Happy Birthday, Gene Markland!

“I’ve never had any reason to worry about being picked on All-Star teams or anything of that sort. I just worry about being the worst.”

Horrigan, Jack. “Gene Markland Rated Better Than Most Major Infielders”, Dunkirk Evening Observer, 25 August 1949, Page 16.

Gene Markland - Buffalo 1949Cleneth Eugene Markland was the son of Notra Raymond and Eva (McCoy) Markland, born on 26 December 1919 in Detroit, MI.  Gene was their third child, all boys. Ray was a painter and decorator for a construction company.

Initially signed by Detroit after a celebrated high school career (basketball, baseball) at Highland Park High School Markland was a star playing semi-pro baseball with the Class A Karp team near Detroit when the local team took notice.  After Detroit signed Markland, his community held a dance in his honor to help raise money to defray his moving expenses as the Tigers were sending Markland to Beaumont, TX. Among those who came to the dance were Charlie Gehringer, Billy Rogsell, Jo Jo White, Bing Miller, and his scout – A.J. (Wish) Eagan.

“The Detroit Tigers signed me originally and I always felt I could be of some help to them. When they got L. D. (Dutch) Meyer to play second base for them, I always wondered why they never gave me a chance instead.”

In 1940, with hundreds of players under Tiger control, Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis cut loose a bunch of minor leaguers controlled by Detroit, allowing Markland to become a minor league free agent in January, 1940.  He got offers from nine clubs (major and minor) after spending the year with Henderson in the East Texas League.  He would sign with Detroit again and was dispatched back to the minors.  But, for whatever reason – likely the fact that he was a smallish 5′-10″ and 150 pound infielder – he never seemed to catch many breaks.  Sent to Buffalo, he was quickly demoted to Winston-Salem of the Piedmont League.  He earned a promotion to Springfield in the Eastern League and then Buffalo of the International League.

In January, 1942, he was playing basketball when he fell and broke his left forearm. It didn’t heal correctly, so it was re-broken in June. Not only did he miss the 1942 baseball season, the injury earned him a deferment from the army for 1942.  When healthy enough to serve, Markland served at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin for three years after enlisting in 1943.  While there, he was captain of baseball team and played basketball and softball.  Private First Class Markland spent time training soldiers of the 100th Infantry Battalion, and may have also served as a guard for the camp, which would house POWs and others thought to be potentially dangerous aliens.

Returning from his Army stint, the Tigers claimed him and shipped him back to Buffalo – who then sold his rights to Dallas for $100.  The Tigers then sold his rights to the Boston Braves in late 1947 after Markland had a pretty good season, though without much power, in Dallas.

“…Markland’s early baseball experiences have almost made a fatalist out of him in regard to his baseball career. Up until 1947, the blonde, blue-eyed, Detroit native spent more time on train platforms than he did on diamond infields.

“‘It seemed that every time I was getting my feet on the ground, the club I was with would receive a farm system player and I’d be out.”

Horrigan, Jack. “Gene Markland Rated Better Than Most Major Infielders”, Dunkirk Evening Observer, 25 August 1949, Page 16.

The White Sox took him in the Rule 5 draft in 1948 and dispatched Markland to Milwaukee – where something changed.  Though he was slightly built, Markland developed power as he got older (a quick bat allowed him to pull the ball hard down the lines) – and a very good eye (and willingness to take pitches).  With Milwaukee in 1948, Markland hit 20 homers, drew 96 walks, and scored 120 runs in 147 games. The White Sox decided he should get a shot with the parent club, but he got a sore arm in spring training and it wiped out his chance to play there. He was again sold to Buffalo – the club that once sold off Markland for $100.

At Buffalo, Markland had his best minor league season, becoming a leading candidate for the MVP of the International League.  The veteran leadoff man played second and third base, homered 25 times, batting .305, and drew 155 walks – scoring 142 runs in 151 games.  Connie Mack signed an agreement to make Buffalo its top minor league affiliate and then signed Markland and pitcher Bob Hooper to play for the Athletics.

Like with the Sox spring training, he got off to a slow start. He was more than adequate in the field, but wasn’t hitting. Still – for the first time ever, Markland made a big league roster.  In his first game, April 25th, he was a late inning replacement at second base. He singled off Vic Raschi of the Yankees in his first MLB at bat. Given a start on May 4th, he drew three walks and scored a run. However, he went hitless in his next two games with a sacrifice bunt in each game. The Athletics had to make a decision, though, on which player to keep as a utility infielder for the rest of the season and it came down to either Markland or Kermit Wahl – and the club chose Wahl.  Markland would hit .298 in Buffalo with a little less power, but drew 111 walks and was was a productive player for the Bisons in 1950.

Markland was drafted by Yankees after the 1950 season because the Yankees were likely losing Billy Martin to the Army.  When he went to spring training his roommate was Mickey Mantle, who was making the jump from Class C ball to the big leagues. Markland, who had spent the bulk of his post-war career in AAA, would be Mantle’s first big league roommate. Markland appeared in about 30 games and was batting over .300 in the spring and thought he had a job, but Billy Martin came back from the service and Stengel told Markland he had to go.  He was dispatched to Kansas City, then moved to Syracuse.  Then he called it a career.

Markland missed his chance – and missed out on something else that major leaguers with long careers got: a pension.

“Baseball offers no incentive, no security for this type of player,” Markland said of the top level minor league players. In addition to the prestige, money, better food and housing, they want “…the security that a five-or-ten year player in the big leagues has for later years.”

No plan existed for long-time minor leaguers – and because of that, they give up earlier and get jobs. “There are many fine minor league players who deserve some sort of security from the game to which they’ve devoted the best years of their lives. Take two fellows close by, Woody Smith and Satchel Paige of the Miami Marlins. Ball players of their caliber, who could make the big league grade and never got the opportunity because of one reason or another, certainly deserve some sort of gratuity.”

Markland added, “Naturally the minor league teams can’t afford such a plan. But it seems that the major league clubs, who hold these players’ contracts, could establish some sort of a pension outlay for them.

“What do most players who have spent four or five years in Triple-A and have been unable to crack the big leagues? They have to quit and look for employment that will give them an income for life. During a player’s career it’s practically impossible for him to play ball and hold another job at the same time. Who would hire a fellow who can only devote five months a year to a job?”

Schabo, Joe. “High Minor League Players Lack Security – Markland”, Fort Lauderdale News, 20 July 1958, Page 4C.

Markland, who spent a number of spring trainings in the Sunshine State, retired to Florida and opened the Sunrise Bait and Tackle Shop in Fort Lauderdale. He later joined the Loyal Order of the Moose in Sebastian, FL and was a resident of Barefoot Bay after selling off his shop.  When he passed to the next league on 15 June 1999, he left behind his wife, Dorothy (Lundy), whom he married in 1943, and two sons, Donald and Dennis.

Sources:

www.baseball-reference.com

www.retrosheet.org

encyclopedia.densho.org

www.findagrave.com

1920, 1930, 1940 US Census
Michigan Marriage Records
WWII Draft Registration
Social Security Death Records

“Gene Markland Goes To Tigers”, Columbus Evening Republican, 18 January 1939, Page 5.

“Gene Markland Gets Offers for 1940 from Nine Clubs”, Detroit Free Press, 29 January 1940, Page 15.

Vaughn, Doug. “On the Rebound”, Windsor Star, 19 January 1942, Page 20.

“International News”, Baltimore Evening Sun, 18 June 1942, Page 37.

Carter, Joe R. “Raspberries and Cream”, Shreveport Times, 19 December 1942, Page 8.

Hall, Halsey. “Ryan Banks on Cubans as Millers Open Season Against Soldiers Today”, Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, 08 April 1945, Page 7.

“McCoy Has Sluggers”, La Crosse Tribune, 04 September 1945, Page 8.

Reichler, Joe. “Third Sackers Short But Sweet”, Decatur Daily, 28 January 1949, Page 10.

“Gene Markland Sent to Buffalo”, Shreveport Times, 18 April 1949, Page 15.

Horrigan, Jack. “Gene Markland Rated Better Than Most Major Infielders”, Dunkirk Evening Observer, 25 August 1949, Page 16.

“Buffalo Bisons Sign Pact with Athletics”, Bridgewater Courier-News, 11 October 1949, Page 33.

Gene Markland Photo (Buffalo), Montreal Gazette, 07 July 1950, Page 14.

“N.Y. Yankees Draft Gene Markland of Buffalo Bisons”, Port Huron Times-Herald, 18 November 1950, Page 8.

Richman, Milton. “Ex-Eastern Gene Markland Hopeful Chance With Yanks ‘Real Thing'”, Scrantonian Tribune, 19 November 1950, Page 48.

Schabo, Joe. “High Minor League Players Lack Security – Markland”, Fort Lauderdale News, 20 July 1958, Page 4C.

“Gene Markland (Obit)”, Florida Today, 17 June 1999, Page 5B.

2 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Gene Markland!

  1. Pingback: Baseball History for June 15th | Mighty Casey Baseball

  2. Pingback: Baseball History for December 26th | Mighty Casey Baseball

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