Tuesday, September 29, 2009


George Werley grew up in a baseball town during the World War II years. St. Louis was the home of the Cardinals and the Browns, though the latter never proved to be a winner. In three of the four summers of the war, the Cardinals won the National League pennant. When he was growing up in the 1940s, George dreamed of one day playing on the diamond of Sportsman Park or at one of the other fifteen grand parks of the major leagues. That dream came true and sooner than he could have ever imagined.

George William Werley was born in St. Louis, Missouri on September 8, 1938. The six-foot two-inch, one hundred and ninety-six-pound pitcher, just out of high school, made his only appearance in a major league game for the Baltimore Orioles on September 29, 1956, just three weeks after his eighteenth birthday. In one inning of work, George gave up one hit, two bases on balls, and one earned run for a career earned run average of 9.00. He would never set foot on a major league mound after that Saturday afternoon in Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C..

The Orioles offered George, the 1956 Missouri American Legion Player of the Year, a contract. The agreement, which was offered exclusively by the Orioles in an attempt to sign more players, guaranteed that the player would see action in the major leagues in their very first season with the organization. And, sure enough, George signed the contract on September 2 and was playing in the big leagues less than four weeks later.

Baltimore manager Paul Richards called his phenom into the game in the bottom of the eighth inning. He figured there was nothing to lose since the sixth-place Orioles were being shut out 6-0 by Washington, first in the hearts of their country and usually last in the American League. George, wearing his gray #15 road jersey, walked from the bull pen to the mound. Everything was going well in the beginning. George got lead off hitter, the Nationals second baseman Herb Plews, to ground out to the first baseman Bob Hale, who tossed the ball back to George for the first out of the inning. Next up was catcher Ed Fitzgerald, who grounded out to shortstop Billy Gardner. With two out, Werley walked Pete Runnels, a journeyman first baseman. Roy Seivers, the 1949 Rookie of the Year and who played for the St. Louis Browns, the forerunner of the Orioles, also walked, forcing Runnels to second.

Worley still had a chance to get out of his first inning with no damage. With two on and two out, Jim Lemon, a future All Star outfielder for the Senators, singled to right plating Runnels to send the Senators ahead 7-0. George shook off the butterflies and bared down on the next hitter, third baseman Harmon Killebrew, a young struggling slugger and who thirteen years later would be named the American League Most Valuable Player, grounded out to Gardner to end the inning.

Neither George n or the 1,129 or so fans in attendance at the game didn't know it at the time, but his last pitch to the future thirteen time all star would be his last in the major leagues. The Senators held on to win the game, 7-1.

In Orioles history, the game was significant, but not because it was the game in which the youngest Oriole hurler appeared in only a single game. The little noticed milestone came in the final stanza. The Baltimore nine scored their sole run of the game in the top of the ninth when the young third baseman for Birds in only his nineteenth game of his career stroked his first major league home run to break up the shut out of Cuban-born pitcher Evelio Hernandez, who in his fourth appearance in the big leagues won his first and only game of his career. That young third sacker, who played the hot corner better than anyone else in baseball history, was none other than nineteen-year-old Brooks Calvert Robinson, Jr., an American League all star from 1960 to 1974. Brooksy was the 1964 AL MVP and a winner of the Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Roberto Clemente Awards.

The Baltimore Sun reported that Werley "nevertheless showed a good fastball and considerable poise in his one-inning trial." George reported to spring training in 1957, but was assigned to the Fitzgerald Pioneers of the Georgia-Florida League, where he pitched in 21 games under the tutelage of player-manager Earl Weaver. George didn't fair well in Fitzgerald with the Orioles posting a 2-4 record and an ERA of 7.95, but he did earn a call up to the Class C team in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where he appeared in only two games.

The year 1958 would be George Werley's best season in professional baseball. He rejoined his manager/second baseman Earl Weaver with the Dublin Orioles, a Class D farm club of the Orioles. In Dublin, George had a respectable year going 16-10 in thirty-five appearances. While his ERA was 4.28, he was second on the team in that category among the starters, ahead of Steve Barber, who would later become one of the Oriole's best left-handed pitchers of the 1960s. In the batter's box, George was the team's best hitting pitcher with a mark of .228 for the season.

One of George's highlights of the 1958 season was a 3-2 extra innings victory over the Waycross Braves on May 20th. George went the entire thirteen stanzas to garner a hard-fought victory.

For all of you sports trivia fans, George Werley is the answer to one of the most obscure questions about Dublin minor league baseball. He won the last game ever played by the Orioles in Dublin, a 15-4 victory over the Brunswick Phillies. George also pitched in the first Oriole game ever played in Dublin. He pitched very well, but got a no decision in the opening game loss to the Albany Cardinals. In another bit of trivia, the first Orioles game was umpired by John Kibler and Bill Haller, two long time veteran umpires of the National and American Leagues.

After a promising start in the 1959 season with the Pensecola Dons of the Alabama- Florida League, George was shipped off across the country to the Stockton Posts in California, and back to the Pheasants in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where his professional career ended.

Fifty years after his debut in the major leagues, writers for The Baltimore Sun attempted to contact George to get his feelings on his all too brief major league career. Werley, a Missouri businessman and president of the Wenzel Tent and Sleeping Bag Company, refused to talk, according to the sports department, about the long ago day when he walked to the mound in his first, and only, major league game. So, on the fifty-third anniversary of your making it to the big show, where have you gone, George Werley?

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Born to Run

Mel Lattany could run. He could run faster than all but a few dozen people in the history of the World. As the athletes of the United States are competing in Athens, Greece in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, this former Dublin Junior High School teacher made his mark on the tracks of another Athens, Athens, Georgia, a quarter of a century ago. Considered by one panel of authorities as the 6th greatest sprinter of all time, Mel Lattany was among those Olympians who were denied their chance to capture the gold medal by the preposterous politics of the Cold War.

Born Melvin Lattany on August 10, 1959 in Brunswick, Ga., Mel made a bold promise to his family when he was only eight years old. He sat at the dinner table and told his doubting siblings that “I am going to be the first Lattany to put our name in the papers nationwide.” Mel, an all state track and football star at Glynn Academy in Brunswick, was given a track scholarship to the University of Georgia, where he began his career in the spring of 1978. A sportswriter predicted that this swift freshman would become an Olympian. Mel lived up to his reputation when he set a Junior World Record at the U.S. Air Force Academy on June 20, 1979. His time of 10.09 seconds still stands as seventh best ever for a man under the age of twenty
and is only 0.04 seconds shy of the current World record. As a sophomore at Georgia, Lattany’s sprint of 20.28 in the 200m, earned him the ranking as the 6th best sprinter in the World.

Mel continued to excel in track events around the country. He set the Southeastern Conference record for a 60-yard dash with a mark of 6.14 seconds. His third place finish at the 1980 Olympic trials in the 100m led to his selection to a spot in the 100m event and 4x100m relay team, along with Carl Lewis, Stanley Floyd and Harvey Glance, Mel’s idol. In a university known more for its football prowess, Mel became only the 5th Bulldog track star to earn a berth on the Olympic team. Just after his selection to the team, President Jimmy Carter, in a protest of Soviet imperialism, ordered that the United States would stage a boycott of the quadrennial games. Lattany, like most other athletes, was disappointed and bewildered by the decision. “It’s really a shame about the boycott,” said Mel. Not seeing the action as a solution to the World’s problems, Lattany told reporters, “The Olympics should not be political at all. This has destroyed many of the goals and ambitions of a lot of athletes.” Lead by Carl Lewis and three SEC sprinters, the relay team was the favorite to win the gold medal in 1980.

Despite the initiation of the boycott, Mel continued to run in events throughout the country and Europe. He won the Liberty Bell Classic in the 100m dash. In a tour of Europe that summer, Mel enjoyed a gratifying victory over Alan Wells of the United Kingdom, the gold medal winner of that year’s Olympics. The 1981 season saw Mel, rated only behind Carl Lewis at the World’s top sprinter, win the World Cup in 200m dash with a mark of 20.21 seconds, only a 1/100 of a second behind the best time of the year. In the 100m event, Mel ran one of his best times ever. His time of 10.04 was 4/100 of a second behind Carl Lewis’s season best time of 10 seconds flat. Earlier that season, the 10.04 time was good enough to time the amateur record set in the 1968 Olympics. Wherever Mel ran, there was always Carl Lewis to spoil his chances of finishing first. In the 1981 NCAA championships, Mel broke out to an early lead in the 100m, only to be overtaken by Lewis, who finished in 9.99 seconds, only a slim 0.07 seconds ahead of Lattany. Mel’s career best in the 60-yard dash of 6.10 seconds was not good enough to beat a 6.04 world record set by Stanley Floyd.

In the 1981 Drake Relays, Mel, a nine time collegiate All-American, capped off his collegiate career with his 4th consecutive win in the 100-meter race, a feat unprecedented in the history of the prestigious event. For his outstanding performance at the relays, Mel was awarded the distinguished Maury White Award. Lattany placed first in the 100m event, finishing more than a quarter of a second ahead of teammate Herschel Walker. In addition to his sprint victories, Mel anchored the 400m and 800m champion relay teams.

In the summer of 1981, Mel attempted to live out his childhood dream of playing college football for the Bulldogs. The Bulldog coaching staff salivated at the prospect of having the second fastest man in the World running post patterns on the turf of Sanford Stadium in their drive to win a second consecutive national championship. Mel’s lack of football skills prevented him from making the team. The following year Mel continued to run and train in hopes of garnering a spot to perform at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. On July 30, 1983, Lattany, ranked 3rd in the World, set a world record in the rarely run 300m dash at Gateshead with a time of 32.15 seconds.

At the age of 24, Mel Lattany, a 1983 education graduate of UGA, was peaking in his attempt to win a Gold Medal. In the 100-meter event at the 1984 Spec Towns Meet in Athens, the sprinter recorded a time of 9.96, the fastest time that year and the fastest ever at such a low altitude. His mark was only 0.01 seconds short of Jim Lines’ world record. Think about how short a hundredth of a second is. Lattany was awarded a spot as an alternate on the 4x100 relay team, which won the Gold Medal in Los Angeles in 1984. For his participation on the team, Mel was also awarded a Gold Medal, a bittersweet prize after a muscle tear and a subsequent injury led to his inability to compete with the world’s fastest sprinters and forced him to watch his teammates from the sidelines.

After only one win at the Jesse Owen’s Classic at Columbus, Ohio in May 1985, Mel once again turned his sights on football. He was given a tryout with the Dallas Cowboys in the summer of 1985. Although he could outrun the football and possessed a dogged determination to succeed, Mel’s lack of football skills prevented him from making the team. A reversal of the determination of amateur status in the United States led to his reinstatement to compete in amateur events.

In 1986, Lattany turned down an offer to come to Dublin to teach Industrial Arts at Dublin Junior High School. He chose to remain in Athens where he could train in hopes of making the 1988 Olympic team. When a 1987 car accident spoiled his chances to make the team, Mel decided to take up the offer in 1989. Mel preferred the slower pace of life in Dublin. He continued to train, but less intensely than before. He had his goals, but he realized that he was rapidly approaching an age when victories would be out of reach. Mel enjoyed teaching and coached the members of the high school track team. He hoped to publish a book to guide young athletes through their collegiate and professional careers.

Mel Lattany’s track career came to end when his legs could no longer carry him as fast as his heart wanted them to. For as long as he lives, Mel Lattany can claim that at one time, he was the fastest human being on the face of the Earth. Only 43 men have run a faster forty-yard dash and one hundred-yard dash. In his prime, Mel could sprint the length of a football field faster than most of us could run across a highway.

Friday, September 4, 2009


The Early Years of the Dublin Touchdown Club

On every Friday night in late summer through November and most days in between, they are there - cheering their sons and boosting their team. For the better part of the last half century, the members of the Dublin High Touchdown Club have provided support, both monetary and moral, to the winning tradition of Dublin High School football. As the Dublin Irish are currently enjoying one of their best seasons in years, I am reminded on the early days of the Touchdown Club, when the people of Dublin got behind a faltering program and within five years turned it into one of the most successful football dynasties in the state of Georgia.

Dublin High’s football teams had enjoyed successful seasons in the late 1940s, earning several district championships. Hugh Henderson, a former Americus High quarterback, lamented the fact that Dublin fans accepted losses in the early fifties with the phrase, "Yeah, but we played a good game." Henderson set out to change things for the better. He had help from two outstanding young coaches, Tom Stewart and Minton Williams. One of the first elements of the plan to improve the team was to start a recreation department football league, much like the one in nearby Statesboro. To fund a recreation program, money had to be found somewhere. This is where Murray Chappell, Ed Hall, and Keith Stone, all members of the city council, stepped in. Longtime mayor Felton Pierce also threw his support behind the project.

Football boosters began to talk in pairs - then in groups. These groups began to meet in sundry places around town, first at Johnson Street School. The first formal meeting of the Dublin Touchdown Club was held in Hugh Henderson’s Men’s Store on West Jackson Street, which was located in the Kreutz Building now occupied by Sapp’s Jewelers. The original members of the club were: Wimpy Roberts, Spec Hall, Bush Perry, Ben Crain, Sr., Hugh Henderson, J.B. Burch, Ed Bateman, Elmer Mackey, Joe Durant, Keith Stone, Fred Middlebrooks, Sr., Murray Chappell, Ray Prosperi, Leonard Swida, Fred Middlebrooks, Jr., Tom Stewart, Johnny Floyd and coaches Tom Stewart, Minton Williams and Bobby Rich. Ray Prosperi was the first President. Fred Middlebrooks, Sr. was elected Vice President. Elmer Mackey, who lent his ice plant offices on South Monroe Street for other meetings, was chosen as treasurer. Dues were a mere five dollars a year, but that amount, insignificant by today’s standards, kept the club going.

One major problem was the team bus, known as the "Green Goose." " In the early days, the bus often broke down on out of town trips," recalled Leonard Swida, an original founder of the club. "All Dublinites knew this and would follow behind the bus, just in case. If the bus broke down, we would carry the football players to the game. We always got the players to the game in time," Swida fondly remembered. Eventually, the booster club helped to raise the funds to buy a new Green Goose, a large, white, modern bus, lettered in green.

The first item on the club’s wish list was a movie camera to film the games. The school lent a movie projector to allow the coaches to show the team and their opponent’s strong and weak points. Joe Durant was the first camera man, aided by his assistant Hugh Henderson. In the last century of Irish football, I cannot go without mentioning Paul DiFazio for his work on filming the game which became an invaluable resource to the coaches and players. Another longtime volunteer was Ed Pierce, who broadcast the games and filled in at other jobs if needed. One of the team’s biggest boosters in the early years was Bush Perry, the newly hired sports editor of the "Dublin Courier Herald," who chronicled every game and supported Dublin athletic programs for nearly three decades.

A morning coffee discussion led to the purchase of a professional scoreboard for the old "Battle Field" on West Moore Street. Ben Crain, Sr. presented Superintendent S.R. Lawrence’s offer to match half of the amount needed to purchase the thousand-dollar scoreboard if the club could raise the other half. Two members of the club took the ball and ran with it. Messers Perry and Swida went to newspaper owner, state representative, and businessman, Herschel Lovett, who gave the men half of the money they needed. Swida and Perry then went to see Howard Cordell, Sr., who after a thirty minute sales pitch, gave the men the remaining $250.00 to meet their goal, one which was accomplished in one morning.

The members of the club worked hard to keep the grass on Battle Field and the practice field on North Calhoun Street green and growing. State Patrol Sergeant Ben Snipes, Sr., worked during his spare time to keep the field up. Leonard Swida went around town and gathered many pounds of fertilizer from every dealer in town. Keith Stone helped by seeing that water was provided to the field. Ben Crain, Sr. managed the finances and often supplied the players with cold drinks from the Grapette Bottling Company, which he owned and managed.

The greatest coup for the Dublin Touchdown Club was the building of the Shamrock Bowl. Swida, President of the club in 1960, originally planned to build the bowl shaped stadium on the site of the Kmart Store on Hillcrest Parkway. The plan was scrapped for the current site on Shamrock Drive because of other city-funded projects happening at the time. Don Lamb, Sr. brought all the factions of Dublin together, and through the aid of more than eighty thousand dollars in contributions (most of it borrowed by businessmen and supporters) to complete the construction of the Shamrock Bowl in 1962.

Throughout the 1960s, the Touchdown Club sponsored its annual jamboree to honor the players and supporters of the team. Each year, a committee sought out and found the best and most respected football speakers of the day. Honored guests came from all parts of the state to attend the festivities. Shug Jordan, legendary Auburn football coach, gave the keynote address to a large gathering held in the Central lunchroom in 1961. Receiving honors that night were the 1926 Dublin High Green Hurricanes, the 12th District Champions. Most prominent among the members of that team and present that night was "Breezy" Wynn, who after leaving Dublin High starred in the backfield of Coach Neyland at Tennessee during the early 1930s. In 1962, Bill Peterson, the head coach of the Florida State Seminoles, spoke to the crowd at the Moose Club. On hand that night was Theron Sapp, a Laurens County native, a member of the 1960 World Champion Eagles, only one of four former Georgia Bulldogs to have their jersey numbers retired, and who single handedly defeated Georgia Tech in 1957 to stop a long Tech winning streak and earn a lofty place in Bulldog history.

A year later, Ray Graves, an icon of University of Florida football coaches, addressed the touchdown club members in the Methodist Church Social Hall in 1964. The largest crowd of the decade turned out at the church to hear the new and successful Georgia coach, Vince Dooley. A pall was cast over the party, when Coach Minton Williams, who had led the Irish to state championships in 1959, 1960, and 1962, announced his resignation. "Tonto" Coleman, the new S.E.C. Commissioner came to town to honor, Dublin lineman Ronnie Rogers, who recently was granted a scholarship to play football at Georgia.

How did the players respond to all of this support? All you have to do is to look at the record. Except for a brief slide in the early 1970s, Dublin High’s teams have proved themselves as winners. If you don’t believe me, go out on Friday night. Just watch. You’ll see.

(This column is dedicated to my friend, the late Leonard Swida, who poured his heart and soul into the Touchdown Club and contributed most of the information for this article.)