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February 22, 1996

While remodeling some rental property, Dean Courtright recently came across a few souvenirs of the 1934 Perry Merchants baseball team. He passed them along to Richard Dunford, the used car dealer on Fir avenue, who is an avid fan of the game and a collector of memorabilia such as this. Rich showed them to me.

The principal piece of an original copy of the official program of the eighth annual State Sandlot Tournament played Aug. 24 to Sept. 3, 1934, in the old Texas League Park at Oklahoma City. The Daily Oklahoman and the Oklahoma City Times sponsored the tournament in cooperation with the Oklahoma Baseball Federation. Officers of the federation were Arlo Scoggin, president; state supreme court justice Earl Welch, vice president; and Charles Saulsberry, sports editor of the Oklahoman and Times, secretary-treasurer.

Since its conception in 1927, the state sandlot tournament had become the outstanding single sports fixture in the state, according to the official program. A total of 129 teams competed in 14 district tournaments to choose those eligible for the state tournament. In the previous season, more than 25,000 baseball lovers paid $8,918.65 to enter the tournament. Tickets valid for all of the 31 games scheduled were $2.50. Single admission prices were 40 cents for men, 25 cents for ladies. Box seats cost 25 cents more.

Texas League Park, with its tall, wooden bleachers painted a dark green, is now long gone, just like the semi-pro and sandlot baseball teams of yore, but its memory burns brightly in the minds of many fans. One of the 16 Oklahoma teams qualifying for the 1934 tournament was the Perry Merchants, led by their peppery manager, Harold G. (Hump) Daniels.

The leadoff hitter in Perry's batting order that year was Harlan (Lefty) Cleeton, who apparently is the only surviving member of the team. Lefty was a slim young southpaw who spoke little but let his glove and bat do the talking for him. He rarely smiled. He was a stellar first baseman and a fine hitter. Following him in the order, as shown in the official program, were: Joe Henry, shortstop; Babe Martin, right field; Glen Peters, left field; Tony Wapp, second base; Ernest Bradley, third base; Dick Brocaw, center field; Euel (Tiny) Lang, catcher; and Spec Stricklen, pitcher.

Others listed as "extras" were Willie Pricer, center field; Hump Daniels, catcher; Fred Mace, left field; and pitchers, Mike Burgess, Sam Stubbs, Leo Dolezal and Verlon Zoth. Asterisks by the names of Stubbs and Zoth indicated they were "pickups," whatever that term implied.

Other teams qualifying for the 1934 tournament were the Oklahoma City Wilcox Oilers; Shawnee Roundhouse Overalls; Weatherford Producers; Duke Southwesterns; Okmulgee Barnsdall Refiners; Wilburton Miners; Sapulpa Boosters; El Reno Southwest Utility; Heavener Blues; Marietta Legionnaires; Hugo Tigers; Duncan Halliburton Cementers; Bristow Boosters; Purcell Merchants; and the Enid Eason Oilers. All of them had quality players.

In looking through rosters of the other teams as shown in the official program, I noticed at least two players who were lured here to join the Perry Merchants in later seasons. The familiar names of Ed Stucein, pitcher for Heavener, and Herschell McNabb, Enid center fielder. Hump probably induced some of the others to come here, also.

I also noticed the Purcell Merchants of 1934 had a pitcher on their roster by the name of Harry Brecheen. I presume that is the same Harry (The Hat) Brecheen who later starred with the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League.

The Heavener Blues were defending state champions and the Perry Merchants were pitted against them at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 26, for first round play in the double-elimination tournament. The Merchants lost the opener to the Blues, 7-3, and were then scheduled against the Marietta Legionnaires in a losers' bracket game at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 28. The Merchants won that one, 10-7, and seemingly had their game in order.

Next up for the Merchants on the following afternoon were the always dangerous Duncan Halliburton Cementers, and that turned into an epic struggle. The Cementers were managed by pitcher Augie E Johns. Duncan jumped out to an early 3-1 lead, but the Perry team knotted the score at 3-all in the seventh inning and the game went into extra innings. Neither team could muster a run until the 16th inning, when the Cementers pushed one across home plate to wrap it up. Peters, normally a left fielder, was the Merchants' starting pitcher but he gave way in the fifth inning to Stricklen, who finished, the game. Stricklen also pitched in Perry's first game the previous Sunday. The Merchants stranded 16 base runners.

This was Perry's fourth straight year to make it all the way to the state tournament through district playoffs. Their home games during the season were played at the old fairgrounds park, which was located northwest of the present main exhibition building at our modern-day county fairgrounds. The field was level and fairly grassy, but bits of gravel and broken glass kept working up to the surface and constituted a hazard for base runners, especially those who came sliding in. The Perry high school football team also played home games at the fairgrounds until the present stadium complex was built a few years later./p>

As an addendum to this story about the 1934 Perry Merchants, it should be noted that in later years the local semi-pro team adopted the name of Perry Oilers. On August 3, 1952, that team won the state championship by defeating Enid's Vance Air Force Base Cherokees, 3-2. Joe Ripley was manager of the 1952 Oilers. Some of the other players were Lefty Cleeton, still at first base; Frank Kempka, second base; Art Stokes, catcher; Bob Craft, third base and team captain; Otto Cowell, centerfield; Bob Henry, right field; A. C. Riddle, shortstop; Ronald Henry, outfield; Karl Swenson, Don Haskins, and Bob Garrett, pitchers. In 1953, Emil Voigt took over as team manager and Ripley remained with the team as a pitcher.

Sports thrills still come in abundance for Perry fans, but in the era of the Great Depression there was something unifying and uplifting about a team of mostly hometown heroes who played a heady, aggressive brand of baseball and gave this town good reason to be proud on those hot summer evenings when there was precious little to brag about.

With their peerless leader, Hump Daniels, the 1934 Perry Merchants constituted a fearsome team capable of whipping the boys from much larger nearby towns, and we loved every one of them. Thanks for the great memories, Perry Merchants and Perry Oilers of years gone by.