats, as compiled by Baseball Reference, and his place among N.C. major leaguers: Seasons, 18, 3 (tie); walks, 931, 4; one-base percentage, .378, 5; games played, 1,884, 6; wins above average, 33.7, 6; at bats, 6,028, 7; hits, 1,692, 7; runs batted in, 734, 7; doubles, 324, 8; triples, 45, 10 (tie); runs, 687, 14; batting average, .281, 16 (tie).
[3] What’s now called Oak Ridge Military Academy occupies a prominent place in the history of baseball in North Carolina. The private school, which traces its roots to the 1850s, was considered one of the best prep schools in the state in the late 19th century. Under coach Earl Holt, the school’s baseball program during the first decades of the 20th century developed more than a dozen major-league players, including Jackie Mayo, Dick Burrus, Al Evans, Pete Shields, Chubby Dean, Max Wilson, the Hayworth brothers (Red and Ray), and the Ferrell brothers.
[4] Twelve players from Guilford College have made it to the majors, according to Baseball Reference: Bill Lindsay (1911), Ernie Shore (1912-20), Tim Murchison (1917, 1920), Tom Zachary (1918-36), Luke Stuart (1921), Rufus Smith (1927), Rick Ferrell (1929-47), Bob Garbark (1934-45), Stu Martin (1936-43), Boyd Perry (1941), Bill Bell (1952, 1955), and Tony Womack (1993-2006).
[5] The game on July 6, 1933 pitting the best players of the National and American leagues was part of the Chicago World’s Fair. Arch Ward, the sports editor of the Chicago Tribune, came up with the idea. The game was intended to be a one-time event that would accompany the fair and that could also boost morale during the Great Depression. Ward decided that the fans would select the starting nine players and the managers the other nine. The Tribune called it the “Game of the Century,” and 55 newspapers across the country ran the fans’ ballots. The Tribune estimated the attendance at 49,000. Net gate receipts of about $45,000 ($970,000 when adjusted for inflation) went to a charity for disabled and needy major league players.
[6] The Washington Senators knuckleballers were: Dutch Leonard, Mickey Haefner, John Niggling, and Roger Wolff. It is the only starting rotation in baseball history to feature four pitchers who threw mainly knuckleballs.
[7] Though the Veterans Committee was abolished and replaced by five Eras Committee, charges of cronyism still haunts the selection process. See this analysis in Baseball Prospectus: https://www.baseballprospectus.com/news/article/19799/prospectus-hit-and-run-the-curious-case-of-freddie-lindstrom/.

References
[I] Hoogesteger, John. “Friends, Family Pay Respects to a Legend.” Detroit (MI) Free Press, Aug.1, 1995.
[II] Ferrell, Kerrie, “Rick Ferrell.” Society of American Baseball Research, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/rick-ferrell/.
[III] Edwards, Henry P. “Rick Ferrell Had Boxing Ambitions.” News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), Jan. 16, 1931.
[IV] “Phil Ball Snatched Rick in Cloak-and-Dagger Deal.” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), April 22, 1959.
[V] Tiede, Joe. “Ferrell’s Attention Turns From Field to Front Office.” News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), Aug. 9, 1984.
[VI] Thomy, Al. “Rick Ferrell, the Consummate Receiver.” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), June 4, 1984.
[VII] Stahr, John W. Associated Press. “Here’s Really Good Yarn About Ferrell Brother.” News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), May 3, 1931.
[VIII] Freedman, Lew. “Knuckleball: The History of the Unhittable Pitch.” Sports Publishing: New York, 2015.
[IX] Hawkins, Burton. “Ferrell Would Resume Catching Role; Nats Tackling Tigers.” Evening Star (Washington, DC), March 13, 1947.
[X] Hawkins, Burton. “Ferrell at 40 Finest Catcher in League, Nats’ Best at Bat.” Evening Star (Washington, DC), Aug. 5, 1947.
[XI] “Rick Ferrell 1984 Hall of Fame Speech.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cMGwLmsYzU.
[XII] Tiede, Joe. “Ferrell Is Unaccustomed to Attention He’s Getting.” News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), Aug. 9, 1984.

Wade, Whistling Jake

Primary Positions: Starting pitcher, relief pitcher
Birthplace: Morehead City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Awards/Honors: NC Sports Hall of Fame, 2000; Boys of Summer Top 100

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.

 

Crowder, General

Primary Position: Starting pitcher
Birthplace: Winston-Salem

First, Middle Names: Alvin Floyd      Nickname: The General
Date of Birth:  Jan. 11, 1899   Date and Place of Death: April 3, 1972, Winston-Salem, NC
Burial: Forsyth Memorial Park Cemetery, Winston-Salem, NC

High School: Did Not Attend 
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-10, 170
Debut Year: 1926       Final Year: 1936          Years Played: 11
Teams and Years: Washington Senators, 1926-27; St. Louis Browns, 1927-30; Senators, 1930-34; Detroit Tigers, 1934-36

Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
402   167    115      22       4.12      2344.1 799    28.3

Awards/Honors: All Star, 1933; N.C. Sports Hall of Fame, 1967; Boys of Summer Top 100

For six years starting in 1928, the great Lefty Grove was the only pitcher who won more games than Alvin Crowder, a durable and dependable right-hander who was so eager to be called into service that he was known as The General. He won at least 20 games three times, appeared in three World Series and was chosen to pitch for the American League in the inaugural All-Star Game.

A lifelong resident of Winston-Salem, Crowder retired after 11 seasons as one of the best pitchers North Carolina has ever produced, finishing 21st on the list of the state’s Top 100 players. His 167 career victories is eighth-best among natives who pitched at least 500 innings in the major leagues. His 150 career complete games is sixth on that list and his almost 2,350 innings pitched are 10th. In all, Crowder is among the top 20 in 13 pitching categories.

Walter Johnson, a pretty fair pitcher himself, managed Crowder on the Washington Senators and had this to say about his ace: “Pitchers like Crowder come along once in a generation. He’s got everything – speed, curve, control and sense. There was many a time when I’d look the bench over for a pitcher to work the day’s game. Crowder would say, ‘Gimme the ball.’ And he went out and won 15 straight.”[I]

Born in 1899, Alvin Floyd Crowder grew up in the Broadbay section of southeastern Forsyth County, about eight miles from Winston-Salem. His father, George, was a blacksmith and a farmer and his mother, Emma, was a homemaker who took care of Alvin and his sister, Maggie.

Young Alvin quit school after the fifth grade to help on the family farm. He worked in a cotton mill when he was 14 and played baseball on the company team. He was also a mechanic at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in Winston Salem and a riveter in shipyards in Alexandria, Virginia. He continued to play amateur and semipro ball.

Crowder joined the Army in 1919 and was stationed in Siberia and then the Philippines, where he volunteered for the base team to break the monotony of Army life. He found out he could pitch. By the time he was transferred to San Francisco in 1922, Crowder had established a reputation as a hard-throwing right hander. He is said to have won 19 in a row in the military league. He also moonlighted with area semipro teams.

Discharged that June, Crowder signed with the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League. He pitched one inning with the championship team and was released in the offseason. He had better luck the following year back home with the Winston-Salem Twins of the Class C Piedmont League, winning 10 games in his first full professional season.

He proved to be a rubber-armed pitcher for the Birmingham, Alabama, Barons in 1925, leading the Class A Southern Association in appearances with 59 while logging 226 innings. Because he would take the ball at any time, teammates called him The General after Gen. Enoch Crowder, the Army provost marshal who instituted the draft lottery during World War I.          

After he won 17 games in less than three months of the 1926 season, the Washington Senators bought his contract for $10,000, or about $147,000 when adjusted for inflation. Crowder reported to the reigning American League champions in mid-July with the team struggling to remain above .500. He made his big-league debut on July 24, tossing a complete game 3-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers, and ended the season with a 7-4 record.

An “ulcerated stomach” and a sore right arm interrupted Crowder’s spring training in 1927 and contributed to a disappointing sophomore season. After tossing a complete game to win his first start, he lost three in a row and was relegated to the bullpen. The Senators traded him in July to the last-place St. Louis Browns for fellow North Carolinian Tom Zachary. Crowder’s struggles continued with the Browns, as he won only one of his eight starts.

The 1928 season began with more of the same. Inconsistent and wild in his first three starts, Crowder was again sent to the bullpen. He worked his way back into the rotation in June and reeled of 10 straight wins, including nine complete games. Often pitching on short rest, he won 21 for the season, including the last eight in a row. In one game, he struck out Ty Cobb three times. Yes, the fuzz was off the 41-year-old Georgia Peach, who was playing in his last season, but the game’s greatest hitter hadn’t whiffed three times in a game since his rookie season 23 years earlier.

Crowder became known as a workhorse and was among the American League leaders in games, complete games and innings pitched. He was also an excellent fielding pitcher, making only seven errors in 450 total chances. After making an error against the New York Yankees on May 19, 1932, he went the rest of his career without making another one.

Speaking of the Yankees, Crowder beat the best team in the league consistently and even handled its star, Babe Ruth, with relative ease. “My success against them,” he said, “came from … studying the pitchers around the league. I tried to see what type of pitch each Yankee hit well, especially what they didn’t pull, and used it against them.”[II]

Back with the Senators in 1932, Crowder may have had the best season any pitcher in that franchise not named Walter Johnson ever had. He led both leagues in wins with 26, reeling off 15 straight at the end of the season, and proved to be the most-durable pitcher in the majors. He threw 327 innings in 39 starts, often on three days’ rest. “If you’d let him, he’d pitch every day,” marveled Manager Johnson. “His arm is made of rubber, and he doesn’t know the meaning of fatigue.”[III]

The Senators cruised to the American League pennant in 1933, their first in 12 seasons. Crowder won a league-high 24 games and logged more than 299 innings, second in the league. He was one of five pitchers chosen to represent the American League in the first All-Star Game that year. He always considered it his greatest achievement in baseball. “I don’t think a greater honor could be bestowed on any player, unless it would be admittance to the Cooperstown Hall of Fame,” Crowder said 25 years later.[IV]

He bombed, however, in his two starts in the World Series, which the New York Giants won in five games.

The General was 35 when the new season began and seemed to have lost his stripes. He had a 4-10 record and an earned-run average, or ERA, approaching 7.00 when the Senators shipped him to Detroit in August. He became the Tigers’ cagey veteran, going 5-1 the rest of the way for a World Series bound team. He appeared in another Series, losing his only start to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Crowder relied on instincts and an assortment of sliders, sinkers and off-speed pitches and methodical precision during his last full season in the majors in 1935. He won five of eight starts in June to keep the Tigers in contention and then won all five of his August starts, but age caught up with him. Physically drained, he lost all three decisions in September as the Tigers limped to their second-consecutive pennant. He took the mound in Game Four of the World Series in a chilly, windy Wrigley Field and the magic returned one final time. Crowder limited the Chicago Cubs to five hits in a complete-game victory that gave the Tigers a commanding 3-1 series lead. They won it two days later.

While Crowder was on the mound for his only Series win, his wife, Ruth, lay gravely ill in a Winston-Salem hospital. They had married in 1924, and she had been in poor health since the early 1930s.

In a story that doesn’t pass the smell test, a reporter for United Press International wrote that Crowder was close to tears in the clubhouse after the game. “His wife heard the game over the radio,” an unnamed teammate is quoted as saying. “The doctors told him that if won the game it would help her a great deal to get well. Hell, I’d like to see the guy bust right out crying. He’d feel better and nobody would mind.”[V]

Crowder developedl igament problems in his throwing shoulder during spring training in 1936. He had an ERA over 8.00 in limited playing by late June. He left the team and retired in the offseason. Ruth died several weeks after Crowder returned home. He married Joan Brockwell, a nurse in Chapel Hill, in September. They would have two children, Kathryn and Alvin Jr.

He led efforts to bring professional baseball back to Winston-Salem, which had been without a team since 1933. His Winston-Salem Twins, an unaffiliated team in the Class B Piedmont League, lost its first 28 games to begin the 1937 season. Crowder managed the team during the first 20 of those losses.[1] He secure an affiliation with the Brooklyn Dodgers for the following season and sold his majority stake in the team in 1939, but he continued to play an active role through the 1940s.  

Crowder owned a farm in Germanton in Forsyth County during much of his baseball career but he was living in Winston-Salem when he died of heart disease in 1972.


Footnote
[1] The Winston-Salem Twins’ 28-game losing streak was second only to Muskogee in the Southwestern League, which lost 38 straight in 1928. (“The General Finally Wins One.” Sporting News [St. Louis, MO], June 10, 1937.)

References
[I] Mallette, Mal. “Old Yank-Stopper Crowder Predicts They Will Stay Up Another Decade.” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), July 12, 1958.
[II] Wolf, Gregory H. “General Crowder.” Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/general-crowder/.
[III] Ibid.
[IV] “All Other Thrills Combined No Equal to All-Star Pick in Crowder’s Book.” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), July 9, 1958.
[V]
United Press International. “Al Crowder is ‘Man of the Hour’ as Tigers Praise him in Clubhouse.” Daily Illini (University of Illinois, Champaign, IL), October 6, 1935.