Monk Moore: The Major Leaguer

By Richard Green

Had he been born a few generations earlier, he might well have been a great Chickasaw stickball player. With his large muscular build, athleticism and intensely competitive nature, he would have been a force to be reckoned with. As it was, he was born in 1908 as the Chickasaw Nation was dissolving and non-Indians and their culture had come to dominate society in and around Tishomingo.

Name a Chickasaw who played Major League Baseball. Many folks in the Tishomingo area know that the late Euel "Monk" Moore pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Giants in the mid-1930s. But many friends and neighbors who knew Monk Moore as a state game ranger knew nothing of his baseball notoriety.

For example, Bill Anoatubby, who had just been elected lieutenant governor and known Monk Moore for years, was surprised during a visit to Moore's home to see his team photos hanging on the wall. There was the Wichita Falls Class A team Monk had played with in 1929 and a framed letter accompanying his 1930 contract stipulating $175 a month, noting a $25 raise. Another showed the Phillies at Spring Training in Winter Haven, 1935. Monk was a starter in the team's pitching rotation. He had finished the '34 season with several strong performances, and at age 27 was at his pitching prime.

Euel Walton Moore was born near Reagan on May 27, 1908. He was one of nine children born to Charley Harley Moore, a full-blood Chickasaw, and his wife Daisy, who was non-Indian. (Baseball fans will notice that nine corresponds to the number of positions on a baseball field.) Mr. Moore was a farmer and trader, just eking by as were most of his friends and neighbors. He spoke Chickasaw but like many tribal members in the 1920s thought that speaking Chickasaw would be an impediment to his children. The kids went to school for a few years, but were needed to work on the farm. Euel completed the eighth grade, nicknamed himself "Monk" and headed into a life of hard work for little or no gain. He could look at his parents and see himself in twenty years.

The family moved to Walters in Cotton County and there Monk first pitched for pay at age 19. A baseball scout from Wichita Falls recognized the raw talent and signed him to play for Abilene. He was 9-3 when he broke his pitching arm sliding into second base. Although he pitched no more that season, he battled back and won a spot with Wichita Falls in the Texas League.

In 1931, pitching for cellar-dwelling San Antonio, he was the only pitcher on the team with a winning record, 11-8, which included a no-hit game on June 7. Monk moved to Galveston the next year when San Antonio could not pay all of its players salaries and won 11 and lost 9. If not before, he established himself as a workhorse in 1933. He was 17-15, but six of his losses were by one run, and he pitched many no-decision games. Although it is not known how many innings Monk pitched that season, it must have been around 300 because starting pitchers then were expected to finish games. Still, very few pitchers ever have had the strength or endurance to pitch 300 innings; those who did were courting disaster.

He started the 1934 season for the Baltimore Orioles of the International League. Monk won 8 of the team's first 18 victories and major league teams were immediately interested in Moore. Trade rumors circulated for a time until July when he was dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies. Finally, he had realized every ballplayer's dream: Moore was a Major Leaguer. The Phillies, however, were a perennial lower-division team in the National League. That meant Moore would not be getting much support from the team's relatively weak hitters. A sportswriter that season noted that the Phillies had their best team in a decade, but in July they were still in seventh place (of eight) in the standings.

When he arrived, the team's publicist described him as being "built on the lines of an All-American guard on one of Pop Warner's Carlisle teams. He has an arm like a leg-a build of a wrestler. Why, I couldn't get both hands around his forearm." Moore pitched his first Major League start on July 8, 1934 and won, as the Phillies edged the Boston Braves 5 to 3. The newspaper account said he had "hurled like a veteran," displaying a "great fastball, good curve and fair change of pace." He allowed ten hits, but no walks and "exhibited all the cool craftiness of his race."

Yes, the sportswriters had noticed that Euel Moore was an Indian and they regularly employed all of the standard cliches of the times. From the beginning of Moore's pitching career he had been known as "Chief" and in the Philadelphia press he was known to "have on his warpaint," and "tomahawk the visiting team." One photo in a Baltimore newspaper shows Moore in his uniform wearing a kid's headdress and holding a hatchet over another ballplayer's head. The caption read "Moore shows how his ancestors won ball games back in pioneer days."

He was not the first "Chief" to play Major League ball, nor even the first to play in Philadelphia, but after a few starts he was being compared to "the immortal Chief Bender," an excellent Indian hurler who had pitched for the cross-town Philadelphia A's. In July he won three more times and lost only once, 2 to 1 to the Chicago Cubs. After one of those victories, Monk complained to teammates about his inability to get a hit. He had been a reliable pinch hitter throughout his career, having batted .324 in Baltimore. The reporter opined that Moore's hitting woes were "enough to annoy even a wooden Indian, and this Chickasaw is very much alive."

Although Euel in 1934 was only 26 years old, this was still a little old for a rookie, so he apparently told the sportswriters that he was born in 1910, which would make him only 24. By the end of July, the Phillies, behind Moore's pitching, had won ten of thirteen games and were challenging for the National League's first division. He was now being counted upon by his teammates and the fans. Still, he told a reporter that he was "dead tired" after his first start and was more glad that the game was over than he was to notch his first Big League victory. In his next starts, he was pitching "courageously," which usually means that his fastball had no pop but he was able to keep enough of the hitters off balance with breaking balls and off-speed pitches to win three of four games.

Probably the highlight of Euel's 1934 season was a game he pitched against the Cardinals' Dizzy Dean, a future baseball Hall of Famer. They dueled for thirteen innings before the Cards prevailed. "Diz told me later that he didn't care who won just so the game would end, " Moore said. Moore probably felt the same way, but also like Dean and most other pitchers of that era, took pride in completing the job. While finishing the task at hand was and is regarded as a virtue by most of society, pitching was and is an unnatural act in the evolutionary scale of things. Although pitching may look natural and even graceful, many biophysicists and bioengineers have said that the arm was not designed for such wear and tear. That some people in the thirties could throw the ball hard one hundred or more times a game every four days demonstrates adaptability, but sooner or later that arm will chronically break down.

Moore hurt his pitching arm early in spring training in 1935. He said it happened during an outing in cold weather that was scheduled to be three innings but lasted seven. The manager said it was poor conditioning on Moore's part and the press insinuated that he was not trying hard enough and thought that he was making too much money and that this was a "damaging influence." He was making $850 per month, not a lavish amount, but excellent by Depression-era standards.

When the season started Moore was hit hard his first few starts. He was demoted to the Phils minor league team in Hazleton. The manager felt that a few victories over minor leaguers would bolster his confidence and show him "there was nothing wrong with his arm." He continued to pitch in pain and ineffectively. But he did not complain much about the pain; if they would not believe him, it was not his way to argue. He would work harder.

Late that season, the New York Giants, desperate for relief pitching, told the Phils they would take a chance on Moore, but only if his arm seemed in shape. When Moore got racked up two or three times, he was sent back to the Phils near the end of the 1935 season.

That fall, he met Gwendoline Gray, an Irish girl from Connorville and they were married two weeks before Euel had to report to spring training in 1936. The sportswriters noted that his marriage was just the incentive Moore needed "to reform." One wrote that Moore "is anxious to make a comeback," and has been "full of enthusiasm. The Chief tossed a few fast ones the other afternoon that made (manager) Jimmy Wilson smile." Moore said his arm was not sore and he expected to win between fifteen and twenty games.

Moore was quoted as saying that he "cured" his arm problem by pitching to his brother every day during the off-season. One reporter noted: "At first, the flipper gave him intense pain, but he realized that he was 'on the spot'--that unless he showed something he was washed up in baseball, so he gritted his teeth and went ahead." He was probably telling them what they wanted to hear; but the lack of pain was undoubtedly due to a rested arm.

Although manager Wilson brought Moore along slowly at first, he let Moore talk him into leaving him in for eight innings late in spring training. While Moore's fastball and curve seemed better than ever his injured arm apparently had not healed completely and the pain recurred. Subsequently, Moore learned that his injury involved the rotator cuff, tissue in the shoulder that is essential to pitching. Surgery to correct the problem was not available until the 1970s.

But in 1936, Moore only knew that he was not getting anybody out and again letting down his teammates. He was sent down to the minor leagues, playing first for Dallas and then New Orleans in 1937. He played semi-pro in 1938-39 and then quit. When he joined the Army in 1942, at age 34, he told a reporter that he had recently been pitching again and his arm "felt quite swell. I expect to play with service teams and when this war is over I'll be ready to go again."

The war lasted longer than he expected. When he was discharged, all hope of a comeback had vanished. He and Gwen moved to Tishomingo. According to Gwen, state Senator Joe Baily Cobb got Euel a job as a state game ranger, a position he held for twenty-seven years. In 1954, Monk and Gwen adopted a baby boy they named Larry. During Larry's childhood, Euel coached little league and American Legion ball before retiring to his couch with Gwen to watch ball games on TV on Saturday afternoons. "Euel enjoyed the games but usually didn't reminisce about his career or comment on modern baseball except to say that money was ruining the game," Gwen recalls. "It wasn't Euel's way to complain or talk about regrets. If he had any, you'd never hear about them. He was a happy person who had some setbacks, just like most folks."

The couple raised Larry and then in what is a parent's worst nightmare, they buried him after he was killed in a traffic accident in 1984. He was 31.

Euel had inherited diabetes and heart disease from his father's side of the family. His father had died from a heart attack in his 50s. Euel had his first heart attack in 1970, and two more in 1971 and 1973. By 1978, the angina was so bad that he could scarcely shower or shave despite taking increasing doses of nitroglycerine. Finally, he agreed to heart bypass surgery in 1979. He could have kicked himself that he had not had it sooner because the operation transformed an invalid back into an active man and gave him another ten years of life. While he was convalescing in the hospital, another patient, a young man, who knew about Euel's baseball career considered it an honor to escort him on the walks ordered by the doctor.

Monk was nominated for induction into the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame in 1984 but when it was discovered that he lacked a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood he was ruled ineligible. Since inductions took place only every five years, Moore had to wait. He was notified in December 1988 that he had been elected and was slated for induction in May 1989.

It was just too far away. Euel's courageous but beat-up heart gave out on February 12,1989. Gwen and several relatives attended the induction ceremony, which was held in Tulsa. Allie Reynolds, who had been inducted in 1972, gave a speech praising Euel. Gwen accepted Euel's plaque from the leader of his tribe, Governor Bill Anoatubby.

Now, years later, Gwen still occasionally gets mail asking for Euel's autograph or any of his old baseball memorabilia. In today's market, such items have value. Euel probably would not approve: "Money is ruining baseball," he said. She intends to donate all of Euel's clippings and other memorabilia to the Chickasaw Council House Museum in Tishomingo. There, he will never be forgotten.

Sources:

Information for this article was obtained through an interview with Mrs. Gwendoline Moore and by examining her scrapbook of Monk's baseball press clippings and articles about him. Unfortunately, individual sources cannot be cited because the clippings did not include either the name of the newspaper or the date.

Last Updated: 08/13/2014