Sunday, January 27, 2013


"Sugar Ray" Robinson, a world champion boxer whose real name was Walker Smith, Jr., called many places home. Montgomery County, Wheeler County and Laurens County along with New York and California were all home to Ray at different times during his lifetime. Many people don't realize that he was a native of Georgia. As a result, Robinson is not a member of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Ray's parents, Walker Smith and Lula Hurst, lived in Laurens County and were married here on February 20, 1916. His father was born near Rentz and grew up on the Peterson place south of Ailey. His mother's family roots were on the Hurst plantation in Washington County.

Ray Robinson recounted in his biography that his father, Walker Smith, farmed a small plot of ground, earning about forty dollars a month raising cotton, corn, and peas. In 1920 his brother in law, Herman Hayes, invited the elder Smith to come to Detroit, Michigan to seek a better living. Walker Smith received his first weekly paycheck in the amount of sixty dollars. It did not take long for Mr. Smith to figure out where he needed to work. The family stayed behind until Mr. Smith could establish a home. "Sugar Ray" recounts the trip that his mother, his sisters, and he took from Dublin to Detroit. Sugar Ray didn't seem to remember that he was born in Ailey, Montgomery County, Georgia. When he was seeking his birth certificate for medicare coverage, he found it in the Probate Court of Montgomery County. The house where he was born still stands across the railroad from the Thompson Lumber Company sawmill.

Sugar Ray's parents had their share of marital problems. At the age of six Ray was sent back south after living all but the first of his pre-school years in Detroit. He lived with his maternal grandparents near Glenwood in Wheeler County, just below the Laurens County line. He attended school there. He stayed in Dublin at times with his mother and grandmother before going north in the early 1930s.

Robinson's maternal grandmother, Anna Hurst, lived in a house at 518 South Jefferson Street in Dublin. Laurens County sold the house for taxes in 1935. Robinson's aunt, Maud Ree Hurst, purchased the house in 1938. Robinson fondly remembered the times he spent with his uncle Herschel "J.B." Hurst at the cotton market in Dublin. Uncle J.B. spent a lot of time with Junior buying him a boxes of Cracker Jacks on their trips in to town on Saturdays. The family operated a store next to their home on South Jefferson Street. J.B. and his brother Gus were mechanics in Dublin. Willie Lee Wells, another aunt, was slain by her husband Felix Wells in 1941.

As a boy, Ray was always looking for a fight. His aunt Maud Ree Hurst Foster remembered him saying "I want to find me some body to beat up!" Ray idolized his Aunt Maud Ree and tried his best to be like her. The Hursts have a strong sense of family. Many members of the Hurst family and related families still live in Laurens County. Maud Ree Hurst Foster, a delightful lady, has returned home to Dublin. Anna Hurst loved to watch Ray dance. She often asked Ray "come on 'Sugar', dance for me." The pet name stuck with the young man for the rest of his life. One day Sugar Ray brought one of his friends with him when he stopped in Dublin to see his grandmamma. That friend was a pretty fair boxer himself. Imagine the sight. There was Anna Hurst standing on her front porch asking Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis, two of the greatest boxers ever, to dance for her. Early in his boxing career Robinson, was known as "Harlem's Dancing Dynamite and the Pride of Harlem."

Walker Smith, Jr. took the name "Sugar Ray" Robinson as an amateur boxer. As an amateur Ray won New York City titles in 1939 and 1940 with a career record of 69 knockouts, 40 of which were in the first round, in a total of 85 matches. Robinson's first professional fight was a 2nd round knockout of Joe Echeverria on October 4, 1940. He won his first 40 fights before losing to the legendary Jake LaMotta in February 1943. From then on Robinson was undefeated for over eight years. On December 20, 1946, Robinson won the World Welterweight Championship over Tommy Bell. Sugar Ray successfully defended his title five times. Sugar Ray defeated Jake LaMotta for the World Middleweight championship. That summer he lost the title to Randy Turpin in only his second professional loss in the ring. Ray took the title back in a rematch. Ray defeated Carl Olson and knocked out the great Rocky Graziano in his title defenses. He was knocked out for the first time in his career by Joey Maxim on June 25, 1952.

Sugar Ray retired after the Maxim fight, but returned to the ring on November 29, 1954. On December 9, 1955 he defeated Bobo Olson to regain the Middleweight title. After defeating Olson in a rematch in 1956, Robinson lost the title once again, this time to Gene Fullmer on January 2, 1957. Five months later, Robinson won the Middleweight title for the fourth time in a rematch with Fullmer. He lost the world title again in September of 1957, this time to Carmen Basillio, Ray regained the title in a rematch with Basillio on March 25, 1958. Sugar Ray surrendered his title for the last time against Paul Pender on January 22, 1960. The last five years of his career were spent fighting younger fighters with only moderate success. Sugar Ray Robinson, then 45 years old, lost his last fight on November 10, 1965 to Joey Archer in a 10 round fight.

Over his 202 fight - 30 year career, Robinson only lost 18 fights, most of those being the twilight of his career. After his career in the ring, Sugar Ray appeared in several television dramas. Sugar Ray Robinson, who once showed his athletic prowess on the streets of Dublin, was regarded by many as the greatest boxer of all time. He was a five time Middleweight Champion, a one time Welterweight Champion, and was revered by Muhammad Ali as "the King, the Master and my idol."

Saturday, January 26, 2013



James Bailey is tall. He may be the tallest person ever born in Laurens County. His height - six feet nine inches in his stocking feet - came in handy for slam-dunking basketballs, blocking jump shots, and getting stuff off the top shelf at Wal-Mart without tip-toeing.

Bailey was born in Dublin on May 21, 1957. His family moved away a short time later. James began to grow taller and taller. His height and superior athletic ability made him an outstanding high school basketball star of the Xaverian Brothers High School team of Westwood, Massachusetts. For his outstanding ability and play, James was awarded a scholarship to Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

James began his career with the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers in the fall of 1975. By the fifth game, James was named as the starting center. His coach, Tom Young, noticed something special in the freshman. The Knights won their first game, and then another. When Rutgers eased past Boston College by twenty three points, sportswriters began to take notice. The Knights defeated Georgia Tech to win the school’s first Christmas holiday tournament. In each of the three games heading into the Poinsettia Classic, Rutgers scored more than 95 points in each game. By New Year’s Day, Rutgers was eleven and zero. Four opponents gave up one hundred points to Bailey’s team. In the biggest game of the year against arch rival Princeton, the Knights scored seventy five points against one of the nation’s best defensive teams. The Knights scored more than one hundred points in their last two regular season games. This was in the days when there were no three-point shots. In the post season tournament, Rutgers breezed to its second straight ECAC title and earned a bid to the NCAA tournament. With wins over Princeton, Uconn, De Paul, and VMI, the Knights made it into the final four. The Knights perfect 31 and 0 season came to end with an 86 - 70 loss to Michigan. Bailey vaulted to national prominence in his freshman season.

Bailey led his team to the NIT in the next two years and one final trip to the NCAA tournament in his senior year. During his four years at Rutgers, Bailey averaged 16.7 points and 8.7 rebounds a game. He still holds the Rutgers record for field goals in a season (312 in 1978.) Amazingly, the big man had 1755 steals (second most in school history.) Bailey blocked 330 shots and was feared by all those who dared to try him under the basket. James Bailey was one of the first college centers to perfect the "lob dunk." He had 116 dunks in the 1977-78 season, more than many entire teams. His junior season was his best. Bailey won the Widner Trophy as the best player in the East. He was chosen as a first team All - American and finished the season with a 23.5 points per game scoring average. His career best game came against William and Mary when he scored forty three points and grabbed thirteen rebounds. A local sportscaster described Bailey that night as if he were "a slot machine in front of an addicted gambler - all the numbers were coming up right."

Just days after the end of his junior season, James was selected to play for the United States in the 1978 World Invitational Tournament, a sort of off-year Olympic tournament. He was named the starting center. The team had among its members a forward from Indiana State by the name of Larry Bird and a guard from Michigan state Earvin Johnson, who you know as "Magic." Also playing on the team were future pros, Joe Barry Carroll, Phil Ford, Jack Givens, David Greenwood, Kyle Macy, Rick Robey, and Sidney Moncrief. The USA team defeated Cuba 109-64, Yugoslavia 88 to 83 and the Soviet Union 107 to 82 to win the world crown. Bailey was third on the team in scoring with twelve points per game, more than Bird and "Magic" put together.

Bailey garnered many honors in his four year career at Rutgers. He was first team All Atlantic and a member of the All Atlantic Tournament Team in each of his last three seasons, Tournament MVP in his senior year, Atlantic Player of the Year in his last two seasons, winner of the Donald Courson Trophy as the top male athlete in the Class of 1980, and a first team All American in his last two seasons. His team won ninety five games and lost only twenty eight. The Knights were fifty and three at home.

Bailey was drafted sixth in the first round of the June 1979 N.B.A. draft by the world champion Seattle Supersonics. Chosen ahead of James were Earvin "Magic" Johnson, David Greenwood, Bill Cartwright, Greg Kelser, and Sidney Moncrief.

The defending champion Supersonics finished with the second best record in league in Bailey’s rookie season. They defeated Portland and Milwaukee, but lost to division rival and eventual league champions Los Angeles in the Conference Finals. In his only playoff appearance, Bailey was assigned to guard the legendary Kareem Abul Jabbar. Bailey became a starter after an injury to Lonnie Shelton. He had his best season in 1980-1, despite his team’s tumble to the cellar of the Pacific Division. Playing in all eighty two games, he established career highs in nearly all scoring and defensive categories. It was during that year that he hit his only three point shot (out of thirteen attempts.) During his third season, he was traded to the New Jersey Nets, who finished third in their division.

Bailey was traded in his fourth season to the Houston Rockets, who finished last in the league. During that year Bailey led the team in field goal percentage. Bailey replaced the legendary Elvin Hayes in the lineup. At the time, Hayes was the all-time NBA leader in minutes played and third all-time in points scored. The Rockets were a little better in the 83-84 season, finishing next to last in the league. Bailey was traded a third time in 1984 to the New York Knicks, who finished (you guessed it), next to last. It only got worse the next year when the Knicks were in the basement of the NBA. Bailey was shipped across the river to New Jersey in 1986. Again, Bailey’s team finished next to last. In his last NBA season, 1987-88, he finally got out of the cellar, but barely. The Phoenix Suns won one out of three games and finished as the fifth worst team. In his seven-year career, James Bailey scored 5246 points and amassed 2988 rebounds. After his last season in the NBA, Bailey played in Europe until his knees finally gave out.

On the night of February 8, 1993, thousands of his fans and twelve of his former teammates turned out to honor James Bailey with the retirement of his number 20 jersey. Bailey is only one of three Scarlet Knights to have been accorded such a high honor. That same year, James was one of the initial five inductees into the Rutgers Basketball Hall of Fame. He was joined by the late Jim Valvano, legendary N.C. State basketball coach and colorful sportscaster. Bailey still lives in the area today and keeps himself physically fit by drag racing in Englishtown.

Unfortunately for James Bailey and the game of basketball, James was never surrounded in the NBA with the talent he had playing with him at Rutgers University. Consequently, he never realized his true potential. Whether you call him, "J.B.," "King James," or "Jammin James," James Bailey, during the last half of the 1970s, was one of the most dominating centers in college basketball.

Friday, January 25, 2013


Earl Weaver is dead.

Somewhere devilish umpires are laughing out loud.

But, there is no joy in Baltimore tonight.

The king of bad umpire loathing, dirt kicking,  tantrum throwing, hard cussing, jaw chewing baseball managers has been ejected from the game of life. Earl Weaver knew what epithets were and he knew how to use them, often, and with enthusiastic fervor.  

The little round man, loved by Oriole fans and loathed by losing opponents and irritated umpires, died on a baseball fan cruise on Friday night.  He was 82 years old.

The Hall of Fame manager, who led his beloved Baltimore Orioles to six Eastern division championships,  four American League pennants and a single World Series title, served as the player-manager of the Dublin Orioles in 1958.

After one year without baseball, Dublin returned to the minor leagues, this time in the Georgia-Florida League.   The league fielded  six teams in its Georgia division:  the Dublin Orioles, the Valdosta Tigers, the Albany Cardinals, the Brunswick Phillies, the Thomasville Dodgers, and the Waycross Braves.

The Dublin team, which heretofore had veteran baseball men at the helm, took a chance on a 27-year old player who had bounced around the minor leagues for ten years. Before he began his major league managing career, Earl Sidney Weaver began his minor league career as a 17 year old in West Frankfort in 1948.  He enjoyed his best seasons in the minor league at St. Joseph in 1949, Omaha in 1951 and Denver in 1954.  In 1957, he played his last season as a regular player with Fitzgerald in the Georgia-Florida League.

During the 1958 season, Earl played in thirty seven games, tallying  twenty five hits, four home runs, and twenty one runs batted in.  In his  eighty five at bats,  Weaver hit for a .294 average with six doubles and twenty seven runs scored.  Earl mainly played at second base, but moved himself to left field when the situation required it.

Weaver managed two future major league stars in Dublin.  Dave Nicholson, (LEFT) a hard swinging power hitter, once signed the largest rookie contract in the history of baseball.  Nicholson played seven seasons in the "big show", including a season with the Braves. His 61 home runs were overshadowed by his 573 strikeouts.   Steve Barber, (BELOW)  a fire-balling southpaw, was a member of the pitching staff of the Baltimore Orioles,  which rose to prominence in the 1966 World Series.  Steve led the American League in shutouts in 1961, finishing with an 18 and 12 record. Barber pitched in the majors for 15 years with many teams including three seasons with Atlanta.   Despite their future major league performances Barber and Nicholson failed to receive any post season honors in the Georgia-Florida League.  First baseman Dave Bednar, outfielder Dick Ewin, and pitcher Ron Pearson were named to the Ga./Fla. All-Star team. The Orioles led the league in the number of players on the team.  Bob Bird was voted the team’s  most valuable player and Pearson was chosen as the most valuable pitcher for the Orioles.

The Orioles played well that year, especially for a new team.  They were consistent winners, especially in front of the home crowd.  The Birds finished in third place in both halves of the season.  Albany won the first half and Valdosta the second half.  The Valdosta Tigers won the post season playoff.  

The 1958 Ga./Fla. League was one of the better Class D minor leagues.  Several of the players went on to play in the major leagues.  Valdosta Tiger Dick McAuliffe, a three time All-Star, was regarded by many as one the best American League shortstops of the 60s. He played 16 seasons for the Tigers and the Red Sox.  McAuliffe, who led the AL in runs scored in 1968, was a leader of the 1968 World Champion Tigers.  Don Wert, also playing for Valdosta, led the AL in fielding percentage in '65.  Wert enjoyed his best season in 1968 playing on the all-star team and third base for the World Champion Tigers.   Mike Shannon, an outfielder for the Albany Cardinals, played third base for the World Champion Cardinals in 1967.

Weaver was hired as a coach for the Orioles in 1968. He finished out that season as the manager with a winning record.  In his first season, he led the Orioles to the American League Championship, before losing the World Series to the "Miracle" Mets.  Weaver led the Orioles to the World Championship in 1970.  The Orioles  won a third consecutive league title in 1971, losing to the Pirates in the World Series.  The Orioles came back in 1973 and 1974 to win Eastern Division titles.  Weaver's last pennant was in 1979 when the Orioles lost to the Pirates in the World Series.

Earl Weaver was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on August 4, 1996, becoming only the 12th manager to be enshrined.  His .583 winning percentage ranks him fifth on the modern all time list.  Weaver, known as a fireball when it came to arguing with umpires, was most proud of the fact that he was never fired.  Weaver had more 100-win seasons (5)  than any other manager except Joe McCarthy of the Yankees.  He only had one losing season, his last, in 1986.  Weaver ranks seventh all time in winning percentage (1,480-1060 - .583%) and first among managers who began their careers after 1951.

His 98 ejections are an American League record.  Once he was ejected from a game for smoking in the dugout.  In the next game, he presented the lineup cards with a candy cigarette in his mouth.  He got tossed again.

Somewhere you will find Earl Weaver on his perch,  following the ball, eyeing every check swing, every tag play, ready to fly out of the dugout, pounce on and  devour anyone who got in the way of his team winning the game.

Love him or lose him, Earl Weaver was a winner.  He would settle for nothing less, for in his own words he was “the sorest loser who ever lived.”



The Chicago Bears have long been known for their linebackers.  Names like Bronco Nagurski, Bulldog Turner, Clyde George, Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher have struck shear terror in the minds of opposing ball carriers  for nearly a century now.  For a short while, you could add the name of Larry Morris to that list.

Who is Larry Morris you say?  And, what does he have to do with Laurens County?

Well, I will tell you.

Larry Morris was born two weeks before Christmas in Atlanta, Georgia in the dark depression year of 1933.  As a member of the Decatur High School football team, Morris led  the Bulldogs to undefeated seasons in his junior and senior seasons.  

Morris signed a scholarship to play football for his hometown Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.  It didn't take very long before Morris made a solid impression on his coaches.  Tech Assistant Coach Frank Broyles, later an iconic coach at Arkansas, instantly knew that Morris was going to be an outstanding player.   In his freshman season, Morris cracked the starting lineup in the SMU game and never looked back.

"As a player and as a human being, he was one of the best," Pepper Rodgers, a teammate and later a Tech coach, told a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Morris's winning ways in high school continued in college.  The Yellow Jackets boasted a record of 23-0-1 in his first two seasons, claiming two SEC championships along with the 1952 National Championship banner.
Named thrice to the all-SEC team, team captain Morris put an exclamation point on his career at Tech in the 1954 Georgia game.  Playing both ways at center and linebacker, the "Brahma Bull"  was credited with  two dozen tackles in the Yellow Jacket's  7-3 victory at Sanford Stadium in Athens.  Morris' superlative game earned him National Lineman of the Week honors. 

"Morris was everywhere, including rushing the passer. He stopped plays over the middle, off the tackles and around ends," wrote Harry Mehre, former Georgia coaching legend.  

Larry Morris, a member of the 1953 and 1954 All American teams,  was selected by the Los Angeles Rams as their 7th pick in the 1955 NFL draft, making him the 3rd highest pick in Tech history.

Morris played for three seasons in the exciting surroundings of Los Angeles and Hollywood in the mid 1950s.  In his rookie season, the Rams, under head coach Sid Gilman, lost to the Cleveland Browns  in the championship game.  Morris  started twelve games in his rookie year, but saw limited action in the 1956 and 1957 campaigns.   Morris was traded in the 1959 season to the Chicago Bears, coached by the legendary George Halas. 

December 29, 1963  was a bitterly cold, 10-degree, bright and sunny  day in the not so friendly confines of Wrigley Field, Chicago.  On that day, Larry Morris became a legend in the long, legendary annals of Chicago Bears history when the temperature was hovering around ten degrees.  

The Bears'stingy defense, known as "The Monsters of the Midway" and coached by future Redskins head coach George Allen, were ranked by ESPN as the 9th best defense in NFL history.  Their opponent was the New York Giants, the league's best offensive team.  Giant quarterback Y.A. Tittle was averaging nearly three touchdown passes per game.  

With his team trailing early, Morris stepped in front of a Tittle screen pass, grabbed it out of the freezing air and stampeded for sixty-one yards down to the Giant 6-yard line.  A few plays later, the Bears tied the game, 7-7. To see the play, go to (11 MIN. 23 SECONDS.)

"I was so tired I knew I was going to get caught,'' the fleet -footed outside linebacker recalled. 

After the Giants regained the lead in the second quarter, Morris sacked Tittle, damaging the Hall of Fame quarterback's knee, forcing him out of the game until the end of the half.  With an ineffective Tittle at quarterback, the Giants failed to score in the second half and the Bears went on to a 14-10 victory in the 1963 NFL Championship game.  

"I hit him just as he tossed that pass. His left leg was rigidly set on the ground and I slammed him just at the knee, " Morris recalled.

 "The first time it didn't hurt too much, but the second time it really hurt. I felt it pop," recalled of the Hall of Fame quarterback who was rendered virtually ineffective after the Morris hit. 
It was the first televised game that I remember seeing on TV.  I was only seven  and alas, I was a Giants fan.

Morris played for two more seasons with the Bears before demanding a trade to the new team in his hometown, the Atlanta Falcons.   After many batterings, heavy bruises and knee injuries, Morris retired after the 1966 season, the team's first season in the league. 

Larry Morris earned his share of accolades in his sixteen-year career in football.  He was runner up to the NCAA Lineman of the Year in 1953,  a two-time All American, a three-time selection to the All-SEC team and  a member of the NFL 1960s all-decade team. Inducted into both the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame, Morris was also the recipient of the highly coveted NCAA Silver Award for outstanding contributions since his graduation from college. 

After leaving football, Morris was elected to represent DeKalb County in the Georgia legislature.  Morris went on to establish a highly successful real estate and insurance business in the Atlanta area.

One of Larry Morris' personal real estate holdings was Laurens Hill, the old Harvard plantation house on Georgia Highway 26, southwest of Dudley.  Morris and his wife Kay restored the 1840 mansion into their summer farm home.

But, as they say, all good things come to end.   Football, which brought fame to Larry Morris, wound up destroying his life.  After twenty years of playing  in high school, college and in the pros, Larry's brain was bruised and battered too many times.  Like other former pro football players of his day, Morris suffered early dementia and spent the last two decades of his life a shell of the former outgoing, personable and a successful businessman he was.  In fact, it was his illness which led to the financial ruin of his family.

Peace finally came to Larry Morris and his family, who had been tormented by the ravages of his injuries. Morris died on December 19, 2012.  A memorial service was held last Friday.

Former teammate and close friend, Dick Inman, recalled, "One tough guy, he had no fear on the football field and basically he was kind of a gentle person."

I still remember my one conversation with Larry, some twenty years ago.  It was right before his induction into the College Hall of Fame, which fittingly will move to his hometown in Atlanta in 2014.  I don't quite remember what was said, but I do remember that he was just like those who knew him best, a real gentleman.  

So hail and farewell to "The Brahma Bull," may you always be the hero you always were.