Ballplayer Profiles: George Barley
Born: November 1914
"When I pitched in high school on Long Island, I used to pitch semi-pro ball with the Bushwicks. The Bushwicks were one of the top semi-pro baseball clubs in the United States.
"We played the New York Black Yankees, the Cuban All-Stars, Kansas City Monarchs, Stachel Paige, Josh Gibson - I pitched against those guys when I was in high school - 15, 16, 17 years old.
"After my sophomore year, Paul Krichell, Yankee scout wanted me to sign and leave high school ball and play minor league ball. ´No way, I´m going to college, Mr. Krichell,´ I said. ´I won´t play baseball all my life, and I want an education.´ "Krichell asked, ´What college?´
"I wanted to go to Duke University in Durham, NC, and play under Jack Combs who I had read a lot about and understood to be a great pitching coach.
"So that´s when they signed me. He had a typewriter with him and typed out an agreement. My mother had to sign it because I was a minor. Actually, I became a college outlaw then, but there were others doing the same thing. So I played two more years in high school and then went to Duke University. My father wasn´t making enough to send me there.
Editor´s Note: In effect, before his junior year of high school, George Barley became a professional baseball player. He was a high school phenom with a better than average fastball that became more effective because of his well-controlled changeup, a pitch that some professionals never master.
Here is the agreement that his mother signed:
For and in the consideration of the sum of $200 per year while I am in college payable as follows: $200 on September 10, 1933; $200 on September 10, 1934; $200 on September 10, 1935: or in lieu thereof of my unconditional release $200 on September 10, 1936, or in lieu thereof of my unconditional release I hereby agree to sign a contract with any minor league club the American League baseball club of New York may designate at the termination of my college career. If I should decide not to finish my college course, the above payments automatically cease, and I agree to enter organized baseball and sign with any club designated by said New York club. My salary shall be $200 per month for my first year, said salary to start when I report during the championship season.
"After my sophomore year at Duke, in 1935, I played semi-pro ball in the Coastal Plains League in eastern North Carolina. Greenville, Tarboro, Ayden, Snow Hill, Kinston and so forth. Each one of these little towns would go to the universities in NC and SC and try to hire the whole ball club. I don´t know why we weren´t supervised by the Southern Conference. I don´t know why they didn´t supervise us making money playing semi-pro ball. There was nothing illegal about it which surprised me.
Note: College players lost their eligibility only after they were paid money after signing a contract with a professional baseball team. Barley was therefore ineligible because of his contract with the Yankees. Playing semi-pro baseball was like just another summer job for college players.
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.
"Nonetheless, the Greenville (NC) team was made up of Duke boys. Other teams were made up of UNC boys or NC State boys and so forth. So, we had a bunch of college kids playing for money.
"We played five or six games a week. I had a big year. I won fifteen games in a row down there in Greenville that year. We were paid $35 a week plus our room and board. That was damn good money; people in the mills were making $10 to $12 per week. We lived three or four in one house. And they fed us three meals a day. Our ball games were late in the afternoon. There was no night baseball in those days.
"That fall, it seems to me a Mr. Allen came down to Duke in my senior year. That was the fall of ´35, and he induced me to come to Kannapolis the following year. He agreed to pay me $85 a week which was absolutely out of this world. My God, my father wasn´t making much more than that in a month back on Long Island. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance. Plus the fact I was told it was a better league, and all ball players went to play in a better league. So that´s the reason I went to Kannapolis in 1936 after my junior year - more money and a better league.
"Anyway, I don´t remember if I took a bus or a train to Kannapolis. I was met by this Mr. (George) Allen, evidently an executive with the Cannon Mills people (superintendent of Plant #1 in Kannapolis). He took me over to a residential house and introduced me to the woman and man who lived there, and I do not remember their names. She took me upstairs in this mill house and showed me where my room would be and introduced me to my roommate, Bethel Rhem who was also a pitcher with the Kannapolis club.
"Then Rhem took me down town to a Mr. Whitey´s furniture store. Mr. Whitley evidently had some connection with the ball club (Henry Whitley was the business manager).
"But I remember distinctly, on the sidewalks, of the main street of Kannapolis was printed with white paint - ´Barley will pitch today.´ I will never forget that as long as I live. I was amazed that anybody would go to the trouble to write that on the sidewalk in white paint. I don´t even remember if I won or lost that day. And I don´t remember anything about my won and lost record. I do believe I pitched pretty good.
Note: The June 16, 1936, Concord Tribune carried an article about Barley´s arrival. On June 17, 1936, the paper reported that Barley won 7-2 and hit a double and a home run in four trips to the plate, knocking in three runs. Barley ended up winning 8 and losing 5 with an additional loss in the playoffs.
"Needless to say, Rhem took me to the ball park, and I met the ball players. Now this was an entirely different group of ball players than I had played with before. I had played against the Cuban All-Stars, the Kansas City Monarchs an so forth, but I had never been on the same team, in the same dressing room with so many rough characters in comparison to the ball players I was used to in college. All these were adult grown men. Many of them had been out in the professional baseball world. I was a college junior.
"I was intimidated, frankly, by their age, their experiences, and especially their social behavior. There was an awful lot of drinking going on amongst the ball players. Bethel Rhem, for example, who was my roommate, had a night table, and at night before he went to bed, he would place a bottle of gin and a package of cigarettes on it.
"First thing he did when he woke up in the morning was to take a swig of gin and smoke a cigarette. Well, I had never had a beer in my life until that year in Kannapolis when I was initiated to my first drink. So you can imagine how different it was for me, living with those fellows as with college players and high school players and American Legion ball players that I had been used to all my life. But it was a good season in that I was pitching against top flight ball players who were either on their way down from a higher level of baseball or who had left a professional team for more money. It gave me good experience for the following year which was 1937 (after graduating from Duke) when I went into pro ball.
"We played ball six afternoons a week. It was really a traumatic experience. I was like a fish out of water. All my teammates were older men, at least a generation ahead of me. Of course most of them came from a different background than I did. I didn´t have a real good social life in Kannapolis. I do remember meeting a girl who worked in the mill. She lived in a dormitory building the mill owned (note: Mary Ella Hall). The women lived in one end of it, and the men lived in the other end, and all worked in the mill. She was a tall blonde girl - haven´t the slightest idea of what her name was. That was only one summer nearly 60 years ago. I became friendly with her - not romantically at all, but friendly enough to sit in the park, around the lake and talk. That´s the only social life I remember in Kannapolis.
"I learned pitching in that league from hard knocks. I learned my pitching techniques from Jack Combs at Duke.
"All the guys in that league were there for the same reason I was - the main reason was money. Even though a lot of them had years of professional experience, they made more money in that league than they could in the pros.
Upon graduation from Duke in June 1937, Barley received a telegram telling him to report to the Newark Bears, the top Yankee farm club in the International League. "That was unexpected," Barley said. "Maybe I was naïve, but, nevertheless, I thought I would go to New York."
Reporting to Newark, Barley joined what may have been the greatest minor league team in history. Needless to say, he could not break in on such a team. He was soon sent down a level to the Class A Binghamton, NY, team in the New York-Penn League.
The 1937 Newark Bears won the International League championship by 25 ½ games. Its stars included future major league stars such as George McQuinn at first base, May at third base, Bob Seed, Jimmy Gleason, and Charley Keller in the outfield, and Buddy Rosan catching. Its pitching staff included Marcus Russo and Atley Donald. It was July 25, 1937, before Atley Donald, after winning fourteen consecutive games, suffered his first loss. There is little wonder that Barley was unable to break in to professional baseball on such a team.
Barley pitched his first game for Binghamton against Wilkes Barre in Wilkes Barre. It was a cold night, and Barley, throwing nothing but fastballs (curves would not break in the cold mountain air) hurt his arm and developed bursitis. "It was so painful that I couldn´t raise my arm to comb my hair."
After being sent back to New York for therapy and heat treatment, Doc Painter, Yankees trainer sent Barley to John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Dizzy Dean was also receiving treatment from Dr. Bennett. With only a couple weeks left in the season, Barley reported to the Norfolk team of the Class B Piedmont League, managed by Johnny Neun. In the warm weather of September, Barleys´s arm began to feel pretty good, "and I had my fastball back."
During the winter of ´37-´38, Barley kept his arm loose by throwing in a gymnasium near his home on Long Island. In 1938 he still couldn´t break into that great Newark club that won the ´38 championship by 18 games.
He reported to Binghamton, now in the Class A Eastern League, where he led the league with a 2.24 ERA. Binghamton won the championship that year by five games.
Barley had a good year at Newark in 1939 and a "very good year at Newark in 1949 when I won two games in the Little World Series against Louisville, champions of the American Association."
After his best year (1940) in the Yankee farm system, Barley´s future looked good. But it was not to be. Even though he had two good outings against the Cardinals and Bill Dickey, the Yankees Hall of Fame catcher told him his fastball was as quick as Ruffings´ and that his curve was as good as Monte Pearson´s, Barley somehow got on the wrong side of McCarthy, the Yankees manager.
Barley explains the situation here.
"It was during an incident of picking a man off first base. We were all on the mound. Ruffing was there, Gomez , me and Chandler, and we were taking our position on the mound with a man on first base and making our pick-off move to first. I did what I had been doing for years in picking a man off first base, and McCarthy said to me loudly, so everybody could hear, ´Whoever taught you to pick a man off first base like that?´
"I didn´t say anything except, ´That´s the way I´ve always done it, and if I´m doing it wrong, I want to know how.´
"McCarthy calls Ruffing over and says, ´Red, show him how to pick a man off first base.´
"So Ruffing took his position and did exactly the same thing I did. McCarthy never said a word. He just walked over to the bench and sat down, and that´s the last spring training I attended with the Yankees.
"So, it was not anything that I had done that I know of, but, nevertheless, they sent me down to Kansas City in the American Association
"Anyway, I reported to Kansas City, and when I reported, I told Billy Meyers, manager at Kansas City, ´Billy, they´ve broken my spirit. I´m 26 years old, and I´m not going to play ball much longer. I´m in the wrong organization, but they won´t release me, and they won´t sell me, so I´ll do the best I can for you, but I really don´t give a damn whether I win or lose.´ When an athlete feels like that, you might as well wrap it up. So I played in ´41 at Kansas City, had a fair year; I think I was 12-8 or something like that, but I wasn´t the ball player I was before that.
Barley´s voice quivered, and his eyes became watery as he continued, "My wife can tell you, it really busted me up. I´ll never forget it.
One other event may help explain McCarthy´s attitude toward Barley. It seems there was an unwritten rule that players in the Yankee training camp could not bring their wives with them to St. Petersburg, Florida. But the rookies, George Barley and Tommy Holmes, an outfielder, brought their wives along. Neither knew of the unwritten practice, and this undoubtedly had something to do with their cool reception. It is interesting to note that Tommy Holmes led the International League in hits (211) and runs scored (126) in 1940, and after being sent back to Newark in 1941, led the league in hits (190) once again.
In 1942 Barley was sold to Buffalo of the International League, and Tommy Holmes was sold to the Boston Braves, a perennial loser in the National League. Holmes had an eleven year career average of .302 in the National League.
After a year at Buffalo in 1942, Barley entered the U.S. Army for three and a half years. While in the service, the New York Giants purchased his contract. Barley reported to Leo Durocher, manager of the New York Giants in April of 1946. He asked Durocher, "What the hell you want me for? I´m through. I haven´t thrown a ball in three years, and I don´t care to throw a ball."
Durocher explained that he wanted Barley to go to their International League farm team in Jersey City as a coach and help Jersey City manager, Bruno Betzel, who could not always be with the team because of problems with ulcers.
"So that´s what I did in Jersey City in 1946. I pitched some relief ball for Betzel. I don´t recall my record, but I didn´t have anything on the ball anymore. I was thirty-one years old at the time.
"Our season ended in Baltimore. I was so fed up with baseball. I had a bonfire in the Baltimore visiting team clubhouse. I burned everything I owned: my glove, my sweatshirt, my shoes, my jock strap, everything I owned and left the uniform. And that´s the last ball game I saw for seven years. I never saw another ball game. I was so disillusioned with my whole life, especially when the Yankees wouldn´t do anything with me at the end of that spring training in 1941. And that´s my baseball career, wrapped up in a nutshell.
George Barley´s refusal, as a high school sophomore, to join the Yankee farm system stood him well in later life. It is clear that baseball was George Barley´s life, especially as a young man.
When Yankee scout Paul Krichell tried to sell him on joining the Yankees, few youngsters would have turned down such an opportunity, especially a Long Island, NY, youth who had pitched batting practice for the Yankees while he was still in high school. But the young Barley opted for an education and a chance to play for Jack Combs at Duke.
The education apparently paid off. George Barley became a successful business man. He joined the Emsheep Pen and Pencil Company as a salesman, covering Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina. Within five years, he was Eastern Regional Sales Manager. Years later he became Regional Sales Manager for the National Homes Corporation, a pre-fabricated house manufacturer. Then for seventeen years, he was vice-president in charge of construction lending for a mortgage company in Washington, DC.
After suffering a heart attack in 1978, Barkley retired, and at the time of this interview, lived in a beautiful home on Fairway Drive in Pinehurst, NC, the golf capitol of the world.