Could Some Baseball Guys Happen Here?
Meet a congressman who gave up dingers to Hank Aaron, the real Crash Davis, and a pitcher with the worst statistics I've ever seen.
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Could Hank Aaron Happen Here?
Hank Aaron, who died this weekend, broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home runs record, and in the process went through a lot more than you may have realized. The Winston-Salem Journal notes that Aaron signed his first professional contract, with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro leagues, during a stop in the city of Winston-Salem. So, very briefly, Hank Aaron happened here.
Aaron hit 755 home runs over his career, and two of them came off of a man who would go on to become a congressman from North Carolina. Wilmer Mizell, who was nicknamed “Vinegar Bend” by Harry Caray for some reason, gave up Aaron’s 61st and 161st home runs. Mizell was a major league pitcher for the Mets, Cardinals, and Pirates from 1952 until 1962, and won a world championship during his time with Pittsburgh. Five years after retiring from baseball, Mizell was elected to Congress in 1969, representing North Carolina’s 5th district (the previous inhabitant of the office was Nick Galifianakis, Zach’s uncle). He also pitched for the Republicans during Congressional baseball games, and was once pulled after two innings after striking out seven Democrats (if you’re wondering how you get seven strikeouts in two innings, Mizell said that his catcher bobbled a third strike).
Also, LOOKIT THIS MAN’S PERFECTLY SQUARE HEAD:
Could Historically Bad Baseball Happen Here?
Folks, I don’t like to be unnecessarily mean, but this isn’t an opinion so much as a brutal fact: The 1945 Concord Weavers SUCKED.
They went 34-79 and came in last place in the North Carolina State League. The only good thing that came out of that team was Tommy Lasorda, who was the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1976 until 1996. Lasorda died on January 7, and I, as a child of the 1980s, choose to remember him not so much as a player or manager but as the Dugout Wizard from old episodes of The Baseball Bunch.
Keeping with the theme: Tommy Lasorda also happened here. At age 17, he debuted for the godawful 1945 Weavers, and finished 3-12 in Concord as a pitcher. (He did, um, get better.) That is a bad record, but one of his teammates had it worse:
Imagine, if you will, being 16 years old, playing your first season of pro ball, and getting shellacked every single time you took the mound. His complete statline shows that it wasn’t entirely his fault: Over 71 innings pitched, Honas gave up 84 earned runs, and another 45 unearned runs. He allowed more total runs than he did hits. He also gave up 91 walks. Basically, almost every time Honas faced a batter, he allowed a hit, walked a guy, or one of his teammates committed an error. Despite all of this, Honas threw 4 complete games! FOUR COMPLETE GAMES! Honas’s manager, a guy named John Lehman, left him twisting in the wind for an entire outing four times. That means in the other 16 games Honas appeared in, he only pitched for an AVERAGE of two innings.
I am going to have dreams about this stat line. Weird, gnarly dreams.
My honest guess here is that the Weavers did not really have much of a choice but to play Honas. This was the final summer of World War II, when a lot of able-bodied baseball players like Ted Williams were serving in the military. Honas was far from the only teenager on that team, and the entire stable of Weavers pitchers was bad. Only one had a winning record.
Honas only played one more season, for the Dover Phillies, where he went 0-5. I can’t think of a pitcher who would have had a worse career record.
I would love to know more about this young man, but I’ve come up empty. All I know is that Thomas R. Honas, at age 16, was 5”11’ and weighed 165 pounds. I’ve done cursory research through Family Search, but haven’t found a man with his name who was born in 1929. Anywhere. I haven’t been on the road much lately, so a deep trip into the Concord Tribune’s microfiche isn’t in the cards for me right now. I also don’t know if Honas is still alive (he would be about 92 today). It’s a mystery, and if you can help me unravel the utter craptitude of the 1945 Concord Weavers, get in touch.
Could Bull Durham Happen Here?
Fascism has been in the news lately, but a long time ago, in a simpler time, fascism was a way to talk about strikeouts:
Bull Durham happened here! The movie was released in 1988, and in a strange twist, nobody could possibly have known that someday, the Durham Bulls would be Good At Twitter:
The film was fiction but the main character, “Crash” Davis, was a real person. Davis grew up in Gastonia, played baseball at Duke University, and was brought to the big leagues by Connie Mack, who offered him $300 a week:
“Mr. Mack, I won’t play for that,” Davis said. “I’m making about that much now.”
“Well young man,” Mack replied, “If you don’t want it, just go home.”
Davis was broke. He couldn’t afford to go back home. He signed.
I wrote about the real Crash Davis ten years ago, on the tenth anniversary of his death. He got the nickname at age 14, after he crashed into a left fielder while chasing a fly ball. Years later, Bull Durham director Ron Shelton saw his name while combing through an old Carolina League record book, and ended up using it for Kevin Costner’s character. And thus, a man who had a largely unimpressive baseball career became a name that’s forever connected with the game. “I wasn’t always the best player on my team,” he once said, “but I always got a hit when it counted.”
h/t Tommy Tomlinson, Howard Mortman
I, Jeremy Markovich, am a journalist, writer, and producer based outside of Greensboro, North Carolina. If you liked this, you might like Away Message, my podcast about North Carolina’s hard-to-find people, places, and things. Season 4 was all about the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Author avatar by Rich Barrett.
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