Showing posts with label Bus Clarkson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bus Clarkson. Show all posts

Friday, July 9, 2021

Charlie Gorin, University Of Texas Star And Milwaukee Braves Pitcher, Dies At 93

Charlie Gorin, former Milwaukee Braves pitcher from 1954-55, died February 21, 2021 at 93.

Coming out of the University of Texas, Charlie Gorin had a winner’s pedigree. Pitching under the legendary Bibb Falk's guiding eye, the left-hander propelled the Longhorns to consecutive College World Series titles in 1949 and 1950. Gorin continued that streak early in his minor league career; however, he could not translate that success to the major league level.

Gorin, who pitched seven games for the Milwaukee Braves from 1954-55, died February 21, 2021. He was 93.

The Waco, Texas, native enlisted in the Navy during World War II out of high school, delaying the start of his baseball career. After his discharge he enrolled at Texas, using the GI Bill at the urging of one of his Naval mates. He made good with Falk at a spring tryout, and a local legend was born.

The Boston Braves took notice of Gorin after his second CWS championship in 1950 and signed him to a minor league contract at Omaha on the spot. After a short stint at Triple-A Milwaukee, Gorin settled in with their Double-A club in Atlanta and led them to the playoffs with a 7-1 record.

Gorin entered the 1951 season with a fresh start at Milwaukee that eventually led to two championships in the span of a year. The 1951 Milwaukee club ran away with the pennant, showing how Major League Baseball organizations could benefit from having an integrated team. Former Negro Leaguers Bus Clarkson and George Crowe led the offensive charge with respective .343 and .339 batting averages, while starters Ernie Johnson, Bert Thiel, Virgil Jester, Murray Wall and Gorin all posted double-digit victory totals. They then toppled the International League’s Montreal Royals to win the 1951 Junior World Series.

Most pitchers would be exhausted after a long playoff season, but the lure of a paid winter to pitch in Puerto Rico was too much for Gorin to pass up. At the recommendation of teammate Luis Olmo, Gorin headed to winter ball.

“That was the only way to make money,” Gorin said during a 2008 phone interview. “There wasn't big money like now. I was married with two kids; that's how I saved money. They paid our way down with the wife and kids, and they paid room and board. Puerto Rico was a good place to play.”

After faltering early with Mayag├╝ez, Gorin latched on with San Juan after the team owner came to the airport to stop him from going back home. He was determined to make Mayag├╝ez realize its mistake.

Gorin reeled off 12 wins, leading San Juan to the league championship. He pitched two complete-game victories in the playoffs, punching their ticket to the 1952 Caribbean Series. Unfortunately, for Gorin, he couldn’t enjoy the fruit of his labors. A full year of pitching finally caught up with him, his body giving out after epic playoff run. Instead of representing Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Series, he was sent home to recover.

“I had a chance to play in the Caribbean Series in 1952, but I had a muscle spasm in my back, and I just couldn't make the pitch,” he said. “They sent me home. I went to the doctor here. I had a chance to rest, and finally I worked out of it.”

 

Fresh off his incredible 1951 campaign, Gorin looked forward to competing for a spot on the Boston Braves. With the Korean War raging on, Uncle Sam had other plans for him that did not include the major leagues.

“I was called back to active duty in the Navy for Korea,” he said. “I went to Pensacola, because I had a degree in physical education. I was an instructor in the Naval school for gymnastics, physical education, swimming, and water survival. I had to stay two years.”

Gorin, like many of his contemporaries including Willie Mays, Don Newcombe and Ted Williams, lost prime years of his major league career to the Korean War. Unlike the aforementioned trio, Gorin could not regain the momentum he had going into his service upon his return to the pros.

The Braves honored his contract, keeping him on the roster for the 1954 and 1955 seasons. He pitched sparingly over the two years, making seven relief appearances for a 0-1 record with a 3.60 ERA.

Gorin continued to play in the minor leagues through 1962, settling into Austin towards the end of his career so he could make the move into teaching and coaching. Luckily, he found an opportunity with his former high school coach who was flexible enough to let him off to play professional baseball.

“In 1959, I was in Austin, and they wanted to send me to Atlanta,” he said. “I said, ‘Keep me in Austin, that's my hometown, they have a AA team and I could make the transition between baseball and teaching school.’ My high school coach was the athletic director here, so when I got here, he got me on as a coach and teacher. Then he let me off to go play ball. One year I went to Mobile, then back to Austin. I was married with two kids, and I needed the extra money. We made more than teachers, that's for sure.”

He wrapped up his baseball career in 1962 and went full-time into education. He coached football and baseball for over 20 years and became an assistant principal at John Reagan High School in Austin. He retired in 1990 and enjoyed playing golf with his family and friends.

Speaking with Gorin in 2008, he was proud of his baseball career; however, he was quick to note the changes he observed over the 60 years since he started.

“Things have changed,” he said. “The young players don't know how nice they have it. … It's a different game, if the ball hits the ground, it gets put out of the game. You wanted that ball that was hit on the ground, so it was rough, and you could do something with it.”


Monday, June 11, 2012

James 'Bus' Clarkson | A Negro League superstar's unheralded major league journey

Beyond the barriers Jackie Robinson tore down; lay the truncated major league careers of Negro League veterans. They fought for the opportunity to prove their great league's talents that fans missed during the segregation era. Past their prime, these baseball lifers persisted well into their late 30s and early 40s, playing out the string of their careers before teammates and crowds that never had the opportunity to see them play in their true glory.


Satchel Paige's well-documented exploits of finally reaching the majors in his 40s and Sam Jethroe winning Rookie of the Year at 33 are the more prominent stories from this group. There were other less-heralded Negro League vets who had smaller major league cups of coffee, thirty-somethings like Ray Noble, Pat Scantlebury, Quincy Trouppe, Bob Thurman, Artie Wilson, and one overlooked fence buster, James "Bus" Clarkson.

Long before he reached the majors, Clarkson was a power-hitting shortstop and third baseman in the Negro Leagues. Debuting in 1937, Clarkson terrorized pitching wherever he went, whether it was in the United States or the Caribbean, finishing second to Josh Gibson in home runs in the 1941 Mexican League. As Major League Baseball turned to younger Negro League prospects, Clarkson headed north to Canada in 1948. There he blasted 31 homers while batting .408 for St. Jean of the Provincial League. Despite his monstrous numbers, Clarkson returned to the Negro Leagues with no offers from major league organizations.

Clarkson refuses to be ignored

By 1950, Major League Baseball could no longer ignore Clarkson's talents. He signed with the Boston Braves and they assigned him to their Triple-A team in Milwaukee. Immediately, Clarkson lived up to his reputation as a dangerous hitter, batting .302 while playing third base. Holding down the left side of the infield with Clarkson was a young Johnny Logan, who would later become a fixture with the Braves.

“He happened to be an outstanding hitter," Logan said of Clarkson. "When you can hit, you play someplace. He was a tremendous guy. As a young ballplayer, we looked up to him.”

With Logan spending most of the 1951 season in Boston, a 36-year-old Clarkson handled the bulk of the shortstop duties, batting .343 while leading the Brewers to the 1951 Junior World Series championship over the Montreal Royals. Among his teammates was Charlie Gorin, a 22-year-old rookie pitcher fresh from the University of Texas. Speaking with Gorin in 2008, his memories of Clarkson willing his throws across the diamond from shortstop were clear.

“I could remember pitching, and when they hit a groundball to Bus, he'd field it and just throw it," Gorin said. "He didn't have a burning arm because he was up in age. His arm wasn't that good, and it would tail off, or go in the dirt. He'd make the throw to George Crowe and he'd say, 'Do something with it George!'”

A 37-year-old major league rookie

While Clarkson proved to be a capable fielder, his superior hitting abilities gave him a chance with the Boston Braves in 1952. With Boston faltering in the National League and Clarkson batting .385 at Milwaukee, the Braves made Clarkson a 37-year-old rookie. Clarkson played immediately, entering four of the first six games that he was with Boston. He went 2-for-11 with zero extra-base hits and the Braves quickly relegated him to pinch-hitting duties for the next month-and-a-half. Clarkson finished his campaign at the end of June with a batting average of .200, with five hits in 25 total at-bats.

Boston teammate Virgil Jester, who also played with Clarkson in Milwaukee, felt that Clarkson did not have a fair chance during his time in the majors.

“I thought he was a great, great player," Jester said. "He was one of the strongest hitters that I ever saw. I don't think the Braves gave Clarkson a good break to play there.”

George Crowe, when interviewed in 2008, echoed Jester's sentiments, saying that Clarkson had difficulty going from playing full-time his entire career, to coming off the bench every few games.

“He didn't play that much in Boston as I recall, like I didn't play that much when I was there either," Crowe said. "It's hard for a guy that's used to playing every day that gets in there once every one-to-two weeks.”

It did not help that Boston had young Eddie Mathews stationed at third base and had stock in upstarts Logan and Jack Cusick at shortstop. When Charlie Grimm took the managerial reigns from Tommy Holmes in June 1952, one of his first moves was to option Clarkson to the minor leagues and bring up Logan. Even though Clarkson was recalled a few days after being sent down, he sat the bench for the rest of June except for a few pinch-hitting opportunities along the way. He last played June 22 before the Braves ended their foray with Clarkson.

Building a minor league legend

His career, however, did not end after the Braves sent him down for the last time. Clarkson signed with the Texas League's Dallas Eagles in 1953 and terrorized the circuit's pitching for the next two years. At 39 in 1954, Clarkson led the league with 42 home runs while batting .324. Ed Mickelson, who was playing with the Shreveport Oilers, remembered one of Clarkson's legendary home run blasts.

“He hit a line drive at our shortstop at Joe Koppe," Mickelson said in 2009. "Joe wasn't very big; he was 5'8” or 5'9”. He went up and jumped for the ball; I don't think he put a glove on it — it was only a few inches above his glove. The ball kept rising and went out of the ballpark in left-center field. Still rising, it went out of the field, a line drive out of the park.”

Leading the Santurce Crabbers to winter league immortality

Clarkson carried his tremendous 1954 season into the winter when he played with the Santurce Crabbers in Puerto Rico. His team, which has been dubbed the greatest winter league team ever assembled, featured an outfield of Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, and the aforementioned Bob Thurman. Clarkson anchored the infield at third base, while Don Zimmer was at shortstop, Ron Samford at second base and George Crowe at first base. Valmy Thomas and Harry Chiti held down the catching duties while Ruben Gomez, Sam “Toothpick” Jones, and Bill Greason handled the majority of the pitching. They easily captured the Caribbean Series.

Greason spent many years facing Clarkson in the Negro Leagues, as well as in the Texas League and Puerto Rico. He said the majors missed an extremely talented ballplayer.

“Clarkson would have made it no doubt in the majors if he was younger," Greason said in 2009. "He could hit and field. He was like Raymond Dandridge. People would have seen something that they don't see too much now. The fielding, throwing and hitting in one player like Clarkson and Dandridge. Those guys were tremendous … 'phenoms' as we called them.”

* Ed Note. - This was originally published at Baseball Past and Present - "A long ride to the majors: The story of James 'Bus' Clarkson."