Posts Tagged ‘Solly Hemus’

Buff Biographies: Solly Hemus

June 7, 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).

From the time I first saw him play during my original season of watching the Houston Buffs at old Buff Stadium in 1947, Solly Hemus was my star, my first baseball hero. He just seemed to be the guy that got everything going on offense and defense.  He played the game of baseball with a fire in his belly and a relentless hustle for whatever edge he could find. Houston writers and fans called him “the little pepper pot”  as a tip of the cap to both his game time personality and his diminutive, but wiry physique. At 5’9″ and 165 lbs,, Hemus was all muscle and momentum, leaning into action as a force to be reckoned with.

As a second baseman for the 1947 Buffs, Hemus batted .277 with 0 home runs in 140 games as a key table setting hitter in the lead off spot. After the ’47 Buffs won both the Texas League pennant and the Dixie Series crown, Solly played two more seasons with the Buffs (1948-49) and one more year at Columbus, Ohio (1950) before heading up to his eleven-season MLB playing career with the St. Louis Cardinals (1951-56, 1959) and Philadelphia Phillies (1956-58) as a key shortstop and utility infielder. Prior to coming to Houston, by the way, Solly had broken into professional baseball at Class C Pocatello in 1946 with a .363 average in 120 games. He would again surpass the .300 level in minor league ball with a .328 average for the 1949 Buffs in 109 games. Solly’s highest full season MLB average would be the .304 he posted in 124 games for the 1954 Cardinals.

Solly led the National League in runs scored with 105 in 1952. He also developed a little more pop in his bat, slugging 15 HR in 1952 and 14 HR in 1953. Whereas, Hemus only hit 16 homers in 5 minor league seasons, he ended up with 55 long balls in the majors.

Solly Hemus finished his MLB career with a batting average of .273.

Solly took over as manager of the Cardinals prior to the 1959 season, but the club finished 7th. In 1960, the Hemus-led Redbirds rose to 3rd place, but a struggle for a spot in the first division the next year led to a stumble over the word “irony” for Solly in 1961. He was replaced during that 1961 season by his old Buffs mentor at Houston, Johnny Keane, as manager of the Cardinals.

After a little time with the expansion franchise New York Mets as a coach in the early 1960s, Solly Hemus turned his considerable smarts and energies to the development of his oil exploration company. Hemus Limited became quite successful as Solly moved onto a very special place of honor and respect in the entire Houston community for his giving low profile and private  support of so many worthy causes.

Today, at age 90, Solly Hemus is still my hero.

Honest Larry Miggins

May 2, 2013

Columbus 50 Team

To fully appreciate this brief story, you may first need to either know the man or to have heard this story which I wrote about three years ago. Others have written about it too:

To have been such an honest man, it’s helpful to also see his face as he appeared in 1950 as a Columbus Redbird.

Larry Miggins, LF 1950 Columbus Redbirds

Larry Miggins, LF
1950 Columbus Redbirds

Another present Houstonian and former Houston Buff that played in the “1950 Columbus Honest Man” game is Solly Hemus, shown here also as a Redbird shortstop.  To no avail, Solly was on the “index-finger-over-the-lips-keep-your-mouth-shut-Larry” side of things that day.

Solly Hemus, SS 1950 Columbus Redbirds

Solly Hemus, SS
1950 Columbus Redbirds

Larry Miggins is the most honest man ever. He told the truth, even though it wasn’t what his teammates or the home town Columbus fans wanted to hear him say that day in left field.

What a privilege it is to be the friend of Larry Miggins and a fellow member with him in SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research. This coming Saturday, we are going together to the Sugar Land Skeeters game with a group of fellow SABR members.

Hope to see you there. The baseball climate and ambience at Constellation Field comes pretty close to portraying what it was like to watch baseball at old Buff Stadium (1928-1961). If only we had more organ baseball park music and less “modern” stuff, but that’s probably just my antique patina soul dimming the lights a little.


Solly Hemus: “Little Pepper Pot” of the ’47 Buffs.

March 11, 2010

Happy Days at Buff Stadium Ignited from the Energy of Solly Hemus.

Back in 1947, Houston Buff fans, writers, and broadcasters referred to second baseman Solly Hemus as “The Little Pepper Pot” because of his fiery field leadership of the club. It was a fire  that went on to ignite the Buffs’ capture of first place in  the Texas League on the last day of the season by narrow half game margin. The Buffs went on from there to capture the playoff pennant and then to defeat the Mobile Bears in the Dixie Series. As a nine-year old kid, the 1947 Buffs were my first conscious club of heroes – and Solly Hemus was my first baseball hero.

How lucky can a kid be?

Born April 17, 1923 in Phoenix, Arizona, might have missed a stop in Houston altogether, except for the intervention of untempered hunger and fate. Then I’d likely be writing about someone else today, but that’s apparently not how these things work. I only learned these facts in a hotel lobby conversation with good friend and late major league catcher Red Hayworth in the late 1990’s. Red Hayworth was a scout for the Houston Astros for a period of time in the murky past.

Here’s the story s Red Hayworth told it to me. Red’s brother, Ray Hayworth, was set to manage Solly Hemus for the Brooklyn Dodgers at their 1946 Fort Worth Cats club. Young Hemus originally signed with the Dodgers after the conclusion of World War II.

On the bus trip back to Fort Worth, the team vehicle stopped for gas somewhere on the highway near the team’s destination of LaGrave Field, the Fort Worth home venue. Manager Hayworth supposedly told all players to stay on board during the “short stop” for fuel, but 23-year old Solly Hemus got off the bus in spite of his manager’s warning and started heading into the little attached gas station cafe.

“Where are you going, kid?” Ray Hayworth called out to his rookie. “I told you to stay in the bus.”

“I don’t give a s*** what you say,” Solly supposedly yelled back to his manager. “I’m hungry and I’m going to get  me a sandwich.”

What Solly got for his sandwich decision was a one-way ticket to Pocatello, Idaho and the sale of his playing contract to the St. Louis Cardinals. Solly proceeded to hit .363 in 120 games as a middle infielder for Pocatello in preparation for his promotion to the 1947 Houston Buffs and a faster track to the big leagues as a future shortstop for the Cardinals. With Pee Reese and Jackie Robinson entrenched in the middle infield with the help of Junior Gilliam during this same era, Solly’s punitive sale to the Cardinals was the best thing that could have happened to him.

Hemus hit .277 with 0 homers in 1947, following that up in with two more seasons as a Buff and averages of .288 and .328. One more season at .297 with the Little World Series champion Columbus Redbirds in 1950 and Solly Hemus was ready for his eleven season major league career (1949-59) with the Cardinals and Phillies and a batting average of .273 with 51 homers. As a five-year minor leaguer (1946-50), Hemus batted .308 with 16 home runs.

Billy Costa & Solly Hemus are 4th & 5th from the left on the front row.

Solly took over as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1959, but wasn’t too successful in the standings, or with getting along with star pitcher Bob Gibson. After two and one half seasons, Hemus was replaced by Johnny Keane, his former manager in Houston in 1947.

Hemus and Gibson both had fiery dispositions, but I do not believe their core problems with each other were racial, as some writers would have you believe. I’ve never heard Solly Hemus make an off-the-cuff statement that smelled of racism in any of my conversations with him. In my experience, he seems as color-blind as you could hope a man to be. On the other hand, I have no problem seeing how he and Gibson probably clashed from the start. They are both strong-willed men.

One of my favorite stories about Solly happened in St. Louis during his managerial period. An overweight field umpire on the other side of the diamond seemed to be calling everything the other team’s way. By the fifth inning, Solly had suffered enough. He marched out of the dugout to make this request of the Oliver Hardy-sized arbiter:

“Sir, would you mind calling the rest of the game from our side of the field? Your weight seems to be tilting the ground the other team’s way?”

Solly got to watch the rest of the game from the level confines of the Cardinal clubhouse.

Solly Hemus turns 87 next month. He still operates his successful oil business from offices in Bellaire, but a serious fall on a trip to Alaska a couple of years ago left him with some ongoing damage to his mobility. Even that kind of thing doesn’t hold this good man down. Look for Solly Hemus to be back at Minute Maid Park again this season as a fan of the Astros. The ties that bind Solly Hemus to Houston as a result of his long ago sandwich decision apparently are forever.