Summer of ’49
Publication Year: 2003
Debate still rages on about who invented baseball. But one thing is certain...it was alive and fractious in southwestern Ontario in the summer of 1949.
It was a remarkable summer. For Charlie Hodge, just finishing his last year of high school, the summer of 1949 begins with great fanfare and excitement. He has made the Galt Terriers’ roster and will be riding the bench with a star-studded team, many of whom had played with the major leagues. When those seasoned pros arrive in town, big things are expected, and they don’t disappoint. There is the towering home run that Goody Rosen hits into the Grand River; the frozen baseball scheme that backfires; and the busload of promotional cooking oil hijacked just before game time. It all comes down to Game 7 in the Terriers’ semi-final series with the Brantford Red Sox, when a convicted gambler, playing centre field that night, makes one of the most controversial plays ever seen at Dickson Park.
Based on exhaustive research and extensive interviews, David Menary recreates that post-war season in Terrier Town through the eyes of Charlie Hodge. While Charlie is a fictional character, the other players are not. This is a story that will resonate with young and old alike, baseball fans or not. This is a team that became a vital part of the town, and the town an elemental part of the team. This is a time rapidly fading from memory — a summer of myths and legends. This is a story of how life could be in the small southwestern town of Galt. And all this is our heritage.
Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Title Page, Copyright
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I began research for this book when I spoke with Gus Murray many years ago and am deeply indebted to him for being so generous with his time. I recall fondly the many meetings we had at his house on Lowry Avenue, and above his old store on Main...
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Long years and many seasons ago I grew up in a God-fearing Presbyterian baseball family, in the small southern Ontario town of Galt, a picturesque valley town which had been hewn out of the bush a century earlier. We lived beside an old Mohawk river called the Grand, in the southern part of Waterloo County. I
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September, 1949, Game 7, summer was dying. You could see it on the land, taste it in the air, and feel it on your skin. There were the small signs, like the first falling leaves already crisp and brown on the ground. The days were growing shorter. And the baseball season was coming to a close...
A Time and a Place
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Spring, 1949. When I was a boy, I knew little of our town’s history. But over the years it gradually seeped into my pores and bathed my soul. My world centred on Galt, and on baseball. Living through the war years, and losing my brother when we were both young, shaped my view of everything that I knew then...
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You thirst for a baseball season like that one. You are always thirsting. Walking down Main and Water, even in winter, when the snow is deep and the roads are wet from the cars passing by, seeing the ancient stone buildings that have stood their ground for nearly two centuries, you are still thirsting for the spring and the baseball it will bring, and, if you are lucky, and if there...
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Unlikely as it sounds, a guy named Twinkletoes helped turn baseball around in Galt. Former New York Yankee outfielder George “Twinkletoes” Selkirk came to town in the fall of ‘48 and changed the face of Galt baseball forever. And the man who brought in Twinkletoes was none other than Gus Murray...
Winter and Spring
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It shouldn't have been surprising that Murray used heel lifts. Some players Murray considered bringing to Galt that spring were older than he was, and in an effort to gain the appearance of authority, Murray improved his height. The lifts made him about five-foot-nine. He would typically lie about both his height...
Waiting for Warren
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Warren seemed to fit perfectly into our experienced lineup, but who was this guy the papers liked to call Tulsa Tommy? We new little of him, other than he had played in the majors. By the time his father came up from Oklahoma in midsummer, rumours were circulating that he had been in trouble...
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Alf Turley's barbershop faced south, toward the river, athough there was a row of townhouses just opposite, which blocked out the view of the Grand. Not that it mattered. People didn’t go into the barbershop for the view. But Saturday mornings the place was always sunwashed and bright, and the sun...
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I have forgotten more friends than I can remember, but I can still see their faces, and the haunts we used to frequent. A long time ago we gathered chestnuts, played Tibby, skated on the outdoor rink at Dickson Park, and followed the train tracks out toward Blair. Some friendships lasted a season, or two, and then faded...
The Red Sox
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“We drank some of that water down there in Brantford,” he said. “It was awful. Our water in Galt was clean and clear. It all came from artesian wells. But Brantford took their drinking water from the Grand River. The big saying in those days was, ‘Galt flushes the toilets and Brantford drinks the water.’”...
Pennell and the Prime Minister
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In the springtime, with the promise of warm weather, Pennell and King had come to the conclusion that 1949 would be the best Brantford season since the war. Already they had Clayton Cooper lined up to catch. Cooper had a strong arm, and he could hit. And, in addition to pitcher Alf Gavey, the Hamilton native...
Rivalry and Legends
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Legends of ball games and players were around long before I was born. There had been baseball before the Terriers, though I always found this hard to believe. But I remember old-timers telling me, when I was young, about famous players who worked their magic at Dickson Park in the 1800s. I never wrote a word of it...
Born of the Spring
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“What are you going to get out of it?” asked Dunnell.
“I’m just trying to build a winner,” replied Murray.
Dunnell, who began at the Star in 1942 and had just moved over to the sports department in 1948, knew Murray had mortgaged his house to operate the club. “I think you’re nuts,” he said. “You’re working your ass off, and for what?”...
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Galt, May 15 (CP).—Before a crowd of 4,500 fans—the largest in many years—the Galt Terriers raised the curtain Saturday afternoon on the 1949 Intercounty Senior Baseball League season with a cleancut 9-1 victory over the Guelph Maple Leafs. The weather was ideal and there were the customary opening ceremonies with a...
Summer Day at Mill Creek
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Goody Rosen had grown up in Toronto, just sixty miles from Galt. I had read somewhere that he was the little man with the big cigar, an apt description, for he carried his 155 pounds on a five-foot-nine frame. On physical appearance alone, he was an unlikely baseball star...
The Dog Days
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The dog days of summer were upon us, and the heat was stifling. Cigarettes were eighteen cents a pack, Brantford’s Jay Silverheels was starring in a new Hollywood flick with Glenn Ford—Lust for Gold—and NBC Radio launched a new radio program called Dragnet, starring Jack Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday. Wimbledon came and went, Brooklyn was leading St. Louis by two games in the...
More Dog Days
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In July when we played the Kitchener Panthers, Laurie Brain wrote in the Saturday paper—which hit the newsstands only hours before game time—“This is one of the feature attractions of the season to date.” Both teams would be going all out. Shelton, the Buffalo pitcher who was earning the respect of Galt fans...
Summer Days, Summer Nights
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The Lipka suspension was a blow to Brantford. They needed each of their everyday players to be competitive with the other Intercounty teams. Pennell knew they could field a top club on any given night, as long as guys like Lipka and centre fielder Lockington were in the lineup, and either Billy Gibbs...
Lefty Comes to Town
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Perry Como topped the music charts that July with his hit song “Some Enchanted Evening,” and Kool-Aid packages (all six flavours) could be had for five cents apiece. The Sunset Drive-In was showing movies to large crowds; life was very good...
Honus and the Boys
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When Padden heard that Wes and I were going to Detroit to see the Tigers play the Yankees, he pulled me aside. “Bill Dickey is the manager,” Padden said. “He’s an old friend. Go to his hotel and ask to see him. Tell him Tom Padden sent you. He’ll get you guys tickets to the game.”...
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Years after that summer of ’49, the RCMP Musical Ride came to Dickson Park. Thousands of spectators lined the ball diamond. They filled the grandstand and stretched out along the left-field hill. The newspaper said it was the biggest crowd at the park in the town’s history. They had never seen the Terriers play in ’49...
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I remember going to see a game in Detroit one year with Gus and Wes Lillie. It was the World Series and the lineup for tickets stretched on for a mile. Wes and I were in line all night, it seemed, before Wes returned to the car to have Gus spell him off. But Gus was sleeping in the back seat. Wes...
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Glee club faces, in front of the school’s main entrance, tell the story. They are young and, like the autumn leaves, they too are vibrant. See fire in them, laugh with them, hurt with them, come of age with them. They are all energy, life, enthusiasm. The world awaited them...
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Art Wilson was a young man of twenty-five that summer and though he didn’t play baseball, he had been a fair runner, having trained with Scotty Rankine, one of Canada’s premiere runners—he was Canada’s athlete of the year in 1935—of the first half-century. Rankine and another Galt runner, Ab Morton...
Only the Ball Was White
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Though there exists no record of it, Buffalo's Jeff Shelton was not the first black player to play in the Intercounty. That distinction belonged to either a Guelph player or a Brantford player. No one knows for certain. Several people, including Lillie and Pennell, remember a black player suiting...
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Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson starred in the MGM movie The Stratton Story, that summer. The movie chronicled former White Sox pitcher Monty Stratton, who tried a comeback after losing a leg. Knowing Gus, I was surprised he hadn’t tried to sign Stratton. Later, I found out he had...
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Some weeks after Lefty Perkins arrived, I could look back at his debut in a Terrier uniform and fully realize just how much he had buoyed our team in early July. Some of our big guns, like Goody Rosen, who started slowly, began finding their groove about...
The Hodge Boys
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In our town, my older brother and I were known as the Hodge boys. I always felt proud when I heard this, because I thought the world of Jimmy, and it was an uplifting experience to be grouped with him...
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In the paper I saw a picture of Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus, sitting pajama-clad in a hospital bed holding a baseball for nurse Alice Klopfer. Waitkus, wearing a ball cap, was smiling. Nurse Klopfer, on the staff at Illinois Masonic Hospital in Chicago, was standing beside him holding a baseball bat. It...
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We had our pitching aces, but Brantford had Gibbs and Gavey. Billy Gibbs had been recruited by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1945 at the age of eighteen. In his prime he was one of the hottest pitchers southern Ontario had produced, and he went south to pursue his pro baseball career with all the attendant publicity and fanfare that accompanies a young star...
Across the River
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"That son of a bitch is a crook," said Creedon matter-of-factly, though with a touch of irritation. It was early August and Creedon had come to understand Gus by then, having spent several months in his employ. I wasn’t afraid of Creedon...
Hitting the Fence
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One Saturday afternoon in Brantford, with a full house on hand, Creedon did an interesting thing. While in the outfield, a long ball came his way. I was playing beside him in left field. All of us had been around long enough to know that any ball hitting the back fence was a ground-rule double. But on this...
Back Door into the Playoffs
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Nearly a month later, as August was playing out its last days, Brantford and London would engage in a one-game playoff, the winner gaining entry into the playoffs. Gibbs’s belief that Galt had more talent was proven during the regular season when we won the pennant. But London, also boasting a...
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“Oh, did he rip it!” said Wes. “Goody hit this thing over the coal pile, 950 miles
over the right-field wall.”
As we slapped his back, he turned, spat out a stream of tobacco juice, and said, “Aw, hell, what did you expect?” No player in the history of Dickson Park had ever hit a ball into the Grand River. And though they looked for it, the ball was...
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And so the twilight of the season came, and then it was dark grey with winter. The coming months were more bearable in Brantford. In Galt all that remained was a soothing but elusive memory of that lush green grass of summer when there had been light, and hope, and infinite promise. So it was that the seasons yelled out to us in a distant voice that was familiar, but was...
The Last Game
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No one thought the series would go to a seventh game. But Brantford, taking advantage of our internal bickering, won the next two games to tie the series 3-3, forcing a seventh and deciding game at Dickson Park. The Red Sox had surprised everyone. Down 3-1, Brantford players then witnessed our...
Old Leaves and Autumn
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We went to seeIn the Good Old Summertime, starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson, one night that September. Days later my parents presented me with a new RCA Victor AM-FM Radio to take to school. I also took Lloyd Douglas’s new novel, The Big Fisherman,/em>. Later that fall a group of freshmen, myself among...
The Last Game: Aftermath
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I couldn't look at Warren after that seventh game. I was afraid that I would be sick. I knew where he was because I could hear his silence in a room full of silent men. Outside our small room beneath the stands there had been noise, at first, and then the solitude of night. I looked at Perkins, and I was going to say how well...
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In later years they would thirst for a season like that summer of ’49. They would always be thirsting. Other seasons, they knew, may come close, in time. They may approach that season of so many summers ago, but only if a person is lucky will he live to see another season that means as much. Only then will the elemental thirst be quenched, and the glove-smell, the leather of that one true baseball...
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Jimmy was there one night when I went back to the ballpark as an old man, though he had been dead nearly fifty years. I wanted to feel the park; I wanted to come to know its legends. I wanted to talk to Jimmy. That night I put my feet up on the bleachers, swallowed the sky and the stars, and closed my eyes. I remember...
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The champion 1949 Brantford Red Sox had a different look in 1950. Some players left or retired, though the bulk of them were back. Brantford native John Lockington, the deer in centre field, played several more seasons with the Red Sox. He and his brother ran a successful sporting goods store in Brantford, and it...
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Billy Gibbs retired from the Brantford Red Sox in 1952. “I was whipped,” he said. “My arm was shot and we had a family we were raising, so we put baseball behind us. It wasn’t a hard decision to make. Not really. It’s difficult to stay in shape and...
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Stan Lipka was one of the key players on the Brantford Red Sox in 1949. Pennell, in later years, would say that Lipka, who left home at fourteen to play senior ball in Niagara Falls, was the first player he would get if he were building a team. Though Lipka never made it to the majors due to the outbreak of the war, he...
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Tex Kaiser was back in a Galt uniform the summer of 1950. His picture graced the cover of the Terrier program, which sold for fifteen cents. Inside, it said: “Verne (Tex) Kaiser won honours for home runs last year and is the most improved player in the league this year. Verne was recently sold to the Montreal...
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Don Gallinger played and managed Ernie Goman's Waterloo Tigers in 1949 before coming to Galt in a trade for Wes Lillie the following summer. He was a good player, dangerous both as a hitter and as an outfielder. Larry Pennell regarded him as one of the best players in the league, rating him just under guys...
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Back in the late 1940s and early '50s Ernie Goman, who operated the Waterloo Tigers—some say he was the second best promoter in the league behind Galt’s Gus Murray—was concerned with the way the league was headed. Others shared his concern. The big worry around the Intercounty in 1949 was whether...
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It was summer when I walked into Frank Udvari's Kitchener office and he was on the phone. He motioned me to come in. We hadn’t seen each other in almost fifty years. Around the walls were hung various pictures and memorabilia showing vignettes of his long and successful career as an NHL referee. Not far...
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Lefty Perkins picked up a copy of USA Today from the newstand in Fayetteville, Pennsylvania, in the spring of 1994 and noticed that Goody Rosen, his old teammate from the Terriers, had died. It brought back a flood of memories of the two seasons Perkins had played with Rosen at Galt...
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Many years passed before I saw Johnny Kumornik
again. I arranged to meet him at the Waterloo Legion
when I was back in Galt in the early 1990s.
We talked for a few hours that night.
“Christ, that team of yours,” he said. “That was the best one I ever...
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Wes Lillie continued to play in the Intercounty for several years after that 1949 season. He was always regarded as a strong fielder and a weak hitter, and he never shook that perception. After being traded to the Waterloo Tigers early in the 1950 season, Lillie played a key role in helping...
Tulsa Tommy Warren
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Tommy Warren didn't stay long in Galt after the season ended. The day after our final loss, Warren deposited a large sum of money at the Imperial Bank. Bill Gregg, the bank manager, alerted Murray to Warren’s situation. When Warren asked Gus to sign his release papers in preparation for his return to...
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Gus Murray always said Johnny Clark was one of the nicest guys on the 1949 Galt Terriers. “He was a real gentleman,” said Murray. Clark, one of the few homebrews on the team, didn’t like the way some of the imports wanted to go out on strike during the playoffs against Brantford. “Not everybody was...
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Jeff Shelton returned to the Terriers for the 1950 season and had another good summer on the mound, though it was not a pleasant one. His Terrier teammate Jim Bagby, who’d had a lengthy career in the majors, was on him constantly. Bagby hated blacks and was always telling Shelton he’d better go change in the...
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Connie Waitkoviak, alias Connie Waite, continued to live in Buffalo following that summer of ’49. After their playing days ended, he and Shelton saw little of each other. It was generally agreed that Waite was one of the best ballplayers to ever grace the field at Dickson Park...
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Laurie Brain and his brother Horace- Horrie, or Goose Brain—came to Galt from Toronto in the late 1920s to play baseball. Horrie, tall and thin, played on some provincial champion intermediate teams from Preston in the late 1920s and then played with the Terriers. Laurie, shorter than his brother, and stockier...
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Connie Creedon had lived with the Morton family on
Stanley Street that spring and summer of 1949. One day
young Herb Morton came home and sat down to eat supper,
but Creedon wasn’t there.
“Where’s Connie?” asked Herb.
His father looked up at him and said, “Don’t ever ask about him...
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When Rosen returned the next season as the playing manager of the Terriers he was dismayed to see a new teammate by the name of Jim Bagby, the onetime Cleveland Indian reliever who helped end Joe DiMaggio’s fifty-six-game hitting streak in 1941. The six-foot-two Bagby was an avowed...
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Pitcher Bert McCrudden, a Galt native, played his last full season of baseball in the summer of 1949. He returned at the beginning of the 1950 season but only for the pre-season. He’d had enough. It was a gruelling schedule for those players, like McCrudden, who had to work full-time during the day and then go play baseball at night. Keeping it up for a forty-two-game season over...
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The winter of 1949-50 didn't hold much promise for Tom Padden. There would be high-school and college basketball games to referee back home in Manchester, New Hampshire, perhaps a little work through connections he had made during his major-league days. Little else. He wanted to return to Galt...
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Larry Pennell always conducted himself with a quiet dignity, whether it was operating the Brantford Red Sox, running his law practice, or performing his duties as a federal Member of Parliament. He had definite views, and he would articulate these—they were usually proven to be right—but if others vehemently...
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Gus Murray had great reservations about returning to run the Terriers in 1950. The 1949 season had been a trying one. He had been run ragged by several of his high-priced imports, including Goody Rosen, who demanded both a car for himself and a new bicycle for his son. Two players, Creedon and Waite, had physically assaulted him. The near-strike during a pivotal...
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And me? A week after the season ended I took my dog out for what would be our last walk together. The leaves grew old and fell early that autumn in Waterloo County, and as we walked along the riverbank, where the great Mohawk river was flowing into eternity, I stopped at the side of the old chestnut tree like I...
Page Count: 418
Publication Year: 2003