Once the decision was made about which league to play in and who the opponents were going to be, the Union City baseball group began to earnestly prepare. In many ways Union City was in better shape than others in the league. The Union City playing facility, Turner Memorial Field, was still one of the best in the minor leagues and could challenge some major league parks on potential. It had spacious outfields that ran to a stone and concrete wall surrounding three sides of the complex, The grass infield was practically unheard of in a class D minor league. It was well lighted for the night games and the grandstand, while needing minor repair, was in excellent condition for the times. The overall condition of the playing surface needed work because of the neglect it had received during the war years. There had been games played on the field even during those years usually Sunday afternoon pickup games between the ball players in the area who were too old or too young for the military service. The city owned the field and agreed to let the club use it for practically nothing. The same kind of arrangement was made for the lights. The city also agreed to do the work needed on replacing some lighting, improving the grounds, and sprucing up the grandstand.
The American Legion named Tom Elam to be president of the baseball club. The Board of Directors included Charles Miles III, W. M. "Andy" Anderson, Sam Nailing, and Sugg Keiter, all veterans of WWII. Other Directors were Cecil Moss, Dixon Williams, Morgan Sedberry, and John Semones, veterans of WWI. The WWI members had been among the directors of the club prior to the 1942 closure and were named as advisors and for continuity. By this time the Legion had a membership of over 1100. Walter Ward, outstanding local athlete and a former player in the St. Louis Cardinal chain before joining the service, was named Business Manager. The group agreed to keep the Greyhounds nickname. The search was begun for a field manager and a working agreement with either a higher class minor league team or a major league club.
Mayfield was trying to again line up with the St. Louis Browns. Owensboro Oilers were affiliated with the Indianapolis Indians of the Triple A American Association. Fulton signed Hugh Holiday as manager and had a working agreement with the Memphis Chicks of the Class A Southern League. On March 1 a league meeting was held in Mayfield to review progress. Union City was lagging behind the other teams.
At the March meeting the league adopted an official schedule. Teams voted against raising the the club salary cap from $1500 to $1800 per month. They decided to adopt the Shaughnessy playoff system at the end of the year. This system was widely adopted and variations are still used in organized sports today because it has the effect of maintaining fan interest even in the case of a runaway winner in first place.
The umpires hired for the 1946 season were Jack Graves of Fulton, Kentucky; William Mason, Mayfield: Walter Jones, Valpariso, Indiana; Elvis Hall, McHenry, Kentucky; Roy Frankhouser, Alliance, Ohio; Frank Kukio, Vincennes, Indiana and Ellis Beggs, Fulton. They would need to hire more later or form a pool of part timers so there could be two umpires available for four games each day. There were no off days once the season began except for the All Star break at mid season. The league members also agreed to send $265 each month to the league president, Shelby Peace of Hopkinsville. This was to cover league expenses such as umpires, scorers, and such with all other funds to be retained by the home club.
In March, Johnny Gill of Nashville was signed by Walter Ward to be the field manager of the Greyhounds. A left handed hitting infielder, Gill broke into organized ball in 1925 with the Knoxville, Smokies of the Southern Association. After a year in Shreveport's Cotton States League, he jumped to the Cleveland Indians and stayed with them for two years. He subsequently played with Decatur in the Three I league, Baltimore in the International League and Chattanooga before returning to the majors with the Washington, Senators. He later played with the Chicago Cubs, San Francisco, and the Portland, Oregon, Bears for five seasons. Gill was forty years old with a lifetime batting average of .325. He was recommended for the manager position by the Nashville Vols manager Larry Gilbert and Dick Luckey recently named to manage the Clarksville team. He was also recommended by a former Greyhound manager, Johnny Antonelli. Antonelli had just finished the 1945 season playing for the Philadelphia Phillies. Gill announced a tryout camp to be held in Union City starting April 15th, and said he would meanwhile be "scouring the United States for ballplayers".
By now the history of the Kitty League was replete with names of former, present and future major league players. While the Greyhounds were getting their roster together for the 1946 season, three former Greyhounds were bidding for regular berths with the St. Louis Cardinals. Albert "Red" Schoendist, Bill Endicott, and Fred Martin were in spring training camp with the Cards. Schoendist broke into pro ball with the Greyounds in 1942, Endicott in 1938, and Martin, a pitcher in 1936. All made the Cardinals squad in 1946 and Schoendist went on to become a Hall-of-Famer. Ellis Kinder, the former Jackson General played in 1946 for the St. Louis Browns. Kinder played in the majors through the 1957 season with the Browns, the Boston Red Sox, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago White Sox. He pitched in 484 major league games and had a won/loss record of 102-71. He died in Jackson in 1968 at age 54.
The other members of the league were lining up players and working agreements. Mayfield had an agreement with the Browns and signed Eddie O'Connor as field manager. O'Connor was a former first baseman for Mayfield in 1937 and had played for the Owensboro Oilers in 1938. Fulton named Hugh Holiday as manager. Holiday was recommended by "Doc" Protho the Memphis Chicks manager, and former major league manager. "Doc" was the father of Tommy Protho an outstanding football star who later coached the UCLA Bruins and the NFL Los Angeles Rams.
Hugh Holiday was a journeyman baseball player epitomizing the players of the twenties and thirties. His travels had included stops in Hutchinson, Kansas; Beaumont, Texas; Muskogee, Oklahoma; Springfield, Illinois; Jackson, Mississippi; Charleston, West Virginia; Albany, New York; New Orleans; Mobile, Gadsden, Montgomery, Alabama; Louisville and Memphis. He lived in Boonville, Mississippi where he ran his own hotel in the off season. The other managers chosen to open the season were Frank Piet, Cairo; Frank Zubik, Madisonville; Calvin Chapman, Hopkinsville; Earl Browne, Owensboro; and Dick Luckey, Clarksville.
On April 8 Tom Elam announced a working agreement with the Cranston Chiefs of Providence, Rhode Island, a member of the class A New England League. They said they were interested in the Greyhounds largely because of the selection of Johnny Gill as manager.
Louis McAdoo was in charge of getting Turner Memorial Field ready for play. McAdoo had a genuine interest in the job. When Turner Field was built, McAdoo was Street Commissioner, one of three elected commissioners in the city government. It was through his idea and initiative that three-quarters of the outfield wall was constructed of a very unique design. Mr. McAdoo had salvaged the old curb and guttering from the 1930's widening of East Main Street, and used it in the construction of the outfield fence in Turner Field. The sections of curb and gutter were sunk into the ground standing on end and protruded to a height of about six feet with the curb turned to the playing field side. Each section was approximately two feet in width. The sections were cemented together to form a solid wall. An additional piece of the curb and gutter was placed to run along the top of the six foot wall bringing the total height to about eight feet. A ball catching a bounce off the curb portion of the wall could sometimes send an outfielder scrambling to recover. Now McAdoo faced a problem of there not being enough building materials available for bleachers. This was because supply could not keep up with demand in the post-war period. There was an additional problem of finding someone to mow the knee high outfield grass. A plea also went out for volunteers to provide housing for the expected influx of players attending the Greyhound tryout camp scheduled for late April. Citizen response solved these problems.
Gill started spring workouts in mid-April. Business Manager Walter Ward came out to watch. Then he started to work out with the team. Soon he was signed to a contract as a starting pitcher and the search was on for a replacement as business manager.
Opening day was coming and activity intensified. General admission was $.50 for adults and $.25 for children. This included admission to the grandstand but not the box seats. Box seats went on sale for $7.50. That price entitled the owner to sit in one of the 350 chair type reserved seats in the lower part grandstand during all 63 home games. The owners name was painted on their chairback. There were no outside bleachers yet, but car owners could drive into the park and line up along the first and third base sides of the field, remaining in the comfort of their cars to watch the game.
Opening night May 7, 1946 was cold in Union City. The turnout was good with about 1000 shivering fans attending, many of them supporters of the visiting Fulton ball club. The starting lineup included and outfield of Pete Burnett, Kenny Thompson and Mike Wysynski, Johnny Gill at first base, Bill Sweat, second base, Bernie Lewis, shortstop, Jimmy Sherrill at third, and Bill Wilson, catcher. The starting pitcher was Howard Bentz. Other members of the team were pitchers Raymond Kirby, Walter Ward, Bill Lee, and Bert Sullivan; infielder Virgil High, and outfielder Muriel McNeill. Union City lost to Fulton 7-3. Other opening scores were Mayfield 28-6 over Cairo, Clarksville Owls 11-6 over the Hopkinsville Hoppers and the Madisonville Miners 9-6 over the Oilers of Owensboro.
By the end of May, Owensboro and Fulton were leading the league standings. Union City was in seventh place with a record of 8 wins and 9 loses. Cairo was in eighth place with a 2-15 record. A combination of cool weather and few wins had Greyhound club officials concerned about attendance and prompted a report in the Hopkinsville New Era that Shelby Peace, league president said he was not worried about Cairo despite a slow start in the wins column because they were drawing well. A recent doubleheader drew 1200 and opening day drew 1800 at a price of $1 each. Their first Sunday game had 1400 in attendance. Peace said he was more concerned about places where the teams are not privately owned. Ben Smith was the Cairo owner. Peace was concerned where the team was a municipal project and no one feels much responsibility if the team folds or stands to lose too much if it collapses. These comments fit the Union City team .
Union City Greyhounds continued to struggle through the month of June. The lineup changed continuously and each homestand brought new faces into the white and red Greyhound uniforms. By the first of July the Greyhounds were in fifth place with a record of 24-27. Owensboro continued to lead the league with a 39-15 record. The Fulton club had settled on the Chicks as a team nickname finally and they were in third place when one of their pitchers, Tommy Thomasson, hurled the first of several league no-hitters on July 1.
On June 24 there was a bus crash that killed 9 ballplayers of the Spokane, Washington, club in the International League. All minor league teams chipped in to help the families of these players. President Shelby Peace asked each city to set aside nights when special donations would be taken by passing the hat for these families. Approximately $1000 was raised by the league for this worthy cause.
On July 4, 1946, the American Legion Post elected new officers. The incoming Commander was Lawrence Shore, succeeding Garrett Pruett. The Vice Commanders were Sam Nailling, Union City; Joe Harper, Kenton; Mike Bright, Troy; Buck Hefley, Woodland Mills; and Dewey Darnell, Hornbeak.
By July 9 the Greyhounds had lost six straight and were looking forward to the two day break for the All-Star game. Union City was now 27-37 and had fallen to seventh place with only Cairo having a worse record.
The All-Stars played the first place Owensboro Oilers. There was controversy over the selection of the All Star team. The ballots had indicated that a fan should not vote for more than four of the members of the hometown team. However when the votes were counted the league office ruled that each of the seven league clubs should be represented by two players each. Union City's representatives were third baseman Danny Verderbar and Johnny Gill selected as an outfielder despite the fact he was also the Greyhound manager. Gill did not play due to an "injury", and Verderbar was relegated to a substitute role. The Union City fans wondered how players such as Pete Burnett and pitcher Howard Bentz could have been left out. The other teams wondered the same thing about their favorites. The All-Stars defeated the Oilers by a 3-0 score. The All-Stars used four pitchers in the win: Jim Hughes, Madisonville, Pete Rhodes, Hopkinsville, Bob Schultz, Fulton, and Ronald McLeland, Mayfield. Schultz would go on to the Chicago Cubs for the 1951 season, where he would remain through the 1955 season. Ultimately playing for the Pittsburg Pirates and the Detroit Tigers.
The Greyhound roster now held names such as Bob Caldwell, outfield; Bernie Lewis, 2nd base; Milt Sidwell 1b; "Pistol" Pete Burnett, of; George Wessell, ss; Bob Zuba c; Bob Sepanek, of; Jess Web, p; Dutch Neuman, p/of; Howard Bentz, p; Bert Olson, ss; Bob Jones, p; and a poplar young pitcher, 17 year old Jimmy Alsup from McClure, IL who pitched a no-hitter against Cairo on July 12. The no-hitter was a strange one that typified the Kitty League. The final score was 5-2 and it did not go down as a no-hitter until the official scorer made a correction after the game was over. On a slow roller to the first base side after the bases had been loaded via walks and errors, the first baseman threw to Alsup covering the bag. The umpire called the runner safe and during the confusion two runs scored and the no-hitter appeared to be gone. After the game when asked by the official scorer the umpire said the runner at first would have been out except for Alsup's foot not being on the base. The scorer promptly changed the hit to an error and young Jimmy Alsup had a no-hitter in the record book.
Umpires were a continuing problem for President Peace in the summer of 1946. By the end of July only three of the original umpires were still on the job. The Kitty League had a reputation for being hard on umps and the home teams remained hard to please. At this time it was part of the entertainment for the managers, players, and fans to disagree with the umpires. A big argument could be started over the call of a ball or a strike. Loud verbal abuse was expected to be directed toward the men in blue-and it was! Due to the shortage of league umpires it became necessary to pick up local help to supplement the regulars. When this was not possible players not in the lineup were used. When this occurred the teams normally alternated the base umpire by providing an umpire when their team was in the field. Union City often relied on Harold Fuller, a local resident who had previously umpired and played in the league before the war.
During a game in Union City, umpire Jack Graves made what the home fans considered a "raw" call. The leadoff man hit a shot down the right field line for a double. The next batter, Johnny Gill, hit a ball in the same area close to the line. As the runner scored from second and Gill pulled into second, the umpire Graves belatedly called "foul ball". The fans went wild, the first base coach went wild, the bench went wild. The only person who did not go wild was Gill, because he was already on probation by the league and any arguing from him would result in a ten game suspension. The fans and team made up for Gill's inability to react. The fans were so upset that club president Tom Elam was reported to have asked Graves if he wanted police protection to depart the park. Supposedly Graves refused this offer and waded into the crowd to get to his car. He also waded into an irate fan's left hook and then had his car showered with pop bottles as he tried to leave.
The local paper said the umpiring situation was terrible. There were only four league umpires now-Graves, Beggs, Hall, and Compton, a new hire. Of the three who started the season "only Hall can be counted on to call a decent game day in, day out-and he has his off days". The next night Graves was back on the bases and a new umpire Mills was behind the plate. The paper reported: "it was obvious it was Mills first game as he often forgot the count and did not announce lineup changes as they occurred. He got nervous in the fourth inning when Eddie O'Connor dressed him down and never got over it."
The Jack Graves story was not over however. According to a story printed in the Louisville paper, Graves said he ask for police protection and was refused it by Tom Elam. He said he was attacked by an unruly crowd and hit is the face. The crowd tried to prevent him from getting his wife and 7 weeks old child into his car, and bottles thrown from the upper seats of the grandstand broke his car glass and caused more than $50 in damage to his car, while almost injuring his wife and child. The article went on to report that Graves returned to the Union City field two nights later, paid his admission, and confronted Tom Elam in the grandstand. It said he challenged Elam to a "duel of the dukes" and accused him of "a lack of intestinal fortitude". The altercation was supposedly broken up by K. P. Dalton, spectator, Fulton club president, and Fulton Chief of Police.
President Peace put considerable effort into the umpire situation and managed to recruit several new men including John Henry "Flash" Suther, who had previously managed the Hopkinsville team in the thirties and also umpired in the league before the war. Suther was a former All American halfback from the University of Alabama and would return to Tuscaloosa to become county sheriff in January, 1947. Peace also recruited Gene Compton of Alliance, OH; Sammy Hale, of Cincinnati; William Grissom, a former University of Tennessee football player, Jack Porter and W. W. "Scrubby" Witherspoon of Union City. Most were very large men!
Some statistics released by the league late in the '46 season indicated through the first half of the season the league had a paid attendance of over 157,000, and Union City through the end of July had drawn over 22,000 fans. Union City's attendance figures matched their playing ability-they were in seventh place. The player statistics were also published. Manager Johnny Gill was hitting .377. Dutch Neuman was at .316. Danny Verderbar, .294 and Pete Burnett, .289. Burnett had 16 homers, and Gill a like number. Verderbar had 14. Owensboro as a team was hitting .318, Union City .256. The leading Greyhound pitcher was Howard Bentz at 12-9. Jess Web was 4-1, Alsup 5-5.
In late August after a number of defeats, the team mired in seventh place, and the club floating in red ink manager Johnny Gill quit. It was reported that the club directors told him they intended to cut every expense they could in the final two weeks of the season. Gill was said to have told the directors they could start with any money they would owe him for the remainder of the season. Gill had signed on for $2000 for the full 126 game season. Jess Web was named to finish out the season as manager. Web was at the end of an outstanding pitching career, much of it with his hometown Jackson team.
The final standings for the Kitty League in 1946 were:
Union City 51-72
Rained out games that would not affect league standings were not played. Fulton beat Hopkinsville in the playoffs, Owensboro beat Mayfield. Both series went three games. Owensboro then defeated Fulton four games to two to become the 1946 Kitty League Champions.