Baseball was a subject on everybody’s mind when I was a young man in Barre. If you look at some of the old Barre history, you see that they had local teams playing right here in the city, I guess, going back to the turn of the century. Of course at that time, there was more than one Italian club. Today there is the Mutuo Soccorso, but at that time, there were several Italian clubs. Barre had an active labor movement, and one of the reasons people have suggested is that whenever there was a strike, they were able to play ball.
The team that sticks in my mind historically was a team called the Barre Americans. I think that was in the 1930s, and prior to that there were a number of baseball teams, most of them probably attached to one or another of the social clubs or insurance societies or whatever you want to call them. But the Barre Americans sticks in my mind. And I think they probably played up toward South Barre, up where the high school was. I’m not sure of that. I do know that there was a ball field behind the church where the Saint Monica’s school was. The local Catholic high school was built there on that field. But when I went into high school and joined the baseball team, that’s where we played. That was the best ball field in town. It wasn’t much, I tell you. It was a skin diamond, very little grass. And what was interesting thing about it: if you stood up on the hill by a corner of the auditorium field you’d be looking down as into a great amphitheater. The batters would swing and hit the ball, and you wouldn’t hear the contact of the ball for seconds, of course, because of the distance and the height, which is sort of interesting.
After the war baseball became a preferred leisure of sorts, I guess you’d call it. Many of the clubs—that would be the Knights of Columbus, the Elks Club, and the Mutuo and one or two others—formed what was called the Industrial League around 1945 or ’46. And that was pretty good baseball, actually. A lot of the fellows were coming back from time in the service. Some had played ball during that time. Many of them were former athletes of Spaulding High School, of course. And that league did very well.
Initially, we played, as I say, behind the Catholic Church. Later they built a ballfield right near the auditorium, which has since been done away with the hockey recreation program there. We had everything. They had uniforms. And they had umpires. We had a regular press box. Two or three guys were writing stories about the games. And the games would attract anywhere from, oh, maybe 200 to sometimes for 400 people, maybe. Maybe that’s high but I think that’s about right, especially during, during the end of year when things got close. They played after work. Most of those guys were working in the stone sheds, and they would come up around 4:30 and get into their garb, and we’d start playing ball about 5 o’clock. I think the games were seven innings at that time. As summer went on there was not enough light, and there were no lights of course.
We all had our teams. I played for several of them. I played for the Mutuo and the Elks and the K of C. And I can remember I played on the team that had Crip Polli, former major league pitcher who had played in Jersey City. In fact, he was on the Yankees a short time when Babe Ruth was there, and I think he ended up his career up in Nova Scotia. I may not have that exactly right, but he managed the team. He was quite a guy.
We had a guy in town named Walt Lanfranconi, another Italian guy, who pitched fairly well. He wasn’t a big guy. I bet he wasn’t more than 5-8. And he’d pitched some in the service, some in the minor leagues. And he got a contract with the Braves, the Boston Braves at the time. They later moved to Milwaukee. And the Braves were a team that we paid a lot of attention to. He didn’t stay there too long. But he stayed there long enough that the community organized together, and they bought him a 1947 Chevrolet–I think it was ‘47–and presented it to him. He later went to the minor leagues and then came back here and opened a filling station.
Usually it was a competition between the VFW and the Mutuo as to be the top team, although it didn’t always work out that way.
Two things happened after I played there 4 or 5 years. The first thing that happened, television was invented and people who used to come out to watch a ball game at night stayed home and watched television. Secondly, all these guys that came back from the service formed families. They had children, and the children, in turn, began to play in Little League and later Babe Ruth League. In fact, I coached one or two years of Babe Ruth League.
My first introduction to baseball was through a magazine known as The Open Road for Boys, which was similar to Boys Life, which were the two magazines that young people used to get in those days. And I read a serialized story, “The Kid from Tomskinville,” I think the name of the story was. I can’t think of the guy’s name who wrote it. At any rate, he wrote the story of this young man who came up as a pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers and hurt his arm and later became an outfielder for the Dodgers. And this story sort of hooked me on baseball.
At the same time, my father had bought a farm up on East Hill, and I was able to get, on the radio, WHN, New York, AM, on any night, and most days, when it wasn’t too cloudy or bad reception was in the air. So we had a big old radio in the living room of this farm, and rather than getting in the back of the hay truck, whenever possible, I would slip into the house and listen to the ball game and did so whenever they played at night.
Alone up on the farm, three miles outside of Barre doesn’t sound like very much. But three miles in those days was a long way from all the friends I had to play ball with or play catch with, so I fashioned games of my own. I had a system whereby I would throw a ball up on the roof and it kind of went down in one channel and then over onto a second roof and then to the ground. And I learned how to short-hop a ball that way probably better than anybody else around in those days.
And I’d make up another game where I’d throw the ball against a barn door and field ground balls. And then later I got another game where I would take, usually just a stick and hit stones. I got so I could hit stones over the barn. Since I didn’t have any opponent, I won most of those games. That was baseball to me.
So when I actually got to see a real baseball game, that was a pretty much a big deal. I’m trying to remember when that was. Certainly the first professional game I saw was in St. Albans when the Montpelier Senators, as they were known then, traveled to St. Albans and played the St. Albans Giants. And I remember, my father lent one of his cars to a friend of his, and I and a couple of other kids, and this gentleman took us up through. We went through Smuggler’s Notch to get to St. Albans. And that was a big deal. St. Albans had a beautiful ballpark in that day which they since moved. It was right in the downtown, where baseball belongs, not out in the country.
I played baseball myself for 4 years in high school. I was a skinny kid, and I was going to play shortstop, or I wasn’t going to play. But I made the team the first year and played and went on trips around the state. We’d play other high school teams, and, boy, I thought the world couldn’t get any better than this.
We had a coach by the name of Eddie Casey. Eddie Casey was an ex-marine who taught, allegedly, modern history. Mostly, he read us a chapter, occasionally, and told us the rest of the time to read quietly to ourselves. And Eddie Casey was also a part-time football coach as well as baseball coach. And I made the freshman team and made the team for four years after that.
Casey was of the old school. He caught me swearing one time and threatened to tell my father. And I was scared to death. But he didn’t. I was a mouthy little fellow at that age, maybe because I was smaller than everybody else, or I thought I was. I remember, it was probably in my second year, my sophomore year. I didn’t show up for practice one day, and he says, “Where were you?” Well, the truth of the matter was I’d gone skiing in New Hampshire in Tuckerman’s Ravine, which I thought was a legitimate excuse. He didn’t say all that much, but he had me go out to shortstop. He wanted to hit me some ground balls, and he hit me every ground ball he could. He’d nail it so that it would come at me between the short hops. I never got a good bounce. He put a right-hand spin on the ball. He put left-hand spin on the ball. He’d holler at me when I didn’t get them, which was most of the time. Ran me back and forth. I didn’t realize I was being chastised at the moment. I thought I was supposed to be able to catch these balls.
I remember we were playing Randolph one time. One of the heroes of the team was Yiyo Sierra. He was a three letter man. He was terrific in all sports, not especially baseball. But he was good at baseball too. We were losing to Randolph, and everybody seemed to be taking strike 3 with a bat on their shoulder. So Casey said to the next hitter, he said, “The next guy that goes up there and strikes out with a bat on his shoulder, I’m going to break a bat over his head.” I don’t think teachers say that anymore. Wouldn’t you know it, Yiyo goes up there, and the umpire calls strike 3 on a pitch that was questionable but probably was a strike. Casey looks down. He says, “Well, hell, that one was outside,” and forgot that he had promised to break a bat over Yiyo’s or anybody else’s head (laughs). But that was kind of how he operated. We had other coaches but I always remembered Eddie Casey, for good or evil.
I went on to college. I played ball at UVM. I made the freshman team but I didn’t start. I made the team as a backup infielder and outfielder. I played the outfield once. I think I got one chance and dropped the ball. The second year I made the team. And the captain of the team was a shortstop, so I figured: here I am; I’m gonna be back-up shortstop. But the shortstop was made captain of the team. Well, he didn’t get a hit in the first seven or eight games. So finally they put me in it at shortstop. Well, they put me in as a pinch hitter, and I got the best base hit I ever got (laughs)–nice line drive out to left field, you know. Almost got a double but stayed at first base and felt that I was a hero. I was surprised I hit the ball; I was so nervous (laughs). All but the last game, I played the rest the games at shortstop. Did okay. Didn’t hit particularly well, but, you know, we weren’t a great ball team.
But coach [Larry] Gardner, that was his final year as coach of UVM. He came from Enosburg Vermont, Enosburg Falls, I think, and I don’t know where he played minor league ball, if he indeed did, but he played as I say for the Red Sox for seven or eight years. And three of those years, they won world championships. He hit something like 290. And his fielding average wasn’t bad. And when you think of the fields they were playing on and the gloves they were using, I’m surprised anybody could get a fielding average they’d even admit to. And Gardner always had a story about Babe Ruth and his ladies and his booze and about everything else he did that excited people (laughs). He never campaigned to be in the Hall of Fame. He wouldn’t care. But he sort of liked me. And that was good. That’s why I was able to make the team, I guess.
After that the next year some things had happened. My mother had died. I had a lot of stomach trouble, so I didn’t play any more baseball at UVM after that.
Tom Davis was a seventeenth generation Vermonter, political activist, public speaker, storyteller, author, and statesman. Also known as “Tom Terrific,” he was widely admired for his quick wit, humor, humility, kindness, wisdom, and generosity. He valued tolerance, forgiveness, compassion, and activity and lived his life accordingly. Tom's Bio and Photo Album →
In 2013, Tom Davis hired me to record his recollections and thoughts. I was serving on the Barre Historical Society (BHS) board with Tom. Years before, I had interviewed him about the early days of skiing in Vermont for the Vermont Historical Society and knew him to be an engaging story teller and welcoming person. At BHS meetings I found him to be committed to Barre, social justice, and working people as well. One night, Tom told me that, after having written three books about Barre and people he had known and worked with (and two political mystery novels), he was, at age 82, tired of writing but had more to say. I was honored when he asked me to interview him and to record his memories.
Tom called our sessions “interviews,” but little interviewing was necessary. Tom and I would meet in the conference room at Barre’s Aldrich Public Library and, after I’d set up and found a chair for him that didn’t squeak and he’d adjusted his hearing aids to prevent feedback, I’d ask a question, and off he’d go, speaking freely, keenly, and with gentle humor, while I mostly just sat and listened.
One session led to another. Eventually I had recorded 25 hours of Tom’s recollections about people he’d known, events he’d witnessed and participated in, and changes he’d seen. He also spoke about his love of baseball, skiing, and golf, about the importance of music, and about a world and state that are radically different from the ones he entered in 1931. I found his words illuminating and inspiring, and I admired his deep commitment to Vermont and Barre and, beyond that, to human understanding, fairness, and kindness. It was quickly clear that Tom had a prodigious memory and genuinely cared about the people who had passed through his lifetime of public service—whether a governor, a teacher, a granite worker, or an interviewer.
Tom was also a champion of life-long learning–for himself as well as for others. “Education doesn’t begin and end with the benchmarks of man,” he told my microphone. “Life is education. I may be wrong, but it seems that I’m never going to be able to catch up with what I need to know.”
He also had his peeves, especially partisan politics, income inequality, and the domination of social service programs by office-bound bureaucrats who had little interest in learning directly from the people they purportedly served.
Tom came to his increasingly progressive views without recourse to ideology and despite the leanings of some family and friends. He admired both his Republican father and Franklin Roosevelt and, after a brief flirtation with far-right conservatism while a student at UVM, saw the need for society to stand up for those without voice or opportunity. He was puzzled by people who “could give ten dollars to one man but wouldn’t give one dollar to ten men.” He, on the other hand, had “never been able to walk by somebody who needs a dollar.”
Tom and I discussed what to do with these recordings and decided that a section of the Barre Historical Society’s Old Labor Hall Web site would be an appropriate place for audio segments, transcripts, and photographs. Tom had a deep commitment to the Barre Historical Society and to the Socialist Labor Party Hall, which the BHS owns, maintains, and uses for a variety of community and educational events. The generosity of several folks who also want others to be able to benefit from Tom’s memories and wisdom has now made that site a reality.
The audio segments and transcriptions on this site have been edited for economy and clarity, while still retaining Tom’s warm, thoughtful voice. Some draw on multiple times that Tom spoke about a topic or told a story, and I’ve tried to edit and weave them into a single narrative. Some of Tom’s recollections also appear in his books and in the three commentaries he recorded for Vermont Public Radio in the months before his death.
The complete 25 hours of interviews also cover much more territory, and new segments may appear in the future. Unfortunately, we never got to some topics, including golf, skiing, and chess–three of Tom’s great passions. At some point, we hope that the full transcript will also be available, whether on this site or through a suitable archive.
It has been a pleasure and honor to work on this project. Tom Davis enriched my life. I hope he will contribute to yours as well.
Mark Greenberg, Montpelier VT, April 2020
Tom talks about life in his home town of Barre, Vermont.
The Community was Alive - Barre Memories (Part 1)
Barre life in the 1930s and '40s
A Melting Pot - Barre Memories (Part 2)
Ethnic diversity and street life in Barre
It was a Magnet
Tom talks about his family.
My Mother Was More Liberal
A Fair-minded Person
I Got Interested in Genealogy – Family History (Part 1)
I Came in with Roosevelt – Family History (Part 2)
\"My Mother Was More Liberal\" — Corinne Eastman Davis
Tom\'s mother and her family
A Fair-minded Person – Deane Davis
Tom\'s father\'s family and his politics.
I Got Interested in Genealogy – Family History, Part1
Tom looks back on the early history of the Davis family in America.
I Came in with Roosevelt – Family History, Part 2
Tom brings his family history to his own generation.
The politicians Tom knew and worked for and the programs he helped them implement
The Beginning of Change
FDR’s visit to central Vermont
He Wasn’t Afraid to Lose
Governor Phil Hoff
A Magnificent Leader
Sargent Shriver in Vermont
A Sense of Mission
Tom's experiences as Vermont's Secretary of Human Services
Involve the Poor – The Poverty Program (Part 1)
Vermont and the War on Poverty
True Believers—The Poverty Program (Part 2)
Directing the Office of Economic Opportunity and working across party lines
Somebody Met the Bus - Shorty and Joe
The importance of human relationships in social work
A Great Education
Working in Windsor Prison and for The Vermont Alcohol Rehabilitation Board
Tom talks about his love of baseball.
A Preferred Leisure – Baseball
From Barre youth teams to the University of Vermont
A Bunch of White Guys
Tom at the University of Vermont
- Beyond Depot Square: Stories from the Heart of Vermont, self-published, 2006
- Echoes of Vermont . . . People and Politics in the Green Mountains, self-published, 2010
- Out from Depot Square: Central Vermont Memories from the 1930s to the 1950s, self-published, 2006
- The Duval Conspiracy, Marshall Jones Company, 1995
- The Governor’s Man, self-published, 2002
- Deane C. Davis, with Nancy Price Graff – Deane C. Davis: An Autobiography, The New England Press, 1991
- Michael Sherman, Gene Sessions, Jeffrey Potash – Freedom and Unity: A History of Vermont, Vermont Historical Society, 2004
- Paul Heller – Granite City Tales: Writings on the History of Barre, Vermont, self-published, 2012
- Russell Belding – Hidden History of Barre, Vermont, The History Press, 2011
Many thanks to the people who helped make this project possible:
Gerry Ghazi, Alban Richey, Arthur & Anita Ristau, Bruce Seifer, Carol Healy, Clare & David Duke, David & Nancy Lacroix, Edith A Miller, Elizabeth Slayton, Ellen S. Sivret, Fernand & Ann Peloquin, Joanne Granai, Karen Lane, Marjorie Power, Mary Miller, Maureen Morton, Maurice & Doris Fortier, Paul C Heller, Peter Anthony & Marsha Kincheloe, Quinn Premont, River Valley Workforce Institute, Ruth Ruttenberg, Stephen Martin, Wayside Restaurant, Inc., William & Olene Doyle, and the Aldrich Public Library
- Project & Web site producer: Mark Greenberg
- Web site design and implementation: Marjorie Power
- Interviews recorded and edited by Mark Greenberg/Upstreet Productions
- Interview transcriber: Katherine Drury
- Davis family photographs and memorabilia courtesy Mike Davis and the Davis family
- Tom Davis Labor Hall photo: Mark Greenberg
- Aldrich Public Library, Vermont Historical Society, World Wide Web