Melton, Cliff

Primary Position: Starting pitcher
Birthplace: Brevard

First, Middle Names:  Clifton George
Nicknames: Mickey Mouse, Mountain Music

Date of Birth:  Jan. 3, 1912     Date and Place of Death: July 28, 1986, Baltimore, MD  Burial: Most Holy Redeemer Memorial Park, Baltimore, MD

High School: Black Mountain High School, Black Mountain, NC
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: L Throws: L        Height and Weight: 6-5, 203
Debut Year: 1937        Final Year: 1944          Years Played: 8
Team and Years: New York Giants, 1937-44

Career Summary
G          W        L          Sv        ERA     IP             SO         WAR
272    86      80       16        3.42     1453.2  660      15.3

Awards/Honors: All-Star, 1942; Boys of Summer Top 100

Cliff Melton seemed destined for stardom after the big lefty struck out a record 13 batters in his major-league debut in 1937 and then won 20 games in his initial season. Those victories, however, would amount to almost a quarter of the career total that he would accumulate over the next seven years as Melton became another promising pitcher whose arm gave out.

Carl Hubbell, Melton’s teammate on the New York Giants, shouldered  the blame. The kid pestered King Carl, a future Hall of Fame pitcher, to teach him his signature screwball, which required severely rotating the elbow to throw effectively. “He begged me to show him the screwball,” Hubbell said. “So, I did, and by the Fourth of July [1938] he’s well on his way to 20 again. But against Boston that day, breaking off a screwball, he grabbed his arm and kind of stumbled off the mound in great pain. I don’t think he lasted more than five or six more years. A great shame. I’ve been reluctant ever since then to work on the screwball with anybody.”[I]

New York Giants’ ace Carl Hubbell took the blame for his teammate’s arm woes.

The records and Melton’s own recollections don’t support that narrative, but more on that later. In any case, Hubbell should have been easier on himself. The notion that a particular type of pitch, no matter how physically taxing, ruined Melton’s career ignores the history of professional baseball, littered as it is with the bones of pitching arms gone bad. Whether they threw fastballs, curves, changeups, or, yes, screwballs, pitchers often had their careers shortened or ended when they reached the limits of their arms’ endurance. The type of pitch probably meant less than the number thrown. In Melton’s day, that was routinely 150 pitches a game, maybe 4,000 in a season. Few arms met such a rigorous challenge year after grinding year.

Though he never matched his rookie season or became a star, Melton went on to have a respectable major-league career, despite the constant pain during the later years and a trip to the operating room. He was named an All-Star in 1942 and ended his career with 86 victories and a 3.42 earned-run average, which is good for 12th place among North Carolinians with at least 500 innings pitched in the major leagues. He is 43d on the list of the Tarheels Boys of Summer Top 100.

Born in 1912, Clifton George Melton and his older brother, Wilco, spent their earliest years on a farm near Brevard, North Carolina, in Transylvania County. A few years later, their parents, Charles and Callie, took the family about 40 miles to Black Mountain, North Carolina, where Charles worked for a construction company, eventually becoming its foreman.

As a freshman in 1928, Melton played the three major sports at Black Mountain High School but, fearing an injury, he later dropped football. Though he won two-thirds of the games that he pitched and reached the state playoffs in his sophomore year, he was better known on the basketball court. The lanky, six-foot, five-inch senior was considered among the best prep centers in the state and attracted scholarship offers from several colleges.

The 1940 Beacon Blanketeers. Cliff Melton played for the semi-pro team more than a decade earlier. Photo: NC Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville, NC

Melton, however, had been making money playing baseball since he was 17 years old when he was the star pitcher for Beacon Manufacturing’s semipro team in nearby Swannanoa, North Carolina.[1] In the midst of the Depression in 1931, he opted for a paying job and signed with the Tourists, an unaffiliated minor-league team just up US 70 in Asheville, North Carolina. A few weeks later, the high-school kid took the mound to face the New York Yankees of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in an exhibition game. He allowed one hit in five innings and struck out Ruth. The minor-league Baltimore Orioles signed him at the end of the season for $2,000, or the equivalent of about $35,000 in 2022.

Melton joined one of the most-storied franchises in the minors.[2] The Class AA Orioles had won seven consecutive International League pennants, starting in 1919, with teams that are now considered among the best in minor-league history. Sixteen Orioles had gone to the major leagues by the time Melton arrived. Six would continue on to Cooperstown, including Ruth and Lefty Grove.[3] The Orioles had sold Grove to the Philadelphia Athletics in 1924 for the princely price of $100,000 ($1.6 million). He was the most-dominant pitcher in baseball in Melton’s day, and major-league general managers and scouts had their eyes on the next prized, Orioles’ southpaw.

After a year of seasoning in the Orioles’ minors, Melton won 16 games for Baltimore in 1933. Though he stumbled and lost 20 the following season, the Yankees bought his contract for $2,400 ($50,000).

He reported to the team’s spring training camp in 1935 and took the mound against the Chicago Cubs, whose catcher Gabby Hartnett took one look at Melton’s jug ears and dubbed him “Mickey Mouse.” Because it angered and distracted Melton, the taunting escalated throughout the spring and into the new season, which he started in the minors. Showered with insults from the opposing dugout, he seemed to lose his concentration, especially with men on base. He bellowed at umpires and argued pitch selection with his catchers. The Yankees’ deal with the Orioles required that Melton make the big-league club by June. When the deadline passed, they gave him back to Baltimore where he ended the season.

While on a goodwill tour of the city that winter for the Orioles, Melton showed off his considerable skill on the guitar, which he had learned to play as a child, and entertained crowds with traditional mountain songs. “My Bucket Has a Hole in It,” “Under the Double Eagle” and “That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine” were audience favorites.[4] “Mountain Music” Melton, they started calling him, a nickname he much preferred over Mickey Mouse.

By then, he had made Baltimore his adopted home. He married a local woman, Mary Anello, in 1933, and they would raise three children there

Melton had his breakout season in 1936, winning 20 games for the pennant-winning Orioles. The Giants, who would win their own pennant that year, bought his contract in midseason for $27,500 ($556,000), but they didn’t need another starter just then and allowed Melton to finish the season in Baltimore.

Opposing teams in the International League playoffs rode Melton unmercifully about his ears. To put an end to it, Jack Dunn, the Orioles owner, offered him $100 for every offender he punched. Melton obliged twice, hitting the manager of the Rochester team and then the skipper of Buffalo, which led to a brawl that police had to quell.

The New York Giants pitching staff that won the 1937 pennant, from left: Hal Schumacher, Dick Coffman, Carl Hubbell and Cliff Melton. Photo: Detroit Public Library.

As the most-expensive rookie in the National League in 1937, Melton was a fixture on New York sports pages when the season began. “The North Carolina hillbilly with the auto-fender ears” made his first start against the Boston Bees on April 25, a cold and dreary Sunday at the Polo Grounds in New York.[II] He fanned the first batter he faced and had seven more strikeouts by the end of the fifth inning, 13 by the end of the game. No pitcher had ever fanned than many in a debut, a record that stood until 1954.[5] Though the Bees won 2-1 on an unearned run, Melton had made a statement.

He could be an intimidating presence on the mound with a deceptive fastball that was unleashed by an easy, loose windup that ended with a long stride that seemed to put the big guy on top of the batter. He was the most consistent Giants’ starter that season, winning 10 of 12 games in a two-month stretch. He and Hubbell, who won 22, carried the team to its second-consecutive National League pennant, becoming in the process the best southpaw pair since Grove and Rube Walberg tossed for Connie Mack and the Athletics in the late 1920s.

As they did the previous season, the Giants would again face their neighbor across the Harlem River, the Yankees, in the World Series. Melton didn’t have fond memories of his brief time with the Yankees. Maybe he was embittered by all the taunts, arguments with catchers, beefs with umpires. Maybe he thought he didn’t get a fair shot to make the team. Whatever the source of his angst, Melton apparently carried a grudge. After winning his 18th game in late September, a 6-0 whitewash of the Cubs, to clinch the pennant, Melton used the occasion in front of the assembled scribes in the clubhouse to slam the Yankees. “They don’t use their brains. They get up and swing,” he said. “If they connect – O.K., they win. If they don’t, they’re licked.”

Bill Terry, his manager, or one of his teammates should have shoved a sock in his mouth at that point. A team that had beaten them the previous year and would win 102 games with a lineup that included Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, and Tony Lazzari didn’t need a fire lit under it. But, no, Melton proceeded to throw fuel on it. “We mix up every batter. We pitch with our brains,” he said of his Giants. “We hold meetings between innings. It’s like a game of chess. It’s an intelligent man’s type of baseball. I think guile will beat brawn.”[III]

Joe McCarthy, the Yankees’ skipper, was a quiet man who rarely spoke to reporters. He let his teams do the talking for him out on the field. They spoke loudly, winning eight American League pennants and seven World Series in 12 years while punching McCarthy’s ticket to the Hall of Fame. Marse Joe, as the newspapers called him for his firm grip on the team, had rules he expected his players to follow. They were champions and had to deport themselves as such in hotels, on the team train, out on the field. They wore suits and ties while they traveled, didn’t get into bar brawls, respected their opponents and umpires. Rookies didn’t mouth off to reporters. “The fact is Melton wasn’t ready. He was a couple of years off and everybody but himself knew it,” a diplomatic McCarthy said on the day the Series started. “I was the one who had to decide whether he was worth $25,000 plus several players. I didn’t think he was…. If I thought Melton would have won us some ballgames, I would have kept him.”[IV]

New York Yankees’ manager Joe McCarthy, center, is flanked by Joe DiMaggio, left, and Lou Gehrig. Photo: National Baseball Hall of Fame

Coach Johnny Schulte, one of the Yankees’ most-caustic bench jockeys, wasn’t nearly as kind. “Melton may have won 20 games in that Barnum and Bailey circuit,” he said, probably in violation of McCarthy’s rules, “but when he faces us, he’ll know he’s in the big leagues.”[V]

DiMaggio, Gehrig et al then had the final say. They buried Hubbell and Melton in the first two games at Yankee Stadium by identical 8-1 scores. In front of 58,000 screaming fans and amid of barrage of insults and taunts from the other dugout — “Don’t put your head down running to first, Cliff,” Dickey was heard to yell.[VI] “With those ears – you’ll soar and take off” – Melton held his own for four innings in Game 2. In the fifth, four straight hits that scored two runs sent him to the showers, and the Yankees pounded three relievers for the rest. They won the Series five days later when they beat Melton in Game 5 at the Giants’ Polo Grounds by a 4-2 score, punctuated by a long DiMaggio homer.

That World Series would be the pinnacle of Melton’s career, though he might not have pitched very well. He started the next season where he had left off, winning his first six starts, but he stumbled the rest of the way, winning only 14 games, one more than Hubbell. The Giants finished in third places.

There’s no evidence that an arm injury was the source of Melton’s underwhelming season. In fact, he started almost as many games and pitched almost as many innings as he had the year before. Contrary to Hubbell’s telling, Melton didn’t pitch on July Fourth but did start against the Bees the day before. He wasn’t, however, forced out of the game because of an injury but was lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth inning. Teammates, coaches, and sports scribes attributed his poor season to the, so-called, sophomore jinx.

If so, bad luck stalked him. Though his coaches each spring predicted a comeback, Melton won only 22 games over the next two seasons, giving up almost five runs a game in 1941.

He started fooling with the screwball the following season, he remembered, probably in a desperate attempt to resuscitate his career. “There wasn’t a time . . . this spring that I wasn’t experimenting, but I didn’t say a word about it,” Melton told the press that May 1942. “The main thing I had to learn was Hubbell’s screwball, which I practiced day after day. I think I have it under control now. It is an easy pitch for me to throw and I use it quite a bit.”[VII]

He went 11-5 through the first half of the season and made the All-Star team for the first time. The long-awaited comeback had finally arrived. His left arm, though, started swelling badly after starts later that summer. Melton had surgery in late August to remove bone chips in his elbow. He was out for the season.

The Giants tumbled into the basement of the National League in 1943, almost 50 games out of first place. Their lefty stars had faded. Hubbell, at age 40 and in his last season, won four games. Melton won only nine. He spent the next season at Class AA Jersey City pitching sporadically. The Giants offered him a contract for 1945 that included a hefty salary cut, but Melton decided to sit out the season instead of signing it. The team, which almost always got the last word in financial dealings with players, sold his contract in December to the Class AAA San Francisco Seals for $7,500 ($115,000).

Melton staged a revival on the West Coast. He won 17 games in 1946 and helped the Seals win a Pacific Coast League pennant. He won 33 more over the next two seasons.

His last years as a player were spent back in the Yankees’ farm system, where he teamed with 19-year-old Mickey Mantle in Kansas City. He retired in 1952 and was a pitching coach and co-manager in the low minors for a couple of seasons.

He returned to Baltimore and drove a truck for a lumber company that a former teammate founded. He retired for good in 1976 and died a decade later of cancer.

“He was not a braggart. He was a tough ballplayer, but in that era that’s how they played ball,” said his son Cliff Jr. in 2010. “He had a lot of pride in the sport. He was a very fair and honest person.”[VIII]

Footnotes
[1] Beacon Manufacturing Company was once the largest maker of blankets in the country. It started migrating from New Bedford, MA, to Swannanoa in 1924. The move was complete by 1936 when Beacon built a one-million-square-foot plant that employed more than 2,000 people. The company became famous for its use of vibrant colors and a design process that added shades of the same color to blanket patterns. The plant closed in 2002 and burned down a year later. Many of the blankets made in it are now collector’s items.
[2] There have been five professional baseball teams in Baltimore named the Orioles. Four played in the major leagues. This minor-league team started in 1904, relocated to Richmond, VA, briefly 10 years later to avoid competition with the renegade and short-lived Federal League, and returned to Baltimore in 1916. It was forced out of town for good after the 1953 season by the American League’s St. Louis Browns, which relocated to become the current American League Orioles. The old Orioles moved first to Richmond again and then to Toledo, OH, where they play today as the Class AAA Mud Hens.
[3] The Hall of Famers and their years with the Orioles: Hughie Jennings, 1903-06; Wilbert Robinson, 1903-06; Frank “Home Run” Baker, 1908; Babe Ruth, 1914; Lefty Grove, 1920-24; and Albert Bender, 1923.
[4] The incomparable Hank William playing “My Bucket Has a Hole in It”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=045__ojHb_g.
[5] Karl Spooner of the Los Angeles Dodgers struck out 15 in his debut against the Giants on Sept. 22, 1954.

References
[I] Zerby, Jack. “Cliff Melton.” Society of American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/cliff-melton/.
[II] Cuddy, Jack. United Press International. “In This Corner.” Daily Independent (Elizabeth City, NC), March 4, 1937.
[III] Forbes, Harry. “The Slim Man.” Daily News (New York, NY), Sept, 24, 1937.

[IV] Smith, Jack. “Cliff Melton – ‘Key Man’ of the Big Show.” Daily News (New York, NY), Oct. 5, 1937.
[V] Ibid.
[VI] Powers, Jimmy. “The Powerhouse.” Daily News (New York, NY), Oct. 8, 1937.
[VII] Zerby.
[VIII] Berghaus, Bob.  “Ex-WNC Pitcher Shares Record With Phenom Strasburg.” Asheville (NC) Citizen-Times, June 18, 2010.

 

Bibby, Jim

Player Name: Bibby, Jim
Primary Position: Starting pitcher
Birthplace: Franklinton, NC

First, Middle Names:  James Blair
Date of Birth:  Oct. 29, 1944   Date and Place of Death: Feb. 16, 2010, Lynchburg, VA
Burial: Briarwood Memorial Gardens, Amherst, VA

High School: B.F. Person-Albion High School, Franklinton, NC
Colleges: Fayetteville State University, Fayetteville, NC; University of Lynchburg, Lynchburg, VA

Bats: R Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-5, 235
Debut Year: 1972        Final Year: 1984          Years Played: 12
Team and Years: St. Louis Cardinals, 1972-73; Texas Rangers, 1973-75; Cleveland Indians, 1975-77; Pittsburg Pirates, 1978-81, 1983; Rangers, 1984

Career Summary
G          W        L          Sv        ERA     IP           SO         WAR
340    111      101     8          3.76     1722.2  1079    19.4

Awards/Honors: All-Star, 1980; Boys of Summer Top 100

Jim Bibby was a late bloomer. He was nearly 28 years old when he debuted in the major leagues and almost 36 before he became a consistent, winning pitcher. Just as he was on the cusp of stardom, though, his right arm failed him. The surgery was successful; the comeback wasn’t. He spent his later years teaching minor leaguers how to pitch and took great pleasure when one of his kids made the big time.

On the sports pages, he was “big” Jim Bibby. He stood six-foot, five inches and weighed more than 230 pounds. Only teammate Dave Parker was as physically imposing in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ clubhouse. Not even Parker, though, could hold eight baseballs in his hand. Bibby’s size contributed to the wildness that marked much of his professional career and delayed his development into an effective pitcher. “Bibby has hands twice as big as you or me,” Harvey Haddix, one of his pitching coaches, once explained. “A baseball feels to him like a golf ball would to us. It’s easy to see how it would get lost in his hand.”[I]

Even as a youngster growing up on a farm in Franklin County, North Carolina, Bibby was a commanding figure at the dinner table. “Jim’s the only guy I’ve ever known who has to have two plates in front of him – one for the meat, one for the greens,” his older brother, Fred, remembered.[II]

Born in 1944, James Blair Bibby was the second of Charley and Evelyn’s three sons. All were athletic. Fred played college basketball and coached in high school. The youngest, Henry, was an All-America point guard on consecutive NCAA championship teams at UCLA in the early 1970s and then starred in the National Basketball Association.

Along with athletic talents, the boys also shared chores on the family’s 150-acre farm outside Franklinton. The work seemed never ending, Bibby remembered. “The three boys, we all had a lot of work to do with the tobacco, corn, cotton, the animals. There was no need to lift weights,” he said. “Farm work’s terrible – I hate it – but we were never poor. We had everything we wanted. We never had to make ends meet.”[III]

His small, segregated high school, B.F. Person-Albion, didn’t have a baseball team, but Bibby was an intimidating presence on the basketball court.[1] He followed Fred to what’s now Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on a basketball scholarship in 1962.[2] There, they discovered his fastball, and baseball became his primary sport.

Nolan Ryan teamed with Jim Bibby on the New York Mets’ rookie league team in 1965. “We were both ungodly wild,” Bibby remembered. Photo: New York Times

During his junior year, Bibby attended a New York Mets’ tryout near Franklinton and threw a few pitches before it started to pour. Team scouts saw enough, however, and signed him to a minor-league contract that paid $500 a month, or the equivalent of $4,500 on 2022. That he decided to quit school to pursue a baseball career didn’t sit well with Evelyn. “My mother had the old-fashioned idea that you went to school to study, even if you were helping work your way through college,” Bibby later explained.[iv] He would fulfill his mother’s wish by finishing college more than a decade later when he received a degree in physical education from the University of Lynchburg in Lynchburg, Virginia.

The Mets sent Bibby to their Rookie League team in Marion, Virginia, where he joined Nolan Ryan, another raw fireballer, on the starting staff. “I just threw one fastball after another, and I was always wild,” Bibby remembered. “Neither one of us knew a damn thing about baseball. We were both ungodly wild.”[v]

He was drafted into the Army in 1966 and spent part of his hitch driving a truck in Vietnam. “We hauled everything from dead bodies to plastic forks back and forth to the front lines,” he later explained. “My unit never got hit. We stayed on the main road and were home before dark. It was scary at first, but after a while you got used to nothing happening.”[vi]

Bibby was back with the Mets after his discharge in 1968. He made stops that year in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Memphis, Tennessee, where he struck out 115 in 122 innings, before being promoted to the Mets’ top farm club, the Tidewater Tides, in Portsmouth, Virginia. The Mets called him up to New York late in that miracle season of 1969, but he didn’t get into a game. Though he wasn’t on the playoff roster, he took part in the celebration when the Mets clinched their division and was the batting practice pitcher while they beat the Atlanta Braves for the National League pennant. The Mets paid him $100 ($800).

After the euphoria of a pennant came the dread of the operating room. Doctors in 1970 diagnosed Bibby’s chronic back pain as a congenital flaw that required surgery. They took a piece of bone from his hip and attached it to his spine, fusing the first and second lumbar vertebrae. They gave him a 50-50 chance of ever pitching again. “Some days lying there in bed, I wondered if I’d ever walk again,” he recalled. “I was sure I’d never pitch again. I figured I had it in baseball.”[vii]

First, he stood up. Then, he took a few steps. Finally, he started throwing again.

Bibby was back in Portsmouth for the 1971 season, his career sidelined for two years by military service and surgery. He won 15 games but walked 109 in the process. The Mets traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals in October.

He pitched well for the Cards’ Class AAA team in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the following year, winning 13 games while walking just 76. Called up to St. Louis late in the season, Bibby was credited with the victory in his debut on Sept. 4, 1972, an 8-7 win over the Montreal Expos. The first half of the following season was uninspiring, though – an 0-2 record as a spot starter while walking a batter an inning. The Cardinals traded him to the Texas Rangers in June.

The Rangers were in their second season as the transplanted Washington Senators. The team had lost 100 games in its inaugural run and would lose 105 the second time around. Bibby knew he was joining one of the worst teams in baseball. “But then it occurred to me that this was going to be the best thing that ever could happen to me,” he said, looking back on the trade a few years later. “It was the first time anyone had given me a chance to pitch regularly in the big leagues.”[viii]

Jim Bibby, right, and Bob Short, the owner of the Texas Rangers, celebrate after Bibby’s no-hitter in 1972. Short gave Bibby a $5,000 raise on the spot. Photo; Texas Rangers

On his 10th start for his new team, Bibby showed what he could do with that fastball when he knew generally where it was going. He no-hit the world champion Oakland As in their home park. Though he walked six that night, he fanned 13, throwing exclusively fastballs to a lineup that included the likes of Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, and Gene Tenace, hitters who normally feasted on fastballs. Jackson struck out on one in the ninth. “That last one was the best pitch I ever saw,” he said after the game. “Well, really I didn’t see it, I heard it.”[ix]

Over in the A’s dugout, Jim Hunter was rooting for his fellow North Carolinian. “But only in the ninth inning when we didn’t have a chance to win,” he admitted. “I know how the kid felt. I’ve been there myself.”[x] Hunter had pitched a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins in 1968.

That Bibby was the author of the first no-hitter for the Rangers wasn’t good enough for some sports scribes, who mangled history by reporting it was only the third in the 75 years of the Senators-Rangers combined lifetime. The Senators’ great Walter Johnson, they noted, was the last to turn the trick on July 1, 1920.[3] “Man, that’s fast company,” Bibby responded. “Just to get your name mentioned in the same breath with Walter Johnson is really something. Now they want my cap and the ball for Cooperstown. Can you imagine that? I never pitched a no-hitter at any level, and I never thought I would. There’ll never be another night like this.”[XI]

Bob Short, the Ranger’s owner, gave his new star a $5,000 ($33,000) raise on the spot. “Things are looking up,” Bibby said.[XII]

Though he won 19 games in 1974, he also lost that many. Bibby noted that there was a weird symmetry to the season. “Seemed as though everything went in cycles,” he said. “I’d pitch well in three starts and then wouldn’t make through the third inning in the next three.” [XIII] The numbers tell the story: He had a 2.50 earned-run average, or ERA, in his wins and a 9.23 ERA in the losses.

The Rangers traded Bibby and two other players in June 1975 to the Cleveland Indians for fellow North Carolinian Gaylord Perry. The Indians needed the money, and Perry didn’t get along with Cleveland Manager Frank Robinson. Used as a spot starter and reliever, Bibby was 30-29 during his three seasons as an Indian, but he distinguished himself as a loyal teammate. Duane Kulper, Cleveland’s second baseman, was furious with Rod Carew of the Twins for spiking him while breaking up a double play at second. Bibby said he’d take care of it, but the opportunity didn’t arise until years later during an exhibition game in Japan. Bibby drilled Carew in the ribs. “That’s for Duane Kulper,” he yelled from the mound.[XIV]

He became a free agent in March 1978 after the Indians failed to pay him an incentive bonus and signed a six-year contract with the Pittsburg Pirates nine days later for $700,000 ($3 million). The Pirates used him mostly out of the bullpen and saw him as a replacement for Goose Gossage, their All-Star closer who had departed as a free agent. “I don’t want you to classify me as a Gossage,” Bibby told reporters. “I’m Jim Bibby, a whole different person. Maybe for one day I played the role that Gossage played last year, but I’m not trying to fill anybody’s shoes.”[XV]

Harvey Haddix, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ pitching coach, constantly preached the importance of mechanics. Photo: Pittsburgh Pirates

Under the watchful eye of Haddix, who constantly preached the importance of mechanics, Bibby matured as a pitcher. He pulled a muscle in his rib cage that sidelined him for a couple of weeks at the start of the 1979 season, but he went 12-4 the rest of the way with a 2.81 ERA for a pennant winner. He pitched six splendid innings in a 5-3 win over Montreal on July 28 that put the Pirates in first place. “He’s more of a pitcher now,” said Manager Chuck Tanner. “In the American League, he was just a guy who threw a lot of heat.”[XVI]

Bibby pitched well down the stretch, winning big games in the final weeks’ drive to the pennant. He shut out the Cubs in Chicago, striking out 11, and then beat them a week later 6-1 in Pittsburgh. Sports writers started referring to him as a “money pitcher,” a guy the team could rely onto to win big games. “I’ve never been in a pennant race before, so I don’t know,” he responded. “I was with Texas and Cleveland, and we were always 30 games out. I just hope to keep pitching well through the playoffs and the World Series.”[XVII]

He did. He had two starts in the playoffs and two more in the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles, including Game 7 won by the Pirates. He had no decisions but pitched effectively, allowing four runs in about 17 innings of work.

Bibby finally came into his own in 1980. He had proven to himself that he could be a consistent winner. “When I came to the Pirates, I didn’t know if I could win a big game,” he said soon after the season began. “I had never been in one.”[XVIII] He had his best season, going 19-6 with a 3.32 ERA — and was an All-Star for the first time. Though the Pirates finished third in their division, Bibby angled for a raise. Pete Peterson, the club’s executive vice president, refused, noting that he didn’t try to cut Bibby’s salary after his 6-7 season in 1978. Bibby got the message and dropped the demand.

He seemed to be on the way to another dominant season the following year when, in May, he allowed a leadoff single and then retired 27 in a row in a 5-0 win against the Atlanta Braves. He threw just 93 pitches. “I was more consistent tonight than in my no-hitter,” he said.[XIX]

A players’ strike interrupted the season on June 12. Bibby made four starts when play resumed in early August before going down with what was originally diagnosed as a sore pitching shoulder. He didn’t pitch again that year. Surgeons the following April removed bone fragments from the shoulder, and Bibby sat out the season,

Though he was optimistic about a comeback, Bibby was awful in 1983 – 5-12 with a 6.99 ERA. He became a free agent in November.

He re-signed with the Rangers in February and made the club in the spring, but Texas released him in June. The Cardinals took a another chance on him and sent him to their Class AA club in Louisville, Kentucky. They cut him loose in July. Bibby finished the season as a coach for the Bulls in Durham, North Carolina.

By then, Bibby had lived for more than 15 years in Lynchburg, Virginia. He had married a local girl, Jacqueline “Jackie” Jordan,  in 1968. The couple settled in Lynchburg, where they raised two daughters.

In 1985, he signed on as the pitching coach for the Mets’ local team in the Class A Carolina League. “I miss the big-league atmosphere and the money,” he noted at the time, “but I came to accept that one day my time in the big leagues was going to end and that I would have to resort to something else. I’m just glad to get the opportunity to stay in baseball.”[XX]

He remained with the Lynchburg Mets for 14 years, becoming a mentor to many young pitchers, including Dwight Gooden and Aaron Sele who went on to star in the majors. “When I see guys make it to the bigs and have success there, that’s more gratifying to me than anything else,” he said.[XXI]

Bibby was the pitching coach for the Pirates’ top farm club in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2000 when he underwent surgery to replace both knees. He retired.

He died 10 years later of bone cancer in Lynchburg.

Footnotes
[1] Clergyman Moses A. Hopkins started Albion Academy, a co-educational African American school, in Franklinton in 1879. It became a public normal and industrial school, or trade school, before eventually becoming a graded school. It merged with the B.F. Person School in 1957 to become B.F. Person-Albion High School. When schools were fully integrated, the upper grades consolidated with Franklinton High School in 1969. B.F. Person-Albion High School was renamed Franklinton Elementary School.
[2] Founded by the Freedman’s Bureau in 1867, the school is one of 10 historically Black public universities in North Carolina. It was one of the first public colleges in the South to train Black teachers. It was a college during Bibby’s time and became a university in 1969.
[3] Good copy, maybe, but bad history. The team that Johnson pitched for was in Minnesota. The original Senators were one of the eight charter members of the American League in 1901. They moved to Minneapolis-St. Paul in 1960 and became the Minnesota Twins. A new Senators’ team started play in Washington in 1971. That was the team that moved to Texas.

References
[I] “Jim Bibby.”  Pittsburg (PA) Press, March 21, 1980.
[II] Costello, Rory. “Jim Bibby.” Society for American Baseball Research, 2016, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/jim-bibby/.
[III] Ibid.
[IV] Broeg, Bob. “Control Is Big Problem for Birds’ Sweet Bibby.” St. Louis (MO) Post-Dispatch, March, 7, 1972.
[V] Costello.
[VI] Donovan, Dan. “The Road Up Has Been Long Grinds for Bibby.” Pittsburg (PA) Press, March 2, 1980.
[VII] Heryford, Merle. “Ranger Bibby Rides No-Hit Rings Around A’s.” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), Aug. 18, 1973.
[VIII] Thompson, John. “Bibby Big Man in Ranger Plan.” Fort Worth (TX) Star-Telegram, Feb. 27, 1975
[IX] Heryford.
[X] Lowitt, Bruce. Associated Press. “No-Hitter Worth $5,000.” Abilene (TX) Reporter-News, July 31, 1973.
[XI] Heryford.
[XII] Lowitt.
[XIII] Thompson.
[XIV] Costello.
[XV] Donovan, Dan. “Bibby: I’m No Goose.” Pittsburg (PA) Press, May 2, 1978.
[XVI] Smizik, Bob. “Jim Bibby Finds His Place – First.” Pittsburg (PA) July 29, 1979.
[XVII]Donovan, Dan. “You Bet Your Bibby It Was a Big Buc Win.” Pittsburg (PA) Press, Sept. 29 1979.
[XVIII] “Jim Bibby.”
[XIX] Costello.
[XX] Bullla, David. “Bibby’s Back in Carolina League; This Time as Met Pitching Coach.” Winston-Salem (NC) Chronicle, May 9, 1985.
[XXI] Costello.

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.

Baldwin, James

Primary Position: Starting pitcher
Birthplace: Pinehurst

First Name: James Jr.
Date of Birth:  July 15, 1971
Current Residence: Pinehurst

High School: Pinecrest High School, Southern Pines, NC
College: Did not attend

Bats: R                         Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-3, 210
Debut Year: 1995       Final Year: 2005          Years Played: 11

Teams and Years: Chicago White Sox, 1995-2001; Los Angeles Dodgers, 2001; Seattle Mariners, 2002; Minnesota Twins, 2003; New York Mets, 2004, Baltimore Orioles, 2005; Texas Rangers, 2005

Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
266   79       74       2          5.01     1322.2 844      9.3

Awards/Honors: All-Star, 2000; Boys of Summer Top 100

James Baldwin was a much-heralded prospect as he pitched his way through the Chicago White Sox’s minor leagues. If not for a kid named Derek Jeter, he would have been recognized as the best rookie in the American League in 1996. He would spend 10 more years in the majors and be an All-Star in one of them, but most of those other seasons were marred by puzzling inconsistency. He was never able to string together winning seasons, or even successful halves. Baldwin ended up as a journeyman and finished his career with just a few more wins than losses.

Born in Pinehurst in 1971, Baldwin played baseball, basketball and football at Pinecrest High School in Southern Pines, North Carolina. He was an all-conference pitcher during his senior year in 1990 when the White Sox picked him in the fourth round of the amateur draft.

The joy that came with signing his first pro contract was overwhelmed a few days later by the death of his father, James Sr. “Coming out of high school, coming into the world on your own for the first time… it was tough for me,” Baldwin said of those first days at rookie camp in Sarasota, Florida. “I didn’t know how to deal with the outside world at the time.”[I]

He got the hang of it, though, and steadily pitched his way up the White Sox minor-league system. At Birmingham, Alabama, in 1993, he led the Class AA Southern League in earned-run average (2.25), or ERA, before being promoted to Class AAA Nashville, Tennessee, where he won 12 games and cemented his standing as one of the top pitching prospects in the organization.

Baldwin was favored to open the 1994 season as Chicago’s fifth starter. He trained with the club in Sarasota that spring and was the first professional to pitch to His Airness, Michael Jordan, during an intrasquad game.[1] Baldwin’s general wildness, however, persuaded team coaches that he needed more time in Nashville, where he won 10 games that season while striking out about a batter an inning.

He earned a spot In the White Sox rotation to start the new season and debuted on April 30. It didn’t go well. He got tagged for four runs by the Boston Red Sox, though his team managed to win 17-11. Baldwin lasted for only two outs in his second start after giving up five runs and was pounded by the Detroit Tigers for four home runs in his next turn. The White Sox shipped him back to Nashville the next day. He wasn’t much better there, however, losing his last six games along with his confidence. “There was one night in Indianapolis,” Baldwin remembered. “I was on the mound, getting knocked around again, and I looked into the dugout. I almost walked off for good right there and then. So frustrated. So lost.”[II]

He returned to Pinehurst after the season. “I got down on myself, but my mother, Lucille, and my little boy (James III was four at the time) got me through it,” he said “I knew I still had my family. No one could take that away from me.”[iii]

The road back to the majors started in Venezuela where Baldwin played that winter. “I went there to sort things out,” he remembered. “I had a lot of support in America, from a lot of friends I made with the Sox, but I didn’t need any more advice, as much as I appreciated it. I needed to get up on my own two feet, relax and start over. I needed to be a man about things.”[IV]

Though he began the 1996 season in Nashville, Baldwin was summoned to Chicago in late April to replace an injured starter. He won eight games before the All-Star break but faltered afterwards. His 11-6 record, however, was good enough for second place behind the New York Yankees’ Jeter in the balloting for Rookie of the Year.

Baldwin became a reliable, but erratic, starter for the White Sox over the next five seasons, acquiring a reputation as a second-half pitcher. He had, for instance, a combined 7-12 before the All-Star break in 1998 and ’99 with an ERA approaching 7.00 and was 18-7 after the break with a 3.61 ERA. “I wish we could figure him out,” moaned Ron Schueler, the team’s general manager.[V]

The 2000 season was the exception. He was 11-4 at the midway point and was chosen to the American League All-Star team He pitched almost as well in the second half, but injuries sidelined him for almost two months. He finished 14-6. He had surgery after the season to remove a bone spur in his right shoulder and to repair his rotator cuff.

He was never the same pitcher. The White Sox traded him the Los Angeles Dodger midway through the 2001 season. Baldwin signed with eight different clubs over the next five years, appearing in games for five of them, mostly out of the bullpen. He retired after being released by the Toronto Blue Jays in April 2006.

Baldwin returned to Pinehurst to become the pitching coach at his high school where he helped his son, James, develop into a centerfielder who was drafted by the Dodgers in 2010. The youngster played six years in the minors.

Baldwin was also a coach for the Cincinnati Reds.

He and his wife, Sharon, live in Pinehurst.

Footnote
[1] Michael Jordan, who grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina, retired from basketball in 1993. He surprised the sports world early the following year by signing a minor-league contract with the Chicago White Sox. He spent two years in the club’s minor leagues, advancing as far as Class AA Birmingham, Alabama, where he hit .202 and struck out 114 times. He quit in March 1995 because he feared Chicago would promote him to the majors as a replacement player during the player’ strike that season.

References
[I] Sullivan, Paul. “2nd Time up, Baldwin a Cut Above.” Chicago Tribune, July 16, 1996.
[II] Verdi, Bob. “Baldwin’s Gains Far Outweigh Friday’s Pain.” Chicago Tribune, September 14, 1996.
[III] Sullivan
[IV] Verdi
[V] Sullivan, Paul. “Baldwin Again Tries to Put It All Together.” Chicago Tribune, February 17, 2000.

Jones, Charley

Primary Position: Left Field
Birthplace: Alamance County

First, Middle Names: Benjamin Wesley Rippay         Nicknames: Baby, Knight of the Limitless Linen

Date of Birth:  April 30, 1852       Date and Place of Death: June 6, 1911, New York
Burial: Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery, Queens, NY

High School: Undetermined
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-11, 202
Debut Year: 1875        Final Year: 1888          Years Played: 12
Teams and Years: Keokuk Westerns, 1875; Hartford Dark Blues, 1875; Cincinnati Reds, 1876-77; Chicago White Stockings, 1877; Cincinnati Reds, 1878; Boston Red Stockings, 1879-80; Cincinnati Red Stockings, 1883-87; New York Metropolitans, 1887; Kansas City Cowboys, 1888

Career Summary
G          AB       H          R          RBI       HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
895   3741  1115    733      553      56       .298    .345    .444     26.3

Awards/Honors: NC Sports Hall of Fame, 1992; Boys of Summer Top 100

Charley Jones, as baseball historians insist, is likely the first North Carolinian to play in what’s now the major leagues. He was in the vanguard of professional athletes who, in the 1870s, began to transform a game played by amateurs, mostly in Eastern cities, into a national sport that would reach into every crossroad hamlet and schoolyard playground in America.

Despite what his plaque says at the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame or what previous biographers have written, much of Jones’ life before baseball remains a mystery. We don’t even know with certainty who is parents were or where in the state he was born. Frankly, much of what has been written about his early life is wrong.

The picture becomes clearer after Jones stepped onto a baseball diamond. He had, for instance, weaknesses for fine clothes, fast women, and hard liquor. Guess which one of them may have led to his delicious and oddly suggestive nickname, The Knight of the Limitless Linen? He also was a demanding player who insisted on being paid and refused to take the field when he wasn’t. That so irritated team owners in the infant National League that they blacklisted him. He has the distinction, then, of being one of only two North Carolinians banned from baseball.[1]

First and foremost, though, Charley Jones was a gifted baseball player at a time when most people didn’t know what that was. He helped set the standards by which we now judge players. In his 12 seasons in the three professional leagues of his day, Jones became the pro game’s first slugger. He led the National League in home runs, was the first to hit two in one inning, and was always among the leagues’ leaders in slugging and driving in runs. More than 400 North Carolinians followed Jones into the major leagues, but few have been better hitters. He remains among the state’s leaders in 10 career offensive categories, including second in triples (102) and seventh in batting average (.298). He’s 25th on the list of the state’s Top 100 players. It was that bat, along with being the first, that likely earned him that hall of fame plaque in 1992.

Who Is Charley Jones?
In describing the new inductee, officials at the state hall simply repeated what others had written about Jones: He was born in Alamance County in 1852, his father likely died in the Civil War, and his mother passed on from some unknown cause, leaving the orphan to be raised by a relative in Indiana.

Those biographies report that Jones was born Benjamin Wesley Rippy, also spelled “Rippay” and Rippey” in the official records, the fifth of Abel and Delilah Rippy’s seven children. Nothing in those records, however, supports that basic family history. If not for a notation in a marriage register in Ohio in in 1886, there would be no official evidence that Benjamin Wesley Rippy became Charley Jones, the baseball player. Abel and Delilah in the 1850 census list a son named Benjamin, who had been born a year earlier, but he would be crippled by rheumatism as an adult and never play baseball. It seems doubtful that they would give two sons the same first name. Anyway, two Benjamins don’t appear in the Rippy household in the 1860 census.

Had there been another Benjamin, the boy would have grown up knowing his parents. Delilah lived until 1885. If he served in the Confederate army, Abel survived the war only to be murdered by a drunken son more than 20 years later.[2]

Neither do the existing records provide a clue as to why the boy was raised by Reuben Jones, a wagonmaker in Indiana. He’s the alleged relative who took in the young orphan and whose surname the boy adopted. Reuben, a native of Virginia, married a North Carolina girl, Susan Doswell of Caswell County, in 1843. Neither of their genealogies indicates that either was related to Abel or Delilah, though Susan’s mother is unknown as are Delilah’s parents. It’s possible that Susan and either Abel or Delilah shared a parent or were otherwise related through this unidentified link.

The Joneses lived in Rockingham County, where Reuben worked for the railroad, when the census takers came around for the 1850 count. Rockingham borders Alamance. Though traveling any distance by horse or buggy on the dirt roads of mid-19th century North Carolina was a chore, we can’t discount the possibility, no matter how slim, that the Joneses and Rippys knew each other, and that young Benjamin was the result of a relationship that grew too familiar.

Brad Rippey offers another possibility. A cousin of Abel’s, he has spent decades researching the family’s history. He’s convinced Jones isn’t Abel’s son, but he’s probably a Rippy or Rippay because the name isn’t common and Jones used it for that marriage license. Early biographers, Brad Rippey speculates, simply connected Charley with the wrong family. A better choice, he thinks, is William Rippey, who married Mary Truitt. She married Abraham Jones after Rippey died in 1837 and had several children with him. One may have had a child named Benjamin, who was orphaned and was raised by Reuben, who may have been related to Abraham.[I]

How the original story came about is anyone’s guess. The few existing biographies are short and list no original sources. They all cite each other. Newspapers offer no help either. Though Jones was among the most-popular players of his day, little was written about him that survives in digital newspaper archives. Sports writing, like professional baseball itself, was in its infancy in the 1870s and ‘80s. They would grow up together. Reporters in Jones’ day didn’t write feature stories about players. Nor were they much interested in their personal lives unless women, cops, booze, or wads of cash, preferably in some combination, were involved. If he had been an illegitimate child, Jones also had reason to avoid talking about his childhood.

Reuben and Susan were in Gibson County, Indiana, in 1860 with an eight-year-old whose fading, handwritten name on a census form looks like “Beryl.” Could it be “Benji?” No relationship is listed for the boy in the census, but it’s noted that he was born in North Carolina. In 1870, Beryl or Benji disappears from the Jones’ household and Wesley Jones, 18, appears in the census as a “farm laborer.” He, too, is listed as having been born in North Carolina. They are likely the same person.

As an adult, Wesley “Charley” Jones certainly treated Reuben and Susan as his parents, and they apparently thought of him as their son and only child.  Jones’ son, Charley Jr., lived with them for a time, and they list the boy as their grandson in the 1880 census. Reuben named Charley and his son as his only heirs. On Charley Jones’ death certificate Reuben and Susan are identified as his father and mother.

Neither do we know anything about Jones’ baseball career before he turned professional, but we can make some educated assumptions. Indiana was still on the edge of the frontier when Reuben and Susan moved there, probably in the mid- to late-1850s. They joined thousands of new settlers who had been lured to the southwestern corner of the state by the cheap farmland that became Gibson County. The Evansville and Terre Haute Railroad, which arrived in Princeton, the county seat, in 1852, gave those farmers easier access to markets. It may have also brought baseball to that remote corner of the state.

Elysian Fields in Hoboken, NJ, was the site of many amateur baseball games in the 1850s and ’60s.

A Railroad Story
Many ball-and-stick games were played in colonial America, but the one we’ve come to call baseball evolved from the game played in New York since the early 1800s, first on Manhattan Island and later in neighboring Brooklyn, now a New York borough but then a separate city. By 1840, amateur clubs formed throughout the two cities to promote the game as a healthy form of outdoor recreation. Discard the modern notion of neighborhood sports clubs. These weren’t beer-bellied bar denizens who got together on weekends to drink and hit a baseball around. The clubs attracted doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers, firemen, butchers, and others who made up the growing cities’ emerging middle class. Women, Catholics, and blacks, of course, need not apply. These were white, Protestant men with money, the political connections that allowed them to find plum patronage jobs for favored team members, and the time to recreate.

They also took their baseball seriously. The clubs practiced a couple of times each week and played intrasquad games. By the 1850s, they had summer schedules of games against each other using common rules that they had approved at annual conventions. Over time, the teams were identified with the regions in the cities or the institutions that provided most of the members. Doctors and medical students at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Manhattan, for instance, formed one club. Fire stations started many others. People living near those stations, in those neighborhoods, or connected with those institutions began rooting for their teams. By 1860, they were paying to see them play. The sports fan was born.

In those years just before the Civil War, New Yorkers took their form of baseball on the road, playing other clubs on the East Coast from Boston to Baltimore and spreading the seed from which their game took root. Living in the country’s most-populous city that was fast becoming its commercial and financial center with its busiest port, biggest banks, and numerous rail connections, New Yorkers got around, and many took baseball with them. It rushed out to California along with the city’s gold seekers in the 1850s and found a home in San Francisco. It became a major diversion in hundreds of Union Army encampments during the Civil War, and many of those soldiers took the game back home.

Maybe returning veterans brought baseball to Gibson County, but it likely arrived earlier with the railroad. The transformation of an amateur game into a national sport with professional leagues is a railroad story, notes baseball historian John Gilbert. Just as the Boeing 707 allowed the Major Leagues to expand to the West Coast in the late 1950s, the dramatic growth of rail lines a century earlier took an urban game to villages all along the line. “The small Vermont towns of Irasburg, Brandon and Pawlet all had baseball clubs before the state’s largest cities because they were on advancing railroad lines,” Gilbert writes. “If you draw a line on a map connecting Hamilton, Burlington, St. Thomas, London, Ingersoll, Guelph, and Toronto — southern Ontario cities where Canada’s first baseball clubs appeared between 1856 and 1860 — you will be tracing the lines of the Great Western Railway, which linked Niagara Falls, near Buffalo, to Windsor, near Detroit, in 1854.”[II] Railroad growth in the booming Midwest was especially dramatic. Indiana, for instance, had about 20 miles of rails in 1840. By the Civil War, it had more than 2,000.[3]

It’s likely, then, that baseball stepped off the Evansville and Terra Haute, maybe with an immigrant New Yorker, and took hold in Princeton. It’s also likely that young Charley Jones first played for a local amateur club before he took up with a team in Ludlow, Ohio, in the mid-1870s. The teams probably paid him under the table.

A Professional Game
The early amateur clubs in New York had strict rules banning direct payments to players, though the larger and more-influential clubs often found city government jobs for their stars. As baseball expanded across the country, many of the new clubs weren’t as committed to the amateur ethic. Players also began demanding a share of the proceeds when fans started paying to watch them play. So many clubs were paying their players by 1869 that the association that governed amateur baseball created a professional category.  Several of the larger clubs broke away two years later and formed the short-lived National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, the first professional team sports league of any kind.

Jones debuted in 1875, its last year, with the association’s Keokuk Westerns in Iowa. The team was awful, winning just one of its 13 games before disbanding, but the 23-year-old outfielder was second on the team in hitting and knocked in 11 runs. No one else had more than five. After the Westerns, Jones showed up halfway across the country in Hartford, Connecticut, where he appeared in one game that season for the association’s Dark Blues.

The league wasn’t very competitive. The Boston Red Stockings, winner of four of the five pennants, finished first in that final year with a 71-8 record. Though it won 54 games, Hartford was second, 18.5 games behind. Neither was the league financially stable or particularly well run. Teams came and went, and there was no central authority to enforce the rules.

The six strongest teams bolted in 1876 and formed the National League of Professional Baseball Teams, or simply the National League.[4] Jones turned down offers from Boston and Chicago to play center field for the Cincinnati Reds. He became the star of another bad team. The Reds won only nine games that first season, but he led the team in hitting with a .286 average. On May 2, he became the second player in the National League to hit a home run when he blasted one in the seventh inning against the Chicago White Stockings, today’s Cubs. An opposing player had edged Jones for first honors when he homered two innings earlier. Jones hit three more that season. They were the only home runs hit by the team.

The Panic of 1873 and the resulting depression created financial turmoil during the early years of the new league. Club turnover was constant. Only two of the original teams, Chicago and Boston, would make it to 1880. The cash-strapped Reds looked to be an early casualty. The team disbanded in June 1877, and the defending champ White Stockings signed Jones and another Reds’ player. The Reds, however, raised enough money to keep the team going within days of the signings, and Jones made it clear he wasn’t happy in Chicago. The Reds petitioned the league to return Jones, but the request went nowhere. A Cincinnati lawyer wrote a letter to the White Stockings, appealing to the team’s sense of fair play. “We, as you probably know, have succeeded in reorganizing the base-ball club here. The task has been a hard one, and even now we find that it will be almost impossible for us to get along without Jones… I ask you, as a favor that our club will always appreciate, that you will honorably release Jones and permit him to rejoin us.”[III]  It worked. After two games, Jones was returned to the Reds. It was, indeed, a different time.

Jones established himself as a star in the young league over the next two seasons. He hit better that .300 each year and led the team in triples and runs batted in. He also hit five of its 11 home runs.  He cemented his reputation as a power hitter in 1879 while playing for the Boston Red Stockings, now the Atlanta Braves, with nine homers, which led the league. He also scored 85 times, almost a run a game, and knocked in 62. Those also led the league. His nearly flawless play in center made him one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball. There was little doubt after June 10, 1880, who was baseball’s home-run king when Jones became the first to hit two homers in an inning in a 19-3 shellacking of Buffalo.

Jones’ potent bat wasn’t much help to the fading Red Stockings, though. The team that had once been the cream of the National League, winning back-to-back pennants in 1877-78, was losing more games than it won as the 1880 season ground on, and its finances were even more precarious. Jones hadn’t wanted to return to Boston when the season began because of disputes with manager Harry Wright and with team co-owner Arthur Soden, a notorious penny-pincher, who was often slow to pay his players. Jones had held out to start the season, not for more money but just to be paid.

Banned From Baseball

Arthur Soden

His contract called for Boston to pay him $250 on the first of each month during the season, $1,500 in all, wrote the late Lee Allen, the former historian of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. By late August, Jones apparently grew weary of constantly haranguing Soden for his back pay. While the team was on its way to Cleveland, Jones demanded that Wright pay him the $378, about $12,000 when adjusted for inflation, that he claimed he was owed. When the manager turned him down, Jones refused to play. Wright cabled Soden, who suspended and fined Jones for insubordination. The league blacklisted him in 1881, ending his National League career.[5] Banned from the diamond, Jones took his beef to the courtroom. He won when a judge later that year ordered the club to give Jones a game’s gate receipts to pay what it owned him.

While the court victory must have been satisfying, Jones was still out of baseball. Unemployed, he and a partner opened Star Laundry in a three-story building on Lodge Street in Cincinnati, Ohio. It would become the largest in the city.

Jones cut quite a dashing figure in town. Handsome and ruggedly built, he stood close to six feet tall and was always neatly barbered and dressed in the latest fashions. An equally fashionable woman usually accompanied him. His sartorial splendor may account for the “knight” reference in his nickname, which has origins as mysterious as its recipient’s. The “limitless linen” part may slyly refer to his reputation for bedding desirous women, but it likely alludes to something more mundane, his laundry business.

Tending to the laundry was all Jones had to do for two years. He was about to resume his baseball career when the American Association of Professional Base Ball Clubs formed at the end of 1881. The Cincinnati Red Stockings, which had been thrown out of the National League for selling alcohol at its ballpark, was a founding member of the new league, and it dearly wanted its old star back. The new association initially agreed that its teams wouldn’t sign players on the older league’s blacklist who had been booted for drunkenness, dishonesty, or other “venal” reasons.[IV] The policy was carefully worded to accommodate the Red Stockings, which promptly signed Jones. The National League, though, retaliated. American Association teams that signed any blacklisted players, it announced, wouldn’t be allowed to play exhibition games against National League clubs. Fearing the loss of revenue and publicity that such games could generate, the new league agreed to honor the blacklist, and the Red Stockings promptly voided Jones’ contract. They worked it out after that first season, and Jones was back in the distinctive Cincinnati uniform with its high, red leggings in 1883.

He resumed where he had left off, becoming one of the league’s leading hitters over the next four seasons while establishing himself as a local star. “Charley Jones is very popular in this city, where he has a host of friends,” a Cincinnati newspaper noted. “He has been playing ball for many years, and his name to known to everyone, from the small boy who witnesses the games from the telegraph pole to the spectator in the grandstand.”[V]

There was, however, one person in town who wasn’t a fan, at least not in 1885. Jones had been living with C.F. Arnold, who referred to herself as Anna Jones, though there’s no evidence that the two had ever been married. Neither do we know if Arnold is the mother of Jones’ only child, who was born in 1877. That little Charley lived with his grandparents in Indiana would seem to indicate that his mother was out of the picture. Newspapers later that year began linking Jones with Louise Horton, a married woman. Jones left Arnold, claiming they weren’t married. “Since that time, she has dogged him about and threatened vengeance,” a newspaper reported.  “Miss C.E. Arnold is a good-looking lady, aged 31, stylish and spirited – in fact, awfully spirited. She reminds one of an A1 conductor constantly surcharged with electricity.”[VI]

On the night of Dec. 14, she approached Jones on a downtown street. He tried to give her some money to shake her off.  “She followed him and gave him his several pieces of her mind in a subdued but energetic tone of voice,” the newspaper said. Jones tried to ignore her.

“I’ll fix you,” Arnold is quoted as saying. She reached into her pocket and came out with a handful of cayenne pepper, which she threw in his face. Jones snorted and howled in pain. He was taken to a nearby drugstore, and a doctor was called. He applied some ointments and said there shouldn’t be any lasting damage.

Anna was arrested. “Well, I did it simply because I thought I would make him suffer a little for what he has made me suffer,” she told the reporter in a “saucy tone.” A presumably bleary-eyed Jones bailed her out.[VII]

After a “sensational divorce suit,” Horton married Jones the following July. The clerk of court in Hamilton County, Ohio, recorded that the happy groom’s name was “B.W. Rippay.” It’s the only surviving official record linking Jones to a Rippey family. Either the marriage didn’t last or Horton died before her husband because Jones’ death certificate lists him as “single” at the time of his death.

His baseball career wound to its close at the end of the 1880s. Whether it was the lasting effects of the pepper or just the combination of age and hard living, Jones’ batting average plummeted and his defensive skills deteriorated as he kicked around the American Association in his final two seasons. Pitchers on the New York Metropolitans in 1887 even complained about his poor fielding. He retired the following year after appearing in only six games for the Kansas City Cowboys.

Jones umpired for a few years before once again disappearing into the haze of history. Fittingly, it seems, his end is as mysterious as his beginning. We know he settled in New York City at some point because that’s where he died in 1911 of tuberculosis. He was a night watchman. North Carolina’s first professional baseball player and one of the game’s earliest sluggers is buried in an unmarked grave off the Long Island Expressway in Queens, New York.

Footnotes
[1] A judge banned Gus Brittain of Wilmington, NC, from baseball in 1946 for helping incite a brawl as a minor-league manager. He had played briefly for the Cincinnati Reds in 1937. He was reinstated in 1948 but had retired from baseball.
[2] Albert Rippy, 35, confessed to shooting his father after an argument at Abel’s home in Alamance County on Oct. 5, 1888. Albert said he was drunk, overdosed on morphine, and temporarily insane at the time of the shooting. A jury found him guilty the following March and sentenced him to hang. The state Supreme Court, though, ordered a new trial after finding that the trial judge had failed to give the jury proper guidance about insanity pleas. Albert agreed to a reduced charge of manslaughter and, in October 1890, was sentenced to 10 years in the state penitentiary.
[3] Before the advent of routine and safe passenger air flight, baseball teams traveled by train, forming an intimate bond that lasted more than 70 years. That closeness is seen today in baseball terms that have their roots in the rail yard. A “double header,” two games played by the same teams on the same day, is a train with two locomotives on its front  ends. A pitch in a batter’s “wheelhouse” is one he can “turn around” and usually hit with authority. It’s originally a turntable at the end of the line to send trains back to where they came. “Schedules” used to be just secondary financial forms appended to the main form. They still are to the Internal Revenue Service. By the mid-19th century, because of the railroad and baseball, they became lists of intended events and times.
[4] The six teams that left the National Association to form the National League were the Boston Red Stockings, Philadelphia Athletics, Hartford Dark Blues, St. Louis Brown Stockings, Chicago White Stockings, and New York Mutuals. They were joined by the Cincinnati Reds and the Louisville Grays to make up the eight-team league.
[5] Player discipline was a major issue in the early years of the National League. The infractions ranged from insubordination to throwing games for gamblers. Four players on the Louisville club were banned permanently for such dishonesty. But players were tossed for lesser causes, such as drunkenness and poor play. Individual clubs decided who to suspend or ban. The league started the blacklist in 1881. Players weren’t given the chance to defend themselves before being added.

References
[I] Email exchange with author.
[II] Gilbert, John. “Baseball and the Railroad.” How Baseball Happened, September 12, 2020. https://howbaseballhappened.com/blog/great-western-rrhttps://howbaseballhappened.com/blog/great-western-rr.
[III] “If Jones Refrains From Any More ‘Baby’ Whining.” Baseball History Daily. https://baseballhistorydaily.com/tag/charley-jones/.
[IV] Hershberger, Richard. “The First Baseball War: The American Association and the National League.” Baseball Research Journal, Society of American Baseball Research, Fall 2020.
[V] “Charley Jones Released by Cincinnatis.” Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer, August 1, 1886.
[VI] “Square in the Eyes.” Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer, December 15, 1885.
[VII] Ibid.