News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 30, 2012

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: Tragedy strikes the 1947 Terre Haute Phillies (Part 3) Part III

Mike McCormick
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The Three-I League schedule-maker gave the Terre Haute Phillies a day off to travel to Waterloo for their first road engagement of the 1947 baseball season.

Manager Ray Brubaker was pleased with the way his squad rebounded from its season opening loss to sweep a two-game set with Davenport, 1946 league champion.

The Phillies then gained revenge for its only loss of the season by clouting 14 hits en route to a 10 to 7 victory over the White Hawks. Outfielder Bill Higdon went on a hitting rampage with two doubles and three singles in five trips to the plate.

Third baseman Don Hasenmayer had two RBI doubles and outfielder Wally Jakowczyk made a spectacular game-saving catch with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the tying run at the plate.

Sporting a 3-1 season record, Terre Haute trekked to Municipal Stadium in Waterloo for the first game of another three-game set Saturday night, May 3.

Shortly before the Phillies left Hotel Russell-Lamson for the ball park, several players urged Brubaker to remain at the hotel to treat what was described as “severe indigestion.” He refused, citing his desire to remain with the club.

The Phillies’ leader did not put on a uniform but remained in the dugout. Veteran pitcher Whitey Gluchoski assumed the manager’s role in the third base coaching box.

The game was thrill-packed. Waterloo mounted a 3 to 1 lead going into the final inning. In the top of the ninth first baseman Gene Olive singled and Hasenmayer launched a home run over the center field wall to tie the score.

Moments later — with one out in the bottom of the ninth — Brubaker collapsed and lapsed into unconsciousness. Players frantically carried him to the clubhouse where Dr. Thomas F. Thornton, Waterloo’s club physician, was summoned by Umpire-in-Chief Al Baer. Dr. Thornton pronounced the popular manager dead of an apparent heart attack.

At the time of his death, Brubaker, 54 years old, was Terre Haute’s sole post-World War II baseball manager.

The tragedy, which ended a remarkable minor league career covering four different decades, made headlines from coast-to-coast. Ray began playing professional baseball at age 19 in 1912 with the Tulsa Terriers of the Class D Oklahoma State League. He later played with Battle Creek of the Southern Michigan League, Fort Wayne and Muskegon of the Central League, St. Joseph (Mo.) of the Western League, Columbus (Ohio) of the American Association, Oakland of the Pacific Coast League and Vicksburg of the Cotton States League.

Brubaker managed a total of 13 seasons at Oakland, Vicksburg, Terre Haute, Dallas of the Texas League, Dover of the Eastern States League, Winston-Salem and Portsmouth of the Piedmont League, Elmira of the Eastern League, Bradford of the Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York (“Pony”) League and Wilmington of the Interstate League.

The game was canceled, to be completed at a later date. So was the May 4 contest.

Brubaker’s funeral was held May 7 at the West Walnut Street Church in Portland, his hometown. He was survived by his wife Irma, daughter Marcil, one sister and three brothers. Claude Brubaker, one of the brothers, urged Ray to seek medical attention for his several physical complaints while he was visiting Terre Haute in late April. Ray promised to have the team physician “look me over soon.”

The careers of players were altered by the tragedy. Jakowczyk was among his favorites. Brubaker, highly esteemed, was expected to be elevated soon in the Phillies farm system. He assured Wally a spot on a future roster in 1948.

Philadelphia farm director Joe Reardon named veteran second baseman Guy Glaser as acting manager but appointed Gluchoski when he learned Whitey was Brubaker’s choice. The Phillies lost its first game under Gluchoski’s tutelage May 5 to Davenport, 7 to 6, despite Higdon’s towering home run. The May 6 game was rained out.

Jakowczyk got three hits including a ninth-inning grand slam home run in the first game of a scheduled three-game series at Quincy. Terre Haute defeated the Gems, 10 to 2. Al Porto pitched a three-hitter.

The next night Quincy committed 11 errors and lost, 21 to 4. Puddinhead Jones and Hasenmayer each got four hits while Jakowczyk, Dick Welker and Charley Hood added three apiece. Ed Sundra went the distance for the win. The Gems toppled the Phillies, 11 to 5, in the final game of the series supported by home runs by future major leaguer Rocky Krsnich and former Purdue basketball star Ed Ehlers. Hood, Jakowczyk and Hasenmayer each pounded out two hits in the loss.

Before the Phillies departed Quincy to return home, they learned that Jack Sanford, a 38-year old infielder who had guided Americus to the 1946 Georgia-Florida League crown, would succeed Brubaker.

Opening at home May 11 against Danville, the Phillies welcomed three new pitchers: Attilio “Til” Panaranto, Bill Jankowski and Billy Revels. Panaranto and Jankowski became familiar local sports names. Infielder Stan Wells and pitchers George “Buddy” Teutsch and Hugh Salisbury were sent to Salina.

The Dodgers ruined Sanford’s debut, 12 to 11, before 3,764 at Memorial Stadium. All stood two minutes in silent tribute to Brubaker as taps was played. Flags flew at half staff.

The Phillies’ bats were in working order. Hasenmayer hit two home runs while Jones and Jakowczyk each added one. Pitcher Paul Stuffel was wild in his first Terre Haute start and was succeeded by Gluchoski, Jankowski, Porto, Revels and Sundra.

Carl Erskine, future Brooklyn Dodgers pitching great from Anderson, scored the tying run as a pinch-runner in the first game and followed with a four-hit mound performance (though he walked eight) the next day as Danville won, 8 to 5.

 Panaranto, in his local debut, was the losing pitcher in relief and the victim of a triple steal. Hall of Famer George Sisler, perhaps baseball’s finest first baseman, was among the 1,799 patrons present. He was Brooklyn’s chief scout.

Porto proved that Danville was not invincible, blanking the Dodgers, 8 to 0, as Jakowczyk and Olive hit home runs. Rain reduced the three-game series with Quincy to one. Ehlers, a $10,000 bonus baby, led the Gems with three hits in a 4 to 1 win.

Continued to next week