Play Ball!

1938 Greenwood Bulldogs

“On September 13, 1936 I wrote in my diary, ‘Tiny left today for Ole Miss. It will be lonesome without her but will be starting to school tomorrow anyway.’ We began having a few dates that year and boys were our main concern. High school was a lot different from Junior High, and we especially liked sitting in the study hall with the football players. I had a crush on a different one every week. We went to our first football games on the old football field next to Davis School. Of course, I had no idea what the game was all about but it was fun getting with the crowd, and lots of boys from the little towns would come to the games.

“We walked to and from the games, just as we did to recitals and other events at the High School auditorium. It was considered perfectly safe on the street even at ten or eleven o’clock at night. The Paramount was the gathering place for everyone, and we went every time the show changed.

George Patton and Woody Combs, Greenwood Dodgers; Sara in the background.

“Every spring the baseball players would arrive in town. Greenwood’s team was in the Cotton States League and was a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Some of them went on to the big leagues from here. There were always some cute boys coming in, and a lot of them stayed down the street from us at Mrs. Bilello’s boarding house.

George Patton, catcher, who seems to have been Sara's favorite. I'm not sure she even knew what exactly it was that a catcher caught.

“My friend Toodles Schear (later married to Sol Kantor) and I had seen some of them hanging around on Howard Street, and we wanted to meet them even though we knew our mothers would not let us date them. We knew that some of them had rooms at Spot Pettey’s house, so we went there one night pretending to look for Spot. The two ballplayers, named Hubbell and Anderson, asked us to give them a ride to town in Toodles’ car. We did, but we made them lie down on the floor in the back so that no one would see us and tell our mothers. I’m sure they had a good laugh about silly little high school sophomores. We started going to the ballgames but it was another year before we were allowed to date any of them.”

Clark Esser, Sara, Bob Salveson, Lucille McAlexander

Marion ("Mack") Standifer with Woody Combs

Bill Tench, pitcher for the Dodgers

Sara’s “Boys of Summer” have no plaques at Cooperstown, and I’ve only found note of one who even made it to the majors. Her friend George Patton played for the Philadelphia Athletics (later Kansas City and now Oakland) for two short months in the summer of 1935, batting .300 with 2 RBIs. So by the time he was squatting behind the plate for the Greenwood Dodgers, he was 26 years old and sliding back down the professional baseball ladder. But doesn’t he look like he’s still having fun, waving that bat in some Greenwood front yard? Maybe the hot summers in podunk Southern towns were just the ticket for this young man, and I like to think that he told his Pennsylvania grandchildren about that cute Sara Evans, the Mississippi high school girl he squired about in 1938 and never saw again.

Sara didn’t know a field goal from a sacrifice fly, but she was always a good sport (no pun intended) about the baseball and football obsessions that Daddy and I shared. One of her jobs with the Commercial Appeal was providing a call-in line for high school football scores each Fall Friday night, and those evenings where we all sat at the kitchen table, answering one phone call after another from Greenville and New Albany and New Hope and Duck Hill and a hundred other little towns remain in my memory as some of our best times. When my son, Jim, played for the Tupelo Golden Wave, her first question every Saturday morning was, “Did Jimbo score a touchdown?” I never quite got it across to her that centers don’t carry the ball and fullbacks mainly block, but she never lost hope. If she had seen the size of those South Panola boys he was up against, she would have had a stroke.

Ed. note: Thanks to the wonders of the internet, we can know a bit about the careers of those handsome young men pictures above. George Patton was born in 1912 in Cornwall, Pennsylvania, had just a few weeks in the majors and spent a few seasons bouncing around the minors; 1938 seems to have been his last go-round and he was traded to Anniston and Mobile that summer.

Bill Tench, a right-handed pitcher was born in 1908 (tell me he wasn’t dating high school girls!) and never made it out of the low minors. 1938 was his last season.

Woody Combs, a left-handed fielder, was born in 1915 and bounced around the minor leagues as a persistent .200s hitter from 1935 until 1939. He must have gone off to war and then returned for one more shot in 1947, when he had just 42 at-bats and batted .119. Guess it was time to go home then.

Clark Esser is the mystery man here. Baseballreference.com does not show him as ever playing for the Greenwood Dodgers. He was born in 1917 and played during the 1937 and 1938 seasons as a fielder, but no mention of Greenwood. Since his 1938 average at Kinston (?state) was .189, he may have just been on his way home and stopped by to visit some old teammates.

Bob Salveson was a gift from baseball to Greenwood. He was a California native, born in 1915, who arrived in Greenwood as a fielder for the Dodgers in 1938. He played for minor league teams in Greenville, Helena and Monroe, with (I presume) a military stint in between, before giving it up in 1946 at Leavenworth. Thank goodness, he married a Greenwood girl, Myrtie, and returned to the Delta, where he was Leflore County Tax Assessor and one of Sara’s dearest friends until his death in 2004.

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About sec040121

Hello....I'm in possession of a priceless collection of memoirs and memorabilia left by my mother, Sara Evans Criss. She was a native and lifelong (88 years!) devotee of our small town, who covered this peculiar and volatile corner of the world for 30 years as the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Greenwood bureau chief, a job that started out with debutantes and high school football and wound up spang in the midst of one of the twentieth century's most enduring social upheavals. This blog is dedicated to her memory and the legacy she left behind, both for her family and her community.
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8 Responses to Play Ball!

  1. Alice Ann (Amelung) Doiron says:

    What a treat to read about your mom’s growing up years in Greenwood! I also grew up there and remember your mother well. She was THE newspaper writer of our area and knew everything that was going on. I am lucky to have a couple of her Christmas Angel bottle dolls, which I treasure. My mother was a little older, but reading your blogs gives me a feel for what her young years were like as well. Thanks for an enjoyable read.

    • sec040121 says:

      Alice,
      Thank you so much for your comments, and I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. Was Eddie your father?

      • Alice Ann (Amelung) Doiron says:

        Yes, he was. The “now” Eddie is my brother, who was born when I was a sophomore at Millsaps! He turned me on to your website.

  2. sec040121 says:

    Sara was very fond of your father, and as I told your brother, he was obviously very, very handsome from that ferry photograph. Can you imagine ferry companies letting those guys sit on the rails now? A different world, for sure. Thanks for getting in touch.

  3. Aimee York says:

    My grandpa was William (Bill) Tench and my family so enjoyed finding this picture of him on this page – thank you!

    • sec040121 says:

      Aimee,
      I’m so glad you found this. He was such a handsome man, and obviously one that my mother liked well enough to photograph. Please let me know about his life and family.

  4. Judy Rice says:

    I also enjoyed the article my dad was Bill Tench and he was a wonderful man and father he died to young at 68. He remained gorgeous even at 68. Thanks for the picture my whole family is enjoying it.

    • sec040121 says:

      Judy,
      I’m so glad this picture and the blog have brought you some happy memories. These young men meant a lot to my mother and it’s wonderful to connect with their families.
      Mary Carol

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