Posts Tagged ‘Houston Buff Biographies’

Buff Biographies: Floyd Wooldridge

July 23, 2013

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Floyd Wooldridge 1955

Floyd Wooldridge
1955

Pitcher Floyd Wooldridge (6’1″, 185 lb.) (BR/TR) was born on August 25, 1928 in a little place called Jerico Springs, Missouri and, like a lot of the baseball-talented kids in that state in those times, he signed as a young man to play ball in the St. Louis Cardinals farm system. At age 21, he broke in with Class D Albany, Georgia in 1950, posting an excellent starting mark of 14-12 with a 3.36 ERA.  He kept improving, going 12-6 with a 3,81 ERA the next year for the 1951 Class A Columbus, Georgia club – and that was good enough to earn Floyd a promotion to AA Houston for the following season.

Wooldridge found some resistance to he effort and ability on the pitching staff of the 1952 Houston Buffs. His 7-18, 2.34 ERA was a reflection of a pitcher getting better while playing for a bad team that didn’t hit well in support of him. The ’52 Buffs would finish last in the 8-club Texas League with a 66-95 record. Wooldridge would remain a Buff in 1953.

1953 was a turnaround year for Floyd. He went 15-13 with a 2.20 ERA for a Buffs club that improved only to 6th place with a 72-82 season win-loss record. The Cardinals now saw Wooldridge as a guy who might be able to jump AAA and go straight to the big league staff.

Then, as life often brings it, tragedy struck. In late 1953, Floyd Wooldridge was injured in a car wreck that could have killed him. He escaped with a broken leg, but thought that he might fully recover by the early regular season. The Cardinals took him to  camp, but it soon became obvious that Wooldridge might be in danger of hurting himself by compensating for how the injured leg caused him to throw. And, even in those still days of low concern, the Cardinals had learned something from the loss of Dizzy Dean to compensatory motion injury in the late 1930s. It’s doubtful they saw Floyd Wooldridge as the second coming of Dizzy Dean, but they valued him, nonetheless.

Floyd Wooldridge was shutdown from pitching anywhere in 1954. It was time to heal all the way.

Floyd got his shot with the Cardinals in 1955. In 18 games that split almost evenly between starting and relieving, Wooldridge went 2-4 with a 4.84 ERA for the ’55 Cards.

Wooldridge was never the same, even though his 2-4, 2.70 mark with the ’55 Buffs was briefly deceiving. His 0-2 mark that same year at AAA Rochester offered fairer warning that his psychological or physical injuries from the car wreck had done a greater damage to his prospects as a pitcher – and, by the end of year, he’s now 27 – and falling off the prospect list.

The Cardinals dealt him away to the Kansas City Athletics and they assigned him to AAA Columbus, Ohio for the 1956 year. He went 6-9 with a 4.80 ERA in his last serious season of ball. The A’s sent him to AAA Buffalo in 1957 where he got into 4 games before retiring from baseball with no W/L record for the 1957 season.

When you’re done, you’re done. Floyd may not have made it, anyway, but the car wreck injury had put the cap on any chances he might have had. Wooldridge retired with a career 57-62, 3.00 ERA minor league record. That’s life.

Floyd Wooldridge passed away in Springfield, Missouri on May 25, 2008 at the age of 79.

Thanks for the time you gave us in Houston, Floyd! – When you took the mound during the terrible seasons you were here, you at least gave us the hope that winning was possible. And that’s important because it’s the one thing no real baseball fan can live without – and that’s hope. Hope in somebody. And hope in things getting better. – You brought both items to the table.

 

Buff Biographies: Howie Phillips

July 22, 2013

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The Buff with a 1954 Buffs cap. No Photo of Howie Phillips was available. Try to visualize Huckleberry Finn in an old flannel uniform that is a size too big for him. That will get you there as fast as an actual photo.

That’s the Buff with a 1954 Buffs cap. No Photo of Howie Phillips was available. Try to visualize Huckleberry Finn in an old flannel uniform that is a size too big for him. That will get you there as fast as an actual photo.

He almost falls in the cracks of most baseball memories. It’s easy to do when you’ve been a slender of build guy with only modest accomplishments at the minor league level and no time in the big spotlight of the major circuits. Yet, as much as the descriptors fit him to a tee, no Houston Buffs fan who watched him play out his greatest season in 1954 as a second basemen for the Texas League champions will ever forget him.

His name was Howard Dale (Howie) Phillips (5’10”, 162 lb.) (BL/TR). He was a little guy (DOB: 1/07/1930)  who could play second base at the age of 24 with all the cool, clear look of a legitimate prospect for the big leagues, except for one legitimate career complication: Howie was digging ’em out of the dirt for a farm team of the St. Louis Cardinals, behind several other prospects and a guy at the keystone sack who was coming off a .342 season in 1953 and another .300 plus year in the majors on his way to the Hall of Fame playing ahead of him. Still, no one could see the unthinkable in 1954: Two seasons later, a new Cardinal GM named Frank “Trader” Lane would be dealing the “elder” Red Schoendienst off to the New York Giants.

It wasn’t hard for Phillips to get lost from attention among his fellow infielders on the 1954 Houston Buffs. Third baseman Ken Boyer was the

Howie Phillips Buffs 1954

Howie Phillips
Buffs 1954

hottest prospect going for the Cardinals that year and he was manning third base, playing great defense, and knocking the cover off the ball. Ditto Bob Boyd at first base on the productivity scale – and Boyd also drew attention as the first black player in Houston Buffs history. That left shortstop open to be ably filled by another very popular hot prospect named Don Blasingame – and a little barely wind resistant fellow named Howie Phillips to play second base for the second year in a row in 1954.

Phillips had batted only .257 in his 1953 first season as the Buffs second sacker and no one really expected him to have the best season of his pro career in 1954, but he did – and it still went pretty much unheralded by the media, perhaps, due to the attention the other infielders were drawing to the cause of winning.

Howie Phillips, Courtesy of Contributor Bill Hickman. (Looks like elsewhere he got a uniform that fit.)

Howie Phillips, Courtesy of Contributor Bill Hickman. (Looks like elsewhere he got a uniform that fit.)

Howie Phillips batted .306 for the ’54 Buffs. He hit only 3 HR, but he sprayed out 200 hits in the 161 games he played. It was his only season as a plus .300 batter. after playing 1955 for Rochester, Phillips came back in 1956 to hit .290 for the Buffs for his second best offensive year in eleven all minor league seasons (1948-58). He was on his way to a career batting average of .272 and 30 homers. Like many others of those reserve clause days, Howie simply never got a shot at one major league time at bat. He was always one of those guys who, in spite of their hustle, never got to see a single official pitch in the big leagues.

One other note about Howie: he probably looked even smaller because of his preference (or assignment to a uniform that was a little too big for him. We always kidded that he chose the big size for its greater weight support against the wind.

The guy was a hustler, a good fielder, a pesky base runner at the top of the batting order, and he also just may have been for the 1954 Buffs a variant of that old Reggie Jackson descriptor as “the straw that stirred the drink” of victory for the 1954 Buffs.

Howie Phillips passed away at the age of 70 on July 10, 2000 in Fresno, California.

Photo Courtesy of Darrell Pittman. - In this one of the 1954 Buffs, Howie Phillips is the 2nd from right on front row. He got a fitting uniform in time for the late season team photo.

Photo Courtesy of Darrell Pittman. – In this one of the 1954 Buffs, Howie Phillips is the 2nd from right on front row. He got a fitting uniform in time for the late season team photo.

Buff Biographies: Don Gutteridge

July 21, 2013

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Don Gutteridge

Don Gutteridge

The 1934 Houston Buffs weren’t the greatest baseball herd in this city’s history, by far.  Managed by famous former Buff Carey Selph, the boys could finish no better than 6th place, near .500 at 76-78, .494, but 13 games back of Galveston, the first place club and playoff winner of the 1934 Texas League pennant.

The ’34 club also fought uphill all season against the challenges of the Great Depression, bringing in a final tally of only 61,180 paying fans to all their home games in Houston that season.

It was within this mire that quiet-spoken, but feisty spirited Don Gutteridge played out his only Buff season as a 22-year old 3rd baseman for the Houston Buffs, batting .272 with 167 hits in 149 games at the hot corner, including 20 doubles, 8 triples, and 7 home runs. The kid never gave up on things and his hustle and effort just broadcast the idea that he intended to get everything out of his ability that he could find and put into play. And that’s how I got to know about him first hand from the general drift of comments from his surviving St. Louis Browns and Cardinals teammates who spoke with me about Don at annual banquets for the old St. Louis Browns in the 1990s.

Everybody loved Donald Joseph Gutteridge of Pittsburg (without an “h”), Kansas. The 5’10” 165 lb. infielder was born in Pittsburg, Kansas on June 19, 1912. Don Gutteridge (BR/TR) played ball at Pittsburg State University prior to signing with the Cardinals and turning pro in 1932 at the age of 20. Over the course of all 10 of his minor league seasons (1932-36, 1941, 1946-50), Gutteridge batted .294 with an OBP of .311. After Houston and two moe quick stops at Columbus, Ohio, Don broke in with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1936. He would play five seasons for the Cards (1936-40), four seasons for the St. Louis Browns (1942-45), two seasons with the Boston Red Sox (1946-47), and one doughnut coffee dip spell with the 1948 Pittsburgh (with an “h”) Pirates for a twelve MLB season record of a .256 BA with 200 doubles, 64 triples, and 39 HR. before finishing his active play in two more seasons as a minor leaguer.

Jerry Witte (L) hit .312 with 46 HR and 120 RBI under manager Don Gutteridge at Toledo in 1946.

Jerry Witte (L) hit .312 with 46 HR and 120 RBI under manager Don Gutteridge at Toledo in 1946

Don Gutteridge also spent six seasons as a minor league manager (1946, 1951-54, 1967) and two partial years as an MLB manager for the Chicago White Sox (1969-70). The guy looked the part too in his later years. He looked a lot like the movie manager in the film version of “Damn Yankees”, but with a much milder social personality. Whenever he walked into a group of us visiting in the hotel lobby at one of those Browns functions, I kept waiting for him to break into that famous pep talk from that famous baseball movie: “Now listen to me! – This game of baseball is only one-half skill! – The other half is something bigger! – You gotta have – HEART! – MILES AND MILES AND MILES OF HEART! …”

He never did, but he could have. These were the old St. Louis Browns I was sitting among. They knew as much about losing as the old Washington Senators ever did – and even more, if you care to check their comparative records from the old days.

Don Gutteridge & Pepper Martin

Don Gutteridge & Pepper Martin

Don Gutteridge did hold an unusual history with the Cardinals after breaking into the majors with the St. Louis NL club. After he left them, he played for both of his next two clubs in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. He played for the St. Louis Browns against the Cardinal in 1944; and he played for the Boston Red Sox against the Cardinals in 1946. Unfortunately for Don Gutteridge, he was on the losing team both times.

A few years ago, Don Gutteridge wrote and published his autobiography with friends and colleagues Ronnie Joyner and Bill Bozman. The book is a beautiful little baseball life story. Copies may still be available over Amazon for those who may be interested.

Don Gutteridge passed away at his home in Pittsburg, Kansas on September 7, 2008, not too long after the death of his sweet wife of a thousand years. He was 96 years old when he died.

Buff Biographies: Al Papai

July 20, 2013

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Al Papai

Al Papai

In his four seasons as a Houston Buff (1947, 1951-53) knuckleballing ace Al Papai (6’3″, 185 lb.) (BR/TR) was a 20 plus win guy for two Texas League championship clubs (1947, 1951), tagging a 69 win, 48 loss total as his Buff career record. As a 14 season minor league pitcher (1940-41, 1945-48, 1951-58), Al Papai complied a career record of 172 wins, 128 losses, and a 3.29 ERA. He also had a 4 season major league record (1948-50. 1955) with the St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis Browns, Boston Red Sox, and Chicago White Sox, mostly as a reliever, for an MLB total of 9 wins, 14 losses, a 5.37 ERA, and 4 saves.

Papai’s knuckler too often escaped his control in the big leagues, but it served him well as a Texas League starter, allowing a 38-year old Al to go 23-7 for a 1955 Oklahoma City TL club and 20-10 at age 39 for the 1956 Memphis Chicks of the also AA class Southern Association.

Papai was also a droll, strange-looking character. Born May 7, 1917 in tiny Divernon, Illinois, Al had keen sense of irony and humor about everything that was going on around him – and for years after the fact of whatever it may have been. In 1951, for example, Al Papai had to step in at the last-minute as the escort for bathing suit contest contestant Kathryn Grandstaff at a Buff Stadium presentation walk when teammate Larry Miggins bailed out as her assigned escort because he was too embarrassed to walk in public with a woman he thought was “almost naked”.

Kathryn Grandstaff went on from her walk with Papai to win the Houston Buff and Texas League beauty queen contests. From there, she went on to Hollywood to pursue an acting career as “Kathryn Grant”. She ended up meeting and getting married to superstar Bing Crosby – and making several now forgettable movies that drew some attention at the time, partially because of her famous husband.

The former beauty queen’s success wasn’t lost on the mind of Al Papai. When asked what he thought about her later success, Al Papai replied: “I just hope she remembers that I gave her the start long ago that made her what she has become today!”

Unfortunately, Al Papai missed the late September 1995 Last Round-Up of the Houston Buffs that former Buffs President Allen Russell staged at the Weston Galleria Hotel in Houston. I was helping Russell search and find the former Buffs whose addresses or whereabouts had fallen off the cliff somewhere. As a result, it was the first week in September before our invitation went out to Al Papai’s home address in Springfield, Illinois.

The Buffs Reunion invitation ended up reaching the family’s residence on the day of Al Papai’s funeral. Al Papai had passed away on September 7, 1995 at the age of 78. His wife Claire came alone to the Houston reunion and was warmly greeted by old friends. Claire said she wanted to make sure that Al was represented at a homecoming that only death could have kept him from making.

That old Houston Buff and minor league baseball veteran blood bond was some mighty powerful stuff.

Goodnight, Sweet Buffs, wherever you are! ~ Away from our hearts, you will never be far!

Buff Biographies: J.C. Hartman

July 17, 2013

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J.C. Hartman Today!

J.C. Hartman Today!

J.C. Ballplayer

J.C. Ballplayer

Shortstop J.C. Hartman was one of three men who played for both the last Houston minor league club and the first Houston major league team. The others were First Baseman Pidge Browne and pitcher Dave Giusti. Each man played for the 1961 last Houston Buffs team and then for the 1962 first Houston Colt .45’s club.

J.C. Hartman (6’0″, 175 lb) (BR/TR) was bon on April 15, 1934 in Cottonton, Alabama. He broke into baseball with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1955, ending up as the shortstop choice for the West in the 1955 Negro League All Star Game. His playing contract was sold to the Chicago Cubs from there, but further professional baseball was held off after a single season in Class C BALL while Hartman honored a draft invitation from the U.S. Army in 1957-58. His 1957 Fort Collins team won the All Army team championship for that year and J.C. also had a chance to team with future Country and Western singer Charley Pride and future San Francisco Giant Willie Kirkland on that military base club.

Over the course of his entire 10-season minor league career (1956, 1959-67). Hartman batted a hefty .280 with 32 homers. In his only 1961 season with the Houston Buffs, J.C. batted .259 with 6 H in 144 games.

J.C. Cop

J.C. Cop

In his two MLB seasons (1962-63), both with the new Houston Colt .45’s, J.C. Hartman batted only .185 with 0 HR in an MLB career total of 90 games. His great attitude and defense wee good enough to get him a big league shot, but his bat killed his chances for longevity.

After baseball, J.C. Hartman settled here and began a law enforcement career in 1973 as a member of the Houston Police Department. He became the first black officer ever promoted to a HPD supervisory position and he takes great pride in that fact. He also married his wife Jamesetta in Houston in 1961.  The couple then had a boy and a girl together they named Jay Clayton and Jessica – and everyone lived happily ever after.

J.C. Hartman was also a successful business man and investor. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have purchased several apartment complexes, in Houston. Now, I spend a lot of my time maintaining the apartments. There is always something to do.”

J.C. Landlord

J.C. Landlord

In 2006, J.C. Hartman added “author” to his list of occupational titles when he wrote and published his life story as “Field’s Way: Through the Negro Leagues -> Major Leagues -> Law Enforcement.” What the book lacks in professional editorial and publication assistance, it makes up for it in the presentation of genuine stories of fun from a man who really took his best shot at life and made the best of everything that broke right for him along the way.

The book is still available though Amazon and I thoroughly recommend it as a true work of a good man’s heart.

Continued Good luck in All Things, J.C. Hartman – and stay as young as you look today – for as long as you can.

At age 79, you are an inspiration to us all.

"J.C. Author" Hartman with "The Pecan Park Eagle" in 2008.

“J.C. Author” Hartman with “The Pecan Park Eagle” in 2008.

Buff Biographies: Willard Brown

July 14, 2013
KC's Willard Brown completes his HR trot as Grays catcher Josh Gibson looks the other way. On the record, Gibson was a big fan of Brown's power. He just didn't enjoy being on the stinger side of it..

KC’s Willard Brown completes his HR trot as Grays catcher Josh Gibson looks the other way. On the record, Gibson was a big fan of Brown’s power. He just didn’t enjoy being on the stinger side of it..

Willard Brown 03 Bob Boyd triumphantly “broke the color line” as the first black member of the Houston Buffs on May 27, 1954. Later that same year, and to much less fanfare, but to quite a bit of baseball interest, the Buffs acquired the second black player in their history. the former great slugging star of the Kansas City Monarchs and future member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, the great Willard Brown. They got him in a deal with Dallas, where he had been playing out the dregs of his baseball career as a steady .300 hitting outfielder on his way to 30 plus home runs for the season.

By the time he joined the Buffs, the 39-year old Brown was no longer the svelte-bodied and speedy base runner of his youthful Negro League days, but he still held the edge of being one of the best batting eyes and power-pounding hitters in the higher class minors in 1954. In 108 game for Dallas and 36 for Houston, Willard Brown batted .314 with 36 HR and 120 RBI.

Not bad for an old man.Willard Brown arrived in time to make his own late season contribution the late 1954 Texas League championship of the Houston Buffs. He also returned to Houston for the entire 1955 season, batting .301 with 19 HR and 104 RBI.

After 1955, Willard Brown (BR/TR) (5’11”, 200-240 lb.) finished up his four season minor league career (1953-56) with four clubs, retiring after 1956 with a career minor league average of .309 with 95 HR and 405 RBI. His earlier prime years played out as an incredible H hitter and high average batter and base running fool for the Kansas City Monarchs and several clubs in the Latin winter leagues. Although records for those times (1936-51) are spotty, Brown is credited by most with having hit more home runs than the great Josh Gibson. From 1937 to 1946, Brown helped lead the Monarchs to six pennants in ten seasons

Willard Brown also got a brief stopover in the majors with the St. Louis Browns in 1947, the Year of Jackie Robinson, when he and black third baseman Hank Thompson broke into the lineup together on July 20th for a game against the Boston Red Sox. It was also the first time for two black players to appear in a major league lineup together.

Hank Thompson and Willard Brown were the fist blacks to play for the St. Louis Browns on June 20, 1947. Brown would be the first black player to hit an American League home run.

Hank Thompson and Willard Brown were the fist blacks to play for the St. Louis Browns on July 20, 1947. Brown would be the first black player to hit an American League home run.

Things didn’t go well for Brown and Thompson with St. Louis. The impression is that some of the southern white boys on the Browns team didn’t exactly welcome the two new guys with open arms. Regardless, things became a little academic when Brown hit only .179 with one HR in 21 games. Brown and Thompson both left the team before season’s end. Thompson, of course, would make a later return with the New York Giants, but it was a closing door on Willard Brown’s only shot.

Willard Brown didn’t leave the St. Louis Browns with a empty hand. His solo home run, an inside-the-park job, was the first American League home run by a black ballplayer.

How good was Willard Brown? Well, he is respected as one of the great hitters in Negro League history and, in 2006, he was deemed good enough during his prime years for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame,

Willard Brown acquired the Spanish nickname, Ese Hombre (“That Man”) during his playing time in the Puerto Rico Winter League. Fortunately for Houston, Ese Hombre still had some gas left in the tank during his twilight seasons with the Buffs.

Willard Brown liked Houston enough to make it his home after his playing days were done. Born in Shreveport, Louisiana on July 26, 1915, Willard Brown died in Houston at the age of 81 on August 4, 1996.

 

 

 

 

Buff Biographies: Bob Boyd

July 13, 2013

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Bob Boyd

Bob Boyd

First baseman Bob Boyd (BL/TL) (5’10”, 170 lb.) “broke the color line” for all professional, collegiate, and high school sports teams representing the City of Houston as a player for the Houston Buffs Baseball Club on May 27, 1954. For those of you who may be too young to remember, “breaking the color line” means that Bob Boyd was the first black athlete to cross that invisible line of segregation that dictated American life in the South by keeping people of the black race from participating with whites in so many areas of life well into the 1950s and 1960s.

Back then, black fans who chose to support the all-white Houston Buffs, had to sit in a segregated uncovered grandstand section located down the far right field line of Buff Stadium. Black fans also had their own segregated water fountains and restrooms. It truly was an embarrassing time for civil rights, freedom, and common decency, but it was – the way things were.

“Breaking the color line” was not always blatantly contentious. It wasn’t in Houston. Not at all. Some people don’t seem to get that fact. Often times, “breaking the color line” truly was, as it was with Bob Boyd in Houston, an act of celebration over the death of one segregation tentacle.

There was only one Jackie Robinson – and not all “color lines” by team or league were hostile propositions. The color line for all players in the Texas League, in fact, already had been broken in 1952 by pitcher Dave Hoskins of the Dallas Eagles. By the time Houston’s breaking away from this one piece of social segregation in our local baseball operation was upon us, the appearance of Bob Boyd in a Houston Buffs home uniform was pretty much greeted by most Houstonians as an inevitable development. Add to the cause for celebration the fact that the 1954 Houston club had championship potential running throughout its roster and the belief that the addition of Bob Boyd from the White Sox may have just answered our quest for that one last missing piece.

It certainly helped that Bob Boyd came though in his first game as a Buff with a triple in the second and a double in the fourth to pace Houston to a well-deserved victory over Shreveport, Bob had a steady likable personality and a baseball talent that kept on producing as he hustled his way to a .321 average with 7 homers in 94 games of  the team’s road to the Texas League pennant.

The man still had to do his baseball work in an environment that didn’t allow him to take his meals with teammates in public restaurants, stay in hotels where his co-workers stayed, drink from water fountains, use rest rooms, or attend movies in the direct company of whites.

It is a far better world today in Houston. And that is why we celebrate the coming of Bob Boyd as the man who came to town in 1954 as our guy who crossed over the old color line and buried it with both his ability as a player and also his likable dignity as a really fine and decent human being.

Bob Boyd also played for the Houston Buffs in 1955, batting .310 with 15 HR. He then moved back up to the major leagues for the completion of a 9-season (1951, 1953-54, 1956-61) career and a .293 career BA with 19 HR. Over his 10-season minor league years (1949-55, 1962-64), Bob Boyd batted .321 with 53 homers.

Bob Boyd’s best year was 1957 when he hit .318 with 4 homers in 141 games for the Baltimore Orioles. He struck out only 31 times in 552 plate appearances.

After baseball, Bob Boyd went back to his home in Wichita, Kansas and drove a municipal bus until his retirement. He died on September 7, 2004, just seventeen days shy of his 85th birthday.

Bob Boyd ~ Late in Life.

Bob Boyd
~ Late in Life.

God rest your soul, Bob Boyd. You “did us proud” down here in Houston. As one who was there to watch you break the color line as an act of celebration, I shall never forget you. You will always be honored by all who remember, know of, and understand the importance of your contribution to Houston baseball history.

Buff Biographies: Danny Gardella

July 9, 2013

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Danny Gardella He was only a Houston Buff for 39 games in 1950, but he came here as a historical character who had broken his contract with organized baseball to play for “big money” in the outlaw Mexican League in 1946. For that offense, Danny Gardella and his handful of defecting baseball brethren were banned for up to five years from American baseball and forced to either fight the ruling or flee the game. Gardella chose to fight, filing a $300,000 law suit against the Giants and the other lords of baseball for unfair practices that kept him from getting a job in the sport. In the suit, he described the reserve clause as an instrument that is “monopolistic and (one that) restrains trade”.

In the end, Commissioner Happy Chandler and MLB backed off in fear of Gardella’s suit as a strong potential threat to the reserve clause. They lifted the ban on players who had defected to Mexico and settled with Gardella for his discomfort. Gardella dropped his suit, later explaining that he had received a $60,000 settlement check to do so. I am presuming that these actions were taken quietly to help MLB avoid paying all the players who found themselves in Gardella’s position.

Gardella got in a little more minor league service in 1948-49 and then, after a one-out, one-at bat career with the St. Louis Cardinals on April 20, 1950, Danny Gardella went back to the minors for 26 games with Class D Bangor, Maine before coming to Houston for 39 games with the 1950 Buffs.

Danny Gardella (5’7″, 160 lbs.) (BL/TL) batted only .211 with 144 hits and 2 HR as a right fielder for the 1950 Buffs. He played another year at Class C Trois-Rivieres in 1951 and then retired at age 31.

Danny Gardella (DOB: 02/26/20 in New York City) batted .256 with 41 homers over 9 seasons (1938-40, 1944, 1946, 1948-51) as a minor leaguer. He hit .267 with 24 HR as a major leaguer in 3 seasons with the New York Giants (1944-45) and St. Louis Cardinals (1950).

During his short stay with Houston, Danny Gardella became one of those players recruited by Buffs President Allen Russell to sing at home plate prior to a game as an added entertainment attraction. For whatever now-lost reason, Gardella sang “The Donkey Serenade” the night I was there.

The lyrics to “The Donkey Serenade” go like this:

There’s a song in the air,
But the fair senorita
Doesn’t seem to care
For the song in the air.
So I’ll sing to the mule
If you’re sure she won’t think that I am just a fool
Serenading a mule.

Amigo mio, does she not have a dainty bray?
She listens carefully to each little word we play.
La bella senorita?
Si, si, mi muchachito,
She’d love to sing it too if only she knew the way.
But try as she may,
In her voice there’s a flaw!
And all that the lady can say Is “e-e-aw!”
Senorita donkey sita, not so fleet as a mosquito,
But so sweet like my Chiquita,
You’re the one for me.

There’s a light in her eye,
Tho’ she may try to hide it,
She cannot deny,
There’s a light in her eye.
Oh! the charm of her smile
So beguiles all who see her
That they’d ride a mile
For the charm of her smile.

Amigo mio, is she listenin’ to my song?
No, no, mi muchachito, how could you be so wrong?
La bella senorita?
Si, si, la senorita,
She loves to sing it to me
If only she knew all the words,

Her face is a dream
Like an angel I saw!
But all that my darlin’ can scream
Is: “e-e-aw!”
Senorita donkey sita, not so fleet as a mosquito,
But so sweet like my Chiquita,
You’re the one for me.

Playing the outfield or defecting to Mexico had to be easier than remembering all the words to this song, plus staying in tune with the melody. Gardella was another tenor, if I remember correctly.

Danny Gardella passed away at the age of 85 in Yonkers, New York on March 6, 2005. God rest your donkey spirit and New York Italiano soul, Danny Boy!

Buff Biographies: Pete Bryant

July 5, 2013
Excerpt from "Your 1948 Houston Buffs, Dixie Champions: Brief Biographies By Morris Frank and Adie Marks (1948).

Excerpt from “Your 1948 Houston Buffs, Dixie Champions: Brief Biographies By Morris Frank and Adie Marks (1948).

26-year old James Thomas “Pete” Bryant (6’1″) (BR/TR) was the third biggest winner on the 1948 Houston Buffs staff with a record of 14-14 and an ERA of 2.89. Over the course of his seven season (1942, 1946-51) all minor league career, Bryant won 103, lost 86. and hung up a nice 3.10 ERA to go with it as a bow. His biggest win season was what him to AA Houston for a year when he went 22-12, 3.33 with the 1947 class C Burlington club. For whatever reason, Pete Bryant dropped down to class A Columbus (GA) to start the 1949 season before jumping up the Cardinal vine for minor unsuccessful runs at AAA Rochester and Columbus (OH) before dropping back down for two nearly identical career finishing years of 17-14 for the 1950-51 Columbus (GA) clubs.

Without further research, we lose track of Pete Bryant after the 1951 season. As a small town North Carolina boy, he may have taken his family back to the east coast after his ball playing days were done, but don’t we know that for sure – or how much he may have remained in touch with baseball – or how he made a living.

Baseball Reference.Com shows James Thomas Bryant still alive at 91, but we have learned from other examples that those shown advanced ages at “BR.C” are sometimes the result of missing confirmation on a player’s death.

We tried running Bryant’s ID through “Find-A-Grave.Com” and did get one James Thomas Bryant from 1922 in North Carolina who died in 1999, but this fellow was born on May 5, 1922 in Spindale, NC.  Our James Thomas “Pete” Bryant was born on June 28, 1922 in Lasker, NC. – No death matches showed up for that name, birthdate, or place of birth.

The mystery of Pete Bryant’s after baseball life and his flirtation with immortality goes on until we get better information. If you know, or if your own research comes up with anything, please post it here as a comment upon this article. Your help in putting together the ten trillion piece puzzle that is baseball history will be appreciated.

Buff Biographies: Harry McCurdy

June 30, 2013

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Harry McCurdy 1933Goudey Card It feels as though I’ve known the late Harry McCurdy my whole life. The fact is,  I never even once met him in person, and, in spite of the fact that we regularly got phone calls from people searching for Harry McCurdy at our house while I was growing up in Houston, I was never led to believe that we were related to him as blood family kin.

As an old, but then young Buffs and baseball fan after World War  II, I could only wish that Harry McCurdy was somehow my dad’s much older brother. Born on September 15, 1899, in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, Harry McCurdy (5’11”, 187 lbs.) was born eleven years sooner and half an America earlier than my dad, Bill “Wee Willie” McCurdy, Jr. (5’6″, 140 lbs.). Dad came into this world on December 23, 1910 in Beeville, Texas.

Harry McCurdy grew up to be a big league catcher who batted left and threw right. Wee Willie McCurdy grew up as an outfielder for St. Edwards University Prep School in Austin and various Beeville town ball teams of the 1930s. Opposite Harry, Wee Willie batted right and threw left.

For the rest of their Houston lives, my dad’s role in Harry’s life was educed to simply telling people who called our house looking for Harry McCurdy that “No, this is not THE residence of the Harry McCurdy who serves as Principal of Hogg Junior High School in the Heights. We are the McCurdys, all right, just not that McCurdy. You’ve got the wrong number. – Maybe, you should call Information and ask them.”

As a kid, I often wondered why Dad didn’t just call Information himself and get Harry’s number for the next wrong McCurdy caller, but I guess he didn’t see it as his job to do.

Harry McCurdy was with the Houston Independent School District as an administrator for quite a few years prior to his death in Houston on July 21, 1972 at the age of 72. And I imagine too that he was probably glad to miss some of those complaining parent calls that were aimed at catching him at home away from the shield of staff. After all, how many people call a middle school principal just to chew the fat about baseball?

Harry McCurdy was a smart guy. After graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1922, Harry began a wonderful baseball career that started and ended with seven seasons in the minors (1922, 1924-25, 1929, 1934-36). He spent three seasons with the Houston Buffs (1924-25, 1934), a stint that included his greatest full year of 1925, when he batted .361 with 16 homers in 124 games as a Buffs catcher. His career minor league totals capped at a .314 BA with 29 homers for 489 games over 7 years.

The major league record for Harry McCurdy in 543 games over ten seasons was even more impressive. Harry batted .282 with 9 HR for the St. Louis Cardinals (1922-23), the Chicago White Sox (1926-28), the Philadelphia Phillies (1930-33), and the Cincinnati Reds (1934).

I no longer get calls for Harry McCurdy at my house – and Wee Willie’s no longer here to take them, either, but both of these men remain in my consciousness – and larger than life.

God rest your souls, McCurdy boys!