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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Alabama Pitts
Alabama Pitts in a baseball uniform holding two cub team mascots.
Pitts in 1935
Born
Edwin Collins Pitts, Jr.

(1909-11-22)November 22, 1909
DiedJune 7, 1941(1941-06-07) (aged 31)
Other namesAlabama Pitts
Conviction(s)Armed robbery (1930)
Criminal penaltyEight to sixteen years (over five years served)

Baseball career
Outfielder
Minor League debut
June 23, 1935, for the Albany Senators
Last Minor League appearance
1940, for the Hickory Rebels
Minor Leagues statistics
At bats589
Hits156
Batting average.265
Defensive chances320
Putouts294
Fielding percentage.941
Teams
International League

New York-Pennsylvania League

Carolina League

Piedmont League

Tar Heel League


Football career
No. 50
Position:Halfback
Personal information
Height:5 ft 10 in (1.78 m)
Weight:185 lb (84 kg)
Career history
Career NFL statistics
Receptions:2
Receiving yards:21
Touchdowns:0
Player stats at NFL.com
Player stats at PFR

Edwin Collins "Alabama" Pitts Jr. (November 22, 1909 – June 7, 1941) was an American convicted felon who garnered media attention in his attempt to play professional baseball after his release from Sing Sing prison. After being denied the ability to play for the Albany Senators of the International League in 1935 by the president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, he appealed to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who granted his request. Pitts went on to play for five years as a baseball player and two years as a football player, including one as a member of the National Football League (NFL)'s Philadelphia Eagles.

Early years

Pitts was born in Opelika, Alabama, to Edwin Pitts Sr., a member of the cavalry, and Erma Mills Pitts on November 22, 1909.[1][note 1] Edwin Sr. died five months after his son's birth.[1] Pitts' mother gave him the nickname "Alabama" to distinguish him from his father, who was born in Georgia.[1] She was remarried to Robert E. Rudd, and the couple had a daughter, Pitts' half-sister, together.[1] They divorced thereafter, and Pitts and his mother moved to Peoria, Illinois, where Erma became a telephone operator.[1] Pitts attended Crossman School, a high school in New Orleans, Louisiana,[5] for one year,[1] and received a gold medal for high jump in 1924.[5] The next year, he enlisted in the United States Navy at fifteen years old,[6] and was stationed in China.[5] He served for three years before he received an honorable discharge.[6] After his military career, he wound up living in New York City, where he married in 1928.[7] His mother left Illinois to be with her son in New York, and a judge later cited her unpredictable tendencies as a potential influencer on Pitts' problematic life decisions.[8]

Sing Sing

At the age of 19,[5] Pitts robbed a New York City grocery store with a gun and stole $76.25 (equivalent to $1,135 in 2019).[6][note 2] He and his accomplice, James Murphy, were arrested as they tried to get away in a taxicab.[8] Pitts' mother claimed the gun was planted on him by Murphy.[5] Pitts was implicated in five previous robberies, and for his crimes was sentenced in 1930 to eight to sixteen years in the Sing Sing prison in Ossining, New York.[7][3]

At Sing Sing, Lewis Lawes began reforming the prison when he became warden in 1919.[8] This reformation brought about the addition of sports teams to the correctional facility.[8] Pitts played fullback for a football team in the prison system, the Black Sheep, during his sentence.[9][5] The team was coached by John Law,[9] who was previously the head football coach for Manhattan College.[10] The United Press wrote in November 1931, that "Alabama is a triple-threat man in more ways than one. He can punt, drop-kick, ram the line, pass, run a broken field, play the harmonica, wiggle his ears, play center field on the prison baseball team and is to be starred in the annual prison show next month."[11] A character in the 1933 film The Billion Dollar Scandal was based on Pitts.[12] In 1934, the Black Sheep went 10–2 against police departments and independent clubs.[5] He also played basketball and baseball, in which he had a .500 batting average in 21 career games with eight home runs.[9] He was noted by the Los Angeles Times in late 1934 as "the most prominent jail-bird athlete in America."[9] He went through a tryout with two professional football teams during his sentence.[9] On May 22, 1935, Pitts signed a contract with the Albany Senators of the International League to play baseball for $200 a month (equivalent to $3,730 in 2019 a month).[9] Lawes had Pitts' sentence end three years early,[9] and he was released in June 1935[9] after serving over five years.[3]

Career

After his release from prison on June 6, 1935, Pitts' signing with the Albany Senators generated controversy through the media.[13] W. G. Bramham, the president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, and Charles H. Knapp, the president of the International League, were against the idea of a former convict playing professional baseball.[14] Knapp refused to approve Pitts' contract and Bramham supported the decision.[14] An executive committee of the National Association held a hearing on June 11, 1935, to review Bramham's actions.[15] The committee supported Bramham, and Pitts announced that he would appeal to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.[15] On June 17, Landis declared that Pitts could play professional baseball due to the "complete reformation in Pitts' character" since the robberies.[16] Pitts made his professional athletics debut on June 23, 1935.[17] For the 1935 season, Pitts had a batting average of .233 in 116 at bats.[4] Because of injuries, he only played in 43 games for the Senators in 1935.[4]

Pitts signed a one-year contract worth $500 per game (equivalent to $9,324 in 2019 per game)[18] on September 10, 1935,[19] with the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL to play halfback and defensive back. Signed primarily for publicity reasons, he played in three games for the Eagles, recording two receptions for 21 yards.[20] After the fourth game of the season, Pitts was released.[4] He played in a game for the New Rochelle Bulldogs on October 27, 1935.[21]

He played basketball in 1936 for a traveling team called the "Alabama Pitts All-Stars."[4] After re-signing with the Senators, he was demoted to the York White Roses of the New York-Pennsylvania League in 1936.[4] The White Roses were forced to move to Trenton, New Jersey, due to flooding, where they became the Trenton Senators on July 2.[4][22] Pitts finished the season with a .224 batting average in 156 at bats.[4] His last game as a Senator was on July 6.[4] Pitts signed with the Charlotte Hornets of the "outlaw" Carolina League a few days later.[4] Later in 1936, he played two more football games for the New Rochelle Bulldogs of the newly-formed American Association on November 29 and December 16,[23][24] and also played for the Stapleton Buffaloes.[4]

Pitts signed with the Winston-Salem Twins of the Piedmont League in 1937.[4] During his time with the team, he had a batting average of .278 in 23 games.[4] He was released by the Twins in June 1937.[4] He signed with the Gastonia Spinners of the Carolina League, but was released later the same month.[4] The Valdese Textiles of the Carolina League picked him up, and he had a batting average of .333 with the team.[4]

In between the 1937 and 1938 seasons, he worked at Pilot Mill, a hosiery mill near Valdese, North Carolina.[4] He spent the 1938 season with the Textiles and Lenoir Finishers, with a batting average of .268.[4] He returned to Valdese to work after the 1938 season.[4] In 1939, he was hired as the baseball coach at Valdese High School.[4] In 1940 he signed with the Hickory Rebels of the Tar Heel League, and he had a season batting average of .303.[4]

Pitts divorced his first wife on April 14, 1937.[25] He married his second wife on December 13, 1937, in Valdese,[26] and they had a daughter together in January 1939.[4]

Lawes sold Pitts' story to Warner Brothers by August 1935,[27] and the film Over the Wall was released in April 1938 inspired by his life.[28][29][30]

Death

On June 7, 1941, Pitts was stabbed to death in a tavern in Valdese, North Carolina, when he tried to cut in to dance with a woman that another man was dancing with.[3][31][note 3] His funeral service was attended by approximately 5,000 people the next day in Valdese.[32] A 24-year-old man was convicted of manslaughter in the death of Pitts, and sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison on December 9, 1941.[33] The man was released from prison on April 13, 1944.[34]

Notes

  1. ^ Outlaw Ballplayers and Pro-Football-Reference.com list his date of birth as November 22, 1909.[1][2] The Associated Press listed his age at death as 30 years old.[3] The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) lists his date of birth as March 1, 1910.[4]
  2. ^ Outlaw Ballplayers stated the stolen amount as $76.25,[6] whereas the Associated Press had the amount as $72.50.[3] An article in The Charlotte Observer from 1935 said only $10 was stolen, but SABR confirmed it was $76.25 and that the $10 claim was made up by Pitts.[4]
  3. ^ SABR lists his date of death as June 6, 1941, but later says the incident began around 3 a.m. on June 7.[4]

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Utley, Peeler & Peeler 2006, p. 33.
  2. ^ "Alabama Pitts Stats". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved December 3, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Stabbing is fatal to 'Alabama' Pitts" (PDF). The New York Times. June 8, 1941. Retrieved November 23, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Davlin, Josh and Hank Utley. "Alabama Pitts". Society for American Baseball Research. Retrieved December 2, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Bryan, Jerry (June 5, 1935). "Alabama Pitts Is 'Blackballed' By League Head". The Birmingham News. Retrieved December 21, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  6. ^ a b c d Utley, Peeler & Peeler 2006, p. 34.
  7. ^ a b Utley, Peeler & Peeler 2006, p. 34–35.
  8. ^ a b c d Utley, Peeler & Peeler 2006, p. 35.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Utley, Peeler & Peeler 2006, p. 36.
  10. ^ "Sing Sing Adopts Rockne Grid System". Palladium-Item. September 8, 1932. Retrieved December 3, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  11. ^ "Foes Quail When Alabama Pitts Plays for Dear Old Sing Sing". The Courier-Journal. November 5, 1931. Retrieved February 17, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  12. ^ "Convict Grid-Star Character Model for Picture Actor". Kilgore News Herald. February 12, 1933. Retrieved April 3, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  13. ^ Utley, Peeler & Peeler 2006, p. 36–37.
  14. ^ a b Utley, Peeler & Peeler 2006, p. 37.
  15. ^ a b Utley, Peeler & Peeler 2006, p. 38.
  16. ^ Copy of decision, in re: player E. C. Pitts, Kenesaw M. Landis, Baseball, Office of the Commissioner, June 17, 1935, University Libraries Division of Special Collections, The University of Alabama.
  17. ^ "Alabama Pitts Makes Two Hits, Wins Acclaim of Fans in Debut" (PDF). The New York Times. June 24, 1935. Retrieved November 23, 2020.
  18. ^ "Remember Alabama Pitts?". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. November 10, 1949. Retrieved March 29, 2013.
  19. ^ "Alabama Pitts to Play Professional Football With Philadelphia Team". The Miami News. September 9, 1935. Retrieved August 4, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  20. ^ Bowen, Les (2011). Philadelphia Eagles: The Complete Illustrated History. Jefferson, North Carolina: MBI Publishing Company. p. 10. ISBN 9780760340356. Retrieved March 29, 2013.
  21. ^ "Reading Eleven Tops New Rochelle, 16-0" (PDF). The New York Times. October 28, 1935. Retrieved November 23, 2020.
  22. ^ "Grays Bolstered by New Hurdles". The Plain Speaker. July 2, 1936. Retrieved December 3, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  23. ^ "Bay Parkways Play Tie" (PDF). The New York Times. November 30, 1936. Retrieved November 23, 2020.
  24. ^ "Danbury on Top, 7-0" (PDF). The New York Times. December 17, 1936. Retrieved November 23, 2020.
  25. ^ "'Alabama' Pitts Gets Decree" (PDF). The New York Times. April 15, 1937. Retrieved November 23, 2020.
  26. ^ "Alabama Pitts Hits Home Run Off Cupid". Daily News. December 14, 1937. Retrieved April 4, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  27. ^ "Alabama Pitts' Life Story to be Filmed Soon". The Berkshire Eagle. August 1, 1935. Retrieved April 4, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  28. ^ Soanes, Wood (December 10, 1935). "Curtain Calls". Oakland Tribune. Retrieved April 4, 2020 – via Newspapers.com. James Cagney will impersonate Alabama Pitts in "Over the Wall," story of the convict who was paroled to organized baseball.
  29. ^ Parsons, Louella O. (July 7, 1936). ""The Last of Mrs. Cheyney" To Be Filmed With Myrna Loy". The Dayton Herald. Retrieved April 4, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  30. ^ "Prison melodrama comes to Mesa theatre Sunday". The Daily Sentinel. April 10, 1938. Retrieved November 23, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  31. ^ Curran, Bob (November 6, 1996). "'Alabama' Pitts, An Athlete Ahead of his Time". BuffaloNews.com. Archived from the original on March 27, 2020. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  32. ^ "Alabama Pitts Laid in Grave". The Charlotte Observer. June 9, 1941. Retrieved March 27, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  33. ^ "Slayer of Pitts Is Convicted". Tampa Bay Times. December 11, 1941. Retrieved March 27, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  34. ^ "Men Convicted In Truck Firing Given Paroles". The Charlotte Observer. April 14, 1944. Retrieved March 27, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.

Bibliography

External links

This page was last edited on 12 January 2021, at 04:25
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