CROWLEY - When discussing the history of minor league baseball with author Gaylon White, it becomes apparent that not only were the minor league games often more fun to attend, as they interacted with the crowd more frequently.
The players in the minors were often time much more colorful than their counterparts in the major league. And, the Crowley Millers were no exception.
“They had players from Brooklyn, California and several other areas that were drawn to Crowley due to the attendance and participation of the fans,” said White during an interview Monday. “Some of the stories about these players were downright unbelievable.
“And, the more I look into them the more I found out that they were, in fact, credible.”
There is the story of Andy Strong, a Miller player who was playing in his first season of professional ball. On June 16, 1951, just two weeks into his career, Strong was playing center field against the Alexandria Aces. Seemingly, out of nowhere, a large bolt of lightning hit the field and the young player was killed instantly.
“They had two shoe prints that were burned into the field where Andy was standing when he was hit,” said Richard Pizzolatto of Crowley.
Perhaps nobody on the team took the death of Strong harder than his roommate when the team traveled, a wide-eyed, 19-year-old pitcher from Crowley named Ray Hensgens.
The team lost 12 consecutive games following Strong’s death, however, their manager Johnny George had a different way of turning the team around.
“The night after our 12th loss, Coach George told us that we were going to the place called Hester’s Supper Club and said that ‘any man who doesn’t get drunk tonight will be fined $100’,” smiled Hensgens as he recalled the night. “And everyone did. It was a way to help us get it out of our system.”
Eventually the tragedy seemed to be a catalyst which brought them together. It also helped to bring in perhaps the greatest, and most notorious, player in Crowley Miller history.
Following the death of Strong, two players–Arthur Edinger and Conklyn Meriwether–were brought in to help the team. While Edinger turned out to be a solid player for the Millers, Meriwether became the greatest hitter in Miller history. He may have also been the most disliked man in team history.
“There are stories about him (Meriweather) of him standing on top of the dugout during a lightning storm (and this after Strong’s death) and screaming ‘Come and get me!’,” said White. “He was obviously very unholy.”
And then there was his alleged penchant for violence.
According to White, who emphasizes that many of the stories he hears have not been substantiated, there were several occasions when “Conk,” as he was called by his teammates, would get into altercations and “flatten people.”
On one particular evening, the bat boy brought a note from the stands from a man who had business dealings with Meriweather, sent him a note saying that he wanted to speak to him for a second. Meriweather told the bat boy to tell the man that if he was still there when the game was over he was going to “stomp his a--.” Surely enough, the man was still there and Meriwether “more than followed through on his promise.”
Following his playing career, Meriwether was charged with the murders of his father-in-law and his mother-in-law. His weapon of choice, an ax. He served no prison time, however, because he was declared to be insane.
He also appeared to have a lighter side too. Meriwether, who also pitched for the Millers, was also known for his pregame warm-up routine on days he’d pitch where he would do a series of somersaults from the dugout all the way to the pitcher’s mound to the delight of the fans.
Another Miller player, Juan Izaguirre, was a native of Cuba and according to Pizzolatto he was very talented and once played all nine positions in a single game.
“He came over to play ball prior to Fidel Castro taking over and his father-in-law in Cuba had a trucking company that was seized by the government,” said White. “Now I’m not sure how accurate this is (he showed The Post-Signal a text message that disputes the claim) but everyone I spoke to here said that when he went back to Cuba he went to speak to Castro in the hopes that his being a ball player may have some influence in helping his father-in-law get his company back.”
According to some of his former teammates, Castro had a very tough way of saying “no.”
“According to them, he was killed by a firing squad,” said White. “What I do know is that nobody ever heard from him again.
Other members of the 1951-53 Millers went on to accomplish some great things in baseball including Al Ogletree who retired as the second winningest coach in college baseball at Pan American University.
“We had a great bunch of guys who came from several different areas of the country but when we played together we were a hell of a team, there were so many guys I could mention...the Lamey brothers (Walt and Ron) come to mind,” said Hengens. “When Pizz began having reunions, at first, we had most of our former teammates there.
“At the last one there were only five.”