By Lynn Saternow
Herald Sports Editor
HUGHEY TATE was a liar. OK, I know it’s not nice to speak ill of the dead. But I’m sure Hughey wouldn’t mind.
You see the former Greenville area baseball star once wrote a book entitled: “The Wanderings of a Bush Leaguer or the Biggest Liar on Earth.”
I’m sure there are still some people around the area who still remember Hughey, who died of a heart attack in 1956. I thoroughly enjoyed reading through some of his memoirs and notes that were uncovered by his granddaughter Sheila Slingluff of Hermitage. Some of his old baseball related photos appear on these pages.
Hughey enjoyed telling whoppers. One of the small cards made at Tate Signs in Greenville read: “I am a great bulls_ _ _ _ _ _ r myself, but I also enjoy listening to an expert — carry on!”
Needless to say, he and I would have had some great conversations!
But he also was renowned for some whopper homeruns during his playing days. At Hughey’s death, Lawrence Stolle of the Youngstown Vindicator, wrote a tribute billing him as “the original tape measure walloper from Greenville, Pa.”
According to Stolle he could hit a fastball farther than anyone in the Penn-Ohio district from the early 1900s to the 1920s.
In 1911, Hughey reportedly hit 27 homers at a time when they used a “dead ball” and bats that weren’t the caliber of today’s lumber. That year Frank “Home Run” Baker of Philadelphia led the American League with 9 homers, while Chicago’s Frankie Shults had 21 in the National League.
One of the true stories about Hughey was that back in the early 1900s Wright Field in Youngstown, like many other ballparks, had signs advertising Bull Durham Tobacco on the left field fence. If you hit the sign with a batted ball, you won $50 from the company. Hughey did it with such regularity that the company had to take down the sign.
In fact they even sent a representative to watch the slugger since they couldn’t believe anyone could accomplish that.
But as prodigious as he was with the bat, he was even better with the written and spoken word when spinning his yarns. Following are a few notes from his book “Wanderings ...” that you may enjoy:
“I can prove that I was born in the little village of Everett, Bedford County, Penna. down among the hills where men are men and the ducks are so tough they can bite the end off a double-barrell shotgun.”
“Now there was Uncle Tin Horn. He was a he-man if there ever was one. He was 6-feet and 8-inches in his stockin feet. He used to get full of persimmin juice. When a crowd would git around, jist to show off, he would grab the ears of his boots and lift hisself offen the ground. He was the onliest man I ever did see that could do this trick.”
When his grandpa went to hunt ducks - “During the night it got down to zero and it froze them ducks feet in the ice. When Grandpappy shot, it scairt hell outen them and they all started to flop at once and durn my hide ifn them ducks dident lift the ice right offen that pond and flew south with the ice hangin on their feet.”
Talking about Uncle Knacker’s two twin sisters - “They was jist about the homeliest twins I ever did see. Girt she had a big mole on her forehead as big as a quarter. She used to hang her glasses on it when she wasn’t usin them. Girt she was as deef as a rock, but she could see like a fox in the dark. Then there was Mert. She was blind as a bat, but she could hear a clock tick two mile. One morning they was out on the back porch and Girt she says to Mert, ‘Mertie, do you see that fly down there in the medow?’ Mert she sez, ‘No I can’t just see him, but I can heer him awalkin around.”
When his little brother Buck Tooth got a bike for Christmas and they hung it in the basement until spring - “The snow didn’t melt till about April, then I went down in the cellar to get the bicycle and you wouldent believe me, when I tell you I looked up there on the front wheel of that bicycle was a big rat. By the look of the muscles on his hind legs, he must have been on that bicycle wheel all winter for when I knocked him off and looked at the speedometer, that rat had run that thing up just sixteen hundred miles.”
“On a stump was an old lady. She was the most powerful woman I ever did see. There she was, she had two crowbars and she was knittin a woven wire fence.”
When he was on the road playing baseball and wrote home - “ ‘Dear Mom, I’m homesick and I miss you all. I even miss the little pot under the bed.’ I gets a letter back saying, ‘I don’t surprise me any that you miss the little pot under your bed as you always missed it when you were home.’ “
Hughey was a fixture in Greenville baseball. In 1951, during Greenville’s first Little League game there was a parade down main street to Race street and Packard park. Hughey had the honor of throwing out the first ball.
According to stories, he would gather with other well-known Greenville people for lunch every week at the Poolis Candy Company, owned by Jim and Louie Poolis. Besides Hughey, some of the regulars at “Poolis’ Round Table” were Fred Harrison, Heinne Zimmerman, Dr. Cline, Baird Gibson, Luther Kuder, John Loutzenhiser, Paul Moss and Norm Mortenson.
In these times, you just don’t seem to find the characters like Hughey Tate who lit up every room. But he lived his 76 years to the fullest as one of his poems describes:
When I lay down for that last nod,
Or that eternal sleep,
I cannot hear, I cannot smell,
Nor do I hear the weeps.
I’m like an actor on the stage,
I’ll leave with a graceful bow,
But I’m still here,
If it’s the same to you,
Give me the flowers now.
By Lynn Saternow