Sunday, November 15, 2009
#3 Earl Averill
Howard Earl Averill was a Hall of Fame outfielder for the Cleveland Indians, finishing up his career with a short stay in Detroit and Boston's Nation League team. A deadly hitter, he is best known for a line drive that ended the career of a nother Hall of Famer, but his years in Cleveland set team records that stood for 50+ years.
Born in Snohomish, Washington (a city whose name I doubt I pronounce correctly), Averill got his start, like many of his contemporaries, in the Pacific Coast League, tearing it up with the San Francisco Seals from 1926-1928 before his debut with the Indians just a month shy of his 27th birthday. He made the most of his major league career, hitting 238 home runs and batting .318. His career had a rapid decline after 1938 due to a congential back problem that forced him to change his batting stance to a less-effective one.
In the 1937 All Star Game, he hit a line drive that broke the toe of NL hurler Dizzy Dean. Dean tried to come back too early, and altered his delivery to compensate. This new delivery lead to an arm injury and ineffectiveness, bringing an end to ol' Diz' career. This would not be the only time a vicious Averill line drive took someone out. He also retaliated to a Bobo Newsom brushback pitch with a line drive that broke Newsom's kneecap.
Following his playing career, Averill returned to Snohomish, where he became a florist, and then owned and operated a motel for many years. He was finally enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975. He died in August of 1983 at 81 years of age.
The Autograph: Averill was a great signer throughout his life, both in person and through the mail. There is one story about him I recall reading. I do not remember the publication, I think it may have been Sports Collectors Digest. There was an autograph collector, and part of me wants to say it was Barry Halper, but I am not certain. I'll refer to him as "Barry" anyway. Anyhow, Barry was talking about how he attended the All-Star game in Chicago on July 6, 1983. It was the 50th anniversary of first All-Star Game, and most of the surviving participants of the first game were in attendance. One of which was Averill. Barry got an item signed by all the old-timers, but needed Averill to complete it. He went to the hotel, and found out Averill's room, late at night following the game. He badgered Averill's lackey to get him to sign this item. After much persistence, the lackey went and got Mr Averill to come out and sign. Averill was not feeling well, and his sickness developed into pneumonia by the time he got back home to Washington. He entered the hospital on July 11, and never recovered, dying on August 16. Barry said he was very happy to have gotten Averill to sign the item, and he thought he most likely got the last autograph Averill ever signed. All I thought was Barry killed Earl Averill.