Coming off a successful season on the field and at the gate caused much enthusiasm in the Union City baseball camp. Shortly after the season was over Cecil Moss was re-elected president of the club for the 1949 season. Tom Luckey was named vice president, Tom Elam, as secretary/treasurer, and only the business manager position was left open. The business manager was a very demanding job. It could essentially turn to full time during the season and even in the off season there were many headaches associated with signing players, making arrangements for the coming season, attending league meetings, and numerous other tasks. Since much of this was volunteer work in the case of the Union City team, and all the volunteers either held other jobs or ran their own businesses, it could be a thankless job. In addition to all the work, the business manager tended to receive a good deal of the blame and criticism when the team was not as successful as the fans would like. H. P. Moss had held this position again in 1948 and said he did not want the responsibility again for 1949. However when none of the other directors would agree to take it, he volunteered once again to keep it on a temporary basis until a successor could be found. He held the job for the entire season. One of his first acts was to sign Tony Rensa as field manager for another year.
In the off season Fulton retained Ivan Kuester as their field manager. He had been the last of three managers during a dismal 1948 season that left the Railroaders in debt to the tune of about $8000. This debt and the need for additional funds to get the '49 season underway put Fulton in danger of losing their franchise according to club president K. P. Dalton. Mr. Dalton, now working for the state of Kentucky, had been president for eight years and said he was not interested in being re-elected to the post. However when the dust settled he was president for another year. Fred Homra was vice president, the board of directors was expanded to 15 members, and several new committees were formed to help minimize the work. Fulton was slightly smaller in population than Union City and together they were two of the smallest towns in organized baseball. To have maintained teams for the period they did, in the manner they did , is a remarkable tribute to the public spirit of the citizenry. Fulton managed to solve the money problems and renewed the working agreement with Chattanooga.
Hod Lisenbee offered to move his Clarksville team to Paducah for the upcoming season. However, the directors of the Paducah Baseball Association turned thumbs down. They signed Pete Peterson as field manager and joined the Missouri-Ohio Valley League, another class D operation. Lisenbee then declared his team for sale. He soon found himself in court over his asking price and the contractual obligations with stockholders. He gave $7100 for the team when he bought it and subsequently lost $9000 in the 47-48 seasons. The courts sided with him and his asking price was $16,000. There were no immediate takers.
Early 1949 ushered in a rule change regarding bonuses paid for signing. This was a fairly recent phenomena and many of the major league owners thought it could lead to baseball's ruin. The Boston Braves paid infielder Johnny Antonelli (no relation to the former Union City manager) between $40,000-50,000 just to sign a contract. The owners instituted a rule that required any player signed for more than $6,000, the major league minimum salary, had to be retained on the roster of the major league club and could not be sent to the minors. One of these "bonus babies" in 1949 was Satchel Paige of the Cleveland Indians. The owners said this would cause teams to not want to have their limited rosters filled with high-priced rookies and would bring these outrageous salaries under control. The same rules applied to minor league players, but at lower amounts.
In early spring Gabby Street came to Union City to speak to a meeting of the Union City Junior Chamber of Commerce at the Park Cafe. His tour was sponsored by the St. Louis Cardinals and the Griesediesk Brewing Co. Locally the sponsor was the Union City Beer Distributing Co. owned by R. M. Brantley. Street was the radio announcing partner of Harry Carey for all Cardinal ball games and was immensely popular as there were no major league teams located west or south of St. Louis. Street was 65 years old and a native of Alabama. He broke into baseball in 1903 with Terre Haute, Indiana in the first year of the Kitty League. He went to the majors in 1908 with the Washington Senators. That same year he became known nationwide when he caught a baseball dropped from the top of the Washington Monument. He was also the battery mate of Walter Johnson, perhaps the greatest pitcher of all time. Later as a manager he won two pennants for the Cardinals in 1930-31 with the '31 team also winning the World Series. Replaced as manager by Frankie Frisch in 1933, he soon went into radio.
Although the season opener was two months away, the organization was busy developing plans for bringing out the fans. A Booster's Day was planned whereby merchants within the city would buy tickets to the opener at discount prices and then give them to customers in exchange for their business. A great deal of effort went into this endeavor and it served to show the naiveté of the merchants at that time regarding marketing matters. Some merchants offered a free ticket with a $25 brake job, or a new set of tires, or other equally non-incentive offers. Although essentially every merchant in town took part, the impact on attendance proved to be negligible. The tickets given away by the participating merchants for the opening game was designed as a souvenir pamphlet containing the 1949 rules of baseball that could be retained as a reference guide for the rest of the year.
Puppy tickets gave way to "puppy caps" for boys, and "puppy beanies" for girls. With the initial purchase the youths received the cap or beanie and a booklet of ten tickets worth ten cents each. When the tickets were gone the wearer of the cap or beanie could get into the game for ten cents. Moreover the puppy cap/beanie wearers were welcomed to sit in the "puppy bleachers" along the third base line. During the season these bleachers were a popular gathering place for the young people, and sometimes they even watched part of the game.
For the first time since the war the team was not holding spring practice in Union City. There were no other teams coming in for spring practice either. The Cleveland Indians had recently developed a practice facility in Marianna, Florida, where all 12 minor league teams affiliated with the Indians would practice under the direction of farm team director Hank Greenberg, assisted by Tris Speaker. Both gentlemen were enshrined in the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame.
The league office announced the hiring of umpires for the upcoming season to include: Clarence Welsh, Caruthersville; James Duncan, Brinkley, Arkansas; Robert Meinert, Chicago; Richard Onarato, New Milford, Connecticut; W. H. Baum, Miami; Henry Fornal, Meridan, Connecticut; Charles Miscenko, Nany, Pennsylvania; and Stanley Lis, Winter Park, Florida. There were a number of rule changes instituted. Each one aimed at speeding up the game. This was the introduction of the rule limiting the number of trips a manager could make to the mound in an inning to confer with the pitcher. Starting in 1949 after the initial trip the manager could only return if he intended to replace the pitcher. Players were also required to trot or run onto and off of the field at the beginning and end of an inning. There were 10 rules altogether and 9 of them carried a $5 fine for violation. There was a $50-200 fine for any player or manager intentionally manhandling, pushing, shoving, crowding, or stepping on the feet of an umpire, or kicking dirt on the umpire or home plate. A later rule invoked a $10 fine for use of profane, vulgar, or obscene language on the field or bench. These last two changes held the potential of being real money makers for the league because the Kitty League was known for showing disrespect for the men in blue.
Many of last year's Greyhounds advanced in the class standings. Bud Hutson went to Pittsfield; Bob Samaras would be in Burlington ; Don Petschow headed to Austin, while Bud Pfeiffer was in Evansville, and former Greyhound second baseman Jerry Majercek was also going to Burlington. Others moving up included Les Filkins, Bernie Olinger, Dutch Neuman, and Herm Wollitz. Ken Paulus decided to retire after three years of class D ball. A shame, as he was perhaps the best fielding infielder ever to play at Turner Field.
In April things were moving slowly. Only 78 box seats had been sold compared to 310 out of 327 total available last season. The box seats were being pushed because the light poles that had always blocked sight of play along the first base side of the stands had been moved from in front of the stands to behind the home dugout. The large eight inch by eight inch wood support beams were replaced by three inch steel poles to also give a clearer view of the play.
The opening day roster for the 1949 Greyhounds listed Carl Bush, 1b; Corky Bellers, 2b; Dick Dutton, ss; Walt Nelson, 3b; George Martek, Del Breeden, Johnny Gabriel, outfield; Jim Jadwin, c; and pitchers Chick Gerrish, Al Aldridge, Bobo Fisher, Joe Linn, Norm Hanslik, Gil Wick, Joe Mattis, and Shelby Kincaide. WENK announced that it would broadcast all away games except those played at Fulton.
The 1949 Kitty League managers and the club affiliations were Union City, Tony Rensa, Cleveland Indians; Cairo, Bill Hart, Brooklyn Dodgers; Mayfield, Bill Enos, St. Louis Browns; Owensboro, Bill Adair, Boston Braves; Madisonville, Joe DiMasi, Chicago White Sox; and Clarksville, Hod Lisenbee and Hopkinsville, John Meuller, both playing as independents.
The Greyhounds opened in Fulton with a 10-6 victory in front of 1100 fans. The next night in Union City they fell to Fulton 7-4 before 1600 fans with only a few getting in on the Booster Day tickets supplied by city merchants. Clarksville entered the record book by pulling off triple plays in each of their two first games against Hopkinsville. Both were started by Billy Herman, Jr., the son of former the Chicago Cub infielder. Baseball commissioner A. B. "Happy" Chandler declared the feat a world record.
After holding first place for much of May, the Greyhounds fell to second place behind Owensboro. Johnny Price performed before 1800 fans on June 4, and Ned Waldrup made his debut at first base for the Fulton. He would hold that position for many years to come and was a thorn on the side of every pitcher in the league. A towering man, he put many balls over the right field fence at Turner Field with seemingly a flick of the wrist. The Union City fans learned to love to hate him. He continued to live in Fulton until his death in the early 1990's. Also in that month the organization brought in two other attractions to gather fan support. On June 20 they featured Johnny Jones and his brand of baseball clowning, and they signed Pete Daniel a local athlete of outstanding ability. Pete was the nephew of Newt Daniel the baseball legend from the 1930's in the Union City area. Pete Daniel went 5 innings in his first game and lost 6-4. The Greyhounds also signed Billy Joe Forrest, an exceptional player who had attended public schools in Fulton and been signed to a scholarship with the University of Kentucky. A shortstop, on his first at bat in professional baseball with the bases loaded, Forrest hit a line drive over the shortstop's head that did not slow until it got to the scoreboard in left center field 437 feet away. While the outfielders were chasing it down Forrest scored an inside the park home run to get credit for a grandslam in his very first official at bat. He continued to play good ball for the remainder of the year.
Toward the end of June, 1949, the Greyhounds were in second place trailing the league leading Owensboro team by 14 games. The second through sixth place teams were separated by only three to four games. Although the Union City team had a record of 27-21, they had lost 13 of the past 19 games and attendance was falling. This prompted a meeting between the board of directors and Tony Rensa. It was acknowledged the Cleveland team, through the working agreement with Burlington, had not provided the necessary help in terms of quality players, but the directors also thought those players on the team were not necessarily playing up to their potential. Rensa was told to shake up the players and make sure they knew those not putting out would have to go. They also would make the plight known to Cleveland and Hank Greenberg.
By the All-Star game break, Owensboro was still dominating the league. They had a team batting average of .308 and three pitchers leading the league in Junior Bunch, 9-0, Bobby Brown, 7-0, and Fred Wagner, 5-0. Joe Linn of Union City was the only 10 game winner in the league. Union City fell all the way to fifth place with only one game separating teams two through six.
The elected All-Stars were Bill Enos, 1b, Mayfield; Bill Spellman, 2b, Madisonville; Bill Hart, 3b, Cairo; Tex Brown, ss, Fulton; Les Valdez, Clarksville, John Mueller, Hopkinsville, and Joe DiMasi, Madisonville outfielders; Jimmy Jadwin, Union City and Jack Litzelfelner, Cairo, catchers; and pitchers, Joe Linn, Union City, Louis Halamek, Cairo, Dick Jansky, Clarksville; and Ivan Kuester, Fulton, manager. Owensboro won the game in eleven innings by a score of 7-6.
In the second half trades and releases continued to be made. Bernie Olinger returned to Union City from the Burlington team. He promptly beat Fulton 2-0 on a Corky Bellers home run. Pete Peterson resigned from the Paducah club and was signed by Fulton. He went on a hitting streak that eventually gave him a .363 batting average in the 35 games he played before the season's end. The Fulton team signed John Bohna as a pitcher/outfielder. Bohna was a student at Murray State University and a member of the track team. He was a fine player that would be around for several years. The Fulton Manager, Kuester, was hit in the head by a ball and was out for several weeks. Curt Englebright took over as manager during this time. Popular Bobo Fisher of the Greyhounds was traded to Cairo for outfielder Mel Froug. At the end of July Union City was still in fifth place.
On August 3, Tony Rensa was fired by the ax wielding Union City Baseball Association board. His tenure was longer than any other manager since the Union City team entered the league in 1935, and his record was 44-43 when he was released. He was replaced by Rudy York, former big league batting star with Detroit and the Boston Red Sox. Yorkhad played 14 seasons in the big leagues, including seven all-star games and three world series. He had 281 career home runs to his credit. He blasted several out of Turner Field. The change was made partly to bolster attendance for the remaining home games, and it was believed York's name would be a draw. Fans came early to see him take batting practice. The Greyhounds continued to scratch for players picking up outfielders Bob Leonhard and Dom Serefini, both excellent hitters.
Behind the managing of Rudy York the Greyhounds briefly moved into fourth place and hoped for a playoff slot. However despite some great long ball hitting by York they were unable to sustain the effort and finished the season in fifth place. The final standings were
Union City 65-60
The managers with their experience dominated the hitting race and the first four spots went to them. The batting champion was Bill Hart, Cairo with .404. Next hitters in order were Joe DiMasi, Madisonville, .374; John Mueller, Hopkinsville, .373; and Bill Adair, Owensboro, .360. Adair hit 23 home runs followed closely by Waldrup with 22 and Hart with 21. The highest average on the Union City team was held by George Martak at .310. Joe Linn won 17 games and struckout 144, while Greyhounds Lee Aldridge and Gabby Ellison had 167 and 166 strike outs respectively. In the playoffs Madisonville defeated Owensboro in three straight games and Hopkinsville defeated Cairo three games to two. Weather finally forced a cancellation of the playoffs with Madisonville leading two games to one. The rain and cold canceled several games in a row and the league and the competitors decided the interest and attendance did not warrant continuing.