Grave Story: Bill Andrus (1907-1982)

Here lies Bill Andrus, who had two brief stays in the major leagues for two different teams, six years apart. He never managed to get a hit in either go-around. Andrus played for the Washington Senators (1931) and Philadelphia Phillies (1937).

Bill Andrus was born in Beaumont, Texas, on July 25, 1907. His father, Claude Andrus, played baseball in Texas from 1907-1916, and Baseball Reference notes that his brother and cousin also played ball. Andrus was discovered by Frank Kitchens, a long-time minor-leaguer in Texas who by 1926 was a player-manager for the Tyler Trojans. Eighteen-year-old Willie Andrus could play anywhere in the infield and was said to be a fair pitcher as well. He batted .275 with 9 homers in ‘26, and his contract was sold to the Cleveland Indians for $1,000. A brief, unsuccessful try with the Class-B Decatur Commodores of the Three-I League showed Andrus needed more development, but he showed good promise. The following season, in 1927, he joined Class-D Moline and clubbed 14 home runs, to go with a .340 batting average.

Andrus moved up to the Class-B ranks, and this time around, he was more than up to the challenge. He topped .300 in each of the next three seasons, playing for the Terre Haute Tots in 1928 and 1929 and the Selma Cloverleafs in 1930. He slugged 12 homers for the Tots in 1929 and batted a career-best .324 for Selma in ’30. He was one of the hitting stats of the Class B championship series between Selma and the Greenville Spinners. Andrus, playing second base for the Leafs, hit a 2-run homer and drove in 4 runs in a 10-6 Game One win, and he doubled in 2 runs in a 4-0 shutout in Game Five, which clinched the Series for Selma and took only an hour and 14 minutes to play.

The Chattanooga Lookouts acquired Andrus in April 1931. “Andrus is a smart and aggressive ball player, fleet of foot and a dangerous hitter at all times,” the newspapers said, adding that he was a bit cocky as well. Cocky or not, Andrus became one of the Lookouts’ top hitters. He credited his manager, Bert Neihoff, a former Phillies second baseman, with teaching him the most about baseball. He hit .323 in 109 games and was brought to the majors by the Senators that September.

Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 11, 1937.

Andrus’s first MLB game was memorable for all the wrong reasons. As a late-inning defensive replacement for third baseman Jackie Hayes, Andrus fumbled a bases-loaded bunt by the Tigers’ Billy Rogell, allowing the go-ahead run to score in the top of the 13th inning. He also went 0-for-2 at the plate. Andrus played in two other games for the Senators. He fanned in a pinch-hit at-bat on September 25 and went 0-for-4 with an RBI against Boston on September 27.

Andrus was returned to Chattanooga at the end of the season. While his fielding lacked polish, it was believed that another year in the minor leagues would get him ready for the big leagues. It actually took five seasons before he got another chance.

Andrus hit .321 for the Lookouts in 1932 with 257 total bases, hitting 26 doubles, 14 triples and 8 homers. He played for three teams in 1933 and hit a combined .281. He had a career-high 19 home runs for Richmond in 1934, including three in one game on August 19 against Greensboro. He then spent two years as a member of the Little Rock Travelers and performed solidly there as well. At some point during his moving around the minors, he was dropped by Washington. By the end of 1936, he was in his late 20s and was no longer the prospect he once was. He was released by Little Rock after an argument with management over salary, and the Phillies decided to take a chance on him, signing him to a contract.

“I’ll never play minor league ball again,” Andrus said. “If I don’t make good in Philadelphia, I’ll be back in the beer business [his offseason job].”

The 1937 Phillies were a 7th-place team. They didn’t have much in their favor, but they had a standout third baseman with Pinky Whitney, so Andrus’ normal infield spot was taken. Since he could play essentially every position on the field besides catcher, the idea was to make him a “Handy Andy” utility man, playing wherever he was needed. He made a strong case for himself in a mid-April exhibition game against the Philadelphia Athletics. The A’s won 4-2 to take the city bragging rights, but Andrus drove in both Phillie runs with a 1st inning single. He played first base that day due to an injury to Gene Corbett.

Bill Andrus trots home after hitting a home run for Little Rock. Source: The Atlanta Constitution, May 22, 1936.

The pre-season utility-man plan for Andrus never panned out when the season started. He played in only 3 games in early May for the Phillies. He struck out twice in two pinch-hit at-bats and played a couple innings at third base in another game. The team released him on May 17, and he was re-signed by Chattanooga on May 22. Despite his threat to retire in favor of the beer business, he finished off the season with the Lookouts and hit .269. He did call it quits after the ’37 season was done.

Andrus played in a total of 6 MLB games, with 9 at-bats. He struck out 3 times and had 1 RBI. In his 12 seasons in the minor leagues, he had a .305 lifetime batting average and .446 slugging percentage. He had 1,474 hits, with 87 home runs.

Andrus owned an 80-acre farm in near Lafayette, Ga., and kept himself in playing shape by tending to his agricultural duties. He worked for the Seminole Bottling Co. in Chattanooga before enlisting in the Army on August 29, 1942. He served until the end of World War II, when he re-enlisted until October 31, 1962. He saw action in the Korean War during that time.

Bill Andrus died on March 12, 1982, at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. He was 74 years old. He is buried in the Chattanooga National Cemetery.

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