Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Witnessing History from Third Base

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on February 23, 2014
ROBINSON
Larry Miggins (No. 4) playing opposite Jackie Robinson of the Montreal Royals, April 18, 1946.

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Last weekend I was treated to a wonderful lunch with the organizer of the annual Dick Dowling Commemoration, Patrick Miggins, and his parents, Larry and Kathleen. Larry established the event 44 years ago, but the annual cleaning of the statue goes back more than a century, to the original installation of the statue at the old Houston City Hall in 1905. That tradition was established by Mayor John T. Browne (1845-1941), himself a former Confederate veteran who had been part of Dowling’s wedding party after the war. Browne passed along the tradition of caring for the statue to former City Councilman Tom Needham, who in turn passed it along to Larry Miggins in 1963.

What I didn’t know until we met was that Larry was a professional baseball player in the late 1940s and early ’50s, diving his time between the majors and the minors. Although he was signed straight out of high school by the New York Giants, he entered the Merchant Marine instead and, after World War II ended, played for the Jersey City Giants and the Houston Buffaloes in the minors, and spent two seasons with the Buffs’ major league parent, the St. Louis Cardinals. While Larry Miggins didn’t have a very long baseball career, it was memorable — he went to high school with Vin Scully and worked out with Honus Wagner.

One of Larry’s more notable games, though, occurred on April 18, 1946. That was the day Larry’s Jersey City Giants took the field against the Montreal Royals, and their new player, a former Negro Leaguer named Jackie Robinson. The Royals were affiliated with Branch Rickey’s Brooklyn Dodgers, and 1946 would be a try-out season for Robinson, and two black pitchers, John Wright and Roy Partlow, for the majors. It was the first time an African American player took the field as a member of a professional team affiliated with any of the majors:

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Card“His first time up, he grounded out,” Miggins recalled. “Then he hit a home run over the left field fence, which showed he was a pull hitter. His third time up, he dropped down a bunt and beat it out because I was playing back like the manager told me to do.
 
His fourth time up, he got another hit, and then he dropped another bunt in front of me, because I was still playing him back – which I never did again.”
 
For the day, Robinson had four hits in five trips with a homer, four runs scored, four runs batted in, two stolen bases and two forced balks in Montreal’s 14-1 win over Jersey City.
 
It was an auspicious debut in a career – and a life – that continues to amaze and inspire.
 
“Jackie Robinson led the league in hitting that year,” Miggins said. “Then he went to the Brooklyn Dodgers and was rookie of the year. He became the Most Valuable Player of the league, beat the Yankees in the World Series and went on to the Hall of Fame … “
 
At this point in the story, Miggins paused for dramatic effect – or, as it turns out, comic relief.
 
“And he was able to do all that because I played back and gave him two hits in that first game,” he said, breaking into laughter. “I got him off to a great start.”

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The Montreal Royals walloped the Jersey City Giants that day, 14-to-1. When the Royals finally got back to Montreal for their own home opener, there were 14,000 people in the stands.

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Katie_Dick_Dowling_Statute_cleaning_March_2012_Kathleen_and_Larry_Miggins
Kathleen and Larry Miggins at the Dick Dowling Ceremony in 2012. Photo by Katie Oxford via HoustonCultureMap.com.

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Larry met Kathleen McMahon in 1952 while on a road trip with the Cardinals, while she was working at the Irish consulate in Chicago. Her parents in Ireland were none too impressed with the prospect of them getting married and moving to Texas.   “When I moved to Houston my parents were so scared. They said, ‘you’ll be living in a covered wagon. How will you get to Mass?'”

Covered wagon or not, Larry and Kathleen managed, in the process raising 12 children and 35 grandchildren. Larry retired after 21 years as the chief of probation and parole for the U.S. Southern District of Texas.

What wonderful people, who are still giving to their community. Thanks for the great time, folks. I look forward to seeing y’all around again soon.

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Sources: David Barron, “Best Seat in the House for History,” Houston Chronicle, April 12, 2013; Katie Oxford, “A Gullywasher Couldn’t Stop this Annual Irish Fete,” HoustonCultureMap.com, March 15, 2012.

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14 Responses

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  1. Bob Nelson said, on February 23, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    Fantastic story, Andy. Thanks for sharing. After his baseball career ended, he earned a Master’s degree from the University of St. Thomas, a Catholic University in St. Paul, Minnesota and later coached baseball there. He was inducted into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003.

    • Andy Hall said, on February 23, 2014 at 6:05 pm

      He was also Valedictorian of his high school graduating class. I should’ve mentioned that.

  2. Cotton Boll Conspiracy said, on February 23, 2014 at 8:50 pm

    Great story and great photo. And what a great couple.

  3. Keith Muchowski said, on March 3, 2014 at 11:37 am

    Great piece on so many levels, Andy. I wish I had known about the Dowling statue and commemoration when I lived in Houston back in the day.

    • Andy Hall said, on March 3, 2014 at 11:48 am

      The Dowling statue has been moved twice, I think, since it was put up in 1905. It’s not in a great location, in the median of a busy road between Hermann Park and the Texas Medical Center. Unless you drive a lot in that area, you’re not likely to stumble upon in by chance.

  4. Keith Muchowski said, on March 3, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    It doesn’t surprise me that it has been moved more than once. I imagine there is a lot of indifference for an old Confederate statue. The smaller towns may be a different story but demographically Houston has changed so much in the last several decades, especially inside the Loop.

    • Andy Hall said, on March 3, 2014 at 2:21 pm

      Yeah, Dowling is an interesting situation. It’s a monument to an individual, not to an abstract cause, but also an individual who doesn’t bring a lot of historical baggage aside from his actions as a soldier (e.g., Forrest). Dowling died of yellow fever soon after the war, so it would be interesting to know how he wold be remembered had he lived a full, normal life span.

  5. Putter said, on March 4, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    The caption in the photo is wrong. It says that Miggins is trying to tag Robinson, but he is actually simply trying to field the errant throw. In the photo, the ball is clearly visible to the right of Robinon’s left elbow, and it is very evident that the throw is short and off to the left. Miggins, in fact, is already moving to the left. In the brief instant it takes Robinson to reach third base, Miggins will be at least a step away when he fields the ball ( which in itself is doubtful- judging from the angle he may not be able to reach it). When the dust settles, either the ball will have scooted past Miggins, or if Miggins does reach it, it will be way, way, too late to try to tag Robinson.

    • Andy Hall said, on March 4, 2014 at 12:39 pm

      Thanks for the correction.

    • Bob Nelson said, on March 4, 2014 at 1:46 pm

      Sorry but I don’t necessarily see it as an errant throw. It’s either coming in from right field following a hit or from first base following a bunt. Miggins is getting into position to block the bag and field the ball. If it came following a bunt with Robinson on 2nd, Miggins’ first move would have been in (down the line) to field the bunt if it came his way, which explains his having to move to the left to cover 3rd. We don’t know the details of the play and the photograph does not show the angle of the throw to 3rd. What is obvious is that Robinson is going to beat the tag.

  6. Putter said, on March 4, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    The throw is absolutely, positively errant. First, if the throw is coming from the infield, roughly down first-base line and off a fielded bunt, as you suggest, the ball would NEVER hit the ground, as the throwing distance is very, very short. Any throw coming from the infield that does not reach its destination, is by very definition an errant throw. And the ball is clearly bouncing off the infield grass. If, on the other hand, the throw was coming as a strong, accurate one-bounce throw from right field, the ball right now would be between thigh and waist high, and Miggins would be positioned in front of the bag ready to block it, receive the ball, and apply the tag. As it is, he is moving off the base, shaply to his left, while trying to catch a low, skipping, and very errant throw.

    • Bob Nelson said, on March 4, 2014 at 4:32 pm

      The distance from 1st to 3rd is about 125 feet. So if it was a bunt, you’ve got the 1st baseman charging the ball and throwing on the run something over 100 feet. To say that it would NEVER hit the ground is simply untrue. During my many years of umpiring HS baseball in Michigan including some Class A and AA districts/regionals, I’ve seen numerous throws in similar situations hit the grass or sail 6 feet over the 3rd baseman’s head. Same with our minor league team, the Whitecaps, and MLB blooper reels. Ditto for a throw from right field. I would agree that such a throw SHOULD be between the thigh and waist high but that doesn’t always happen. Finally, the photo doesn’t show whether the ball has already bounced off the infield grass or is about to strike the infield grass. And it doesn’t indicate who threw it. If you want to call it an “errant throw” that’s fine with me. Further discussion of this is frankly silly and will only be proven one way or another if Andy calls Miggins and asks him about it.

  7. Andy Hall said, on March 4, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    We may better need to leave this discussion — unlike the guy in black in the picture, I’m not qualified to umpire this one.

  8. Putter said, on March 4, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    Well, since we’re advertising our personal experience, I am coming from 4 years High School, 2 years of Junior College, and 4 years of minor league ball, having reached the AA level in the Yankee organization. I have played with and against more than a few major leaguers, including a couple who will reach the Hall. I have been coached by former major leaguers, including some already in the Hall. Also, I played right field, and have made that throw a thousand times; the throw is way too low, in the dirt, and well off target to the left. No doubt about it. As for an infield throw, I will repeat that any throw originating from the infield that bounces before it reaches it’s target, is without a doubt, an errant throw. So yes, by all means, call Mr. Miggins and ask him.


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