Thursday, January 2, 2014

Cameron Mitchell's one-game pro career

Cameron Mitchell as Uncle Buck Cannon on
The High Chaparral, 1967-71.
While he attained fame and fortune as an actor on stage, screen and television, Cameron Mitchell always believed he could have made a career in professional baseball.

He did well enough in high school in the mid-1930s that he attracted the attention of major league scouts. One biographer said that Mitchell kept an unsigned minor league contract from the Detroit Tigers’ organization throughout his life.

In Hollywood during the 1940s he was active in charity benefit games and other amateur outings.

On Aug. 18, 1947, Mitchell pitched for the Hollywood Stars against the Los Angeles Angels in an exhibition game to benefit the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund. He pitched four innings of shutout ball against the Pacific Coast League leaders. Hollywood won 4-3.

(Another feature of the benefit game was a celebrity home run hitting contest won by Burt Lancaster; Jack Dempsey, Henry Fonda and Leo Durocher also participated.)

Shortly thereafter, Mitchell signed an Organized Baseball contract with the Las Vegas Wranglers of the Class C Sunset League.

On August 31, in the second game of a Sunday doubleheader at Ontario (Calif.), Mitchell made his professional debut. It proved to be his only game in pro ball.

He was staked to a five-run lead when he took the mound in the bottom of the first inning. What was described as his “slow side-arm curves” proved to be nothing more than batting practice for the Orioles.

Lasting only 2/3 of an inning, he gave up 11 runs on six hits and three walks (striking out one) and was tabbed with the loss in an 18-10 defeat.

The actor had been slated to make another start, in Reno, but after his knockout in Ontario, the Wranglers’ general manager said, “We have decided against it.”

Mitchell claimed that he once singled off Satchell Paige . . . then was picked off first base. He said the encounter came in 1935, when he would have been about 17 years old.

"That man had the fastest ball I've ever seen," Mitchell was quoted. "He'd wind up, lazy like, and that ball just smoked toward the plate -- or first base."

Mitchell is best remembered today for his role as Uncle Buck Cannon on the popular Western television series, The High Chaparral, which aired 1967-71. You can find the rest of his Hollywood story here: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0593192/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1 .

I spent a good deal of time searching internet photo sites in vain looking for a picture of Mitchell in a baseball uniform. Since he was already an accomplished Hollywood actor in 1947, you'd think there has to exist somewhere a photo of him with the Las Vegas team.

Finally, I don't know what the connection might be, but it doesn't seem like it is coincidental that one of the couples on the current TV comedy Modern Family has the first names of Cameron (Tucker) and Mitchell (Pritchett).


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