Personal Memories of the 1941 Louisville Colonels

This article was written by Tony Lupien

This article was published in the Road Trips: SABR Convention Journal Articles


This article was originally published in “A Celebration of Louisville Baseball,” the 1997 SABR convention journal. This is an edited transcript of a 1996 recording. Ulysses “Tony” Lupien played just four full major league seasons, but he made a lasting impact on baseball through his pioneering player-rights efforts after World War II and his development of college players as baseball coach at Dartmouth College for more than twenty years. 

 

I went through spring training with the Boston club in 1941, in Sarasota, Florida. It was obvious that we had several first basemen on the roster and the chances were that when the spring training was over, I was going someplace, but not back to Boston. So my wife and my baby of eight months drove with me to Florida. We stayed at Sarasota for spring training until I was sent to the Louisville club, which was training over in Bradenton, Florida, about 20 miles from Sarasota.

We were only there a few days because it was the end of the spring training season and the club was going back to Louisville. So my wife and I and the baby drove from Bradenton, Florida, to Louisville, never having been in that part of the country in our lives. And finally, we met the club up at the Henry Clay Hotel in Louisville, three days before the season opened. At that time, Louisville was just starting to come alive with defense for the war. Aluminum plants and other industries were springing up all over the place. The city was bulging with people coming in there to work. Uniformed people were everywhere from Ft. Knox, and the place was a real beehive of activity.

We were in the hotel and looking for a place to live and just having no luck at all. And finally, after several days, we had pretty much given up the thought of finding a place, and very sadly my wife was talking about taking the baby and going back to Boston and staying there until the season was over. I could find a room someplace and stay the season in Louisville.

Out of nowhere a lady walked up to us and asked if we were the Lupiens, and we said yes. She said her name was Louise Lindley. She lived out on Taylor Boulevard and she said she and her husband had been baseball fans all their lives. They heard that we were looking for a place to live. Could we come out and take a look at their house? They would like to have us live with them for the summer. Of course we would! These were just the most wonderful people. They gave us the run of the first floor. They slept up in the attic (where it was hotter than hell!) and did their cooking down in the cellar.

They ended up just like being part of our family, and us part of theirs. It turns out they had been watching the ball games in Louisville all their lives. In fact, Jim Lindley had worked as a ticket taker at the ballpark years before. He enriched us with many stories of old-time Louisville ball players and people like Jay Kirke and Joe McCarthy. I learned an awful lot about the tradition of Louisville baseball just listening to him sitting around the house. I had been at Little Rock in the Southern League the year before, when it was in the midst of the worst of depressions. The town was in very bad shape, and to come to Louisville was just like going to heaven as far as we were concerned. Parkway Field was in very good shape. The fans were great and they came out in fine numbers. It was really a joy to join the Louisville ball club.

I might say, too, that now we were traveling in trains that were some of the best, going through Chicago to Minneapolis and Kansas City. No longer did we have the dregs of the Pullman cars that somebody had dumped on all the southern railroads. Conditions were excellent. We had a nice trainer there and clubhouse man. It was just like the big leagues to us after having been in other minor league situations.

In addition, there was the opportunity to play for a great man, Bill Burwell, who was the manager of that club. To me, I played for several managers in the big leagues and Triple-A, and I would say that this was the best handler of pitchers that I have ever met in my life. And some of the young pitchers that developed under his tutelage, people like Tex Hughson, learned so much that we would just sit in the railroad cars and listen to him talk. He could tell them more in five minutes than these smart executives that I see on the television today with stop watches and all kinds of equipment and don’t know what town they’re in.

This was a period where you played, and your object was to help the ball club. It was not a me, me, me world like it is today. There were no closers and set-up men and all of these fancy names. If you could relieve and get somebody out, you went in and relieved. And if you had to stay in the ball game and get a bad beating to straighten out your pitching staff, you did so without complaining and beefing about it. It seems like today, because of the emphasis on individual statistics and greed on the part of everyone, players and owners alike, that a fellow is more interested in his record than he is in how the team does. So, if he has to face a tough left hander on a certain day, or he just doesn’t feel quite right, he has to get out of the line-up and rest for a day or two.

In those days we played day in, day out, drunk or sober, sick or well, and as Bill Burwell would say, you’re gonna have days when you face pitchers that you’re not gonna hit, but you do something else to help the ball club. Maybe you’ll get a base on balls; maybe you’ll steal a base; maybe you’ll go from first to third on a play that is gonna change the ball game. Maybe you will make a great defensive play and help us. Try to manufacture something to help the ball club, because you’re not going to have people that you can hit every day. And I think this is a great lesson for a young hitter to learn.

We never spent much time in the office in those days as ball players, but I know that we had a president of the club, Bruce Dudley, who was well-respected among baseball people, and ran a very efficient operation at Louisville. Our traveling secretary was a man named Harry Jenkins, who later had a good executive job in the Braves organization. I believe he was from Owensboro, Kentucky. Nice guy. And our trainer was Frank Bidack, and he was a good man. A young guy who could do more for the training job, which in those days did not require a degree in kinesiology. It required a knowledge of human nature, just like it does today. And most of the ills are all up in the head and not in the body.

Don Hill was the radio broadcaster for the ball games in those days. He was eminently fair. And was good to the ball players, but he didn’t pull any punches.

Let’s talk about the roster of the ball club a little bit. It was not a time that rosters changed very much. You stayed pretty much with the ball club that you had from the beginning to the end. I think we had two or three pitching changes of new men that came and some that went, but that was about it.

The pitchers that we had were: Bill Butland, Owen Scheetz, Bill Sayles, Fred Shaffer, Oscar Judd, Bill Fleming, Bill Lefebvre, and Emerson Dickman. I want to point out that we did have for about a half a season Tex Hughson, who developed into one of the fine right-handed stars in the game and pitched well until he hurt his arm. I had played with Tex in Scranton and again in Louisville, and we were teammates in Boston.

Our catchers were: Joe Glenn, who had been with the Yankees as Dickey’s understudy for a long time; George Lacy; and Fred Walters, who was with us for quite a bit of the time before he went to Montreal. He ended up later on managing in the Association and then the Southern League. He was from Laurel, Mississippi, and was one of my best friends on the club. Joe Glenn (one of the characters of the game), could tell us nine million stories about Lou Gehrig. And it was just at that time that they were talking about making a picture of Gehrig’s life and Joe used to tell us all kinds of things, and he said he knew more about Gehrig than any movie director in Hollywood. He was a very entertaining guy to tell us about the past with the Yankees.

In the outfield we had Walter Cazen, who was a veteran minor league ball player. He had come over from Rochester in a deal, but he had played a long time in the International League and in the Texas League and he was a character in his own right. A funny man. Lot of characters that he could talk about and he knew a million old Texas League stories that would entertain you on the trains. He was full of hell and practical jokes and, of course, when you live that intimately on the trains for a full year and in the hotels, you have time on your hands to do the work of the devil.

In center field we had Chet Morgan, who had been a veteran Association player, lead-off man and a fine gentleman from Mississippi. Knew how to play. Played great position in the outfield and did a wonderful job for us in center field.

In right field we had Joe Vosmik, who had come over to the club in part of the deal that brought Pee Wee Reese to Brooklyn. It was an involved deal and Joe, we felt, belonged in the big leagues and did not belong in Louisville with us. But he pitched in and helped us; he was a fine right-handed hitter with a wealth of experience. A great person to have on the club. Artie Parks also had come over from Brooklyn and he was a left-handed outfielder; he was more or less our back-up outfielder and spelled anybody who might be hurt in the outfield.

In the infield we had Junie Andres at third base, from the University of Indiana, who played at Louisville the year before. A great basketball player. Nice, big, easy-going guy. Had good power. Had it not been for the war, I’m sure that Junie would have had an excellent big league career somewhere.

John Pesky, who spent a life with the Red Sox organization, was our shortstop. He had played at Rocky Mount the year before and came to Louisville in one big jump and had just a phenomenal season. Somewhere in the .330s, I believe, at the plate, and the next year we went to Boston and he had a carbon copy of that same year. He knew how to play and was an excellent shortstop for us. He was named the league’s most valuable player.

We had a boy named Al Mazur, who played second base, who would have been afine big league second baseman had it not been for the war. You’ve got to realize, this was just the time when the draft was taking single men first, and some of these boys were going to be in the service before long. I played first base and was lucky enough to have been there. Paul Campbell, who had played first base the year before, was in Montreal. He was a hard man to follow because he was very popular in Louisville. A good hustler. Good attitude, and had been an excellent player at Louisville, so I was lucky to follow him and be accepted as a first baseman on that club.

We lost the pennant to Columbus. It was just that they had an outstanding group over there. Preacher Roe, Harry Brecheen, Harry Walker, etc. Practically everybody on the ball club went either to the Cardinals or one of the contenders in the National League from that club. And they beat us down the stretch. Then in the playoffs, we beat Minneapolis in the first round. Columbus beat Kansas City. And then we lost to Columbus to close out the playoffs. I never felt sadder or yet any more proud than on that final game that we got beat in Louisville to see Bill Burwell walk across that field after the last out and shake hands with Burt Shotton of Columbus. This was a class man, the likes of which baseball could use today.

Fifty-five years have passed since I played on that club and sometimes it’s hard for me to remember everything that happened. I know that we had a good, fine hustling club. The makings of a club that would have become a perennial American Association contender had it not been for the war.

If I recall correctly, my salary for the year at Louisville was somewhere between $3,500 and $4,000, as an option ball player from the Red Sox. Today, I guess they can play in Class D and make that kind of money, but I know one thing, they can’t have the fun we had in the game.

One of my great memories of the years I spent in the game was the year in Louisville. I don’t think my wife and I were ever happier or treated better by anyone than we were in that town. And I hated to see Louisville go out of baseball when they did, but I’m sure glad to see that they’re back in business today.

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