Grave Story: Alvin Tate (1918-1993)

Here lies Alvin Tate, an Army vet who appeared in two games for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1946. The “Big Bone” nickname may have something to do with the fact that Tate was listed at 6’0” and 180 pounds in his playing days. As for the other nickname, I can’t find a reference to its origin in this case, but it has a racist history in baseball among other ballplayers, so the less said about it the better.

Walter Alvin Tate was born in Coleman, Okla., on July 1, 1918. He entered professional baseball in August 1939, when he signed with the Salt Lake Bees, then of the Pioneer League. He had been pitching semi-pro ball for teams around Grand Junction, Colo. before that, and apparently pitched for Helper in the semi-pro Utah Industrial League prior to that. He went 4-6 with a 3.93 ERA for the Bees for the remainder of the season and then 13-10 for his first full season in 1940. He joined the Bees as a hard fastball thrower, according to a 1941 article in the Salt Lake Telegram.

“This was swell for a few innings, but it lacked the necessary variety to make him a big league prospect and he has been trying since to develop a curve and a change of pace,” the paper reported.

Source: Salt Lake Tribune, August 5, 1939

Tate missed the next four years to serve in the Army during World War II. He served as a paratrooper and broke his arm during the War, but it evidently healed just fine. He pitched in a game at Fort Benning in Georgia, and Tate caught the eye of scouts from the Yankees and Cubs, even though his time in pro ball was limited to the low minors. In the end, Pirates scout and former pitcher Carlton Molesworth snagged Tate, and the pitcher made it to Spring Training with the Bucs, who valued his stuff over his lack of experience.

Tate began the 1946 season in Birmingham of the Southern Association, and he was hammered in 7 games, including 3 starts. He gave up 16 runs in 20 innings for a 7.20 ERA and 0-3 record and was sent to Selma Cloverleafs of the Southeastern League. Tate turned things around with a 3.30 ERA over 15 games. The Pirates brought him to the majors and tried him out in two late-season contests. He allowed 2 runs in an inning of work against Cincinnati on September 27 and then started against the Reds two days later. He allowed 5 hits and 3 runs over 8 innings, striking out 2 while walking 6 for a complete-game, 3-2 loss. That performance left him with an MLB 0-1 record and a 5.00 ERA in 9 innings, with 2 strikeouts and 7 walks. He did get a base hit in three career at-bats for a .333 lifetime batting average.

The Pirates sent Tate to Albany in 1947, where he had a respectable 12-10 record and 3.61 ERA. His contract was sold to Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League at the end of the season. He was officially signed by the Sacramento Solons in February 1948. He threw 12 innings over 3 games and had a 4.50 ERA. In late April or early May, he was sent to the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association, but he never reported. Tate was placed on the suspended list and promptly joined the Salt Lake Pinneys of the Utah Industrial League, which was where he got his start in baseball.

An article from the Salt Lake Telegram in late May 31 stated that the Pirates were unsure to keep Tate as a pitcher or turn him into an outfielder (He was a .288 hitter in the minors and hit 4 home runs.) He was disgusted by the indecision and quit pro ball altogether. The Pinneys used him as a pitcher and an outfielder and won the first half league championship with him. He signed with a team in Helper of the same league for the second half, and apparently the Pinneys got revenge by knocking their old teammate out of the box on occasion.

Tate pitched for a UIL team in American Fork from 1949 through 1957. I’ve seen them called the Cavemen, the Steelers and the Forkers. I think “Forker” was an unofficial nickname, but that would make for a fantastic logo these days. Tate was feared for his hitting and pitching prowess and became one of the Industrial League’s all-time greats. When his wife became seriously ill, the Steelers hosted a benefit game to help pay for her medical expenses.

Baseball Reference states that Tate worked for a Chevron refinery for 33 years and loved to fish and golf in his leisure time. Alvin Tate died on May 8, 1993 in Bountiful, Utah after a lengthy illness. He was 74 years old. He is buried in Lakeview Memorial Estates in Bountiful.

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