Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Bill Steinecke

The 1962 Dublin Braves

Strike three! Game over! Braves win! But there was no joy in Dublin on that hot August evening. The Dublin Braves, a Class “D” farm club of the Milwaukee Braves, defeated the Moultrie Colt .22s to end the 1962 season of the Georgia Florida League, a league doomed to extinction by the forthcoming realignment of minor league baseball. The Braves, who finished in second place in a four-team league, actually had a good year, one which was stymied at mid season by the promotion of the their better players. Rumors of the impending fate of the Braves had been flying since the 4th of July. Somehow, everyone knew that this game on August 24, 1962, would be the last ball game ever to be played at Lovett Park on Kellam Road at Telfair Street.

Herschel Lovett, newspaper owner, politician, and businessman, loved baseball. In 1949, mostly at his own expense, Lovett brought a minor league team, the Green Sox, as Dublin’s entry in the Georgia State League - a league which survived until 1956. Baseball returned to town in 1958, when the Dublin Orioles, led by Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver, along with phenoms Steve Barber and Dave Nicholson, fielded one of Dublin’s best teams ever. After a three year respite, the Dublin Braves, along with the Brunswick Cardinals, the Moultrie Colt .22s, and the Thomasville Tigers, formed the Georgia-Florida League - a misleading name, since there were no Florida teams in the league, which had hoped to have eight teams to begin play.

The Dublin Braves debuted on April 25, 1962 with a 13-6 road victory over Brunswick. Managing the Braves was the venerable Bill Steinecke, a long time baseball veteran with decades of experience as a minor league manager and scout, primarily in the Milwaukee Braves system. Steinecke made it to the big show in 1931 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Playing in only four games, Steinecke struck out once and got not a solitary hit in his four at bats, tying the unenviable record of having the lowest batting average in major league history. But whatever Steinecke may have lacked as a hitter in 1931, he more than made up as a teacher of baseball skills.

The home opener on April 27th was the third consecutive win. Mayor James Townsend threw out the first pitch in front of a crowd of 1021 fans, which would turn out to be five percent of the year’s total attendance. The Braves looked like they couldn’t be headed in the first twenty games of the season, firmly holding first place by going 14 and 7 and leading the league with a .700 winning percentage - a fine mark in any league, anywhere.

From the very first game of the season, it was apparent that the best player in the league was a young 21 year old Texan from Austin by the name of Glen Clark. Clark made everyone stand up and look by going four for six and driving in five runs in the season opener. One of those four hits was a home run, one which observers said was still rising over the light pole in left field as it was exiting the Brunswick stadium. His best month was May, when the Braves’ third baseman was voted the league’s best player by Topps Chewing Gum Company. By the end of June, Clark was on his way toward winning the Triple Crown, leading the league in home runs, batting average, and runs batted in. As Clark had drawn the eyes of the league fans, his talents were instantly picked up by scouts, and he was shipped up to a Class C team in the Braves organization. Clark made it to the major leagues with the Atlanta Braves in 1967, when he ironically, but regrettably, matched the major league record of his manager, going 0 for 4 in four games, striking out once, and tying Steinecke and many others for the worst average in major league history. But back in the spring of 1962, everyone said that he was going to be the next Eddie Matthews.

Despite the fact that he left the league at the all star break, Clark wound up the season leading the league in home runs, total bases, and slugging average, and would have captured the league batting championship had he been able to obtain the minimum requirement of at bats.

The Braves began to wilt as the June sun began heat up the race. Moultrie caught the Braves on June 7th, but the Thomasville Tigers came racing forward to overtake both teams by mid month. But the fans kept coming. There were ladies nights, kid’s nights and family nights. Little leaguers got into the game free one night by wearing their uniform to the game. Dublin’s fans remained loyal to their team even during their slumps. Attendance wasn’t a problem for the Braves; they led the league in attendance. Steinecke’s team wouldn’t quit. Just as Thomasville began to pull away, the Braves would come back with a three or five game winning streak. Clark, along with Bob Agular; Samuel Emanuel; Al Pietrwicz, the league’s leading pitcher; Dick Hagan,and Ramon Perez were named to the All Star team, which lost 13 to 10 to the league leader Thomasville.

Hal Haydel (Right)

The Braves weren’t able to recover from the loss of Augular, Dan Kern, and Clark. But that didn’t stop them from trying. They signed John Whitlow Wyatt, Jr., son of the Milwaukee Braves pitching coach and a former all star pitcher. The Dublin Braves were originally to have Dan Schnider, a $100,000 bonus baby, but the parent club decided to start the young pitching phenom in a higher class league. Hal Haydel was brought in to shore up the pitching staff, while Jim Driscoll as assigned to Dublin’s outfield with hopes of putting him at third to replace Clark. Both players performed admirably, but not at the level team leaders had hoped. Driscoll played 36 games for the 1970 Oakland Athletics and the 1972 Texas Rangers posting only ten hits in seventy at bats. Hal Haydel faired a little better with a 6 and 2 record with the 1970 and 1971 Minnesota Twins, who in the former year were the Western Division champions. Both of the these future major leaguers nearly had their careers ended when they were involved in the severe crash of a taxi cab in Moultrie on July 15th.

Jim Driscoll (23yrs later)

But by far, the most successful Dublin Brave played his first game on June 27 when he got a single and a double and drove in four runs. Bill Robinson played originally for the Atlanta Braves, but was traded to the Yankees for Clete Boyer. He enjoyed several fine seasons with the Phillies, and found a home in Pittsburgh, where he was a member of the “We Are Family” Pirates who captured the 1979 World Championship. Robinson, who once worked as a sportscaster on ESPN, is still in baseball forty years after he first played in Dublin. His current job is the hitting coach for the Florida Marlins. In 2003, he became a member of another World Championship team as the first base coach of the Marlins.

Bill Robinson

Among the notable players of the Georgia-Florida league were: Dick Reese, who enjoyed many productive seasons with the Minnesota Twins; John Matchick, who played for the 1968 World Champion Detroit Tigers; Carroll Sembera, who pitched for the Houston Astros in the 1960s and Ken Avery, a name that you don’t recognize, but you would recognize the name of his son, the fireballing lefty Steve Avery, who helped the Atlanta Braves to recover from the disastrous decade of the 80s.

Program from the last game at
Lovett Park, signed by most
of the Dublin Braves 

The last Braves game, while ending with a win, left a sour taste in the mouth of the team’s officials. The Braves needed only 559 fans to break the twenty thousand mark in attendance. Only 339 fans, way below the home average, showed up. The reason: the ultimate in bad scheduling - that same night was the open house for the brand new Shamrock Bowl where 2600 Irish boosters came out to see their new field of dreams. So let’s just say that the officials missed those 240 people who got in free or snuck in late and just round it up to an even twenty grand.

(This column is dedicated to the memory of my friend, the late John Hodges, son of Frank Hodges, who died earlier this year at the age of forty six. John loved baseball as much as anyone. Now he gets to watch the greatest games of all eternity.)

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