photo: George Dockins
This week’s St. Louis Cardinals Blast from the Past recollects a left handed pitcher who spent five seasons in the minor leagues before getting his chance. This southpaw pitched one strong rookie season in St. Louis, but arm troubles were his downfall.
George Woodrow Dockins was born May 5, 1917 in Clyde, Kansas, one of four children born to Joseph and Ida Moffatt Dockins. George’s education ended after eighth grade, but a love of baseball in his youth led him to his future in the sport.
Cardinals general manager Branch Rickey signed Dockins to a professional baseball contract in 1939. He began his career with the Class D Hamilton (Ontario) Red Wings of the Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League (PONY). In his debut, Dockins posted a record of 15-5 with an ERA of 2.93 in 29 games.
George spent his next two seasons with the Mobile Shippers of the Class B Southeastern League. In 1941, Dockins won 20 games and was the league’s top pitcher with a record of 20-6 and an ERA of 2.05. He tossed 233 innings that season, his career high.
In 1942, Dockins was promoted to the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings of the International League, but after a lackluster start, he was sent down to the Double-A New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern League. George went 14-5 in New Orleans, with only 20 walks in 160 innings pitched.
Dockins was added to the Cardinals winter roster in September 1942. He was expected to make the big league club to start 1943, and was pegged by the Associated Press as one of the Cardinals best rookie pitching bets for 1943. Instead, George pitched for the Cardinals new Double-A affiliate, the Columbus Red Birds, having been optioned there subject to 24 hour recall. That call to the big leagues did not come that season. He won 16 games in Columbus and was named to the league’s All Star team.
In 1944, Dockins was placed on the voluntary retired list with a sore left elbow. The next season, his elbow remained sore but the Cardinals took a chance and put him on the big league roster, anyway. After a couple of moderately successful outings, he left the team for two weeks for treatment of his elbow, returning at the end of May.
Dockins pitched in relief throughout June and most of July. A 6 2/3 inning relief outing on June 23 earned George his second win of the season. Following six shutout relief innings against the Dodgers on July 22, St. Louis manager Billy Southworth decided to try Dockins as a starter. In his first start on July 29, he pitched a complete game for a 6-4 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Two more complete game victories followed against the Pirates and the New York Giants on August 3 and August 8. The outing on August 8 was a six-hit shutout.
On September 1, Dockins picked up his fourth complete game win against the Cubs in Sportsman’s Park. He won his eighth game of the season against the Boston Braves on September 7, yielding only three hits and one walk.
The Cardinals ended the 1945 season in second place, three games back of the Cubs. George posted a record of 8-6 with a 3.21 ERA in 31 games, 12 as a starter.
In April 1946, Branch Rickey, then with the Brooklyn Dodgers, picked up the pitcher he originally signed for the Cardinals on waivers for $7,500. Rickey had been impressed with George’s effectiveness against his Dodgers and against the Cubs. Unfortunately, Dockins’ arm troubles returned, and he was optioned to the Fort Worth Cats, the Dodgers Double-A affiliate, on May 1 without having thrown a pitch for Brooklyn. He left for arm treatment after his second start and did not return to Fort Worth until mid-July. Once he returned, however, he pitched well, finishing the season with a 12-6 record and a 2.16 ERA.
The sore arm returned to start the 1947 and he once again was put on the voluntary retired list. George was well enough by June to apply for reinstatement. His Dodgers debut on June 29 did not go well, as Dockins gave up consecutive home runs in the eighth inning in a 9-5 loss to the New York Giants. George made only three more appearances as a mop-up man, with his final major league appearance during an 11-3 loss to the Cardinals on August 19.
Dockins spent the 1948 and 1949 seasons back in Fort Worth. Realizing he was not likely to make a major league team again with his arm issues, George retired from baseball in March 1950 at the age of 32.
Dockins returned to his hometown of Clyde, Kansas, working in several occupations before retiring from Hutchinson Manufacturing Company in 1980. He was named to the Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame in 1959. George passed away on January 22, 1997 at the age of 79. He was survived by his wife Lucy, his son Kenneth, and two grandchildren.
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