In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.
A player's "prank" 50 years ago rated a visit by the sheriff, but today would likely have resulted in child abuse charges, a suspension and a multi-million dollar lawsuit.
According to a report in the Aug. 8, 1964, issue of The Sporting News, detailed under the headline "Chaw Spells Trouble for Rainiers," a former Seattle (Pacific Coast League) player was in hot water in Spokane.
Prior to the Rainiers' game in Spokane on July 21, Seattle manager Edo Vanni was visited by a Spokane County sheriff's deputy seeking to serve a complaint on outfielder Pete Jernigan. Luckily for the ballplayer, he was no longer with the team, having been sent to Albuquerque (Texas League) a month earlier.
In the complaint, Mrs. Doreen Buechler charged that when Seattle had been in town on May 11, a player wearing uniform #40 had given her 13-year-old son a chaw of tobacco that made him ill. Jernigan, the Rainers' manager confirmed, had worn number 40 at that time.
The complaint alleged that young Buechler had asked the player for a baseball. Jernigan told the kid he'd give him a ball if take a chew of tobacco and hold it in his mouth for 10 minutes. The boy was later found lying in the middle of a lavatory floor at the park "violently ill."
When told of the threatened legal action, Jernigan said it was "only a prank."
I failed to find any further mention of the incident in TSN, so I don't know if Jernigan ever suffered any consequences.
At the time of the "prank" Jernigan was a 23-year-old outfield prospect of the Boston Red Sox. He'd started playing pro ball at 19 in Class D ball in 1960. By 1962 he'd made the jump to AAA Seattle.
In 1963, again with Seattle, Jernigan was suffering a significant decrease in production, both in average and power. He was also in Vanni's doghouse. He'd been disciplined early in the season for insubordination. On June 19 in Seattle he'd been called out of strikes. When he threw his bat in the air he was thumbed from the game and "threw a tantrum." That (more likely his .208 average) cost him his job with the Red Sox organization.
The L.A. Dodgers picked him up for their AA team in the Texas League. The change of scenery, and possibly change in attitude, did Jernigan good, and he ended the season batting .333 for Albuquerque.
With Albuquerque again to start 1964 he was hitting .258 when Boston reacquired him, assigning him to Seattle -- and Vanni -- once again.
Jernigan hit just .245, with no power, for Seattle in '64. The next season he was demoted to Class AA Pittsfield, but was again cast loose by the Red Sox' organization agter hitting just .212. He caught on with the San Francisco Giants and spent four seasons with their Pacific Coast League AAA club at Phoenix, hitting a cumulative .259 before leaving pro ball after the 1969 season.
Jernigan never got to the major leagues, but he still made it onto a Topps card. He's one of the four bug-sized portraits on the 1963 "Rookie Stars" card #253.
You can also find Jernigan on three Pacific Coast regional issues form 1963. He's included in the Seattle Rainiers popcorn insert cards and the related 8X10 premium pictures (shown below). He's also in the very scarce Milwaukee Sausage set of Rainiers. If you're lucky enough to find one of those, it'll set you back a short stack of $100s.