Witnessing History from Third Base
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:
“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.”
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.
Kathleen and Larry Miggins at the Dick Dowling Ceremony in 2012. Photo by Katie Oxford via HoustonCultureMap.com.
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.
___________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.