The Post-Journal

Newman Was A Legend To Fans And Players Alike

The things baseball men remember about John Newman would fill a book. Members of the IPWNC (I Played With Newman Club) who still live here will talk about the big fellow endlessly at the drop of a question because he was the kind of man you just don't forget easily. You gain a keen insight into a man's character by competing with or against him in any sport. That's why Frank Smrekar, Ted Wyberanec, John Pollock, John O'Neil, Dick Schmidt, Duane Schaffer and Lyle Parkhurst, most of them fellows who came here to play ball, fell in love with Jamestown and remained, can spin "Newmanisms" as long as anyone will listen.

We met Big Jawn for the first time when he came home from World War Two in the middle '40s, so we did not get to see him play in his prime years. Although his prodigious feats with a baseball bat were still fresh in the memory of Jamestown fans, who flocked to our ball park by the thousands in those days, we like to remember Newman as the human being who loved kids.

For instance, like the evening in 1946 when John was managing Hamilton. His bus rolled up to Municipal Stadium and disembarked its players. About a dozen youngsters crowded around Newman begging for the job of batboy. "I'll be your batboy for nothing just to see the game," one peanut-sized fellow offered.

"Heck, we'll all see the game," rumbled John as he emptied his bat bag on the ground. "Each of you kids grab a bat," he ordered, "and follow me." That was the procession: Big Jawn in front and a rag-tag band of youngsters trailing along, each carrying a bat, that was greeted at the turnstiles by the late Harry Bisegeir, then owner of the Falcons.

"Come on now John," Harry chided good-naturedly. "You know we can't allow that."

John turned, viewed his small army of followers and retorted, "Sorry, Harry, I have to get my equipment in. You know how it is - no equipment, no game."

Bisegeir burst out laughing and remarked to a bystander, "How are you going to beat him?"

The answer is simple - you couldn't beat John Newman as a forthright guy who possessed a deep sense of compassion for his fellow beings.

"If John had a weakness as a baseball man, it was his unwillingness to hurt anyone," Dick Schmidt said yesterday when informed the big fellow had gone down swinging before the unbeatable "pitcher" who will strike us all out eventually.

Schmidt was a top pitcher on Manager Greg Mulleavy's 1941 PONY League pennant winning club. "The first time I met John was at Bradford. I came up from the South and reported to the club in Bradford. At the pre-game meeting of mangers and umpires, they were having some kind of hassle about balls hit off the scoreboard. John settled things his first time up by hitting a line drive homer right over the top of the board. It was one of the hardest hit balls I'd ever seen anywhere, majors or minors. The fellow's power was absolutely unbelievable."

It was Schmidt who pointed out that John was leading the American Association with a .357 average for Milwaukee when he broke his leg sliding. "John weighed about 195 pounds then but during his long period of idleness he took on weight he was never able to shed. It slowed him down and I firmly believed kept him out of the majors."

Smrekar is the only member of the IPWNC who was with him as a player and manager. Smrekar was John's ace pitcher when Newman skippered at Hamilton. "He had some critics as a manager, but I thought he was terrific. He could get tough with players when he had to."

Smrekar readily recalled a 500-foot homer he saw Newman hit at Hornell. "It cleared the fence and caromed off the schoolhouse outside the park." Smrekar added a fact about that homer probably never before seen in print. "Hornell had a real flamethrower on the mound. His first two pitches hummed by, apparently leaving John a little amazed."

Turning to the catcher, John remarked, "What the heck is that guy throwing - bullets?"

The grinning catcher retorted, "Get ready to watch the third one go by."

The third pitch was the one Newman bounced off the schoolhouse.

Was Newman too slow for the bigs? Smrekar says he could get up and go and had a good glove. Like the time Walt Balash was working on a no-hitter at Niagara Falls. "In the late innings," Frank relates, "the batter pulled one down the left field line that looked like a sure hit. John made a terrific run and hauled it down with one hand. It saved the day for Balash who completed his no-hit game.

The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame.
We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.