Saturday, October 24, 2009


The Dublin Athletics

Dublin Athletic Herbert Barnhill at bat in the Negro Leagues.

In the dark days of the Great Depression it seemed the whole world had two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. It was a time when despair and desolation enveloped the nation, but couldn't kill it's soul, the game of baseball - the national pastime. Most its players played for free or just enough for pay for a hot meal and a soft bed. The blessed got paid. Some like Babe Ruth were paid $80,000 a year. Then there were the barnstormers, men who played day after day anywhere anyone would show up and pay to see a good game of baseball. This is the story of a group of Dublin based men who enjoyed successful seasons in one of the minor Negro leagues of the South in 1932 and 1933.

Carved out of a rolling meadow of the fully undeveloped Dudley Cemetery on East Mary Street, the team's sand lot paled in comparison to the cross-town 12th District Fairground diamond where the self-styled "Gas House Gang" and World Champion St. Louis Cardinals took on the university boys from Athens and Atlanta. Semi adequate backstops and invisible outfield fencing rarely contained out of play balls which often sailed into the thickest of thickets or over nameless graves of once beloved souls. Attendance varied according to the what time of the day the game was played. Those who had jobs could scarcely slip away to watch the game, while those who didn't have a livelihood watched for free from afar or opted instead to spend their pennies on a much coveted hot meal.

When the 1932 season opened the team didn't even have a nickname. Suggestions were sought. But since no better name was suggested, Courier Herald sportswriter Joseph Leath began calling the team the "Dublin Athletics" or the "Dublin A's" for short. Leath, who reported the highlights of the A's games in the "Colored News" section of The Dublin Courier Herald, chose the name because of the success of the Philadelphia Athletics on the National League, who had just the year posted the highest winning percentage of any team in the decade of the 1930s. Leath also solicited names for the park, but the team settled on the generic "Mary Street Park."

Picking a winning team wasn't an easy task. There was no draft and no minor leagues.  Better Georgians like Josh Gibson and Jackie Robinson played for the real Negro League teams in the big cities. Former Dubliner Quincey Trouppe played for many teams during his highly successful two decade career. The league was an association of south Georgia teams composed mainly of local men, sometimes boosted by a unknown phenom signed before another team could grab him. Team rosters changed and often. New players, who shined in tryouts, beat out those who struggled in the field and behind the plate. Luther Hendricks, who lived on Vine Street, managed the team in it's first year. The first reported game, an extra inning affair, resulted in road victory over Wrightsville 11-9. Playing for Dublin were Kiler, 1b; May, rf; Frank Howard, 3b; J.D. Howard, Captain and cf; Butler, c; Brown, p; Horne, ss; and Gilliard, 2b.

About a month into the season the A's added Gillis, Brooks, Jenkins, Oliver, Chesnut, Kiler and Newton to their team. The latter three men came on to lead the A's to an outstanding second half of the season. Reese, perhaps Jimmy Reese who played for the Atlanta Black Crackers in later years, had an outstanding season on the mound for the A's.

In the 1932 season, the Athletics played teams from Jessup, Hawkinsville, Wrightsville, Sandersville, Macon, Ailey, Gordon, Vidalia, Milledgeville, Forsyth, Wrens, Augusta and Athens. The highlight of the season was a two-game series against the Chattanooga Black Look Outs on August 3rd and 4th. The A's held the powerful Black Look Outs to a 1-1 tie in the first game with Big Lefty Chestnut (No. 44) going 2-5 and holding the team, which once included the legendary Satchel Paige in his first year of professional baseball. The A's lost a heartbreaker (5-4) in the second game against the visitors who were on a barnstorming tour of Georgia. As the A's enjoyed great successes, attendance swelled. Many white fans came to watch the best game in town. A second highlight came a week later when the Athletics defeated the Macon All Stars, who lost their first game of the season. The season ended with a tie with the Augusta All Stars followed by four consecutive two-game sweeps of Augusta and Athens, and Chestnut's 16 strike out victory over the a team from Jacksonville, Florida, just days after he pitched a one hit shut out of the Augusta team.

The 1933 A's opened their season with a tilt against Greenville, S.C. with J.H. Hicks managing new players Garner, Blacker, Bush, Book, Kiler, Ford, Davis and Major Freeman. Within a month, Luther Kendrick returned to the helm of the team and brought back some of the outstanding players from the '32 season. The 1933 team played some new teams, the Augusta Wolves, Macon Red Sox, Augusta Giants, Columbus Red Caps, Macon Peaches, Eastman White Sox, Atlanta Blues, Forsyth, Fitzgerald, Glenville, Wrightsville, Waynesboro, Savannah All Stars, and Chattanooga. The Athletics featured a powerful lineup: Vondale, 2b; Will Hayes, ss; Jake D. Howard, lf; Squat Jones, cf; Jimmy Reese, p, 1b; Herb Barnhill, c; Chestnut, p, rf; Massey, 3b and Emory Davis, p.

Without a doubt the most valuable player for the A's was the man with no first name. Known simply as "Chestnut," or "No. 44," the tall lanky southpaw dominated every team he faced. In 1933, he compiled a record of at least 14 wins with only one known loss, that loss coming at the hands of the powerful Montgomery Grey Sox of the Negro Southern League. In his sole defeat, "No. 44" struck out 14 Grey Sox and allowed five hits, but lost a twelve inning 2-1 game. Chestnut struck out 18 Atlanta Blues batters surrendering only 1 hit win following a nineteen strike out one hitter against Forsyth. "With big league control and the steam of a pile driver," Chestnut defeated the Macon Peaches in five games, including driving in the winning runs with two out in the bottom of the 9th inning in front of 500 fans. It has been said that he had such good control that his catcher could turn around, squat and catch the ball between his legs.
Following a successful 4th of July series, it was announced that the team was on the verge of bankruptcy. Manager Hendricks resigned when players went to Sheriff Wiley Adams and demanded that they be paid the team salary of $75.00 for the past two weeks. Hendricks contended that he had paid his players with money he had personally borrowed and hoped to pay back out of gate receipts. The Athletics surfaced from the storm with a new name and new uniforms. The Dublin All Stars under their new manager and left fielder Jake Howard and their new owner Bracewell Troup began to play better teams throughout the Southeast, including the Jacksonville Red Caps, Montgomery Grey Sox and the Tampa All Stars, whom the Dublin Stars defeated in the self styled Georgia Florida championship.

Jimmy (Lefty, Big Jim, Slim) Reese won 20 games for the Atlanta Black Crackers in 1937. The tall lefthander and Morris Brown College graduate taught school in Atlanta before he was signed by the Indianapolis ABC's in 1939. He finished his short career in 1940 as a member of the Baltimore Elite Giants.

Herbert "Herb" Barnhill spent nine seasons in the Negro American League. He caught for the Jacksonville Red Caps in 1938 and again in 1941 and 1942. In the intervening years the Red Caps played in Cleveland Ohio under the name of the Bears. In 1943, Barnhill signed with the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the most famous teams in Negro League history. Considered an average catcher and a weak hitter, Barnhill spent his last three seasons (1944-1946) as a member of the Chicago American Giants.

Barnhill, while a member of the Red Caps, worked as a railroad porter from September to March along with his teammates. A right thumb permanently bent back at a right angle was the result of catching some of the great pitchers of the Negro Leagues for more than fourteen years.  One of the biggest highlights of Barnhill's career was pushing a batter out of the way and tagging out Jackie Robinson at home plate. More than fifty years after he retired, Barnhill still remembered the sting of racial discrimination, but was contented with the fact that more people attended the Negro League games than their white counterparts. Herb Barnhill passed away in Jacksonville, Florida on July 25, 2004. He was the last of the Jacksonville Red Caps and the last of the Dublin Athletics.

The 1933 Dublin Athletics/All Stars ended the season with a documented record of 31-11 and were credited as being one of the best teams in the South. But the question remains, what ever happened to ol' Chestnut, "No. 44?" Like the legendary Satchel Paige, the dominating lefty always wanted to pitch both ends of a double header. Perhaps he moved on to a new team with a new name and made it to the big leagues. Or perhaps today after the death of his catcher Herb Barnhill, the last survivor of the Dublin Athletics, "No. 44" is still mowing them down on the fields of dreams across the heavens.

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