This is the first of a three-part series on the Crowley Millers during the height of their popularity in the 50s
CROWLEY - When speaking with Gaylon White, it is obvious that he relishes the memories of the golden era of baseball. The time when the game wasn’t attached to words such as “steroids”, “agents” and “salaries.” Or, as he puts it, “a time when the players were accessible.”
He is also fascinated by the history of minor league baseball. His upcoming book, LOB in the Bushes, is about minor league baseball in the the post-World War II era, the colorful players of that period (most of whom people have never heard of) and some of the incredible stories during this time that he worries will go untold as the people who are able to tell them grow old and pass away. He describes his book as “still evolving as he checks out the facts,” which he acknowledges often get embellished as the years pass.
“A poet named Jim Harrison once said that “death steals everything except our stories,” said White. “All the history these guys embody is being gradually lost. Players were so much more accessible to fans back then...especially in the minors. There are such priceless memories from this era. These days kids are associating baseball with steroids, exorbitant salaries and you usually can’t even talk to a player unless you go through a press agent.”
It was his quest to learn about this history that led him to Crowley.
White was speaking with a former minor league pitcher named Hugh Blanton, who once won 21 games for the Crowley Millers in 1952. Blanton told him during an interview about a teammate named Conklyn “Conk” Meriwether who was described as being “the greatest hitter I’ve ever seen in the major leagues or anywhere else but he was also one of the sorriest people I ever met. Nobody put up with him. I was scared that if I walked down the street with him I might get shot by someone aiming at him.”
Meriwether’s exploits (the Post-Signal will feature much more on him in the second part of our series) in the minor leagues ranged from legendary on the field to being downright hateful while off off it. In fact, following his baseball career he was charged with the killing of both his mother-in-law and father-in-law with an ax. He was never convicted as he was declared insane.
When White began to do research on Merriwether, he learned about a town in south Louisiana with a population of 12,700 people that drew over 100,000 fans to their ballpark for three consecutive years (1951-53). Intrigued, he called Ann Mire at the Acadia Parish Public Library, who referred him to Coach Richard Pizzolatto, whose name is painted atop Miller Stadium’s entrance.
“I immediately told him to come to Crowley and I’d help him with anything he needed,” said Pizzolatto, also known as “Coach Pizz” to those who know him.
What White found to be somewhat incredulous was how well the field had been kept up after all these years.
“I hope the people here realize how much history there is right inside this stadium,” he said. “When I was growing up in Los Angeles and my father would take me to games as a child there was no major league team in Los Angeles. There wasn’t even one west of St. Louis. Our minor league team was like a major league team to us in those days.”
They also played in a park that has a familiar name to those with even the slightest knowledge of baseball.
“It was called Wrigley Field...same as the field in Chicago,” he smiled, as though he were picturing it in his head as he spoke. “It was designed by the same architect who did the field that everyone has heard of in Chicago.”
Sadly, according to White, there isn’t even so much as a plaque to recognize that a minor league ballpark once stood there.
It seems that it’s this type of neglect for baseball’s minor league history that is motivating White to complete his book, which he began in the 1970’s and then put on the backburner as he raised a family and worked as a speech and script writer. Now that he is retired he is back working and doing research on his book full-time. And now his quest to learn as much as he could about the minor leagues during the post-World War II era has led him to a city known as “The Rice Capital of the World.”
However, White’s research has shown that Crowley was once referred to by another name.
“Once I started looking into it, I found out how popular baseball was here in the early 50s (people would travel by train all the way from places as far away as California and New York to play for the Millers). To the players it was like the major leagues,” he said. “Then I started reading articles about Crowley including this one from The Sporting News (which he displayed inside a large bound folder full of newspaper articles) which called Crowley ‘The best little town in baseball.”
In part two of the series on White’s research, The Post-Signal will discuss some of the more talented and colorful players to ever have donned a Miller uniform.