Valdosta Daily Times

July 16, 2013

Book celebrates baseball history

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Lynn Thomas started simply wanting to give something back towards his love of baseball.

A love fostered for the game he played as a boy and an admiration for the youths who once left their homes across the United States to play America’s pastime in his “small, sleepy South Georgia Class D baseball town in their pursuit of a dream.”

Thomas intended to write a simple essay, a “remember-when” reflection, of Valdosta’s earlier baseball traditions. That essay became a thin but detail-packed, book called “From Valdosta to the Major Leagues.” Thomas is listed as the book’s editor but wrote many portions of it. The volume accompanied last year’s Lowndes County Historical Museum baseball exhibit, but it is a book that stands on its own for anyone who loves baseball and enjoys regional history, especially when they are blended together.

The book is based on research he conducted while preparing an essay on the 1958 Georgia-Florida League Champion Valdosta Tigers.

“But the more I looked into the information available, other questions arose and other avenues opened up, leading me to decide upon concentrating upon those 37 men who appeared on Valdosta’s long ago Pendleton Park field as well as Major League diamond ‘fields of dreams,’” Thomas says.

Using his personal library of baseball books and the

 Internet, Thomas concentrated on the 37 men who played Valdosta baseball before moving up to the majors from 1939-58.

These players included men like Eddie Lukon, Bill Morrell, Eddie Robinson, Lou Rochelli, Woody Davis, Eddie Kazak, Hank Behrman, Stew Hofferth, Carl Lindquist, Marv Rackley, Monty Basgall, Bud Clancy, Turk Lown, George Bradshaw, Don Hoak, Ken Lehman, Marion Fricano, Art Ceccarelli, Ron Negray, Chuck Coles, Roger Craig, Bert Hamric, Joe Pignatano, Dick Gray, Bill Harris, Gil Nunez, John Tsitouris, Bob Johnson, Bill Adair, Bob Dustal, Fred Gladding, Joe Grzenda, Bill Graham, Stubby Overmire, Dick McAuliffe, Jackie Moore and Don Wert.

Thomas not only includes the expected statistics but stories of these players’ lives and careers. He worked to include “some personal insights into the lives of the men themselves — to make them ‘human,’ if you will. I feel I did well insofar as researching the available information since all of these men, except Jackie Moore, are now either retired from active participation in professional baseball, or have passed on.”

In 2010, when he started the book, Thomas contacted the 13 former Valdosta players who were still living.

“I wrote letters to all of them, hoping to get as many replies as possible while allowing for the fact that the majority of them were now quite advanced in age,” he writes in the book’s foreword., “I did receive five responses — four by letter and one by phone — and have included as much of their content as possible ...”

Three of the men had passed away between the time he sent the letters and the publication of “From Valdosta to the Major Leagues.”

“I was, and am, extremely grateful to those men who did take the time and make the effort to (respond): Roger Craig, Dick Gray, Joe Pignatano, and Eddie Robinson,” Thomas says. “Mr. Robinson graciously loaned us artifacts from his personal collection, including two autographed Valdosta team baseballs from 1939 and 1940 ... I occasionally contact him if I run across anything that I feel might interest him such as his oversized black-and-white photograph that hangs in the back kitchen area of The Bleu Pub, formerly The Sportsman’s Club, owned by his friend and Valdosta legend, Ellis Clary.”

Once published, Lynn Thomas gave the first copy of his Valdosta baseball history book to his mother, Susie McKey Thomas, one of the region’s best-regarded historical archivists; he was able to give her a copy of the book before she passed away.

Lynn Thomas’ “From Valdosta to the Major Leagues” is available at the Lowndes County Historical Society & Museum, 305 W. Central Ave. Cost: $10, with all proceeds going to the museum.