|Oxford's Al Javery|
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Let’s welcome the 2011 baseball season by reintroducing Alva William Javery, Oxford’s 1940s diamond great, with thanks to Jackie Sullivan.
Seated in Erich Wenc’s Oxford Center barbershop one morning last July, listening to sports dialogue between Mr. Wenc, his associate, Donna (Foley) Dion, and a couple of guys in waiting chairs, I tried to focus on Mr. Javery’s major league career. He was, after all, Oxford’s own and a darn good pitcher for the Boston Braves.
Harnessing Boston to the Braves may have been the mistake, reverting to a time before the Braves move to Milwaukee, and then later to Atlanta.
“Al who?” responded Mr. Wenc. “Can’t say I ever heard of him.” None of the others responded. Talk about a lead balloon! Then, reality kicked in. The shop was filled with relatively young people, some with memories from other hometowns.
Well, the word reached Ms. Sullivan, a lifelong Oxford resident with an other-side-of-the-duplex take on Al Javery. Her father, the late George L. Caplette, and Boston Braves player Javery “were best of friends,” she says, drawing from her pre-teen years at home. Going back a couple of generations, she revealed that the Caplettes and the Javerys were neighbors in North Oxford.
Mr. Caplette was a better-than-average ball player, a left-handed first baseman whose diamond prowess beat him into Oxford High School. He was recruited for varsity play with the Pirates as an eighth-grader, probably by baseball coach Frank Sanella.
For an aside, Mr. Sanella was Oxford’s first superintendent of schools, installed after the Millbury-Oxford School Superintendency Union was dissolved.
While Ms. Sullivan has an Oxford take on the friendship that brought a couple of World War I-era kids to the town’s sandlots, she moved a scrapbook with clips of Al Javery’s glory years in Boston to a table.
Brownie-type shots in her possession include a photo of Mr. Javery as a teenager, mixing cake batter in his mother’s kitchen.
The scrapbook is a real chronicle of positives:
“Javery Hurls Braves to 4-1 win over Phils”;
“Javery, ex-Oxford High Star, Scores 5th Victory in a 6 Starts for Boston”;
“Javery to face Redlegs”;
“North Oxford Boy With Braves”; and
“Javery, husky North Oxford Youth, scattered 5 singles,” to offer a few samplings.
In the middle of this, there’s an Al Banx cartoon. Banx plied his trade for the Worcester Evening Gazette. The caricature had Javery in attendance at a softball game played by Worcester’s West Side Fuel Oil team. It tabbed “Javery a real fan.” The alliance was with his friend, George Caplette, manager of the city club. A photo of the Fuel Oil team is unusual in that it has a double identification. Eddie “Boot” Boutilette was not only the West Side catcher but the guy who “caught Alva Javery when he pitched for Oxford High School.” Another cartoon in a Boston newspaper, by Bob Coyne, offers a statistical read to Al Javery, tabbed “The Hope of Oxford.”
Finally, a Banx panel centers on Oxford interest in Javery’s career. It’s a barbershop scene with a customer, his face fully lathered, waiting for a shave while others drop papers and magazines and the shop owner tunes a radio to the baseball game. The announcer goes through the sequence to a Javery-thrown strike.
The Braves represented the poor side of Boston baseball in the years that Al Javery toiled for them. The “Oxford lad” rarely had more than a .500 wins record, going over the mark just once in seven years, but “close” seemed to count because the Braves weren’t that good a team. The Red Sox, owned by millionaire Tom Yawkey, had all of the stars and most of Boston’s fandom.
The Braves in that era seemed to trade their best players to other teams in the National League for lesser figures and money, or just money. Pitcher Javery was often targeted as trade bait. A sportswriter with the Boston Daily Record, Dave Egan, who penned columns under the name “The Colonel,” wrote once around All-Star Game time: “Javery Just Too Good to Remain with the Braves.”
The message was pitcher Javery could lead another National team to a pennant. Columnist Egan heaped criticism upon then-Braves manager Casey Stengle, who would later lead the New York Yankees to world titles, and the New York Mets from an expansion team to respectability.
The scrapbook seems to have a timeline, heavy on material from the Worcester Telegram, and most Boston newspapers. There’s a time lag in the late Mr. Caplette’s cut-and-paste book. There’s everything but a year. While it’s possible to draw from the record books and set the material to 1940-1941-1942 and so forth, there’s no doubt that its maker knew the “when,” and probably got the “how” firsthand.
The clips includes a fair sprinkling of comments and features, such as Gazette sports editor Ed Scannell’s take, “Al Javery lone Brave on National League All-Stars team,” another about Javery and pitcher Jim Tobin winning a double-header that ended a Braves losing streak, and credit to catcher Wes Ferrell for improving Javery’s change of pace.
George Caplette never had a major league calling, but he followed his friend Al Javery in life and by recording his career highlights. He also played a pretty good brand of semi-pro baseball with Worcester Wire Works, Norton’s, St. Pierre Chain and other teams. Mr. Caplette also coached and managed, remembers Ms. Sullivan.
There’s a sprinkling of bowling material in the Javery profile book. A photograph of Worcester’s New Deal bowling team, city champions, includes Al Javery, Oscar Silverman, Carl Schnare, Barney Calhoun, Ralph Cooney, and Ed Coocia.
Another photograph suggests bowling was a family sport. It identified Flora Javery as winner of the Class B Women’s Championship at the 20th Century Lanes in Worcester, probably in 1941. “She was Al’s mother,” said Ms. Sullivan.
There’s a somewhat abrupt ending to the recorded material, nothing to say when Javery was finally cut by the Braves in 1946 because of arm troubles. There was good reason for this. A photograph of the scrapbook’s maker, Mr. Caplette, is to a back page, wearing an Army uniform. He was a member of Company L, the Webster-based National Guard that was federalized before World War II, and the military took precedence over baseball. His friend, Mr. Javery, was never inducted because of varicose veins.
While pitcher Javery’s career was cut short because of arm problems, conjecture at the time was that his winter pursuit, candlepin bowling, might have contributed to his diamond demise.
“That’s what they said at the time,” says Ms. Sullivan, wondering whether things might be different today because teams tend to protect their stars, keeping them from activities that might be detrimental to their baseball careers. Of course, major leaguers weren’t paid anything close to today’s salaries, she notes.
To reprise last year’s probe, Richard L. Polletta, owner of D&J’s Sports Cards, also in Oxford, came up with a 1943 “Play Ball” baseball card for Alva William Javery.
“No pitcher in the major leagues hurled more innings than Al did during the 1943 season,” it said. “The Braves workhorse hurled 303 innings and posted a 17-16 record for the 6th place club. Those 17 victories were the fifth highest total in the league with 134 strikeouts. Al appeared in 43 games, including 35 as a starter and posted five shutouts, 19 completed games, and a 3.21 ERA. A member of the Braves starting rotation since 1941, Al led the National League in games started (37) in 1942.”
Seventy years is a long time, but Oxford hasn’t had any other major leaguer in all that time, making Al Javery Oxford’s baseball star for the decades!
Telegram & Gazette
Copyright© OldeWebster 2001
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