The month Hader spent managing the Rams

It’s a close call to say which chapter of George (Pete) Hader’s brief tenure as manager of the Anniston Rams was more peculiar: How it happened, why it happened, or why it ended — unceremoniously, nearly in the dead of night — when it did.

Let’s start with the how.

By the spring of 1947, the Ohio-born Hader was a 30-year-old journeyman who’d spent nearly four years in the Navy — “Too long,” he once wrote — and toiled up and down the St. Louis Cardinals’ expansive farm system. In truth, he was a far cry from the youthful player whom baseball writers marveled over for attending Miami (Ohio) University while pitching in the minors. With his Major Leagues window closed, Hader in ’47 was back in New Orleans, pitching again for the Southern Association’s Pelicans, when he got his first crack at managing.

A 1947 clipping from the Atlanta Constitution.

For that, he could thank Detroit Tigers pitcher Paul “Dizzy” Trout, who whacked Pelicans Manager-Catcher Fred Walters in the head with a bat in an early April exhibition. A doctor sewed three stitches into Walters’ head and sent him on his way. Before the month ended, recurring headaches landed the Pelicans’ manager in the hospital. The Pelicans’ parent club, the Boston Red Sox, felt the aging Hader was “managerial timber,” The Anniston Star reported, and had him fill in during Walters’ convalescence.

It’s a dizzying chain of events. Trout hit Walters with a bat; Hader managed the Pelicans during Walters’ absence; and two weeks later, Rams President Loy Gunter took the Red Sox’ advice and signed Hader to manage Anniston’s Southeastern League team. In a single May weekend, Gunter fired Tommy West — who’d piloted the Rams to the 1946 league championship — and hired Hader to manage the team and join its rotation. That’s the how and the why.

The why-it-ended answer is equally complicated.

A 1947 clipping from the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

The ’47 Rams were putrid, a shell of their previous incarnation that had roared from last place to finish second overall and win the league’s postseason title. Anniston was 8-15 when Gunter sacked West, and Hader — who’d won 10 or more games four times — gave the Rams an immediate jolt of mound optimism. The weekend of West’s firing, Gunter sat in the stands in Pensacola with Hader, going over the roster while the Rams were temporarily managed by the team’s business manager, Billy Bancroft.

Hader’s Johnston Field debut proved glorious. With first-place Meridian in town, Hader the manager also threw a five-hitter, drove in a run, beat the Peps, 3-1, and showed Annistonians what was to come that summer. Except, it didn’t. The Star’s editorial page, of course, wasn’t clairvoyant and nonetheless extolled Hader’s talents and the Rams’ improved future.

“The turnout of fans to greet Pete Hader, new manager of the Anniston Rams, is indicative of how Annistonians regard baseball, particularly when the Model City has a club capable of holding its own with the best of them in the Southeastern League circles,” the newspaper wrote.

“The new manager is a veteran in competition stiffer than that offered in the Southeastern League and possess a wealth of experience, which should be of value to him in developing young ball players.”

— The Anniston Star editorial board

“Mr. Gunter did not waste any time in undertaking rebuilding of his club when he realized that multiple changes would be necessary to give Anniston a representative team. The changes he has made should give Anniston a winning club … The new manager is a veteran in competition stiffer than that offered in the Southeastern League and possess a wealth of experience, which should be of value to him in developing young ball players …

“Thus, the Model City is fortunate and can be reassured that the Rams will be representative and that they will have the respect of the other clubs in the baseball circuit.”

In early June, the Rams were mired in last place, and arm woes and an injury to his thumb had limited Hader to only four games. On June 10, Anniston lost to Vicksburg, 16-5. Hader resigned after the game. He was 13-18 as the Rams’ chief. He would never pitch or manage again.

A 1947 clipping from The Anniston Star.

But, why?

On June 20, The Star reported that “a sore arm forced Hader to retire for the rest of the season” — though, left unsaid, was the role his managerial record played in the decision, if it played any role at all. In July, The Nashville Banner wrote that Hader had undergone arm surgery in Cincinnati and would rejoin the New Orleans rotation when he recovers, though he didn’t. His career ended with a 70-58 pitching record, all in the minor leagues.

The compelling portion of Hader’s baseball arc doesn’t include the month he spent in Anniston. It’s that he pitched so long in the Cardinals’ system, reaching high-level stints in Columbus and Sacramento, and never donned a big-league uniform. In a bit of passive-aggressive humor, Hader, when asked on a 1945 baseball questionnaire for his most unusual baseball experience, wrote, “Signing a contract with the St. Louis Cardinal chain gang — I could have signed with the House of David and pitched in the Majors sooner.” Asked for whom did he owe the most in his baseball career, he wrote, “Not the Cardinal chain.”

His humor didn’t spare the Navy, either, when he was asked for his most unusual experience in the military. “Nov. 25, 1945, some man called an ensign gave me a piece of paper called a discharge (Oh Happy Day)!!!”, he wrote.

After baseball, Hader returned to Ohio. He died in 1973 in Cincinnati at age 56.

George Hader’s World War II draft registration card. (Ancestry.com)
George Hader’s baseball questionnaire. (Ancestry.com)

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