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Gene Bailey

Gene Bailey

Position(s):
OF, 1B
Born:
November 25, 1893
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
5' 8"
Weight:
160 lbs
Major League Debut:
9-10-1917 with PHA

There were 54 men who played for both the Boston Braves and the Boston Red Sox, but in all of baseball history, there was only one who played for both teams in the same year. That was Gene Bailey, and the year was 1920. He hit .083 for the Braves and after he was purchased by the Red Sox that May, he hit .230.

Pearsall, Texas is situated in Frio County, about an hour southwest of San Antonio on I-35 heading south to Laredo and the border with Mexico. That is the community where Arthur Eugene Bailey was born on November 25, 1873. His father Thomas Smith Bailey was a farmer, and his mother was Betty Jean Bailey. Gene was one of nine children in the family, though three of the nine died while young.

Gene grew up in Houston, where he attended Sherman Elementary and 3 1/2 years at Central High School but the lure of the diamond may have been too much to finish. In 1914, Bailey appeared in Texas League baseball. He got into 22 games for the San Antonio Bronchos in 1914. In 1916, then 21, he returned to baseball in earnest, playing in 73 games and hitting .262 for the Fort Worth Panthers. He didn't play as much in 1917, but hit .275 in 42 Fort Worth games.

He broke into the major leagues on September 10, 1917, with the Philadelphia Athletics, sharing left-field duties with Ping Bodie in the first game of a doubleheader against the visiting New York Yanks. He was 0-for-2 that day, but he appeared in 12 at-bats over five games. His one hit earned him an .083 average.

In 1918, he was off to war, serving in the 14th Cavalry and earning the rank of Second Lieutenant. He did, however, get into two games for the Houston Buffaloes. He got one single in five at-bats.

After the war, he wound up on the Portland (Maine) ballclub's roster. A number of players from the New England League worked out at Braves Field in early August, and when the Braves returned from a road trip, they signed him and seven others on August 10. Bailey recorded his first run batted in, while batting 2-for-6 in four 1919 games for the Braves. He did well on defense, too, in his Braves debut. During the second game of the August 19 doubleheader against the Cardinals, he robbed Rogers Hornsby of a home run while playing center field in his first game with the Braves, and made another "sensational catch after a long run" before moving over to work in right field as well.

Bailey began the 1920 season with the Braves, filling in where needed, appearing in 13 games from April 18 through June 15, hitting .083 without either an extra-base hit or a run batted in. He did score two runs. The Braves were likely pleased to be able to pass him on to the Red Sox, when the Sox needed someone to play right field in place of Harry Hooper while Hooper was out for an operation due to an abscess he'd developed.

The Red Sox perhaps got a little more than they expected. Gene started off well, going 2-for-5 in each game of a July 5 doubleheader, driving in three runs. He played both games on July 6, too, going 4-for-6 and 2-for-3. For the third day in a row (all three days were in Philadelphia), there was a doubleheader, and Bailey played both games. He was 1-for-4 in each game. He never matched that output again. By season's end, he had hit .230 for the Red Sox, driven in five runs in all, and scored 14 times in 150 plate appearances over 40 games. He walked nine times and executed five sacrifices.

Omaha acquired Bailey from the Red Sox, but it was with Houston that he finally got in his first two full seasons of pro ball. The Texas League was now Class A ball. Bailey averaged just a hair under 600 at-bats in 1921 and 1922, collected his first three homers in 1921 and batted .297, notably stealing 46 bases. He hit .295 in 1922, and stole 35. Both years, his stolen base totals ranked him second in the league. The 1921 season was notable in that manager George Whiteman took a Houston team that had finished seventh the year before and led them to second place. Bailey led the club in batting, runs (103), hits (178), and sacrifices (35). At one time or another, he played right field, center field, and all four infield positions. The Sporting News called him “the most graceful outfielder in the circuit.” [1]

Houston thought it dodged a bullet when the draft period ended and Bailey didn't appear to have been selected, but it turned out that multiple clubs had drafted him and there was a post-draft drawing of lots a few days later, which resulted in Bailey going to Brooklyn to play for the Robins. His performance had brought him back to the majors and he played a full year with Brooklyn in 1923 (including five games at first base), batting .265 with one homer and 42 RBIs. He was unpredictable as a player, which was seen as an asset: “He has a volatile but keen mind and doesn’t know himself what he will do next. The consequence is that he has the other side on edge when he is on the bases. As he combines great speed with the faculty of pulling weird and totally unexpected plays, the enemy infielders have a tendency to take their minds off their work in order to keep an eye on Bailey.” [2]

Bailey began 1924 with Brooklyn, but he was really the fifth outfielder on the team, and the .239 he hit in the 18 games he appeared wasn’t enough to sustain a presence on the club when an opportunity presented itself.

Bailey's last day in the big leagues was on June 3, when he played in both games of a doubleheader in the Polo Grounds against the Giants. He hit a home run in the second game, the first of the year in the last game he appeared. [3] That may have helped seal the deal; he went to Indianapolis (American Association) with Johnny Jones and $17,000 so Brooklyn could get Eddie Brown. Bailey finished out the year with the Indianapolis Indians, hitting .264 in Double A. After the season was over, Gene Bailey married Edna Mae White. She died in 1941.

Bailey split the 1925 season between the New Orleans Pelicans and his return to the Texas League and Houston. He hit .266 in 69 games for New Orleans and .310 in 34 games for the Buffaloes.  All of 1926 was with Houston (.262 in 70 games), mostly playing second base. In early 1927, despite being "one of the most popular players to wear a Houston uniform" he was ticketed for Lincoln in the Western League.

Gene's whereabouts in 1927 have eluded us, but in 1928 he was playing ball in the Texas League once again, with the Beaumont Exporters. In 130 games, he hit .321, his best average yet.

In 1929, Houston manager Frank Snyder was having a hard time getting along with management. He resigned once after the 1928 season, but was talked into staying on. He griped so much about not being given the players he needed that it may have been part of the reason he was asked to transfer to the Cardinals and work with lefty pitcher Wild Bill Hallahan. Instead, he asked for his release. He was replaced by the veteran Bailey, effective July 1. The Sporting News assessed, "Bailey was given some help and the club was a tough outfit to beat for a long period in the second half, though it was obvious the strength was not there to win with. The best Bailey could do was to make his men play attractive baseball." [4] It wasn't expected that he'd be asked back.

Although the chain of events is unclear, records indicate that in 1929 Bailey also served as head baseball coach at Rice University, in Houston, Texas. In that season he compiled a conference mark of 7-13 and an overall record of 9-15. Records further indicate that Bailey coached the Rice Owls in one additional game, a loss, and he finished his college coaching career with a record of 9-16.

Bailey started the 1930 season playing and managing for the Western League's St. Joseph Saints. At the end of May or very early June, he was acquired by the Rochester Red Wings, sought for his ability to play both infield and outfield.

After appearing in 42 games for the 1931 Galveston Buccaneers, hitting .206, Gene Bailey was released in mid-to-late August. Gene married, and he and his wife raised one child. Gene’s grandson, Richard Conley, explained: “Mom was the only child. She was actually adopted. During the Depression, someone knew Gene was a ballplayer and actually left my mom on the front porch of Gene's house when she was a baby, thus hoping she would be taken care of. Gene's wife took her in and they ended up adopting her.” [5]

Once Gene's wife passed, Alice Tie Bailey (Richard’s mother) was raised mainly by Gene and Gene's sister, Aunt Gussie, in Houston. Gene never remarried.

After baseball, Bailey returned to the Lone Star State and owned a bowling alley in Houston; as of 1960, he bought and became the owner of the Port Lavaca Bowling Center, an eight-alley lane in Port Lavaca, a city of the Gulf Coast about 80 miles north of Corpus Christi.

Gene Bailey died in Houston on November 14, 1973, 11 days before he would have reached 80 years of age.

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the authors also accessed Bailey’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com. Thanks to Chuck Pool of Rice.



[1] The Sporting News, March 20, 1922


[2] The Sporting News, July 23, 1923


[3]  Of some note, in the June 3 doubleheader, author Chip Greene’s grandfather Nelson Greene started the second game, his only career start.


[4] The Sporting News, October 31, 1929


[5] E-mail from Richard O. Conley to Chip Greene, September 9, 2

Written by: Nelson 'Chip' Greene and Bill Nowlin

You can also find this biography at SABR Bio project

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