by Waite Forsyth
August 26, 1951
To Johnny Newman A Fence Was Just Something You Walloped A Ball Over
Baseball writers of today would tag Big Jawn, the roly-poly one (220 pounds playing weight), as Mulleavy's Atomic Weapon and such hifalutin' terms.
For John's potent bat was a mighty factor in those campaigns of '41 and '42, two of the brightest in this city's PONY League history. In case you have become confused by the swift passage of years, the 1941 race was the only one in which Jamestown won the pennant, then dropped the semi-final series of the Governor's Cup playoffs to the Hamilton Red Birds, and it was in 1942 that the Flock captured both the pennant and the playoffs, taking the final series from Olean, four games to two, the last one decided by George Zimmer's grand slam over the short right field wall at Olean.
But to swing back to the Newman theme: Big John won the league's batting championship in both '41 and '42. He hit .358 in 1941 and .353 in 1942.
In '42, Newman wafted 30 home runs over the left, left-center, and right-center field fences to establish a record that still stands. The 30 round-trippers he mashed in '42 exceeded his 29 in 1941, which was also a record.
Of the many sluggers who have taken aim at Newman's homer record, Cornelius "Connie" Creedon of Bradford, with 21 in 1942 and Jim Pokel, also of Bradford, with 28 in 1947, come most readily to mind for this writer.
But Newman's 1942 season's performance was not entirely one of home runs, even if he did dominate this department.
The over-all picture was mighty impressive, so much so that no other individual PL player ever has glittered so brightly, particularly in the hearts of league fans. For be it known, the genial, easy-going Newman was a favorite throughout the league.
Besides winning the league's batting championship and home run honors, Big Jawn was understandably walked a league record 121 times, a mark tied by Lee Riley Bradford manager in 1945. And he was not so bad defensively, either. Patrolling left field, Newman was fourth in the league with a .981 fielding percentage in 93 games in 1941 and somewhere between .985 and .990 in 1942.
Talking over that memorable '42 campaign, when Jamestown set the attendance record for all of the lesser minor leagues with the Municipal Stadium turnstiles clicking to the tune of 143,000, John slyly remarked, "And don't forget, that was the year I stole ONE base!"
With the '42 race almost as hectic as the one this year, opposing pitchers were more than generous with free passes to first with Newman at the plate, particularly so with men on the paths and only one or two runs separating the sides.
Of the Newman homers, two stand out in this writer's memory. One was a terrific line drive, carrying some 20 feet over second base all the way to the slots for the visiting team's name on the scoreboard. The other was a towering blast over the top tier of arcs on the second standard from the foul line in left field. The years these mighty smashes were written into the annals are forgotten, but the blows are not.
In reply to a question about the relative strength of the '41 and '42 Falcons editions, Newman unhesitatingly named the '41 club as the better of the two. "It's true we didn't have pitcher Charley Schupp to win 24 games for us, but we had better all-around strength. Our second base combination of Greg Mulleavy and Johnny O'Neil, who went up with the Phillies for one season and who is now with the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League, was one of the best I saw anywhere during my years in baseball."
"We had Earl Rapp, now with the New York Giants, in right field, a guy who could do almost everything well, and a .340 hitter to boot. We had Frankie Carswell at third, certainly to be rated as one of the best defensive infielders and a clutch hitter; we had Frankie Heller at first; we had Wilbur Hardin, a ball hawk in center; and we had Johnny Pollock catching. One of the reasons we had that good year was that we had strength through the middle."
"We had big Dick Schmidt, Pete Angell, Walt Balash, Frank Smrekar, Duane Schaffer and Stan Rogalla, the "little giant fire extinguisher," one of the top relievers of all-time in the PONY."
Although Newman modestly says "you never can tell," it was the consensus of baseball men acquainted with his record that Johnny was a cinch for a trial in the majors before he broke his leg sliding, while playing for Minneapolis of the American Association in 1936. He was hospitalized for six months, with his leg in a cast for the duration.
That enforced lay up did it - thoroughly - for Big Jawn. When he entered the hospital he tipped the scales at 185 and he could run. Maybe not the fastest man on the team but by no means the slowest.
When he left the hospital, his weight had zoomed to 240 pounds and nothing he could do in the way of dieting or exercising was effective in reducing the tonnage to reasonable proportions. And worse still, his speed of foot was gone.
Newman played his first professional baseball with Terre Haute of the Three-Eye League in 1935, having signed an Indianapolis contract after being scouted in his native Chicago by Milt Gallagher, one-time centerfielder for the Cleveland Indians. John was 17 that year. He batted .319 with 14 home runs.
With Rock Island of the Class A Western League the following season, Newman was hitting .353 when the club bumped into financial difficulties and disbanded. Bill Burwell, managing the team, went to Minneapolis as a coach and he took John with him. The leg fracture came shortly after Newman joined the club.
He reported to Minneapolis in 1937, but couldn't run and was shipped to Spartansburg of the Class B South Atlantic League. One day, the normally mild mannered big fellow became irked over a called strike and struck the umpire, which brought an indefinite suspension. He was hitting .319 with 14 homers to his credit at the time.
John went to Owensboro, Kentucky in 1938 where he belted at a .409 clip, but made only eight home runs. Returning in 1939, his average fell off to .319, but he smote 33 home runs to displace the former league mark of 18 by a considerable amount.
"Trying for that long ball had its effect on my average, but those homers made up for it," Big Jawn recalled.
Newman really "got around" in 1940. Sold by Owensboro to Greenville of the Class C Cotton States League, he was traded to Winston-Salem, from where his contract was purchased by Harry Bisgeier, then owner of the PONY League franchise in Niagara Falls. Bisgeier shifted the franchise to Jamestown in July of that year.
In March 1943, John, in company with shortstop Pat McNair and pitcher Charley Medlar, reported to the spring training camp of the Buffalo Bisons. Subsequently, he was sold to Columbus of the American Association.
He didn't report to Columbus, for there was a mighty good reason. Uncle Sam had prior claim and John spent the next three years in the army. But life in the service did not divorce him from the national game. He played every day in Manilla. After he was discharged, he reported to Columbus and was given the option of playing or managing a team. He had his choice of Duluth in Class C, St. Joseph, Missouri, or Hamilton of the PONY. He chose Hamilton.
"Then followed the worst two years I ever spent in baseball," he says today. "I just was never meant to be a manager. I was too easy going - that's all."
At any rate, the big fellow and his wife, Myrtle, decided they wanted to make their home in Jamestown. John obtained a job driving for the Jamestown Motor Bus Transportation Company and has been working steadily at it since.
But he hasn't given up competition on the sports field. He coaches and plays softball with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who are hooked up with the Moose in the final Fraternal League playoffs. He plays first base because "there isn't as much moving around there - the ball has to come to me." Just the other evening he slammed two homers and a triple, proving the power in those big wrists hasn't dissipated.
"Steering those big buses keeps your wrists, forearms and shoulders in condition," he grins.
Looking back over his diamond career, John says his biggest thrill was evoked by the "night" Jamestown fans gave him in 1941 when a gift of silverware and a purse were presented to the Newmans. A close second was his experience in Owensboro's conquest of an All-Star team to which John contributed two home runs and a double, driving in six runs.
"The best manager I've played under? Greg Mulleavy"
"My favorite pitch? Never knew if it was curve ball or a high hard one. I just watched it come in and swung."
"Whom do I like on the '51 Falcons? Frankie Bolling and Emil Karlik"
"Tops among all the fellows I have played with? Diz Trout of the Tigers. He and I broke in together at Terre Haute. They don't call him 'Dizzy' for nothing."
"Most pessimistic ballplayer? Frankie Heller was the most miserable. He was always crying even if he was hitting .400"
"Best temperament? Frank Smrekar. I never saw him mad."
"Man, isn't that enough? I gotta go. I gotta ball game on."
|First base||Frank Heller||Jamestown||1940-41|
|Second base||Frank Bolling||Jamestown||1951|
|Third base||Frank Carswell||Jamestown||1941|
|Right-hand pitcher||Dick Schmidt||Jamestown||1941-42|
|Left-hand pitcher||John Mikan||Hamilton||1941|