Bobby Dews starred for the Rams — but did so much more than that

Bobby Dews in 1947. (Anniston Star clipping)

There is Bobby Dews the author. There is Bobby Dews the veteran of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. There is Bobby Dews the father of Bobby Dews, the Atlanta Braves coach. There is Bobby Dews the career minor-leaguer. There is Bobby Dews the baseball coach. There is Bobby Dews of the Anniston Rams. And there is Bobby Dews the Southeastern League all-star in 1947.

In truth there is only one Bobby Dews relevant to the SEL’s Rams — the Robert Porter Dews born in 1915 in Nashville. He and his son, the Braves’ Robert Walter Dews, each went by Bobby but because their middle names were different the “senior” and “junior” additions didn’t apply. It’s a researcher’s nightmare. When discussing Bobby Dews, confusion is as common as teenage acne.

But this much is clear: of all the men who played minor-league baseball in Anniston during the Rams era — 1938 to 1950, notwithstanding the three-year break because of World War II — the elder Dews may be most worthy of a Renaissance Man commemoration. Others spent more seasons in Anniston, played more games in Anniston, had more success in Anniston and left more of a baseball legacy in Anniston than Dews. But his is a story from which it’s hard to pick either a beginning chapter or defensible climax.

A 1947 Greenwood (Miss.) Commonwealth clipping.

So let’s start with the easy part.

By the spring of 1947, the 31-year-old Dews had already spent 12 years in the minor leagues, missed his chances at the Major Leagues and fought in the second World War. The season before the Rams had won the Southeastern League title, and the veteran Dews was brought in to help with that championship’s defense. “Bobby Dews gave early warning to base thieves around the circuit as his throws found second with great accuracy,” The Anniston Star newspaper wrote after the team’s second practice in March. “Dews is a veteran catcher and will be of valuable help to (manager) Tommy West … in developing young pitchers.”

The ’47 experiment failed, start to finish. The Rams were putrid, finishing in last place with a 56-84 record. Dews, though, was one of Anniston’s few bright spots that season. He hit .325 with 109 hits — including 30 doubles, five triples and four home runs — and was one of three Rams to make the SEL all-star game, during which he hit a 3-run, game-winning homer in the ninth inning.

A month later, on Aug. 16, the Rams optioned Dews down to Class D Alexandria of the Evangeline League. (The Rams, doomed for the cellar, had nothing to play for anyway, and the Aces needed catching help.) Dews would end 1947 with 90 games played in Anniston and only 13 games played in Alexandria, where he hit an uninspired .220. With the Rams again trying to remake their club that offseason, Dews was sold for cash in December to fellow SEL club Pensacola.

Dews would play only one more season, 1948, seeing action in 15 games for Gadsden (another SEL team) and 34 games in Pampa, Texas, of the West Texas-New Mexico League. His career line: 14 seasons, 995 games, 3,483 at-bats and 1,004 hits.

South Bend (Ind.) Tribune clipping from 1933.

And yet, that’s only a snippet of what makes Dews a minor-league Renaissance Man.

Before turning pro Dews was nicknamed the “barefoot catcher” because he played without cleats during his sandlot days in Albany, Georgia. That nickname followed him throughout the minor leagues.

Dews dropped out of high school in the 11th grade to sign with the National League’s New York Giants and yet wrote eight books: two about baseball, “Extra Innings: The Georgia-Florida League, 1935-1958” and “Southeast Organized Baseball”; four about history: “The Colonel Came to Stay,” “Mobile East,” “Early Joel” and “Gentle Connecticut Georgian“; an adventure story, “Whichaway” — given a non-fiction award by the Dixie Council of Authors and Journalists — and an autobiography, “The Successful Failure.”

Bobby Dews in 1975.
(Atlanta Journal-Constitution clipping.)

In the 1950s after the Korean War Dews was a first sergeant at Fort Benning and served with Capt. Lewis Grizzard Sr., father of Lewis Grizzard Jr., the famed newspaper columnist and author at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Grizzard Jr. wrote about his father’s struggles after the war and Dews’ efforts to help Grizzard Sr. cope with the memories.

Dews wrote the newspaper columnist a letter after Grizzard Sr.’s death.

“No matter what happened to the captain after Korea, never judge him too harshly. He had been through two wars and had seen so much blood, gore and death. It haunted him and the only way he could forget for a time was by drinking,” he told Grizzard Jr.

“I sat by him at his desk at Benning and saw his hands shake. Many times I’d say, ‘Captain, let’s go for a ride and get you out of here.’ But he’d always go back to the bottle. I wish I could have done more for him …” Grizzard the columnist wrote that he guessed “Sgt. Dews was Capt. Grizzard’s best friend.”

In January 1970 Dews was selected as the “American of the Year” at the American Bowl football game in Tampa, Florida, in honor of his civic endeavors in his hometown of Edison, Georgia.

Bobby Dews in 1986.
(Atlanta Journal-Constitution clipping)

He appeared at least three times as a contestant on the TV gameshow “To Tell The Truth,” on which a panel of guests tries to determine which contestants are lying and which are telling the truth. On the show he impersonated a “water witch” — someone who divines underground water — a character named Doctor Mowmow, and a sideshow barker.

“Being a contestant — a liar — on the show requires some theatrical talent,” Dews told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1975. “Once selected, you sit with the real character and he tells you all about himself. The one thing that often gives away his true identity is when he answers questions that only he would have the answer to.”

Dews served as a liaison between the U.S. Army and the USO’s Inter-Service Ticket Committee in Times Square — essentially being in charge of tickets to games and theater events and restaurant invitations. “I passed out millions of dollars of tickets to the big shows, the Yankees, the Jets and all sorts of sporting events at the (Madison Square) Garden,” he told the Atlanta newspaper.

He volunteered to return to active service and fight in Vietnam, saying he “got it in my bonnet” that he wanted to help out. “I went over and got into the thick of it and was wounded. Ought not to have done it,” he told the Journal-Constitution.

In 1974 Dews became a charter member of the state of Georgia’s “Quad A Hall of Fame,” a nonprofit that honored “non-college” Georgians who had “made their marks in their chosen fields,” the Atlanta newspaper wrote. “It is not like Robert Porter Dews to have an idea and do nothing about it.”

Robert Porter Dews died of Alzheimer’s disease on Sept. 23, 1992, in Americus, Georgia. He was 77. He is buried in Blakely, Georgia.

Bobby Dews’ baseball questionnaire. (Ancestry.com)

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