Walter Wardwas a 16 year old high school student when he attended the St. Louis Cardinal tryout camp at Union City's Turner Field in 1936. Although he was to young to sign a contract, he impressed Cardinal General Manager Branch Rickey. Rickey invited Walter to come to St. Louis for the summer and work for him. Rickey no doubt believed Walt would be impressed enough to sign with the Cardinals when be became of age,, but he also kept him from being observed by any other ball club. Walt roomed in the YMCA, worked the front office for Mr. Rickey, and pitched batting practice each day for the "Gas House Gang". Members of the team included Dizzy Dean, brother Paul Dean Leo Durocher, manager Frankie Frisch, Johnny Mize, Pepper Martin, Joe Medwick and Terry Moore.
Since the St. Louis Browns also used Sportsman's Park, playing on days the Cardinals did not, Walt often pitched batting practice for them. Rodgers Hornsby was the manager of the hapless Browns that year. Another Brown in 1936 Walt remembers pitching to was Sunny Jim Bottomley. In 1936 Walt saw every major league team in America play. That is all 16 of them. Talk about "what did you do this summer?"
Walt signed with the Cardinals in 1937 and was sent to Monette, MO in the Arkansas-Missouri League. In 1938 the Commissioner of Baseball, Judge Landis voided several Cardinal contracts with young ball players, making them free agents and forbiding the Cardinals to re-sign them. Walt was one of these players. He played for Union City Greyhounds in 1938 and signed with the Cincinnati Reds. In 1939 he was with the Bassett Furnituremakers in the Bi-State League, before being called up to the Reds class B Columbia in the South Atlantic League (SALLY). He was back in Bassett, NC in 1940 and with the Kinston Eagles of the Coastal Plains League and the Lynchburg Senators of the Virginia League in í41. He was inducted into the Army for WWII and the war cost him his best years, as it did many other young players. The year after returning from the European Theatre he played on an armed service team the equal to Triple A. In 1946 on returning home , he was chosen to be the business manager of the Union City Greyhounds. He was responsible for hiring Johnny Gill as manager. Then the fever bit and soon he was working out with the team. He played briefly as a pitcher and outfielder before beginning a successful business career. He continues to live in Union City.
One souvenir Walt brought back home after his summer with the Cardinals was a uniform that belonged to Dizzy Dean.He used it mostly for show over the years and often let his young nephews dress up in it at family picnics. The uniform was 100% wool and had a few moth holes and had mostly been living in the trunk of Walt's cars, but it also had "J. Dean" stitched into the inside of the pants waistband and on the shirttail. It was authentic to any dealer. One day a few years back Josh Evans, owner of Leland Sports in New York called Walt and said he understood Walt to be in possession of an authentic Dizzy Dean uniform. Walt allowed as to how that was true, but it wasn't in exactly mint condition cause the kids had been playing in it. Evans said that was OK and he would give $7000 sight unseen for the uniform. Walt, ever a bargainer, said, "you got to be kidding! Who is this really?" The dealer told Walt he would send him a certified check and when Walt was satisfied it was good he could ship the uniform to him in New York. No doubt the dealer made money on the deal (he once sold a Honus Wagner uniform for $180.000) but as Walt says the money sure came in handy at the time. Walt also says that as close as Dizzy was to his money, Diz would be rolling over in his grave if he knew what the suit brought and he didn't get any of it!
Another Union City citizen around for that tryout camp in 1936 was Gene McAdoo. Geneís father was the elected Street Commissioner when Turner Field was built in 1934 and was responsible for the stone and concrete wall surrounding the park. Gene was a high school student working at Turner Field when he met Branch Rickey. Gene was assigned to collect ticket money from the automobiles coming through the gate. They were allowed to park along the left and right field lines where the fans could watch from the comfort of their cars. There was also room for a few cars to park behind the grandstand where they were often pelted with foul balls. On this occasion Rickey was being driven through the gate by his secretary when Gene stopped the car and asked for their tickets.
"Tickets!" exclaimed the secretary. "Donít you know who this is, kid? This is Mr. Branch Rickey!"
"Donít make any difference to me," answered young Gene. "If youíre gonna come in this gate you got to have a ticket."
Rickeyís man paid. Rickey later told Gene he was right to always get the money. Gene has not forgotten that advice until this day.
Gene and Walt, friends for near 70 years have breakfast together nearly every morning at Charlie Tís.