by Frank Hyde
August 21, 1969
Oldtimers Still Talk Of Newman's Homer Blast Over Stadium Light Tower
It cleared the No. 2 light standard in left field "by at least 15 feet" according to the expert testimony of Dick Schmidt, who was pitching for Jamestown that day.
John Pollock, then catching for the original Falcons, bears him out.
No one taped it but two fans outside the park, where a Municipal Golf Course fairway now runs, stepped it off and estimated the ball traveled 600 feet on the fly. The old left field fence was then 340 feet from home plate down the line. The new fence has been moved to approximately 337 feet.
The ball was hit over at about 350 feet since the fence then jogged out at the light standard. "As near as we could figure it landed about 250 feet from the fence," one of the steppers, the late Jim Meyer, told us. "The ground was soft up there and it did not roll far, but it must have been very close to 600 feet on the fly," he added.
Years later, a Jamestown pitcher named Babe Birrer, who made it to the bigs with Detroit and was a mound star with Buffalo, where he now lives, hit a line shot over the scoreboard, 405 feet from home plate.
One mighty swat of still later origin was by Jim Rooker, Jamestown outfielder turned pitcher and now with Kansas City in the American League. Jim's "Bunyan Blow" traveled more than 500 feet, just missing the left end of the cross-hangers. Had it been a few feet to the right, it would have hit amid the lights on the same tower over which Newman's blow sailed.
But despite the muscular feats of others, the one that portly John Newman "lost" that night in 1941 is still the one local fans talk about when they speak of PONY and NY-P League strongman.
Big John Newman, whose rites were conducted by Lind Funeral Home on Monday, hit 30 homers that same year, 1941, to establish a league record that was erased when Ted Sepkowski, Wellsville manager, belted 45 in 1954.
John hit nine at the local park in '41 for a season record that was tied by Tom Schroeder, Jamestown third baseman, in 1962.
Ironically, shortly after Newman's death, the College Stadium homer record he shares with Schroeder may be rubbed out. Outfielder Curt Suchan of the current Falcons has hit eight in the local yard and still has enough games left to tie or break the mark.
Smrekar, Pollock and Schmidt are but part of the "old guard" who played with Newman and a few saw action against him when John was managing Hamilton in '46 and '47. They are Ted Wyberanec, Duane Schaffer, John O'Neil, Lyle Parkhurst and Tommy Hurst. The latter, a comparative late-comer, never played with Newman but pitched against him when the big fellow was in Hamilton.
"John, of course, was slowing up when I pitched to him," Hurst relates. "I always kept the ball in close, knowing he would be slower to pull away to hit it, so I had much better luck against John than those poor fellows who had to pitch to him when he was in his prime."
Schaffer points out that Newman was also a good catcher but did not like the position. Catchers always had trouble holding on to Schaffer who threw a lot of low, sharp-breaking stuff. "One time I was warming up to pitch in an exhibition game against Buffalo and Clyde McCullough (then with Buffalo, later manager at Auburn in the NY-P) caught me. I also warmed up once to Gus Mancuso. He and McCullough, of course, were once two top receivers in the majors. So I'd rate Newman as the third best catcher I ever pitched to."
O'Neil, now a scout for Atlanta, called Newman "the best right-hand hitter I ever saw in the minors and one of the humblest men I have ever met. He never belittled anyone and was always for the underdog. I remember when some of the older players would start riding some rookie, we'd always have Big John to contend with because he'd speak his piece in behalf of the victim."
O'Neil recalls one night when Newman hit three homers in one game at Batavia, one over each fence, left, center and right.
Oddly enough, according to O'Neil, Newman always had trouble with "fellows with real good mustard" - the fastballers. "I can always hit those rinky-dinks," John would say, referring to the "junkmen" or "garbage throwers".
Wyberanec adds to the Newman legend by telling about a pitch he learned from the big fellow. "He would throw his forkball when we were horsing around," Ted explained. "It did all kinds of funny things so I asked him about it. He helped me develop it and it became one of my most dependable pitches." Wyberanec, a converted infielder, went from Class D ball here to Class A ball before a sore arm sent him back to make his home in Jamestown.
Newman gave freely of his time as a Babe Ruth coach. His '67 and '68 teams won the New York State Babe Ruth 13-year-old state championships.
"I'm having more fun managing these kids than I did at Hamilton," John told us once. "They're really sincere - there's nothing wrong with today's boys," he added.
Pollock probably wrapped up the Newman accolades in the simplest manner: "He was a gentleman's gentleman. Sure, I recall his great hitting, but I'd rather talk about John Newman, the gentleman."
It would be hard to imagine a man getting a more heartwarming sendoff as he departs on a long journey.
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