Grave Story: Earl Naylor (1919-1990)

Here lies Earl Naylor, a rare two-way player during the 1940s. He started out as an outfielder, and a strong throwing arm led to a brief pitching experiment. Naylor played for the Philadelphia Phillies (1942-43) and Brooklyn Dodgers (1946).

Earl Naylor was born on May 19, 1919 in Kansas City, Mo. He had an early start to his professional career, joining the Fayetteville Angels of the Arkansas-Missouri League in 1937 when he was 18. He spent two seasons in Fayetteville, one in Greenville, Miss. and a little over two in Memphis, through 1941. He hit over .300 every stop of the way, occasionally displaying some power as well. He clubbed 27 home runs in 1939, with 26 for the Greenville Buckshots and one in his 10-game stay with the Memphis Chickasaws. He hit a dozen or more triples in three seasons, and he was a skilled outfielder with a strong arm, averaging more than 10 outfield assists a year.

Naylor hit .305 for the Chicks in 1941, with 37 doubles, 15 triples and 11 homers. One of those homers cleared the scoreboard in Memphis’ Russwood Park, which was 410 feet away from home plate in left-center. It was the first time a home run had ever cleared the 40-foot-tall scoreboard. Philadelphia signed him at the end of the 1941 season, and new Phillies manager Hans Lobert was happy to have him.

“I was told Naylor can really lay into the ball,” he told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “And those reports that he is slow are all wrong.”

The 1942 Phillies were a major-league team in name only. The team finished 42-109, which put them in the National League cellar, 62-1/2 games behind the pennant-winning Cardinals and almost 20 games behind the seventh-place Dodgers. The roster was so thin that Chuck Klein, a Phillies coach, came out of retirement for 14 pinch hit at-bats and shortstop Bobby Bragan was converted to a catcher.

Naylor fell short of winning the starting right fielder job in Spring Training, but his strong throwing arm gave coach Bill Killefer the idea of putting him on the pitcher’s mound to see what could happen. He showed some promise in a Grapefruit League start against the Washington Senators and Bobo Newsome and showed better control than some of the regular pitchers. It’s not like they had a ton of better options.

Source: Democrat and Chronicle, April 16, 1947.

“The Phillies lack pretty much everything a ball club needs to win in the majors,” assessed Harry Keck, sports editor of the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph.

Naylor made his pitching debut on April 15 against the Boston Braves and threw 4 scoreless innings, walking 3 and striking out 1. On April 28, Lobert started him against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he actually turned in a pretty credible performance. He gave up 6 hits and 10 runs in 5 innings, but much of the damage was due to poor fielding by his teammates.

“For a rookie making his first pitching start and only his second appearance on the mound in the majors, Naylor did a whale of a chucking job, throwing the ball up to the plate like a veteran and much like Walters, with little in the way of a windup,” marveled Keck, comparing him to the Reds’ infielder-turned-pitcher Bucky Walters.

Naylor didn’t embarrass himself on the mound, but he was by no means a good pitcher. He got his ERA as low as 4.34 after a 3-1 complete game loss to the Cubs on June 24, but he finished the year with an 0-5 record and 6.12 ERA in 20 games (4 starts), with 68 hits and 29 walks in 60-1/3 innings.

“I guess I wasn’t cut out for a pitcher,” Naylor said later in his career. He said the toughest player he faced was Stan Musial, but he was hardly alone in that regard. “I never found a way to pitch to Stan Musial. If I pitched him outside, he hit to left. If I pitched him inside, he hit to right. I just couldn’t get him out,” he said.

Lobert abandoned the pitching experiment entirely at the end of July, giving Naylor a chance to play everyday in center field instead. He didn’t do particularly well their either, with a .196 batting average and none of the power that he displayed in the minors.

Naylor stayed an outfielder in 1943, but his batting average dropped to .175. He did hit 3 home runs and drove in 14 in 33 games. The Phillies traded him and outfielder Danny Litwhiler to the St. Louis Cardinals on June 2 in exchange for Buster Adams, Coacker Triplett and Dain Clay. Naylor was then shipped to the Cardinals’ farm team in Rochester, where he would spend the rest of 1943 and all of 1944. His batting average rose to respectable heights, hitting .267 during his stay with the Redbirds.

Naylor was drafted into the U.S. Navy on November 22, 1944, and he served until March 14, 1946. While with the Coast Guard in Bainbridge, Md., Naylor was part of a baseball team with Musial, Eddie Miksis, Jake Wade and Bobby Coombs, to name just a few of the MLBers on the team.

After his discharge, Naylor was claimed by the Brooklyn Dodgers. He appeared in just 3 games with the team in early 1946, going 0-for-2 with a run scored before being optioned to the minors. That ended Naylor’s MLB career with 112 games over parts of 3 seasons. He slashed .186/.248/.493, with 54 hits and 28 RBIs. He hit 6 doubles, 1 triple and 3 home runs while drawing 23 walks against 35 strikeouts.

Naylor would spend another decade in the minor leagues. He played for the Montreal Royals in 1946 and 1947, where he was teammates with Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella as they were beginning their major-league careers. He then spent 1948 through 1952 with the St. Paul Saints of the American Association. His hitting was consistently in the high .200s, with nearly identical seasons in 1949 and ’50 when he batted .283 with 13 homers each season. He transitioned to a player-coach in 1951, cutting his playing time considerably. His final years in the minors came as a player-manager for Union City of the Kitty League and Asheville of the Tri-State League from 1953 through 1955, both of which were part of the Dodgers organization. The 1954 Union City Dodgers went 76-40 on the season and won the League’s championship.

In his 12-year minor-league career, Naylor hit .293 with 1536 hits and 133 home runs. He was named the manager of the Dodgers’ farm team in Wichita Falls, Texas, for 1956, but Naylor instead retired from baseball and became a fireman for the St. Paul fire department. The Sporting News stated that he had hoped to be named the manager of the Saints and retired when he was passed over for the job.

Naylor remained a fireman until his retirement in 1979. He also took part in Saints’ old-timers games and instructed at baseball youth camps. Along the way, he surely found time to squeeze in a few rounds of golf, as he was a good golfer who once won a tournament against other baseball players.

Earl Naylor died of cancer on January 16, 1990 in a hospital near his winter home at Winter Haven, Fla. He was 70 years old and is buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis, Minn.

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