Thursday, March 8, 2018

Clyde Brant, Branch Rickey and Lucasville Baseball at Ohio Wesleyan


Clyde Brant (1883-1943), proprietor of Brant's Store, published the delightful Whittlers' Gazette. The paper was full of commentary and local history under its unique claim of being “the official publication of the Whittlers' Clubs of America.” Here is a homespun article from the paper that sheds light on Clyde's days at Ohio Wesleyan and his close friendship with Branch Rickey. It is titled “They Drug Me Back to Commencement” – a tongue-in-cheek view of revisiting the OWU campus.

“My sister drug me back to Commencement at Ohio Wesleyan yesterday. I don't like crowds. I never know how to act or what to say. I stay away because I don't want to bore other people I always was a wall flower. So I hung around the Fraternity Chapter House talkin' to the boys, old and young till noon. Then, instead of going to the Alumni Banquet which all the other bald-headed old timers did, I went with my nephew, who is a junior, to the restaurant, and we had a swell visit talkin' about his girl, N.R.A. And philosophy. We killed about an hour there while I was debating whether to go to a picture show where I hadn't been for a year or more but decided to go to the ball game.

“Later, while a group of us has-beener was a standing and talking on the campus along came Professor Rollin Walker, teacher of the Bible. He knowed every one of us old sinners. We tried to detain him for a few minutes, but he said he had to hurry on as he was due to make a speech right then.

“You know I used to play second base
(reported also as third base) on the college team with Branch Rickey, Ed Appel, Bert Pyle, and Eph Rickey, all of us from Lucasville. Yes sir, us Lucasvillians just about run that ball club for four or five years. Sometimes, especially when we lost a game, they would call it the Lucasville Team. In our day Lucasville was about 250 population and we had just about as big a reputation in the baseball world then as the Dean Brothers (Dizzy and Paul of the St. Louis Cardinals' Gashouse Gang.) have today, even if I do say it myself.

“Well, Branch Rickey was there yesterday and his boy Branch Jr.,, were goin' to catch the game. You know I wanted to go to that game. I wanted to feel anew the thrill of the diamond, watching those young boys play on the same old field.

“But, Dr. Walker was going to make a talk. I didn't know what about, and it didn't make no difference. I had heard him lots of time before. Well, to make a short story, five of us went to the speech, and one, Stanley Roettinger, a Cincinnati judge, reckoned the speech would be away over his head, and we all agreed with him, so he went alone to the ball game. I do hope the next time they know I am coming they will arrange the ball games and the speeches at different hours, so I can go to both.

“Well, I heard a Bible student make a speech on business that put General Johnson, or any brain truster
('Iron Pants Hugh Samuel Johnson who wrote speeches for FDR and helped plan the New Deal. The New Deal witnessed an increased role for intellectuals in government – the Brain Trust.), or political economist, or business man anywhere that I ever heard plum away back in the shade. I have written Dr. Walker and asked permission to publish a part or all of his wonderful address, and I hope he will grant my request. Be on the lookout for it in the next issue.”

(The Whittlers' Gazette. Official publication of The Whittlers' Clubs of America. National Headquarters Brant's Store, Main Street, Lucasville, Ohio. July 1930 Edition.)

In the spring of 1902 Branch Rickey was the starting catcher on the Ohio Wesleyan baseball team. The squad finished with a 10-2 record and was awarded the informal All-Ohio college championship. Branch was thrilled the core of the team came from Lucasville – shortstop Ed Appel, third baseman Clyde Brant, and first baseman Ephraim Rickey, Branch's cousin. Ephraim later played Minor League baseball. And, of course, Branch played in the Majors.

Dan “Mickey” Daub was coach of the team. He was a former Major League pitcher who had won forty-four games in the 1890s for the so-called Brooklyn “Bridegrooms” Dodgers, nicknamed because so many young newlyweds were on the team. Daub put Branch Rickey, the catcher, in the lead-off spot – rare for a catcher, but a testament to Rickey's speed and “igniting force at the top of the lineup.”

Branch was also making a name for himself on the Wesleyan football team in 1901. The athletic director had heard of his athletic agility and persuaded Branch to join the team. Within a matter of days, he appeared on the field wearing “a worn long-sleeved shirt with sewn patches on the elbows.”

Rickey became the starting halfback almost at once, and his touchdown run against Ohio State enabled OWU to win 10-6. While at the college, he actually inspired special verses for the fight song and the annual big game against Ohio State.

Speak to me, State, only speaky-spiky-spoky;
Why are those tears on your cheeky-chiky-choky?
You can't make first down against Rickey-Riky-Roky.

(Lee Lowenfish. Branch Rickey: Baseballs Ferocious Gentleman. 2007)


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