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Dickie Warren, Indians were baseball champs in 1952

Douglas Fritz • Jun 24, 2020 at 4:00 PM

KINGSPORT — Before any of his 922 victories as a basketball coach, Sullivan Central legend Dickie Warren had a shining moment on the baseball diamond — at a different school.

And the 1952 state baseball championship for Dobyns-Bennett was earned in the city of the Indians’ biggest rival.

Despite numerous terrific basketball teams at Central and two trips to the state semifinals, Warren wasn’t able to claim another gold ball. When asked recently about the baseball state championship, he said it was more significant than he realized at the time.

“I was probably too young to know how precious that thing was,” Warren said.

SIXTY-EIGHT YEARS AGO

D-B earned a spot in the final four along with Memphis Central, Science Hill and DuPont, a now-

defunct school that was located in Hermitage.

The tournament was played at Johnson City’s Cardinal Park, which was built in 1950 at a cost of $29,000 (equivalent to over $300,000 in today’s money).

D-B standout Buddy Archer recalls being impressed by the stadium.

“It was fairly new,” Archer said. “I don’t think we had played there before. Science Hill played their home games at the Veterans Administration park.”

The Indians faced DuPont in the first semifinal. Buck Collette tossed a no-hitter, striking out 11 and walking one in a nearly perfect performance.

Archer believes Collette should have had a perfect game.

“He threw a pitch that was a strike and it was a called a ball,” Archer said. “That put a man on first base.”

The Indians won 1-0 and expected to meet Science Hill for the title. D-B had lost just one game all season, and it came at the Hilltoppers’ hands — a 6-3 decision in early May. But Memphis Central eliminated Science Hill 2-1 in their semifinal matchup.

WAITING IN THE WINGS

In the finals, the Tribe jumped ahead with a first-inning run, but Central answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning.

That’s the way the game stayed until the top of the sixth.

At that point, Warren didn’t figure to be a part of the story. Baseball was simply something he did in the spring.

“I wasn’t the best player,” he said with a laugh. “I just had a uniform. I played four sports, and I was the weakest at baseball.”

But there was one thing the junior could do well in baseball. The future East Tennessee State football player could pick them up and put them down.

And when catcher Bill Dickson drew a leadoff walk in the sixth inning, Warren was summoned as a pinch runner.

“I had a little speed,” he said.

J.R. Maddux cracked a single to right-center field and Warren headed for second. When the throw from the outfield skipped away, Warren raced to third base and Maddux moved to second.

After a strikeout, Oogie Noble dropped down a bunt. Warren raced home to tie the game.

“I remember it being exciting,” Warren said.

A HERO EMERGES

While Warren had his minutes of fame running the bases, a teammate was getting ready to etch his name into D-B history.

With the score tied at 1, Collette walked to the plate. He didn’t make great contact but beat out an infield hit. That scored Maddux for a 2-1 Indians lead.

Collette came to the mound in the bottom of the sixth with two runners on base. He induced Ken Menkel to hit a soft grounder back to the box and threw to first to end the threat.

Collette set the Warriors down in the seventh to finish off the save. Merv Salley was credited with the win.

“We had a pretty good hitting team,” Archer noted. “And a pretty good defensive team. I thought we had a good chance.”

Skip Slaughter batted .410 for the season and Archer hit .386. J.R. Maddux batted .345 with five homers and 29 RBIs. Collette hit .324.

It was the first state baseball title for D-B, which repeated the feat in 1957. But the Indians haven’t been able to add to their trophy case in 63 seasons.

“It’s hard to believe with the kind of size, school and athletes they’ve had,” Warren said. “We’ve talked about it often.

“I know they had opportunities, but it just didn’t work out.”

GUY B. CRAWFORD

D-B’s baseball coach also coached Warren in basketball.

“I just know he was tough and demanding,” Warren said. “You did things right or you didn’t play. He was a great coach. He made you a better player.”

Warren faced off against Crawford as a basketball coach in 1960.

“It was his last game at D-B,” Warren said. “I will never forget what he told me. He said, ‘If I had to lose, I’m glad it was you that beat me.’ ”

Crawford died a little over a year later under mysterious circumstances. His body and car were found submerged in Cherokee Lake near Morristown. The pathologist said there was no evidence to suggest drowning. The Kingsport News reported that Crawford’s keys were found in the pocket of his trousers instead of the Volkswagen’s ignition. The car was in reverse gear and the hand brake was set, and the vehicle was facing toward the bank rather than into the water.

“There was something unusual about it,” Warren said. “We still think someone killed him. We heard he had won an awful lot of money at a poker game.”

AFTER THE TITLE

D-B suffered a second loss in 1952.

As Tennessee champions, the Indians were invited to play in the Southeastern High School tournament in Gadsden, Alabama. It was held for state champions from Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia and Florida.

In the quarterfinals, Collette stretched his streak of no-hit innings to 13 and his scoreless run to 33 frames. In the fourth inning, however, Virginia’s Mount Vernon put together three hits with a balk and error to take a 3-0 lead.

“It was a tough loss,” Warren said.

D-B responded with two runs in the bottom of the inning, but neither team dented the scoreboard again.

Collette allowed only one earned run in his last 67 innings of the 1952 season.

Augusta, Georgia’s Richmond Academy won the tournament title 8-1 over Mount Vernon.

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