Dave Short: 1 MLB hit and a tragic, mysterious ending

Dave Short with the Chicago White Sox.

By the time Dave Short joined the Anniston Rams, his Major League dreams were essentially over. He’d been there, done that, and didn’t stick. The game is tough. Then the Nazis decimated Europe and the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and Short became just another marginal baseball player sent off to war.

A lanky, lefthanded-hitting outfielder from Magnolia, Arkansas, Short played seven seasons of professional baseball and wasn’t an unholy big-league bust with the Chicago White Sox. But he was close. In seven games spread among two stints just before World War II, he recorded only one career hit, a pinch-hit single to left field in the third inning of a 10-1 loss to the New York Yankees at Comiskey Park in September 1940. The Chicago Tribune, in a journalistic combination of snark and reportage, was brief. “In the late minutes of the day, Don Kolloway and Dave Short made their debuts. They will await another day to distinguish themselves.” A day later, he scored his only career run (after walking) in a 7-6 loss to the St. Louis Browns at Sportsman’s Park. Unremarkable as they were, those were the best two days of his MLB career.

In post-war Anniston, his numbers with the 1946 Southeastern League champions were similarly forgettable: a .241 batting average in 27 midseason games.

Short played two more seasons in the minors, retired and became an insurance agent. Decades later, in 1983, police found the body of David Orvis Short stuffed in the trunk of his 1982 Cadillac at a Marshall, Texas, motel. His head had been bashed in. He was 66.

A 1940 clipping from the Charlotte Observer.

It’s unclear if Short’s murder is the only such death in Anniston Rams’ history. Probable, though nonetheless unclear. But it’s undeniable that neither his time with the Rams nor the White Sox was worth much acclaim. In Chicago, he was a 23-year-old outfielder overmatched by big-league pitching — though one of Short’s former Little League players, Gray Teekell, told the Shreveport Times years later that “the only reason his Major League career was cut short was due to an injury. He ran into an outfield wall … while chasing a fly ball and hurt his shoulder.” In Anniston, his bat and speed remained attractive attributes but lingering injuries slowed his return. Absent headlines in professional baseball, his unresolved murder and war years spent stateside playing on military teams became his career claims to fame.

Dave Short, right, in a 1944 clipping from the Spokane Chronicle.

Interestingly, Short didn’t enlist in the Army Air Corps following the Dec. 7, 1941, attack that ushered the United States into the war. He instead enlisted in the fall following his final game in the Texas League with Oklahoma City, where he’d been optioned after his final White Sox stint that spring. The Army began training him to be an Air Corps technician. But it also wanted him to play baseball, so the former Major Leaguer was sent to the Air Corps Technical Training School in Wichita Falls, Kansas, where, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that November, after his 13 weeks of instruction that “Pvt. Short will be assigned to the athletic and recreation office as coach and manager of the Sheppard Field baseball team.”

After attending officers candidate school in Miami in 1943, Short — then Lt. Short — was transferred to Spokane Army Air Field in Washington state. He played superbly in the Pacific Northwest, leading the local league in hitting in 1943 and nearly doing the same the following year before the Army transferred him again, this time to an air field in Florida. His military career lasted four years and five months. No longer was he a young kid with big-league potential.

A 1944 clipping from the Spokane Chronicle.

Though still lanky and sneaky powerful at the plate, Short was 29 when he resumed his professional career in 1946. The White Sox, who still owned his rights, sent him to Little Rock of the Southern Association, where he hit .263 in 15 games before coming across the radar of Rams’ owner Loy Gunter, who The Anniston Star reported “had been keeping telephone wires hot in an attempt to get new talent for Anniston.”

Short, recovering from arm surgery, joined the constant stream of players Gunter poured into the Rams’ lineup that season. It worked, given Anniston’s second-place finish in the regular season and SEL playoff championship. Short just didn’t have much to do with it.

By mid-July, Short was back in Shreveport with the Texas League’s Sports, with whom he’d played before the war. He hit .212 in Shreveport, which brought him back for another go in 1947, and finished his career the following summer with Class B Paris, Texas, and Class C Clarksdale, Mississippi. It was in Texas, in the final few months as a player, that one of his memorial, albeit humorous, events occurred.

Dave Short with the Oklahoma City Indians.

Blame the snake.

Recounted days later in the Paris News, Short “threw the crowd into hysterics” when he sprinted in from the outfield and yelled, “There’s a snake out there.”

African-American fans, the News claimed, had first seen the snake and killed it by pelting it with bottles. Short didn’t know it was dead. In fact, “he thought they were throwing at him although he hadn’t done anything to make them mad.”

He was 31 when his career ground to a halt, his hit against the Yankees and run scored against the Browns remaining atop his professional resume.

That his life ended so tragically, robbed and killed and stuffed in his car’s trunk, is a story virtually unrivaled among his fellow Rams. It’s a story mired in murkiness and hints of shady activities and deals gone bad.

By the fall of 1983, Short was a “semi-retired” insurance man who traveled for work frequently and was known “to carry a good bit of money on him,” his son, David Short Jr., told The Shreveport Times. But when his son didn’t hear from his father for more than a week around the Thanksgiving holiday, Short’s family began to wonder.

A 1983 clipping from the Shreveport Times.

“I called him to get some idea of what we were doing for Thanksgiving,” Short Jr. said. The last time he’d seen his father was Nov. 16, when they bowled together. He’d last spoken to him on Nov. 22. “He said he had some business to take care of. Some men were supposed to come over to his house. He was very vague. But there was no indication his voice of anything wrong.” Short Jr. assumed, the newspaper reported, his father was going to Mississippi, where he owned land.

A missing-persons report filed in Shreveport alerted authorities to Short’s disappearance. In one of the case’s twists, police in Marshall found Short’s Cadillac on Nov. 30 after the Texas Rangers (the law enforcers, not the baseball team) informed them of a tip from a 17-year-old runaway girl, whose story didn’t add up but nonetheless led to the recovery of Short’s body. Clues were slim. Searches of the Cadillac revealed no fingerprints. Authorities couldn’t determine where Short was killed, Louisiana or Texas. He’d been dead around four days when he was found. Missing were his wallet, watch, rings, keys and a handgun.

In their place were unanswered questions.

A 1984 headline from the Shreveport Times.

When police in early 1984 arrested Short’s yard man, Matthew Smith, for possession of stolen goods — he had pawned some of Short’s missing jewelry — it gave Short’s children hope they’d soon know who killed their father. But police didn’t charge Smith, who refused to say how he acquired the stolen rings.

In The Times, Short’s family wondered if their dad’s gambling habit played a role. Because his body was hidden in the trunk, they fretted about links to organized crime. Reviews of Short’s bank account showed he’d written a number of sizable checks to Smith, ostensibly to help his yard man pay his bills. Short had even told his family that he planned to open another bank account “because he was expecting to make a large deposit,” The Times reported.

Short’s daughter, Barbara Johnson, offered a grim possibility. “He left in a hurry. He was mad,” she told the newspaper. “He went after somebody … We’re dealing with big boys, not little people.” Said Short Jr., “We don’t know what we’re dealing with. The damn thing scares me.”

Dave Short is buried in Forest Park East Cemetery in Shreveport.

Dave Short’s World War II draft card. (Ancestry.com)
Dave Short’s baseball questionnaire. (Ancestry.com)

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