Baseball in Wartime

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Kirby Higbe

 

Date and Place of Birth: April 8, 1915 Columbia, South Carolina

Died: May 6, 1985 Columbia, South Carolina

Baseball Experience: Major League
Position:
Pitcher
Rank:
Unknown
Military Unit:
US Army

Area Served: Pacific Theater of Operations

Kirby HigbeWalter “Kirby” Higbe was born on April 8, 1915 in Columbia, South Carolina. He dropped out of high school and signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1933, playing his rookie season with Muskogee of the Western League.

Higbe was with Atlanta of the Southern Association in 1934, and joined the Cubs organization in 1935, pitching for Portsmouth of the Piedmont League for the next two seasons.

It was in 1937, that Higbe first demonstrated his potential as a major league pitcher. He was 21-5 with Moline of the Three-I League and joined the Cubs at the end of the season, making his debut in the last game of the season by hurling the last five innings of a 6-4 win against the Cardinals on October 3.

Higbe spent most of 1938 with Birmingham of the Southern Association, and was traded by the Cubs to the Philadelphia Phillies in May 1939. The trade to a non-contending team gave him the chance to pitch on a regular basis, and Higbe finished the season with a 12-15 record and a 4.67 ERA, although he led the league in base on balls with 123 (he would lead the league in base on balls for the next three years).

Higbe was 14-19 in 1940, quite an achievement for the last-placed club, and he was a National League all-star selection. The Phillies traded Higbe to the Brooklyn Dodgers in November 1940 and entered the period of his greatest success. He quickly became a favourite of the fans in Brooklyn, particularly after he and Whitlow Wyatt tied for the National League lead in victories when each won 22 games for the 1941 league champions.

Higbe was 16-11 in 1942 and 13-10 in 1943. He entered military service on October 16, 1943, and completed initial Army processing at Fort Jackson, near Columbia, South Carolina, in just three hours instead of the normal three days because the Fort Jackson Red Raiders ball team had a game that afternoon!

Higbe was at Camp Livingston, Louisiana in 1944, and pitched in National Baseball Congress Semi-Pro tournament, earning selection to the All-America team.

In 1945, he was assigned to the Philippines, where he managed the Manila Dodgers. His line-up included Max Macon and Frank LaManna, with Joe Garagiola as his catcher. During this time he experimented with a knuckleball that gave him later success in the majors. While in the Philippines, Higbe requisitioned living quarters that had been designated for the umpires. From there he sold beer with Early Wynn to the local Filipinos.

With the war over, Higbe still found himself in the Philippines, and on January 2, 1946, he pitched for the Manila Dodgers against a team of National League all-stars led by Chuck Dressen. In front of a crowd of 25,000 at Rizal Stadium, Higbe was beaten, 5-4, on two home runs by first baseman Frank McCormick.

Higbe was discharged from service on March 26, 1946. He returned to the Dodgers in fine form and was 17-8 in 1946 with a 3.03 ERA. Higbe, however, was one of several Dodgers opposed to the addition of Jackie Robinson to the team. “The other guys had the good sense to make peace with Branch Rickey [Brooklyn’s general manager],” Higbe later explained. “I didn’t, and it cost me a series share.”

The Dodgers traded Higbe to the Pirates in May 1947. The Pirates finished seventh that season as the Dodgers raced to the National League pennant. He finished the year with a 13-17 record, and two of those wins had been with Brooklyn at the start of the season.

The Pirates traded Higbe to the New York Giants in June 1949, and by the following year he was back in the minors with Minneapolis of the American Association. Higbe continued to pitch in the minor leagues at ever-lower classifications and retired after having a 12-11 season with the Rock Hill Chiefs of the Class B Tri-State League in 1953.

Higbe returned to South Carolina and worked as a prison guard after serving a short sentence for a minor offence. He later worked as a postal clerk and as a representative for a chemical company.

Kirby Higbe passed away in Columbia, South Carolina on May 6, 1985. He was 70 years old.

Created February 18, 2008.

 

Copyright © 2008 Gary Bedingfield (Baseball in Wartime). All Rights Reserved.