“Take me out to the ballgame.”
Ah, for the good ole days when Dad would take me out before the furious fire that finished old Russwood Park in 1960.
“Those were the days, my friend,” when you could see little left-handed Marv Rotblatt throw his curving change-up. And once Marv pitched a shutout with 17 strikeouts in the Mexican League. That’s the same Rotblatt who managed to get past Splinter Ted Williams. Ted only had one hit in the 11 at bats when he faced Marv.
Or Tommy Hurd might manage to mystify the Little Rock Travelers or Birmingham Barons with a 17-11 won-lost record. Or you could offer up a 16-8 won-lost offering of Dick Strahs. And it was Al Zilian, who threw the pitches on the day the Chicks played a pre-season exhibition opener against the super-slugging New York Yankees. Ah, 1953 when a 10-year old could see the Chicks win the Southern League pennant.
Now my personal hero in the Chicks’ pitching roster was Dixie Howell, the ever-steady reliever who could be counted on in the late innings to give us fans relief as he put out the enemies of the day. He’s pitched a no-hitter once for the semi-pro Minnesota in 1950. I clearly recall that Dad and I were on vacation in Chicago watching Dixie pitch for the White Sox when he caught a runner off base and stilled the Cleveland Indians’ uprising. Sad to say, Dixie later fell over from a heart attack in 1960 as he was running in spring training in the Florida outfield.
Also how about that too-timin’ outfield of heavy hitters—with Gene Autry physiqued Ed White in left and Bill Wilson in center field, both .300 hitters. Wilson hit 36 homers in 1950 and three homers in one game. And you could count on left-handed first baseman Ken Landenberger in the fifth batting slot for a neat hit to right field.
Wilson was not a bad followup to Ed McGhee, who hit at least .300 two years in a row in Memphis, and later played for the long-defunct Philadelphia Athletics next to slugging left fielder Gus Zernial, who hit 42 homers in the early 1950s and twice broke his collarbone.
Of course, further back in Chick years was the one-arm (bandit!?) wonder in right field, Pete Gray, who played 77 games for the lowly St. Louis Browns. Gray was tabbed as MVP in 1945. He’d come from a town named Nanticoke, Pennsylvania. As a kid he’d fallen off a wagon and caught his right arm in the spokes of a wheel. He was the subject of a movie entitled “A Winner Never Quits.”
Well, talking baseball for sports lovers is their version of “The Never Ending Story.” Now I know that many baseball aficionados would object to many of my choices (or omissions) below, but I thought it well to enlarge my Chicks’ reminiscences to include my own favorites or All-Stars from in/around Memphis (whether the Blues or Memphis State or high school grads-made-good). Quiz yourself. Put checks beside the names of baseball players you remember, and/or add your own.
Of Albert Pujols played only three games for the Redbirds.
Of Ed McGhee hit .300 in two years with the Chicks.
Of Babe Herman batted .350 in the 1920s.
Of Bo Jackson was the only player to win highest honors in both pro-football and baseball.
Of Tim Raines stole bases.
1b Bill Terry was the last player to bat .400 in the Big Leagues.
1b Ted Kluzewski was frequently photographed for his bulging muscles.
2b Bill Madlock was a grad of South Side High.
Ss Luis Aparacio was everybody’s super scamperer.
3b George Kell came from an unmapped town in Arkansas.
3b Ralph Gagliano went from CBHS to St. Louis Cards.
If Bob Boyd consistently batted over .350 with Memphis Red Sox.
C Tim McCarver went from CBHS to catching Bob Gibson in the World Series.
P Dazzy Vance was in the Hall of Fame
P Kid Nichols won 300 games by age 32 for the Memphis Grays.
P Waite Hoyt pitched for the Chicks at age 18.
P Ellis Kinder had a 23-6 record with Bosox in 1949.
P Al Lary allowed Willie Mays his 324th career homer.
P Verdel “Lefty” Mathis several times beat Satchel Paige.
P Jim Hardin went from South Side High to Baltimore.
P Ross Grimsley was a 20-game winner with a stand-out Afro.
P Charley Lea pitched a 1981 no-hitter.
P Matt Cain was at one point the highest paid right hander in history.
And—as the Bible says in its Honor Roll, Hebrews 11—“Time would fail me to tell” of Gary Carter, Jim Marshall, George Shuba, Johnny Antonelli, Luke Appling, the Throneberrys, Ray Crone, Charlie Pride, etc., etc.
Well, thanks for letting me wander down Memphis Chicks’ memory lane. No wonder Jerry Seinfeld in his TV sitcom had a Memphis Chicks banner on his TV apartment wall! Long live Dixie Howell!!