Local Ballplayers Now Gone

Now gone, these local ballplayers were baseball diamonds to the world.

Lycoming County is the birthplace for a number of deceased baseball figures, including those who played in the Major Leagues.

Perhaps the best known of all local baseball figures no longer among the living is Carl Stotz.

The founder of Little League baseball was born in 1910 in Williamsport.

The story of how Stotz organized a group of boys to form the very first Little League teams in 1939 has become the stuff of legend.

By the time Stotz died in 1992, Little League had grown from its Williamsport roots to become an international youth sports organization.

While the name Carl Stotz is recalled by many, other local people connected to the national pastime are perhaps more obscure in the minds of area residents, if not forgotten.

Among them is George Stovey, a star pitcher in the early days of baseball, and probably the most interesting and famous sports figure from among local deceased professional ballplayers.

Stovey’s specific birthplace is apparently unknown.

As written by Brian McKenna for The Society for American Baseball Research, Stovey was born in either Pennsylvania or New York. However, he grew up in Loyalsock Township and played baseball for area clubs. 

A left-handed thrower and hitter, Stovey was playing for a semi-pro team at 18 and in subsequent years with several other ball clubs including in Elmira, New York. 

With a good fastball and a repertoire of breaking pitches, he dominated opponents during the mid-1880s.

Stovey most assuredly would have played in the Major Leagues if not for the fact that he was black.

In 1886, he was pitching for Jersey City in the Eastern League where he began attracting attention from the Major Leagues. In his one season there, he struck out 203 batters, including one game in which he fanned 22 hitters.

The New York Giants wanted him to pitch in a game for them against the Chicago White Stockings during a crucial pennant race involving the two teams.

As written in “Sporting Life” in September 1886: “New York has been seriously considering the engagement of Stovey, Jersey City’s fine colored pitcher. The question is would the (National) League permit his appearance in League championship games?”

Some unsubstantiated reports claimed that Stove’s anticipated appearance against the Chicago White Stockings was opposed by Cap Anson and his Chicago teammates.

The unspoken color line, prohibiting blacks from playing against whites, was well on its way to being instituted in professional baseball and Stovey did not play for the Giants.

The following season, Stovey was playing again for Newark, now in the International League. That year, the league banned any additional signings of African-American players. 

As noted by McKenna, “On the same day that the vote was taken by the directors of the International League, the most famous and, perhaps, defining racial incident in baseball history occurred. Cap Anson and his Chicago White Stockings refused to take the field in an exhibition game against Newark if the latter team planned to use their black battery, Stovey and Walker.”

Alas, Stovey did not take the field.

He did, however, enjoy a fine season, tossing 424 innings and leading the league in wins. (Various sources list his win total as 33, 34, and 35).

Stovey continued on in professional baseball for a number of years. 

Back in Williamsport, he took up umpiring at all levels of the game through at least 1913, according to McKenna.

“He even worked the city’s first night game, on May 14, 1902. According to the Williamsport Gazette and Bulletin, ‘Stovey’s fog horn voice sounded natural as he called out balls and strikes.’ Reviews of his work in his hometown were overwhelmingly favorable. He also pitched sporadically until he was about 50 years old and was constantly organizing youth teams and leagues for decades in Williamsport, the future birthplace of Little League Baseball.

For much of his life, Stovey toiled at odd jobs, according to McKenna. At various times, he worked for the city and at a local sawmill. 

He reportedly supplemented his income during the Prohibition by running bootleg liquor and at one point was found guilty for this crime and received a suspended sentence.

Stovey died on March 22, 1936, at the age of 69 of a heart attack.

“At the time of his death, he was displaced from his residence, living at the Curtin Junior High School with other flood refugees,” McKenna wrote. “A pauper, he was buried by the city at Wildwood Cemetery. A year later, his friend, Lycoming County Sheriff Joe Mertz, had a headstone placed on his grave. In an interview, Mertz remembered his friend in part for his skills as a ballplayer, ‘marble champion,’ ‘incomparable sprinter,’ and enjoyable harmonica entertainer.”

The Baseball Almanac lists a number of other deceased Major League players born in Lycoming County.

Dick Welteroth, who pitched for the Washington Senators from 1948-50, was born in 1927.

During his three seasons with the American League club, he appeared in 90 games, posting a 4-6 record.

The 1947 St. Mary’s High School graduate was the owner of the family business, J. J. Welteroth for more than 40 years, 

He died in Williamsport in 2014. 

Another city native, Don Manno, played parts of two seasons in the Major Leagues.

Manno, a left fielder and third baseman, compiled a batting average of .189 for the Boston Braves of the National League in 1940 and 1941. 

Born in 1915, he died in the city in 1995.

Rube Yarrison (written about in the April 23, 2018, edition of the Sun-Gazette) pitched parts of two seasons with Philadelphia Athletics (1922) and the Brooklyn Robins (1924).

He won a single Major League game, but spent much of his professional baseball career pitching for teams in the Pacific Coast League. Born in Elimsport and a graduate of the Muncy Normal School, he was employed for many years with the state Department of Highways. He died in Williamsport in 1977 at age 81.

Fred Applegate pitched three games for the Philadelphia Athletics late in the 1904 season, compiling a record of 1-2. Born in Williamsport in 1879, he died in 1968. He is buried in Wildwood Cemetery. 

Johnny Lush enjoyed one of the more successful Major League careers of the old-time ballplayers who hailed from Lycoming County. Born in Williamsport, he was just 18 when he broke into the Major Leagues in 1904 with the Philadelphia Phillies. He went on to pitch seven seasons, winning 66 games for the Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals. 

His finest season was in 1906, when he compiled an 18-15 record for the Phillies.

He died in 1946 in Beverly Hills, California. 

Rounding out the list of Major Leaguers from Lycoming County who have passed on are Williamsport native John Sullivan, Duke Shirey and Weldon Wyckoff.

Sullivan had a very brief, but successful stint in the Major Leagues, playing just two seasons for the Boston Braves and Chicago Cubs. 

Interestingly enough, he compiled a more than solid lifetime batting average of .309 over 162 games.

He already was 30 years old when he broke into the Major Leagues in 1920.

Sullivan died in 1996 and is buried in Milton.

Jersey Shore native Claire Lee “Duke” Shirey was 22 when he appeared in two games for Washington Senators in 1920. He pitched four innings and compiled an 0-1 record.

He died in Hagerstown, Maryland. in 1962.

Weldon Wyckoff pitched for the Philadelphia Athletics and Boston Red Sox from 1913 to 1918. The Williamsport native and Bucknell University product compiled a record of 21-34. He had the misfortune of losing 22 games in 1915, thanks in no small part to playing for a very bad A’s team that posted a 43-109 record. 

Wyckoff died in 1961 in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin.


 

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