Ballplayer Profiles: Broadus Culler
Broadus Culler Chapter
Looking back and analyzing the rise and fall of the outlaw Carolina League, it is easy to come to the conclusion that Broadus Culler's up and leaving Concord was the first crack in the breakup of the outlaw league after the 1938 season.
Culler, granted, was only one player, but from the day he left Concord one rupture after another shattered the league. Whether this was merely a coincidence or a sign of the legitimacy the once and future major leaguer gave to the league is hard to determine. Several other factors indicate that Broadus Culler, a rising young star with a college degree began to see the handwriting on the wall and sensed that his future was not in the outlaw Carolina League. Professional baseball, even the Class D N.C. State League, was beginning to show the area fans the stability that only professional baseball could offer. The NC State League was in only its second year of operation but fans were already starting to notice the absence of all the disputes and altercations among the executives of the teams and the league and most of all the absence of continuing to lay and raise money to pay the ballplayers. To put it simply, professional ball kept a lid on its budget that maintained the competitiveness among the league´s teams. Granted, the level of Class D baseball was well below the outlaw league, but it was the teams´ management that controlled the finances and not the over-demanding players in the outlaw league.
Another factor was the outlaw league´s fans. Being asked for more and more money in addition to the cost of the tickets, they took their bitterness out on the players - even the home team´s players.
In an interview with Broadus Culler´s widow, now Mrs. Evelyn Foster of Thomasville, North Carolina, she quickly pointed out that she did not believe it was money that made Culler leave for the Bi-State League. The fans were really getting on Broadus and he just got fed up with it. Culler had gotten off to his worst start in three years in Concord. Hindsight indicates that he may not have been as well prepared for the season as in past years. In 1936 he completed a full college baseball season at High Point College and was in excellent mid-season shape when he reported to Concord. In 1937 he had the benefit of spring training with the Philadelphia Athletics in Mexico City. Although he had lost considerable weight, along with other members of the Athletics, as a result of "Montezuma´s Revenge," his baseball skills were highly tuned. In 1938, however, Culler started playing without the extensive preparation of the previous two years. He had just completed his first year teaching math in the Concord school system. There is no question that his preparation in 1938 was far less than the previous two years.
Mrs. Foster pointed out that the fans in the Outlaw Carolina League, as a whole, were the most demanding and least forgiving fans in all of baseball - having experienced most organized baseball in the Bi-State League, Southern Association, American Association, and the American and National Major Leagues. They were rough. Ulmont Baker, who played third base for Concord in 1938, would even venture to say, "They were brutal."
Culler was his own man, and being young with professional scouts after him, he just said "to heck with it" and joined Reidsville, North Carolina (home of Lucky cigarettes who owned the Reidsville franchise) in the Class D Bi-State League. He was also given a job teaching in Reidsville.
Earlier, it was mentioned that Broadus signed with the Philadelphia Athletics at the end of the 1936 Carolina League season and played nine games in the Majors that year.
Culler´s keenness of insight was evident when the contract he signed with Connie Mack specified that he would be given his "unconditional release" if he was not assigned to Triple A baseball or the Majors. That is why he ended up back in Concord after Major League spring training in 1937. He could simply come out better economically by coming back to the Carolina League and a teaching position.
And in June 1938 Culler´s own maturity probably made him realize that he did have Major League potential and that the way to get there was through the age old process of professional baseball - making one´s way through the Minor League system - one step at a time. Broadus, at the age of 23, was still young enough to do it.
As he progressed to the Majors, he showed "baseball savvy" far beyond his years because he had cut his teeth in the Outlaw Carolina League. His physical skills needed to be honed by experience, but having played nearly three years with professionals of ten to fifteen years experience, his mental preparation was already Major League.
Richard Broadus Culler was born January 15, 1915, in High Point, North Carolina. He died at the early age of 49 on June 16, 1964 - stricken with Regional Interritis, a form of Crohn´s Disease. He stood 5'905' tall and played at 155 lbs. Broadus as he was called until he entered professional baseball (it was "Dick" after that, a nickname for Richard) married his college sweetheart, Evelyn Williams of Graham, North Carolina, on October 30, 1936, the fall after his graduation from High Point College.
Culler´s chief interest throughout his life was athletics. He not only starred in baseball and basketball at High Point College, but he also played soccer for four years and was coach of the team the last three years. He was captain of the basketball team and after his last basketball game, his jersey, No. 9, was retired, the first time this honor had been made in the school´s history - an honor that was not to be repeated for 28 years, when, in 1964, Donny Seville´s No. 32 was retired. At graduation ceremonies, he was named the most outstanding athlete in the school´s history.
Outside of his college and professional playing careers, Culler remained deeply involved in sports as well. After his retirement from baseball, he devoted much of his time to officiating basketball games. He officiated games from high school all the way up to the ACC. His career as an official ended in an unfortunately early manner when a disagreement with a fan at a State College home game in Raleigh nearly came to blows. At the time he announced his retirement as an official in February 1948, Frank Spencer of the Winston-Salem Journal described him as a man "who ranked as one of the top basketball officials of North Carolina."
After leaving Concord in June 1938, Culler played with Reedsville the remainder of ´38 and 1939. In 1938 he had hit .330.
The winter before leading the 1939 Bi-State League in hitting, Culler and his wife thought his baseball career was at an end. His widow, Mrs. Foster, said even when it looked like her husband would not play baseball again that she had no doubts about their future. She knew Broadus had his college education, was already a successful school teacher, and so she had no doubt, economically, about their future. Her faith was strong.
Let´s listen to Broadus Culler´s own words taken from a newspaper clipping in his wife´s scrapbook:
I was instructing in a high school physical education class. I was doing one of those movements where you use your neck for power and then flip yourself to a standing position. Well, I tried it and when I did the cartilage between the two vertebrae was crushed.
I was in a cast for eight weeks. There was no way to keep the vertebrae separated with the cartilage crushed, so they grew together. In 1938, that was before I went to Nashville, something snapped and kept pulling my chin down to my chest. I couldn´t even move my head. Strangely, one night I was lying on the couch at home, with one of those small sun lamps on my back. My wife said it was time to go to bed. I told her I´d go soon and just then I broke out with a big sneeze. The next morning my back was as good as ever and I guess when I sneezed it snapped something into place.
The back never bothered him again except for periodic stiffness that would quickly clear up. Of course the two vertebrae that had grown together kept him out of military service in World War II.
The Nashville Vols manager Larry Gilbert, in March 1940 at spring training, quickly named "Dick" Culler, despite his size, his shortstop. As reported in the Nashville Tennessean, Culler, confident to the point of cockiness, was quoted as saying "I think I´m gonna make this club, but if I don´t, it won´t be because of my size. I hit .347 at Reedsville last year."
By July 16, 1940, the Nashville Banner quoted manager Larry Gilbert, "I´ve seen Culler make plays this year that no shortstop in the game, big league or otherwise, could beat. He´s hitting .250. If he could hit big league pitching, he´d be a sensation in the Majors. He´s the best shortstop I´ve ever seen in the Southern Association League in 25 years."
"Dick" Culler was not only showing his fielding and hitting ability, he was establishing his reputation as a "brainy ballplayer."
Fred Russell, long time sportswriter in Atlanta wrote the following report about a game on August 19, 1940. In his column "Sideline Sidelights" on August 20, he wrote:
One of the oldest gags in baseball decided one of the season´s most important games for Nashville last night. The villain was Dickie Culler, the victim Emil Lochbaum.
With the score tied 2-2 in the tenth, Culler was on third base, two outs, John Miholic at bat and the count one ball and one strike. Lochbaum got the sign from catcher Williams, glanced at third, then started his windup.
Suddenly, a voice screamed: ´Time! Time!´
Lochbaum stopped right in the middle of the windup. It was a balk. Too late it dawned on him that he had been foxed by the crafty Culler.
Culler is a sharpie. He´s trying stuff like this all the time. It is fortunate that the one time in fifty that it worked be so profitable.
Culler walked home with the winning run. Mrs. Foster, Culler´s wife, recalled that he was so excited he called her up after the game, from Atlanta to tell her about winning the game.
Culler´s quick thinking was evident the night before when the Atlanta Crackers won that game in the ninth inning. Ed Danforth, sports editor of the Atlanta Journal wrote in his column August 19, 1940:
Charley Glock, Cracker second baseman, hit a long drive to left center with one down, bases loaded and score tied. Hockett, Nashville centerfielder, ran for it, saw he could not reach it, let it fall and swung on toward the clubhouse. That was boner #1.
The Crackers Willard Marshall on first cut short his run towards second and left the field; so did Burge going to third. Boners 2 and 3. Anderson scored the winning run from third due to form.
Culler, Nashville shortstop, along had his wits. He rushed to the outfield for the ball, but a Negro boy jumped out of the stands and beat him to the ball. Then Culler, joined by Nashville manager Gilbert, protested the irregular disappearance of the baseball. They demanded a ball be put in play so they could touch second and third, getting force outs on Marshall and Burge, and end the inning in a tie instead of defeat.
The umpires hit on the only solution- a brilliant one after 3 boners by the players. The ball had been hit into the crowd- at least a member of the crowd- and he by that time was running for dear life, rounding the corner of the neighborhood Wheat Street Baptist Church with the ball in his pocket. Therefore, that was a ground-rule two base hit; the ball went into the crowd and which eliminated the possibility of any force play. If Culler could have found the ball, he could have wiped out the winning run and they could still be playing ball.
It might have gone down in baseball history as a multiple boner second only to the Fred Meake boner.
And Dick Culler, except for a creative decision by the umpire, might have gone down as one of the smartest players in the history of the game.
The Nashville Vols, after winning the Southern Association playoffs, defeated Houston, winner of the Texas League, four games to one in the Dixie Series.
The Houston team, managed by Eddie Dyer, later a St. Louis Cardinal manager, was called one of the best team´s in Minor League history. The team included pitchers Ted Weeks and Howard Krist that later played with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Culler´s toughness showed when he remained in the final game after being spiked by Danny Murtaugh, a future Major Leaguer and manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. One inning later he was hit in the jaw with a pitch from Howard Krist when Culler tried to squeeze bunt a run from third.
The Houston team had won 105 games in the Texas League that year and finished 16 games in front of their nearest rival.
The players´ cut of the Dixie series was $338.29 each for the winning Vols. The Houston players received $225.53 according to news clippings in Culler´s scrapbook.
In 1941, the Nashville Vols again won the Southern Association Championship and became the first Southern Association team to win the Dixie Series against the Texas League (Dallas) two years in a row. Grey Clarke, who played third base for Kannapolis in the 1936 Outlaw League was the Dallas third baseman and led the Texas League in hitting - .361. However, he was not able to play against his old outlaw rival from Concord because of an operation. Culler hit .280 for Nashville that year. The Vols swept the Dixie Series with four straight wins. Vols players received approximately $400 each as their cut of the gate.
Jimmy Hamilton, Vol business manager was quoted by a Nashville newspaper, in reference to Culler as "another Pee Wee Reese- he's the best shortstop in the Minors and will be in the Majors in a year or less."
In 1942, Tuck Hannah, manager of Memphis in the 1941 Southern Association League, was named manager of the St. Paul, Minnesota team in the American Association; Triple A baseball;one step below the Majors. His first acquisition was Culler´s contract from Nashville.
Culler´s prowess was quickly noted when, by midseason, St. Paul newspapers were calling Dick Culler and second baseman Frank Drews the best double play combination since Phil Rizzuto and Gerry Preddy were at Kansas City in 1940.
George Edmond reported in his column, "The Sporting Thing" that Oliver Morton, Sr., a fan back in 1915, said, "Culler´s the best shortstop since Everett Scott in 1915 and that includes Leo Durocher of later years."
Dick Culler hit .260 for St. Paul in 1942 and was drafted by the Chicago White Sox.
During the 1942 season, Dick Culler´s baseball savvy showed up once again. From an article in Culler´s scrapbook, Ted Wilks, then a St. Louse Cardinal relief pitcher told the following story about his biggest "boner" in baseball.
My biggest boner happened with Columbus in the American Association in 1942 and it gave Manager Eddie Dyer, later with St. Louis a big knot on the head. It was in St. Paul June 14, 1942. We weren´t going so well, and Manager Dyer wasn´t happy. We had the game tied up going into the last inning of the second game of a doubleheader. Dick Culler opened the inning with a triple. Naturally, with Culler on third, I was taking a full windup. He started off third base, taking a normal lead, as I started to windup.I was already into my windup when he suddenly yelled: ´Time, I wasn´t to tie my shoe!´ I stopped my windup. Culler and the rest of the St. Paul players hollered, ´Balk,´ and the umpires sent Culler home with the winning run. Dyer jumped up out of our dugout, started after me. When he jumped up, his head hit the top of the dugout. I started for the clubhouse. The blow on the head didn´t knock Dyer out, but they tell me it dazed him to where he was just running around in front of the dugout. I was running for the clubhouse. We had lost the first game , that cost us the second game , so I knew what was coming.
I thought Skip was going to pop me when he finally got to the clubhouse. He raved and he ranted, he walked up and down. You so-and-so Polack, he raged, I ought to fine you every penny you´ve got, falling for a basher trick like that. If I had a gun I´d shoot you! He was mad.And all the time he was rubbing his head. That was my biggest boner, and I´ll never forget it.
In 1943, spring training was held in the Northern climate of the United States because of war-time restrictions on travel.
Culler reported to the White Sox manager Jimmie Dykes at French Lick, Indiana.
Because Hall of Famer, Luke Appling, was playing shortstop, Culler was moved to second base. In one spring training game he stole home with the winning run. Dick, after riding the bench for a while, demanded that he either get into some ballgames or be traded. He was shipped to the Minors , the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association.
He was still with Milwaukee in 1944. That team, managed by Casey Stengel, and independently owned sold seven players to the Major Leagues at the end of the season. The Brewers were the American Association pennant winners but lost the playoff to Louisville four games to two.
Culler hit .308, stole 19 bases and had enough power at the plate to include 30 doubles, 4 triples and 5 home runs among his 194 hits. He tied for fourth in the poll for the American Association Most Valuable Player, missing third by one vote. As a result, Bob Quinn, President of the Boston Braves, purchases Culler´s contract.
Other players off the ´44 Brewers sold to the Majors were outfielder Frank Secong to the Cubs, outfielder Hersh Martin to the Yankees, outfielder George Binks to Washington, outfielder Hal Peck to the Philadelphia Athletics and third baseman Bill Nagel to the White Sox; first baseman Heing Becker was already the property of the Cubs.
As the Boston Braves regular shortstop in 1945 and ´46, Culler hit .262 and .255 respectively. Playing in only 77 games in 1947 he hit .248. His fielding was superb.
On opening day in 1947 he played against Jackie Robinson.
Always competitive and outspoken, Culler was quoted in August 1947, "I´m far from being a great all-around shortstop, but I know I´m better than either Sibby Sisti or Nanny Fernandez." And he showed the Braves manager, Billy Southworth, percentages showing how much better the Braves played when he was in the game.
Culler´s opponents also felt the sting of his fiery brand of baseball. A news item in his scrapbook from 1945 said, "A fist fight between Ed Stanky, second baseman of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Dick Culler of the Braves intervened the proceedings at Ebbetts
Field where the Dodgers took two from Boston, 4-0 and 4-3."
Apparently Eddie Stanky, also a fire hand, tagged Culler out at second by jamming his glove in Culler´s face. After a few heated words fists began to fly.
In 1947, another news item reported: "the Cubs Phil Cavarella was kayoed sliding into second base in the eighth, trying to breakup a turn killing. He ran into Dick Culler´s knees, which might have been deliberately placed in the way of Cavarella´s head in self-defense of Cav´s head slide."
On February 29, 1948 the Boston Sunday Globe reported that Dick Culler and Braves pitcher Walter Lanfranconi were traded to the Cubs for 27 year old infielder Bob Sturgeon. The news item continued: "Culler was personally unpopular with Manager Billy Southworth. Culler was too independent to satisfy Southworth´s old school demands. He was outspoken, especially when it came to grievances held by ballplayers against management, and was known as a clubhouse lawyer."
One Brewers pitcher said, ´A little fresh, Dick was, but I´ll say he was a pretty good player for a fellow his size.´
Culler fell into disfavor with Southworth for leaving training camp at Fort Lauderdale in the spring of ´47 to referee a basketball game at North Carolina State.
Culler, upon hearing of his trade to the Cubs said, "I know the Cubs have been after me. If I don´t make it next season I think I´ll quit and stick to my sporting goods business in High Point."
Dick´s contract for 1948 with the Chicago Cubs was for $10,000.00. He played in 48 games and hit only .169.
Until midseason in 1949 he was with the New York Giants. They sent him down to the Jersey City Giants where he played backup at three infield and one outfield positions.
In 1950 the Baltimore Orioles claimed Culler on waivers from the Giants, but Culler retired from professional baseball at the age of 34.
Richard Broadus Culler returned to his sporting goods store in High Point. In addition to his sporting goods business, Culler started an additional business;the Autographed Ball Company. Seeing the great demand for baseball players´ autographs while playing with the Chicago White Sox in 1943, Culler over the years developed a technique to transfer a Major League Player´s autograph to a baseball. His son, "Dickie" Jr., continues to operate the business and sells thousands of baseball each year at Major League park concession stands with entire team´s facsimile autographs printed on them.
There was more to this 5´9.5´, 155 lb. baseball player than meets the naked eye;and it was gray matter, an intelligence that was uncommon to the professional baseball players of the pre-World War II vintage.