The Pine Bluff Judges entered the 1939 season trying to improve on a 6th place finish (60-73) in the Cotton States League in 1938. The team’s major league class C affiliation had also changed from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Brooklyn Dodgers, bringing in a whole new team of young prospects looking to make their way to the big leagues.
One of those Brooklyn Dodger prospects was 28 year old pitcher Stan “Betz” Klopp. Entering his 3rd professional season, Klopp arrived in Pine Bluff after 2 seasons with the Clinton Owls of the class B Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League.
Klopp appeared in 28 games, pitching 194 innings for the Judges and accumulating 13 wins, 8 loses, with a 3.53 ERA. He would lead the Judges in wins in 1939.
After a successful season baseball became less important to Klopp and most of America as World War II started. Klopp decided to give up baseball and go to work to support his family. As he worked to support his family, Klopp still loved baseball, and he would find his way back to a baseball diamond in the form of semi-pro baseball. In June of 1944, playing baseball for fun led to a Boston Braves scout to stumble upon Klopp. The scout would sign Klopp to a contract for $850 per month.
4 years after giving up the game of baseball, 33 year old rookie Stan Klopp found himself on the field for Boston Braves of the National League. Pitching in relief, Klopp appeared in 24 games, pitching 46.1 innings for the Braves and accumulating 1 wins, 2 losses, with a 4.27 ERA. Klopp would pitch for the Braves until August of 1944 when they sent him down to the minor leagues. At 33 years old, Klopp decided it was time to go home and left the game of baseball for good.
SABR.org Oral History Collection has a 1973 interview with Stan Klopp.
Born: February 22, 1929 Cazenovia, Wisconsin
Died: January 6, 2011 (Aged 81-318d) Lake Wales, Florida
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Teams Pine Bluff Judges 1950
Baltimore Orioles 1954
Kansas City Athletics 1957
New York Yankees 1958-1961
Los Angeles Angels 1961-1962
Philadelphia Phillies 1963-1964, 1965
Cincinnati Reds 1964
Washington Senators 1965
In 1950 the 21 year old hard throwing Ryne Duren arrived in Pine Bluff with high hopes and his thick tinted coke bottle glasses, which would become his trademark. He developed vision problems at age 14 caused by rheumatic fever, which confined him to bed for almost six months. Along with vision problems, he battled poor depth perception and an acute sensitivity to light which would make life difficult for him in the minor leagues. Duren was quoted as saying “The combination of my eyesight and the poorly lighted minor league ballparks made it very difficult for me to see the catcher’s signs.”. That combination would put fear in hitters. Duren was one of the hardest pitchers in the game but with little to no control.
The Judges in 1950 were coming into the season looking to carry over the success from 1949 which saw Pine Bluff finish 4th in the Cotton States League with a 72-66 record. Duren, who was already considered a top prospect for the St. Louis Browns, appeared in 37 games and won 15 games with a 3.17 ERA for the Judges. Ryne Duren’s success on the field was mirrored by The Judges; they would go on to win the Cotton States League with a record of 84-54.
With his success in Pine Bluff, Duren was promoted to the Dayton Indians in the Class A Central League where he won a career-high seventeen games in 1951 and led the league with 238 strikeouts in only 198 innings. Three years later, after quickly moving through the St. Louis Browns/Baltimore Orioles minor league system, Duren would make his major league debut in 1954 for the Baltimore Orioles. The last game of the season, pitching in relief, the 25 year old Duren pitched 2 innings allowing 3 hits, 2 earned runs, along with 2 strike outs versus the Chicago White Sox. Duren’s time in the majors was over as soon as it started as he was sent back to the minor leagues after his debut. It would be his only appearance for Baltimore. He didn’t make it back to the majors for almost three more years.
Although he had loads of natural talent, Duren’s love of alcohol would keep him from reaching his full potential. His drinking would contribute to the ending of his baseball career, his family, and his money from his playing days. After years of battling alcoholism and a suicide attempt, he would enter DePaul Hospital in Milwaukee where he underwent twenty-two-months of treatment and miraculously turned his life around.
From 1968 until his death in 2011, Duren served as an addiction counselor for numerous agencies, foundations, and hospitals where he worked with adolescents and adults and taught them about the dangers of alcohol from his own personal and tragic perspective.
Ryne Duren is one of the most, if not the most, successful ball players to ever come through Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Duren died in 2011. “Ryne could throw the heck out of the ball,” Yogi Berra said upon hearing of Duren’s death. “He threw fear in some hitters. I remember he had several pair of glasses, but it didn’t seem like he saw good in any of them.”
Adkins would appear in 27 games for the Judges in 1940, accumulating a record of 15-8 with a 4.65 ERA. With a curve ball which was described as “one of those kind that dips and twists like a feather in a wind tunnel” and Adkins early success in Pine Bluff many professional teams came bidding for the young right hander. Adkins contract would be bought by the Cleveland Indians after being “highly recommended” by Future Hall of Famer and Cleveland Indians manager Rogers Hornsby who was no stranger to Dewey Adkins, as Hornsby spent his summers at Hot Springs baseball schools. After purchasing his contract, Cleveland assigned him to the Oklahoma City Indians of the Texas League. He would spend just a little under 2 more seasons in the minors with the 1941-1942 Wilkes-Barre Barons of the Eastern League before making his major league debut in 1942.
Dewey Adkins would make his major league debut for the Washington Senators on September 19, 1942. His first big league start was a tough one, he ended with a line of 6.1 IP, 7 H, 3 SO, 6 BB, 8 ER against the Philadelphia Athletics. Adkins would go on to appear in 8 game over 2 seasons with the Senators, finding more success as a relief pitcher in 1943 with a 2.61 ERA in 7 games (10.1 IP).
Serving in World War II would pause Adkins career for 2 seasons. He would eventually make his way back to the big leagues for one last shot in 1949 with the Chicago Cubs. The 31 year old Adkins would appear in 30 games (82.1 IP) for the Cubs. He would finish the season with a 2-4 record with a 5.68 ERA.
Dewey Adkins would go on to play 5 more seasons of minor league baseball never making it back to the major leagues.
With the franchise secured the search for a name began. A naming committee along with the collaborated effort between the two local papers, The Pine Bluff Commercial & The Pine Bluff Daily Graphic, asked local women to send in suggestions to name the team.
After over 500 suggestions Mrs. C.B. Quintrell, wife of the greeter of the Pines Hotel and a popular Pine Bluff lady, became the lucky winner in the Graphic-Commercial team naming contest with her suggestion of “The Judges”.
The selection of the nickname “The Judges” while short, catchy, and significantly suited to the town in all respects was also a fitting tribute to County Judge R.H. Williams, who was known as the “The Dean of Pine Bluff Baseball”.
(Pine Bluff Daily Graphic)
Judge R.H. Williams was a staple of Pine Bluff politics in Jefferson County. He started his career of public service as sheriff for 5 years (1914-1919) then became Jefferson County judge for 17 years (1919-1936) until his death while still in office in April 1936.
Judge Williams was known as a baseball man who fostered baseball in Pine Bluff for many years. He was an important factor in the campaign to bring professional baseball back to Pine Bluff.
Mrs. Quintrell received a season ticket to watch the Judges for her winning suggestion.
Future Hall of Famer & 3x World Series winning manager of the Philadelphia A’s, Connie Mack, pens a congratulations to the citizens of Pine Bluff on the revival of professional baseball after 22 years. The city’s last professional team was the 1908 Pine Bluff Pine Knots of the Arkansas State League.
On March 3, 1930 the Pine Bluff Commercial published the letter received by the sports editor. Mack, who was no stranger to Pine Bluff, had visited a number of times during his time in baseball playing various exhibition games in the city.
Pine Bluff leaders were able to raise enough money to secure a franchise once again in the Cotton States league for the first time since 1905 when the Pine Bluff Lumbermen folded due to lack of funds just a year after winning the pennant in 1904.
The new ball club would go on to be known as the Pine Bluff Judges who would play continuously (excluding 5 years during World War II when the league was not in operation) in the Cotton States League until 1955.
The Pine Bluff Judges entered the 1952 season looking to continue the success of a 3rd place 1951 season, which saw the 82-56 (.586) Judges lead the Cotton States League in both hitting and fielding.
As a Class C affiliate for the St. Louis Browns, the Pine Bluff Judges had obtained many highly thought of prospects. The St. Louis Browns brought in Hillis Layne, a 12 year veteran who spent parts of 3 seasons in the major leagues with the Washington Senators, to lead help develop the young Pine Bluff prospects.
Hillis Layne’s path to the major leagues was a quick one. After spending just 3 seasons in the minors, Washington called the 3rd baseman to the big leagues in 1941. Layne’s big chance didn’t last long, just 13 games. Then, as with many major leaguers of that time, his career went on hiatus, interrupted by World War II. Serving in the army, Layne did not see a ballpark again until late in the 1944 season when he rejoined the Senators following his discharge from the military. His exit from the service was due to a leg injury.
Layne played only 33 games for the 1944 Senators, hitting .195 as he tried to find his stroke after a three-year absence from baseball. In 1945, he came back and hit .299 in 160 games. In Yankee Stadium in front of 68,000 people, Layne hit the first and only home run of his big league career, a solo shot off Tiny Bonham. Overall, Layne would spend parts of 3 major league season with the Washington Senators (1941, 1944-1945) playing in 107 games, batting .264, .656 OPS, .953 fielding.
In 1946 the Senators sent Layne down to Chattanooga, back to the minors. He would never make it to the major leagues again. At the end of the 1946 season the Seattle Rainiers acquired Layne, where he quickly became a Pacific Coast League legend. His play on the field earned him the nickname “Mandrake” after the magician in the comics. He led the PCL in hitting, batting .367. Over 4 season in the PCL, Layne hit .319, had .783 OPS. & 202 RBIs. In 1951, at age 33, Layne started his managerial career with the Anderson Rebels of the Tri-State League.
In 1952 he joined the Pine Bluff Judges and led the team to a 62-64 (.492) record. Along with his managerial duties, Layne also played in 120 games for the Judges. Even at 34 (over a decade older than all the other players on the team) he led the Judges in batting (.306). Layne would be integral in the development of Pine Bluff’s young players, including future major leaguers Bob Hale and Jim Snyder.
Hillis Layne’s career as a player and manager spanned two decades in which he played nearly 2,000 professional games. His career continued as minor league director for the Senators and a baseball scout for the A’s, Mets, Senators, and Rangers. Overall he spent 40 years in baseball. He was recognized by the Society for American Baseball Research as one of the top 100 minor league players of all time and was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 1987.