Most people achieve fame for the things they do. Some people, however, also achieve fame for the things they don’t do. Little Dickie Kerr, the 5’7″ rookie left hander for the 1919 Chicago White Sox, did it both ways. He posted a 13-7, 2.88 ERA record as a first year starter for the 1919 American League Champion White Sox. Then he followed that up by winning both his starts in the World Series against the eventual champions, the Cincinnati Reds. What he didn’t do was follow the lead of his eight teammates, including fellow pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams, who went out there and made sure their own club lost the World Series by fixing the outcome of key plays in favor of the Reds.
Dickie Kerr didn’t even know that the fix was on. He was raised to play the game right and to always give winning his best effort. As the years went by, and the stench of the fix began to dissipate, the heroic role of Dickie Kerr became clearer and clearer to the baseball public. It isn’t often that rookies even reach a World Series in their first year, let alone get to pitch and then win two games against the almost impossible odds of beating the other club, plus the undermining efforts of eight men from your own team also working against you.
Regardless of how innocent or guilty some of the eight “Black Sox” players may have actually been individually from the view of today’s differential evidence against each banned player, Kerr still won an uphill battle against the odds to have taken two wins in a Series that his club was destined to lose.
Kerr would post a 21-9, 3.37 record with essentially the same rostered club in 1920, but after that last intact roster season, the permanent suspension of the eight White Sox offenders by the new Commissioner of Baseball. Kenesaw Mountain Landis, would gut the club and drop the Pale Hose to a seventh place finish in 1921. Kerr would go 19-17 with a 4.72 ERA for the 1921 season, giving up league-leading totals of 357 hits and 162 earned runs.
Ironically, Dickie Kerr would find himself temporarily banned from organized baseball for violating the reserve clause in 1922. His offense? He signed to play independent baseball rather than remain bound to contract by the cheapskate owner Charlie Comiskey, a problem that led to fouler reactions by his earlier eight lost teammates when confronted by their inability to get paid what they each apparently felt they were worth.
The difference here is large. Kerr didn’t cheat. He just quit organized ball. He did try a brief comeback with the White Sox in 1925 at the age of 31, but he gave it all up after 12 games and a 0-1 record. From there on, Dickie Kerr earned his modest life keep as a coach and minor league manager. The book on his MLB pitching record closed at 54-34, with a 3.84 ERA.
In 1927, Dickie Kerr was attracted to Houston by the opportunity to coach baseball at what was then known as Rice Institute, now Rice University. The St. Louis native loved Houston even though he had not played any of his minor league ball here. It was still a Cardinals town because of the minor league Buffs and Dickie had a lot of baseball friends who also lived in the general area.
A few years later, Dickie Kerr served as manager for the Cardinals’ Class D club at Daytona Beach, Florida when he acquired a young lefty pitching prospect named Stan Musial from Donora, PA. The kid was only 19, but he had posted a couple of stats from 1939 that must have jumped off the page at Kerr as the now wily old manager looked over his new talent.
The “kid” had posted a 9-2, 4.30 ERA pitching record at Williamson in 1939, but he also had batted .352 in 75 times at bat for Williamson that same season. If those two facts did not evoke a mild “hmmm, what have we here?” muttering from Kerr right away, I would be greatly surprised.
As 1940 turns out, the kid pitcher goes 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA in his work for Kerr, but he also bats .311 in 405 times at bat in the field. An injury to his left arm made his bat much more available to the club as an outfielder. By season’s end, the young man is a little perplexed about his baseball future. He and his young wife have also grown quite close to Mr. and Mrs. Dickie Kerr.
The Kerrs invited the Musials to spend the winter with them. During this time, Kerr convinced Stan Musial that his prospects for the future were as a hitter, not a pitcher. During this time also, the Musials gave birth to their oldest born son, with Dickie Kerr leading the hospital entourage on a mad drive to the delivery room. The Musials named their eldest boy Richard, in honor of Dickie Kerr.
The rest is history. Musial’s future as one of the greatest hitters in baseball history was off and running and he was in the big leagues to stay by 1941.
The great ones never forget where they came from. In 1958, Dickie Kerr was living modestly in Houston when San Musial swooped down upon him and made him a present of a brand new home. To do the deal, Musial used a great percentage of his 1958 baseball salary. Dickie Kerr lived there until his death on May 4, 1963.
This week, the Dickie Kerr Statue that once graced the grounds at the Astrodome and then impressed all visitors to the Houston Sports Museum at the former site of Finger Furniture and Buff Stadium on the Gulf Freeway is returning to public view on the grounds outside the gate at Constellation Field, home of the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Thanks to their healthy respect and appreciation for the rich baseball history of our community, going way back into the 19th century, the Skeeters are now working with Mr. Rodney Finger of the Finger family and their longtime curator, Tom Kennedy, to make some precious historic items and artifacts available for public view over time, in and around the new pioneering base of minor league baseball in Houston that Constellation Field in Sugar Land has the chance of now becoming. With deep baseball commitment people like Tal Smith of the Skeeters behind the project, the Kerr statue almost takes on the beacon role of Lady Liberty, calling out our attention to the memory and honor of a great Houstonian named Dickie Kerr – and a lot of other Houston-rich baseball treasures to soon come our way too via all that positive energy that now brews baseball in Sugar Land.
Check out the Dickie Kerr Statue at Constellation Field very soon – and stay tuned for further news and details.