Ted Battles' Home Page
Midland Baseball 1956-57

 Winter 1956-57

Following the woes of the 1956 season, Business Manager Horace Busby, associated with Midland Indians for 10 years, and Director and 1956 club president Len (Tuffy) McCormick resigned.  Don O’Shaughnessy, an alternate, took McCormick’s place on the board of directors.

 

Busby, associated with the Longhorn League club immediately following WW II, had assumed the full-time position as Business Manager in 1954.

 

"I feel that many people place some of the blame for last year's operation on my shoulders.  I think it would be in the best interests of baseball in Midland for me to tender my resignation.  My primary concern is for baseball to be a success in Midland, and, since I feel my association with the club may hinder that success in 1957, I will step out of the picture.  I think the outlook for baseball here in 1957 under Pat Stasey is the best it has been in years, and if I can be of any assistance, I will be glad to help out."

 

Busby's duties consisted of handling front office business.  During the winter months, he signed and recruited players and sold boxes and advertising.  After arriving in early spring the field manager took over the club and did the hiring and firing.

 

Busby worried that people would blame Pat Stasey for his resignation, but "there was no friction between us, and one of the stipulations Pat made to the directors when he agreed to come to Midland was that it wouldn't hurt my place here."

 

McCormick, an attorney and former Baylor and Baltimore Colt football player, who was a teammate of Eddie LeBaron while in the service, was a big factor in saving baseball in Midland in 1956, rounding up 30 $1,000-contributing buyers of the club just when it appeared the franchise might fold.  McCormick informed President J.C. (Peck) Cunningham that business interests in California would keep him out of Texas too frequently for him to continue to serve on the board.  The board voted, unanimously, to turn over the entire operation of the club to Stasey.

           

1957 Southwestern League (SWL)

           

As a farm club of the Washington Senators, Midland’s Indians trained at the American League team’s minor league complex in Fernandina Beach, Fla.  

 

Elsewhere, ex-major leaguer Thurman Tucker, who in future years would become my cause célèbre, much to the continued embarrassment of Midland Cubs General Managers John Cox and Bill Rigney, Jr. took over as Hobbs manager.  Tucker relied on talent supplied by Oklahoma City in the Texas League.  Tony York managed Ballinger.  El Paso’s Pat McLaughlin received permission to seek another league for his troubled franchise, but seven other clubs were ready and able, while six others applied for the eighth spot in the new circuit.

           

As a part of the SWL’s more sophisticated approach to the game, President W.J. Green of San Angelo declared, “No umpires will be hired this year who can’t get up and make a talk before the Kiwanis Club.”

 

A proposal to eliminate screen money, an irreverent suggestion shot down before the motion could be seconded, touched off the biggest fireworks.    “Screen Green” caused the major leagues to regard the Longhorn and West Texas-New Mexico as “outlaws,” refusing to scout the leagues.  What would be the point?  These guys made more on Green, under-the-table payments, and off-season jobs than they could make in higher-level leagues.

 

Roswell[BWB1]  surrendered its franchise when the club failed to come up with $1,500 good-faith money.  Could this be a sign of trouble to come, despite all the optimism?  After setting Opening Day for April 23, Clovis received permission to schedule Saturday, Monday doubleheaders and eliminate Sunday home dates.

 

Meeting[BWB2]  attendees included the following:

  • York, Ballinger manager/president;
  • President G.F. Franson, G. W. Cree, W.F. Dear, Cap Jolly, Frank Dick, Joe Fisher, Ben Niblock, James Osborne, all of Pampa;
  • President J.C. Cunningham, GM Pat Stasey, Midland;
  • Manager/President Thurman Tucker, Hobbs;
  • President C.F. Montgomery, Manager Jodie Phipps, Carlsbad;
  • President Eddie Jones, Clovis;
  • President L. F. LaFont, Manager Art Bowland, Plainview; and
  • Cleveland Indians scout Bobby Goff.

 

Thus the stage for the ill fated, for Midland at least, season was set.  Nevertheless, it supplied some memorable moments in the city’s baseball annals.

 

Indians Manager Johnny Welaj got his first look at Municipal Stadium on the desolate northern outskirts of Hogan Park on April 18.  Desolate?  Remember, this was a year before the first round of golf was played on the city’s envisioned 18-hole Hogan Park golf course.

 

Cleveland and New York planned an exhibition in Midland until the discovery that air connections couldn’t be made between Albuquerque and Houston via Midland.  Not to worry, if the teams had made connections, the game probably would have been blown out by a sandstorm.

 

Television’s Game of the Week and weather took the blame for the SWL attendance woes, but Ballinger, the smallest city in the league, was doing just fine, thank you.  The Midland Reporter-Telegram Oil Department solved the what-are-they-doing-right mystery?  The expose revealed a Wichita Falls?? oil company wildcatting on the Runnels County Baseball club’s lease.  This insured a profit, if oil were struck, and the Westerners would receive the royalties.  In the meantime, the club benefited from rentals on the lease and on any other leases it owned.

 

The Class B label of the Southwestern League supposedly erased the tarnish of the years of operation by the Longhorn and WT-NM leagues at the C and D levels.  It meant the end for old familiar faces of Longhorn League days, like Ike Jackson.  

 

Ike, who batted .350 for Midland in 1956, badgered Pat Stasey for a chance to leave Fresno and come back.  But he was told this was a developmental league, replacing the outlaw Longhorn league.  

 

Stasey tried to ease the letdown, “Yes, I thought of taking you to spring training, Ike, but Washington won’t fool with a player your age in B, C, or D baseball.”

 

Abandoning a player like Ike, took a lot of color out of the league, and not just because he was black.  Ike provided many “Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, Elfaga Baca, Jesse James” highlight moments during his years as “an outlaw.”

 

(April 14, 1957...Glenn Burns)

           

Glenn Burns, a standout with Midland in 1955, decided to return to baseball as an outfielder with Albuquerque of the A Western League.           Glenn passed up 1956 after his sale by Midland to Plainview.  Malicious gossip hinted the veteran fly hawk objected to sharing his home run money, the custom in Plainview.  Whatever the reason, Burns decided to stick with an aircraft job at a Dayton, Ohio, factory in 1956.  The husky native of Pennsylvania played in Midland in 1955, after a mediocre season in Abilene.

 

No one ever accused Glenn of killing himself in the field.  As Don Deckman, who played alongside Glenn as the Indians centerfielder in 1955, related, Glenn frequently offered the benefit of his many years in the game during the course of play.  Such admonitions as, "Don't kill yourself, kid, you can't get it," were common.

 

Yet no one can say the Indians didn't pick up a bargain in landing Burns in a trade for fan favorite and shortstop, Scooter Hughes.  Glenn made up for alleged fielding deficiencies with his bat, hitting close to .400 the entire season as he tried to make amends for that disgraceful .290 of the previous season. 

 

Glenn made a genuine effort to help the team, although he had been accused in the past of being too aware of the fence green payoff for home runs.  A hopeless pull hitter, Burns that year often tried to punch the ball into right to take advantage of stacked defenses.  A notoriously poor bunter, he even tried to cross up the opposition by laying one down occasionally. 

 

Still, he wasn't completely oblivious to the rewards of a home run.  At the Hogan Park player picnic after the mid-July East-West All-Star game, Glenn wasn't as happy as a fellow should be who had hit a game-winning homer in the 10th inning.  Seems by the time he finished circling the bases most of the 2,000 fans had departed, along with their Screen Green, a cruel disappointment.

 

Veterans may not put out with the hustle of a Leo Burkhalter, but sometimes they'll make up for it with savoir-faire.  It was against Pampa in Abilene in 1954, as related by Alan Moyer, who worked for the Abilene Reporter-News at the time.  The outfield fence at Blue Sox Stadium reached high into the darkness and the dimness of the lights in the corner made it tough for an umpire to determine, sometimes, just where a fly ball left the park.  One Pampa battered lofted a towering fly that left the arc beam as it approached the fence.  The umpire wisely watched the left fielder pursue the ball to and across the foul line, and looked on as the outfielder stopped to watch it pass out of sight.  Unfortunately for the ump, the left fielder was Glenn Burns.

In the ensuing rhubarb, the man in blue remained steadfast in the face of Pampa arguments that the ball was fair when it left the ballpark.  Burns' actions had convinced the umpire it was foul. 

 

After the game, a reporter asked Glenn about it. "Yes, it was fair by a good 10 feet," was his frank reply.

 

Cubans on the Field & Johnny Welaj

 

1956 was the year Midland double decked the outfield fences, but the ground rules made any fly ball hit high enough to clear the lower deck an adventure.  A two-foot space separated the upper and lower tier of fences.  Any ball escaping the park through the space between was a homer. If a ball hit the upper level and bounced back, it was in play.  It kept umpires on their toes, managers on the top step of the dugout, and fans in confusion.

 

A second deck of advertising signs was erected at reconstructed Cubs Stadium several years after Hank Aaron recommended it during an exhibition game visit to Midland in 1975.  This time no gap was left in the fence and ball had to clear both levels to count four bases.

 

Johnny Welaj faced a unique situation with seven Cubans among the 20 players brought to Midland from Florida.  The Senators used Cuban players for years.  Owner Clark Griffith imported black players from Cuba years before Jackie Robinson officially broke the color line.  Blacks weren’t allowed in the majors but Cubans, no matter how dark their skin pigment, were.

 

Many years later, David Garcia, a former manager of the Cleveland Indians, visited Midland on a scouting trip for the Anaheim Angels.  In the press box before the games, the 77-year-old Garcia entertained the media and other scouts with tales recalled from a long baseball career.

 

In the 1930s, in the Evangeline league, Garcia’s team tried to play a black player.  The manager was told it was against the rules. “What about those players on the other team?” the manager demanded.

 

“Oh, they aren’t black.  They’re Cubans.”  

 

Quick to seize upon an opportunity, the next night the manager changed his black player’s name to Fernandez and, viola, he was eligible.

 

Although Pitcher Potato Pascual was cheerfully glib in English and Spanish, it also helped that Welaj could speak Spanish, having coached and played for the Havana Sugar Kings.  Reflecting upon his Cuban experience, Welaj laughed, “It was what you might call baseball in the raw.  The fans really have a good time.  They bring drums and instruments into the ballpark and any time the home team does anything, they pound on those drums.  You’d be surprised how those Cuban players respond to it.”

 

When Welaj first came up with the Washington Senators in the prewar years, they played most games in sunlight, with first seven-game, then 14-game and later 28-game limits on night games. The sun field in Griffith Stadium posed a problem for right fielders.

 

“The first time I played out there, I ran right by two lines drives. Then Al Simmons tipped me off. He told me to shift over toward center as far as I could, yet still be in position to cover the territory to the foul line.  In that way you cut in on fly balls at an angle, and the sun presented no problem.”

 

“In those days veterans didn’t give away trade secrets.  But I was a young kid then, and Al took pity on me.  Probably one reason was because I was Polish, too."

 

While playing at Montreal of the International League in the early 1950s, Walt Alston, then the manager of the Royals, directed Welaj toward a managerial career.  His first assignment came with Hagerstown, Md., a Senator farm.  Johnny was at loose ends playing and coaching for Havana, International, when Griffith urged him to take the Hagerstown job.  He told Welaj, “This is no good.  Join us and work your way up.  Some day you may get a crack at the big club.”

 

More than 30 years later, Welaj still hadn’t worked his way to the top, but he’s still with the Senators, after a fashion, in a front office capacity.  The Senators of yore are now the Texas Rangers, and they aren’t really the Senators of Clark Griffith’s day.  Those Senators are in Minnesota.  But Welaj has been with the Texas club so long that he qualifies as a Texan.

 

When Stasey released Welaj and named Hank O’Neal, his lean, lanky first baseman from Georgia, as the new manager, Stasey cited two reasons…in the interest of economy, the club could cut expenses with a playing manager.”

           

Welaj’s reaction:  “I’ve always contended that these things happen for the best in the long run, whether you’re released or injured, everything seems to come out right eventually.”

 

Things were going badly at the gate and on the field, but GM Pat Stasey denied the story that he wired Washington asking for player help and when he returned to his office found a wire from Washington asking for help.  Pat vehemently denied the story, stating emphatically that he did not wire Washington for help, leaving only the other option.

 

Jim Heise

 

The story may have been intended as a joke, but at the Senators request, Washington did seek help from Midland.  Jim Heise, considered quitting baseball in the spring while teaching school in Hobbs, N.M., before receiving a summons to join the Senators a month after joining the Indians.

 

A native of Scottsdale, Pa., Heise, pitcher Mike Fornieles, infielder Roy McMillian, and Evelio Hernandez were Longhorn/Southwestern league players called to the Big Show.  When he left, Heise reflected the innocence of the time and the serf-like conditions of the day when he said he was looking forward to the $8 a day meal money (compared to $3 in the SWL) and the $7,000 minimum salary when he signed a Washington contract.

 

In his only previous appearance in Griffith Stadium, Heise, who, the story goes, once roomed with  basketball star Hot Rod Hundley at West Virginia University, lost to George Washington, 8-7, after pitching a one-hitter in his first start.  “I was pretty cocky, but they took that out of me in a hurry.”

 

The Senators also summoned another Indian, 18-year-old Hilario Valdespino to Washington.  The outfielder from Havana came in a small package and bore a striking resemblance to the Brooklyn Dodger left fielder Sandy Amoros, who committed larceny on Joe DiMaggio with one of the memorable catches in World Series annals, evoking an “ Oh, doctor” from broadcaster Red Barber and a frustrated kick at the dirt by the Clipper.  Midland teammates nicknamed Hilario “Sandy” in spring training and the name followed him to the majors.

 

Excitement and a narrow escape shook up the Indians on a trip to El Paso when the bus gears locked in neutral on the downgrade out of Guadalupe Pass.  In order to stop, Ed Racynski, the designated driver on this segment of the trip, drove into a fence post.  However, the excitement of the season reached right into the press box.

           

A Better Press Box

 

Midland City Manager J.M. Orman asked press box occupants what they thought of the plan to convert the Municipal Stadium press box into a Civil Defense ground-observer post.  Only the presence of a woman in the press box could be more offensive to the denizens of the Fourth Estate.  Before my outrage could manifest itself over the bold violation of the sanctity of the media citadel, Orman mentioned,  “Of course, glass will encircle the press box at a angle, and will be tinted to cut down the glare from the lights.  Since it will be used year round, the post will be heated and air-conditioned.”

 

Patriotism suddenly became a lump in the throat and choked back selfish preoccupation with maintaining the isolation and sanctity of the working press facilities in the more compelling interests of national defense.  After all, it wasn’t as though the City Manager was asking to expose the protected (and banned) sex to the crude behavior under which the smoking, cussing, “hey, check the blonde in the red dress” media wretches needed to properly do its job.

 

The ground observer unit installed an amplifier in the Municipal Stadium press box to pick up the sound of approaching aircraft before it could be seen.  It also picked up choice words in manager-umpire debates on the field.  The downside became apparent one Friday night when the sound of an approaching plane sent press box inhabitants scurrying for cover as it passed over.  It sounded as though it was on a collision course with the press box.

 

Despite the initial enthusiasm, something must have happened to ease the national emergency.  The press box never really underwent any changes, certainly not to the extent of tinted-glass enclosed, air conditioned/heated outpost originally envisioned.

 

Believe It or Not

 

The Midland Reporter-Telegram offered a Believe It Or Not story in its May 20, 1957 issue.  The writer fearfully began, “We probably will be fired for repeating such an absurd tale on these pages, but we swear, maybe not on a Bible, it all really happened Sunday afternoon and night when Carlsbad edged Midland, 26-22, in 12 innings.

 

Carlsbad had the game won four or five times before clinching matters with six runs in the 12th inning.  The Potashers led 6-0 in the first; 10-3 after three innings and 16-8 after four innings.

           

Midland finally tied it and went ahead 17-16 in the eighth.  Carlsbad made it 18-17 in the ninth and again the Indians rallied to send it into extra innings.  Carlsbad pushed over two runs in the 10th, but once more Johnny Welaj’s Tribe was too thick-headed to realize it had been mortally wounded, rallying to tie at 20.  But six runs in the 12th were too much for even the resilient Indians, yet they scored twice after two were out.

 

“It was a pitchers’ battle of sorts - a battle to see which nine would run out of pitchers first.  The four-hour, 23-minute marathon set a record for time consumed, runs scored and hits accumulated in Municipal Stadium, dedicated in 1954.

 

“There were 48 runs, 54 hits, and 10 ‘pitchers’ issued 22 bases-on-balls.  Forty-two of the runs were earned.

 

“Catcher Ed Schlitz of the Indians collected seven hits in eight trips and reached on a fielder’s choice the other time.  The spree raised his average to a respectable .441.  John Coddington, who was informed that he was the winning pitcher after he was revived, gave up seven runs on 13 hits in relief, which conveys what kind of day it was for pitchers.”

 

“Loser Charles Bennett was banged around for eight hits and six runs in two thirds of an innings. The day’s most effective pitcher was Jim Heise, who pitched hitless ball for 2/3’s of an inning and then was summarily dismissed for not entering into the spirit of the occasion.”

 

The next night, Midland’s Gary Mitchell, who couldn’t get anyone out in Sunday’s game, came back to beat Carlsbad 2-1 on four hits.

 

Hard Core Fans

 

Despite a lack of interest in the SWL by Midlanders, the Indians had their hard core, maybe 100 to 200, fans who braved most any kind of weather to watch their beloved heroes in action.  Typical of the faithful cult was the group huddled near the press box entrance trying to escape the bone-chilling fury of a raw wind blowing in from center field.

 

GM Pat Stasey debated the advisability of playing the game right up until the announcement of starting lineups the public address system, before deciding the risk of injury was too great to try to get this one in.  After the announcement, one fan remarked as he got up to leave, “Boy, that’s a relief.”

 

Hall of Famer, Ted Lyons

 

Ted Lyons, the Hall of Fame pitcher, marveled at Jodie Phipps’ secret for keeping his arm young during a rap session before a Midland-Carlsbad game.  A couple of nights before, Phipps, pushing 40, blanked the Indians 9-0 on a handful of hits.  Lyons pursued, “How do you do it, Jodie?  How do you manage to keep winning at your age?”

           

Anyone familiar with Ted’s background can appreciate the humor of the scene.  If there are any secrets to eternal pitching youth, Lyons and Satchel Paige probably know ‘em all.  Ted left Baylor University in 1923 to join the Chicago White Sox as a rookie and when he finally discarded his toe plate, it was 1946, and Ted had continued to win games in the majors at 46.  Lyons’ crew cut and glasses, which he donned in the latter days of his career, came to Midland as a scout for the Chicago White Sox.  The then 57-year-old Arkansas native, who had retired to Louisiana, managed the White Sox 1946 to 1948. 

 

Of his 1948 season, he said, “There’s no managerial strategy that can beat a three-base hit... Actually, we had a good club in ‘48.  We had good defense and made runs, but we had no pitching.  We had some good hurlers, but they all had sore arms.

 

“We had Joe Kuhel, nearing the end of his career, on first; Cass Michaels, Don Kolloway, and Floyd Baker rounded out our infield.  Taft Wright, Thurman Tucker, a great centerfielder, and Whitey Platt were in the outfield and, of course, Luke Appling was still with us.”

 

By the time he reached 40, Lyons pitched only on Sunday’s and did better than many of the pitchers who were working regularly.  Lyons won 260 games, six fewer than Bob Feller, and pitched a no-hitter against Boston in 1926.  That win total is more impressive when one considers the White Sox finished in the first division only seven times in 23 years.

 

“Yes, I won 260 games, but I also lost 230,” Lyons modestly pointed out.

 

While coaching for the Detroit Tigers, whenever someone mentioned that 260 figure, Pitcher Ted Gray would shake his head in disbelief and chide in mock horror. “How could one pitcher ever lose 230 games.”

 

With the White Sox of Ted’s era, it was easy.  Gray probably wished he had the opportunity to lose 230 games before he was through.  In a nine-year career, Gray finished 39-74.

 

Dutch Jensen stood on the ramp under Municipal Stadium and with a sweep of his hand, the Midland Indians President took in all of the southern area of Hogan Park, the softball diamonds, junior league baseball diamonds, extensive picnic grounds and the swimming pool.  Cars were crammed three-deep around the softball diamond.  Vehicles rimmed Redfern Field, though no action was scheduled for the Little League park.  The swimming pool and picnic areas were alive with laughter.

 

“With just half those people over there,” Dutch observed, “We could make a go of it.”

 

The next night, Dutch, acting for the Indians board of directors and stockholders, turned the franchise back to the Southwestern League.  Hasty arrangements completed, the club resumed operations in nearby Lamesa.

 

“For the first time in 10 years, Midland is, or will be after August 1, without professional baseball,” a reporter noted.

 

No Baseball in Midland

 

Reasons?  Take your pick.  The ballpark is “too far away.” But attendance for other Hogan Park activities belies this theory.  If they would come out to the picnic grounds or softball diamonds, they, too, would come to Municipal Stadium with the proper enticement.

 

In June, directors decided against a hat-in-hand approach and determined to make up any losses suffered out of their own pockets.  The gate dwindled to about 100 fans a night.  The Indians never won more than three in a row, and the wait-and-see fans just waited.  Midland drew its biggest unsolicited crowd of 700 July 4, a night on which there was no softball or junior baseball. 

 

Still, what went on elsewhere in Hogan Park was not the only reason.  Television got some of the blame.  The automobile was cited, and others asserted that there were just too many other ways to spend an evening:  the barbecue pit, softball, junior baseball, drive-in movies...where kids posed less of a problem.

 

But Dutch was right. “With just half those people over there, we could make a go of it.”  The answer glared back.  One plus one equals two.  It took 30 years, but professional baseball and “those people over there” finally became “two,” or more accurately “one,” when the ball park became a place for a family outing.

 

The season continued without Midland and Hobbs (73-52) under Thurman Tucker finished four games ahead of Tony York’s Ballinger club, while Carlsbad (Jodie Phipps) and Midland/Lamesa (Welaj/Hank O’Neal) followed.  It was no trick finishing in the playoffs since only four teams survived the season.  Clovis and Plainview folded June 16, El Paso and Pampa/San Angelo followed June 17 and Midland moved to Lamesa August 1.

 

Hobbs’ John Spicuzza hit .388, collected 193 hits and knocked in 130 runs, all league bests. Raymond Patterson, Hobbs, hit 34 homers. Robert Leach, Ballinger, and Eugene Lippold, Ballinger, tied for most wins at 19. Manuel Fierro, Hobbs, took ERA honors at 2.94.

 

Southwestern League, Class B, 1957

Team/Manager

Won

Lost

Games Back

Season Attendance

Hobbs / Thurman Tucker

73

52

1

21,840

Ballinger /Tony York

69

56

4

16,542

Carlsbad /Jodie Phipps

65

54

5

29,769

(z) Midland/Lamesa/ John Welaj, Hank O’Neal

45

79

27

19,212

*Clovis/ Bert Haas

35

12

Did not finish (DNF)

3,405

**El Paso/ James Basso

33

45

DNF

13.260

***Pampa/San Angelo/ Allen Cross

32

44

DNF

8,916

****Plainview/ Arthur Bowland

16

27

DNF

5,321

 

NOTES:

  • (z)-Midland moved to Lamesa Aug. 1.
  • *Clovis withdrew June 16
  • **El Paso withdrew July 17
  • ***Pampa moved to San Angelo May 16, San Angelo folded July 17
  • **** Plainview withdrew June 16

 

The Leaders

  • Batting Average (BA):  John Spicuzza, Hobbs, .388.
  • Hits:  Spicuzza 193
  • RBI:  Spicuzza 130
  • Runs:  Raymond Patterson, Hobbs, 193.
  • HR:  Patterson 34
  • Wins:  Robert Leach, Ballinger, 19; Eugene Lippold, Ballinger 19
  • Strikeouts:  Lippold 179
  • ERA:  Manuel Fierro, Hobbs, 2.94.

 [BWB1]At what meetings did all this happen?

 [BWB2]Which meeting?

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 <!--[if !supportAnnotations]-->[BWB1]<!--[endif]-->At what meetings did all this happen?

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 <!--[if !supportAnnotations]-->[BWB2]<!--[endif]-->Which meeting?

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