Looking back: Local baseball teams made names for themselves

Published 10:14 am Friday, June 22, 2018

by Clyde Parker

Recently, there has been renewed interest in Franklin’s semi-pro baseball team of the late 1940s.

We wrote of the team in the Summer 2014 edition of the Western Tidewater Living magazine, based primarily on Tidewater News coverage’s of the team’s evolution starting in 1948. In 1951, the team, and the Virginia League in which it played, was discontinued. The Virginia League membership, Class “B,” varied from year to year:

• 1948: Petersburg Generals, Blackstone Barristers, Lawrenceville Cardinals, Emporia Nationals, Franklin Cubs, Suffolk Goobers

• 1949: Petersburg Generals, Hopewell Blue Sox, Lawrenceville Robins, Emporia Nationals, Franklin Kildees, Suffolk Goobers

• 1950: Petersburg Generals, Hopewell Blue Sox, Elizabeth City Albemarles, Emporia Nationals, Franklin Kildees, Suffolk Goobers

• 1951: Colonial Heights-Petersburg Generals, Edenton Colonials, Elizabeth City Albemarles, Emporia Rebels, Franklin Kildees, Suffolk Goobers   

Readers are asked to help confirm or identify some of the players in this 1948 photo of the Franklin “Cubs” team. For some, a question mark appears behind the name. Contact Clyde Parker at Magnolia101@charter.net or 647-8212. From left, Don Robertson (?,) Vern “Moose” Shetler, Buddy Wilds (?,) Harold Atkinson, Red Williams (?,) Harvey Markellos, Lennie Luke (?,) Bucky Jacobs, John Zontini (Manager,) Dixon Deranek (?,) Jim McLaughlin, “Tink” Cornwell, Bobby Flis, Gordon Knisely, Bobby Porter (?) and Bobby Guyton (Batboy.) — Courtesy | Clyde Parker

As noted, the Franklin team was called the “Cubs” in 1948, and it was a “farm” team for the Portsmouth Cubs which was a Class “A” club. Incidentally, the Portsmouth “Cubs” and the Norfolk “Tars” scheduled several exhibition games at Franklin Field in Franklin.

Franklin Field, on Hill Street (now Charles Street) was the home field. It was used for both the town baseball team and the Franklin High School athletic program which included baseball and football. Johnny Peterson was the groundskeeper.

Starting in 1949, the Franklin team was renamed “Kildees” and was referred to as the “Southampton Kildees.”

In addition to Franklin’s farm-team relationship with the Portsmouth “Cubs,” the Lynn, Massachusetts “Tigers” of the Massachusetts Class “B” League used Franklin Field as its spring training location.  Interestingly, both the Portsmouth “Cubs” and the Lynn “Tigers” could draft players from the Franklin team.   

On at least one occasion in 1949, the Lynn “Tigers” actually played an exhibition game against the “Kildees” at “Franklin Field. The score was “Tigers” 10 – “Kildees” 4.

In January 1949, the Southampton Athletic Association was busy organizing the Franklin team for the upcoming season. Representatives of the Association went to Richmond to attend a meeting of the Class “B” Virginia League. They brought back a contract signed by veteran catcher George Lacy, of Richmond, as player-manager of the Southampton “Kildees.” Lacey, who was a star catcher for the University of Richmond before World War II and who advanced to the Boston Red Sox of the American League, was already on the task of assembling a team that would  attempt to surpass the achievements of the 1948 Franklin “Cubs.”   

As a nucleus with which to begin the 1949 season, Manager Lacey was signing from the 1948 Franklin “Cubs” squad such well-remembered performers as “Tink” Cornwell, who is making his home in Franklin; Callsion Anderson; Thomas McLaughin; and Frank Heile.  Jim Gillette of Courtland was among those listed as in-field players for the 1949 season.

In 1949, the Southampton “Kildees” ended the season as state champions of the Virginia League.

Harold Atkinson, who played as an out-fielder for the 1948 Franklin Cubs team, was named business manager for the 1949 team.

According to Tina Cornwell Drewry, her father, “Tink” Cornwell, earlier played for the Portsmouth “Merrimacks.”

Franklin resident Dean Wagenbach was 12 years old back in 1948. He recalled being very much involved with the team.

“I sold drinks, I was a batboy and I chased down foul balls,” he said.

Frank D. Lawrence, owner of the Portsmouth “Cubs,” and H.P. Dawson¸ business manager of the Norfolk “Tars” of the Piedmont League, were expected to send some players to Franklin, and the Lynn, Massachusetts Club of the New England League had agreed to supply eight players.

Gordon Knisely, catcher for the 1948 Franklin Cubs team, who now resides in North Canton, Ohio, along with author James Holl, is now in the process of assembling material for a publication about community baseball teams of the past. The book will include a write-up of the Franklin “Cubs” and the Southampton “Kildees.”

Knisely, through Holl, recently sent a photograph of the 1948 Franklin “Cubs” team. Knisely is not absolutely sure about some of the identifications. For those, a question mark appears behind the name. 

He has asked that we help identify the players. Readers who can identify any of the players are asked to contact Clyde Parker at Magnolia101@charter.net or 647-8212.

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is magnolia101@charter.net