As Harold Daugherty strolled across the Weir High School diamond where he had played as an infielder on West Virginia's first-ever high school baseball championship team, the announcer of the ceremony honoring that 1945 team mentioned that Daugherty had had a brief career with the Detroit Tigers after his graduation.
Brief would be an understatement for the Major League career of Daugherty, better known as "Doc" during his playing days. (Daugherty doesn't know why he was called "Doc" and guesses that it sounded like his last name in shortened form.) Daugherty's career consisted of but a single appearance as a pinch-hitter on April 22, 1951. He is one of about 400 players since 1900 whose moment in the sun lasted only a day.
Born October 12, 1927, in Paris, Pennsylvania, Daugherty was a three-sport star at Weir High School just over the border in the growing steel town of Weirton, West Virginia. His senior year of 1944-45, Daugherty was named to first-team All-State in football, basketball and baseball. Those accomplishments led him to earning the 1945 West Virginia Amateur Athlete of the Year, one of the handful of times the honor has been bestowed on a high school athlete by the state's sports writers. In football, Daugherty was an all-purpose quarterback, and in a 40-13 win over Parkersburg he threw two touchdown passes, returned a kickoff 80 yards for a score, had a 101-yard interception return for a touchdown and ran 45 yards for yet another score. In a 32-12 win over Linsly Military Institute, he ran for four touchdowns and threw for another. In two seasons as a starter, Daugherty ran and threw for 1,925 yards, scoring 18 touchdowns running and throwing for 13. Despite being just a shade over 6 feet tall, Daugherty played center on the Red Riders' basketball team and helped the squad to a 19-1 season. He was a graceful shortstop with a strong arm on the state champion baseball team.
Daugherty was grabbed by Detroit scouts off the campus of Ohio State University, where he was playing on the football team following a brief stint in the United States Army. Daugherty spent three seasons in the Tigers' minor league organization with little fanfare. In 1948, he hit .255 with nine homers and 54 runs batted for Williamsport in the Eastern League. He was back with Williamsport in 1949, and his numbers suffered as he concluded the year with a .203 average, seven homers and 29 runs batted in. Daugherty warranted a promotion coming out of spring training in 1950, moving up to Little Rock in the Southern Association. The Travelers suffered through a horrendous 52-96 campaign, finishing last and nearly 40 games from first. Daugherty, however, now found himself being labeled as a prospect after batting .251 with five homers and 27 runs batted in. In 1951, he went to spring training with the Tigers.
He made the parent club as a backup shortstop following a strong spring, one in which Daugherty recalled smacking a homer and a single in his first exhibition game against the Philadelphia Phillies. Wearing No. 21 on his back, Daugherty rode the pines in Detroit's opening games against the Cleveland Indians, both losses. After an off day, the Tigers traveled to Chicago for a weekend series with the White Sox. Daugherty again sat idle in a 5-0 loss and failed to see action in the Tigers' 7-6 victory, their first of the season. On April 22, a blustery Sunday before fewer than 10,000 fans, the Tigers and the White Sox concluded their weekend series, and as before, Daugherty found himself relegated to the bench as the game began. Finally, in the ninth inning with Detroit trailing 3-2, Daugherty heard skipper Red Rolfe telling him to grab a bat. He was going to bat for relief pitcher Virgil Trucks.
This was to be Daugherty's big moment, but standing 60 feet, 6 inches away was White Sox ace lefthander Billy Pierce, who had baffled batters all afternoon in his five-hit performance. The eager rookie fouled off the first offering for strike one, and the scenario repeated itself for strike two. Daugherty failed to get wood on the third pitch, ending his at-bat, and unbeknownst to him at the time, his big league career. "Fouled off a couple of pitches, and then I swung and missed. That was my big moment," Daugherty said in a telephone interview.
He never considers himself another "Moonlight" Graham, the famed character hunted down by Kevin Costner in the classic movie Field of Dreams. Daugherty doesn't dwell on never having the opportunity to "stretch a double into a triple" or wink at the pitcher just as he goes into his wind-up to "make him think you know something he doesn't." Daugherty says he has never seen the often-played movie and doesn't even know who Graham was. But Ray Kinsella similarly questioned "Moonlight" Graham in that doctor's office in Chisholm, Minnesota: Could one at-bat have changed the life, the world for another "Doc" had he stroked a hit instead of striking out?
"Who knows?" he said. "I've never really thought about that too much."
A few days after his debut, Daugherty was told he was being sent back to Little Rock for more minor league seasoning. He wasn't surprised, saying he was a prospect so the Tigers "let me get a taste of the big leagues." Daugherty split the season with Little Rock, where he struggled with a .185 batting average, a homer and three RBI before moving up to the Toledo Mud Hens in the American Association. He fared a bit better there as he raised his average to .271, adding two more homers and 17 RBI to go with it.
He found himself in the International League for the 1952 season, this time Buffalo where he turned in a .225-6-33 season for the Bisons. Daugherty started the 1953 season with Buffalo in the International League before the Chicago Cubs' organization picked up his contract and assigned him to their International League affiliate in Springfield, Massachusetts. His combined numbers in the league were .206-3-40. Daugherty also spent some time with the White Sox affiliate in the American Association, the Charleston (West Virginia) Senators, where he hit .257 with a homer and nine RBI. After that season Daugherty put away his glove and spikes, opting for a more stable and less nomadic brand of employment after six years of bouncing around the country on a minor league bus.
"It was a miserable season," he recalled. "I had been going to school in the winter and a football coaching job opened up at Weirton. Because it had been such a miserable year, I decided I would try my hand at coaching."
He stayed at the Hancock County (West Virginia) school as its football and baseball coach for two years, suffering through a 1-9 football season in 1954. Integration came to West Virginia the following school year, and the African-American students from the town's Dunbar High School moved into the formerly all-white Weir High. Battling racial unrest and a new culture of students, Daugherty guided the team to an 8-1-1 record, winning the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference championship at the end. The team featured an outstanding back from Dunbar High, Bob Jeter, who would go on to play at Iowa and for the Green Bay Packers on their first two Super Bowl championship teams. Daugherty accepted a teaching and coaching job in Bedford, Ohio, at the urging of one of his former Ohio State teammates. He stayed there until his retirement in 1983 and then spent a couple of years "playing carpenter" around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where two of his three children resided. Daugherty finally decided to really retire, as he and his wife Desiree (Hale), a 1949 graduate of Weir High School, moved to Russell Springs, Kentucky, a town located on Lake Cumberland, a place where his family had often vacationed during summer breaks.
"We've got a place on the lake," he said. "Golfing, fishing, it has everything conducive to just relaxing."
Telephone interview conducted by the author for the Wheeling (West Virginia) Intelligencer in 2001.
www.minorleaguebaseball.com and its media contact department.
New York Times, April 23, 1951, for the box score of the game.
Doug Huff, West Virginia Sports Writers Association.
Bob Rossell, Weir High School historian.