Each one of the three years he played as a big-league infielder, Homer Ezzell hit better than the year before, but even the 1926 Red Sox didn’t feel they had a position for him.
He had a great name: Homer Estell Ezzell. It was bestowed on him, of course, by his parents, George and Leila, both native Texans.
Homer was born in Victoria, Texas, on February 28, 1896. There was a 29th in 1896, but it probably made life easier for Homer that he was born the day before. He didn’t have a lot of schooling, attending grades one through eight at School No. 9 in Victoria. He never attended high school, though he did spend time in the US Army infantry, from 1918 to 1920. He married Nora Murgatroyd in May 1918. Asked about his ancestry, he replied: “American.”[i] Victoria was largely a cow town, located more or less midway between Houston and San Antonio, and was the county seat of Victoria County. The 1900 census showed 13,678 residents of the county, and 75,495 beef cattle. George Ezzell was, however, a building contractor, and living in Houston by 1910, with his wife, two sons, and four daughters.
Homer Ezzell played for Marlin, Texas, in the Class D Central Texas League, in 1916 and 1917, then doesn’t surface again until he played with the 1921 Houston Buffaloes (Texas League, a Class A affiliate of the St. Louis Browns managed by former Red Sox player George Whiteman). He couldn’t have played much less for the Buffaloes: He got into one game at shortstop and never did get up to bat. Nor does he appear to have handled a ball in play. Before joining Houston he had played semipro ball in San Antonio for a couple of years and in 1921 also played for Sweetwater in the West Texas League.
In 1922 Ezzell split duties with two Texas League teams, first the San Antonio Bears and then the Shreveport Gassers. He got in a lot of work for the two teams, appearing in 155 games and hitting for a combined .331 average, with two homers, three triples, and 28 doubles. Playing 146 games at third base, he wasn’t the best of fielders (39 errors leading to a .912 fielding average), but fields in that era – particularly in the minor leagues – offered far from optimal playing conditions. Ezzell was adept on the basepaths, stealing a reported 55 bases and successfully sacrificing 19 times.[ii] The Washington Post even saw him, as a rookie, helping give the Browns a chance to win the pennant.
His playing weight was between 156 and 158 pounds, and he stood 5-feet-10½ inches tall. Though standard reference sources have him as batting and throwing right-handed, he actually batted both right- and left-handed, according to information he supplied the Hall of Fame.
The success Ezzell had at the plate in ’22 earned him a spot with the 1923 St. Louis Browns, and he debuted on April 22. (An October 1922 note in the Boston Globe reported that he’d been drafted by the Boston Braves, but apparently the Browns weren’t prepared to give him up.) It wasn’t until June 8 that Ezzell collected his first big-league hit. Browns manager Lee Fohl used him sparingly late in games; he got his feet wet but accumulated only five plate appearances in his first eight games. On June 8, however, he got a chance to start, playing third base and batting eighth against the Athletics in Philadelphia’s Shibe Park. The Browns lost the game, 6-5, but Ezzell contributed, with a base on balls and a single in four plate appearances, driving in two runs. It was an odd game in one sense; Ezzell was taken out, with Pat Collins running for him in the second inning but – with the permission of the Athletics’ manager, he resumed his post at third base. Collins reappeared in the game, too, pinch-hitting for the pitcher in the ninth and drawing a walk.[iii] Ezzell enjoyed two other two-RBI games later in the year, driving in 14 runs in all. As the year wore on, he took playing time away from Frank Ellerbe and eventually got into 88 games. He hit for a .244 average with six doubles his only extra-base hits. He scored 31 runs.
Ezzell trained with the Browns in the spring of 1924, but the day before the season opened, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox for shortstop/second baseman Norm McMillan. The Red Sox skipper was Lee Fohl, who had been Ezzell’s manager for the first two-thirds of the 1923 season before being relieved of his position. Fohl signed with the Red Sox and served a three-year stint, leading Boston for three dismal seasons. He said he felt the Red Sox would get more power from the straight-up trade by acquiring Ezzell, who appeared in 90 games for Boston, 64 of them filling in for Danny Clark at third base and 21 for Dud Lee at short. He even caught in one game. Boosting his average to .271, Ezzell scored 35 runs and drove in 32 – with a little bump near the end of the year thanks to a three-RBI game on September 21 and a four-RBI game on the 27th. He hit four triples and eight doubles.
With the acquisition of Doc Prothro to play third base in 1925, Boston didn’t need Ezzell as much. He played in 58 games, with an average of .285. He scored 40 runs but drove in only 15. Prothro hit .313. After the season the Red Sox traded both Ezzell and Tex Vache to the Detroit Tigers on December 9 to get third baseman Fred Haney. The next day they traded Prothro to the minors for Emmett McCann as part of a three-way deal that also saw Bill Wambsganss go to the Athletics. Baseball wasn’t impressed with the trades; the headline in The Sporting News read “Tigers Make Deal But Get Nothing.”[iv]4 The paper made clear that the goal was really to get Vache and Ezzell to the Fort Worth Panthers.
The Tigers asked Ezzell to play for Fort Worth in 1926, and he did. He was back in Class A, back in the Texas League, hitting .281 and playing the lion’s share of the team’s games at third base.
In 1927 it was north to Minnesota, where Ezzell played for the Minneapolis Millers in the Double-A American Association, batting .262 while second on Manager Mike Kelley’s depth chart at third base. He was only 31, but it seemed he’d clearly passed his prime. In 1928 Ezzell played for three teams – the Millers, then the Beaumont Exporters, and finally the Dallas Steers. He hit .269 for the season, ranging no further than a few points from that figure regardless of the team (he hit .273 for Minneapolis).
In 1929 Ezzell played his last year in Organized Ball, hitting .261 for the Tampa Smokers in the Southeastern League (Class B), though on his player questionnaire at the Hall of Fame, he said his last year playing ball was in 1932. It’s possible he had returned to play in one of the leagues in Texas that were outside of Organized Baseball.
After baseball, Ezzell was employed as a scale inspector by the Missouri Pacific Railroad. He died on August 3, 1976.