SABR

George Watkins

This article was written by John J. Watkins.

On June 23, 1931, sportswriter Walter W. Smith encountered George Watkins, the St. Louis Cardinals right fielder, in the lobby of Philadelphia’s Franklin Hotel, where the team was staying for a series against the Phillies. Both men were relatively new to their jobs; Smith had begun covering the team for the St. Louis Star the previous season, when Watkins was a 30-year-old rookie. That day in Philadelphia, Smith – who was to become nationally known as “Red” –could see that Watkins was not feeling well. The ballplayer “walked into the drug store, downed a mighty dollop of castor oil neat, and retired to his room.”1

The next day Watkins was in the lineup for both games of a midweek doubleheader at the Baker Bowl. After singling and scoring a run in the opener, the left-handed hitter slugged three consecutive home runs in the second game, tying what was then the modern major-league record. St. Louis won both games 4-2, with Watkins driving in all four runs in the second contest.

The Cardinals met the Dodgers at Ebbets Field on June 25. Through six innings, the game was scoreless as Brooklyn’s Dazzy Vance worked on a perfect game and St. Louis rookie Paul Derringer allowed only four singles. With two outs in the seventh, Watkins beat out a two-strike bunt and moved to third on Jim Bottomley’s single to center. With Ernie Orsatti at the plate, Vance made two lazy throws to first base, as was his custom. On the second, Watkins took off and slid across the plate with a stolen base and the game’s only run.

“One day, he hits three out of sight and you think he’s Babe Ruth,” Cardinals manager Gabby Street told Smith. “The next day, he knows he can’t hit Vance so he bunts. Then he plays it like Ty Cobb. I’m telling you, a quitter never wins and a winner never quits. …Watkins is a winner.”2

There was an encore four months later on a bigger stage: Game Seven of the World Series. The Cardinals won their second consecutive National League pennant in 1931 and faced Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics, who the previous year had dispatched them in six games. Pepper Martin, Watkins’ roommate on the road and his hunting companion in the offseason, sparked the Cardinals to three wins through five games, but his bat then fell silent. After the Redbirds managed only five hits off Lefty Grove in an 8-1 loss at Sportsman’s Park in the sixth game, St. Louis fans apparently feared the worst. Only 20,800 turned out for Game Seven on October 10.

The Cardinals won 4-2 behind the pitching of 38-year-old Burleigh Grimes, whose inflamed appendix required treatment before the game and after each turn on the mound. On offense, Watkins accounted for three of the four runs with an aggressive baserunning play and a two-run homer.

In the first inning, Watkins looped a single down the left-field line against A’s starter George Earnshaw. After advancing to third on a sacrifice bunt and a wild pitch, he dashed home when catcher Mickey Cochrane dropped the third strike to Ernie Orsatti and threw to first for the putout. He slid hard into Cochrane as Jimmie Foxx’s return throw arrived, the ball skidding away. “It was a daring play,” commented Giants manager John McGraw, “and Watkins got away with it.”3

Third baseman Andy High, who had also singled and scored in the first inning, led off the third with another base hit. Street instructed Watkins to hit away on the first pitch and bunt on the second. There was no second pitch. Earnshaw threw a high fastball, and the left-handed hitter drove it over the roof of the right-field pavilion. The two-run shot sent the crowd “into a frenzy,” reported the Associated Press. “It was the last hit off Earnshaw, but it was the blow that decided the game.”4 For the first time, a home run provided the margin of victory in Game Seven. One sportswriter called it “the richest four-bagger ever smacked by a world series mortal” because it was worth $45,000 – the difference between the winners’ and losers’ share of the $224,200 player pool.5

Watkins spent four seasons in St. Louis after five in the minors. “He could have been cast as a Texas Ranger, rawhided and relentless … as lean as Gary Cooper’s screen conversation,” wrote Bob Broeg, sports editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who as a youth had seen Watkins play.6 Teammate Andy High confirmed that the Texan “was as tough as he looked.”7 And he could hit. Watkins batted .309 with the Cardinals from 1930 through 1933, an average that 80 years later still ranked in the top ten on the club’s list of career batting leaders.8 In 1992 Broeg chose him as one of the 100 players having had the most impact in the franchise’s first 100 years of National League play.9

After dividing the 1934-1936 seasons among the Giants, Phillies, and Dodgers, Watkins finished his major-league career with a .288 batting average and a reputation as a gritty, hard-nosed player who, as writer and editor Joe Reichler recalled, “was at his best in the clutch.”10 Pepper Martin agreed. “Watkins had the greatest competitive spirit of any ball player I’ve ever known,” Martin said in an interview after his playing days were over. “He wasn’t a great hitter, not exceptionally fast and didn’t have a great arm. But he had the biggest heart in the world and when the chips were down he was one tough hombre.”11

George Archibald Watkins was born on June 4, 1900, on the family farm in east Texas, near the small town of Butler in Freestone County.12 He was the seventh child of his namesake and the former Adelia Dixon, who was widowed two months before the boy’s birth. Of Welsh and Scots-Irish descent, the redheaded boy would later show flashes of his Celtic heritage as a ballplayer.

When George was a small child, the family moved about 20 miles northeast to the outskirts of Palestine, the county seat of Anderson County. He attended the Palestine schools but learned baseball from his oldest sibling, Henry, a talented semipro player who, after the death of their father, had begun working full-time at age 13 to help support the family.13 “Henry has been a father to me, and he alone is responsible for my progress,” George told a journalist in 1931. “Those who knew him in his younger days say he was a remarkable ball player, better than I am at my best.”14

George got his first glimpse of major-league baseball in the spring of 1916, when the St. Louis Browns trained at Palestine. It was the club’s first of two spring camps in the city, and the teenager was able to watch several notable ballplayers in action, including Del Pratt, Burt Shotton, and future Hall of Famers Eddie Plank and George Sisler. Palestine also fielded a team in the Class D East Texas League for the 1916 season, but the league folded in July because some clubs had not received adequate financial backing.

In early August 1917, four months after the United States entered World War I, Watkins ran away from home, made his way to Houston, and joined the Navy. A skinny kid at 5-feet-9 and 135 pounds, he had just turned 17 but told the recruiter he was a year older to avoid having to obtain his mother’s approval to enlist. The Navy first sent him to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, north of Chicago, and then to an airfield in Miami, where he tried out for and won a spot on the baseball team. He ended his two-year hitch as a quartermaster first class.

Returning to Texas, Watkins went to work in the state’s booming oil and gas industry. After some time in the oil fields, he landed a job in Houston with the Sinclair Oil Company, which in 1918 had built the city’s first major refinery. Work at the facility was sometimes dangerous, as George knew all too well; his brother Robert had died in an accident there in 1920. But the job offered a fringe benefit: a baseball team in Houston’s competitive amateur leagues.

In 1924, Watkins – who by then stood 6 feet tall and weighed 160 pounds – played first base on the Sinclair squad that won the city championship, defeating a team that included his future major-league teammate Gus Mancuso. That fall Marv Goodwin, manager of the Texas League’s Houston Buffaloes, organized a series of exhibition games pitting the city’s top amateurs against a team of professionals, including some major leaguers. Watkins performed well enough for the local squad that the Buffs offered him a contract for 1925. The Cardinals owned a controlling interest in the Houston club and would soon purchase it outright.

Watkins again lied about his age when he signed with the St. Louis organization, this time subtracting two years because of his late start in Organized Baseball. In 1925, when he was a 25-year-old rookie playing Class D ball at Marshall in the resurrected East Texas League, the roster of the parent Cardinals included four outfielders the same age or younger, including his future teammates Chick Hafey and Taylor Douthit. Watkins hit over .300 during two seasons in Class D and another on loan to the Beaumont club of the Class A Texas League, but injuries cut short his playing time at both levels.15

His breakout year came at Houston in 1928 when the Buffs won 104 games, defeated the Wichita Falls Spudders in the Texas League championship playoffs, and beat Southern Association winner Birmingham in the Dixie Series. Playing center field, Watkins hit .306, led the club with 14 home runs and 117 runs batted in, and had a league-best 21 triples. He averaged .467 in the playoffs and was voted the most valuable Houston player of the Dixie Series for his defense; as The Sporting News put it, he was “an entire outfield by himself.”16

Years later, Fred Ankenman, longtime president of the Houston club, chose an all-star team of Buffs players from his 22 seasons with the team. Watkins was the center fielder, flanked by Hall of Famers Chick Hafey and Joe Medwick. A fan favorite because of his roots in the city’s amateur leagues and his aggressive playing style, Watkins was “one of the best liked players ever to wear a Houston uniform.”17 He also became known as a player who never backed down from a fight. In July 1928 he took on Spudders catcher Pete Lapan, “perhaps the most feared Texas Leaguer of the time.”18 The altercation occurred at Wichita Falls when Watkins stepped in to hit, and police separated the two players after several punches were thrown.

At Rochester in the Double-A International League in 1929, Watkins proved that his season at Houston had not been a fluke. As the Red Wings ran away with the International League pennant, he batted .337 to lead the club, hit safely in 30 consecutive games, and was named to the league all-star team. He again made his mark as a fierce competitor. “Watkins was an atom of energy who reckoned the season a failure because the team failed to win 162 straight games,” wrote Rochester baseball historian Bill McCarthy. “He never wanted to lose.”19 And in another fight with an opposing catcher, Watkins bloodied former footballer Luke Urban of Buffalo after a late-season game.

Watkins also revealed his inventive side with the Red Wings. Having grown dissatisfied with the flip-up sunglasses then available, he worked with a Rochester optical firm to develop a model more to his liking. His sunglasses were widely used in the major leagues by the mid-1930s, and he received a royalty from each sale. In 1935 the shades sold for $16.50, the same price as a pair of spikes. The sunglasses came in handy when Watkins moved up to St. Louis at the start of the 1930 season. After a month or so of pinch-hitting duty, manager Gabby Street made him the regular right fielder, although Street usually turned to Ray Blades or Ernie Orsatti when a southpaw was on the mound. At Sportsman’s Park Watkins had to deal with a “mean sun” in right field, which one sportswriter called “about the most unpleasant terrain in the major leagues.”20

The 1930 Cardinals struggled through most of a miserably hot summer before mounting a furious stretch drive to win their third pennant in five years. Watkins did his part by putting together one of the best rookie seasons in major-league history. In September, when the club’s record was a remarkable 21-4, he hit .440 and drove in 27 runs. “Now I begin to understand why Gabby insists on giving you a uniform,” Branch Rickey wrote him by telegram on September 23, when the team was in Philadelphia.21 Overall, Watkins batted .373, slugged .621, hit 17 home runs, and drove in 87 runs in 119 games. He finished sixth in the National League in batting average and slugging percentage22 and earned one of the nine spots on The Sporting News “All-Star Recruit Team,” made up of rookies from both leagues.

Although the Cardinals lost the World Series to the Athletics, Watkins had a memorable moment at Shibe Park in the second game. The rookie came to bat for the first time in the Series with one out in the second inning and the bases empty. He hammered a George Earnshaw fastball high over the right-field wall, becoming the first National League player to hit a home run in his initial World Series plate appearance. It was the only run the Cardinals could manage in a 6-1 loss.

Batting averages fell sharply across the National League in 1931, when the ball was deadened and the sacrifice fly was eliminated from the scoring rules. Watkins’ average dropped to .288, but another factor also played a role in his case: Opposing pitchers learned that he was susceptible to the changeup. “He’d pull it way foul or miss it completely,” Andy High recalled.23 Even with a deader ball and more wily moundsmen, Watkins had a solid season while again managing to get into a fight with a catcher, Al Lopez of the Dodgers.24 He finished in the National League’s top ten in home runs, triples, steals, and runs scored as the Cardinals broke open the pennant race, finishing 13 games in front with a 101-53 record. Although that St. Louis team seems almost forgotten today, forever in the shadow of the 1934 Gas House Gang, two stalwarts on both – Frankie Frisch and Pepper Martin – considered the 1931 club the best.25

Sportswriters made St. Louis the favorite to repeat as the National League champion in 1932, and Gabby Street predicted a good season for Watkins. “I’d be surprised and disappointed if George Watkins doesn’t add twenty-five points to his batting average,” the manager said. “He is a smart and determined player. He had trouble with slow balls for a time last year, but he was hitting them hard before the season closed.”26 The injury-plagued Cardinals stumbled to a 72-82 record and a sixth-place tie with the Giants, but Watkins made Street appear clairvoyant by improving his average 24 points with the same ball used in 1931. He hit .312, second on the club, and led the team with a .384 on-base percentage (eighth in the league), 35 doubles, and 45 walks. He also stole 18 bases, tied with Frisch for third in the league.

The Cardinals improved to 82-71 in 1933 but still finished in the second division: fifth place, 9½ games behind the champion Giants. It was not a good season for Gabby Street, who was replaced by Frankie Frisch at midseason, or for Watkins, who slipped to a .278 batting average with fewer extra-base hits. He also drew criticism for his defense, although his fielding record did not differ significantly from his previous numbers with the Cardinals or at Houston and Rochester. His aggressive playing style was to blame for some of his errors; according to Andy High, he had a tendency to gamble defensively, perhaps too much. “If a pitcher complained to him about taking too great a chance,” High said, “Watty might haul off and let him have one.”27

In 1934 Watkins made what in hindsight was the worst decision of his career. He held out, refusing to agree to a contract that substantially cut his salary, perhaps by more than 25 percent.28 There were three other holdouts when training camp opened, including rookie pitcher Paul Dean, but they eventually capitulated. Watkins adhered to his demands and was traded to the Giants, who paid him the salary he wanted. But he did not play well and was made the scapegoat when the New Yorkers famously folded down the stretch and lost the pennant to the hard-charging Cardinals.

New York player-manager Bill Terry obtained Watkins to replace center fielder Kiddo Davis, a solid defensive player not considered a threat at the plate. Watkins, however, began the season in an awful slump; at the end of April he was hitting .091 (3-for-33). Part of the problem may have been that he was not yet in top shape. In addition to missing most of spring training by holding out, he apparently had offseason surgery to remove a kidney, a procedure about which the Cardinals and Giants were presumably unaware.29 Also, Watkins had not played center field since his days at Houston and Rochester, and he had difficulty adapting to the wide expanse of the oddly configured Polo Grounds. In any event, he became a part-time player and ended the season with a .247 batting average, six home runs, and nine errors in 68 games in center field.

After the Giants’ collapse, Terry initially said that no one was to blame for the slump. Later, however, he pointed the finger at Watkins. “I lost the pennant when I traded [Kiddo] Davis for George Watkins,” he said. “Watkins cost us five or six games that Davis would have won for us.”30 Watkins was incensed at Terry’s comments, which included no specifics. The veteran indeed had an off-year, but he was on the bench when the Giants’ lead began to evaporate in September, limited to pinch-hitting and pinch-running duties. Terry put him back in the lineup for the last five games of the season, and Watkins responded by hitting .368 (7-for-19) with a home run and a .455 on-base percentage while playing errorless ball in center field.

Traded to the lowly Phillies a month after the season ended, Watkins was determined to bounce back in 1935 under player-manager Jimmie Wilson, his former teammate in St. Louis. Although a late-season swoon dropped his batting average to .270, he had 162 hits, 17 home runs, and 76 RBIs while leading the league’s left fielders with 13 assists. Along the way he got great pleasure from a 3-for-4 afternoon with a home run in an early-season rout of the Giants, played in the first major-league night game, and was in the lineup when Babe Ruth, then of the Boston Braves, made his final appearance as a player.

In 1936 Watkins got off to a good start, “playing a whirlwind game, both at bat and afield.”31 But he tore the nail off his left index finger at Boston on April 24, a slump followed, and Philadelphia sold his contract to Brooklyn on May 15.32 Manager Casey Stengel needed outfield help and immediately put Watkins in the lineup. In his first 30 games with the Dodgers, the veteran hit .340 with 15 extra-base hits despite being hampered by leg and shoulder injuries from encounters with the outfield walls in Pittsburgh and Chicago. The hot streak did not last. Watkins finished the season with a .253 average overall and a .255 mark in 105 games with Brooklyn, where he also served as Stengel’s “semi-official adviser.”33

The Dodgers fired Stengel after the season and gave Watkins his unconditional release on February 17, 1937. Watkins told a Houston sportswriter that he had asked for the release rather than play for a salary only slightly higher that minor-league pay, particularly since his sporting-goods store, opened the previous year at a prime downtown location, was growing rapidly.34 Soon, however, he found a way to continue playing baseball while keeping an eye on the store. On March 29 Watkins signed a contract with the hometown Buffs, the club that had given him a chance in 1924.35 The deal came with the condition that he play left field, where the fence featured a sign advertising his sporting-goods store. The sign included a large bell, and any hitter who rang it collected $50. “I want to stay in front of that bell,” Watkins explained. “No player on the other side is going to get $50 from me if I can help it.”36

Apparently, no one did. Otherwise, Watkins did not have a memorable season to close out his professional career. Handicapped by leg injuries, he hit .273 with no home runs in 100 games as the Buffs struggled to a 67-91 record and a seventh-place finish in the eight-team Texas League. The ’37 Houston club is memorable only because its roster included three future major-league managers: Walter Alston, Herman Franks, and Johnny Keane.

In January 1938 Watkins received an offer from veteran manager Bill McKechnie, who was preparing to take over the Cincinnati Reds, to serve as one of his coaches. “Deacon Bill” had known Watkins since managing part of the season at Rochester in 1929 and had watched him in action from the opposing dugout as manager of the Boston Braves. After initially accepting the offer, Watkins declined in order to focus on his sporting-goods business. Undeterred, McKechnie made clear that the offer remained open as long as he managed a major-league team.37

Watkins remained a small businessman in the Houston area the rest of his life, except for a period during World War II when he took a defense-related job with North American Aviation near Dallas. By then he had sold his sporting-goods store to a Waco company that produced its own line of athletic equipment. His next venture was a frozen-food locker. These facilities provided food storage in the era before household freezers were common, in addition to processing meat and, in Watkins’ case, wild game. He operated the locker for almost 20 years and had other business interests as well, including part-ownership of a chemical company.

Watkins was married twice. His first marriage, to Bessie Dunham, began on the eve of his professional baseball career and ended in divorce during World War II. Raised on a farm near the central Texas town of Rockdale, Bessie shared George’s enjoyment of the outdoors. She was a good shot, having won a state skeet shooting championship, and once brought home the only deer on a hunting trip with her husband and some of his former teammates. In May 1944 George married Mildred Dixon of Houston, and they remained together until his death 26 years later.

Although he had no children, Watkins devoted considerable time and money over the years to youth sports programs. Through his sporting-goods business, for example, he sponsored boys and girls basketball teams in local leagues and AAU competition. He was involved with youth baseball as early as 1938, when he aided former Houston Buffs teammate Carey Selph in organizing leagues for junior players. Coaching was a particular pleasure. From the late 1930s through the mid-1950s, Watkins was an instructor at baseball schools or camps for teenagers.

His primary outlet for coaching, however, was the Houston Professional Baseball Players Association, a group of men who had played or were then playing in Organized Baseball. Watkins once served as president of the organization, which financially supported youth baseball and, via its members, offered assistance in the finer points of the game. In 1956 the organization recognized him for “his long service in behalf of teenage baseball.”38

Through the HPBPA, Watkins helped coach the varsity and summer-league teams at Houston’s St. Thomas High School, a state baseball power in the 1950s. “The best thing about Watty was not only his knowledge of the game but really how encouraging he was to all of us,” remembered Mike Mulvihill, a pitcher and outfielder for St. Thomas who later played on Oklahoma State’s 1959 national championship team. “He was a great guy [and] a real inspiration to me and many others.”39

Watkins’ health began to fail by the mid-1960s. Having only one kidney was no doubt a complicating factor, but his major medical issues were alcohol-related. He had been a functioning alcoholic for many years, although there is no indication that drinking had been a problem during his baseball career, as it was with so many players of his era. At this time, he and Mildred were residing in Barker, a small community in what was then a rural area about 20 miles west of downtown Houston. They lived modestly on savings and his Social Security benefits.

In the spring of 1970, Watkins’ physical and mental health had deteriorated to the point that on April 2 he was admitted to the state hospital in Austin. He died there of cirrhosis of the liver on June 1, three days before his 70th birthday. He is buried in the family plot at Broyles Chapel Cemetery, outside Palestine, not far from where his brother Henry taught him to play baseball.

 

Sources

In addition to the materials cited in the notes, the author relied on the following:

Berkow, Ira, Red: A Biography of Red Smith (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007).

Brands, Edgar M., “Between Innings,” The Sporting News, January 14, 1937, 4.

Brandt, William E., “Story of the Game Told Play by Play,” New York Times, October 3, 1930, 32.

Broeg, Bob, The Pilot Light and the Gas House Gang (St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1980).

Burton, Charles, “The Inside Story,” Dallas Morning News, April 9, 1952, sec. 1, 17.

Carter, Craig (ed.), The Sporting News Official World Series Records, 1903-1982 (St. Louis: The Sporting News Publishing Co., 1982).

Hinton, Diana D., and Roger M. Olien, Oil in Texas: The Gusher Age, 1895-1945 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002).

Johnson, Lloyd, and Miles Wolff, The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, 2nd edition (Durham, North Carolina: Baseball America, Inc., 1997).

Levenson, Barry, The Seventh Game (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004).

Mann, Arthur, Branch Rickey: American in Action (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1957).

Niese, Joe, Burleigh Grimes: Baseball’s Last Legal Spitballer (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2013).

Paretchan, Harold R., The World Series: The Statistical Record (New York: A.S. Barnes & Co., revised edition 1974).

Snyder, John, Cardinals Journal: Year by Year & Day by Day With the St. Louis Cardinals Since 1882 (Cincinnati: Emmis Books 2006).

Stockton, J. Roy, The Gas House Gang and a Couple of Other Guys (New York: A.S. Barnes & Co., 1945).

Westcott, Rich, Philadelphia’s Old Ballparks (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996).

Wright, Marshall, The Texas League in Baseball, 1888-1958 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2004).

Cushing, Elliot, “Slants on Sports,” Rochester Democrat-Chronicle, September 5, 1929, 21.

Dawson, James P., “Phils Rout Giants, 18-7, Under a 23-Hit Barrage, New York Times, April 20, 1935, 18.

Eisenbath, Mike, “Cards of ’30s Brightened Dark Decade,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 17, 1992, 1F.

Haley, Martin J., “Cards Trim Phils Twice by 4-2 Scores; Watkins Raps Three Homers in Nightcap and Rhem Permits Only Six Blows,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 25, 1931, 16.

_______, “Watkins Steals Home to Give Cards 1-0 Verdict Over Robins,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 26, 1931, 14.

_______, “Watkins and High Get All Five of Birds’ Hits, Former Crashing Home Run to Beat Macks, 4 to 2,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 11, 1931, 1.

Holmes, Thomas, “Daring and Speed of Watkins Beat Vance in 1-0 Ball Game,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 26, 1931, 22.

Lloyd, Clarence F., “Ward Miller’s Boys Beat Texas Giant In the Home Stretch, Sporting Life, March 18, 1916, 2.

Lyons, Johnny,“Houston Gets Busy After Civic Protest,” The Sporting News, June 2, 1938, 5.

McGowen, Roscoe, “Vance Gives Three Hits But Robins Lose, 1-0,” New York Times, June 26, 1931, 31.

Murphy, James J., “Watkins Lopped Off Dodger Roster, Wilson Signed,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 17, 1937, 18.

Parrott, Harold, “$1,000 Worth of Dodger ‘Spikes’ Go South,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 22, 1935, 8.

Ray, Ralph, “ ’30 Redbirds Swap Yarns of Miracle Finish,” The Sporting News, August 17, 1960, 11.

Sheridan, J.B., “Jimmy Austin Gets First Hit of Season, Pratt First Error in Practice Game,” Sporting Life, March 11, 1916, 13.

Spink, J.G. Taylor, “Card Champs of ’31 Swap Yarns of Glory Days,” The Sporting News, August 16, 1961, 5.

Wicke, Herman, “Robins Produce Battery of All-Star Recruit Team,” The Sporting News, October 23, 1930, 3.

“Ankenman’s All-Houston Team,” The Sporting News, February 18, 1943, 8.

“Baseball Notes,” Rochester Journal, May 14, 1929, 11.

“Bitter Feeling Breaks Out Between Reds, Bisons After Watkins, Urban Battle,” Rochester Democrat-Chronicle, September 5, 1929, 20.

“Cardinals and Athletics Favored to Win Pennants in Baseball Poll,” New York Times, April 9, 1932, 9.

Compilation of Laws Relating to the Navy, Navy Department, and Marine Corps. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1922.

“Composite Box Score,” Houston Post-Dispatch, September 17, 1928, sec. 2, 2 (Dixie Series).

“Cubs Top Pirates, 6-4, Then Bow; Phils Crush Braves by 11-6, 9-3,” New York Times, May 31, 1935, 18.

“Dallas Shooter Winner State Skeet Honors,” Dallas Morning News, June 7, 1937, sec. 2, 2.

“Defeated Giants Leave for Homes – ‘No Alibis,’ Says Terry, Who Thinks Cards Have Good Chance to Win Series,” New York Times, October 2, 1934, 26.

“East Texas League Done,” Sporting Life, August 12, 1916, 8.

“Flock ’n’ Phils 1st Ball Aces,” New York Post, May 29, 1936, 17.

“Four Card Stars Still Holdouts,” Miami News, March 10, 1934, 12.

“Lapan-Watkins Engage in Bout During Contest,” Dallas Morning News, July 13, 1928, 14.

“Name Watkins Most Valuable Houston Star Dixie Series,” Dallas Morning News, October 24, 1928, 17.

“Press’ Second Annual Free Baseball School Gets Under Way,” Houston Press, February 16, 1937, 15.

“Reds’ Night Game Draws 25,000 Fans,” New York Times, May 25, 1935, 9.

“Rip Collins Bats Most Runs In,” Rochester Evening Journal, September 28, 1929, 13.

“Stengel Removed as Brooklyn Pilot,” New York Times, October 5, 1936, 27.

“Watkins Eager To Show Terry Was in Error,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 21, 1935, D5.

“Watkins Girls Leave Saturday for National,” Houston Post, March 18, 1937, sec. 3, 3.

“Watkins Hits Fast Pace With Dodgers,” New York Sun, June 24, 1936, 33.

“Watkins Keeps Himself in Hot Water – as Cure,” New York World-Telegram, June 25, 1936, 27.

“Watkins Puts Name to Giant Contract,” Rochester Democrat-Chronicle, March 26, 1934, 14.

“Watkins’s Record of Hits in Thirty Straight Games Sets Record in Leagues,” Rochester Democrat-Chronicle, December 19, 1929, 26.

National Archives, St. Louis, Military Service Records of George A. Watkins, 1917-1919.

Retrosheet.org.

Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Death Certificate of George A. Watkins.

 

Notes

1 Red Smith, “Old Cards Flashed the Winning Trick,” Washington Post, May 15, 1966, C3.

2 Ibid.

3 John J. McGraw, “World Title Is Well Won, Says McGraw,” Syracuse Herald, October 11, 1931, sports section, 1. The account of the play is based on coverage in the New York Times: John Debringer, “Cards Win Series, Beating Athletics in 7th Game, 4 to 2,” New York Times, October 11, 1931, sec. 10, 1; and William E. Brandt, “Story of the Game Told Play by Play,” New York Times, October 11, 1931, sec. 10, 8.

4 “George Watkins’ Home Run Wins World Series for Cardinals,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 11, 1931, C1. The sequence of events is taken from “Watkins Recalls ’31 Decisive Home Run,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 6, 1961, 6B.

5 Gordon Mackay of the Philadelphia Record, quoted in “This Morning With Shirley Povich,” Washington Post, October 15, 1931, 17. The difference was about $1,495 in individual player shares. “$4,484.25 for Each Card, A’s Share Nets $2,989.50,” The Sporting News, October 15, 1931, 1.

6 Bob Broeg, “Rugged Watty in Cardinal Tradition,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 10, 1970, 6B.

7 Broeg, “Rugged Watty in Cardinal Tradition.”

8 Through the 2013 season, Watkins ranked ninth on the list, three points behind Frankie Frisch and one ahead of Joe Torre. Gary Gillette and Pete Palmer, eds., The Emerald Guide to Baseball (Phoenix, Arizona: Society for American Baseball Research, 2014), 33.

9 “Broeg’s Top 100 Cardinals Emphasizes Winning Teams,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 12, 1992, 3F. Broeg ranked Watkins 64th, between George Hendrick and Mike Shannon.

10 Joseph L. Reichler, letter to the author, June 25, 1982.

11 Hal Wood, “Fiery Pepper Martin Picks ‘Most-Spirited’ Combine From Among Best Competitors He Faced in the Majors,” Nevada State Journal, June 2, 1946, S3.

12 Watkins often listed his birthplace as nearby Oakwood, a considerably larger town. See, e.g., Harold Johnson, Who’s Who in Major League Baseball (Chicago: Buxton Publishing Co., 1933), 403. However, the closest community was Butler, where his father had voted.

13 Henry Watkins (1887-1974) was the author’s grandfather.

14 Harry T. Brundidge, “Brother Sacrificed Chance for Diamond Career to Give Like Opportunity to George Watkins, Cards’ Outfielder,” The Sporting News, November 5, 1931, 7. Some details in this article (and others) are incorrect because Watkins had shaved two years off his age when he began his baseball career.

15 Watkins hit .316 in 119 games at Marshall in 1925, .353 in 1926 at Austin of the Texas Association, and .323 in 97 games at Beaumont in 1927. He suffered a broken leg at Austin and a broken hand at Beaumont. “Leaves From a Fan’s Scrapbook,” The Sporting News, November 14, 1935, 6.

16 Lloyd Gregory, “Houston Loses Watkins But Still Has Hopes For Snyder,” Sporting News, October 18, 1928, 1.

17 Bruce Layer, “Sports of the Day,” Houston Post, March 31, 1937, sec. 1, 12.

18 Clark Nealon, “Ex-Buff, World Series Hero Watkins Dies at 67,” Houston Post, June 2, 1970, sec. 4, 2.

19 Jim Mandelaro and Scott Pitoniak, Silver Seasons: The Story of the Rochester Red Wings (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1996), 37.

20 Dan Daniel, “Watkins Glad He’s a Giant,” New York World-Telegram, March 26, 1934, 20.

21Telegram from Branch Rickey to George Watkins, September 23, 1930, Watkins family scrapbook.

22 Under rules in effect from 1920 to 1944, a hitter had to play in 100 or more games to qualify for a batting title. Because Watkins qualified under the standard then in effect, his .373 batting average and .621 slugging percentage were for many years considered records for “true” rookies, i.e., those with no previous major-league experience. E.g., Joseph L. Reichler, The Great All-Time Baseball Record Book (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1981), 284 (batting average).

23 Broeg, “Rugged Watty in Cardinal Tradition.”

24 Thomas Holmes, “Young Catcher and Watkins Boxed Draw Beneath Grandstand,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 10, 1931, 24. Two years later, on-field fisticuffs with Pittsburgh pitcher Steve Swetonic led to the ejection of both. “St. Louis Outfielder Trades Punches With Big Corsair Twirler,” Dallas Morning News, August 2, 1933, sec. 1, 10.

25 Frank Frisch and J. Roy Stockton, Frank Frisch: The Fordham Flash (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1962), 117; J.G. Taylor Spink, “Three and One: Popping in on Manager Pepper Martin,” The Sporting News, August 6, 1942, 4, 14.

26 Joe Vila, “Setting the Pace,” New York Sun, February 24, 1932, 31.

27 Broeg, “Rugged Watty in Cardinal Tradition.”

28 Fellow outfielder Ernie Orsatti, another holdout, told the press that the contract offered by the Cardinals cut his salary from $9,000 to $6,500, a decrease of 27.8 percent. Frank Graham, “Touring Giants Reach Tampa,” New York Sun, March 15, 1934, 37.

29 Shortly after Watkins joined the Dodgers in May 1936, manager Casey Stengel made note of the outfielder’s kidney surgery. “They said the kidney he had removed two years ago weakened him,” Stengel said. “But if a guy with only one kidney can run, throw and hit like he’s done for me since last Saturday then I’ll ask [Brooklyn president Stephen W.] McKeever to have Doc Meeker slice a kidney out of everybody on our ball club.” Bill McCullough, “Ex-Philly Gardener Is Pace Setter as Flock Defeats Bees,” Brooklyn Times-Union, May 23, 1936, 1A.

30 Joe Williams, “Bill Terry Fears Chicago and Pirates,” Pittsburgh Press, March 2, 1935, 8.

31 James C. Isaminger, “Davis Beacon Light in Haze Over Phils,” The Sporting News, April 23, 1936, 1.

32 The player transaction cards in Watkins’ file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown show that the Phillies assigned his contract to Brooklyn. In addition, National League Official Bulletin #15 dated May 16, 1936, also available at the library, lists the Philadelphia-Brooklyn deal under the heading “player transfers” and does not include Watkins in the category of players who were released. Contemporaneous news reports differed, however, because the Dodgers announced that they had purchased Watkins’ contract, while the Phillies said he had been released. Tommy Holmes, “Trade Dearth Due to Dodgers’ Front Office,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 16, 1936, 18.

33 Stanley Frank, “Glory’s Faded, But Watkins’s Comeback Bid Aids Dodgers,” New York Post, June 23, 1936, 17.

34 Andy Anderson, “Sidelights,” Houston Press, February 17, 1937, 14.

35 Johnny Lyons, “Watty Watkins Agrees to Terms with Buffs,” Houston Post, March 30, 1937, 10.

36 Eddie Brietz, “Sports Roundup,” Jefferson City Post-Tribune, April 5, 1937, 5.

37 “Watkins Joins Reds,” Milwaukee Journal, February 1, 1938, sec. 2, 5; “Pearson Signs Contract; Yankee Hurler Agrees to Bonus – Watkins Rejects Red Offer,” New York Times. February 1, 1938, 15; Clark Nealon, “Ex-Buff, World Series Hero Watkins Dies at 67.”

38. “Knife and Fork League,” The Sporting News, February 1, 1956, 24.

39. Email from Mike Mulvihill to the author, July 20, 2010.

Individual Memberships start at just $45/year

Become A Member Today

When you join SABR you are making a statement of support for baseball history. You are joining a worldwide community of people who love to read about, talk about and write about baseball.