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June 24, 2012

Historical Perspective, June 24, 2012: Terre Haute Phillies — 1947 season: A year of triumph and tragedy

TERRE HAUTE — Part II

During 1947 pre-season interviews, Terre Haute Phillies manager Ray Brubaker expressed confidence that he would field a competitive team “if our pitching is consistent.”

So Brubaker must have been disenchanted to watch his squad commit 10 errors in a 4-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association April 13 at Memorial Stadium before 2,774 fans.

The Phillies outhit the Brewers, 8 to 6, and their pitching was good. Starter Ed Sundra hurled the first three innings and, though tagged for four hits and three runs, only one was earned. On the negative side, he gave up five base on balls.

Whitey Gluchoski twirled the next three innings and held the Brewers scoreless, relinquishing one hit while walking two. But he was in frequent trouble due to faulty fielding. Righthander Lou Grasmick pitched the seventh and eighth innings, allowing two unearned runs on only one hit. He walked one and struck out two.

Ken Graney retired the side quickly in the final inning but was sent to Salina a few days later for more seasoning.

The Phillies’ outfield was in good hands. Wally Jakowczyk made an impressive local debut by stroking two solid singles. Center fielder Dick Welker also got two hits while left fielder Bill Higdon added another.

Terre Haute fans had the opportunity to watch one of the great infielders in baseball history. Alvin Dark, selected 1948 National League Rookie of the Year after hitting .322 to lead the Boston Braves to a pennant, who was the Brewers’ shortstop. Recipient of the inaugural Lou Gehrig Memorial Award in 1955, Dark also had a successful managerial career, winning pennants in both leagues and the 1974 World Series for the Oakland A’s. Currently 90 years old, he is the oldest living manager of a world champion.

Manager Brubaker’s chief focus was on the left side of his infield. The arrival of Don Hasenmayer, scheduled to fill one of those spots, was postponed by his decision to get married. Third baseman Joe Safety and shortstop Johnny Berdella, both promising youngsters, each committed three errors.

Hasenmayer’s fielding skills were compared to those of 1946 star infielder Putsy Caballero.

On April 14, Brubaker was elated to learn that Willie “Puddinhead” Jones, one of the nation’s top rookie shortstop prospects, was being added to the Terre Haute roster. Philadelphia gave Jones a $16,000 signing bonus. Puddinhead hit .503 in 60 games for Hartsville of the semi-pro Palmetto League before signing the pro contract.

“Jones could be elected governor of North Carolina if he ran for office,” Bob Carpenter, president of the Philadelphia Phillies, asserted. “A lot of the people down there have never heard of Harry Truman but they have all heard of Puddinhead Jones!”

Born in Dillon, S.C. but raised in Laurel, N.C., Jones made a notable debut April 19 at Union City, Tenn., home of the Greyhounds of the Class D Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee (or “Kitty”) League. The Phillies won, 10 to 3. Grasmick, Sundra and starter Al Porto, a 19-year old southpaw, pitched well.

Rain played havoc with the Phillies’ pre-season schedule as Brubaker tried to prepare his squad for the season opener at home April 24 against Waterloo. Bad weather resulted in the postponement of road exhibition games against Evansville and the Muncie Reds of the Class D Ohio State League.

The acquisition of first baseman Gene Olive from Memphis of the Southern Association was good news. Olive hit .331 for Henderson of the Class C East Texas League in 1946. Pitcher Tom Ernest and catchers Charley Hood, Ray Dybzinski and Vince Oltman also were added to the roster. Catcher Mel Brookey was sent to Salina. Three-I League president Tom Fairweather was in Terre Haute on April 22 and 23 to meet with the eight league umpires. Fairweather planned to throw out the season’s first pitch at Memorial Stadium when the Phillies met Waterloo, managed by former Chicago White Sox outfielder Johnny Mostil, who hit .301 in his 10-year major league career.

Despite his name, Fairweather could not halt the precipitation that was inundating the area. The first two games of a scheduled three-game series were rained out. The Phillies lost the season opener to the White Hawks, 8 to 7, on Saturday night, though Jones hit a three-run homer while Jakowczyk and Hood contributed triples.

Vern Freiburger, who played for Wilkes-Barre of the Class A Eastern League in 1946, joined the Phillies to compete for the first base job with Olive, who had not yet joined the team.

New General Electric light towers — identical to those used at Yankee Stadium —  were installed at Memorial Stadium before opening night, further elevating the local amphitheater’s reputation as one of the finest minor league parks in the nation.

Brubaker’s brother, Claude,  and his wife, residents of Grand Island, Neb., came to Terre Haute on Saturday to spend a few days with Ray and his wife, Irma.

The Davenport Cubs, defending Three-I League champions, arrived Sunday, April 27, for “Babe Ruth Day.” Every fan attending was invited to sign a page of a “Get Well” tribute booklet, illustrated by Terre Haute commercial artist Howard Haig, to be sent to America's most popular athlete, who was fighting throat cancer.

The Phillies embarrassed Davenport, 13 to 2, before 2,819 paying customers and about 300 Knot Hole Gang members, who signed the scroll to Ruth using gold ink. Davenport was managed for the second year by Dick Kerr, winning pitcher of two games for the Chicago Black Sox in the 1919 World Series.

On Monday, April 28, the Terre Haute Optimists Club sponsored a free baseball  fundamentals clinic at the stadium conducted by Hall of Fame immortal Rogers Hornsby. Every school age child was invited. Nearly 1,200 were excused from  school to attend.

The Phillies scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth that night to clinch a 6 to 5 victory. The final game of the three-game series with Davenport was rained out.

Sporting a 2-1 won-loss record at the end of their initial homestand, Brubaker’s Phillies embarked on their first road trip. The first stop was Waterloo.

By the time the team returned home 10 days later, the baseball world with which Terre Haute fans was familiar had been substantially altered.

Continued to next week

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