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Atlanta Braves History: The Braves snag Billy Southworth (1921)

In January of 1921, the Braves finally snagged Billy Southworth — one of three Pirates traded to Boston, with $15,000, for Rabbit Maranville. Billy wasn’t happy to be moving from a winning team to a loser. But he wound up signing a contract a few days later and was named captain of the team.

Southworth hit .308 for Boston that year. He was limited to 43 games in ’22 due to a dislocated knee, but in 1923 he accumulated a career-high 611 at-bats and hit for a .319 average. After the season, however, he was part of a trade with the Giants. It was a multiplayer deal, with Casey Stengel coming to Boston along with Dave Bancroft and Bill Cunningham in exchange for Southworth and hurler Joe Oeschger.

John McGraw had coveted Southworth since 1921, according to New York Times sportswriter Arthur Daley. But he waited until Billy had demonstrated that he had recovered from his knee injury.

The Year (1948)

How long would the Braves wait patiently under Billy Southworth for a pennant? 1948 was the year. The Braves finished in first with a record of 91-62, 6 & 1/2 games ahead.

The reward came to “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.” It was a long draught. Not since 1914 had they come in first. And, it was almost an all-Boston World Series.

Like picking horses (1969)

Billy Southworth was considered a “genious on the diamond”.

He lived a long life. At age 76, in 1969, he died in Columbus, Ohio. He had emphysema. What is said at the funeral is always a tribute. One of Billy’s former players on the 1948 Braves was there. He was Clint Conatser. Here is his tribute.

“He just had a gut feeling about the right thing to do in a situation,” Conatser recalled. “The moves he would make would work for him — all the time, not occasionally. Leo Durocher was the same way. It’s like some guys can pick horses out of nowhere. Southworth was a genius like that on the diamond.”

Harvard

Billy Southworth was born William Harrison Southworth. The year was 1893 and that was in Harvard, Nebraska. He died in 1969. He saw a lot of baseball for sure. He played the game and was a right fielder and center fielder. He played the game in 1913, 1915 and from 1918 to 1929. He batted left-handed and threw right-handed.

Southworth turned to managing in 1929. He then took a break until 1940 and kept going until 1951. He was finally inducted into the hall of fame in 2008.

Unlike me, he decided to play baseball against his father’s wishes. He didn’t do to bad. He batted .300 three times in his career.

Baseball is a game of second chances (1940)

Billy Southworth got a second chance. In 1940 the Cardinals, who were struggling, fired Ray Blades. In comes Billy, from Rochester. So, what happens. The Cardinals take off. They had some talented players like Stan Musial coming in from the farm teams. This started thier “golden age”. After he came on board that season, they won 69 of 109 games. They move from seventh to third place. In 1941 they came in second. The next three years they won three penants and two World Series titles.

How is that for a second chance?

The Brat (Eddie Stanky)

What happens when “The Brat” slides into “The Bull”? The Brat breaks his ankle and that is what happened to Eddie Stanky when he slid into third against Brooklyn’s Bruce “The Bull” Edwards on July 8, 1948. That ended the season for him.

Eddie played for the Braves in 1948 and 1949. Eddie was born on September 3,1916 in Philadelphia. He was a very good second baseman for the Dodgers. So much so, when the Braves needed a good middle fielded, Owner Lou Perini brought him onto the club. Manager Billy Southworth agreed that if they were going to make a run for first, they needed strength at second. With a rookie Al Dark at short, they needed a sure hand. Too bad his 1948 season would be so short.

Billy Southworth as a Brave (1946)

Billy Southworth moved to manage the Boston Braves in 1946. At the time, making $50,000 as a manager was a big deal. He had some fairly quick success. Fourth in 1946. Third in 1947. First in 1948. Of course, it probably didn’t hurt that he had Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain pitching for him. They won their second NL pennant in the 1900’s under his great leadership. They were defeated however in the 1948 World Series in six games by the Cleveland Indians.

In 1949 many of the players rebelled against Southworth’s rules, regulations, and leadership. The Braves struggled on the field. The rumor mill had Southworth, an admitted achoholic, drinking heavily and near a nervous breakdown. So, in August Southworth turned the Braves over to someone else. Johnny Cooney, another Braves coach, took over. Southworth did come back to coach the Braves in 1950. It would be easier on him because most of the rebellious Braves had been traded away.

But the team was “older”. Attendance was in the toilet. In 1951 the Braves were barely 28-31 by June 19th. Part of the issue was probably competition. The Boston Red Sox was agressively going after the fans. This was the first year they both broadcast their games on the radio. It only paid off for the Red Sox though. Billy Southworth did the honorable thing. He “resigned”. Most reports have him being fired. He was replaced by a former right fielder, Tommy Holmes. He did remain with the Braves as a scout. Not uncommon. He never managed again. In 1953 the Boston Braves became the Milwaukee Braves. Go figure.

A good contract (1950)

Billy Southworth had a good contract. In 1950 it had 3 years left on it. He would get $50,000 per season. 1949 had not been a good season. Yet, there was no doubt Billy would return as manager in 1950. And he did. The Braves finished fourth, 8 games back.

They did try to reformulate the team. Shortstop Al Dark and second baseman Eddie Stansky were sent packing. We got four players from the Giants for them. Only left fielder Sid Gordon made a difference. Where did the trade to the Giants get them? The Giants were contenders in 1950 and penant winners in 1951. Dark and Stansky help them get there. Thanks to the generosity of the Braves.

Southworth and winds of change (1947)

Billy Southworth is the manager in 1947. He had his first season as manager in 1946. The changes he brought to the team now appeared to not short term luck. The finished third in 1947, 8 games behind. They had their best winning percentage (.558) since 1916. They came closer to first than they had in a while.

The winds of change were blowing and the fans sensed it for sure. It was in 1916 that team under “Miracle Man” George Stallings had done pretty good. This year they were better. They had pretty very good hitting and pretty good pitching. They led the league with .275 team batting average. Now how was that? Combined with pitching of 3.62 ERA, second in the league, the winds were definately blowing. Good stuff to come.

14 straight games (1947)

1947 was quite a season for the Boston Braves. They had barely seen first in 30 years. They ended in third place. For the second straight season, they set an attendance record.

On August 20, 1947, two fans won cars. The attendance that day went over 1,000,000. The final attendance that year was 1,277,361. They were becoming the talk of baseball.

One of the more amazing things that season was that the great pitcher, Johnny Sain, was also one of the best hitters. At one point he hit safely in 14 straight games. He batted a respectable .346 for the season. Billy Southworth was helping to move the Braves ahead.

13 isn’t a bad number

December 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Billy Southworth had a 13 season career. He almost batted .300 (actual was .297) which is pretty good. He also had 53 home runs, 138 stolen bases and 1,296 hits.

He also did very well as a manager. His .597 record is second to all time record holder Joe McCarthy’s .615. He had four first place finishes and won two World Series. He really helped the Braves in the 1940’s. Getting into the Hall of Fame in 2008 proved it all.

Great player. Great manager.

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