October 26, 1996
The Perry Merchants Baseball Team was preparing for the state sandlot tournament when this photo was made in August 1934 at Texas League Park in Oklahoma City. All team members were not shown, but those identified are: Front row, from left: shortstop Jack Henry; utility/catcher Frank Ley; outfielder Dick Brocaw; pitcher Leo (Dog) Dolezal; first baseman Harlan (Lefty) Cleeton; outfielder Willie Pricer; third baseman Ernest Bradley; and pitcher Sam Stubgs. Back row: A. E. Runnels, Perry Chamber of Commerce manager; pitcher Verlin Voth; Harold (Hump) Daniels, catcher and team manager; pitcher/outfielder Glen Peters; second baseman Tony Wapp; catcher J. E. (Tiny) Lang; outfield Babe Martin; and businessman Walt Bittman, a team supporter.
You've read yarns about the old Perry Merchants semi-pro and sandlot baseball teams in this column before, but there seems to be a never-ending supply of lore from the days back in the 1930s and beyond when our local heroes were winning state championships almost routinely. Here's another.
Two of the fabled players from that era were Pat Townsend, the old Boston Red Sox pitcher, and Leo (Dog) Dolezal, a good-natured Noble county farm boy with baseball savvy. They were strong-armed hurlers who won more than their share of games season after season. They also were local crowd favorites and good buddies with each other off the field.
In 1961, when they were past their playing days but still pals, Pat had moved to sunny southern California to enjoy the warm climate of a town called Desert Center in his retirement years. Pat was primarily a baseball player all his life, but he had to hustle other jobs to make a living. Among other things, he was a cab driver and a floor man racking cue balls for billiards and pool players at Joe's Smoke House at the northeast corner of the square. The building is now occupied by Roy Morris and his accounting firm, but for many years it was the favorite hangout for most of the town's adult male population. Baseball was just one of the topics of conversation at the Smoke House.
"Dog" Dolezal's nickname was unusual and there are two versions of how it came about. According to his grandson, county assessor David Dolezal, the name was adopted after Leo caught a live rabbit one day in a farm field. That was the story preferred by Leo himself, but some other family members had a different version, David says. They claimed Leo was as mean as a bad dog, and the handle just seemed to fit. Looking at the smiling photos of Leo today, it's hard to believe he was really a mean person. Whatever the reason, the nickname stayed with him all his life and that's what everybody, including his teammates, called him.
Pat Townsend was never one to waste time on formalities and he liked practical jokes. On a May day in 1961, he decided to write his old friend in Perry a letter. After scratching out a few lines in longhand, he folded the sheet inside an envelope, affixed a four-cent postage stamp and took it to the post office. Knowing Perry was a small town, he addressed it by simply attaching the photo of a dog's head, slightly larger than the postage stamp, wrote "Perry, Oklahoma" beneath the picture, and dropped it in the mail slot. Three days later it was delivered to Leo Dolezal at his home here. There was no name on the front, just the dog's photo and Pat's name in the return address slot. Our local mailmen knew exactly who had mailed it and who was intended to receive it. Neither rain nor snow nor lack of addressee's name interfered with the courier's prompt delivery of that missive.
Eddie Dolezal, Leo's son and David's dad, still has the letter and it makes interesting reading. Here's what Pat had to say:
"Hi Dog. I will stay here in Desert Center for a while. It is really hot here -- it is sweating weather. This is a small town or village. I had an awful time finding a 'Dog' to put on the envelope. I looked through a lot of magazines, no luck. So this morning I was walking around and found this 'Dog' picture on a dog food can. Then I could not find no good glue. They have a little grocery store here and this is wood work glue, but it may serve the purpose. Do you remember Frank Taylor, who used to barber with Honk Mossman? Well, he and his wife passed through here last Saturday and we met. I was glad to see them. We had quite a chat. He told me Ralph Foster Sr. had passed away. He had been to Perry (recently). Well, no news. Hope all of you are well. Has Evalena hit any home runs lately? Best wishes, Pat." (That last inquiry was about Leo's wife, Evalena Dolezal, who still makes her home here on Route One. She was not a baseball player; Pat was just kidding.)
Both Pat and Dog have passed on -- Leo died in 1989 -- but their deeds and derring-do both on and off the diamond will continue to keep their memories burning brightly for many longtime Perry baseball fans. Thanks to Eddie and David Dolezal for this particular piece.