Wednesday, June 17, 2009

THE DUBLIN GREEN SOX - 50TH ANNIVERSARY



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.

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