OK, so Major League Baseball is finally going to grace us with its presence again, scheduled to start an abbreviated 2020 season on July 23. Understandably, COVID-17 is the biggest reason that we have had to wait to see our National Pastime again. However, the unconscionable bickering between owners and players—billionaires versus millionaires as it has aptly been labeled—has caused an even further delay of getting teams back in the ballpark.
That dispute, one which rears its head up all too often, could be a story in itself. However, I’m just glad that we can finally watch horsehide meet ash at Fenway, Wrigley, and all our other storied baseball venues. So today, let’s celebrate the rich Major League heritage we have in Pascagoula and Moss Point.
According to my crack research team, including friends Martin Hegwood and Robert Beatty plus good old Wikipedia, our two fair cities have produced a total of seven players who have made it to the big leagues. Let’s meet these fellows who have donned the flannels (or knits) of the American or National Leagues.
- Sam Leslie: Played ten years (1929-1938) in the bigs, with storied franchises the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers. A first baseman with a lifetime batting average of .304 (wow), he is a member of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. Mr. Leslie was instrumental in helping to organize and promote Little League baseball in Pascagoula.
- Hal Lee: Played seven years (1930-1936) in the majors, with Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and the Boston Braves, where he was a teammate of Babe Ruth. Was an outfielder who had a .275 lifetime BA. “Mr. Lee and his wife Gertrude lived next door to us for many years, and they were great neighbors,” said Bill Jarvis, himself an outstanding tight end for the Moss Point Tigers in the late 60s. “ They had three children who some might remember—Hal Jr., Bari, and Pete. I was actually a bat boy for the local semi-pro team that Mr. Lee coached.”
- Claude Passeau: Probably the most decorated of our group, he was a dominant pitcher in the league for 13 years (1935-1947), with the Pirates, Phillies, and, most prominently, the Cubs. Passeau won 162 games in MLB, and was a five-time All-Star.
- Harry “The Hat” Walker: A quite accomplished star, he played 16 years in the majors (1940-1955), mostly with the St. Louis Cardinals, but also with the Phillies, Cubs, and Reds. The Hat had a lifetime .296 batting average, and won the National League batting championship in 1947 with a spectacular .363. He later was the manager of the Cardinals, Pirates, and Astros.
- Kim Seaman: The big left-hander pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1979-1980.
- Joey Butler: A two-sport star at PHS (baseball and football), he played from 2013-2015 for the Texas Rangers, St. Louis Cardinals, and Tampa Bay Rays. In his last Major League game to date, for the Rays in 2015, Joey hit two home runs, the only big leaguer in history to this point to do that in his swan song.
- Tony Sipp: Also a two-sport star, at MPHS, he has sustained a solid MLB career since 2009 as a crafty relief pitcher, including stops at Cleveland, Arizona, Houston, and Washington. Tony is a free agent right now—hopefully he will catch on with someone soon, so we can continue to have a native son as an active Major Leaguer.
Now, that’s an impressive mini-team in itself: four big hitters, three skilled pitchers, guys who played with Babe Ruth, won batting titles, and played in All-Star games.
You could also build a list of local baseball players who had the talent to make the Show, but, for various reasons—injury, chose another sport, or other circumstances—did not quite get there. This group could include Big John Kitchens, Earl Gilbert, Blair Varnes, Damarious Bilbo, Senquez Golson, and others. Speaking of lists, did I leave anybody out from our two cities who played Major League Baseball? If so, let me know (with documentation), and I’ll add ‘em to the database.
So, yeah, I’m glad baseball is coming back, and I’m sure the former players Pascagoula/Moss Point have produced are happy, too, including those watching from above. Here’s a good bet: our gang would have all said months ago, “hey, let’s stop all this back and forth and PLAY BALL!”
(Richard Lucas may be contacted at [email protected].)