Sports obit: Alex Morrow Jr. was a solid player in local, professional baseball

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 7, 2017

By Mike London

Donald “Whitey” Meadows saw the obituary in the Mooresville paper and alerted the Post about the passing of one of the county’s special athletes of the 1950s — Carl Alex Morrow Jr.

Morrow died at 82 in Montgomery, Ala., but graveside services were held for him recently at Mooresville’s Triplett United Methodist Church.

Morrow’s father was Carl, so it makes sense that he went by Alex. The stories in the Post, and there were a lot of them in 1952, his senior year, usually referred to him as “Alec.” That appeared so consistently in print that it had to be his nickname and not a typo.

Morrow would play professional baseball for several years, but basketball may have been his best sport. He was 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds at his peak, so he wasn’t wrong in choosing baseball as the sport he could play the longest, especially when he was getting paid to do it.

Meadows was born in 1935, a year after Morrow. They were baseball teammates at Mount Ulla High, rotating at shortstop and pitcher for coach Dwight Jeffers, who like all the coaches from that era, coached everything. Mount Ulla was too small to compete in football. That meant Jeffers was at the helm of boys basketball, girls basketball and baseball.

In 1952, Mount Ulla competed in the eight-team Rowan County League, where the strongest county schools usually were in the southern sector (Landis and China Grove) or in the east (Rockwell and Granite Quarry). In the rural western section of the county, there were three high schools — Mount Ulla, Cleveland and Woodleaf. The eighth league member was East Spencer.

These were small, all-white schools, but the talent level was impressive, with future NFL running back Bill Barnes at Landis and future golf/basketball phenom Dean Sheetz at China Grove. Granite Quarry had a tall freshman that year named Jay Ritchie. He would pitch in the major leagues.

Rockwell’s Mike Conry, Landis’ Bill Haire, Cleveland’s Bill Somers, Granite Quarry’s Larry Lyerly and Bill Ritchie, Woodleaf’s Fred Foster and East Spencer’s Jim Sides were just some of the standouts.

Actually there was talent everywhere in Rowan in 1952. The two white city schools in the county had players. Frank McRae, who would team with Barnes on Wake Forest’s legendary drive to the baseball national championship in 1955, was scoring an unheard-of 23.3 points per game at Boyden High and was considered one of the state’s best. Spencer had a good big man in Dan McCoy. He was 6-5 or 6-6 and he tossed in 351 points that season

Records aren’t available from all the black schools in the county in 1952, but we do know Warren Lyerly (21.3 points per game) and Hulon Butler (17.0) were filling it up for the Red Devils in J.C. Price’s new gym.

Morrow was quick and a good shooter and he was recognized by the Post as the leading scorer (19.2 points per game) for the 14 home-and-home tussles in the the Rowan County League.

In all, he scored 381 points in 21 games (18.1 per game) for a 4-17 team that rarely scored more than 45. So he was probably seeing double-teams. At the very least, the best defensive guard on the opposing team was assigned to him.

In a 41-37 loss to East Spencer, Morrow poured in 27. He also had 27 (Barnes had 22) as Mount Ulla put up a good fight against Landis, the first-place team.When Mount Ulla beat Woodleaf, 45-41, Morrow scored his season-high 29. He scored in double figures in every league game and scored 20 or more 11 times.

Rowan County League basketball teams played in two postseason tournaments in 1952. First they gathered, boys and girls, on the Catawba campus for a single-elimination tourney. A few days later they headed to Landis’ gym to do it all over again, except now there were consolation games as well as games for the winners. It was basketball around the clock.

When a flu epidemic knocked out both Woodleaf teams, Spencer replaced Woodleaf in the Landis tournament. McCoy and his teammates shook things up.

The most amazing thing that happened in Landis was Mount Ulla’s girls upsetting the powerful Rockwell team coached by Cecil Gilkerson and led by scoring machine Jackie Beaver in the championship game. About 10 hours after that stunning defeat, the Rockwell girls were on a bus, headed to the state tournament in Aberdeen, but that’s a story for another time.

There was no MLB draft in 1952. That wouldn’t come along for another 13 years. But a Washington Senators scout must have liked Morrow and signed him shortly after graduation, maybe graduation night. In the summer of 1952 he was playing for the Roanoke Rapids Jays, a Senators farm team in the Class D Coastal Plain League. He was one of the youngest players in the league and he didn’t hit a lot, but he must have had a solid glove because he played second base or shortstop just about every day.

Morrow showed more power as a 19-year-old in 1953 in the Class D Appalachian League. Playing for the Bluefield Blue-Grays, he hit five homers and 19 doubles.

The Senators moved him North in 1954. Morrow played for the Erie Senators in Pennsylvania. He batted .269 as a 20-year-old, the best average of his pro career, but he only played half a season. He also didn’t appear in minor leagues games in 1955 or 1956. It’s possible he was injured, but it’s more likely his career was interrupted by a draft notice from Uncle Sam. Military service wasn’t voluntary in those days.

He was back on the field in 1957, although now he was 23, and still in Class D ball, and the Senators had at least eight farm clubs to climb through before a player sniffed the majors. That season he played in the Alabama-Florida League. His team was the Graceviller Oilers. Graceville’s claim to fame was that it was the smallest town in organized baseball.

Morrow’s bus may have passed Meadows’ bus a few times that season. Meadows, who had started in pro ball in 1954, played in 1957 for the Valdosta Tigers in the Georgia-Florida League, another Class D loop.

Morrow didn’t play pro ball in 1958 or 1959. Maybe that’s when he got his college education started.

Things came full circle for Morrow and Meadows in 1960. The Western Carolina League was making a comeback. The teams in the league were supposed to be farm clubs for a planned third major league, the Continental League, but the American and National leagues decided to expand, and the Continental League never got off the ground.  That meant the eight franchises in the WCL — Gastonia, Hickory, Lexington, Newton-Conover, Rutherford County, Salisbury, Shelby and Statesville — had to stock their teams with local talent.

Meadows would become a member of the Salisbury Braves. Morrow would return to pro ball as the second baseman for the Newton-Conover Twins, forming a double-play combination with Ken Orbison, a shortstop from Landis. And now the one-time Mount Ulla teammates were opponents.

Salisbury finished second in the WCL in the regular season, while Newton-Conover placed fourth. That made them first-round adversaries in the playoffs. Morrow started all three games at second base. Newton-Conover grabbed the opener, but Salisbury pulled out the next two to take a best-of-three series. Salisbury’s win in Game 3 at Newman Park would be the final pro game of Morrow’s career. After all his travels, he took off his uniform for the last time just 17 miles from Mount Ulla.

A few days later, Meadows, who was ready for the steady life of a barber shop, also played his last pro game at Newman Park. He played shortstop and delivered a run-scoring double as Salisbury beat Hickory in Game 5 of a best-of-five series to take the championship.

Morrow’s obituary revealed he was a graduate not only of Mount Ulla High but of Appalachian State. Always involved in sports, he was an avid golfer and fisherman. He  is survived by two children, David Alex Morrow and Susan Morrow Chandler.

There was an online condolence to Morrow’s family sent by Farrell Brown, who is now in Clemson, S.C.. Brown was Morrow’s teammate on the 1952 Mount Ulla basketball team. The last time he saw Morrow was on a golf outing in the 1970s.

“Alex and I were childhood friends, as our fathers worked in the same flour mill in Mt. Ulla. He was about 3 months older than I and consequently we were in different graduation classes at Mt. Ulla High School. A better athlete and much smoother with the girls, he was my idol. Treasure the memories of him.”