The Taylor family produced several fine baseball players with Hawk being, arguably, the best of the lot. Benjamin Eugene Taylor, “Bennie” or “Bleek,” got a “cup of coffee” with the St. Louis Browns in 1951, Detroit Tigers in 1952 and the Milwaukee Braves in 1955.
It seemed that all the Taylor boys could play baseball. Predating the Taylors slightly was Wid Curry Matthews.
Matthews was not a Metropolis native, being born in Raleigh.
Raleigh is now just a wide spot in the road seven or eight miles north of Harrisburg on highway 34, but in the mid 1800s, it was the county seat of Saline County.
Matthews’ family relocated to Metropolis in 1898 when Wid was a year and a half old. Matthews played just three years in the bigs, but made quite a splash for himself.
The story is told that Matthews, who was a savvy base runner, made a bone-headed mistake in a key game against Detroit and cost his team, the Philadelphia Athletics, a game.
Legendary manager Connie Mack was supposedly a little too caustic in his criticism of Matthews and the little spark plug “talked back.”
Whether it was collusion or just the fact that the league figured out Matthews’ slap hitting strategy, Matthews’ major league career lasted just three years, from 1923-1925.
However, Matthews went on to forge a long time relationship with another legendary figure, Branch Rickey, who was the Cardinals’ business manager in 1936.
Matthews became one of the top scouts in the game, helping to build the fabulous Cardinal teams of the 1940s and the Dodgers’ “Boys of Summer” teams of the late 1940s and early 1950s.
John Delmar Kreuter “Johnny Del” began an eight year minor league career in 1952 in Janesville, Wis. that ended in 1959 in Lancaster, Pa. after his best season.
Kreuter walked away from his major league aspirations after a career best .313 season in the Eastern League in class A ball. Kreuter’s .313 average that year was better than a lot of other youngsters who went on to successful major league careers i.e., Matty Alou, Lee Thomas, Tom Tresh et.al.
Kreuter came home to Metropolis and went about the business of raising a family. While “Hawk” was one of the “bonus babies” and secured his financial future, at least for a while, most professional athletes at that time made just enough money to live on and most of them worked regular jobs in the off season.
Some “barnstormed” around the country playing exhibition games against locals, semi-pro teams, industrial league teams or anyone else they thought would bring a paying gate. Imagine this if you will.
A traveling all-star team with Justin Verlander, Tim Lincecum, Joe Maurer and Pablo Sandoval is coming to Metropolis to play an exhibition game against some local boys.
Would you pay to watch it? I believe I know the answer to that one.
Well that happened here on Sept. 29, 1932. Johnny Del Kreuter’s son, “Johnny Bob,” has an old program for an exhibition game played down near the end of what is now Eighth Street, near the old railroad tracks.
From what I’ve been able to find out, it may have been the old Artman farm.
The Metropolis team squared off against a team from Anna and these two were not just your ordinary local yokels.
Hall of Famer Pepper Martin and Paul Dean, brother of Hall of Famer “Dizzy” Dean were on the card that afternoon along with six time All Star Paul Derringer from the Cincinnati Reds. Derringer was a pitcher who won a total of 223 games from 1931 to 1945.
Two time All Star catcher Jimmy Wilson, from the St. Louis Browns, also was on hand.
The outcome of the game isn’t known, but I bet it was one great afternoon.
With the salaries of today’s players and the near godlike status that we give professional athletes, I don’t see “barnstorming” making a comeback.
The history of barnstorming is fascinating, and if you’re a baseball fan, I urge you to read about the history of the old Negro Leagues and one of the most interesting teams of all, the Israelite House of David team.
With so many other interests and diversions to choose from, baseball seems lost to today’s youth.
It is especially true in the black community, although there is a movement to spark baseball interest in the inner cities.
I realize these may just be the musings of an aging “boomer” who really doesn’t care for most of what he sees around him, but Hawk’s passing really does seem like the end of a better, simpler time.