SABR

Homer Peel

This article was written by John F. Green.

Homer Peel played five seasons in the major leagues, earned a World Series ring with the New York Giants in 1933, and was once traded for Grover Cleveland Alexander. He is more widely known, perhaps, as the "Ty Cobb of the Texas League." His consistent hitting over 14 seasons in the Texas League resulted in a career batting average of .325, tops in the circuit's history. The right-handed hitter bested the .300 mark eight times, and earned the TL batting title in 1937 with a lofty .370. Peel was a manager in the Texas League as well; his Fort Worth Cats captured the 1937 league playoffs and went on to win the Dixie Series over Little Rock, four games to one. Homer was selected to the Texas League all-star team four times, and in 1938 became the only person in loop annals to be picked as both player and manager. Peel was inducted into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982 and the Texas League Hall of Fame in 2004.

In 1996, ninety-three-year-old Homer Peel was interviewed for an article printed in a Senior Scene publication in Shreveport, Louisiana. The answers to the writer's questions summarize Homer's passion for the game:

Q. What is your occupation?
A. I am a retired professional baseball player.

Q. What is your fondest childhood memory?
A. Playing baseball.

Q. What is your favorite television show?
A. I still love to watch my favorite sport: baseball.

Q. Who has most influenced your life?
A. The great baseball heroes of yesteryear.

Q. Where is your favorite travel destination?
A. You name the ballpark and I'll like it.

Q. What do you consider your greatest accomplishments?
A. Playing in the 1933 World Series.

Q. What is your idea of happiness?
A. A good baseball game and reflecting back over an enjoyable life.

The "enjoyable life" for Homer Hefner Peel began in Port Sullivan, Texas on October 10, 1902, when he was born into the family of James Archie Peel Jr. and Lena Maud Hefner Peel. Grandfather James Archie Peel Sr., a cotton farmer and merchant, was one of Port Sullivan's pioneers. Founded prior to the Civil War, Port Sullivan was located along the Brazos River, and the local populace hoped the waterway could be made navigable for commerce. In anticipation of future business along the river, a large storage warehouse was built at Port Sullivan, on farmland once owned by the senior Peel. Unfortunately, low water flows and lack of funds prevented development of the project. All that is left today of Port Sullivan are remnants of the old warehouse.

Homer had four siblings: Archie, Everett, Elizabeth and Alta Mae. They attended neighboring Yoe High School in Cameron, where Homer and Everett played on the baseball team. Everett was a pitcher, and after high school had a brief fling as a professional in 1924 with Mexia in the Texas Association. Homer played primarily at catcher in high school before switching to the outfield, and even played some football at Cameron High. Unfamiliar with the gridiron game, he once told his son, Homer "Skip" Peel Jr.: "I played in the first football game I ever saw."

Homer played semi-pro baseball after high school, and in 1923 was signed to a professional contract by the St. Louis Cardinals. Sent to Marshall of the East Texas League, he had a banner rookie year; in 117 games, Peel batted .322 and socked 17 home runs. The Texan learned first-hand about the famed Cardinals "chain gang;" in 1924 he played in three leagues: Winston-Salem (Piedmont), Texarkana (East Texas), and Houston (Texas). Homer took part in 107 games at Texarkana, where he posted excellent numbers. Twenty-one years old, he swatted .368, smacked 40 doubles, 14 homers, and stole 22 bases. Peel lost the East Texas League batting title to teammate Smead Jolley by two percentage points. Jolley later made it to the big leagues, where he averaged .305 in four seasons, but he was known as a defensive liability. Smead had tremendous success in the Pacific Coast League, where he won three batting crowns. With San Francisco in 1928, he batted .404, with 309 hits, 45 homers, 52 doubles, and 188 RBI. Jolley was the first of many outstanding hitters Peel would team up with in his career.

Houston had gotten a taste of what Homer could do at the tail-end of the 1924 season when he batted .290 in 19 games. He captured full attention in 1925 with 46 doubles, 16 triples, 19 round-trippers, 114 runs batted in, and a batting percentage of .355. Peel followed that up with a .327 average in 1926, including 42 two-baggers, 11 three-base knocks, 18 homers, and 99 RBI. Homer treated fans in Dallas that season to his all-time best single game performance; in seven at bats, he chalked up four singles, a double, a homer, and a base on balls. He was promoted to Double A Syracuse in 1927, and continued his hot hitting: .328, 16 home runs, and 107 RBI. The parent Cardinals called him up at the end of the season; in his major league baptism Peel played in a pair of games and was hitless in two plate appearances.

St. Louis was loaded with outfielders in 1928; included in the mix were future Hall of Famer Chick Hafey, Ray Blades, Taylor Douthit, Billy Southworth, George Harper, and Wally Roettger. After spring training, Peel was sent back to Houston, where in April he suffered a broken ankle when he slammed into the center field wall attempting to catch a fly ball off the bat of Waco's Felix Vigare. Strangely, two plays later Vigare broke his leg in two places when he tried to score from third base on another fly ball. Peel and Vigare spent time recovering in adjoining hospital beds! The injury put a damper on Homer's season; he appeared in only 79 games and batted .282.

During the 1928 season the Cardinals and Phillies swapped catchers, with Jimmie Wilson going to St. Louis and Virgil "Spud" Davis moving to Philadelphia. As part of the deal, the Phillies obtained an option on Peel for 1929 delivery, and he spent that season with Philadelphia as a part-time performer. Homer went on the disabled list in June when he was operated on for appendicitis. According to Skip Peel, his father felt the large incision from the surgical procedure didn't have time to completely heal, and it hampered his play. Nevertheless, Homer hit a respectable .269 in 156 at bats. There were two outstanding hitters in the Philadelphia outfield: Frank "Lefty" O'Doul and Chuck Klein. O'Doul led the league with a .398 batting average, belted 32 homers, and knocked in 122 runs. Klein hit .356, swatted 43 home runs and totaled 145 RBI. A third outfielder, Dennis Sothern, averaged .306.

Philadelphia and St. Louis made another exchange of players in December 1929. The Phillies reacquired aging pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, along with catcher Harry McCurdy, for Peel and moundsman Bob McGraw. Homer was blocked again in 1930 by a potent group of outfielders; five Cardinal fly chasers averaged over .300: Chick Hafey (.336), Taylor Douthit (.303), George Watkins (.373), George "Showboat" Fisher (.374), and Ray Blades (.396). After batting .164 in 26 games, Peel was optioned back to Houston, where he regained his batting stroke with a .384 average in 58 games.

The next season, Houston's Buffaloes went on a rampage; the 1931 club won 108 games and finished 14 games ahead of runner-up Beaumont. Nineteen-year-old Joe Medwick joined Peel in the Houston outfield, and both of them sparkled at bat. Medwick led the league with 19 home runs, drove in 126 runs, and hit .305. Homer batted .326, knocked in 95 runs, hit seven homers, and was voted the team's most popular player by the Houston fans. Three Buff pitchers won 20 games or more: Jerome "Dizzy" Dean (26-10), George Payne (23-13), and Tex Carleton (20-7). Dean led the league in wins, ERA, and strikeouts, and was named Texas League Player of the Year. Dizzy went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Cardinals, and the future baseball broadcaster became Homer's lifelong friend.

Peel remained with Houston the following year, averaged .337 at the plate, and paced Texas League performers in games played (155), hits (199), and doubles (52). He also slammed 16 homers and knocked in 100 runs. Medwick, Dizzy Dean and Carleton had gone on to St. Louis, and the Buffs finished 1932 in third place. Beaumont, with Hank Greenberg leading the way, won the pennant. At the completion of the season, St. Louis management moved Homer to the Columbus (International League) roster; he was drafted from that club by the New York Giants.

New York had finished in seventh place in 1932; after 30 years at the helm of the Giants, the venerable John McGraw had been replaced by first baseman Bill Terry in mid-season. Outfielders Mel Ott and Joe Moore, both .300 hitters in 1932, were back with the Giants in 1933. Moore, incidentally, was born and raised in Gause, Texas, not far from Homer's hometown of Port Sullivan. Besides Peel, another outfielder in camp was George "Kiddo" Davis, obtained from Philadelphia. Lefty O'Doul was obtained from Brooklyn in mid-season. Davis, a right-handed hitter, was stationed in center field, flanked by the left-handed bats of Moore and Ott. Peel was impressive in spring training, won a job as a spare outfielder, and became Ott's roommate. He spelled Moore in left field against tough left-handed pitching, and on occasion was placed in the cleanup spot in the batting order, sandwiched between Ott and Terry.

The Giants won 91 games in 1933 to finish in first place; Pittsburgh was five games back in second, and Chicago finished third, six games behind. Peel played in 84 games and hit .257 (38-for-148). In early June he was instrumental in a pair of key victories over Philadelphia. On June 2 at Baker Bowl, he had three hits and a pair of RBI in a 7-2 win, and a week later at the Polo Grounds, socked a grand slam homer in a 7-6 triumph.

Washington opposed New York in the 1933 World Series, and was beaten, four games to one, as Giant hurlers prevailed. Hubbell was a two-time victor, while Schumacher and reliever Dolf Luque bagged the other wins. Ott belted a pair of round-trippers and hit .389 to pace New York batsmen. The lone Senators triumph was a whitewash job administered by Earl Whitehill in game three. The southpaw beat the Giants, 4-0, limiting the eventual champs to five hits, one of which was a single by pinch hitter Peel, who was used only twice in the five games played. Homer's hit gave him a .500 batting average against Washington (one-for-two); the lofty percentage complemented the rewards given him as a member of the world champions: a World Series ring and a winner's share check for $4,256.71. When Peel and Moore returned to their Texas homes after the series, the citizens of Cameron held a parade in their honor.

In 1934 spring drills, heralded outfield prospect Hank Leiber was in camp, and was given a big look by New York management. George Watkins replaced Kiddo Davis in centerfield, and with Ott, Moore and O'Doul still around, Peel was used sparingly. He made the opening day roster, however, as Leiber was optioned to the Nashville farm club. The Giants started the regular season with five straight wins before falling to the Phillies, 6-5. In that game Homer hit a two-run pinch four-bagger in the ninth inning. On May 21 New York beat St. Louis, 5-2, as Peel contributed two hits and scored twice. The Cardinals became known as the "Gashouse Gang" and finished the season with a two-game bulge over the Giants to capture the National League flag, and defeated the Detroit Tigers in the 1934 World Series.

On June 21 the Giants recalled Leiber from Nashville, where he was blistering Southern Association pitching at a .400 clip. Peel was released outright to Nashville, having played in just 21 games for New York and batting .195 in 41 at bats. After 34 games at Nashville (.288 average), Homer was purchased by Minneapolis of the American Association, where he took part in 31 games and batted .295.

Peel was traded back to the Cardinals organization in 1935. Rather than report to Columbus (American Association), he requested that he be sent to Rochester (International League), piloted by Eddie Dyer; Peel and Dyer had played together with Syracuse in 1927. In a campaign beset by injuries, Homer played in 88 games and batted .291. In the Rochester batting order he followed a young slugger on his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame: Johnny Mize.

Homer made it back to the Texas League in 1936 when Rochester sold him to Fort Worth. The Cats got off to a rocky start, and with the club in the basement, manager Harry McCurdy was fired and replaced by Peel. Ironically, McCurdy, a catcher, was paired with Pete Alexander in the 1929 trade that sent Homer back to St. Louis from Philadelphia. The Cats turned the page under their rookie skipper, and played competitive ball down the stretch. And individually, Peel returned to the ‘.300 Club;' he batted .309 in 120 games.

Not expected to contend in 1937, Fort Worth struggled most of the campaign, but rallied to finish in third place and make it to the post-season. The Cats knocked off Tulsa in the first round of the Shaughnessy Playoffs, and then met the TL pennant winner, Oklahoma City, for the championship. Peel's club triumphed over the Indians, four games to two, and next challenged Little Rock in the Dixie Series. The Cats beat their Southern Association foe, four games to one, and brought the Dixie title home to Fort Worth for the first time in seven years. On the playing field in 1937, Peel put up the best numbers of his career: he led the circuit in batting (.370), RBI (118), doubles (48), and total bases (301).

Off the field, Homer faced another challenge: friction with the Fort Worth business manager, Cecil Coombs. In an article written by Lorin McMullen in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Homer said: "It is impossible for me to work in close harmony with Coombs. We had too many deals last year about which I knew nothing." A month later McMullen wrote: "Peel was asking for complete control of the players, on and off the field, and was demanding a voice in all deals. He wished to be responsible to the president, not to the business manager. He also asked for a fifty percent increase in salary." Several days later Cats' president Stanley Thompson brought Peel and Coombs together, and Homer signed a contract for the 1938 season.

On April 5, 1938 the New York Yankees stopped in Forth Worth to play an exhibition game with the Cats; the fracas was billed as "a clash of champions." With its player-manager leading the way, Fort Worth defeated the New Yorkers in eleven frames, 10-9. Homer peeled off five hits in six trips to the plate, including a four-bagger, and drove in four runs.

Peel's club was hit by a rash of injuries as the Texas League season progressed, and tension resumed between the front office and the field pilot. Finally, after a July 8 game in Oklahoma City, Homer was notified by telegram that he was being removed as manager, and traded to Toledo of the American Association for pitcher Fred Marberry. Initially, Peel refused to report to Toledo, but relented when his demand for free agency at the end of the season was agreed to. In 86 games with Fort Worth in 1938, Homer dropped to .285 with the stick, but rebounded at Toledo, pushing his average to .327 in 59 games.

Now a free agent, Peel was named player-manager of the Shreveport Sports for the 1939 season, and his new team became a tough competitor in the Texas League until injuries took their toll. Even Homer was afflicted; hitting at a .330 clip when hit by a pitch near the left eye, he played the remainder of the year with impaired vision. The veteran wound up with a .288 plate mark, and the Sports finished the campaign in fifth place. Two former major leaguers (Vernon "George" Washington and Merv Connors) suffered hand injuries, and future big leaguers Bob Kennedy and Tony York also were on the shelf during the season. In 1940, the Shreveport club crashed to seventh place, again hampered by the injury bug. Peel hit for an average of .325 (55-for-169); in a part-time role as a player and with the skid of the Sports, Homer wasn't retained for 1941.

Peel's old New York teammate, Johnny Vergez, was the field boss at Oakland in the Pacific Coast League, and invited Homer to spring training in California. He opened the 1941 season with the Oaks, but after limited playing time, was released in May. Peel was then picked up by San Diego of the PCL, where he rode the bench until another managerial opportunity arose. On June 23, Rogers Hornsby resigned as manager at Oklahoma City of the Texas League, citing slumping attendance as the reason. Homer was hired to pilot the club for the balance of the 1941 season. Playing little that year, he batted .239 in 29 games in the Pacific Coast League, and .204 with Oklahoma City in 43 games.

The following season was a rough one; rehired as playing manager, the Indians performed poorly, and Homer made only 21 plate appearances, hitting .238. To top off matters, the Texas League called it quits after the 1942 season, suspending operations until the completion of the war. With minor leagues folding and jobs in baseball becoming scarce, Peel changed direction; he enlisted in the United States Navy under the "Gene Tunney Program." The program was established to enable professional athletes to enter the service as chief petty officers and serve as recreation specialists. It was especially enticing for older athletes like Homer.

Peel was sent to Norfolk Naval Air Station for training, and while there, coached the baseball team. The roster was loaded with talent, including: Pee Wee Reese, Hugh Casey, Al Evans, Hub Walker and Ralph Hamner. From Norfolk, Homer was sent to the South Pacific, where he directed the recreational program on the island of New Caledonia. While there he was reunited with a couple of former major leaguers he had met in earlier years: Andy High and Leo "Red" Nonnenkamp. High and Peel were teammates for awhile with the Cardinals, while Nonnenkamp had played against Homer's Fort Worth club in the 1937 Dixie Series. High was a veteran of both world wars; he had served as a navy electrician's mate in World War I, and was with the SeaBees in World War II. Nonnenkamp was still an active player; he was transferred later to Hawaii where he played on the all-navy team.

Oscar Kuver was an eighteen-year-old hospital corpsman at the New Caledonia fleet hospital, and for awhile, pitched for the team managed by Peel. It was a good learning situation for young ballplayers, with the likes of Peel, High and Nonnenkamp around. Kuver's hurling impressed his manager, and he promised to sign a contract with whoever Homer was affiliated with after the war. For Peel, the navy experience in the South Pacific was good; he carried out his duties as a chief recreational specialist and seized the opportunity to compete in other sports, especially tennis and handball.

Back from the war in 1946, Peel returned to baseball as player-manager with Paris in the East Texas League. In what would be his final season as an active player, he inserted himself in the lineup at opportune times, and batted .322 in 55 games (37 hits in 115 trips, including four home runs). Later Homer enjoyed telling people that he finished his playing career just the way it started. In 1923, his first professional season, he batted .322 with Marshall in the East Texas loop; 23 years later he produced the same result, in the same league.

After the war minor leagues popped up all over the country, and the Southwest was filled with them. In addition to the rebirth of the Texas League, other leagues included the East Texas, Big State, Longhorn, West Texas-New Mexico, Rio Grande Valley, Sooner State, and Gulf Coast. Veteran ballplayers returned from the service and attracted fans familiar with their names from prior years. And there were the youngsters back from the war, eager to establish themselves as professionals.

Into this mix stepped twenty-year-old Oscar Kuver, the young hurler from Staten Island, New York, who had played for Peel on New Caledonia. Kuver threw hard, but was as raw as they come; he worked in 13 games for the Paris Red Peppers, and in 25 innings walked 47, allowed 36 hits, with a won-loss record of 0-2and an ERA of 12.24. Oscar was astounded by the hitting of veterans George Washington of Texarkana (.344); Joe Kracher, Texarkana (.340); Dutch Prather, Tyler (.345); and Bob Prichard, Paris (.332). Along with many others, these players were recycled from team to team, and from league to league. Managers were shifted as well, including Homer Peel. From Paris, Homer moved to Temple, then to Sherman-Denison, where in 1950 he called it a career as skipper. Baseball fans were now watching television and going to ballparks less frequently, and the low minor leagues were finding it harder to make a profit.

For Peel, things had changed as well, especially on the home front. In 1945 Homer married Julia Smart in Shreveport. They made their home in the Louisiana city, and on July 15, 1952 Julia gave birth to a son, Homer Hefner Peel Jr. The nickname of "Skipper," or "Skip," was given to the younger Homer. Julia liked the name; it reminded her of the times on the diamond when her husband's players called him Skipper.

In retirement from baseball, Peel ventured into the business world as a car salesman, where, according to son Skip, "He was not comfortable trading on his name and reputation under those circumstances." Later he was co-owner of a dry cleaning business, and eventually opened a service station, where, Skip says, "The business gave Dad a modest income and a place with his name on it where friends and fans could come by and visit."

Homer enjoyed fishing and hunting; he and his son often went fishing together, and the elder Peel loved to hunt for quail with his old ballplayer friend, George Washington. According to Skip, Homer's great hand-eye coordination made him a tough competitor with a hunting rifle. Another hobby of Homer's was gardening; he willingly shared his vegetable bounty with friends and neighbors.

In 1972 Peel returned to baseball for a season as groundskeeper for the Shreveport Captains of the Texas League. It was his last activity in baseball, except for attending old-timers' functions in and around Texas. At a gathering of retired North Texas ballplayers in the early 1980's, Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg was a special guest. Homer was introduced to the former Detroit slugger, and according to Skip Peel, Greenberg said, "I was fortunate to have the opportunity to play with and against many great players in the Texas League. When I came to Beaumont as a rookie, the greatest player in the league was Homer Peel."

In the years following his induction into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, Peel became the subject of numerous newspaper articles as well as interviews on radio and television. Through the media Homer revealed how unfortunate it was that he spent so many years in the St. Louis "chain gang," and that in his major league career he was never an everyday player. He had been recognized by his peers as a good curveball hitter, and believed strongly in regular play to sharpen his batting eye.

Another honor bestowed upon the Texas Baseball Hall of Famer was his selection to the Ark-La-Tex Sports Museum of Champions in 1992. Peel took great delight in the fact that his adopted hometown of Shreveport recognized his achievements by including him in its inaugural membership class of its Museum of Champions. A number of well-known athletes have become members of the Ark-La-Tex Sports Museum, including football players Stan Humphries, Bert Jones, Terry Bradshaw and John David Crow, golfers Hal Sutton and David Toms, and baseball players Willard "Home Run" Brown and Dick Hughes.

Homer Hefner Peel, a major league outfielder, navy chief petty officer, member of the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame, the Texas League Hall of Fame and the Ark-La-Tex Sports Museum of Champions, husband and father, was 94 years old when he passed away on April 8, 1997 in Shreveport, Louisiana. His immediate survivors were his wife, Julia Smart Peel, who died in 2006, and son, Homer Jr., now a resident of Louisiana.

Afterword

Oscar Kuver, the young pitcher who followed Homer Peel to Paris, Texas in 1946, returned to the Lone Star state the following year to begin his second season as a professional hurler. Kuver began the campaign with Paris, but in May was optioned out to Ardmore of the Class ‘D' Sooner State League, where he compiled a 10-14 won-loss record with a 5.56 ERA. Kuver walked 148 batters to lead the league; he also recorded 146 strikeouts in 162 innings pitched. Recalled by Paris in September, he logged a mark of 0-2 with the Red Peppers.

The 22-year-old Kuver was optioned again by Paris in 1948, this time to Pauls Valley (Sooner State), where he broke even at 14-14, worked 238 innings, and chalked up high marks for league moundsmen with 182 walks, 177 runs allowed, and 122 earned runs, although his ERA dropped to 4.61. Purchased by Lubbock of the West Texas-New Mexico League in November 1948, Oscar was returned to Pauls Valley in 1949, where he won ten games, lost eight, and had a 2.89 ERA. Oscar drew his release from Pauls Valley in February 1950, and his professional career was over. Kuver never revealed to Peel that on New Caledonia in 1944, he injured his right arm by throwing a rock on his way to the navy mess hall. According to Oscar, his arm never healed completely, and while he managed to pitch well on occasion, for the most part he was "damaged goods," and a huge disappointment to Peel.

Oscar Kuver returned to Staten Island, New York and became an inspector with U.S. Customs, first at the Port of New York, and later at the Port of San Francisco, California. During his time with Customs, he met numerous ballplayers passing through his jurisdiction, including Joe DiMaggio and Billy Martin. Oscar resides in Carlsbad, California now, and likes to talk baseball. In these conversations he never fails to bring up the name of his mentor and manager, the legendary Homer Peel.

Sources

Files from Homer "Skip" Peel Jr. Includes: Clippings from Shreveport-Bossier Times (1985), Dallas Morning News (1982), Fort Worth Star-Telegram (1937-38), and Cameron (Texas) Daily Herald (May 29, 1940)

Emails from Skip Peel: May 29, June 4, June 12, July 3, July 4, July 7 and July 11, 2007

Conversations with Oscar Kuver: June 2005, June and July 2006, and May 2007

Files from National Baseball Hall of Fame's Bart Giamatti Research Center: Includes Clippings from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (1938), New York Times (1937-38), Los Angeles Times (1941)

Files from Louisiana State University, Shreveport

Noel Memorial Library, Laura Lyons McLemore, PhD, CA, Archivist. Includes: Shreveport baseball history, clippings from Fort Worth and Shreveport newspapers, Garden Park Newsletter Shreveport (1992), Homer Peel Obituary (1997)

Minor league statistics courtesy of Raymond J. Nemec (SABR)

ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times (1928), New York Times (1929, 1933-35, 1938-39), Washington Post (1934, 1941), Chicago Daily Tribune (1934)

BaseballLibrary.com

Retrosheet.org

CNN-SI's web site: Minor League Baseball

The Baseball Encyclopedia. 9th ed. New York: Macmillan, 1993.

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