Early baseball in Gadsden

August 23, 2013 chris
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The Vagabond is a member and administrator of the Facebook group, “Welcome to Gadsden.” The group has over 4,000 members and anyone is able to join.

The page includes several historical postings each day. 

If you are a Facebook member, you can find it at www.facebook.com/groups/Gadsden/

Recently, group member Robert Elton submitted the following post:

“[This is] From my old school buddy, Ben Barnes, a remembrance of Gadsden’s minor league baseball days: THE GADSDEN PILOTS.

“The Gadsden Pilots were a mid-20th century minor league professional baseball team. In the late 1940s, the Pilots were one of eight teams in the Class B Southeastern League.

“One of the teams – the Pensacola Flyers – was from Florida, and three – the Vicksburg Billies, the Jackson Senators, and the Meridian Millers – were based in Mississippi. There were four Alabama teams – the Anniston Rams, the Selma Cloverleafs, the Montgomery Rebels and the Gadsden Pilots.

“Gadsden had several minor-league teams during the early 20th century with various names and in various leagues. The name

“’Pilots’ was not related to aviation, but instead was a holdover from the days of riverboat pilots on the Coosa. Before World War II, professional baseball in Gadsden was played at a ballpark in East Gadsden.

“After the war, baseball moved to West Gadsden. City Park, one block south of Alabama Avenue on North 14th Street, apparently was constructed for Gadsden’s postwar revival of organized baseball. That location is now on Meighan Boulevard, which was constructed later.

“When the Southeastern League was organized for its first postwar season in 1946, the writer was an 11-year-old sixth-grader in Gadsden. The arrival of the Pilots was one of two events in 1946 that would have long-lasting effects on that sixth-grader. In addition, he became a newspaper carrier for The Gadsden Times during that year.

“As was customary in that simpler time, he had free run of the entire city, on his bicycle or on foot. City Park became one of his favorite locations, first visited in 1946 with his aunt from Tennessee, a sports fan extraordinaire.

“The 1947 season seemed special for the Pi-lots and their fans. Bill McGehee, a relative old-timer who pitched in one game that year, managed the team.

“McGehee’s team was considerably younger than him, consisting mostly of young ballplayers with major-league ambitions (which very few of them would realize). That unimportant to their Gadsden fans, especially the pre-television kids who had never seen the game played with the skill the Pilots displayed.

“The names of those players of the 1940s still ring with magic over sixty years later: Grover Bowers, Bill Johnson, Mel Hicks, Roy Pinkston, Barney Bridgers, Art Luce, Ken Guettler, Jimmy McClure, Grover Resinger, Danny Radakovich, Billy Seal and Ray Willett.

“One City Park anecdote involved Gadsden ophthalmologist Dr. Herman Frank, who was a regular attendee of Pilots games and had a box along the first base line. During one game, speedy centerfielder Grover Bowers was racing around second base on his way to a triple. The normally stoic Dr. Frank leaped to his feet, pointing at Bowers and shouted, ‘Look at him go! Look at him go!’

“Another night, Art Luce was at bat for the Pilots when a pitch high and inside struck him flush in the skull. This was in the days before batting helmets, and Luce was wearing only the usual cloth cap. The ball almost unbelievably caromed off Luce’s head and disappeared over the grandstand.

“Luce was unperturbed and trotted down to first base. Ever after that incident, he was known as “Hammerhead” Art Luce.
    “One of the young fans often brought along a flashlight to assist in navigating dark streets on the way home. One night the fan moved down into an unoccupied box seat to better see the action and has absent-mindedly diddling with his flashlight. Pilots pitcher Jimmy McClure suddenly called time and spoke briefly with the home plate umpire, who then called a Gadsden policeman over. This sequence had all the fans puzzled, until the policeman strolled over to the box seats and said all too loudly, ‘Son, turn that d*** flashlight off!’

“One light that has never been turned off is the light of that magical game of baseball.

“Even after spending years on three campuses of the Southeastern Conference where football is undisputed king (Alabama, Auburn, and Tennessee), baseball is still the writer’s favorite sport. And he can still fold newspapers into those quaint Gadsden triangles, too.”