Dero Austin

10 Jan

 

dero

Dero Austin Jr. was one of the few Negro League “players” who was born too late; he was added to the Indianapolis Clowns in 1964 to try to recreate the fame of one of his predecessors, Spec Bebop, who had top billing with the team well into the 1950s.

Spec Bebop, circa 1952

Spec Bebop, circa 1952

Austin quickly joined  James “Nature Boy” Williams as one of the most popular members of the barnstorming team, but the Clowns were well past their heyday when they filled ballparks across the country.  Occasionally they still drew well, in Austin’s first season, 1964, 15,797 fans saw the Clowns in Chicago’s Comiskey Park on July 10; across town 13,556 fans watched the Cubs play the San Francisco Giants.

Austin would usually bat first in each game, replicating Eddie Gaedel’s appearance for Bill Veeck’s Saint Louis Browns in 1951–occasionally Satchel Paige would pitch to Austin.  While he appeared in publicity photo’s playing the field, he never appeared in the field during a game.

Satchel Paige pitching, Dero Austin at the plate.  Comiskey Park 1966

Satchel Paige pitching, Dero Austin at the plate. Comiskey Park 1966

Austin never became as popular as Bebop, and the Clowns continued playing to smaller crowds in smaller towns until they disbanded in the 1980s.

dero

Austin stayed with the Clowns well into the 70s and by 1974 was billed as the team’s manager.  The 31-inch tall Grandfield, Oklahoma native died in July of 1987 at age 39.

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5 Responses to “Dero Austin”

  1. Dexter Friend April 29, 2013 at 10:00 am #

    Dero was a heck of a character. I was his teammate on the Clowns in 1968 and 1969 before I was drafted into the US Army. Dero had many fans, and women loved him. Dero was always parading around with a woman on each side of him, just entertaining everybody and making everybody laugh. Sometimes Dero would acquire a bottle of whiskey and sit around our hotel rooms at the old Zinzendorf Hotel by the RJR cigarette factory and sip whiskey and water and regale us with stories of Nature Boy Williams and many other Clowns. Satchel Paige’s last year with the Clowns was 1967; I missed him by just one season.
    In 1968 Clowns owner Ed Hamman integrated the team and I was one of five whites to make the team. It was a blast.
    I remember Dero on the bus when we had to cross the James River, an extremely long bridge in the Tidewater area. He was so scared of bridges! He would always say , over and over, “I hope this bridge don’t fall down, Oh God, please don’t let this bridge fall down!” Then as we left the bridge, he’d scream “I don’t give a damn if this bridge falls all the way down into this river!!” He was also business manager of the team; he handled the meal money. R.I.P. , my friend.

    • Thom Karmik April 29, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

      Mr. Friend:

      Thank you for sharing your reminiscences of Dero Austin. I have spoken with several people about him over the years, and everyone has such positive things to say and such great memories of him.

    • Randy Clark February 18, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

      Dero Austin Jr. is from my hometown of Grandfield, OK. He enrolled in the 11th grade when the school integrated in the fall of 64′. His dad, Dero Sr., coached the local black Sandlot team called the “Bears”. According to the local players, Dero Sr. was a genius at coaching and managing the team.

      • Thom Karmik February 18, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

        Randy: Thanks for the comment. Everyone I’ve heard from about Dero Austin Jr. and his father say such great things about them.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Birmingham Sam— The Last Great Star of the Indianapolis Clowns « Baseball History Daily - February 21, 2013

    […] The six-foot-two-inch Brison would often begin performances by “unpacking” two-foot-seven-inch Dero Austin from a suitcase at home […]

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