Tag Archives: Southwestern League

Roy Counts

30 Apr

The Arizona State League was formed in 1928—the four-team league had teams in Bisbee, Miami, Tucson, and Phoenix.

There seemed to be little information about Phoenix Senators second baseman Roy Counts in local papers.  Counts had spent the previous two years in the outlaw Copper League with the Fort Bayard (NM) Veterans where he was a teammate of banned White Sox pitcher Claude “Lefty” Williams, but otherwise little was written about Counts.

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The Fort Bayard Veterans in Juarez, Mexico after a 1926 game, Claude “Lefty” Williams is sixth from left, Roy Counts is 14th (with arms crossed)

The Arizona Republic said after an April exhibition game with the barnstorming House of David club, that Counts and third baseman Henry Doll:

“(H)ave been working out in good style and appear in perfect condition.  Both are fast fielders and have wicked pegs to the initial sack.”

On May 20, the Senators beat the Tucson Waddies 11-0.  Counts was 1 for 4 with no errors in five chances at second—it was his final professional game.

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Roy Counts, 1928

Roy Counts it turned out was not really Roy Counts.

Roy Counts was actually Laster Fisher—an Arkansas born fugitive who had previously played professional baseball under his given name.

Fisher—his unusual first name a result of his mother’s maiden name, Lasater—was born in Mulberry, Arkansas on October 8, 1901, and broke into professional ball with the Salina (KS) Millers in the Southwestern League in 1922.  Fisher played third base and shortstop, he hit .269.  In October, the Minneapolis Millers purchased his contract.

That same month, Fisher was arrested in Salina for passing a bad check for $10.50 at a local restaurant.  Whether he was only charged with the writing the one bad check was unclear, but The Salina Evening Journal said his father, “Settled all claims against his son.”

Despite the brush with the law, Fisher spent the spring of 1923 with Minneapolis but was farmed out to the Clarksdale Cubs in the Cotton States League before the season began.  In mid July, he joined Minneapolis, he appeared in 69 games—67 at shortstop—he hit 273 and committed 34 errors in 365 total chances.

The Minneapolis Star said of Fisher’s performance he was, “not of the double A caliber yet.”

He was let go by Minneapolis and signed by the Tulsa Oilers in the Western League—according to The Houston Post he was the first player to arrive at Tulsa’s spring training camp in Marlin, Texas—Fisher appears to have been let go before the season started.

In May, The St. Joseph (MO) News-Press said:

“Lester [sic] Fisher, former Tulsa Western League shortstop, who was reported missing a while back with a drive-it-yourself car…(was) returned to Tulsa and sentenced to five years in the penitentiary.  Fisher is only twenty-two years old and gave promise of being one of the best shortstops in the Western League.  He told the judge who sentenced him that at the time he stole the car he was drunk, and when he got sober he was afraid to return it.”

Fisher had driven the rented Maxwell automobile to Greenwood, Mississippi, and according to The Greenwood Commonwealth left the car in that town; he was later arrested in Leland, Mississippi and returned to Oklahoma.

After entering the Oklahoma State Penitentiary at McAlester, Fisher joined the prison baseball team.  On May 13, 1925, according to The Associated Press, Fisher “Kept running after a game in Holdenville.”

His three year run over, Fisher was returned to prison in Oklahoma.  He never returned to pro ball.

He moved to Texas after his release and was working as a maintenance man at the Victory Baptist Church when he died of congestive heart failure on July 5, 1959.

“I Believe Beyond Doubt he would be the Greatest Manager of All Time”

20 May

By 1911,  “Honest John” McCloskey was in his 22nd season as a manager; five in the major leagues.  Those five seasons were less than successful.

John

John

He led the Louisville Colonels to a 35-96 record in 1895, and was dismissed the following season after a 2-17 start; In three seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals from 1906-1908, he was 52-98, 52-101, and 49-105—he also apparently had a bizarre aversion to blond hair.

In those 22 seasons, he won just two championships–in class “B” Pacific National League, but despite a rather inauspicious record, Hugh Fullerton believed McCloskey one was one of the greatest minds in the game.

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

Writing in “The American Magazine” that summer, Fullerton said:

“John McCloskey, one of the greatest tacticians in baseball, has worked out the theory of coaching, both from the bench and from the lines to an exact science.  Yet McCloskey has not been successful because the players lack the quickness and the brains to follow his orders.  If he could find men who could think and act quickly enough to obey his signals.  I believe beyond doubt he would be the greatest manager of all time.”

McCloskey’s genius, according to Fullerton, was enough to overcome one thing:

“One great trouble in the McCloskey system is that players are not yet educated to the point where they cease independent thinking and obey orders…After every blunder of a ballplayer, the reason assigned is ‘I thought.’ Besides that, the fewer brains a player has and the less he knows of the science of the game, the more liable he is to scoff at the theorist and ridicule or ignore the wigwag system.”

As an example of McCloskey’s players not living up to their manager’s intelligence and ridiculing his “system”, Fullerton related a story from the previous season when McCloskey led the Milwaukee Brewers to a 76-91 sixth place finish in the American Association.

“(A) Milwaukee batter drove a ball down into the left field corner of the grounds.  The ball was in the shortstop’s hands when the runner reached third base.”

According to Fullerton “the excited coacher” missed McCloskey’s signal to hold the runner:

“(H)e urged (the runner) onward, and he was thrown out 30 feet from the plate.  McCloskey…slid down until the back of his head was resting on the bench and his feet were six feet away on the ground, his body rigid.  A cruel substitute, gazing at his manager, asked: ‘What’s that, Mac, a signal to slide feet first?’”

McCloskey’s Butte Miners finished third in the Union Association in 1911.  He managed 13 more seasons in the minor leagues through 1932.  He won just one more pennant, leading a team to the class “D” Southwestern  League championship in 1924—not only was the team “educated” enough to “cease independent thinking” and win for McCloskey, but they did so playing home games in three different towns;  they played in Newton, Kansas until July, relocated to Blackwell, Oklahoma for a month, then finished the season in Ottawa, Kansas.

 

Gaines and Raines

12 Feb

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Two of the early foreign players—or gaijin—and the third and fourth African-Americans to sign to play baseball in Japan pose with the man who negotiated their contracts in 1953: Jonas Gaines, left and Larry Raines with Abe Saperstein of Harlem Globetrotters fame.

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Jonas Gaines

Gaines, born in either 1914 or ’15 depending on the source, was nearing the end of a long career; a graduate of Southern University, he played semi-pro ball in North Dakota then began his professional career with the Newark Eagles in 1937, went to the Baltimore  Elite giants in 1938 and appeared in five East-West All-Star games.  Gaines served in the US Army in WWII and  finished his Negro League career with the Philadelphia Stars in 1950.  He spent 1951 and ’52 with the Minot Mallards in the Manitoba-Dakota (Man-Dak) League.

He spent one season in Japan with the Hankyu Braves in the Pacific League, where he was teammates with Raines.  The Braves third gaijin was another former Negro League player, John Britton.  Britton and Jimmy Newberry were the first two African-American players in Japan, having signed together in 1952.  Newberry, like Gaines, left after one season.

Gaines returned to the states in 1954 and led the Pampa Oilers, champions of the West Texas-New Mexico League, with 18 wins.  He finished his career with the Carlsbad Potashes in the Southwestern League in 1957. He died in his native Louisiana in 1998.

Larry Raines, Japanese baseball card

Larry Raines, Japanese baseball card

Raines was a twenty-two-year-old infielder for the Chicago American Giants and hit .298 in 1952.  Saperstein, who helped engineer the deal that brought Britton and Newberry to Japan, negotiated the contracts for Gaines and Raines, who according to Jet Magazine were paid $1000 a month by the Braves.

Raines quickly became a star in Japan, leading the Pacific League with 61 stolen bases in 1953; he led the league with a .337 batting average, 96 runs and 184 hits, he also finished second in RBI’s in 1954.

Raines returned to the states and signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1955.  After two seasons in the minor leagues, he played in 96 games for the Indians in 1957.  He appeared in nine games with Cleveland in 1958 and played in the minor leagues until 1961.  Raines returned to Japan in 1962, playing one more season with the Braves.  He died in Michigan in 1978.