Dick Porter

This article was written by Bill Nowlin

Right fielder Dick Porter played 5½ years with the Cleveland Indians, half a year with the Boston Red Sox, and 15 years in the minors – all but the very last one in the International League. That length of tenure in the I.L. helped him earn induction into the International League Hall of Fame.

He grew up as a farm boy in Maryland, born in Princess Anne, Maryland, on December 30, 1901. His parents were Twilley C. Porter, a general farmer, and Florence "Sallie" Porter. The Porters had three children – Stanley, Josephine, and Richard Twilley Porter. Dick went to school in the area, graduating from Wicomico High School (in nearby Salisbury) and then to St. John's College in Annapolis for four years.

His first year in baseball was with the Baltimore Orioles; in fact, his first eight years in baseball were with the Orioles. Jack Dunn, the Orioles manager/owner who had sold Babe Ruth to the Red Sox, "had one of his scouts" sign Porter from the Princess Anne club.1 Porter was a hard-hitting third baseman for Princess Anne, and captain of the team. He appeared in 16 games for the Orioles at the very end of the year, batting .321, including a 6-for-9 doubleheader on September 18. It's not as though Baltimore needed him, though a new star is always welcome; the 1921 Orioles set a record with 119 wins giving them a 20-game lead over a team that won 100, the Rochester Colts. After the season was over, Porter went back to continue work on his degree at St. John's, but as a professional he could no longer play on the college team. On his player questionnaire for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Porter wrote that he had attended St. John's for four years but did not receive a degree.

In his first full season with the Orioles, 1922, Porter hit .279 in 136 games, with eight home runs. He played every position but pitcher, catcher, and first base, though primarily he played outfield. The 1922 Orioles won the I.L. pennant again, with 115 wins, though this team only topped Rochester by 10. A powerhouse of a team, the Orioles won 111 games in 1923, 117 in 1924, 105 in 1925, and 101 in 1926 (this year finishing second to the 109-win Toronto Maple Leafs). They had won 110 in 1920, an even 100 in 1919, but only 74 in the war-shortened 1918 season. To win 100 or more games in eight consecutive years at the highest level of minor-league play is, needless to say, no small accomplishment for Jack Dunn and the Orioles.

Porter was moved from the outfield to third base in 1923, batting .316 with 18 homers. He had a very productive early June series against Syracuse in 1924, hitting safely in 16 of 21 at-bats. And he began to build a national reputation, winning the International League batting title with a .363 average and 23 home runs.2 In 1924 the versatile Porter was the second baseman on the All-Star team. The team continued to prosper and so did Porter. In 1927 he won the I.L. title again, with a .376 batting average.3 In 1928 he was an all-star once again, batting .350, this time as an outfielder. Major-league teams were after Porter. Earlier in 1928, Dunn had offers from more than one team. Dunn knew that Porter had real value, saying, "Porter is worth $65,000 of anybody's money. He can bat like a demon, field finely, and is fast. He can improve any team."4 But Dunn preferred to keep pursuing pennants for his Orioles.

June 1926 had been an interesting month. On the 13th Porter married a woman named Dum and on June 20 he collapsed and was taken to a hospital. He was operated on for appendicitis.

On October 22, 1928, Jack Dunn died. Less than a month later, thanks to the efforts of Indians general manager Billy Evans, Porter became property of the Cleveland Indians, for a reported $30,000 and two ballplayers. Cleveland also purchased outfielder Earl Averill from San Francisco for a similar, perhaps somewhat larger, sum.

It doesn't seem that Dunn was holding back an irritated Porter; Porter was doing well financially with the Orioles. Indeed, when he received his first salary offer from the Indians, he said he "didn't see any particular good in becoming a major leaguer if he couldn’t earn substantially more than he could in the minors and that he was returning his contract with a request for a revision of the figures."5 GM Evans didn't exactly take a tough line, saying everyone has a right to ask for more, that “I used to be a good dickerer myself," and that "I managed to get several boosts in salary."6 He did allow, though, that Porter was offered a good increase over what he'd been making and that he hadn't yet proved himself at the big-league level.

Matters were worked out and Indians fans looked forward to the made-over team. Manager Roger Peckinpaugh foresaw a first-division finish in 1929, writing on the eve of Opening Day, "For one thing, we'll have more batting power. Dick Porter and Earl Averill, our recruit outfielders, heavy hitters in the minors, are going to be just about as dangerous against major league pitchers. They have shown that in their exhibition games."7 Averill hit a home run in his first big-league at-bat. Not everyone does that well, of course. Porter "did nothing to distinguish himself, but, as predicted, he made the customers talk. His antics around the plate were like nothing they had ever seen, and they'll be back to see more of him."8 He did get on base three times, twice on walks and once on an error.

There was no explanation for Plain Dealer readers, but Porter had brought with him the nicknames "Twitches" and "Wiggles." (He himself may not have appreciated the nicknames; when asked by the Hall of Fame what his nickname was, he replied, "Dick.") He had a "peculiar and unorthodox" batting stance. He himself called it a "double-hitch."9 The Tampa Tribune article suggested the Indians might hire an old-time carnival barker who would call, "Lay-deez and gen-tle-men, I now take great pleasure in calling your attention to Dick Porter, the only hula-hula batter in the American League. Watch him wiggle at the plate. Yes, watch him shimmy. Watch him take two or three swings with the bat, after the ball leaves pitcher's hand. You may think his batting pose is amusing, lay-deez and gen-tle-men, but how Dick does wallop the apple. I might also add he is the only player in the American League who owns a sausage factory. Hot dog."10 Porter wasn't a big man; he was 5-feet-10 and listed at 170 pounds.

Manager Joe McCarthy of the Cubs had tried to purchase Porter from Jack Dunn a couple of years earlier. When he heard the Indians had finally landed him, he told Cleveland's Billy Evans, "If that fellow can hit big league pitching, and I haven't a doubt that he can, he'll be the biggest drawing card in baseball next to Babe Ruth."11 High praise indeed, but McCarthy was referring, in essence, to Porter's charisma. The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Gordon Cobbledick wrote, "He walks with a swagger, he swaggers as he dashes after a fly in the outfield and he swaggers as he totes that dynamite-laden bat to the plate. It isn't that objectionable thing known as grandstanding, because the young man is by nature modest and retiring. It is just a manner that happens to be so different from any other manner on exhibition in the American League that you can't help watching him."12

Porter got his first hit on April 17, and his first extra-base hit – a double – on the 18th, and his first RBI on the 19th. He got into 71 games, spread throughout the season, pinch-hitting frequently (particularly in May and August), while playing the outfield and second base. He hit well, and finished very strong, batting .328 while driving in 24 runs. He homered once. Peckinpaugh had been right in his prediction; the Indians finished in third place.

In 1930 Porter had the best spring training on the team and established himself as a regular in the outfield despite a serious beaning on April 30. He hit for a .350 average, eighth in the league. He drove in 57 runs, and he led the league in turning double plays as a right fielder, with four. One of his RBIs won a game on his inside-the-park home run in the 12th to beat the Yankees, 6-5, on August 21. He had three four-RBI games. He scored an even 100 runs.

A severe cold contracted in spring training kept Porter out of the lineup for the first few weeks of the 1931 season. It wasn't until May 9 that he was put in the starting lineup. He played in only 114 games and hit .312, driving in 38 runs. It was Porter’s lowest average in his first three years, and he never hit that well again. The Indians weren't wedded to him. At the winter meetings in December 1931, they let it be known that Porter could be had, as could Eddie Morgan, but there wasn't sufficient interest. In June 1931, Mr. and Mrs. John Peet of Cleveland named their 13th child Dick Porter Peet.13

Porter proved a solid outfielder again in 1932, appearing in 146 games and batting .308 with 60 RBIs and, as the Indians' leadoff batter, a career-high 106 runs scored. This year, it was reported that he had a horse named after him.14

Porter was a good defensive outfielder, and in 1933 he committed just one error all season long, his .996 fielding percentage reported as tying a major-league record. He had a distinctly down year at the plate, however, batting .267 and driving in just 41 runs and scoring only 73. He was the only regular outfielder in the American League who failed to hit a home run in 1933.

Porter’s future was not secure. In mid-March Cobbledick wrote, "Dick Porter, veteran of five campaigns as a regular, will be called upon for the first time to fight for his position, with Bob Holland providing his chief competition and the grizzled Sam Rice waiting to step in if either of the contestants falters."15 It was Rice who played the most games. Porter was batting only .227 when he was packaged in a May 25 trade to the Boston Red Sox. Leaving the only team for which he'd ever played in the big leagues, Porter and pitcher Wes Ferrell went to the Red Sox for Bob Seeds, Bob Weiland, and $25,000. Ferrell joined his brother (and future Hall of Famer) Rick on the Red Sox. He'd been holding out on the Indians, and he'd had a mediocre 1933. The Indians had apparently had enough of him, and they did want Seeds back. The Plain Dealer's assessment discounted Ferrell: "For all intents and purposes, it was a trade of Porter for Weiland and Seeds." It was Weiland who had beaned Porter late in 1932 "and the nervous outfielder hasn't been the same player since."16 They had no way of knowing that Ferrell would be a 25-game winner for the Red Sox in 1935 and would win another 20 games in 1936.

Porter and Dusty Cooke both played outfield utility roles for the Red Sox in 1934. Porter appeared in 79 games, with 288 plate appearances, and hit for a .303 batting average. He drove in 56 runs. In 1935 he played for the Newark Bears. Though he didn't know it at the time, his major-league career was over. He had finished with a career .308 batting average.

The Red Sox were unable to sign Porter to a mutually-agreed salary for 1935, and so placed him with their Syracuse farm club in early March 1935, while he hoped to sign on with another major-league club. That didn't happen so he was traded instead to the Newark Bears for Eddie Farrell.17

Porter had a good year for Newark, batting .334 with eight homers. His second year, 1936, was nowhere as strong; he played in only 106 games and batted .286.

In 1937, and for four seasons, Porter played for the Syracuse Chiefs. On May 18, 1938, Jim Bottomley resigned as Chiefs manager and Porter was named in his place. He was player-manager for the rest of 1938 and the 1939 and 1940 seasons as well. The team was 6-14 when he took the reins. After a third-place finish in 1937, Syracuse finished second in 1938, with a record of 87-67. In 1939 the Chiefs dropped to fifth and in 1940 to seventh place. Porter's plate appearances declined over the years; he hit .314 in 1937, but once he became skipper he played in only 68 games in 1938 (.304), 25 games in 1939, and 15 in 1940. He was released in November 1940.

In February 1941 Porter signed to manage the Anniston Rams of the Southeastern League. The team finished fourth in the six-team league. Porter's first wife had suffered a stroke in 1939 and died on August 29, 1940.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Porter was inspired to think about military service, which he had considered back in college days. He joined the Coast Guard and served from 1942 to 1944 at Curtis Bay, Maryland. One particularly remarkable game was played against the Boston Red Sox on April 1, 1944. Playing at the Curtis Bay Navy Yard, Porter's "Cutters" beat Boston, 23-16.

Porter was honorably discharged in September 1944 and in October married again, to Mildred M. Kummer. He took a job in 1945 managing the Wilkes-Barre Barons (Eastern League), finishing in second place, and then saw the team to a third-place finish in 1946.

Porter managed Birmingham in 1947 (sixth place), Utica and then Toronto in 1948, Fall River and then – after mid-July – St. Petersburg (Class B) in 1949. He was said to be the fifth manager of the St. Petersburg club in 1949.18

He was with St. Petersburg again in 1950, until June 1 (one of four managers during another year of turmoil that saw the team finish in last place), and then, in 1952, his last position, with Salisbury, Maryland, from August 16 to the end of the season. He retired to live in Allen, Maryland. For many years, he hosted old teammates and other friends on annual duck and quail hunts.

In 1968 Porter was inducted into the Maryland Shrine of Immortals.

As early as 1962, Porter was hospitalized for treatment of a heart ailment at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Philadelphia. That is where he died after a very long illness, on September 24, 1974. He was survived by his second wife, Mildred. That November he was inducted into the Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Porter's player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

1 "Huge Crowd Is Expected to See Game," Baltimore Sun, September 6, 1921: 13.

2 His average is given as .364 in the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball.

3 Both the New York Times and the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball reported his average as .376.

4 "Indians Acquire Porter of Baltimore in $40,000 Deal," Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 18, 1928: 1C.

5 Gordon Cobbledick, "Evans Anticipates No Trouble in Signing Dick Porter," Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 17, 1929: 22.

6 Ibid.

7 "American League Bosses Are Predicting Close Flag Race This Season," Republic (Rockford, Illinois), April 16, 1929: 18.

8 Gordon Cobbledick, "Indians Win in 11th, 5-4," Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 17, 1929: 24.

9 "Indian Star Perfects New Bat 'Twitch,' " Tampa Tribune, January 1, 1933: 10.

10 Ibid.

11 Gordon Cobbledick, "Indian Rookie Shows Considerable Color," Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 19, 1929: 26.

12 Ibid.

13 "Cleveland Fans's Baby Named Averill Peet," Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican, April 27, 1932: 7. The baby, their 14th child, was named Averill Louis Peet.

14 James. E. Doyle, "The Sport Trail," Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 19, 1932: 15.

15 Gordon Cobbledick, "Slugging Trosky Threatens Boss's Hold on Regular Job," Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 11, 1934: 31.

16 Gordon Cobbledick, "Tribe Strengthened by Deal That Sends Ferrell to Boston," Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 26, 1934: 21.

17 "Dick Porter Is Traded to Newark Club," Charlotte Observer, March 31, 1935: 12. See also "Red Sox Release Porter," Christian Science Monitor, February 21, 1935: 6.

18 "Porter Quits Tall (sic) River To Pilot St. Petersburg," Hartford Courant, July 19, 1949: 12.