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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whisenant, Pete

Positions: Centerfield, left field
Birthplace: Asheville

First, Middle Names: Thomas Peter
Date of Birth:  Dec. 14, 1929  Date and Place of Death: March 22, 1996, Port Charlotte, FL
Burial: Cremated

High School: Paw Creek High School, Paw Creek, NC
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-2, 190
Debut Year: 1952       Final Year: 1961          Years Played: 8
Teams and Years: Boston Braves, 1952; St. Louis Cardinals, 1955; Chicago Cubs, 1956; Cincinnati Redlegs, 1957-60; Cleveland Indians, 1960; Washington Senators, 1960; Minnesota  Twins, 1961; Cincinnati Reds, 1961

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
465   988    221     140     134      37       .224     .284     .399     1.6

 An intense competitor, Pete Whisenant was thought to be just a few steps from stardom when he signed his first professional contract as one of North Carolina’s most-prized prep players. It was not to be, however. After an eight-year career on seven big-league clubs, Whisenant retired as a reserve outfielder with a .224 career batting average.

He had short careers as a major-league coach and minor-league manager after his playing days and longer ones as the director of a popular baseball camp and as a businessman who owned vending machines and sold baseball memorabilia. That last endeavor led to a partnership with Pete Rose, the game’s all-time hits leaders, that didn’t end that well.

Born in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1929, Thomas Peter Whisenant grew up in Paw Creek, in western Mecklenburg County, after his mother, Pearl, married Jim Todd, a local farmer. Murphy Barnes, Whisenant’s father, was a longtime resident of Raleigh, North Carolina, where he worked for the United States Department of Agriculture.

Paw Creek, now a neighborhood of Charlotte, was then a small village of cotton mills six miles from the city. Baseball players were another community export. Whisenant grew up idolizing Hank Greenberg, the Detroit Tigers’ slugger, and Whitey Lockman, an older local boy who made it to the majors a few years before he did. Bill Baker had proceeded them both. Ken Wood and Tommy Helms would make it later.[1]At one time,” Whisenant said, “that small mill village had more major-league ballplayers than the entire state of Arkansas.”[I]

He was the captain of the high-school baseball team and a starter on its basketball squad, though he had a habit of fouling out of games. A star on the local American Legion team, he was chosen in 1946 to a team of Eastern prep all-stars who played their Western counterparts in a game in Wrigley Field sponsored by Esquire magazine. The teenager had never ventured far from home and was awestruck by the sprawling station in Cincinnati where he had to change trains to Chicago. “Grandpa, this place is bigger than all of Paw Creek,” he wrote on the back of a postcard of the station that he mailed home.[II]

The Eastern team lost 10-4, but Whisenant had three of the team’s six hits and shared the dugout with Manager Honus Wagner. Ty Cobb piloted the opposing team. Imagine the stories that must have impressed the folks back home.

Whisenant was considered “the finest major-league prospect in the country” when he graduated in May 1947. Major-league scouts and college recruiters had filled the stands during that final season. “You should have been out here Monday night,” one reported. “There were so many bird dogs out here that they should have worn badges to keep from signing up each other.”[III]

Scouts camped out on the kid’s front porch for two weeks trying to get his name on a contract. Gil English, a former major-leaguer from High Point, North Carolina, finally did. The Boston Braves had to pony up about $100,000 in current dollars for the teen’s signature.

Whisenant spent several years in the Braves’ minor leagues and was expected to make the big-league club in 1951, but he joined the Navy rather than be drafted.

When he returned to the Braves the following spring, the six-foot, two-inch Whisenant had filled out to 190 pounds. He hit well in exhibition games and covered a lot of ground in centerfield. Old hands noticed that like Ted Williams the rookie spent a good deal of time when he wasn’t chasing down fly balls practicing his swing. They also saw that unlike the Boston Red Sox star Whisenant wasn’t an indifferent fielder. In fact, he was considered one of best defensive outfielders in the Braves’ system. His can-do demeanor also left an impression. “I like the boy,” said Braves’ Manager Tommy Holmes. “He has that old-time spirit. He’s a fiery competitor.”[IV]

He made his debut with the Braves in April 1952 but lasted only 24 games before being sent back down to the Class AAA club in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He reappeared in the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1955 and then the Chicago Cubs the following season, his best in the big leagues. He played in 103 games and had career highs in home runs (11) and batting average (.239).

Whisenant became a valuable reserve and pinch hitter for the Cincinnati Redlegs for three seasons, starting in 1957.[2] He had five pinch-hit homers that year. He played his last two years on three teams before returning to Cincinnati in 1961. Whisenant retired as an active player in the middle of the season and became the batting coach on a team headed to the World Series. He paced the dugout with a bat, swatting sleepy players and malcontents. He was the consummate cheerleader and Manager Fred Hutchinson’s right-hand man. “Pete Whisenant was our rah-rah guy,” pitcher Joey Jay remembered. Old-school in his outlook, Whisenant was irritated by players discussing their investments or one, Jim Brosnan, pecking away at his typewriter.[3] “Think baseball, nothing else” was his constant litany.[V]

Released as the Reds’ outfield coach at the end of the 1962 season, Whisenant started a vending machine company in Evansville, Indiana, and moved it to Punto Gordo, Florida, seven years later where he also directed a baseball clinic for boys that Rose and Johnny Bench, Reds’ teammates, sponsored. He ran the popular clinic each winter into the mid-1970s.

Whisenant and Rose signed a contract in 1979 to capitalize on Rose’s assault on Cobb’s career hits record.[4] They were to sell souvenirs and merchandise bearing the caricature known as Little Charlie Hustle. They were to split the profits. Rose sued Whisenant over the character in 1985. Whisenant countersued two years later, claiming that Rose’s company sold merchandise without paying him. The lawsuits were settled out of court and the details were never disclosed.

Whisenant had better luck with the Modesto A’s in California. He managed the A’s to the California League championship in 1982. Billy Martin, the Oakland A’s manager, got his good friend the job as skipper of the club’s Class A affiliate. During his one season at Modesto, Whisenant was described variously as “cantankerous,” “hard-living,” “hard-drinking,” and a “masterful motivator.”[VI]

He was promoted to manage the Double A Huntsville Stars in 1983 but was fired at mid-season and moved to Costa Rica.

“He was tough on the outside and soft on the inside,” his son, Pete Jr., said.[VII]

Whisenant, who was married three times, had seven children.

He was living back in Cincinnati in 1996 when he died in Port Charlotte, Florida, of liver failure.  


Footnotes
[1] Bill Baker was a catcher in the National League in the early 1940s. Whitey Lockman was an outfielder in the major leagues for 15 years, starting in 1945. Ken Wood, also an outfielder, debuted three years later and played for eight years. Tommy Helms was an all-star and Gold Glove second baseman and shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds in the mid-1960s. Baker was the only Paw Creek native. See their profiles for more information.
[2] The Cincinnati Reds officially changed their name to the Redlegs in 1953 because they wanted to avoid getting caught up in McCarthyism’s consuming search for communists in government and business. They became the Reds again in 1959.
[3] A modestly effective relief pitcher, Jim Brosnan was known as an intellectual and was called The Professor by teammates because he puffed on a pipe and read books during games. He later wrote controversial books that, for the first time, realistically depicted life in a baseball locker room.
[4] Rose broke the record on September 11, 1985 with his 4,192nd hit.

References
[I] Heiling, Joe. “Astros Walking on Air Over Super Helms-Man.” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), July 21, 1973.
[II] Lawson, Earl. “Red’s Helms – Courage Wrapped in a Small Package.” Sporting News (St. Louis. MO),
January 13, 1968.
[III] Howe, Ray. “Here’s Howe.” Charlotte (NC) News, April 30, 1947.
[IV] Warner, Ralph. “City’s Pete Whisenent Thrills Holmes, Braves With His Spirit,” Charlotte (NC) Observer, March 23, 1952.
[V] Murray, Jack. “O’Toole ‘Tried’ to ’61.” Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer, Oct. 9, 1970.
[VI] “Modesto’s A’s Championship Skipper Whisenent Dies.” Modesto (CA) Bee, March 23, 1996.
[VII] Ibid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

     


Andrews, Nate

Player Name: Andrews, Nate
Position: Starting pitcher
Birthplace: Pembroke

First, Middle Names: Nathan Hardy
Date of Birth:  Sept. 30, 1913 Date and Place of Death: April 26, 1991, Winston-Salem, NC
Burial: Rowland Cemetery, Rowland, NC

High School: Rowland High School, Rowland, NC
Colleges: Presbyterian Junior College, Maxton, NC; University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-0, 195
Debut Year: 1937       Final Year: 1946          Years Played: 8
Teams and Years: St. Louis Cardinals, 1937, 1939; Cleveland Indians, 1940-41; Boston Braves, 1943-45; Cincinnati Reds, 1946; New York Giants, 1946

Award: All-Star, 1944

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

Maybe it was happening. Maybe Nate Andrews was finally rediscovering the form that had made him a formidable pitcher back in Chapel Hill, that kid who had no-hit Wake Forest. He was a 29-year-old righty with a wicked curve, who had battled his waistline, booze, and bad luck in his first four seasons in the big leagues. He had been up and down from the minors and had just one major-league victory to his credit and an earned-run average, or ERA, approaching 8.00.

No one on the Boston Braves expected much from him when the 1943 season began. Everyone’s attention was drawn elsewhere, to a war in Europe and on pieces of rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that no one had ever heard of. With little notice, the guy with the 8.00 ERA won four of his first five starts, limiting opponents to less than two runs a game.

Then, it started. On May 23, he pitched nine innings of shutout ball, only to lose 1-0 when he surrendered a run in the 10th. He lost the next three games, also each by a run. The hard-luck losses kept piling up. When the season ended, Andrews had 20 of them. With a 2.57 ERA – the lowest of any 20-game loser in history – he deserved better. Sixteen of those losses came in games when the anemic Braves scored two or fewer runs. When his teammates briefly awoke to score at least three, Andrews was 11-4.

He rebounded to have an All-Star season the following year, but his odd, erratic behavior – one has to presume triggered or enhanced by alcoholism – forced Andrews to end his major-league career. He had a losing record, but his lifetime 3.46 ERA ties him for 15th place among North Carolinians who pitched at least 500 innings.

The middle of three surviving children, Nathan Hardy Andrews Jr. was born in 1913 in Pembroke in Robeson County. Founded on the rail lines to Charlotte and Wilmington, the community was called Scuttletown during Andrews’ childhood because it was a good place to get into a fight.[1] His father, Nathan Sr., was a country doctor who dispensed care for chickens, eggs, hams, and whatever else patients had to barter. His mother, Leona, was known as a stern disciplinarian. A music teacher, she passed her love for song to her eldest son, who became adept with various musical instruments.

Baseball, though, was Andrews’ passion. He started pitching during his senior year at Rowland High School and then at Presbyterian Junior College in Maxton, North Carolina.[2] He was also the fullback for the football team. Andrews transferred to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill in 1933, the year he threw that no-hitter against Wake Forest College. He would always consider it his greatest achievement in baseball.

The St. Louis Cardinals signed him the following year, and Andrews would toil in their minor leagues for he next six seasons. The Cardinals that year made their fifth World Series appearance in nine years mostly on the strength of their pitching. They simply didn’t need him. He also irritated the team’s manager and coaches by being overweight and not always in top physical condition. He had pitched nine forgettable innings for the big-league club in 1937.[I]

Andrews responded to the criticism by shedding 15 pounds in 1939 and reporting early to the Cardinals’ training camp in Columbus, Ohio. He won 17 games that season for the farm club in Rochester, New York, and started in the American Association All-Star Game.

That led to a second call-up in mid-summer. Andrews expected to be plugged into the Cardinals’ starting rotation. Manager Ray Blades stuck him in the bullpen, instead, where he got shelled. Words were exchanged in a heated quarrel, and the Cardinals traded Andrews to their poor sisters, the Browns, at the end of the season. “[Nate] was the best pitcher in the American Association,” said Browns’ general manager Bill DeWitt. “He came up expecting to be pitched regularly. He didn’t do so well after the first game, then was thrown into the [bullpen as] a relief pitcher. It hurt his pride [and he] became sulky. He quarreled with Ray Blades and broke training. That’s how we happened to get him. He was a swell pickup for the money. Mind you, he’s really not a bad actor, just a victim of circumstances.”[II]

“Broke training” may indeed be a euphemism. He started drinking.

Andrews would never pitch for the Browns, who sold him to the Cleveland Indians in 1940. The next two years were difficult. He was suspended for more “training” violations. The Indians, for instance, left him in Florida in March 1941 for violating “training rules” in Cuba where the team had played a series of exhibition games.

His drinking also led to problems at home. His wife, Ellen, whom everyone called Virginia, left him for a time, taking their daughter with her. A farm girl from nearby Fairmont, North Carolina, she met her distant cousin at a barn dance. The couple got married in 1936. She alleged in court papers three years later that Andrews had become a “habitual drunkard” and that she “lives in constant fear of bodily harm.” She ask the court for $100 a month to support their daughter, Virginia Dare. She said Andrews paid only $45 a year to help the family.[III]

Andrews was living in South Carolina when he registered for the draft in 1940 and listed his father as a contact. There’s no evidence, however, that the couple was legally divorced. In fact, they would have two more children together.

After a brief stop in Cincinnati, Andrews found himself with the Braves to start the 1943 season. “We may be able to get out of seventh place,” Manager Casey Stengel said of the new arrival.[IV]  They did. The Braves finished sixth that year despite the new guy losing 20 games.

Andrews revived the following year, winning 16 games – the most on the staff – and pitching in the All-Star Game for a league that lost most of its stars to war. It was a remarkable comeback for a pitcher who was a wreck when he reported to Braves’ camp in Connecticut in March. He was drinking, taking “nerve pills” and enduring columns of bad publicity. He was pale, weak and unsteady. All he could do was lob the ball wildly to the pitcher.

He started attending Alcoholic Anonymous meetings and soon became the prize example for the Boston AA chapter. Andrews spoke often at meetings, and leaders later said he probably saved 150 alcoholics that summer.

Good natured and well-liked by his teammates, Andrews was open about his alcoholism and vowed to stay off the stuff this time. “The last time I went off the wagon three years ago, I swapped a brand new Gladstone bag for a two-dollar bottle of corn,” he said.[3][v]

To pass the time on long road trips, he bought books to read instead of whiskey to drink. During a dugout conversation about how many beers a man could drink at one sitting, Andrews said, “My own personal record is 50 pints in a day. I didn’t drink it because I liked it, but to put the fire out.”[VI]

That fire must have burned out of control in 1945. That was the year Andrews became what the Boston newspapers called the “lost pitcher.” He disappeared three times during the season without telling anyone. Once, relatives called the Braves to let the team know that Andrews had come home. In August, he failed to show up to pitch the opener of a doubleheader. He later claimed to have a sore arm and decided not to report to the ballpark. “I’ve pitched good ball for this club for three years,” he said. “I’m no goldbrick. I’ll do my share. My arm was sore today and I knew I couldn’t have pitched so what was the use of going out there.”[VII]

A week later, the Braves sold Andrews to the Reds for the $7,500 waiver fee. Reds Manager Bill McKechnie thought Andrews could win “if he could be induced to abstain.”[VIII] He didn’t show up for 10 days and was given permission to go home for the rest of the season. He promised to make a fresh start the next year.

Andrews pitched for two teams in 1946, his last in the major leagues, and wasn’t good with either. In a June game, the Cardinals were slapping him around. Red’s catcher Ray Lamanno called time and walked out to the mound.

“Do you feel all right, Nate?” he asked his pitcher.

“I’m all right, Ray,” Andrews replied. “I ain’t got no pain; I ain’t got no misery” – and then after a pause, “and I ain’t got nuthin’ on the ball.”[IX]

The Reds traded him to the New York Giants. He voluntarily walked away from the majors soon after. “I came home … of my own accord,” he explained. “I decided I had had enough of the Big Show and the time had come for me to return to North Carolina, where I could be with my family. I had a lot of years up there and too many away from home.”[X]

Andrews played, coached or managed in the minors for two more years. He also worked in the family drugstore, later opened his own dry-cleaning business and scouted for the Chicago White Sox in the 1950s.

He moved  in 1959 to work for a dry cleaner in Stokes County, North Carolina. After retiring he volunteered for a senior-citizens group in Stokes and advocated for programs for the elderly.

Late in life, poor circulation required the amputation of both legs below the knees. Andrews died in 1991 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.


Footnotes
[1] Pembroke is now the center of culture for the Lumbee Indians, a state-recognized tribe.

[2] Presbyterian Junior College merged with Flora MacDonald College in Red Springs, North Carolina, in 1958. A groundbreaking ceremony was held the next year in Laurinburg, North Carolina, for the campus of the new school, now called St. Andrews University.
[3] By Andrews day, Gladstone bags were long considered the epitome of fashionable travel. Made in England, the bag was a kind of suitcase built on a rigid frame that could be split into two separate parts.  It was usually made of very strong leather and was often ‘tied’ with lanyards also made of leather. (Gladstonebag.com, https://web.archive.org/web/20091031082308/http://www.gladstonebag.com/).

References
[I] Evans, Louis. “Rowland’s Nate Andrews Coming Back as Hurler.” Robesonian (Lumberton, NC), April 10, 1939.
[II] Skelton, David E. “Nate Andrews.” Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/nate-andrews/.
[III] “Alimony Suit Filed Against Nate Andrews.” Robesonian (Lumberton, NC), November 20, 1939.
[IV] Skelton.
[V] Kaese, Harold. “Nate Andrews Merits Best Comeback Award.” Boston (MA) Globe, November 30, 1944.
[VI] Ibid.
[VII] “Andrews Repeats Act.” Des Moines (IW) Tribune, Aug. 17, 1945.
[VIII] Husted, Bob. “The Referee.” Dayton (OH) Herald, March 28, 1946.
[IX] Skelton.
[X] O’Brien, Frank. “Move From Majors to Class D ‘Own Idea,’ Says Nate Andrews. Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), August 21, 1946.

 

 

DeLancey, Bill

Position: Catcher
Birthplace: Greensboro

First, Last Names: William Pinkney
Date of Birth:  Nov. 28, 1911 Date and Place of Death: Nov. 28, 1946, Phoenix, AZ
Burial: St. Francis Catholic Cemetery, Phoenix, AZ

High School: Bessemer High School, Greensboro
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-11, 185
Debut Year: 1932       Final Year: 1940          Years Played: 4
Team and Years: St. Louis Cardinals, 1932, 1934-35, 1940

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
219      598    173      79        85        19       .289     .380     .472     4.0

At age 22, Bill DeLancey was a promising rookie and a fiery leader on the famed Gas House Gang that won a World Series. At 23, he was bed-ridden in a hospital and wracked with pain from a serious lung disease. At 35, he was dead.

Everyone who saw DeLancey play during his brief major-league career agreed that he was one of the game’s best young catchers. The kid had it all: a potent bat, a powerful throwing arm and the leadership skills that can’t be taught. “The greatest young catcher baseball ever looked at,” Frankie Frisch, DeLancey’s manager on the St. Louis Cardinals, told Grantland Rice, the legendary sportswriter. “Another Dickey, Cochrane or Hartnett. Maybe better.”[1][I]

William Pinkney DeLancey was born in 1911 to a large Irish family that eventually numbered 14 children. His parents, William and Rosa, ran a boarding house in Greensboro and worked in cotton mills.

DeLancey played baseball at old Bessemer High School on teams that starred his older brother, Jimmy, who was also a catcher.[2] Bill would take over when his brother moved to first base. He didn’t land the regular catching job until his senior year.[II]

After graduating in 1930, DeLancey played briefly for semipro teams near home and then for several independent minor-league clubs. The Cardinals signed him in 1932 and sent him to their Class C affiliate in Springfield, Ohio. DeLancey was the best player on a team that won a pennant. He hit .329 with a .414 slugging percentage, thanks largely to his 20 triples – proof that the kid could run, a rarity for a catcher — and 18 home runs. He also knocked in 110 runs to lead the team.

The Cardinals called DeLancey up at the end of the season. He made his debut on Sept. 11, 1932 at the Polo Grounds in New York and singled off Carl Hubbell, the Giants’ Hall of Fame pitcher.

After an equally impressive year the following season with the Cardinals’ top farm team in Columbus, Ohio, DeLancey was slated to back up veteran catcher Virgil “Spud” Davis on the big-league club in 1934. This, however, was the Gas House Gang, a bunch of talented, hard-nosed players who would win 95 games and the World Series.[3] Made up mostly of veterans, the team featured five regulars who would hit at least .300, a 30-game winner in Dizzy Dean, four All-Stars and seven future Hall of Famers.[4]

Frisch was understandably reluctant to put such a group in the hands of a rookie catcher. DeLancey didn’t get his first start until May 30. He went 4-for-5 with a triple and a homer and knocked in four runs. He also dispelled any doubts his manager had.

DeLancey started almost half the games the rest of the way. He responded by hitting .316, which included 18 doubles and 13 homers. He also threw out almost half the base stealers.

As talented as he was standing at the plate, DeLancey may have been even better behind it. A good defensive catcher, Cardinals’ pitchers preferred throwing to him. It was a varied bunch that included the young, phenom brother duo, Dizzy and Paul Dean, and grizzled veterans Burleigh Grimes and Jesse Haines. They all respected DeLancey’s fearlessness and trusted his judgment behind the plate. “On the field, he knew everything,” Branch Rickey, the Cardinals’ general manager, wrote in his autobiography. “He knew the movements of the baserunner backwards and forwards and learned the hitting traits of batsmen overnight. He anticipated managerial tactics and acted on his judgment. He had a remarkable pitching sense.”[III]

He also had a short fuse. DeLancey could be prickly. He argued with and swore at umpires and even at his manager. Frisch, at the tail end of a Hall of Fame career, also played second base. He advised the youngster before one game to try and lay off high fastballs because he was popping them up. On his next at bat, DeLancey deposited a high fastball on the roof of the Cardinals’ Sportsman’s Park. “That’s how much you know, you dumb Dutchman,” he snapped when he got back to the dugout.[IV]

It was a measure of the trust that Frisch had developed in his bad-tempered backstop that DeLancey started every game of the World Series against the Detroit Tigers. He only hit .172, but that included three doubles and a homer. He also expertly handled the pitching staff through the seven games and angered an umpire.

Mickey Cochrane, the Tigers’ manager and catcher, relayed the details to reporters. Umpire Brick Owens judged the first pitch DeLancey saw in the fifth game to be a strike. DeLancey snapped out a few choice expletives. The umpire told him they would cost him $50.

“Why don’t you make it a hundred, you thieving bum?” DeLancey responded.

Owens did.

“Make it two,” DeLancey screamed.

Owens obliged.

Cochrane then interceded, advising the kid to shut up before he spent his Series money on fines.[V]

Kenesaw Landis, the baseball commissioner, later ruled that umpires weren’t empowered to levy fines. He reduced DeLancey’s penalty to the original $50.

All that aside, the starting catching job was DeLancey’s in 1935, but a nagging cough prevented him from claiming it. Though he appeared in 103 games, DeLancey hit just .279 and often appeared weak.

After the season, DeLancey, a chain smoker, was hospitalized with a lung infection that the newspapers reported to be pneumonia. He didn’t improve, and doctors later said that fluid was accumulating in the lining of his lungs, and they suggested that DeLancey move to the Southwest where the dry climate would aid his recovery. [5]

DeLancey took his doctors’ advice. He and his wife, Frances, a nursing student he had met in Dayton, Ohio, and their baby daughter, Doris Ann, moved to Phoenix, Arizona. DeLancey was so weak when he was released from the hospital that he had to be carried to the train on a stretcher. He was bed-ridden for eight months, and his lungs had to be drained every 48 hours. The Cardinals paid for the training to teach Frances how to perform the task.

He recovered well enough that he managed the Cardinals’ new farm team in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for three seasons, starting in 1937. The club won back-to-back pennants.

DeLancey returned to the Cardinals in 1940. By then, his story had captured the hearts of baseball fans – a World Series hero at 22 and a deathly ill hospital patient a year later. Writer Marlowe Branagan of the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah summed it up in the dramatic fashion of the time: The white, hot, penetrating sun of the Arizona wastelands and the dead-game heart of a Mick who was sick combined in 1936 to fight a lonely battle that few survive.”[VI]

There would be no storybook ending this time, no comeback for the ages. DeLancey played in only 15 games in 1940. He retired for good two years later.

He returned to Arizona where he was a salesman for a sporting-goods company. He and Frances had another daughter.

His health worsened, though, and DeLancey died on Thanksgiving Day in 1946. It was also his 35th birthday.


Footnotes
[1] Bill Dickey, Mickey Cochrane and Gabby Hartnett are all in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
[2] The school , which held its first commencement in 1906, was in Bessemer, then a small community near Greensboro. It was merged with Page High School in 1963.
[3]
Though its exact origins are debated, the nickname certainly derived from the team’s general shabby appearance and rough on-the-field tactics. A “gas house” at the time was a factory that converted coal to “town” gas for cooking and lighting. They were common in most cities before the advent of natural gas. Foul-smelling, they were in the worst parts of town.
[4]
The players who were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame: Pitchers Dizzy Dean, Dazzy Vance, Burleigh Grimes and Jesse Haines; infielders Leo Durocher and Frisch; and outfielder Joe Medwick.
[5]
Pleurisy is a symptom of numerous diseases and conditions — viral and bacterial infections, congestive heart failure, autoimmune disease, lung cancer, to list a few – but the exact cause of DeLancey’s was never publicly reported. Newspapers later reported that he suffered from tuberculosis, which can lead to a buildup of fluid around the lungs.

References
[1] Rice, Grantland. “Sportlight.” Ignacio (CO) Chieftain, March 12, 1943
[II] “With N.C. Boys in Majors Yesterday.” News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), June 26, 1934.
[III] Ayers, Thomas. “Bill DeLancey.” The Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/bill-delancey/.
[IV] Ibid.
[V] Associated Press. “Umpire Fines DeLancey $200 for ‘Slander.’” Asheville (NC) Citizen-Times, October 8, 1934.
[VI] Branagan, Marlowe. “Down the Middle.” Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, UT), February 18, 1941.