Sunday, June 26, 2016

WILLIE MCCOVEY


FROM SANDERSVILLE TO COOPERSTOWN
The Original Big Mac

It seems strange that nearly fifty years have passed since a young man from Mobile,  Alabama first took his position at first base for the Sandersville Giants.  As a young boy, all Willie Lee ever wanted to do was to play baseball. Growing up in the shadows of the legendary Hank Aaron,   the young man idolized the ability, desire and undaunting courage of Jackie Robinson as he broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947.  When he signed a professional contract, he told a reporter that he would have paid the team to let him play baseball. He loved the game that much.   Over his twenty five-year career in baseball, the tall lanky and powerful young man, affectionately known as “Stretch” for his ability to snare and scoop incoming infield throws, became the most prolific left handed home run hitter in the history of the National League, that is until his record was eclipsed by a fellow Giant Barry Bonds. McCovey  was a man of natural power, found not in a bottle, but in the desire of his heart.  This is the story of Willie Lee McCovey, who began his professional baseball career as a member of the Sandersville Giants in 1955.

Willie Lee McCovey was born on January 10, 1938.    While most kids his age were about to complete the requirements for graduation from high school, Willie packed his careworn bat and glove and headed to Melbourne, Florida for a try out with New York Giants.  Giants scouts couldn’t help but notice his slender 6 foot four inch powerful physique and his ability to catch anything thrown at him.  In addition to signing future Giant greats Felipe Alou and Orlando Cepeda, the Giants  signed Willie to a minor league contract and assigned him to the organization’s Class D farm team Sandersville of the Georgia State League.  His contract provided that he would be paid $175.00 a month or about six dollars a game.   Willie started his career at the bottom of the Giant’s farm system.  Though he grew up in the South and experienced the atrocities of racial segregation in the 1950s, Willie was the first black player ever to play for Sandersville, which was in its eighth year in the league.  He was joined by two other black players, Robert L. Reed and Robert Scott, a former Negro league player.

It has been said that the Giants sent Willie to Sandersville just to get rid of him.  He was such an unknown that the Sandersville Progress first called him “Willie McCoohren.”  It was April 25, 1955 when the young seventeen-year-old slugger was to play his first game for the Sandersville Giants.  The Giants opened the 1955 season at home versus the Dublin Irish. Mayor Tom Carr of Sandersville threw out the first pitch to Mayor Felton Pierce of Dublin.  Georgia State League President was the ceremonial first batter.  Furman Bisher, the legendary sports columnist of the Atlanta Constitution was present to witness the birth of a legend.  McCovey reached base in his first plate appearance and scored a run.  The Giants went on to defeat the Irish 4-1.

The Giants and the Irish would face each other 21 more times during the season.  In those games the Giants took an 11-10 advantage.  McCovey batted just under .300, driving in 15 runs and smacking five home runs.  The highlight of his games against the Irish came on May 26, when he belted two home runs.  When he was a young man, Dublin resident Melvin Hester, witnessed one of those mammoth McCovey wacks. I remember it as if it was yesterday when Hester, my Sunday School teacher, told a group of us boys that McCovey hit one over Telfair Street.  Whether on several bounces or on the fly, that was a real good knock, well over 500 feet.

McCovey led the Giants to a second place finish in the Georgia State League. Though his batting average (.305), home runs (19) and runs batted in (113) in 107 games were very impressive, they were nowhere near league records.  McCovey did lead the league in rbi and putouts.  He ended his first season 5th in runs scored, 3rd in total bases and 4th in extra base hits.  Playing that season with McCovey in Sandersville was Julio Navarro, a journeyman infielder, who made it to the major leagues in the 1960s.

Willie McCovey rapidly climbed the steps of the big leagues.  After successful seasons in Danville, Va. And Dallas, Tx. , he was elevated to Phoenix of the Pacific Coast League. In 1958 and  the first half of the 1959 season, Willie batted .319 and .372.  The Giants were in the midst of a pennant race with their arch rival foes, the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The Giants needed Willie’s left handed big bat in the lineup.



He was immediately sent into the starting lineup to replace another young star and powerful hitter Orlando Cepeda, who moved to the outfield.  In his very first game, McCovey went 4-4 against future Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts.  He finished the season with a startling record of 13 home runs, 38 rbi and .354 batting average in 52 games, a feat which earned him a unanimous selection as  National League Rookie of the Year.  In 1962, with a company of heavy hitters including Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda and Felipe Alou, McCovey led the Giants to the National League Championship and a berth in the World Series.  McCovey nearly became a legendary series hero only to have a series winning line drive snared by Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson, who preserved the American League powerhouse’s victory.  Willie achieved his best season to date when he belted 44 home runs and drove in 102 runs in 1963.

It was during the seasons of 1968 through 1970 when Willie McCovey began his journey to baseball immortality.  In that three-year span, McCovey hit 36, 45 and 39 home runs and batted in 105, 126 and 126 runs.  His 1969 season, deemed by most to be his best, led to his election as National League Most Valuable Player.  

Following three seasons at the top of his game, McCovey limped through the rest of his career, frequently playing in excruciating pain.  He missed a third of the ‘71 season as well a half of the ‘72 campaign.    Much to the dismay of Giant fans everywhere, McCovey was sent down the Pacific Coast to the San Diego Padres for two seasons.  In 1976, the aging star was again traded, this time to the Oakland A’s, across the bay from San Francisco.  To the cheers of thousands of adoring fans, McCovey returned to the Giants in 1977.    The height of his active baseball career came in Atlanta in 1978, when Willie McCovey became only the 12th man and the 3rd Giant ever to hit 500 home runs.

In 1986, Willie McCovey was elected to Baseball Hall of Fame with a highly respectable 81% of the ballots in his first year of eligibility. Willie was selected to a half dozen all star games and played in two world series in 1962 and 1971 with a .310 batting average.   In his 2588 game career, Willie McCovey safely hit 2211 times with 521 of those hits being home runs.  He drove in a remarkable 1555 runs and all the while hitting for a career average of .270, all of this accomplished by a young kid who began his dream in the lowest levels of baseball right here in East Central Georgia, trumped the doubters and when he retired in 1980 was the 12th greatest home run hitter in baseball history.  

Saturday, February 13, 2016

ONCE UPON AN ANECDOTE - THE PO BOYS


      Wayne and Joe were born into poor families five months apart  and possibly within a few+ miles of each other some eighty-three years  ago.  These two men overcame the trials and tribulations of  their mercurial years, turning to God at some point in time during their lives to help endure the tumult which swirled about them.  And, at one time during their lives, both Wayne and Joe passed through Dublin.  By the time they reached their 30th birthdays, Wayne and Joe were legends in their fields of work.

Wayne was born in Central Georgia to Leva Mae and Charles "Bud."  Although his father was a deacon in a church, "Bud" sold moonshine and owned a nightclub.  His mother Leva Mae was much more church mannered as a faithful member of  New Hope Baptist Church. Wayne first started to sing in public as a member of the youth choir at New Hope Church.  In retaliation for those who picked on him for a birth defect which affected the way he walked, Wayne became a precocious prankster.

Like many children of his day, Wayne was raised in the church.  He turned to Gospel music as a way of dealing with the pain of being poor and the widespread prejudices he faced in his youth.  As he grew older, Wayne became enthralled with Brother Joe May and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, two gospel legends of the mid 20th Century, who made frequent trips to Middle Georgia, including many right here in Dublin.

Although his educational skills were somewhat lacking, he more than made up by excelling on the saxophone in the high school band, playing the piano and singing.

Joe was probably born in northeast Georgia to his sixteen-year-old mother, Susie Behling, and his twenty-two-year-old father.  Joe grew up in a tiny shack as poor as poor could be.

Joe's family moved throughout South Carolina and eventually to Augusta, Georgia.  Joe's childhood was plagued with adversity.  After growing up living in a brothel and enduring his parent's constant fighting, Joe took to the streets and left school by the end of the sixth grade.

Joe too developed a talent for music. He won a singing contest at a local theater at the age of eleven.  To make ends meet, Joe entertained the soldiers at a nearby infantry camp during World War II.    He even tried his hand at boxing.

It was in the late 1940s at the age of sixteen when Joe's life took a drastic turn for the worse.  He was arrested and convicted of robbery and sent to juvenile prison.  While he was incarcerated, Joe turned to God. Along with three fellow cell mates, Joe formed a Gospel quartet.  After leaving prison, Joe turned more and more to Gospel music and odd jobs to make ends meet.

Wayne's career path was much more clear.  After his father was murdered in 1952, he was forced to be the family's bread winner.  So Wayne decided to do what he knew best and that was to sing and play music.  He formed not one, but two, bands; the Tempo Toppers and the Upsetters. And the rest, as they say, was history.

In 1955, the Upsetters struck gold with three major hit songs.  Wayne moved to Hollywood where he played and sang in two movies.

Then unexpectedly at the zenith of his popularity, Wayne renounced his sins and declared that he was a born-again Christian.  He gave up a highly successful career, married a wonderful woman and set out on a mission to preach the Gospel from the pulpit and sing God's praises from the stages and concert halls of America.

It was during the autumn of 1960 when Wayne brought his hand clapping, foot tapping hallelujah praising  message of faith and hope in the love of Jesus Christ to Dublin. Wayne booked the courtroom of the Laurens County Courthouse    The event, held at 8:00 p.m.  on September 27, 1960, was free to the public.  Transportation was arranged to carry persons from the Scottsville, Telfair and Southside neighborhoods for a 20-cent round trip ticket.  Wayne returned for an encore service on the 5th Sunday in October.  It is quite possible that Wayne came to town many times in his early years for unpublished performances and to visit his brother Johnny, who worked in Dublin's bus station for many years.







Twenty three-year-old Joe and his band performed at the Senior Prom of the Oconee High School Class of 1956.  The band, the Famous Flames, had just released their first rhythm and blues million seller, "Please, Please, Please."   Like Joe, Wayne too, may have played at several venues in Dublin.  Some old timers say that they both did.



Both Joe and Wayne would eventually claim the same hometown and rocket to the top of their fields as icons of American popular music.  Joe is better known by his full name of James Joseph Brown, or simply James Brown.  His fellow Maconite Wayne was a mega star in the early days of Rock and Roll. He  shortened his real name from Richard Wayne Penniman to just "Little Richard."





GOOD GOLLY MISS MOLLY - LITTLE RICHARD  



LITTLE RICHARD SINGS THE GOSPEL CLASSIC - PEACE IN THE VALLEY 


Little Richard, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was one of the most influential artists from the early days of Rock and Roll.  He has received major awards from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation and the Grammys.  He has been inducted in the Georgia Music, the Blues, the Rhythm and Blues, the Songwriters,  the NAACP Image, the Louisiana Music, the Music City, the Apollo Theater, and the Grammys Halls of Fame.

As Rolling Stone Magazine's 8th greatest artist of all time, three of Richard's songs,  "The Girl Can't Help It," "Long Tall Sally," and "Tutti Frutti" are ranked among the magazine's top 500 greatest songs.

James Brown recorded sixteen number 1 singles on Billboard's Rhythm and Blues charts. However, he never reached number 1 on the Hot 100 charts. He has been honored  as a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame and is generally regarded as one of the greatest rhythm and blues singer of all time and according to the editors of Rolling Stone Magazine, the 7th greatest artist among its Top 500 artists.

There is a rumor floating around that James Brown had close ties to Laurens County.  The speculation is that one of Brown's brides or significant others was from the Dudley-Montrose area.  With no proof as to the authenticity of that story, I will leave it as just a little known, but speculative, urban legend.

So now you know a little more about the stories  of the two poor Macon boys, who as young men spent a small part of their early formative years of their careers here in Dublin along their way to the top of the music charts as the 7th and 8th greatest rock and roll artists of all time.







James Brown - I Feel Good 

HERBERT "HUB" DUDLEY -



    “Hub” Dudley was a credit to his race, the human race.  In an era when it seemed that the frayed chain  of humanity was going to explode into a mass of broken fragments, Dudley, a Dublin businessman, was the indestructible center link which bound the two races of Dublin and Laurens County together in the calm of a maelstrom which swirled about the country.

Herbert Horatio “Hub” Dudley was born in Cordele, Georgia in 1897.  “Hub” came to Dublin with his parents, Clayton D. Dudley and Katie Ford Dudley.  The Dudleys came here for a new beginning, a beginning which  led to a dream which still lives on today almost twelve decades later.

Clayton Dudley set out to build a business empire to meet the needs of African-Americans, who were not being completely served.   “Hub” adopted that same philosophy.

“Hub's philosophy on life was to build businesses and offer what was needed by the black community," his niece,  Thomaseanor Pearson, remarked. "Whatever we had, we had because it was needed," Mrs. Pearson told Theresa Harvard of the Courier Herald in a 1996 interview.

Herbert Dudley married Mayme Ford, a Washington, D.C. school teacher.  Her sister, Jenny Ford, was the mother of Thomaseanor Pearson.  He and Mayme  virtually adopted Jenny’s daughter, Mayme Thomaseanor, who would marry Alfred Pearson, Sr. to become the matriarch and patriarch of the Pearson family in Dublin.

The Dudleys opened a meat market and grocery store in 1922  in the building now occupied by Dudley Funeral Home.  Over the next two decades, the father and son team built an empire along East Jackson Street and the Five Points area of downtown.

There was a savings and loan, a restaurant, The Dudley Motel (modernized in 1958,) the Laborers-Mechanics Realty and Investment Company (a savings and loan association),  a shoe shop, a saw mill, a roller skating rink, a drug store, a poolroom, a barbershop, a guest house, The Laurens Casket Company, Dudley's Funeral Home, and in September 1936, the Amoco # 2 service station.   Dudley established a beauty shop and named it for his foster daughter, Thomaseanor, who was never a beautician.  The Dudleys also developed “Dudley’s Retreat” in the rear of the service station as a gathering place for the community. During World War II, Dudley worked to establish a USO for black servicemen on South Lawrence Street.


Dudley Funeral Home 

Dudley, a home schooled student and an aspiring student of the law, was  hired by W.H. Lovett, owner of the Courier Herald, to write a column relating to the activities of African Americans in the community.  Dudley called his column, Of Interest to Colored People.  It ran from November 11, 1935 through the end of 1936.  Before and after then beginning in June 1930 and  until September 18, 1968, the section was called Colored News.