- No tailgating allowed at Super Bowl XLVIII
- Pentagon to transport African troops to Central African Republic
- Chinese man fed up with his girlfriend’s shopping jumps to his death
- Ukraine leader to talk with protesters; Washington urges caution
- Pope Francis: A nun saved my life
- Israeli P.M. Netanyahu backs out of Mandela funeral
- Elian Gonzalez makes first trip outside Cuba since custody battle
- U.S., British intelligence agents enter online sci-fi world to spy on gamers
- Sarah Palin to host the outdoors show ‘Amazing America’
- CIA admits $3 billion intelligence operation was a flop
LOVERRO: Criminal record belongs to Eagles
Signing ex-cons is not new for the Philadelphia Eagles, who set the sports world on fire last week by giving a contract to convicted dogfighter Michael Vick.
The franchise made the same move nearly 75 years ago with Alabama Pitts - a signing that got the attention of the entire country during the infancy of the National Football League.
Edwin Pitts grew up a tough kid in Opelika, Ala., joining the Navy at 15 after the deaths of his father and stepfather. He got out when he was 19 and landed in New York with no money or prospects amid the Depression.
Pitts and an accomplice, armed with a gun, robbed a grocery store of a reported $76.25. They were caught, and Pitts was sentenced to Sing Sing Prison for a term “not less than eight years and no more than 15 years.”
Pitts found his calling in prison - athletics. The prison ran an active athletics program, and Pitts was a standout in football, basketball, baseball and track. His skills made him a legend on the prison circuit.
Johnny Evers - a member of the Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance Cubs infield and the general manager of the International League’s Albany Senators - signed Pitts to a $200-a-month contract in May 1935, when he was a month from parole.
Because times were tough for spectator events - pole sitting and other gimmicks were used to get attention - the signing of Pitts was considered a publicity stunt, particularly because the Senators were in last place and not drawing well.
Charles H. Knapp, president of the International League, said the signing was not in “the best interests of the game” and refused to approve the contract. But Pitts by then was a national folk hero. The New York Times wrote that the decision to keep Pitts out of baseball was “unfortunate in every way.”
As with the Vick case, people all over the country debated the issue. A store merchant in Otisville, N.Y., suffered a heart attack in an argument about Pitts. Filmmaker Hal Roach offered him a job. Pitts eventually even appeared on Kate Smith’s radio show.
Pitts had one last hope for his baseball career: an appeal to commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a hard case who seemed unlikely to rule in the convict’s favor. But Landis surprised many by ruling that Pitts could play, on one condition - he must be used only in games that mattered. Landis didn’t want Albany to use Pitt only as a publicity gimmick for exhibition games.
Nearly 8,000 fans watched Pitts make his debut June 23, 1935, against Jersey City. He was an immediate success, going 2-for-5, but he couldn’t stay healthy. A shoulder bruise, a sprained finger and a spike injury that led to blood poisoning all slowed him down.
Pitts wound up batting just .233 in 43 games and was a terrible outfielder. None of that got in the way of his status as a folk hero and media darling.
In Philadelphia, Bert Bell needed a media darling. His Eagles were struggling at the gate, and Bell offered Pitts a short-term contract for a then-remarkable amount of money - $1,500.
Pitts would be worth that in publicity at a time when pro football still was relegated to small newspaper articles and competing with many other sports for attention. That amount also was necessary to outbid the other teams seeking his services, Pittsburgh and Brooklyn.
The Eagles already had been in training camp for three weeks when Pitts arrived in Philadelphia on Sept. 10. Pitts didn’t disappoint reporters, telling them that his weak batting average and fielding problems were in part due to night games, which had just started that season.
About the Author
- LOVERRO: Squeaky clean Doug Fister latest piece in Nats' personality shift
- LOVERRO: RG3 mentor still believes QB will be elite
- LOVERRO: Despite Bradley Beal injury, signs of hope for Wizards
- LOVERRO: Time for RG3, Mike Shanahan to stand together
- LOVERRO: The NFL games no one wanted to play
Latest Blog Entries
By Brahma Chellaney
Beijing's creeping aggression signals a challenge to U.S. presence in the Asian Pacific
- CURL: Obama tells a whopper on IRS scandal
- WOLF: The president's other Obamacare lies
- Tech companies call for an end to NSA online snooping
- Obama lied about Syrian chemical attack, 'cherry-picked' intelligence: report
- Ted Cruz sees legal landmines ahead for Obamacare
- Lawmakers see 'false narrative' of Obama as a terrorist fighter
- Chinese man fed up with his girlfriend's shopping jumps to his death
- MSNBC host: Obamacare a 'wealthy white men' racist word
- Satanists petition for statue at Oklahoma Statehouse
- MILLER: Brady Campaign says Colorado recalls due to NRA, not grassroots opposition to gun control
Independent voices from the The Washington Times Communities
Brazen, leading-edge, “call it like it is” columns and reporting from Ohio native, radio host and writer, Sara Marie Brenner.
Let’s talk about everything, especially the absurdity of it all
Find the latest news and happening that effect those in the Washington D.C., Northern Virginia and Maryland Metro region.
Never apologetic. Never afraid. Lieutenant Colonel Allen B. West joins Communities to bring tales from the biggest Foxhole of them all, the one inside the Beltway.
White House pets gone wild!
Let it snow