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Southworth showed you can't keep a good man down
Nearly a century ago, a young boy in the ninth grade at a school on the city’s Westside was accused of throwing a spitball at his teacher.
He walked out of the classroom and out of school to pursue his favorite pastime - baseball. He started playing with a team out of Portsmouth in the Ohio State League.
To get his first uniform, according to Randy Mobley, president of the International League based in Columbus, that young man, Billy Southworth, collected coupons wrapped around bars of laundry soap.
“I must have had a bushel of them,” Mobley quoted from a story about Southworth. “I had to hustle.”
“Hustle” filtered down through the family, according to Sue Southworth, wife of Billy’s nephew Bob.
“The whole family hustles,” she said July 27 after she and about 15 members of the Southworth family listened to stories of baseball player and manager Billy Southworth, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Green Lawn Cemetery, where Southworth is buried, offered a program in the athlete’s honor to coincide with the ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Southworth made an appearance in baseball in 1913 at the age of 20, playing a couple of innings for the Cleveland Naps, and getting to bat once. He struck out and was dismissed after that game. It didn’t get him down. He worked to improve his game and within a few years was back in the majors.
He played in the 1920s for several teams, including the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he patrolled the outfield with Casey Stengel, famed manager of the New York Yankees and New York Mets.
After his playing days were over, he turned to managing, as some players do. His first effort was with the team he finished his playing days with, the St. Louis Cardinals. He didn’t last long in the majors.
Southworth, Mobley told the crowd gathered around the Southworth marker, got a job managing in the International League. He did so well at that level that he was inducted into the IL Hall of Fame.
“He was one of nine players in that first class, in 1949,” Mobley said.
But interest in that Hall of Fame languished after 1963.
“We are reviving it this year, our 125th year,” he said.
By 1940, Southworth was back in the majors, again with the Cardinals. He would become known as a strict disciplinarian. It paid off. He posted three straight 100-win seasons and the next two years came within a few games of that 100-win mark.
“He’s the only manager to have three 100-win seasons,” he said.
After guiding the Cardinals to pennants and World Series titles, Southworth was lured to the Boston Braves in the 1940s, a pennant-starved city. He took his reputation for success with him.
In 1948, he was leading the National League, and amazing fans with his starting rotation of two pitchers. The story goes that a sports writer asked him how he could do so well with two pitchers, and Southworth replied “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain,” referring to his two aces - Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain.
But a World Series title that year eluded him as his Braves fell to the Cleveland Indians.
Southworth continued managing until 1951 when he left the game, feeling his players were not paying much attention to him.
Besides his on-the-field talents, Mobley noted that Southworth loved the game so much that he taught his son to play as a toddler.
That son, Billy Brooks Southworth, also took to the game, playing in high school, but he concentrated on academics at The Ohio State University and did not play ball. After graduation, he joined the game at the semi-pro level and was playing the outfield like his father.
In 1940 as war clouds began to gather, he put down the bat and glove and took up his other love - aviation. He enlisted in the Army and served in the Air Corps, becoming a bombing pilot. In the waning days of World War II, his B-29 crashed into Jamaica Bay off Flushing, N.Y. Young Billy, as he was known, and four of his crew members were lost.
When his body was recovered, his grieving father brought him back to Ohio and had him buried at Green Lawn beside his mother who had died on her 42nd birthday.
The elder Southworth had also become good friends with Bob Hooey, the sports editor of the Ohio State Journal in Columbus.
Their friendship was strong, baseball historian Joe Santry told the crowd.
“It’s nice to have someone to talk to, someone to go through life with as a friend,? said Santry.
The Southworth-Hooey friendship parted in 1949 when Hooey was severely injured in a traffic accident. Southworth and Hooey’s wife Grace were at the bedside when the sports editor died without regaining consciousness.
Southworth went to Green Lawn and purchased a lot for Hooey, telling a news reporter that “it was the only thing I could do for my best friend.”
Much of what Mobley and Santry talked about during the ceremony was new to some members of the Southworth family.
“I didn’t know him in baseball,” said Sue Southworth, who said she came into the family in the early 1960s. “I only knew him as a husband, a father and a grandfather.”
Santry is also an admirer of Southworth.
“I have a photo of him above my desk (at the Clippers office),” he said.
Southworth remarried and had a daughter, Carole Southworth Watson, who lives near Sunbury.
He died in 1969 at the age of 76. He joined his long-time best friend Bob Hooey in the lot he purchased in 1949. It is in direct line with the lot where his first wife and their son lie. Southworth’s second wife died in 1996 and lies beside him.
Within sight of the Southworth-Hooey lot at Green Lawn are his parents, two brothers, and even one of his scouts, Jack McCallister.
In Sunbury near where the Southworth’s lived for many years, a baseball field carries the name of the person who pursued his love of the game and now sits among the greats in baseball’s Hall of Fame.
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