#Shortstops: Bobo Gets Suspended

Part of the SHORT STOPS series
Written by: Matthew Carter

In 1949, Bobo Newsom was looking to get back into Major League Baseball.

A pitcher for nine big league clubs since 1929, the nomadic Newsom had not latched on to a team since the New York Giants released him during the previous season. Since then, he had spent his time pitching semi-pro ball and running a restaurant in his hometown of Hartsville, S.C.

Encouraged by his wife, Bobo wrote to major league teams looking for a job. This included the Washington Senators, a team that he spent four separate stints with between 1935 and 1947. Senators owner Clark Griffith was not interested in having Newsom on the club again. But when Newsom suggested that Griffith make him player-manager of the Chattanooga Lookouts – a Senators farm team – Griffith agreed to sign him as a player and assigned him there.

Lookouts owner Joe Engel was thrilled to have Newsom on the team. A master promoter, Engel was always looking for new ways to draw fans to Engel Stadium. He knew that having a former major league pitcher like Bobo Newsom on the club would put fans in the seats.

For his part, Newsom was ready to prove that he could still pitch. When a reporter asked if he was ready to help the Lookouts, he replied: “Son, I’ve been ready for 20 years. They ain’t got nuthin’ to worry ‘bout so long as Ol’ Bobo’s throwing for ‘um.”

Newsom backed up his statement by quickly becoming the ace of the team. Halfway through the season, he had a 10-7 record and was selected to pitch in the Southern Association All-Star Game. He fully expected to be recalled to the Senators but never got the call.

Believing that Engel was not trying hard enough to get him back to the majors, Newsom decided to quit the team. On July 13, as the team was about to board a train to start a road trip, Newsom told them that he was not going. Lookouts manager Fred Walters tried to talk him out of it, but Newsom wouldn’t change his mind.

Lookouts outfielder and fellow South Carolinian Junior Wooten was angered by Newsom’s refusal to get on the train. Giving him a piece of his mind, Wooten told him: “Listen, Bobo. If you’re serious about running out on us, I don’t want anything else to do with you. You’re letting us down when we need you, and I never thought that you would do that. If you don’t get on that train with us, I’m off you for life.”

Perplexed by his protest, Engel suspended Newsom indefinitely and told sportswriters: “If you can find out what he hopes to gain out of this foolish move, let me know."

Griffith supported Engel, saying: “When Newsom walked out on Chattanooga he walked out on any possible chance of recall by the Senators.”

Bobo responded to both men by saying that Engel “should have considered my side of (the story) more than he did” and that “it seems funny that (Griffith) would make that kind of remark about someone who has done what I have done for him.”

Weighing in on the situation, sports cartoonist Gene Mack drew a cartoon of Newsom that appeared in the Sporting News. A part of the Gene Mack Cartoon Collection, it is preserved at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Library and Archives.

The cartoon depicts Newsom sitting on a suitcase at a train station looking dejected with two drops of sweat on his forehead. In his jacket pocket is a rolled-up paper saying “Suspension-Chattanooga.” The suitcase has stickers of all nine major league teams that Bobo had played for: the Senators, the Giants, the St. Louis Browns, the Philadelphia Athletics, the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Detroit Tigers, the Boston Red Sox, the Chicago Cubs, and the New York Yankees. The caption says “I’se regusted,” a slang term popularized by the Amos ‘N’ Andy Show meaning “I am disgusted.”

Engel loved the cartoon so much that he requested the original drawing for himself.

After Engel offered to change the suspension to 10 days, Newsom was reinstated on July 22. He continued his pitching excellence, winning both games of a doubleheader at home against the Little Rock Travelers on Aug. 9. After the game, his teammates carried him off the field on their shoulders.

Newsom finished the year with a 17-12 record and lead the SA with 141 strikeouts, something that he never accomplished in the majors. In addition, 155,548 fans came to Engel Stadium that year – about 14,000 more than the previous season, proving Engel right. He was “one of the few bright spots” of the team, which finished in last place in the SA with a 60-92 record.

After two more seasons in the minors, Newsom returned to the majors in 1952. The Senators called him up for a fifth stint, then traded him to the Athletics where he finished his career in 1953 with a 211-222 record and a World Series ring from his time with the 1947 Yankees.

Matthew Carter was a curatorial intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development

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Part of the SHORT STOPS series