Wednesday, June 17, 2009


“There are no deer in Laurens County.” Believe it or not, that statement can
be found on page 134 of The Official History of Laurens County, Georgia, 1807-1941. In the latter years of the 1930s the State of Georgia began a program in counties around the state to promote the conservation of wildlife. While fish, turkeys, squirrels, and rabbits were fairly plentiful, the deer, one of the sportsman’s favorite game animals, was rarely found. During the last ten thousand years that the county had been occupied by man, deer were hunted to near extinction in Laurens County.

The Wildlife Department of Georgia had a policy of sending in game protectors, who had no connection to the locale where they were stationed, to enforce game and fish laws. In late August of 1939, the State of Georgia assigned a twenty-three year-old young man from Savannah to serve Laurens and Johnson Counties. The young man had recently graduated from a wildlife protection school held at Georgia Tech. Not long after coming to Dublin, the young man met and fell in love with Dorothy Hicks, a local girl from several of Laurens County’s oldest families. So much for the lack of a local connection. During World War II, he served in the Army Air Force in England. After the war, he returned to college and obtained degrees from the University of Florida, Mercer University, and the University of Georgia. He served as a teacher and as a principal of Dublin Junior High and Moore Street School for thirty four years. After he retired, he became a full time director of the Dublin-Laurens Museum. During his thirty-two years of service to the museum and the Laurens County Historical Society, this man has preserved the history and heritage of our county for generations to come. In fact, the museum would not be the successful operation it is today without his countless hours of dedication. He is, of course, John N. Ross.

John Ross immediately went to work upon his arrival in Dublin just after Labor Day in September of 1939. He contacted the publishers of The Courier Herald, who gladly became an advocate for his cause. He contacted persons who were interested in fishing and game hunting. His main goal was the education of the public on the benefits of wildlife conservation. Ross contacted W.W. “Buck” Brinson, Ed Hall, and A.C. Scarborough, who agreed to serve as a nominating committee to select a slate of officers for the as the yet unnamed organization. Earl Hilburn agreed to serve as a temporary secretary.

Only twenty citizens showed up for the initial meeting at the courthouse on September 14, 1939. Those present elected the officers for the organization, which was then named the Laurens County Game and Fish Club. The initial slate of officers were Bob Hightower, President; Ed Hall, Vice President; and Emory Baldwin, Secretary and Treasurer. They heard from Fred Brewer, Ross’s counterpart in Plains, and John W. Beall, the game protector assigned to Emanuel and Treutlen Counties. Both men joined Ross in expounding the benefits of game preservation in the area. The initial goal of the organization was to seek out protective leases of ten thousand acres of Oconee River swampland. Ross told the organization “that as a club, they could get as many deer as we want.” Ross added, “As individuals, you would not be able to do that.” The club members were also informed on the latest rules and regulations of the State regarding the dove season, which would open in a few months. Those who came to the first meeting agreed to send out invitations to more than two hundred persons to attend the second meeting, which was held in the courthouse on September 26, 1939.

The second meeting, attended by forty five persons, was much more productive. Ross went over plans for the restocking of deer in the county. Deer, who were over abundant along Coastal Georgia, could be trapped and brought to the vast swamp lands along the Oconee River. Ross also reported that he had begun the seining of the sloughs of Turkey Creek from the U.S. Highway 80 bridge near Dudley. Convict crews worked the sloughs in both directions from the bridge and once they had gathered a mess of fish, they placed them back in the main run of the creek.

The biggest announcement of the meeting was the proposal to establish a fifty thousand acre game preserve in the county. During the years of the “Great Depression,” many Laurens Countians had lost their farm, timber, and swamp lands to foreclosures. These vast lands were quickly bought by loan and insurance companies. Club organizers thought of an ingenious plan to preserve wildlife on these lands. The land owners would agree to sign a protective game lease. In exchange for their agreement to restrict hunting and fishing on the land, club members promised to erect fire breaks around the timber and to keep an eye of the lands to prevent damage from forest fires and other causes. Members would have the exclusive rights to hunt and fish on the preserve lands once the animal population had been firmly established. Ross told the group that large quantities of deer, quail, doves, fish, and other game could be acquired from the government in exchange for the promise of ample protective measures for the animals. Dues were set at a dollar per year. They would pay twenty five cents in cash and work on placing posters around the county and erecting fire breaks until each man had accumulated seventy five cents worth of work. Rev. William A. Kelley stood up and encouraged each man to bring a friend to the next meeting.

Stanley Reese, the State Solicitor in charge of game and fish violations, promised the crowd the support of his office in prosecuting any violations of hunting laws. He urged the men “ to create a desire in every citizens to be sportsmanlike and let the Judge of the court know you are behind him in prosecuting violators.” Jack Hart, former Farm Agent, challenged the men to work together to realize the potential of making the reserve one of the best in the state. He rattled off figure after figure on the potential wildlife population which could be established on the nearly one hundred forty one thousand acres of wild land in the county.

The following men were appointed to committee positions at the second meeting: A.T. Coleman, Jr. and D.T. Cowart (Publicity); A.C. Scarborough, J.R. Laney, W.H. Proctor, W.A. Kelley and J.R. Smalley (Membership); J. Felton Pierce, George Foster, George T. Morris and Spec Hall (Finance); Stanley Reese and Carl K. Nelson (Constitution and By-laws); J.F. Hart, C.H. Kittrell, Robert Bennett and Paul Wood (Education); and Dee Sessions and J. B. Bedingfield (Game Restocking).

The movement to establish the Game and Fish Club ran out of steam when the country went to war. Twenty years later Calhoun Hogan, Earl Wilkes, Bob Holmes, Fisher Barfoot, Clyde Barbee, E.B. Claxton, Jr., Gene Mercer, Harold Neal,Ray Kitchens, Brigham Scarborough and others established the Laurens County Sportsman Club for the same purposes that Ross and the original club had advocated. Today Laurens County is blessed with several wild life management areas containing thousands of acres of land which help to preserve our precious wildlife. Thanks, John!


Lovett Park, circa 1949

Green Sox founder, William Herschel Lovett

Green Sox Bat Boy - Billy Lovett

Left field bleachers

Home plate from the press box.

Fifty years ago, businessman Herschel Lovett brought minor league baseball to Dublin. Lovett purchased the right to have a team in the second year of the newly organized Georgia State League. The Dublin "Green Sox" were seventh team in the league along with the original teams; the Eastman Dodgers, the Tifton Blue Sox, the Sparta Saints, the Fitzgerald Pioneers, the Baxley-Hazlehurst Red Sox, the Douglas Trojans and the Vidalia-Lyons Twins. The year 1949 was the first year in which a team could legally play baseball on Sundays. Lovett, a big baseball fan, wanted a team in Dublin. With his vast financial resources, Lovett usually got what he wanted. He visited Florida and found the plans for a stadium for his new team. He saw one he liked and had one built in Dublin just like the one he saw.

In the early years of the lower minor leagues, players were bought and sold almost as much as "beanie-babies." Lovett, along with his baseball advisers, put a team together in short order. The players reported to their spring training camp in Bartow, Florida on March 15th. Meanwhile, construction workers back in Dublin were hurrying to complete the park in time for the home exhibition opener. Local businesses supported the team by buying advertising on signs along the outfield wall. Lovett hired Bill Phebus as the field manager and Frank Johnson as the business manager.

Bill Phebus, at forty years of age, had played organized ball for over half of his lifetime. Phebus pitched for the Washington Senators from 1936 through 1938. He pitched in only thirteen games, winning three out of five decisions with a respectable earned run average of 3.33 runs per game. He was hitless in his ten at bats with the Senators. During his three year major league career, Phebus played for Hall of Fame Manager Bucky Harris and played with Hall of Famers, Al Simmons and Wes Ferrell.

The Sox won their first exhibition game with a 5 to 1 victory over Sanford, North Carolina in a game played in Bartow. After the first game, the team returned to Dublin. Lovett promptly released nine players and began the quick process of replacing them with nine new ones, including Bob Leehman and George Cooper from the Class B Greensboro team and Wilbur Osthoff of Bartow. The uniform worn by the Green Sox was a traditional gray flannel, with a green braid down the seams of the pants and the sleeves of the shirts. Orange bordered green numbers were placed on the back of the jersey with a shamrock and "Dublin" in block letters on the front. Their caps were green with a block "D" or an Old English "D," depending on what caps were available at that time. Sometimes the players wore a mixture of both.

The Green Sox worked out on Carroll Field for their home exhibition opener at Lovett Field on March 30th against the Macon Peaches. On opening night the lineup for the Green Sox was George Kuhn 3b, Bob Benintendi cf, Wilbur Osthoff shortstop, Al Recsignor 2b, George Cooper, catcher, Charles Ayers lf, Ed Walczak 1b, Fred Stalarski rf, and Ralph Hisey on the mound. A near capacity and enthusiastic crowd of nineteen hundred plus fans turned out for the game. The Sox were no match for the well established Class A team from Macon. Dublin’s lone run came when Osthoff singled and scored on three straight walks. The Green Sox lost their first game at home, and their first game ever under the lights a score of 11 to 1.

Players were still being added and dropped from the lineup. There were few black players in the majors, or the minors for that matter. However, Cuban born players with darker skin, like Isadore Leon of Dublin, were welcomed. Leon had a 20 and 4 record with the Sparta Saints in the first year of the league. A late signee was Jake Gardner, a local boy who starred with the Naval Hospital and the Ogeechee League in previous seasons.

Dublin lost the next four games to league rivals Vidalia, Eastman, and Baxley, along with the Class A team from Des Moines, Iowa. The first win for the Green Sox came at home with a thrilling twelve-inning 9 to 8 victory over Quebec. Ray Skelton was cut from the team after two games; in both of which he was O for the game. The celebration was short-lived when the Sox lost the last two of three games against Baxley-Hazlehurst and Quebec, before a exhibition ending victory over Eastman.

The inaugural game at Lovett Park was played on April 18, 1949. That same week, Dubliners were also treated to a visit by department store founder J.C. Penney and the opening of the drive-in theater in East Dublin. Businesses all over town bought tickets for their employees. Mayor Flannery Pope and the city council postponed their regular council meeting. Taking the field for Dublin were infielders Gene Pollard, George Kuhn, Wilbur Osthoff, and Wiley Nash; outfielders Bill Hardegree, Nat Haber, and Jake Gardner, and Ralph Hisey and Ted Guinan as battery mates.

Mayor Pope welcomed the players, league officials, and the crowd. Father Gilbert, vice-president of the league, threw out the first pitch. Team president Lovett was the catcher. Laurens County sheriff Carlus Gay got out in front of the first pitch and stroked it down the third base line and which was eventually ruled foul by the umpire, Marvin Moates, the league president. No one bothered to chase it down. Dublin blasted the defending league champions, the Sparta Saints 14 to 3, with Hisey putting 14 strikeouts on the board. Dublin won the next game at home and spent their last day in first place that year - tied with Douglas.

By the end of the April, the Green Sox were in second place with a 7 and 5 record. One of the highlights of the season came on May 1st. The local boys were trailing Sparta 3 to 1 in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs. Pitcher Hisey was walked as a pinch-hitter to load the bases. Local hero Jake Gardner smashed a liner to center, plating two runners to win the game 4 to 3. By the middle of May, the Green Sox had dropped to 15 and 13. By the end of the month they had dropped to fourth place with a 19 and 22 record. The boys played over .500 ball in the first half of June, but slipped in the first days of summer. They fell to seventh place, one game out of the cellar. The Sox picked up Vince Natale, a French-Canadian reliever, to shore up their bullpen, and Johnny George, a veteran minor league catcher to shore up their defense. George returned to Dublin after his playing days to manage the team. He started a family here before his wife Robbie’s untimely death in an automobile accident.

One of the most popular players on the Green Sox was first baseman, Ray Mendoza. Ray was tall, dark, and handsome. Nan Carroll Scarboro remembered that "all of us girls had a crush on Ray." The men admired Ray’s ability to stretch up to catch high throws and to stretch out to nip a runner at first base. Among the highlights of the season was the game against the Wrightsville Tigers, eventual champions of the Ogeechee League. The Wrightsville nine, led by Cecil Herringdine, Howard Maddox, and Woody Davis, defeated the Green Sox 9 to 2 at Lovett Field on July 10th. By mid July, the Sox were mired in last place. The Sox took pride in two consecutive victories over league leader Douglas. Ralph Burgamy played third base for the Green Sox and an all star team against Douglas. The boys went 10 and 3, including an eight game winning streak to start August. They moved up to fifth place. The Green Sox ended the season with two losses to Sparta and a sixth place finish. It was a year of ups and downs. The fans remained steadfastly loyal to their team - Dublin set a league attendance record in 1950. By 1956, league attendance had dropped, dramatically and devastatingly to team owners, eventually forcing an end to the Georgia State League.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Baseball’s First Bonus Baby

Dave Nicholson had the tools. He was big. He was strong. He could knock a baseball five hundred feet. Dave was born in Illinois nearly sixty years ago and grew up playing ball on the sand lots of St. Louis, where Yogi Berra and Joe Garigiola once played. At the age of 15, he was noticed by pro scouts. His pitching was average, but his power was awesome. There were many times when he hit three or four homers in a game. After graduating from Southwest High School, he signed a contract for the unheard of sum of $100,000.00. He hadn’t played a game in the major or even minor leagues. They called them bonus babies, and Dave was the first.

In today’s market, when Kevin Brown, former pitcher for the Wilkinson County Warriors, will make nearly twenty thousand dollars for every out he gets, Dave’s enormous salary seems so trivial. Early in his career, Dave Nicholson played left field for the Orioles of Dublin, Georgia in the Georgia - Florida League.

Dave was playing for a team in Collinsville, Illinois when he met Paul Richards, general manager of the Baltimore Orioles. Richards and the Orioles pitching coach were so impressed with his power that they signed him to a contract upon his graduation from high school. Dave was assigned to an Orioles Class A farm team in Knoxville, Tenn.. The hits and the homers were few and far between.

Strikeouts were common. Dave was shuffled off to Wilson, N.C., where his hitting picked up a little. Strikeouts continued to plague the Orioles phenom. In mid July 1958, Dave was again transferred. This time he would play for the Orioles Class D team in Dublin. It was a demotion, but something had to be done - too many strikeouts.

Dave reported to Dublin and was immediately inserted into the starting lineup in left field. In his first game, Dave went 1 for 5 in a loss to the Brunswick Phillies. In the first few games his average hovered around the .200 mark, par for his career. His first home run for the Orioles came on July 28th against the Valdosta Tigers. In the next game, Dave nearly went for the cycle, missing it by a home run.

The Orioles were on a roll. They won eight games in row and began to challenge for second place in the league. Nicholson’s name disappeared from the box scores, probably due to an injury.He returned to the lineup during the third weekend of August. 0 for 4, 1 for 4, 2 for 4, and 0 for 5. Dave wasn’t hitting. He was swinging hard, trying hard, but missing badly. Dave closed the season with one of his best games. He went 2 for 6 with a double against Brunswick. Dave finished the year with a .227 average, 3 home runs, and 21 runs batted in. Dave played defense behind a future fire-balling left-hander, Steve Barber, who rose near the top of the American League with the Baltimore Orioles in the early sixties. His manager also played second base. If you are a baseball fan, you might remember his name. He was recently inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The scrappy little man and baseball genius was none other than Earl Weaver.

Dublin lost its franchise in the Ga./Fla. League following the ‘58 season. After two weeks of disappointment in Amarillo, Texas at the beginning of the ‘59 season, Dave was shipped off to Aberdeen, South Dakota to play for his former Dublin manager, Earl Weaver. Something clicked. Dave began to hit for average, for power, and for distance. It was his best season in professional baseball. Dave led the Northern League with 35 home runs, nearly one in every twelve at-bats. He batted in 114 runs in 120 games and finished the season with an respectable batting average
of .298.

Dave went into the last game with a batting average of an even .300. The .300 mark is what every ball player strives to accomplish. It is the mark of a good hitter. He only needed one hit in his last three at bats to finish at .300. One out of four would drop him a fraction below. He got the critical hit in his second at bat. Dave was assured of his goal. Even with the out he made on his third trip to the plate, he still had the mark. Weaver asked “Nick” if he wanted to be taken out to freeze his average at .300. Nick said, “No, I’ll keep swinging.” He made an out on the 4th at bat. There was still a chance. A hit on the fifth at bat would bring him back to .300.

The mark Dave wanted so badly never materialized. He made an out in his last at bat of the season and finished at .298. Chuck Hinton, Nicholson’s teammate and future star outfielder for the Washington Senators, said it plainly, “When he went 1 for 5 he almost cried. He was sick.” The .300 plateau eluded Dave for the rest of career. He never came close again.

Hinton marveled at Nick’s power. “He hit the longest ball I ever saw hit. It’s got to be the granddaddy of ‘em all. It went over the left field fence at Aberdeen and landed almost two full blocks away. I’d say it went 625 feet. It’s the truth. They never did measure it, “ Hinton commented. Fred Valentine witnessed another tape measure job in the ‘58 season at Wilson, North Carolina. “It was well over 500 feet,” Valentine said.

Dave hit well with the Miami team of the International League to start the 1960 season. His .260 average led to his promotion to the “Big Show” in 1960 with the Baltimore Orioles. The strikeouts kept coming - one out of every two at bats. Meanwhile, fellow Dublin Oriole Steve Barber had a fabulous rookie season going 10 and 7 with a 3.21 E.R.A.. Dave was sent back to the minors (again). Twenty home runs and a .248 average at Little Rock in 1961 earned Dave another shot in Baltimore in 1962. The second time around was a little better. He only struck out two out every five times, but his batting average dipped down to .173. Baltimore had seen enough. They knew he had potential, but there were too many strikeouts. In January of 1963, Dave was traded to the Chicago White Sox along with Hall of Fame Pitcher, Hoyt Wilhelm and two other players for Hall of Fame Shortstop Luis Aparicio and a minor player.

The ChiSox gave Dave a chance and he responded. He started and played in 123 games for the Sox, who finished in second behind the league champion Yankees. Dave hit 22 home runs and drove in 70 runs. Not too bad for a young ball player. What was bad was the strikeouts. His ratio went down. That was the good news. The bad news was that he struck out 175 times. At the time it was a major league record, not the kind you would brag about. Dave held the A.L. record for strikeouts until 1986. The boos were unbearable, but Dave took it. He was a ball player. He loved baseball. He wouldn’t quit. Manager Al Lopez suggested a heavier bat, but that didn’t work. During a practice in May, 1964, Lopez suggested that Dave raise his left arm to get a better look at the ball and to protect the outside of the plate. It worked. Dave hit three homers in a double header. One landed on the left field roof of Comiskey Park, one of the longest home runs in history. He had his stroke back and was leading the Sox in most offensive categories. The swing which bloomed in the Spring, faded in the summer heat. His strikeout ratio increased and his average dipped 80 points down to a season ending .204.

It only got worse in ‘65. His average dropped to .153. In 1966, Dave had a respectable year with the Astros. His .246 average was a career best. His home run total was lower, but so was his strikeout ratio. Dave played 9 games with the Braves in ‘67 and averaged one strikeout a game. Dave had one last shot. It was a good one. He hit 34 home runs in the International League in 1968. He was picked up by the expansion Kansas City Royals in 1969, but never played another game. When he hit the ball, he hit it hard. When he hit the ball, he hit it far. When he swung, he missed too many times. What he might have done had he kept up his pace Spring of ‘64 pace is up for speculation. But, that’s baseball.