SABR

George Dockins

This article was written by Russell Wolinsky.

George Woodrow Dockins was a soft-tossing, perpetually sore-armed left-handed pitcher. He was born in Clyde, Kansas, to Joseph and Ida Moffatt Dockins on May 5, 1917. One of four children, he attended Joines School, just north of Clyde, until the eighth grade. As a youth Dockins loved baseball and played in the Ban Johnson League in nearby Concordia, Kansas. 

In 1939 the Cardinals’ Branch Rickey signed Dockins to his first professional contract. He began his pro career with the Class D Hamilton (Ontario) Red Wings of the PONY League, where he posted a 15-5 record with a 2.93 ERA. Dockins spent the next two seasons with the Mobile Shippers of the Class B Southeastern League. In 1941 he was the league’s top pitcher, winning twenty games with a league-leading 2.05 ERA.

Dockins started the 1942 season with the Rochester Red Wings of the International League. After splitting six decisions, he was optioned to the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association, where he fared much better. George joined the Pelicans on May 27 and showed “poise . . . control, and a world of stuff.”1 Leading the circuit in winning percentage, he posted a 14-5 mark, walking only twenty batters in 160 innings. On August 12, he tossed eight and two-thirds hitless innings against Little Rock, before an infield single spoiled his bid for a no-hitter. 

That September, Dockins was one of nine farmhands added to the Cardinals’ winter roster.2 St. Louis pilot Billy Southworth fully expected him to make the big-league club in 1943. New Orleans Statesman sportswriter Val J. Flanagan predicted Dockins and fellow Pelicans lefty Bill Seinsoth “are expected to become the next [Howie] Pollet-[Ernie] White combination for the Cardinals.”3 The Associated Press selected Dockins and George Munger of the Columbus Red Birds, as the best Cardinals rookie pitching bets for 1943.4

But instead, Dockins was the opening-day starting pitcher for the Columbus Red Birds. He had been optioned to the American Association club, subject to twenty-four-hour recall, but spent the entire season with the Red Birds. Dockins won sixteen games and was named to the league’s All-Star team. His three-hitter clinched the playoff semifinals over Milwaukee. Columbus then defeated Indianapolis for the league championship. Dockins did not appear in the Junior World Series, in which the Red Birds bested Syracuse of the International League.

A sore left elbow landed Dockins on the voluntarily retired list for the entire 1944 season. His arm was still sore in the spring of 1945, but Southworth took a chance and kept Dockins on the St. Louis roster, bringing him along slowly. In May, after a couple of brief but effective mound stints, Dockins left the club for treatment, but returned two weeks later. 

On June 23 Dockins pitched six and two-thirds innings in relief at Wrigley Field, picking up his second win of the season. On July 22, again in relief, he blanked the Dodgers for six innings in stifling, 100-plus-degree St. Louis heat. Two days later, “Dockins was just as hard to crack,” the Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s Harold Burr observed.5 He again halted Brooklyn’s offensive attack, this time tossing six and two-thirds shutout innings and earning the win.

Based on these impressive relief outings, Southworth decided to give Dockins a chance as a starter. St. Louis, battling Chicago for the National League pennant, needed help at the back end of the rotation to complement right-handers Red Barrett and Ken Burkhart, and left-hander Harry Brecheen. “I like Dockins’ spirit,” said Southworth, who had been impressed with the southpaw since his fourteen-win season for New Orleans in 1942. “[Earlier in 1945], his arm was sore and he was going to [Dr. Robert Hyland, the Redbirds’ physician,] for daily treatment. But when I was pretty short on pitchers, he volunteered for relief duty, saying, ‘I think I can hold them for a few innings.’”6

Dockins responded by winning his first three starts. In his first big-league start, on July 29, he bested the Pirates 6–4. Five days later, at Forbes Field, Dockins again topped the Pirates in another complete-game effort. On August 8 he hurled a six-hit shutout against the Giants at the Polo Grounds. On September 1 at Sportsman’s Park, with St. Louis trailing Chicago by only three games, Dockins won, 3–2 over Cubs’ veteran Claude Passeau. 

An enthusiastic crowd of more than 34,000, the largest to watch the Cardinals at home in over six years, turned out the next day for a Sunday doubleheader with the Cubs. In the opener, with the score tied, 1–1, in the tenth inning and the bases loaded, Southworth called on Dockins again. He yielded a pinch-hit, three run double to Frank Secory, good for a 4–1 Chicago victory. 

On September 7 he was “in rare form,” shutting out the Boston Braves while allowing only three hits and a walk.7 The victory was his eighth of the season, and his last in a major-league uniform.

Dockins next faced Chicago on September 19 in St. Louis, with the Cardinals now trailing the Cubs by two games. Dockins took a 1–0 lead into the ninth inning, but allowed the tying run. Chicago scored three more in the tenth, and the Cardinals lost, 4–1. Still, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s J. Roy Stockton wrote that Dockins appeared “as cool as the cucumbers he raises on his Kansas farm.”8 Southworth commented that you could not have asked for a better pitched game for nine innings than that which George Dockins hurled.9

The Cardinals ended the season in second place, three games behind Chicago. Dockins’s final ledger for the season showed eight victories and six defeats, with a 3.21 earned-run average in thirty-one games, twelve of them starts. 

During the winter of 1945-46, there were rumors that New York Giants skipper Mel Ott, looking for left-handed pitching, would deal for Dockins. Instead, Brooklyn—now run by Branch Rickey—picked up the twenty-nine-year-old lefty on April 19, 1946, for the $7,500 waiver price. It was Dockins’s effective pitching against the Dodgers and the pennant-bound Cubs in 1945 that attracted Brooklyn’s interest. Dodgers official Bob Finch, speaking for Rickey, announced, “I [Rickey] signed Dockins to his first pro contract. He has a lovely curve and a fairly good fastball.”10 If nothing else, the signing of Dockins would remove the “thorn in Brooklyn’s flesh” that the southpaw inserted “last year with his relief hurling” against the Dodgers.11

Saddled with arm problems again, Dockins was optioned to the Fort Worth Cats on May 1 without ever having donned a Brooklyn uniform. In his second start for the Class AA Texas League Cats, on May 22 (he won his first), George left the mound after a lone inning pitched. He did not return until mid-July.

As he did in 1945, Dockins returned from arm woes and pitched well. That August he hurled four consecutive complete games and allowed only one run. Dockins finished the season at Fort Worth with a 12-6 record and a 2.16 ERA, while walking only thirteen batters in 158 innings. Brooklyn skipper Leo Durocher was fully expecting Dockins to return to the Dodgers in 1947, but once more the sore left arm interfered. For the second time in his professional career, George went on the voluntarily retired list. This time he returned to his native Clyde, Kansas, to work in the lumber business.

By June Dockins felt well enough to pitch and applied to the commissioner’s office for reinstatement. Rickey flew from Chicago to Fort Worth to arrange the transfer. On June 20, 1947 Dockins pitched five strong innings in an exhibition game against the Danville (Illinois) Dodgers of the Three-I League. Nine days later, on June 29, Dockins made his Dodger debut. 

Called on in the eighth inning of the nightcap at the Polo Grounds, he surrendered consecutive home runs to the first two New York Giants batters he faced, Johnny Mize and Willard Marshall. Mize’s blast slammed against the upper right-field deck. Two seasons earlier, pitching for the Cardinals in the same ballpark, Dockins allowed nineteen-year-old Whitey Lockman a home run in his first big-league at-bat, the ball landing in the same area as Mize’s did.

Discussing his blast for a book published five decades later, Lockman more or less summed up his home run and Dockins’s big-league career, in a somewhat cruel comment: “Hit it off a fellow named George Dockins, a left-handed pitcher for the Cardinals. People still ask me . . .  and I tell them, and no one’s ever heard of him. And I guess with my home run, no one’s heard of him since.”12

After this performance, Dodgers manager Burt Shotton became reluctant to use his newest pitcher. Dockins saw action about once every two weeks. He quickly became an afterthought on the Dodgers mound staff, serving as the club’s mop-up man. He made his final major-league appearance on August 19, 1947, in an 11–3 drubbing by the Cardinals at Ebbets Field. Less than a week later, Dockins was gone from the club.

Overall, the six-feet, 175-pound southpaw’s “contribution” to the 1947 Dodgers amounted to a mere four regular-season appearances, all in relief. The ten hits Dockins allowed in five and a third innings, along with an ERA of 11.81, earned him a trip back to Fort Worth on August 25. 

At Fort Worth in 1948, pitching almost exclusively in relief, he was uncharacteristically injury-free and effective in the season’s early weeks. Dockins was named the starting pitcher and hurled four shutout frames when Fort Worth took on the Texas League All-Stars on July 13. 

When Cats skipper Lee Burge was fired on June 22, Dockins served as one of three interim managers before Bobby Bragan was hired. During that interim period, Fort Worth went undefeated in ten games. “While the club was at home,” wrote sportswriter Blackie Sherrod, “the temporary manager [Dockins] was greeted with wild applause every time he took his walk to the third base coaching box.”13 “I considered staying away, not wanting to jinx the team,” Bragan later admitted.14 Despite his success and popularity as a pilot, Dockins was never again asked to manage a professional baseball club.

That September he suffered a broken nose when he was struck by a line drive during batting practice, missing a week of action. He pitched a final season for Fort Worth in 1949, without distinction. Realizing his chances of again making a major-league roster were slim, Dockins put himself on the voluntarily retired list in March 1950 for the third and final time. He was thirty-two years old. 

After retiring from professional baseball, Dockins returned to Clyde, where he tried his hand at several occupations, including carpentry, farming, and dairy production. He retired from the Hutchinson Manufacturing Company in 1980. 

George had married Lucy Mae Brichat in Manhattan, Kansas, on July 23, 1937. The couple had one son, Kenneth. On January 22, 1997, George Dockins died in a pasture a quarter-mile north of Clyde at the age of seventy-nine. He is buried in Clyde’s Mount Hope Cemetery. Dockins left his wife, son Kenneth, two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Lucy Dockins died on January 5, 2007. Dockins had been named to the Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame in 1959. Clyde Kansas’s lone ball field is named after him.

 

Notes

1. Sporting News, September 3, 1942.

2. New York Times, September 27, 1945.

3. Sporting News, September 3, 1942.

4. New York Times, March 21, 1943.

5. Brooklyn Eagle, July 25, 1945.

6. Sporting News, June 7, 1945.

7. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 8, 1945.

8. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 20, 1945.

9. Ibid.

10. Brooklyn Eagle, April 20, 1946.

11. Sporting News, April 25, 1946.

12. Bitker, Steve. The Original San Francisco Giants, Champaign, Illinois: Sports Publishing, 1998.

13. Sporting News, September 29, 1948.

14. Presswood, Mark, and Chris Holaday. Baseball in Fort Worth, Mount Pleasant South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2004, 57.

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