Early in the post-season word came the Boston Braves would not operate the Owensboro club in 1951. Boston was placing the franchise for sale at a price of $5000. Lack of support was given as the Braves reason, but this was further evidence the major league clubs were curtailing the minor league investments. Owensboro's dilemma was not bad news for the other league members. Owensboro was the largest city in the league, and they had received better major league support than any other team. They were always hard to beat because their players were often optioned from higher level leagues and the other teams believed this "unfair competition" put the entire league on shaky ground. In the past year the league leading hitter was a $35,000 "bonus baby" optioned to Owensboro, Joe Andrews.
January 1 was the date set for posting guarantees to assure holding franchises. It came and passed without hearing from Cairo. The Cairo team had come off a terrible year at the gate, drawing less than 9,000 fans for the entire sixty home game schedule. Paducah had recently withdrawn from the Mississippi-Ohio League because the travel distances between league members was to great.
At a Kitty League meeting in Paducah's Irving Cobb Hotel, Paducah was voted back into the league in Cairo"s place. This realignment changed the scheduling so that Union City's normal opening series with Fulton was replaced with the Jackson Generals. New rules included reduction of players from 17 to 15 if the manager was an active player. The limit was 16 if the manager was a non-playing manager. The monthly salary cap was reduced to $2300 from the previous year's $2500. At this point only three teams had firm working agreements for the 1951 season, Fulton with Chattanooga; Mayfield with Pittsburgh; and Madisonville with the Chicago White Sox. Attendees from Union City were Tom Elam, Guy Weldon, Ben Howard, Harold Fuller, and Sherrill Griffith.
In late winter the American Legion announced the financial condition of the team. They were now about $2500 in the hole after operation of the team for the past fifteen years (1935-1950 , including the shut down for WW II). The $2500 debt included $1300 "on deposit" with the National Association of Professional Baseball. For the most part there were break even years, and indeed that was the goal of the organization. In 1947 the team had turned a profit of $10,000, but it was eaten away by losses in subsequent years. The Legion called on the community for help, and stated they were willing to give over the running of the franchise to another organization if there was one wanting to try its civic duty. The Union City Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) stepped forward.
The Jaycees said they would conduct a survey to determine local interest in keeping and supporting a professional team. They would operate the franchise if a sufficient number of people pledged to purchase season tickets at $30 for the sixty home games. They needed a minimum of 500 backers to guarantee a successful season. The drive was to go until February 10, 1951. On the February 8, there were only 51 season ticket takers, and the American Legion said they would definitely not operate the club.
This prompted in the local newspaper the publication of a poem by Lou Wrather, manager of radio station WENK:
It's goodbye baseball-goodbye to the team
Goodbye to the Greyhounds, and umpires so mean.
No longer will the cheers ring up thru the night
As the Hounds take the field to carry on the fight.
Turner Field will be dark, the park empty and sad,
As we remember guys like Hutson, Petschow, and Ladd.
There's Leonard the batboy, his face full of pride
As Neuman swings and the ball takes a ride.
The signs on the scoreboard grow tattered and torn
The Greyhounds uniforms no longer are worn.
Around the diamond the winds blow dust
The grandstand screen is starting to rust.
And in the summer that lies just ahead
I'll remember the verdict that pronounced the team dead:
500 tickets or the Greyhounds are done
All the Jaycees could count was fifty-one.
On the 9th of February a spontaneous public demonstration of support produced $6000 in pledges. The Jaycees changed their ticket plan to allow buying in $10 and $15 books of tickets, as well as the $30 season book. They extended the deadline to February 21 to get a showing of $12,000 in advance admissions, or approximately 50% of the expected season's expense. The Jaycees, perhaps having second thoughts about their involvement, said they would turn the job over to another group if one stepped up. None did and it looked like the Jaycees were the last and only hope for the team. Although the drive was $2,500 short on the next to last day, a surge sent the number by $12,000 late on the final day.
Late in February, 1951, there was a formal transfer of the franchise from the American Legion to the Jaycees. It included an agreement for returning the franchise and all equipment to the Legion if the Jaycees ceased operations anytime in the future. The American Legion retired the current debt of the club by applying the "on deposit" fund. Thus the American Legion's net was a plus $100 after 15 years of devotion and work. Present for the transfer was Jaycee president Roy Naylor Vincent, Garland Bennett, Ed Kallenberg, and Herb Ries. Representing the Legion was Guy Weldon, Guy Jones, Sam Nailling, Jack Burdick, Andy Anderson, Uel Olive, Wehman Fitz, Harold Fuller and Sherrill Griffith. Mayor Hardy Graham was also present.
The Jaycees proposed a contest to give the team a new name, but there was no interest in anything other than Greyhounds. New ticket prices were established raising the adult general admission to sixty cents and children under twelve for twenty-five cents. The grandstand general admission seats were now fifteen cents and reserved seats were still $10 for the season. It was noted that twelve cents of the general admission went for taxes and fees leaving the club with forty-eight cents for operations. Baseballs alone cost $1500 for the season, bats were up 25% and the season's operating costs were projected at $26,000. J. R. Moore was elected new president of the Jaycees and Roy Naylor Vincent was named president and business manager of the baseball club.
As early spring approached, an agreement was reached with the Flint (Michigan) Arrows. Steve Bysco, former Greyhound manager and native of Flint was hired to manage the class B team. Since Flint was without higher league sponsorship, Bysco took a unique method of contacting potential players: he advertised in The Sporting News. The results was letters of interest from over 900 players. Since Flint could not possibly use of the applicants, Flint needed a place in the south for spring training, and Bysco knew the local facilities, a deal was struck. Flint Arrows would headquarter in the Davy Crockett Hotel, practice at Turner Field, and provide Union City with needed players from the Flint excess. Bysco also recommended a field manager in Charlie Moore. Moore played for Bysco in Tallahassee and most recently managed Odgenburg, NY, in the class C Border League.
Soon there were a number of players working out in the Union City facility including Dick Loomis, Curt Englebright, Jim Cawley, Jay Stasko, and Sam Lamitino. Lamitino was a second baseman from Newport, Arkansas. He had played organized ball for 14 years, reaching the Southern League. He answered the ad in the Sporting News.
Recently Fulton had hired Elmer "Dutch" Gray, a former all star second baseman for Fulton in '46, to manage the Railroaders. He became ill was would be unable to work for perhaps ninety days. The Chattanooga Lookouts bought Sam Lamitino's contract and installed him as manager in Fulton. He would be there awhile. He was 32 years old, but looked older. He was a showman, who would argue at the drop of a hat. Often while arguing with umpires he became loud and obscene, but he always provided a show. The fans in every city in the league hated him, especially in Union City. He was a winner on the field and his teams were always hard to beat-adding to his unpopularity with the other fans.
The Jaycees established a Booster Club of 12 year olds and under, that were allowed free admission, as long as they sat in the special booster seats behind the visiting dugout and made as much noise as possible. There were 250 kids showing up for the invitation. The park had a newly painted grandstand, seats, and a recently finished locker room for the visiting team located under the grandstand on the third base side. One of the exhibition games was played against the traveling House of David team. The Greyhounds beat the bearded travelers 8-1.
The opening day roster included the following players: Jim Cawley, 1b; Jay Stasko, 2b; Bob Fortman, ss; Curt Englebright,3b; outfielders, Bob Neagle, Harold Bateman, Donell Phipps; catchers, Dick Loomis and George Ticcony; pitchers, John Montgomery, Lou Hubbard, Junior Cunningham, Artie Chivers, John Parker, and Rudy Lazek. Many of the new names were optioned to Union City from the mass of applicants Flint received. There were names that would be bound to Union City for years to come.
The opening game in 1951 was against Jackson and the Greyhounds lost by a score of 8-1. The pitcher for the first game was John Lawrence Montgomery. Known to his team mates as Larry, John was a native of Flint, Michigan, and a veteran of WW II. He was 26 years old and a father. He had only played semi-pro ball before answering the ad in The Sporting News. John was drawn to the Flint Arrows tryouts because they were taking spring training in union City. John's wife was from the Reelfoot Lake area. John was 5' 11" and 170 pounds in 1951. He lasted about two months before he was released with a 2-4 record. Although he and his family went back to Michigan where he worked until retirement, they continued to return to west Tennessee from time to time. John came to Union City full time after his retirement and he was living here when he died in 1998.
Jim Cawley married a girl from Union City, Betty Brinkley, and although he played only briefly in 1951, and part of 1952, stayed in the area for a number of years. His children and grandchildren continue to live in Union City. Curt Englebright also married a local girl, but they did not remain in the area. Jay Stasko played ball and worked off seasons in Union City for several years and continued to return for visits long after his playing days were over.
By the end of May the Greyhounds were in second place trailing Fulton by 4 games. As the season moved into July they remained in second, while Fulton continued to hold first. Only seven games separated the first six places. Junior Cunningham led all pitchers with a 10-0 record. Artie Chivers was 6-4 and seeing a lot of relief work. A new signee, R. P. Richardson of Dyersburg, was 3-0.The leading hitters were Tony Mlynarck with .388 after only 80 at bats; Charlie Moore, .343; Jay Stasko, .338; Bob Neagle, .327; and Curt Englebright, .321. Fulton clinched the all star game host on July 4 with a win over Union City in the second game of a double header. Ned Waldrop hit his ninth homer off Junior Cunningham, handing him his first loss. It was a tough loss for had Union City won that double header, the Greyhounds would have hosted the all star game, and perhaps prevented the downfall of the rest of the year.
The 1951 All Star lineup featured Roy Werner, Hopkinsville, 1b; Jay Stasko, 2b; Al Green, ss, Owensboro; Curt Englebright, 3b; catchers, Jack Hall, Owensboro and Joe Ossola, Paducah; outfielders, Hal Seawright, Jackson, Joe Duheim, Mayfield, Sam Forbes, Mayfield, and Al Conway, Madisonville; pitchers were Junior Cunningham, Union City, Ray Sefcik, Hopkinsville, and Bill Chambers, Jackson. Fulton's attendance for the game was 1827, but the all stars prevailed 6-2.
In early July Union City's pitching corps got help in the form of Art Cook, a left hander from the defunct Border League in New England. He was a school teacher by trade, but in the Kitty League he became known as "the iron man" for the times he pitched both games of the double headers. He did this feat at least three times in 1951, winning both games each time. Dick Loomis was called up to Flint. Tony Mlynarek a hard hitting outfielder, who had been with the team for about six weeks and was hitting well over .300, was also called to the Michigan team. George Ticcony was sent back from Flint along with first baseman Dick Carrol.
The Greyhounds had their normal July, falling from second place out of first division, behind Fulton, Owensboro, Mayfield and Jackson. Artie Chivers was released although he had a 7-4 record and had appeared in 22 games, much in relief. Fulton released John Bohna and was quickly added to the Greyhound roster. The Murray State football and track star became an instant favorite of the fans and was one of the most popular players to don the Greyhound uniform. He doubled as both pitcher and outfielder. The attendance numbers continued to drag bringing the accompaning financial problems. The club was projected to lose $3500 for the season, partly beecause one-third of the preseason pledges had not been paid. The average attendance was between six and seven hundred with some games having less than three hundred. Irv Schupp was picked up for first base and Carrol was moved to the outfield. Sharon Alexander of Ridgely was picked as Miss Greyhound of 1951.
On August 15, manager Charlie Moore resigned. Curt Englebright and Jay Stasko were named co-managers. Bob Neagle also left the squad because of reported inability to get along with his team members. Neagle was hitting over three hundred at the time. The Greyhounds were in fifth place with a 51-50 record at the time and in the middle of what would become an eleven game losing streak before ending at 52-55 and sliding into sixth place. Billy Joe Young from Benton, Kentucky, joined the club as shortstop. He had been on the Cairo roster in 1950.
The last home game was played on August 30, and the Jaycees threw the gates open for a free game. They placed a barrel inside the main gate and asked for donations. The previous night was a "merchant's night", sponsored and paid for by local merchants. The Jaycees put on excerpts from their annual Minstrel Show right down to the blackface, jokes, and songs. The final standings were Fulton, 73-46; Owensboro, 71-48; Mayfield, 66-56; Paducah, 64-54; Jackson, 58-61; Union City, 57-62; Madisonville, 46-73; and Hopkinsville, 40-78. Fulton won the playoffs.
Hopkinsville called back Vito Tamulus to manage during the latter part of the season. There were only three managers who started the season around at the end, Lamitina, Blackburn of Owensboro, and Storie of Madisonville. It was a season of transition for the players and the eight teams used a total of 325 during the season. Union City signed 36 different players and Hopkinsville led the group with 51. Class D baseball did not attract people needing security.
The Kitty League drew more fans than any other class D league in 1951. There was an increase of 60,000 over 1950. The attendance numbers for the '50 and '51 seasons were:
Fulton 27,400 30,750
Hopkinsville 27,500 24,700
Jackson 30,100 43,400
Madisonville 30,300 21,400
Mayfield 30,200 27,400
Owensboro 44,900 56,800
Union City 30,200 37,500
The playoffs in 1951 netted another 11,000 paid admissions, 8000 coming from Paducah and Fulton.