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Searching for our rich baseball past

Ty Cobb finished his career with 4,191 hits, and the reason he didn’t finish with one more was because he popped out to shortstop during his final big league at-bat. The pitcher who got Cobb that afternoon at Yankee Stadium was Henry Ward Johnson. Hank, as he was better known, was a right-hander who spent 12 years in the bigs and was born and raised and died in Bradenton.

Some are surprised to learn that a local boy was found among the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri and Earle Combs.

Count Cliff Curley as one.

Curley is charged with the baseball side of Realize Bradenton. He is searching for former professional baseball players — black, white, male, female. The idea is to create a Bradenton Baseball Hall of Fame.

He would like your help.

Know of anyone with ties to Manatee County who played or managed or coached professionally? In the major leagues or with a major league organization? In the Negro Leagues? In the All American Girls Professional Baseball League?

Shoot Curley an e-mail at

Realize Bradenton plans to celebrate baseball in March when the Pittsburgh Pirates are in town and McKechnie Field is filled.

Ah, McKechnie Field. Baseball has been played at that same location since 1923, when the first field was carved out for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Did you know that two years later, the Bradenton High baseball team would beat Orlando High 7-5 at Rollins College in Winter Park for the state title?

That same year, Hank Johnson debuted with the Yankees, going 1-3 in 24 games, including four starts. Two of those starts were complete games.

Johnson would be as good a person to begin with when looking at prospective Hall of Famers.

There are certainly others. Bill McKechnie is one. Edd Roush is another.

Hal McRae should get a long look.

Bruce Kison was the winning pitcher and Milt May drove in the winning run with a pinch-hit in a game that changed the way we look at the World Series — the first one played at night, Oct. 13, 1971. Both Kison and May have lived here a long time.

How about the Bradenton Nine Devils, who played in the Florida State Negro League from 1937 to 1956? Know a worthy Nine Devil? Contact Curley.

Curley wants this to be a lasting event, something that is celebrated each year. There are certainly a lot of candidates to keep the selection committee busy and the induction ceremonies flowing.

Did you know Hank Johnson was 14-9 for the 1928 Yankees? Beat future Hall of Famer Lefty Grove four times that year.