I recently completed the 13th version of my compilation of New Orleans area baseball players who played high school baseball in the New Orleans area and then continued to play at the college and/or professional levels, and/or were selected in the annual Major League Baseball draft.
The first version was published almost five years ago, containing a little over 300 players. From my own research by scouring countless college and major league team media guides and with expert assistance from local New Orleans baseball historians, the latest version now numbers over 1,100 players.
It has been a personal project of mine to catalog these players in an effort to preserve this aspect of baseball history of New Orleans in one comprehensive source. While some of the information about New Orleans’ major league players can be easily obtained from internet baseball websites, what makes my database unique is that it traces home-grown ballplayers’ careers from high school, to college, to the minor leagues, and to the major leagues.
The database contains entries of players that go back to the 1880s, up through the present day. I’m not aware of another publicly available source that provides such an extensive list of local players with these criteria, as well as the levels of biographical detail, as that maintained in my database. However, there are surely additional players I don’t yet have in the database, and thus I’m always on a quest to make it more complete.
Let’s take a look at some of the players and information in my current list.
Undoubtedly, the most famous local baseball player is Hall of Famer Mel Ott, who was actually from Gretna and attended a high school there that no longer exists. The playground on the West Bank still bears his name, and there’s a bronze statue depicting him in downtown Gretna.
However, some of the players listed did not have quite the illustrious baseball career as Ott, but New Orleans natives may still know them from their public service careers. Former New Orleans mayor Moon Landrieu played for Jesuit High School and Loyola University. Former Baton Rouge mayor Pat Screen whom many people know for his football exploits, played baseball for Jesuit and LSU. Former Jefferson Parish president Tim Coulon played for Holy Cross High School and went on to play a couple of years of minor league baseball.
As some readers may know, one of my special interests in baseball research is the topic of family relationships in baseball. As you might expect, family ties are also prevalent in New Orleans baseball circles. There are a number of three-generation baseball families, including the Whitman, Cesario, Hughes, and Schwaner clans. Other prominent baseball families whose roots are in the New Orleans area include the Bullinger, Cabeceiras, Graffagnini, Pontiff, Scheuermann, and Staub families. Several of these families sent players into the major league ranks, including brothers Jim and Kirk Bullinger, Ray and Lenny Yochim, and Charlie and Tookie Gilbert. There are approximately 150 players in my database whose baseball-playing family members are identified.
New Orleanians appearing in Major League All-Star games include Mel Ott, Will Clark (Jesuit), Rusty Staub (Jesuit), Mel Parnell (S. J. Peters), Howie Pollet (Fortier), and Connie Ryan (Jesuit).
Jack Kramer and Al Jurisich played together at Warren Easton High School and wound up playing against each other in the 1944 World Series.
Local players who went on to play and manage in the major leagues include Met Ott, Lou Klein (S. J. Peters), George Strickland (S. J. Peters), Connie Ryan, and current Texas Rangers skipper Ron Washington (John McDonogh).
Although the following New Orleans players did not reach the big leagues in a player or managerial capacity, they became prominent baseball coaches at the high school and college levels in New Orleans: Joe Brockhoff (Tulane), Billy Fitzgerald (Newman), Barry Herbert (Brother Martin), David Moreau (Jesuit), Johnny Owen (Karr, S. J. Peters, Redeemer, and McDonough), Milt Retif (Tulane), Joe Scheuermann (Delgado), Rags Scheuermann (Fortier and Loyola), Larry Schneider Sr. (Rummel), Tom Schwaner (Rummel, Brother Martin, and UNO), and Skeeter Theard (Redemptorist and Redeemer).
Jesuit High School leads the other local high schools in the number of players sent to the major league ranks, with twelve. The school with the next-most players in the majors is S. J. Peters, with four. The total number of area high school players reaching the majors is 77. (It should be noted there are additional New Orleans natives to play in the majors, but they moved away from New Orleans before their high school years and thus are not counted.)
The decade of the 1940s sent the most New Orleans players into professional baseball, with 70. From my research, this was due to two major factors.
A general shortage of players during World War II allowed local star players to sign up with the minor league New Orleans Pelicans and other regional minor league teams. They probably would not have otherwise had the opportunity to advance. For example, during the 1944 season, the Pelicans could have started as many as seven of nine positions with local talent, including such players as Jesse Danna, Russell Gildig, John “Fats” Dantonio, Martin “Bull” Shepherd, and Mel Rue.
Secondly, after World War II, there was a boom in minor league teams across the country, as the big league organizations sought to capitalize on the growing popularity of the game. This created additional opportunities for aspiring local ballplayers, such as Frank Azzarello, Charles Danna, Hugh Oser, and Tony Roig, who took their shot at baseball stardom after high school. However, only a few of these players actually reached the big leagues, including Roig, Lenny Yochim, and Hal Bevan.
The Major League Baseball amateur draft began in 1965, and through 2014 there have been over 180 New Orleans area players drafted. Twelve New Orleans area players were Number 1 picks in the Major League Baseball Draft, including Will Clark (Jesuit), Mike Miley (East Jefferson), Frank Wills (De La Salle), Mike Fontenot (Slidell), and Billy Fitzgerald (Jesuit). The decade of the 2000s saw the most New Orleans area players drafted by major league teams, with over 50. This situation also resulted in that decade having the second-most number of players in the professional baseball, after the 1940s. During this time, the vast majority of the drafted players from New Orleans were coming out of college, versus high school.
New Orleans area players who have seen major league action through June of this season include Johnny Giavotella (Jesuit, UNO), Logan Morrison (Northshore), Will Harris (Slidell, LSU), and Aaron Loup (Hahnville, Tulane).
Frequently I get calls and emails from readers requesting additions of missing players, or questioning the baseball background of a family member or acquaintance. I sometimes have to convey disappointing news that their friend or distant relative didn’t play for the old Brooklyn Dodgers or didn’t play in the minor leagues with an up-and-coming star like Tony Gwynn.
So take a look at the list. If you are a New Orleans native, you may see your high school buddy or your grandfather listed. Even if you aren’t from the New Orleans area, you will still recognize many of the names of players who advanced to the big leagues from the Crescent City.
The current list of the New Orleans Area Baseball Player Database can be found at http://thetenthinning.com/articles.html.