Al Hollingsworth: Fiery Manager of the ’51 Buffs!

Al Hollingsworth 001’51 Houston Buffs Manager Al Hollingsworth wasn’t exactly your shy and retiring type. When something happened on the field that caused Al to take exception with an umpire’s ruling, Buff fans could count on Hollingsworth to walk (or rage) out of the dugout and go make his own personal opinion abundantly clear to the men in blue.

Sometimes Al got to go home for the rest of the night after one of these discussions. Other times he caught luck and got to stay and watch the rest of the game. Either way, he could be counted on to return to the Buffs’ bench from one of these meetings with a mouthful of shredded blue gabardine pants seat fabric hanging from his snarling teeth.

At age 13, I think I heard every single word for the first time that you’re never supposed to say in anger (or any other time, for that matter) falling, or belching with fire, from the lips of Al Hollingsworth at Buff Stadium at variable points during the 1951 season at Buff Stadium.  Man! Could old Al ever “cuss up a storm” at the drop of a hat – and every umpire’s call against the Buffs in a tight game situation was just such a falling of the old fedora!

Buffs 1951

The ’51 Buffs responded pretty well to their fiery leader. They ran away with the Texas League straightaway championship with a 99-61 record that was good enough for a 13.5 game lead over the second place San Antonio Missions. Then they whacked the fourth place  Beaumont Roughnecks, 4-2 in games, in the first round of the playoffs before polishing off San Antonio in the full championship round by a four-game sweep.

The Buffs then lost the Dixies Series in six games to the Birmingham Barons, but the reasons for that loss went more to injuries and the unavailablity of star lefty Vinegar Bend Mizell due to a mysterious stomach ailment than anything else, including the temperament of their skipper. It must be conceded that Al’s temper was helped to the explosion point  by the presence of rival Texas League manager Bobby Bragan at the home opener in Birmingham, which also happens to have been Bragan’s home town in the off-season back then.

One of the local Birmingham writers asked Bobby Bragan if he felt the Buffs were a pretty good team. Bobby’s answer flowed along the lines that the Buffs “ought to be good. The Cardinals pretty much put all their AAA talent in AA Houston this year. (Here it comes!) – Any manager could win the Texas League pennant with that kind of talent stacked in his favor.”

From what I heard from Jery Witte, one of his former players, Al Hollingsworth really went through the roof when he read the words of his always testy rival mentor Bragan.  I have a pretty good idea of what Big Al most likely said about the comment, but I won’t write it out here. If you weren’t raised in a glass bubble, you can probably figure it out for yourself.

Al Hollingsworth 003

I never got to meet Al Hollingsworth personally until the Last Round Up of the Houston Buffs at the Westin Galleria on Sunday, September 24, 1995. By this time, Al Hollingsworth was 87 years old, physically frail, and living in retirement in Austin. He was quiet, polite, gracious, delightful to be around, and really thrilled to be in the presence of his former players, old baseball buddies, and former Buffs President Allen Russell – even if it were just for that one final time.  (If you can see him. that’s Al in the front row, 3rd  from the right). Of the old Buffs shown in this photo, only three remain alive in September 2006. Those would be Larry Miggins (3rd from left, top row), Solly Hemus (3rd from left, top row), and Russell Rac (far right, top row).

Al Hollingsworth passed away at home the following spring at age 88. The date was April 28, 1996.

Al Hollingworth had an active playing career that spanned from 1928 to 1947.  His best minor league season as a lefthanded pitcher was 1941, when he went 21-9 with a 3.17 ERA for AAA Sacramento. He was 70-104 with a 3.99 ERA over eleven seasons in the majors (1935-40, 1942-46) with the Reds, Phillies, Dodgers, Senators, Browns, and White Sox. He was a member of the 1944 St. Louis Browns, the only club in that franchise’s history to reach the World Series.

Al Hollingsworth managed the Buffs from 1951 through the middle of the 1953 season when he was replaced by Dixie Walker. In spite of his human frailties with temper, he was a “man’s man” manager who handled the development of young pitching prospects very well. His most exemplary student? Look no further than Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell, the kid from Alabama that started out as the touted lefty version of the great Dizzy Dean. He didn’t make it to that level, of course, but that was no fault of the great teacher he had at Houston.

God bless you, Vinegar Bend, and all the other Buffs of the Last Round Up, Al Hollingsworth! I will always treasure that day of the reunion as one of my grandest baseball memories.

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6 Responses to “Al Hollingsworth: Fiery Manager of the ’51 Buffs!”

  1. Tal Smith Says:

    Bill,

    As you know, Al scouted for the Astros for many years in the 60s and 70s. We became good friends during this association. Off the field, he was a very nice, warm, congenial man.

    Thanks for the nice tribute to a good guy.

    Tal

  2. anthony cavender Says:

    Bill: Wonderful article–Think about an article on those other TL standouts–Russell Burns and Les Fleming. They seemed to bedevil the Buffs in those years.

  3. Bill McCurdy Says:

    Folks – I had to post this comment from my friend and former classmate at St. Thomas High School, Mike Mulvihilll. Mike pitched for four Texas Catholic Baseball Champions and then for the 1959 NCAA Champion Oklahoma State team. Unfortunately, a football injury at OSU ruined his baseball career or we’d be also reading about his accomplishments in pro ball:

    “HI BILL,

    “ENJOYED THE HOLLINGSWORTH STORY. WILL ADD A LITTLE PERSONAL ADDITION TO THIS. MY LATE FATHER KNOW AL ‘BOOT’ HOLLINGSWORTH IN HIS HOMETOWN OF ST.LOUIS AND LOOKED HIM UP ONCE HE BECAME THE BUFFS MGR. ONE DAY AL CALLED MY DAD AND SAID HE HAD BEEN SEEING YOUR SON’S MIKE NAME IN THE LOCAL PAPERS FOR SOME GOOD PITCHING. THEN HE ASKED MY DAD IF I WOULD LIKE TO THROW SOME BATTING PRACTICE TO THE BUFFS OCCASIONALLY. I OF COURSE JUMPED AT THE CHANCE SO WE WENT TO BUFF STADIUM SEVERAL TIMES AND DID IN FACT PITCH BATTING PRACTICE TO ALL THOSE ‘MEN.’

    “QUITE A THRILL FOR ME.

    “TAKE CARE,

    “MIKE (MULVIHILL)”

  4. Kris Gammill Says:

    Al Holingsworth was my Great Grandfather and this article brought back so many memories and stories of him. He was a good man (despite his temper-as noted lol) who LOVED baseball. He told the most wonderful stories of baseball and kept such a good account of just about any player I would beg to hear about as a kid. I miss those stories and pass on the ones I remember to my son now. Thank you for writing this article. I am very grateful and I know that Paw-Paw would have had a good giggle out of it.

    • Nolan Hollingsworth Says:

      Al was my Uncle; how were you related to him? I have done a lot of reearch on our family tree and would like to have what info you have on him.

      Thanks for your reply

      Nolan Hollingsworth
      nolan_63021@yahoo.com

  5. Kari Durnell Says:

    Al Hollingsworth was just my Grandpa, his son John, my father. I enjoyed reading your article today. I Loved listening to my Grandpa’s stories as a little girl. Gazing up an into his piecing blue eyes with that infectious smile followed by heart felt laughs as he remembered the good old days! He always had that squint in his eyes as if he were still on the field. Our son carries on with the family middle name of Wayne, blue eyes and stature. Baseball the pastime.

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