TERRE HAUTE —
Optimism reigned supreme as the Terre Haute Phillies approached the 1947 baseball season in what turned out to be a summer of triumph and profound tragedy.
The previous season — the first year of organized professional baseball in Terre Haute since 1937 — was a definitive success for the Three-I League. Altogether, 629,230 fans passed through the turnstiles at eight sites during the summer of 1946.
Terre Haute accounted for nearly 100,000 of those patrons.
Terre Haute was entering its second season as a Class B farm club of the Philadelphia Phillies, the result of a pact signed by Mayor Vernon R. McMillan and Robert Carpenter, president of the National League team from the City of Brotherly Love.
Philadelphia maintained 12 teams in its farm system. Six, including Terre Haute, were owned outright by the big Phillies. The Utica (N.Y.) Blue Sox of the Class A Eastern League, managed by Eddie Sawyer, was the top farm team.
The Wilmington (Del.) Blue Rocks of the Interstate League and Terre Haute were Philadelphia’s two Class B teams.
The Schenectady Blue Jays of the Canadian-American League, Salina (Kan.) Blue Jays of the Western Association and the Vandergrift (Pa.) Pioneers of the Mid-Atlantic League were members of Class C leagues. Schenectady was managed by Lee Riley.
The Americus (Ga.) Phillies of the Georgia-Florida League, Appleton Papermakers of the Wisconsin State League, Bradford (Pa.) Blue Wings of the Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League, Carbondale (Pa.) Pioneers of the North Atlantic League, and Dover (Del.) Phillies of the Eastern Shore League were Philadelphia’s Class D teams.
All eight members of the 1946 Three-I League returned in 1947. The Davenport Cubs were the defending regular season champions but needed a postseason playoff game to secure the title from the Danville Dodgers.
Third-place Evansville defeated Davenport in the post-season playoffs, 3 to 1, and fourth-place Terre Haute beat Danville in four games. But Evansville, managed by Bob Coleman, who guided Terre Haute to a Three-I League crown in 1922, defeated Terre Haute in the deciding three-game playoff.
The Waterloo White Hawks, Springfield Browns, Decatur Commodores and the Quincy Gems finished in that order in the bottom half of the 1946 league standings.
Davenport was a Chicago Cubs franchise. Danville was a Brooklyn (now Los Angeles) Dodgers farm club. Evansville was affiliated with the Boston (now Atlanta) Braves. Waterloo was attached to the Chicago White Sox. Springfield was a farm club of the St. Louis Browns. Decatur was associated with the St. Louis Cardinals. Quincy had a working agreement with the New York Yankees.
The 1946 season was a year of uncertainty as hundreds of young men returned from service to seek or resume a baseball career. Some had not played for three years.
Yet the Three-I League produced exciting players in 1946, including Albert “Rube” Walker and Roy Smalley of Davenport; Carl Erskine, Cal Abrams and Toby Atwell of Danville; Earl Turner and Chuck Tanner of Evansville; Howie Judson of Waterloo; Hank Arft of Springfield; Dana’s Bert Shepard of Decatur; and Hank Bauer of Quincy.
Catcher Stan Lopata, infielders Ralph “Putsy” Caballero, Jim Ackeret, Guy Glaser and Rogers McKee, outfielders Dick Welker and Bill Sanders and pitchers Barney Schultz, Dick Koecher and Adam “Whitey” Gluchoski were members of Terre Haute’s 1946 team destined to earn further baseball notoriety.
Koecher was advanced to the “Big Phillies” at the end of the 1946 season. Lopata, Caballero and Schultz later played for Philadelphia. McKee and pitcher George Eyrich were on major league rosters during World War II.
In February 1947, Phillies farm director Joe Reardon announced that Ray Brubaker, Terre Haute’s popular 1946 field manager, would return in 1947. Brubaker earned universal praise for the manner in which he handled the 1946 team.
The return of the peppery 54-year old manager, as well as business manager Billy Boyle, affirmed the parent club’s pledge to field a stronger team than the year before.
A native of Portland, Ind., Brubaker’s pro baseball career encompassed 23 years as a player (13 years at Oakland of the Pacific Coast League) and 12 years as a manager.
A career .285 hitter, Brubaker played shortstop for Fort Wayne and Muskegon of the Central League between 1915 and 1917, when Terre Haute was a member of that loop.
Before Brubaker trekked to Dyersburg, Tenn., a city of about 15,000, for preseason drills with 55 prospects, Reardon revealed that Welker and Glaser would return to Terre Haute. Both were popular choices.
Appleton manager Andy Latchic and scout Eddie Krajnik supervised the camp until Brubaker’s arrival.
Soon after Brubaker got there, Don Hasenmayer, a 20-year old infielder who enjoyed “cups of coffee” in the majors in 1945 sand 1946, was assigned to play for Terre Haute. Hasenmayer played for Brubaker at Bradford and Wilmington in 1944.
Catcher Mel Brookey of Henrietta, Okla., who hit .294 in the Western Association, was another significant addition.
Bill Higdon, who hit .421 in 36 games for Bradford in 1946, and Wally Jakowczyk, an all-around athlete from Flint, Mich., who played for Brubaker at Bradford in 1944 and hit .289 and .294 for Utica in 1945 and 1946, joined Welker in the outfield.
Other mid-April additions included pitchers Gluchoski, Al Porto, Ed Sundra, Lou Grasmick and Paul Stuffel. A graduate of Kent State with a blazing fastball, Stuffel was sent to Salina to work on his control, but was back in Terre Haute in 1948.
Meanwhile, the spring training roster of 55 players was pared down to 29. Among those cut were catcher Wayne Myers of Terre Haute and pitcher Gene Cole of Linton.
Before the exhibition game at Memorial Stadium on Sunday, April 13, against the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association, the Terre Haute YMCA and the baseball club announced that Knot Hole Gang membership for 25 cents provided free admission for 18 designated games for boys and girls between 9 and 14. .
Season tickets, good for admission to the grandstand or bleachers, were available for $40 each. For $15 more, a box seat could be reserved for the entire season.
Continued next week