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1930s 20 JOHN BURROUGHS /

A Gathering Force in the ABCs


The Way It was Richard W. Horner arrived at Burroughs as a seventh grader and graduated in 1932. Horner attended Washington University where he was elected student body president and earned a Rhodes Scholarship. He still follows Burroughs events with great interest—including sports. In an interview, he looked back on athletics in the early years at Burroughs. “Limited facilities and low expectations,” he recalled with a laugh. “My most vivid recollection is a man named Sam Leland. He put together the whole program. A wonderful, caring man. He wanted every student to have a chance to participate, and everybody did get a chance to play. He taught us too. A lot of us were really dumb about sports.” Yet plenty of confidence was placed in the student-athletes. Horner described being thrust into a B basketball game by Coach Sam McCutchen with an order: “Horner, get in there and show ’em how to play this game.” At first, all outdoor sports were played on a single field. Surrounding enthusiasm was palpable. “Because the school was so small and we were so crowded, there was a great deal of school spirit,” he noted, much of it generated at morning assemblies of the student body. The epitome of this spirit was Leonard Haertter, who arrived in 1926 as a math teacher, and then doubled as a baseball and soccer coach. “He loved sports as much as he did teaching math,” Horner noted.

Horner recalls the details of many of the games of his day, citing the names of players whose sons would figure in JBS sports as well at a later time. “Charlie DePew (’31) threw this long pass to Carl Lischer (’29),” he related. “Now, Lischer was fast. I remember him catching that ball and running like a deer.” Charles DePew III ’63 was a wingback on the standout 1962 team, and Charles Lischer ’60 was an All-District linebacker on the successful 1959 team. Horner—who daily took two streetcar rides from north St. Louis to Burroughs (enough time to complete his homework)—fondly recalled the teacher-coaches who mentored him during his Burroughs years, naming Haertter, McCutchen (history and basketball), and Mark Neville (English, plus soccer and later football), as well as those who confined themselves to the classroom, such as Charles Baker (Latin). “These were extraordinary teachers. They made themselves part of your life growing up.” Branch Rickey Jr. ’31 was a schoolmate. Horner related how Rickey’s father—general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals—took a group of Burroughs students to a Cardinals World Series game in St. Louis, introducing them to ballplayers in the locker room afterward. Horner described the game of speedball as an example of how Burroughs worked: “If they didn’t have something they needed, they made it up.”

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From JBS to Literary Immortality After Burroughs, the Sisler brothers followed their father into professional baseball: George Jr. played briefly in the minor leagues before a career in minor-league baseball administration, notably as president of the International League. Dick had a solid playing career with the Cardinals, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Cincinnati Reds before moving on to coaching. Dick signed initially with the Cardinals. His brother Dave Sisler ’49, a boy at the time, recalled the banner day: Dick rode a streetcar to downtown St. Louis for the signing—$500 in cash. He returned to the family home, 6343 Pershing Avenue in University City, and threw the bills in the air with glee. The shining moment of Dick’s career came in 1950 as a veteran member of the Phillies, then known for their upstart “Whiz Kids.” On the final Sunday of the season, the team faced the Brooklyn Dodgers on the latter’s home turf, Ebbets Field. After a late-season swoon, the Phillies were clinging to a one-game lead over the Dodgers in their bid for a first pennant since 1915. Sisler, despite an ailing wrist, already had three singles to his credit when he stepped to the plate against formidable Don Newcombe in the tenth inning. The lefthander slammed a three-run, opposite-field home run sending the Phillies to the World Series against the Yankees. (They lost in four games.) Despite the historic feat, it was left to a coincidental rendezvous in Cuba with Ernest Hemingway for Sisler to achieve genuine immortality. When Sisler was discharged from military service in late 1945, the Cardinals, in particular Coach Mike Gonzalez, assigned him to winter baseball in Havana. Sisler described what happened next in a 1971 interview with the Nashville Tennessean Magazine (he retired in Nashville): They weren’t used to many home runs down there, and I hit two the first day. . . . I hit three off Sal Maglie in one game. The day before that, I had hit one all the way out of the ballpark in Havana, out onto the property owned by the Tropical Cerveza brewery. The latter accomplishment was a first at Havana’s Tropical Park, and it earned Sisler a watch as a gift from the owner of the brewery. His power hitting also won him an invitation to a party at Hemingway’s villa in Havana. The two became acquainted.

32 JOHN BURROUGHS /


1930s - A Gathering Force in the ABCs  

Teammates for Life - A History of Burroughs Athletics by Jim Lemen and Jud Calkins