Roy and Bessie Largent
There have been many famous husband-wife teams who shared a career, each partner making contributions to their success. George Burns and Gracie Allen. Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Johnny Cash and June Carter. Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Isis and Osiris and the six wives of King Henry VIII to name a few. In a male-dominated sport such as baseball it is surprising to find such a couple: long-time Chicago White Sox scouts Roy and Bessie Largent.
The Largents were equal partners in their scouting endeavors, with Bessie being the first full-time paid female professional baseball scout. The Sporting News said in 1933 that the Largents have "the eyes and judgment of a man; the cleverness and intuition of a woman." According to the Dallas Morning News the White Sox regarded them as a tandem, paid them accordingly, with checks monthly, the year round.
According to published reports, the Largents signed over a hundred and fifty players for the White Sox system between 1925 and 1943 with twenty five of them making the major leagues. Their most distinguished signee was Hall of Fame short stop Luke Appling.
Roy Issac Largent was born September 28, 1879 in Collin County, Texas, the son of Issac Largent and Laura (Huffman) Largent. The 1900 census says he worked in a dry goods store. Roy then played college baseball at the University of Texas in 1902. He was offered a minor league baseball contract but turned it down to work for the Dallas News because he would make more money.
For a time he worked as a sportswriter and served as the official scorer of the Texas-Oklahoma league. Roy served as the President of a Sunday school league, which he was quoted as saying was his toughest job. He was the Director of Athletics at McKinney High School for about fifteen years. He also coached baseball at McKinney which served as his entry point into the scouting profession.
Roy's main occupation was serving as the Secretary of the Local Elks club. He held this position for twenty six years. Known as a great games player, Roy was said to have held checkers championship in three states. He was called a shark at chess, an expert in billiards and pool and one of the best dominos players in baseball.
Bessie Hamilton was born March 24, 1882 in McKinney, Texas, daughter of John William Hamilton and Leona (Bailey) Hamilton. Her father served in Co. I, 30th Texas Cavalry of the Confederate States Army during the Civil War. He was a prominent contractor and builder of the city of McKinney. Bessie lived her entire life on family property on North Church Street in McKinney. Roy and Bessie were married in 1904 and Roy moved into the Hamiltons' home.
Bessie worked as a music teacher before marrying Roy. She played the pipe organ, piano and violin. She basically traded her music career for one in baseball. She was a Sunday school teacher and organist at the First Methodist Church. She served for a time as President of the Owl Club, a literary society, President of the City Federation and a sponsor of the Free Library. Having no children of their own, the Largents helped raise three orphan children. One was a niece, Marie Hamilton.
Roy's playing background and coaching experience led to scouts asking his opinion on local players. He began his career in scouting serving as a sort of recommending scout, offering advice on players to full-time scouts. Chicago White Sox official Lou Comiskey asked him to check out a player, was pleased with the information provided, and decided to hire him as a full-time scout in 1925.
Bessie first became interested in baseball when Roy was the coach of the McKinney High School Lions and she served as the scorekeeper. Published accounts say that Bessie had a knack for picking out the best players. Bessie actually began her scouting career as Roy's secretary. Referred to as shy and timid she soon grew into the role, becoming "Roy's ears," due to his being hearing impaired. It appears Roy had lost part or all of his hearing by about 1910.
Bessie handled the communication with players, managers, minor league club owners and the White Sox front office. She often communicated with Roy using a note pad. It wasn't long before newspapers were recording that "Mrs. Largent is just as much a scout as Roy."
Published accounts give an idea of the work ethic of the Largents during their scouting years. In a fourteen-year span the Largents traveled 840,000 miles and attended 2,800 games in search of prospects. They saw as many as four games a day, between two hundred and two hundred and fifty in a season.
One of their earliest signings, in 1926, was George Cox of McKinney, their hometown. A right handed pitcher Cox debuted with the White Sox in 1928, winning one game and losing two in his only season in the big leagues. Three years later the White Sox defeated the McKinney High School team 20-4 in a preseason game that honored Roy and George. Cox hurled most of the game for the White Sox while his brother Red Cox hurled part of the game for the McKinney Lions.
With his experience in running tryout camps Roy was sent in February of 1931 to San Antonio to check on preparations for the White Sox's spring training site. He was in charge of making sure the field conditions were adequate and accommodations for players were ready.
The Largents did not always agree on the players they scouted, each serving as a sounding board for the other. In what might a good cop/bad cop routine the Washington Post reported in 1932 that Roy had discovered Carl Reynolds, the shortstop of Southwestern University at Waxahachie. Roy talked to him, but Reynolds did not sign a contract. Largent brought Bessie with him the next time, and Reynolds signed.
Perhaps their greatest sign was shortstop Luke Appling, who went on to a Hall of Fame career. The October 27, 1936 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune gave the inside scoop. Arch Ward, in his "Talking it Over" column said " the alertness of Mrs. Roy Largent, wife of the White Sox scout, was responsible for Lou Comiskey's purchase of Luke Appling... she thought so well of Appling's major league possibilities that she telephoned the Chicago office to sign him, although the price was considered rather high at the time." Appling went on to hit .310 in his twenty-year career.
The Largents' ability to sign prospects was never better shown than in a 1936 Dallas Morning News feature. The story reported the White Sox had opened their spring training camp at Pasadena, California, on February 23 with sixteen players and coach Billy Webb--all Largent products out of a squad of thirty-one!
In 1937, Honus Wagner, the former player, was serving as the high commissioner of Semi-Pro baseball. He named Roy as the representative of the White Sox on the All-American board comprised of sixteen scouts, one from each major league organization. This group of scouts selected an All-American team from amateur and semi-professional players each year during the National Semi-Pro finals at held in Wichita, Kansas. Both Roy and Bessie consistently attended the National Semi-Pro tournament each summer.
The following year, Bessie was named as chairman of the board of the National Baseball Congress to select the All-American semi-pro team for 1938. She had the responsibility to select the other scouts to serve with her. Bessie retained this position for the next few years.
In 1939, the Los Angeles Times reported Bessie mailed seventy five letters to scouts inviting them to attend the eight hundred semi-pro tournaments conducted by the National Semi-Pro Baseball Congress with a view of selecting the All American team. The White Sox scout was the selection committee chairman.
The Largents in the late 1930s were being noticed in circles outside of baseball. A news story stated Roy had accepted a Lt. Colonel's position on Governor James V.Allred's staff. Another said Bessie would appear on the radio program "It Can Be Done" on Chicago station WLS.
In 1938 a tragedy occurred that had a link to the Largents. Monty Stratton, a pitcher they had signed, was hunting rabbits and accidentally shot himself in the leg with a pistol. The leg had to be amputated, thus ending Stratton's career, or so it seemed. Stratton had pitched parts of five seasons in the majors, twice winning fifteen games and being a member of the American League All Star team in 1937.
Stratton, pitching on a wooden leg, attempted a comeback in 1942, but was not successful. After World War II he tried again. In 1946, pitching for Sherman of the East Texas League, he won eighteen games! Stratton went on to pitch in the 1947, 1949, 1950 and 1953 seasons in the minor leagues. His tale was filmed in the movie The Monty Stratton Story, starring Jimmy Stewart.
Roy passed away on September 26, 1943, and was buried on his birthday in the Pecan Grove cemetery in McKinney. Some sources say for a short time after Roy's death, Bessie continued to scout before her arthritis forced her to retire. Other sources say the job ended with Roy's death. During the last five years of their scouting career Bessie's arthritis became so bad she had to be helped from the car into ballgames and hotels. She eventually used a wheelchair. She later became bedridden, cared for by her sister Daisy and niece Marie Hamilton, who resided in the family home.
In 1946 Edith Houghton was hired as a scout by the Philadelphia Phillies. Some news stories erroneously referred to her as the first female scout, which was quickly refuted by George White in the Dallas Morning News. In the February 28, 1946, edition he said "Philly scribes calling Edith Houghton the first female scout are wrong. For many years Bessie Largent has been an accredited, full-salaried scout of the ChiSox."
In 1949 a crippled Bessie received a wonderful tribute from the hometown Burnett Field fans. Bedfast, unable to walk, she was brought to Dallas by ambulance and honored in a moving ceremony at home plate. Monty Stratton was on hand to pay tribute. She received $425 in cash earned from the sale of prized autographed balls and other baseball memorabilia.
Even though Bessie could not easily leave her home, she tried to keep her hand in the game. An article in The Sporting News quoted Bessie asking former players she had signed to correspond with her. She was a member of the Poetry Society of Texas, and spent much of her time composing verse. She had some poems published, including one published in The Sporting News quoted below.
Together in death as in life Bessie died on Roy's birthday, at the Wilson Rest Home in McKinney on September 28, 1958, at age 76. She is buried beside Roy in the Pecan Grove cemetery.
"The Rookie", by Mrs. Roy Largent
A rookie went up in the spring,
And utmost confidence wore,
His own praises always would sing,
Until all the team at him swore.
He said "Just watch how I swing,
I'll soon be a Cobb or a Ruth.
Get your best pitcher to fling,
To show you I'm telling the truth."
The manager, who was always joking,
Called in a catcher to pitch.
He threw in one that was smoking,
And tried the poor boy to bewitch.
He told them "To just throw a curve
And I will hit with a wham."
It must be that he lost his nerve,
For he got himself in a jam.
Crestfallen, he walked from the plate,
With bowed head sat on the bench.
Thought 'twas time he was pulling his freight
As both of his fists did clench.
A ballplayer is such a good fellow
And when they saw how he felt
They rushed out to him with a "Hello,"
And put their arms round his belt.
"Say, boy, that was your initiation,
We know just what you can do,
But don't be a poor imitation,
Just Honest to Goodness You."
Roy and Bessie's signings include: Luke Appling, George Blackerby, Zeke Bonura, Bruce Campbell, Bud Clancy, George Cox, Larry Drake, Vic Frasier, Dave Harris, Ira Hutchinson, Irv Jeffries, Smead Jolley, Harry Kinzy, Hugo Klaerner, Mark Mauldin, Tom McBride, Alex Metzler, Randy Moore, Bill Norman, Rip Radcliff, Carl Reynolds, Art Shires, Monty Stratton, Joe Vance, George Washington, and Johnny Watwood,
Obituary, Daily Courier Gazette, McKinney, Texas,Friday, September 26, 1958
Leona Hamilton's Widow's Application for Confederate Pension.
World War I Draft Registration card
Dallas Morning News, 1906, 08, 20, 22, 25, 26, 29, 31-3, 35-41, 44, 46, 49
Washington Post, 1932, 37, 38
New York Times, 1941
The Sporting News, 1933, 35, 37, 39, 58
Chicago Tribune, 1936, 37, 39
Los Angeles Times, 1937-9, 43, 58
"Who signed who" database of the Scouts Committee, Society for American Baseball Research.
Scouts roster database of the Scouts Committee, Society for American Baseball Research.
McKinney, Collin County, Texas, Census: 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930