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The Up and Down Career of Gene Host

Eugene Earl Host was once one of the highest-rated mound prospects in the Detroit organization.  Born on January 1, 1933 in Leeper, Pennsylvania, the 5′ 11″, 190-pound hard-throwing left hander was signed as a 19-year-old free agent in 1952 by the Detroit Tigers.

Sent to Kingston of the Coastal Plains League in his first professional season, he was 26-7 with a 1.81 ERA and named to the league All Star team.

He spent the 1953 season with Montgomery in the South Atlantic League (A) where he was 10-13 with a 3.51 ERA and in 1954 bounced between three teams: Little Rock (Southern Association – AA), Wilkes-Barre (Eastern League – A), and Durham (Carolina League – B). His combined record was 7-7.

In 1955 he spent the entire season with Little Rock where he was 10-13 once again. In May he hit Chattanooga’s Lyle Luttrell with a pitch, breaking his jaw.

In 1956 he finished 13-15 with Charleston (American Association – AAA) before being called up to the Tigers where his contract with the major league club called for a salary of $4,200.

He pitched in one game for Detroit at Briggs Stadium on September 16, 1956 against Boston. Wearing number 19, he started the game and allowed four runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings. Two of those hits were home runs by Billy Klaus (in the 5th inning with one on and one out) and Jackie Jensen (also in the 5th inning, a solo shot with two out).

After a single by Jimmy Piersall and a walk to Norm Zauchin, manager Bucky Harris called on future Hall of Famer Jim Bunning to replace Host on the mound. Bunning won in relief, allowing one hit the rest of the way as the Tigers won 8-4.

On December Host was traded by the Tigers with Wayne Belardi, Ned Garver, Virgil Trucks and $20,000 to the Kansas City Athletics for Jack Crimian, Jim Finigan, Bill Harrington and Eddie Robinson.

Gene HostHost signed with Kansas City at a salary of $5,100 and appeared in 11 games for the Athletics in 1957, mostly in relief. His uniform number was 28. He started two games, at Comiskey Park on April 20 against the Chicago White Sox (his first game for Kansas City, no decision) and at Cleveland Stadium on May 10 against the Indians (his first loss of the season).

His second loss came on June 9 at home at Municipal Stadium. In relief of Tom Morgan with no one out and two on in the fifth inning Host retired the side with no outs. In the eighth he gave up a solo home run to Ted Lepcio. In the ninth inning Jimmy Piersall and Ted Williams hit home runs and Lepcio singled home Jackie Jensen. Boston won 8-4 as Kansas City’s offense gave no support to Host.

On June 14 at Kansas City versus the New York Yankees, Host came on in relief of Mickey McDermott. Facing Mickey Mantle with two out and Bobby Richardson on second, Mantle promptly homered. Finishing the game, Host allowed seven hits, three runs (all earned), and struck out one: Mantle in the ninth.

Host’s final game in the majors was on June 23 at Fenway Park in Boston where he allowed three runs on four hits in 1 1/3 innings.

Traded to Buffalo for Glenn Cox a few weeks later, Host pitched in three games for the Bisons before being obtained by the Denver Bears of the American Association in late July. Under the tutelage of manager Ralph Houk, Denver won their league title. Playing versus Buffalo in the Junior Series championships Host was removed from the 20-player limit but he shared in the players’ share of the winnings.

In September he was sent to Little Rock to end the season. He was 1-4 in five appearances for the Travelers before being assigned back to Buffalo for 1958.

Host never appeared for the Bisons, however, as he was purchased by Indianapolis (American Association – AAA) in April before the season began. Having made his home in Little Rock, he left the club for a week to return to Arkansas without explanation, then rejoined the team on April 24. In May the Indians sent him to San Antonio (Texas League – AA) who returned him to Buffalo in June.

Buffalo assigned him to Winona (Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League – Class B) but he refused to report and was placed on baseball’s suspended list.

Out of baseball in 1959, he returned the next season as a member of the Monterrey Sultans (Mexican League – AA) pitching staff. In the opening game he was the loser in a slugfest in Mexico City in front of 25,000 fans who saw the Reds win 13-8. His record with the Sultans was 2-5 as his ERA ballooned to 5.86.

Host was a member of the Nashville Vols in 1961, signed by the club in March. He appeared in 11 games, winning two and losing five. His first win came against Chattanooga on Monday, April 10 in the second game of the season as Nashville trounced the Lookouts 8-6. By May 3 Birmingham handed him his fourth consecutive defeat, but on May 7 he pitched brilliantly in a four-hit, 2-0 shutout as Nashville’s Gene Davis popped a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth.

It was Host’s final win of his career. The May 31, 1961 edition of The Sporting News announced his release by Nashville.

Once his baseball career was over he became a bus driver for Continental Trailways, and in 1964 began working as a machinist at the Ford Motor Co. glass plant in Nashville. Host passed away August 20, 1998 at the age of 65 and was cremated.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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From Sulphur Dell to World Series Hero: Dusty Rhodes

Quick, name the Most Valuable Player of the 1954 World Series. Yes, that one, the one in which Willie Mays makes that miracle catch and throw.

It is late in Game One of the 1954 World Series.  Played at the cavernous Polo Grounds in New York, Cleveland Indians first baseman Vic Wertz crushes a fly ball to deep centerfield.

There is one out in the eighth inning, the score is tied 2-2, and with two runners on base the drive is certainly going to send in two runs, and possibly three, as Giants centerfielder Willie Mays turns towards the wall to make a play.

Mays makes an over-the-shoulder catch that not only robs Wertz of an extra-base hit, but Mays’ unbelievable throw to the infield sends the runners scurrying back to their bases. Cleveland’s Larry Doby is able to tag up and move to third, but Al Rosen holds up at first base. The next batter is walked, but the Giants are able to get two more outs without allowing a run.

The score remains tied into the bottom of the tenth when Mays walks and steals second, Hank Thompson is walked intentionally, and with one out Giants manager Leo Durocher sends in a pinch hitter for Monte Irvin. James Lamar “Dusty” Rhodes steps up to the plate and wallops a three-run homer off future Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Lemon to lead New York to a 5-2 win.

The next day Rhodes pinch hits for Irvin again and delivers a single to drive in Mays. Remaining in the game to play left field, Rhodes hits a home run off of Early Wynn, another future Hall of Famer, to help ensure the win in Game Two as the Giants beat Cleveland 3-1.

The Series moved to the Indians Municipal Stadium for Game Three. With the Giants ahead 1-0 in the third inning, once again Durocher calls on Rhodes to pinch hit for Irvin. With the bases load he delivers a single that scores Don Mueller and Willie Mays and adding to the Giants lead 3-1. Staying in and playing left field, Rhodes is intentionally walked in the fourth inning with New York ahead by a score of 4-0. He strikes out in his last two plate appearances but the Giants win 6-2 and take a 3-0 lead in the Series.

Rhodes does not play in Game Four, as the Giants quickly take a 7-0 lead and win by a final score of 7-4. Dusty RhodesEven though the Indians had won a record 111 games to capture the American League pennant, the Giants take the series in four games. The Giants are 1954 World Champions!

For the Series Rhodes stats total a .667 batting average, two homers and seven RBIs.

“The Catch” becomes one of the most memorable events in all of baseball history; we’ve seen it over-and-over in film and pictures. One sportswriter said, “It would have been a home run in any other park, including Yellowstone.”

So the answer is Willie Mays, right? Well, no. There was no official World Series MVP until 1955 when the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Johnny Podres won the award.

But in the mind of Giants fans everywhere, it was Rhodes. And there is a Nashville connection.

The 6-ft., 178-pound left-handed hitter had played five seasons with Chicago Cubs minor league affiliates. At the end of the 1951 season the Nashville baseball club purchased Rhodes from the Rock Hill, South Carolina club of the Tri-State League.

A line-drive pull hitter, Rhodes would fit well in Nashville’s lineup. Taking advantage of the short right-field “dump” at Sulphur Dell, Rhodes delivered, too.  After 82 games the 25-year-old led the Southern Association in batting with a .357 average. His 114 hits included 14 homers, 4 triples, and 27 doubles with 62 RBIs and 64 runs.

He was purchased for $25,000 by the Giants and reported to the major league team in Cincinnati on July 13 and his non-descript seven-year major league career began. Used primarily as a pinch hitter for Monte Irvin, his statistics were not impressive.

The 1954 post season was a different story.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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