SABR

George Myatt

This article was written by John F. Green.

“Baseball was his life,” said Gene Myatt of his father, George Myatt, who spent four decades in baseball (1933-1972) as a player, coach, and manager, and was the third-base coach for the 1964 Phillies1 Most of his playing career was as a second baseman, but he also played third base, shortstop, and the corner outfield positions. Through the years, Myatt acquired a trio of nicknames. As a young base-stealing threat, he was called “Mercury.” He was known as “Foghorn” in his coaching years, because “You could hear him whisper in a sawmill.”2 Finally, there was “Stud,” the moniker that was used by Myatt to address players and acquaintances when he had forgotten their names, and the term became reciprocal.

Mercury’s playing career in the big leagues lasted seven seasons, two with the New York Giants (1939-1940) and five with the Washington Senators (1943-1947). The 5-foot-11, left-handed hitter played in 407 games, and compiled a.283 career batting average.

Myatt was a player-manager for two years in the minors: 1948 and 1949, and in 1950 returned to the major leagues as a coach with Washington. He totaled 23 seasons in that role, serving also with the White Sox, Cubs, Braves, Tigers, and Phillies. With Philadelphia, Myatt twice was interim manager.

George Edward Myatt was born in Denver, Colorado, on June 14, 1914, the son of Wilbert J. and Etta Myatt. He once told a sportswriter that his father loaded his wife and children, four boys and a girl, into a horse-drawn wagon on May l, 1921, and headed west. They arrived in Southern California in mid-August, and settled in El Segundo, now the site of Los Angeles International Airport.3

George attended El Segundo High School, where his fleetness afoot was shown on the track and the baseball diamond. In the summer of 1933 he played with a semipro team in nearby Long Beach coached by former major-league player and manager George Stovall. Myatt’s debut in pro baseball was anything but auspicious. He signed with the St. Louis Browns that summer and was sent to San Antonio in the Texas League (Class A), where he played just one game at shortstop and went hitless in three at-bats. Moved to Baton Rouge in the Class C Dixie League, he played in three games at third and short, and went 1-for-10. It was back to the semipros in Long Beach the next season, though he appeared in two games for the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League. Myatt hooked on with the Stars again the following year under new manager Frank Shellenback and was the team’s regular shortstop. He played in 135 games, batted .311, and stole 22 bases. The second baseman was 17-year-old Bobby Doerr, a .317 hitter. The PCL was a hitters’ league that season: Hollywood outfielders Smead Jolley (.372 BA, 29 home runs), Cedric Durst (.324), and 22-year-old Vince DiMaggio (24 home runs) contributed offensively, but the Stars still finished in the cellar. During the season, Boston Red Sox general manager Eddie Collins scouted Myatt and Doerr, and took options on them for 1937.

Hollywood’s low attendance forced owner H.W. “Bill” Lane to move the club to San Diego in 1936. There, a 10,000-seat facility, called Lane Field, was hastily constructed by the federal Works Progress Administration. The Padres, the name selected in a vote by the fans, did well in their inaugural campaign, garnering second place, just 1½ games behind Portland. Mercury Myatt batted .276 and pilfered 33 bases; Doerr averaged .342, with a league-leading 238 hits. In June 17-year-old pitcher-outfielder Ted Williams signed a San Diego contract, and was used sparingly in the outfield; he batted .271 in 43 games.

On August 27, 1936, Lane Field was the site of a wedding; Myatt married Georgia Smith at home plate before the Oakland-San Diego game. Doerr was his best man, and the bride, a softball pitcher from nearby National City, was given away by Bill Lane, whose wedding gift to the couple was a week’s honeymoon in San Francisco. According to Padres first baseman George McDonald, Myatt was grabbed by the San Diego police after the game and taken to jail for a brief stay, in a prank planned by teammates.

Myatt’s Boston option wasn’t exercised; instead, the Red Sox obtained a 1938 option on Williams. While Doerr was breaking into the majors in 1937, both Myatt and Williams remained in San Diego. Myatt stole another 33 bases and hit .281, prompting the New York Giants to purchase him for 1938 delivery. “Teddy Ballgame” led the Padres with 23 homers and batted .291. San Diego, a third-place finisher in 1937, was victorious in the PCL playoffs, sweeping both Sacramento and Portland.

In the 1938 Giants spring camp, Myatt’s speed was a highlight before he was optioned to Jersey City to begin the season. The 24-year-old shortstop was moved to third base in midseason on orders from the parent club. The hot corner, a trouble spot for the New Yorkers, was then occupied by Mel Ott, normally an outfielder. Myatt was called up on August 15, having played in 116 International League games and batted.278 with a league-leading 45 stolen bases. He made his major-league debut in a game against the Brooklyn Dodgers the next day at the Polo Grounds. Ott moved back to right field and Myatt played third base. He batted second in the lineup and went 1-for-3. The following day Myatt blistered Brooklyn pitching with a home run, two singles, a walk, a stolen base, and two runs scored in the Giants’ 4-2 victory. He finished the season in style, batting.306 (52-for-170), in 43 games with three homers and ten stolen bases in ten attempts. New York finished in third place, five games behind the pennant-winning Cubs.

Myatt spent the winter in San Diego, had surgery for appendicitis in December, and recovered to have a good spring training in 1939. He started the season poorly, however, and was optioned to Jersey City in mid-May. A month later, he was injured in a collision while covering second base. Bone chips had to be removed from his right knee. Disabled, he returned to New York in late summer, having played in only 37 games that season, 22 with the Giants and 15 with Jersey City.

Back in San Diego after the season, Myatt spent the winter working as a hotel clerk and climbing stairs to strengthen his knee. In spring training he lost the third-base job to Burgess Whitehead and was optioned again to Jersey City, where a young Sid Gordon was stationed at the hot corner. The next option for Myatt was the Knoxville Smokies in the Class A Southern Association. In 116 games with Knoxville, he batted .267 and pilfered 16 bases. A most important steal came on September 13, 1940, when he married Billie Ruth Windham in Jackson, Mississippi. Myatt’s first marriage had ended in divorce on October 25, 1938. Under the terms, Georgia Smith Myatt was given permanent custody of their daughter, Dyanna Gail. Myatt’s second marriage produced three sons, Mike, Gene, and Bill.

The Giants gave up on Myatt in the spring of 1941, and sold him to the St. Louis Cardinals on March 25. Optioned to the Columbus (Ohio) Redbirds in the Double-A American Association, he performed solidly for two seasons. The Redbirds captured the pennant and playoffs in 1941. Myatt played second base, batted .296, and swiped 24 bases. The next year Columbus dropped to third place but won the playoffs. Myatt played second base and in the outfield. He stole 32 bases, hit .280, and was named to a utility position on the American Association All-Star team.

In November 1942 the Washington Senators snatched Myatt in the Rule 5 major-league draft. With a 3-A classification in the military draft (deferred because of dependents), he proved to be wartime insurance for the Senators. Myatt played in only 42 games in 1943, logging only 53 at-bats, and hit .245 as a fill-in at second, third, and short. The Senators surprised by finishing in second place, 13½ games behind the Yankees.

When second baseman Jerry Priddy entered the US Navy in 1944, Myatt took over the position with a flourish. In 140 games he batted .284 and stole 26 bases. Most of the time he batted second in the order, behind the speedy outfielder George Case. May 1 was a special day in Myatt’s career: He went 6-for-6, with a double and four RBIs as the Senators topped the Red Sox at Fenway Park, 11-4. Another notable performance came on August 30, when he went 4-for-5 in a 9-4 victory over the Philadelphia Athletics at Shibe Park, stroking a double, triple, and two singles, scoring three times, and stealing a base. Washington collapsed that season, however, falling into the cellar.

The club climbed back to second place in 1945 with a record of 87-67, only 1½ games in back of pennant winner Detroit. The pitching staff, paced by knuckleballer Roger Wolff (20 wins), led the AL in ERA (2.92). The scrappy Washington offense hit just 27 homers, but tallied the third-most runs in the league, 622. Myatt led the Senators with 81 runs scored, tied Case with 30 stolen bases, and finished fifth in AL batting, at .296. He had a pair of four-hit games.

In 1946 Priddy returned from wartime service to reclaim second base. Myatt moved to third base, but he broke his ankle in a freak accident in the dugout on April 17 and that limited him to just 15 games and a .235 BA. In 1947, after appearing in just12 games, 11 as a pinch-hitter, he was sold on May 28 to Jersey City, where he played third base and shortstop. In 110 games, he batted .303 and stole 11 bases.

Chattanooga president Joe Engel signed Myatt as player-manager in 1948. A farm club of the Senators, the Lookouts were at bottom of the heap in the Southern Association standings during Myatt’s stay at the helm. Years later, a Philadelphia sportswriter recapped his career with bemusement: “Despite the organ-toned tonsils, Myatt often employed sight rather than sound coaching. To show a second base runner that he was about to be picked off, Myatt would run straight toward him. If a runner had a chance to score from third base, Myatt would hold up one hand for caution and point to the location of the ball.”4

“I managed a Class D team in a Double-A league,” Myatt told the sportwriter. “I guess I had 17 Cubans on the club and since my Spanish was horrible, the base-running got horrible too. Finally, when I wanted ’em to slide, I’d slide in front of ’em. Worked dandy.”5 The fans there got to witness the unusual sight of two men sliding into third base, sometimes even home plate. If a runner was racing around third, Myatt would run and slide in behind the catcher.

Before he was jettisoned in midseason of 1949, Myatt was a jack-of-all-trades. He played in 97 games in 1948 with a .260 batting average, and 22 games in 1949, batting just .091. He pitched in relief several times, and recorded a single victory without a loss in 1948 and 1949. Myatt finished 1949 as the third of three managers at seventh-place Orlando in the Class D Florida State League, where he closed out his career as a player-manager with a .323 batting average in 63 games.

Good news came in 1950 with a return to the major leagues. When the Senators hired Bucky Harris as manager, he selected Myatt as one of his coaches, and “Foghorn’s” booming voice was heard from the Washington coaching box through 1954. The team failed to move out of the second division, however. It finished in fifth place three times; the only season with a better than .500 record, 78-76, was in 1952.

In regard to his booming voice, Myatt explained, “You have to work to get a horn like this. Personally, I recommend drinking beer with a handful of gravel in it.”6

Harris was replaced by Chuck Dressen after the 1954 season, and Myatt moved on to the White Sox in 1955. Chicago manager Marty Marion favored the “Go-Go White Sox” theme of predecessor Paul Richards, and Myatt’s baserunning experience aided speedsters Minnie Minoso, Jim Rivera, and Luis Aparicio. Chicago’s swiftness did not match up to the superior hitting and pitching of the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians, however. The White Sox finished third in 1955 and 1956.

In 1957 Marion was replaced by Al Lopez, and Myatt was out of a job again. The other Chicago team had also changed skippers, and Bob Scheffing, who took over the Cubs, hired Myatt. The Chicago press saluted “Foghorn” by saying, “The loudest voice in baseball will be heard from the third base coaching lines in Wrigley Field next season.”7

Scheffing never produced a finish higher than fifth place with the Cubs, and he was removed after the 1959 campaign. Shortstop Ernie Banks, a future Hall of Famer who played well at shjortstop, credited Myatt for suggesting that he play deeper and more straightaway.8

Fired along with Scheffing, Myatt resurfaced in Milwaukee in 1960. Chuck Dressen had replaced manager Fred Haney there, and chose Myatt to coach third base and also to help make the Braves into a running team. Dressen’s first year resulted in a second-place finish, and in 1961, with 25 games left in the season and the club in third place, he was fired and Myatt was out of a job again. In 1962 he was reunited with Scheffing, who had moved to manage Detroit in 1961. With Myatt coaching at third, the Tigers dropped to fourth place. With the team in ninth place in July 1963, Scheffing was given the ax and Myatt was out of a job again.

Not for long. Phillies manager Gene Mauch hired Myatt in 1964 to be the third-base coach. The Phillies had been in the NL cellar in 1960 and 1961. A young, rebuilding team, they gained confidence, jumped to fourth place in 1963, and hoped to advance still higher in 1964.

The power hitting of third baseman Richie Allen and All-Star right-fielder Johnny Callison, along with the starting pitching of Jim Bunning and Chris Short, kept the 1964 Phillies in first place until late September, when a devastating ten-game losing streak ruined their season. St. Louis won the pennant by a single game over Cincinnati and Philadelphia. It was the closest Myatt came to being in uniform for a World Series.

In 1965 the Phillies dropped to sixth place, and followed with fourth- and fifth-place finishes the next two years. On June 15, 1968, with the team in sixth place with a 27-27 record, Mauch was fired and was replaced by Bob Skinner. Myatt manned the helm that evening, and the club responded with a 6-5 win over the Dodgers. Skinner came aboard the next day, and the club ended the campaign in seventh place.

With 1969 expansion, the National League consisted of two six-team divisions. The controversial and often moody Allen was a constant thorn in Skinner’s side, and the pilot resigned on August 6, 1969, with the team in fifth place in the six-team NL East. Myatt became interim manager for the final 54 games of the season, posting a record of 19-35.

Several candidates were under consideration to pilot the Phillies in 1970, including Myatt. Frank Lucchesi, a successful manager at several stops with Philadelphia’s minor-league affiliates, won the job. He retained Foghorn, stating, “Myatt is not the best third-base coach in the NL, he’s the best in baseball.”

Hall of Famer Al Simmons, who had coached at Cleveland after his career as a player, once said, “Coaching at third base is the toughest job on the club. The coach on third gets all the blame when things go wrong, and he gets some of the credit when things go right. Yet a good coach can win a dozen or more games a season. A bad coach can lose that many – except, he doesn’t last that long.”9

Lucchesi piloted the Phillies to fifth place in 1970, followed by a cellar finish the following year during their first season in Veterans Stadium. On July 9, 1972, with the club in last place, Lucchesi and his third-base coach Myatt were fired. The baseball career of 58-year-old George “Mercury-Foghorn-Stud” Myatt was over.

Myatt remained active around the home he had purchased in Orlando, Florida, in 1946, dabbling with golf and gardening and regaling visitors with baseball stories. He attended spring-training games at Orlando’s Tinker Field, and in 1992 was voted into the Central Florida Sports Hall of Fame. Myatt’s middle son, Eugene Shotton Myatt, also had a story: “My father named me for three ballplayers: Gene Moore, a Washington teammate in ’43; Burt Shotton, the Columbus manager in ’41; and George Myatt, my daddy!”10

Bedridden the last several years of his life, Myatt suffered from a broken back, and a battle with cancer. He died of congestive heart failure on September 14, 2000, at the age of 86.

 

This biography is included in the book "The Year of the Blue Snow: The 1964 Philadelphia Phillies" (SABR, 2013), edited by Mel Marmer and Bill Nowlin. For more information or to purchase the book in e-book or paperback form, click here.

 

Sources

George McDonald, telephone interview on November 11, 2009.

Gene Myatt, telephone interview on January 19, 2012.

Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, eds. Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, 3rd Ed. (Durham, North Carolina: Baseball America, 2007).

Pete Palmer and John Thorn, eds., Total Baseball, 2nd Edition (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1991)

Also consulted were the player’s file in the Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet-org, Genealogybank.com, and SanDiegohistory.org.

The author would like to extend special thanks to George McDonald, Gene Myatt, and Ray Nemec.

 

Notes

1 Interview by the author with Gene Myatt, George Myatt’s son, January 19, 2012.

2 Interview with Gene Myatt.

3 Frank O’Neill, The Sporting News January 4, 1945; also appeared in a column by E. Gazel, The Sporting News, n.d.

4 Sandy Grady, “Double-Slide Foghorn – That’s New Phil Weapon,” Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, n.d., reprinted in The Sporting News, April 11, 1964, 35

5 Ibid. Baseball-reference.com shows only four identifiable Cubans on the team roster.

6 Ibid.

7 “Myatt Named As Cub Coach,” The Sporting News, November 15, 1956.

8 The Sporting News, March 23, 1960, 14.

9 Fred Stein, “Managers and Coaches,” Total Baseball, 2nd edition, 461.

10 Interview with Gene Myatt.

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