SABR

Tom McBride

This article was written by Jim Sargent.

For Red Sox outfielder Tommy McBride, the 1946 World Series between Boston and the St. Louis Cardinals had some great moments mixed with some bad memories. One high point came on Sunday, October 6, at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis when McBride, playing alongside Ted Williams and Dom DiMaggio, started in right field in the opening game.

Facing lefthander Howie Pollet in the top of the ninth inning, McBride rapped an RBI single to tie the game at 2-2. Rudy York won it for Boston, 3-2, slugging a home run in the tenth.

But a low point for McBride came in the dramatic seventh game. In the top of the ninth with Boston trailing, 4-3, after Enos Slaughter scored from first base on Harry Walker's eighth-inning double, Bosox manager Joe Cronin sent McBride up to pinch-hit for relief pitcher Earl Johnson.

With runners at first and third and two outs, McBride, facing Cardinal southpaw Harry Brecheen, bounced a hard shot up the middle. Second baseman Red Schoendienst made a nice play, gloving the ball and flipping it to second for the forceout--a split second ahead of the baserunner. By that slim margin St. Louis won the championship.

More than fifty years later, in 1998, McBride still had a clear memory of that critical time at bat: "Harry Brecheen was a left-hander and the ball I hit was a low liner right by Brecheen's left knee, and when it went by Harry, I thought I had a hit, since they were pitching me away and shifted over to the right [first base] side. But the second baseman, Schoendienst, made a good play on the ball. He didn't catch it clean. The ball bounced up and looked as if it balanced on the web of his glove. He picked it off and threw to second base for a forceout. Our runner at first was Pinky Higgins, an older slow-footed third baseman (manager error - not having a faster man instead)."

But Thomas Ray "Tommy" McBride, a six-foot 185-pound right-handed hitter who averaged .275 in six years with Boston and Washington--including seasons of .305 and .301 for Boston in 1945 and 1946, respectively--enjoyed a good baseball career with many memorable moments.

For example, on August 4, 1945, playing in Washington's spacious Griffith Stadium, McBride and the Red Sox won the second game of a double-header against the Senators, 15-4, snapping the home team's seven-game win streak. Highlighting a 12-run fourth inning, McBride drove home a then American League record-tying six runs.

With the game tied at 3-3, he slugged a bases-loaded triple to right center, but coach Del Baker held him up at third. Later in the inning, Tommy belted a bases-loaded double off the left center field wall.

McBride became the third of twelve major leaguers to match the 6-RBI record, which was first set by Fred Merkle of the New York Giants on May 13, 1911. The National League's record of eight runs batted in was established in 1999 when Fernando Tatis of the Cardinals hit two grand slams in one inning.

On the morning of April 20, 1948, the opening day of the baseball season, McBride mowed the grass at home, and his son Mike found a four-leaf clover. At the Senators' ballpark that afternoon, McBride, hitting sixth, came up to bat in the first inning with the bases loaded. On the mound for the Yankees was Tommy's former Little Rock teammate Ed Lopat, now an ace lefthander for New York.

The Senators already had one run on four straight singles by Eddie Yost, Al Kozar, Mickey Vernon, and Leon Culberson. McBride, with the lucky clover stuck inside his Washington cap, belted a Lopat fastball on a line to deep center field, and the ball rocketed into the farthest corner park of spacious Griffith Stadium. McBride turned on the speed and recorded an inside-the-park home run, giving Washington a 5-0 lead. Later, Tommy singled and scored on a Yost two-bagger, and the Senators thumped the Yankees, 9-1.

By then McBride had come a long way. On November 2, 1914, the year the Great War began, he was born on farm of his grandfather, M.T. Blanton, two miles southeast of Randolph, Texas. An only child, Tommy grew up on is father's leased farm, dreaming about playing baseball. But he knew hard times, often helping his mother work to earn extra money. The youth remembered his mom could pick 300-400 pounds of cotton a day at one dollar per hundred pounds. Although he worked slower, Tommy could still pick 200-300 pounds a day, but he hated the work.

After disastrous crop failures in 1919 and 1920, the family moved to Wolfe City, where Tommy attended school. The talented young man, a natural all-around athlete, earned 16 letters in high school. He starred in football, basketball, baseball, and track, the biggest four sports of the era. In June 1933, three months after President Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated, Tommy graduated second in a class of 40 at Wolfe City High.

A blue-eyed Scots-Irishman, the pleasant 17-year-old was working as a soda jerk after graduation when he got his first baseball offer. Paly Bradford, manager of the Bonham, Texas, semipro team, visited the Dooley's Drug Store and asked if McBride could play. Saying yes, Tommy offered to bring friends to try out. Four Wolfe City boys reported to Bonham's Fair Grounds on July 4 and played the second game of a twin bill.

McBride drove in the game-winning run in the ninth to break a 1-1 tie. When a sudden shower broke out, the crowd ran for the show barns. There Bradford passed the hat for his team.

"When he presented me the results of the hat-passing," McBride remembered in a 1998 interview, "he had collected nearly $100. That was big money in those days.

"I said, 'Baseball is for me!' "

In 1934 McBride again played for Bonham. Midway through the season he volunteered to play shortstop. The former flychaser played so well that he caught the eye of Chicago White Sox scout Roy Largent. The White Sox were looking for a future replacement for Luke Appling, the great shortstop who fashioned a .310 lifetime average in the majors.

Tommy had accepted a scholarship to play football at Austin College. Enrolling that fall, he became a standout on the gridiron. When spring arrived, he played shortstop for Coach Tom Bean's nine. All the while Largent kept after him to sign.

Over Christmas of 1935 McBride reconsidered. Hoping to realize his big league dream, he signed in late February for a bonus of $1,500. On March 1st he and 200 others reported to Longview, Texas, of the class C East Texas League.

The competition was tough, but McBride made it. Tex Jeanes, the manager and left fielder, saw McBride's speed and switched the rookie to center field. Primarily a line-drive hitter, Tommy enjoyed a fine season. In 147 games he batted .312 with 30 doubles, 21 triples, seven home runs, and 88 RBI.

On Friday before the season was scheduled to open, McBride took the train to Sherman, Texas, to visit his girl friend of one year, Francis Phores. After a good cry, her mother consented to their marriage the next day, April 17, 1936. Later, the couple had three children, Mike, Patty, and Sarah.

In 1937 McBride was optioned to Dallas of the class A Texas League. In the ninth game disaster struck: his cheekbone was shattered by an inside pitch. After healing, he was sent to Jackson, Mississippi, of the Class C Southeastern League, where he hit .300 in 73 games.

But another injury ended Tommy's season. Stretching a line-drive single into a double, he slid into second base and bent his left ankle back, breaking bones and tearing ligaments. The doctor put him in a cast and sent him home.

* "I never did get over that injury," McBride recalled. "It took me quite a few years to get over it. I had run a 9.9 in high school, and I never had that speed again."

In 1938 McBride split the season between Dallas-Shreveport of the Texas League, where he averaged .240, and Jackson, where he improved to .252. But on a late-season slide into third base, Tommy reinjured the left ankle. Again he was sent home in a cast.

Dr. M.K. Upshaw of Jackson, who worked on McBride's ankle, reported to the White Sox that the speedy flychaser would probably never run again. Chicago released him, but the Jackson club kept McBride's contract.

The Texan played the 1939 and 1940 seasons for Jackson, hitting .297 and .316, respectively. Despite being the league's MVP in 1940, he was discouraged and thought about quitting baseball. Instead, Francis talked him into one more season.

"So I went back to Jackson in '41," Tommy recalled, "and that was one of the best spring training camps I had in a good, long while. I got into shape, and we played some good exhibition games. I started the season hitting fair. When May 1st rolled around, I was hitting about .330. From May 1st to June 25 or so, I hit enough to pull my average up to .420."

McBride's torrid hitting prompted Jackson to sell him to Little Rock of the Double-A Southern Association. Again he proved himself a fine hitter, averaging .350 for Jackson and .320 for Little Rock--collecting a total of 210 hits in 1941.

George Toporcer, scouting for the Red Sox, recommended McBride. Boston bought his contract for $10,000. Due to his ankle injuries, Tommy was 4-F for the draft. But for the Red Sox he played all three spots in the outer gardens.

"I went to spring training in '43," McBride recollected, "and the government said you had to train at home. We trained inside at Tufts College in Boston. They had about a 220-yard track inside, but it was asphalt. You ran on that, and you'd come up with shin splints.

"We started the season against the Yankees. Opening Day they had me in center field. Not a one of our outfielders had even shagged a fly ball in spring training, because there was a net over the infield at Tufts. So I looked like 'Molly Foots' out in center field. [Author's note: Molly Foots was a female slave who claimed to be lame in the left foot when sold at big slave auction in Savannah, Georgia, in 1859, causing her value to go down -- but making it more likely she could later purchase her own freedom.]

"May 15th rolled around, and they sent me to Louisville, their Triple-A farm club. That was the best thing that ever happened to me. I played for the best manager in my life, Bill Burwell."

Burwell, noticing McBride seldom tried to steal bases, encouraged his center fielder to run.

"I had 12 stolen bases that year. I got off to a horrible start, though. I was hitting about .200 after I'd been there about 6-8 weeks.

"Burwell said, 'Keep swinging. I've never seen anybody hit so many line drives and not get any base hits.'

"I went on a binge there where I had a 22-game hitting streak, and I wound up hitting .308. I went back to the Red Sox on August 15th, and I had a good last month.

"I thought I was set for 1944, but I didn't see center field all year long. Joe Cronin wasn't much of a manager, I'll say it that way. In '44 we had a so-so season and finished fourth."

During the final year of World War II, Tommy produced his best big league season. In 100 games and 344 at-bats, he hit .305 with 11 doubles, seven triples, and one four-bagger. That summer he came up with his 6-RBI game against the Senators.

"In 1945," McBride continued, "Cronin started playing me. He didn't have anyone who could play first base, so he put me into 100 ball games, some at first base. I hit .305 and didn't make an error at first base."

But the following year, with big leaguers returning from military service, competition for roster spots was intense.

"In 1946 Dom DiMaggio started in center field in spring training, and he said, 'This is the year, boys. Let's win 100 games. So we rolled right in [to the pennant]."

Boston enjoyed a great season, posting a 104-50 record and running away with the American League flag over the defending champion Detroit Tigers. Also, Boston led the league in team hitting at .271, in runs with 792, in doubles with 268, and in slugging percentage with .402.

The heavy-hitting lineup featured Ted Williams, who batted .342 (second to Mickey Vernon, who hit .353) with 38 home runs and 123 RBI. Other big hitters included Johnny Pesky at .335 (2 HR, 55 RBI), Dom DiMaggio at .316 (7 HR, 73 RBI), Leon Culberson at .313 (3 HR, 18 RBI), and Rudy York at .276 (17 HR, 119 RBI).

"I was used as a pinch-hitter and a utility outfielder," McBride said. "I played some for Ted, and I relieved Dom some. But by and large I played right field.

"That was the Opening Day lineup against the Cardinals in St. Louis. And the rest of it is pretty close to history."

Actually, McBride enjoyed a fine season. It's difficult to hit for a good average coming off the bench on an irregular basis. But Tommy averaged .301 in 61 games and 153 at-bats, making an excellent contribution to the Red Sox.

"Tom McBride was a good hitter," recalled Boston's Hall of Fame second sacker Bobby Doerr. "He hit to all fields and he was a good player to have on your team. I can remember that every time he hit against Ed Lopat, seems he went 4-for-4 or 4-for-5. You had to hit Lopat through the middle, which Tom did very well. He was also a good outfielder."

But the Red Sox lost the World Series in seven games, McBride hit only .167 (2-for-12), and he made the final out of the series.

Boston brought up rookie Sam Mele to play right field in 1947. McBride got into only two games, and on May 14 he was sold to Washington. He finished his big league career with the Senators, hitting .271 in 1947 and .257 in 1948.

"I remember Tom McBride as an excellent hitter against left-handed pitchers," said longtime Washington third baseman Eddie Yost. "He was a good team man, too."

After the 1948 season, Tommy was supposed to manage in the minors. Instead, Clark Griffith sold him to Chattanooga in 1949. McBride hit .294 in the Southern Association during his final season of organized ball.

When Griffith refused a deal for the Texan to manage in 1950, Tommy moved his family home to Sherman. He had an offer to go into business, but an uncle told him to check out a new semipro team in Sinton, the Plymouth Oilers.

Tommy had friends playing for Plymouth. The club hired him, and he earned as much as he once did at Chattanooga. Edward "Red" Borom and other former pro players joined the Oilers. In 1951, with McBride averaging .688, Plymouth won seven straight games in the national tourney held at Wichita, Kansas, and captured the semipro title.

After the Oilers disbanded in 1957, McBride worked at a variety of jobs, including as a manager of rental properties. In 1960 he moved his family from Sherman to Wichita Falls.

Tommy was always active. Beginning in 1942, he officiated college football for 32 years, impressing coaches as famous as Alabama's Bear Bryant. In 1977 McBride was hired as a 63-year-old assistant baseball coach at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls. During his four years at Midwestern he helped Mark Benedetto build a first-rate program.

Retired in 1982, McBride remained a clean-living man who never drank or smoked. Talking about life in 1998, he quipped, "I told Mrs. McBride just the other day, 'Here we are, sitting in the parlor, living life disgracefully!'"

What was his biggest thrill over all those years?

"My biggest thrill in baseball was not a baseball incident," the Texas gent reminisced. After he was purchased by Washington in mid-May 1947, he and his wife packed the car and drove the family to Washington. In the hotel lobby a well-dressed gentleman asked if he was Tom McBride.

"I said, 'Yes, sir.'

"'I'm Olin Teague, Congressman from Texas. I've got a request. Uncle Sam Rayburn [Speaker of the House] wants you to come to lunch.'

"So I went down there to the Capitol building.

"Sam Rayburn and Grand Dad were in county politics together. Sam took us to lunch. Lyndon Baines Johnson was there. They gave you a menu, and you autographed the top of it. And everybody passes theirs around and autographs every menu. You get it as a keepsake, and I've still got it!

"That was my biggest thrill. Knowing Sam Rayburn and Lyndon Johnson was the highlight of my career there. Sam escorted us around Washington in '47 and '48 fairly well."

Reflecting on the fleeting fame of the national pastime, Tommy smiled and said, "Baseball was fun. It was really fun."

Aside from good memories, the Texan's record, including his two .300 seasons, indicated he should receive one more honor: McBride deserves selection by the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame.

Tommy McBride passed away on December 26, 2001, in Wichita Falls, Texas.

Sources

This essay about Tommy McBride's baseball career is based on statistics from The Baseball Encyclopedia (Macmillan, 8th edition, 1990); minor league stats from a profile furnished by Pat Doyle, creator of the Professional Baseball Player Database (version 6); clippings from the McBride file in the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Library; and letters from McBride, January 21, February 20, 1998. I interviewed McBride in January 1998 and kept in touch with him for three years afterward. I used ProQuest to access certain articles, including those about the Red Sox game of August 4, 1945, when McBride collected 6 RBI, and Washington's opening day game of April 20, 1945, when McBride figured he got lucky with a four-leaf clover.

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