Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The (duPont Manual High School) Hall of Fame (Part 2)

Be sure and read the first part of this post here before you go on…featuring brief write-ups of Pee Wee Reese, Ferdie Schupp, Irv Jeffries, and Moe Thacker…plus photos of their plaques…



Here is “the rest of the story”…8 more Manual Alumni who did, indeed, go on to become professional baseball players, and who are featured in the duPont Manual High School Hall of Fame.

There are quite a few folks on these walls that went on to brief careers in amateur baseball only, but this writing will only focus on professional types…most of this second group featured never made it out of the Minor Leagues, some did…but Minor League Baseball is professional, as true now as it was nearly a hundred years ago…

As I was unable to get photos of their plaques, the pictures featured here are from the Manual Hall of Fame online, plus additional pictures from other sources. Since most of this list never saw the Major Leagues, it was much more difficult to find additional information…one player wasn’t even listed on Baseball Reference (where I started most of my research). A few birthdates were hard to find, and just because it may seem as if the players featured may still be alive, this may not be the case.

Edward Kenneth “Kenny” Braun (also known as “Weasel”) (b. 1926) Inducted 2004
A teammate of Ray Holton’s (see below), “Weasel” was listed as one of 66 Manual players that legendary coach Ralph Kimmel moved into professional baseball…I’m not sure if Manual’s definition of professional baseball includes amateur leagues or not, but nevertheless Braun (and Holton) both reportedly signed professional contracts as juniors. Kenny was the captain of the team as a senior in 1944, upon graduation he headed straight for the Baltimore Orioles of the International League (a Cleveland AA franchise, in case you didn’t know), playing in 36 games that year and a full season in 1945, ending the year with an unspectacular .228/.321/.298 line and 10 stolen bases (caught 3 times), still a marked improvement over his 1944 short season. In 1946, Cleveland sent him to the AA Oklahoma City Indians, where his BA barely kicked up to .230, and he was demoted to the A affiliate Wilkes-Barre Barons for the 1947 season. He ended 1947 with a .272 BA, but starting 1948 regressed back down to .213…just enough to get moved back to the AAA Baltimore club once more. With his BA staying low, he was released to the Binghamton (CT) Barons, the New York Yankees Class A affiliate of the Eastern League. He spent 1949 in Binghamton, moved on to the Muskegon (MI) Clippers of the Central League for the Yankees in 1950; his career ended there with a lifetime .238/.260/.280 line in 7 seasons. He became a Firefighter upon his return to Louisville and retired as a District Chief with 30 years of distinguished service. ”Weasel” with the Muskegon Clippers at the end of his baseball daze in 1950

Earl James “Snitz” Browne (1911-1993) Inducted 2010
Earl Browne was one of only 9 Manual baseball players who made it to the Major Leagues, the origin of his nickname “Snitz” came from the fact that he hailed from the Louisville neighborhood of Schnitzelburg (famous for the “Dainty” and other peculiar business). Browne was a considered a very large fellow in the 20s (at 6 feet, 175 pounds) and domineered his peers in football and basketball as well as baseball. He was the captain of the Crimsons his senior year in 1928, and signed with the non-affiliated AA Louisville Colonels of the American Association that same year, appearing in only 3 games, that started a professional baseball career that spanned 22 seasons, 3 of those spent in the Major Leagues. The late 20s and early 30s saw Snitz on rosters for Louisville, the Dayton (OH) Aviators, the Huntington (WV) Boosters, the Mobile (AL) Marines, the Knoxville Smokies, the Asheville Tourists, and ultimately the Little Rock Travelers. The Southern Association Class A level Travelers became an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1934, when Browne was hitting .257 with a SLG of .373. In 1935 Browne played 9 games for the Pirates at 1B and OF, spending the majority of his playing time in Little Rock. In 1936 he only played 6 games for the Pirates before he was sent to the Minneapolis Millers (AA affiliate of the Cleveland Indians) where he played 155 games and ended the season with a BA of .328 and SLG of .591. In April of 1937, Snitz was traded by the Pirates to the Phillies for Joe Bowman; he spent the entire season on the Phillies major league roster and finished the season at .257/.304/.311, hitting 6 home runs and striking out 41 times in 332 AB. After beginning 1938 as a Phillie, he was purchased by the St Louis Cardinals in May of 1938 but never appeared on the club roster, instead spending 2 seasons with the Columbus (OH) Red Birds in AA and hitting .305 (17 HR) and .268 (12 HR) respectively. This wasn’t enough for the Cardinals as Browne was moved to the Class A New Orleans Pelicans in 1940, then became a minor league Washington Senator in Chattanooga with the Class A Lookouts in 1941. Browne then moved on to the non-affiliated American Association Atlanta Crackers for the majority of the 1942 season yet ended up back at the AA Louisville Colonels (now a Boston Red Sox franchise) for 11 games. Browne remained in Louisville until 1946, spending the last few years of his professional career with the Boston Braves organization, spending 2 years with the Owensboro Oilers as a player-manager (he is a member of the Kitty League Hall of Fame for his two consecutive over-.400 seasons) and 2 years, also as a player-manager, with the Hartford Chiefs. With only 1 professional game played under his belt in 1949, Browne retired as a player (yet continued for part of the Chiefs’ season) at the age of 38 and spent the latter part of 1949 and through 1950 as the manager for the American Association Denver Bears. Browne’s major league career numbers were .286/.335/.401, he was 8th in the NL in HBP in 1937; his minor league numbers were .305/.321/.459. Snitz’s post-baseball career was that of a fire-rating inspector for Insurance Services of Arkansas and died in 1993 at the age of 81 after a long battle with cancer. ”Snitz” as a Pirate, c.1935-1936

Edgar Raymond “Ray” Holton (1925-2007) Inducted 2006
Ray Holton may be better-known in some baseball lore circles as a local boy who became a war hero. Ray earned nine letters at Manual for football, basketball, and baseball but left school at 18 prior to graduating to register for the draft and was inducted into the armed forces in August 1944. Two weeks prior to the end of the war, Holton was wounded by the German enemy while in France and received the Purple Heart. Upon his discharge in 1946, Ray returned to Manual to finish high school (scoring two touchdowns against Male in a famous 45-7 victory in that year’s celebrated Thanksgiving game) yet never completed his diploma requirements, leaving yet again after being drafted by the Cleveland Indians (not the Orioles, who weren’t yet a Major League franchise, as noted on his Manual Hall of Fame bio) and spending 3 years with that organization on the rosters at the Centreville (MD) Orioles, Meridian (MS) Peps, and Dayton (OH) Indians. Ray began 1949 as part of the Boston Braves’ Class A affiliate Hartford Chiefs (11 games), and finished the season with the Baltimore Orioles, a triple-A franchise of the St Louis Browns at that time (and probably the disconnect in his Manual HOF bio, two different “Orioles” teams in 4 years of service). Holton’s performance in 1949 was rather dismal (.195/.321/.212 in 53 games for Baltimore), leading to his release. He played 19 games with the Portsmouth Cubs of the non-affiliated Piedmont League in 1950 and returned to Parkway Field in Louisville with the Boston Red Sox organization as a Louisville Colonel in 1951 for 13 games at 3rd base, again with depressing .195/.267/.220 stats. He was demoted to the Class-A Albany Senators of the Eastern League, appearing in 82 games in 1952 as a Catcher (his longest playing record since Dayton in 1948) and improving his BA to .242, enough to find him back with the AAA Colonels for the following season. Ray experienced 3 great seasons in Louisville, still as a Catcher (albeit the backup party to Pete Daley in 1953-54, as #3 for 1955), particularly during the 1954 campaign when the Colonels finished 85-68 and Holton finished with .321/.379/.429 and a .991 Fld% in 40 games. In 1956 the Colonels became a Washington Senators affiliate, and Holton played for both Louisville (64 games) and the Miami Marlins, a Class AAA Phillies affiliate (55 games), returning there to start 1957 then moving on to the Milwaukee Braves AAA affiliate Wichita Braves for 2 games and 3 AB (apparently, as a pinch hitter only). Holton stayed in Wichita until his transfer to the Kansas City Athletics Class-AAA club Buffalo Bisons for 35 games and his best ever .373/.488/.373 in 67 PA. 1959 was Ray’s busiest year in professional baseball with a single team, the Chattanooga Lookouts (AA Southern League affiliate of the Washington Senators), as their #1 Catcher, with 321 AB in 102 games. Holton’s once-again dismal offensive stats that year (.246/.306/.293, 3 HR, 24K, 25BB) found him packing his bags after the season for two brief appearances with 2 different Milwaukee Braves clubs in 1960; 2 games with the Austin (TX) Senators and one hitless game with the new Braves affiliate Louisville Colonels, who won the Junior World Series that year. This Colonels team also featured future well-known baseball names such as Tommie Aaron and Bob Uecker (yes, that Bob Uecker!). Following the 1960 season, Ray officially retired from pro baseball after 15 less-than-glorious seasons and became a scout for the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves. Ray returned to Louisville to raise his family (his son Roxie graduated from Manual in 1968), enjoyed a round of golf now and then, and died in 2007 at the age of 81. I took this photo in 2009 of the 1954 Louisville Colonels, originally featured in this post, Ray Holton is second from right in the middle row.

Robert George “Bobby” Marr (b. 1941) Inducted 2003
Bobby’s brief professional career consisted of 4 seasons that ended abruptly due to a shoulder injury. He was at his ‘most legendary’ as a baseball player during his high school years, helping Manual achieve state championships in both 1957 and 1959 (during the years 1957-1959, the Manual Crimsons posted a whopping 88-12 record). In 1960, Marr attended Indiana University and joined the baseball team as a pitcher, with a 6-3 W-L record, 1.50 ERA and 72K in 66IP during his only year there. His performance for the Hoosiers led to a contract with the Boston Red Sox; in 1961 he posted a 9-5, 3.49 ERA record with the Olean (NY) Red Sox in the New York-Penn League and was promoted to Class B with the Winston-Salem Red Sox in the Carolina league in 1962, finishing the season with a 7-7 W-L, 3.8 ERA record with 129K (8.2 K/9), 11 complete games, 1 shut-out in 28 games (16 games started). Beginning in 1963, after being promoted to Class-A Wellsville Red Sox, his minor league decline began as his injuries kept him down to appearances in 17 games (only 1 start) and an ERA of 7/07. He only started one game for Wellsville in 1964, and had only appeared in 4 games with an ERA of 2.25 until his shoulder injury finished his career and he retired with a lifetime 17-13 W-L and 3.94 ERA. He returned to Louisville and resumed his college education at the University of Louisville, graduating in 1965, and returning to Manual for 6 years as a History teacher and cross-country coach. In the fall of 1971, Bobby moved to Winter Park, Florida, where he joined the faculty at Winter Park High School and coached 6 different sports, serving as Athletic Director for 10 years. Marr is a member of the Florida Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame and was still teaching History in Winter Park in 1997.

Leland Melear (19??- ??) Inducted 2001
Leland Melear, I’m sorry to report, is somewhat of an enigma. His Manual Hall of Fame bio speaks to his brief career with the San Francisco Giants organization after his graduation in 1963, but Baseball-Reference and other sources don’t have him listed anywhere, in any form. Perhaps he appeared in some instructional league play, did poorly, and was released quickly. He was a team-mate of Bobby Marr’s during the 1957 and 1959 Manual championship baseball teams, and was co-captain with Marr in 1959. After his brief and un-confirmed pro baseball career, he returned to Louisville and worked at Ford for two years. His bio claims he was considered the second-best basketball player in Kentucky (behind Pat Doyle) and was captain of both the basketball and baseball teams at Virginia Tech, where he was elected to the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame in 1989. Back in Louisville, he worked at GE for 16 years before moving to Chicago in 1985. In 1994 he became the plant manager at the Manchester, MO facility of the Dana Corporation.

Donald L. “Donnie” Noel (19??- ??) Inducted 2003
Another enigmatic player, Donnie is at Baseball-Reference, but there are lots of unknowns…for example, we know he throws right but we don’t know how he bats and we don’t know his height, weight, or age. Donnie lettered in baseball and, like Kenny Braun, was a Ralph Kimmel protégé in 1944 and 1945. His senior year he pitched the first ever perfect game for Manual, against Memorial High School of Evansville, IN, and subsequently signed a contract with the Baltimore Orioles (Cleveland Indians AA affiliate of the International League) along with Crimson teammates Jack West and twin brother Gene West…who also are unknown by Baseball-Reference. He only played with the Orioles for that lone summer in 1945, appearing in 3 games, pitching 16 innings with a 1.7K/9 and 0-1 W-L record. He returned to Louisville in the fall to graduate with “the Class of 45-1/2.” Donnie joined the Coast Guard in 1946, attended the University of Louisville in 1947-1949, where he was best known as a track star, setting a long-standing 2-mile record. He was a “star” in the LABF (Louisville Amateur Baseball Federation, an organization for which I am hereby challenged to find out more about, as the only references on the internet are found in obituaries and a few Manual Hall of Fame biographies) and went on to a 33-year career with Louisville Gas and Electric, from where he retired, and was still alive in 2003 upon his induction into the Manual Hall of Fame.

John Francis “Jack” Speier (1931-2005) Inducted 2003
Like many of his Manual Hall of Fame contemporaries, Jack lettered in 3 sports at Manual and was also the co-captain of the 1948 undefeated State Championship football team. For the Crimson baseball squad, he was a third baseman as a sophomore in 1947 when Manual won their first ever State Championship. He went to Centre College on a scholarship in 1949, playing both football and baseball, was a letterman all 4 years in both, and graduated with a degree in business. During his tenure at Centre College, Speier spent his summers with 3 different Class-C and Class-D affiliates of the Philadelphia Phillies; 87 games with the Lima (OH) Phillies of the Ohio-Indiana League in 1951, 94 games in 1952 with the Bradford (PA) Phillies of the Philadelphia-Ontario-New York League, and 46 games with the Salt Lake City Bees of the Pioneer League in 1953. Service called Jack away from pro baseball, as he enlisted in the Army in 1954, playing baseball at Fort Knox during his 2-year tour. He was employed by Owens Corning Fiberglass in Louisville in 1955, was a member of management in several of the company’s locations over the years, promoted to division manager at the home office in Toledo, and retired from Owens Corning after 31 years of service. He retired to Florida, and died in 2005 at the age of 73.

Louis William “Lou” Vassie (b. 1936) Inducted 1997
Lou appears to be one of the more successful minor leaguers amongst this group; according to his Manual HOF bio he was a 6-time MiLB All-Star, tied 3 MiLB hitting records and played 2nd base on the rosters of 3 AAA Championship teams. For the record, here’s what really happened: the 1961 Buffalo Bisons won the Junior World Series, the 1962 Indianapolis Indians finished 1st in their division but were eliminated in the 1st round of tournament play, and the 1963 Indianapolis Indians were the International League champs. Lou’s professional career began in 1955 with the Philadelphia Phillies organization as 2nd baseman for the Class-D Bradford (PA) Phillies, continued the following year with the Olean Oilers, and in 1957 with the Salt Lake City Bees. In 1958 Lou was promoted to the Class-A Williamsport (PA) Grays, where his average .254 BA found him called up to the AAA Buffalo Bisons for the 1959 season. He stayed in Buffalo for 2 seasons but saw no improvement in his numbers (I’m hard pressed to determine what hitting records he actually tied!), sinking to a .223/.333/.339 at the end of 1960. He spent 1961 with the AA Chattanooga Lookouts (111 games, .244/.354/.293) as well as back at Class-A Williamsport Grays, where his offense improved (25 games, .308/.420/.471), no surprise for someone returning to Class-A after a few seasons in AA and AAA. In 1961 he was named to the Topps National All-Star Team. He was sent to the Chicago White Sox organization in 1962, spending 2 seasons with the AAA Indianapolis Indians with moderate, but still less than extraordinary numbers and ended his career after the 1963 season with a lifetime .271/.327/.402 with 76 HR, 271 BB, and 251 strikeouts in 257 AB. Lou Vassie’s autograph is part of Hillerich & Bradsby’s Wall of Autographs at the Louisville Slugger Museum.

If you have any photos, historical info, or corrections to share, please leave a comment!

3 comments:

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  2. Hi Stevo - hope you still read these. Your post came up on a search I did and I saw that you asked for photos. I have a family relation to Don Jones, who played for the Olean Oilers in 1956. I have a team photo that includes hand-written names of all the boys on the team, including Lou Vassie. Message me and I'll share what I have. If you reply to this comment, I should get an email.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, I'm sorry I didn't respond sooner. Wow, I'd love to see that photo! You can contact me: yoshiki89stevo[at]gmail[dot]com

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