09 Mar 1893 1
Nov 1969 1

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Full Name:
William Southworth 1
09 Mar 1893 1
Nov 1969 1
Last Residence: Sunbury, OH 1
Social Security:
Card Issued: Ohio 1
Social Security Number: ***-**-8376 1

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Father-Son Bond Remains Alive in Wartime Diary

Early on New Year's Day 1941, Billy Southworth, the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, woke his son, helped him pack and drove him the 10 hours from their Ohio home to Parks Air College in East St. Louis, Ill. The younger Southworth, a minor league standout, had quit baseball and become the first professional ballplayer to enlist in the military. This made him something of a celebrity, especially after Pearl Harbor.

Associated Press

In October 1942, Billy Southworth, then manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, met his son in Bangor, Me. Billy Jr. was the first professional baseball player to enlist in the military.

From the Diary of Billy Southworth Jr. (June 19, 2005)  

"A firm handshake and I was off," Billy Southworth Jr. wrote in the diary he kept primarily so that his father might have a record of the time they would spend apart.

It is not literature. Rather, the diary is one side of a particular sort of conversation between baseball people of a certain era and ethos. Its power lies in the restraint fathers and sons can sometimes exhibit when trying to explain how they feel about each other.

Billy Southworth did not want his son to enlist. He was not alone in believing that his son might well become, like him, a major leaguer, especially in 1939 after he hit .342 for the Rome Colonels and was voted the most valuable player in the Canadian-American League. The Southworths had spent their summers together on the minor league circuit in the years after Southworth's wife left them; the father managed and the son pulled bats and shagged fly balls.

In 1929, the elder Southworth, who batted .297 over 13 seasons with five major league teams, became manager of the Cardinals, only to be fired for attempting to play the hard guy, a role for which he was woefully unsuited. He eventually found work as a salesman, remarried and had a daughter. He assumed his baseball career was over until Branch Rickey returned him to the minors, where he learned to manage in a way that befit his quiet if relentless personality. In 1940, he was again made manager of the Cardinals.

That fall the elder Southworth tried to persuade his son to wait to enlist in the Army Air Corps at least until he had made it to the big leagues. But Billy Jr., who was 24, was eager to go and told him that it was baseball that could wait. He had grown into the sort of man his father regarded as a better version of himself: taller, better-looking and filled with a confidence that some regarded as youthful conceit. His father adored him.

Billy Southworth Jr. dedicated his diary to his father, who would have surely understood and appreciated what his son was trying to tell him. Its early pages describe in great detail training missions over the Arizona desert, the poor state of repair of the planes he had learned to fly - "the prop regulators were cleaned and oil drained" - and impressions of his fellow fliers. The tone is relentlessly confident - "Got a letter from Col. Sutherland for outstanding performance" - though at times he is irritable, particularly on the subject of commanding officers of whom he thinks little. Men are dying around him, even before they ship out. Yet there is no sense of fear or regret.

Billy Southworth Jr. wanted his father to know what it was like piloting 26 bombing runs over France and Germany as the sky filled with German fighters, flak and the burning debris of B-17's flown by men he liked. He wanted him to know about parties with nurses, trips to London and meeting Bob Hope and Clark Gable. He wanted him to know how seriously he took his work - that he had devised new formations and was not shy about pressing reluctant commanders about ideas on such matters as gunnery.

As it happened, his father had revived his managerial career by becoming a stickler for detail and planning. "He taught me the things that have made possible my existence in this war," Billy Jr. wrote of, and to, his father.

He also wanted his father to know that although he had abandoned his game, baseball and his father's place in it still mattered: time and again he included the results of Cardinal games, even as he went on to describe the rising death toll around him. In fact, it is often through baseball that he made his affection known - never more movingly than in the fall of 1942 when the Cardinals, who had trailed the Brooklyn Dodgers by 10 games in August, won the pennant and then the World Series. "A memorable day in the history of Southworth," he wrote in his neat handwriting. "Dad today proved that he was the best manager in baseball ... such a grand fellow."

His father came to see him in Bangor, Me., just before he shipped out. Billy Jr. introduced his father around. "The boys were anxious to meet him, too," he wrote. "We're all crazy about him."

The elder Southworth, meanwhile, beseeched his son to bail out if an air battle was lost. Billy Jr. wrote, "I asked, 'Have you ever known that you were beaten no matter what the score?' With a grin he said, 'You're right. ... Here's a cap that might be lucky.' "

It was the cap he had worn that championship season. Billy Jr. wore it into combat and the following May even wrote about it.

It was a rare entry, reflective and imaginative. The cap, he wrote, has "heard the roar of thousands of voices," but also "the bark of 13 high-powered .50-cal machine guns. ... Lucky for those who have worn it - it has ridden with a winner, always a champion."

It is as close as he comes to writing the word love, and its meaning is unmistakable. His father, however, would never read any of it. Maj. Billy Southworth Jr. came home a hero in 1944 and caught the eye of Hunt Stromberg, a movie producer, who arranged a screen test and signed him to a contract, convinced that he had found the next Clark Gable.

Southworth's navigator, Jon Schueler, was also home and hoped to become a writer. Eager for material and inspiration, he prevailed upon Southworth to lend him the diary. Schueler had it in February 1945 when Southworth, on a training mission in a B-29, crashed into Flushing Bay. His father raced to the scene from Ohio, but it was six months before the body was recovered.

Schueler kept the diary. He went to become an artist of considerable reputation. But he always hoped, his widow, Magda Salvesen, later explained, to write about his own difficult war by drawing, in part, on the experiences of his seemingly fearless comrade. He kept the diary, she explained, not out of malice or spite, but as an artist, for whom the needs of people often played a secondary role.

Schueler died in 1992. Several years ago, Salvesen took a call from Southworth's sister, Carole Watson. She had read a book about her brother's unit and learned that he had kept a diary. Her father had died in 1969, and she wondered if, at long last, she might be able to read what her brother had written for him.


Billy Southworth was like Casey Stengel’s long-lost brother from another mother. Both were born west of the Mississippi, less than three years apart. Both were outfielders in the teens and ’20s. Bill James lists each as the other’s most similar player. And both became hugely successful managers after long, serpentine routes to the top. They were even traded for each other in 1923. But unlike Stengel, who had no children, lived a long, happy life with a wealthy wife, and has never left the public consciousness, Southworth endured tremendous tragedy in his personal life and had been in danger of being forgotten before his 2008 election to the Hall of Fame.

Billy was born William Harold Southworth on March 9, 1893, near the hamlet of Harvard, Nebraska. According to Billy’s daughter Carole Watson, William “Buffalo Bill” Cody may have been the one to nickname him “Billy the Kid” after the gunfighter. Cody was a family friend.

Two droughts and a house fire forced the family to return to Ohio (where his father, Orlando, was originally from) when Billy was about nine years old. Billy went with his younger sister and his mother, Myra Melvina Southworth, by train, while Orlando and sons Ervin, Calvin, Pressley, and Arley made the trek east in two covered wagons. Most references list Billy’s given name as William Harrison Southworth; not William Harold. He did not care for either middle name, so he made no attempt to correct this error.

The Southworths settled in Saranac, not far from Columbus, where Orlando was the village blacksmith, wheelwright, and postmaster. The Southworths weren’t wealthy, so they made baseballs out of Billy’s socks, improvising as youngsters in poor Latin American countries do today. Young Billy cheered on his older brothers as they played for a town team from nearby Darbyville.

He played for the Birmingham Barons in 1917 (missing almost two months with a broken shoulder) and 1918. The league ended operations in June of 1918 -- every other minor league folded that season -- on account of World War I. Pirates manager Hugo Bezdek called up Southworth. Casey Stengel had just joined the Navy and Billy took over his right-field spot. Billy registered for the draft but was never called.

Billy was married on June 29, 1914. His bride was a preacher’s daughter, Lida Brooks, of Portsmouth, where she was a soloist in the choir of her father’s church, and Billy met her there as they sang duets.

 In 1927, Southworth suffered a rib injury and was limited to 92 games. That fall, Cards general manager Branch Rickey offered him a managerial job in the St. Louis farm system. In August of ’26, Billy had helped settle a feud between a couple of Redbirds that was dividing the team into two camps, and Cardinals owner Sam Breadon considered him to be a man of managerial timber.

 In May of 1928, Southworth had had to return home when Lida had two twins die during childbirth. She was never healthy after that. His son, Billy, was 12 years old and approaching adolescence when he was accidentally shot by a playmate as they hunted sparrows that October. A button on young Billy’s coat absorbed most of the bullet’s impact and he suffered only a minor wound. Later, his father said that he was shaken. “He was only 12, but I looked on him as the closest friend I had,” Billy said.

Baseball briefly took a back seat in his life in 1933. He got a job with Capital City Products, Inc. as a cottonseed oil salesman, and met a Capital City bookkeeper named Mabel Stemen -- a golfer, a horsewoman, and a crack shot. They hunted pheasants together and were married on January 7, 1934. Their daughter, Carole, was born in 1935.

When Billy assumed the helm of the Cardinals in 1940, the team caught fire. The Cards were 15-29 when he took over, but went 69-40 the rest of the way. It was too little, too late, however, and they finished in third. It was in 1940 that Billy started platooning. It was a strategy that was in widespread use during his playing days, but it had fallen out of favor over the previous 15 years. In revitalizing it, he would achieve his fame -- and eventually his fortune.

In 1944, the Cardinals were shooting for a third straight pennant under Southworth. The Redbird pitching was outstanding in 1943 and Billy could play more conservatively, one run at a time. He didn’t expect the pitching to be as good in ’44, and in March told the Associated Press that he was planning to play for the big inning. Harry Brecheen, Max Lanier, and Mort Cooper were still on the starting staff, but Howie Krist and Howie Pollet were now in the service. Southworth’s new approach worked; St. Louis scored almost 100 more runs, and for the third year in a row the Cardinals won at least 105 games and the pennant. They were one of baseball’s all-time dynasties, even considering the fact that they were a wartime team.

That year’s AL champs were the surprising Browns, and all the World Series games were played in Sportsman’s Park. The Browns skipper was Luke Sewell, and due to wartime housing shortages, the Sewells and Southworths shared an apartment. Since one team was always on the road, it was usually a convenient arrangement. Except for the World Series. Fortunately, a neighbor was going to be out of town, so he invited Southworth to use his apartment. The Cards won the Series for the second time in three years.

More dark days, however, lay ahead. On February 15, 1945, Major Billy Southworth Jr. took off from Mitchell Field on Long Island in a B-29 Superfortress. Major W.L. Anken was an observer on the bomber, situated in the top gun turret. Shortly after takeoff, he noticed smoke coming from engine one. He reported this over the intercom to Major Southworth. “Keep an eye on it” was the reply. Those were the last words of William Brooks Southworth. He tried to land at LaGuardia Field. The plane touched the runway, according to Anken, but then clipped the water and somersaulted before bursting into flames and falling into icy Rikers Island Channel of Flushing Bay. Five died in the crash, including Major Southworth. His father and stepmother flew to New York as the Navy searched for his body; it was nearly half a year before it was located. Billy was devastated, but his first questions were said to be about the safety of the five survivors.

On the opposite end of the National League spectrum were the Boston Braves. For years, the Braves were one of the laughingstocks of the senior circuit. They changed their name to the Bees for a while, but even that didn’t help. They hadn’t finished in the first division in more than a decade. New owner Lou Perini and his partners sought to change this. According to Richard Letarte in That One Glorious Season, Boston general manager John Quinn recommended Southworth to them. Perini and company spoke with Breadon, and were able to secure Southworth’s services with a three-year contract paying around $100,000 in all. It was substantially more than the Redbirds could or would pay him. (The Braves also imported enough players from St. Louis, including Danny Litwhiler, Ray Sanders, and Johnny Hopp, that some wags called the team the Cape Cod Cardinals.)

The Braves hadn’t won a pennant since 1914. By September of 1948, they (and the Red Sox) had Time magazine talking about double pennant fever. The Red Sox fell to the Cleveland Indians in a one-game American League playoff, but the Braves were able to capture the senior circuit flag. It was probably a more impressive job of managing than Southworth had ever done in St. Louis. He had only one future Hall of Famer in Warren Spahn, but was able to win the pennant through judicious use of platooning, or “the Army game” as The Sporting News was calling it back then. Southworth just barely missed becoming Manager of the Year, getting 87 votes while Billy Meyer, the rookie skipper of the Pirates, received 89 for bringing the Bucs to a surprising fourth-place finish. The Braves lost the World Series to the heavily favored Indians in six games, most of them close.

Early in the 1951 season, the Braves were proving a disappointment. One Sunday in June, Southworth called GM Quinn and president Perini, asking to resign immediately. They had him stick around for a few days before announcing his resignation a half-hour after the first pitch of a Braves-Cubs game at Wrigley Field on June 19. The players didn’t know until they found out from fans around the dugout who had portable radios. After bidding a teary goodbye to his team, Billy left on the 10:45 train to Columbus with his older brother, Press.

Although he quit smoking in the late 1940s, Southworth spent his last days battling emphysema. He died on November 15, 1969, at Riverside Hospital in Columbus, and Musial and scout Mo Mozzali represented the Cardinals at his funeral. Billy was laid to rest at Greenlawn Cemetery in Columbus. Mabel survived him for almost 30 years; passing away in 1998.

Until December 3, 2007, Southworth may have been the best manager never to make the Hall of Fame. He received some support in a couple of Baseball Writers Association elections during the 1950s, but was not close to selection. There is no record of how he fared with the Veterans Committee, their votes not becoming a matter of record until 21st century elections. Frankie Frisch dominated that committee during the 1970s. He was a teammate of Southworth’s with the Giants and the Cardinals, and Billy managed him for half a season in 1929. There may have been some animosity between the two men, but that is mere speculation. It may be, as Rob Neyer suggests, that Southworth’s managerial career was too brief by Hall of Fame standards. Some voters may have discounted his success during the war years. His daughter Carole believes that the untimely death of Bob Hoey in an automobile accident kept her father out of the Hall of Fame. Southworth was a modest man; not one to toot his own horn. But Hoey, a sportswriter for the Ohio State Journal in Columbus, planned to write a book on Billy. To this day, there is no book length profile of the man.

This changed in December of 2007 when a panel of the Veterans Committee elected to enshrine Southworth and Dick Williams. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustratedmentioned some points in Southworth’s favor in an online column:

·         four pennants

·         six 90 win seasons

·         340 games above .500

·         fourth all-time in winning percentage for managers with over 10 years (.597)

Verducci even invoked the point system that Bill James used to rate managers based on victories and titles. Southworth is rated 19th by this measure and all the top 19 managers are immortalized in the plaque room at the Hall.

The most appropriate epitaph for Southworth is quoted by Harold Kaese (in The Milwaukee Braves), coming from the Boston Globe: “The Braves were an old club, crabby, bitter, set in their ways. Players who could no longer deliver blamed their ineptness on Southworth. Victory, which sugar-coated the bitterness underneath last season, eluded the crippled Braves and left bare the acrid taste of defeat, futility and animosity. Southworth, one of the great managers, could not cope with the situation. Perhaps he was too aloof, too domineering, too cocky, and while he did not need the friendship of his players, even he could not afford to lose their respect.”

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