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center stages II

picking up the story of tuscumbia missouri, the geographic center of major-league baseball:

the geo center is a fairly recent arrival in tuscumbia; the landmark moves ev'y time mlb adds new franchises. (for that matter, it moves a few inches or feet ev'y time a new stadium gets built -- and that has happened 11 times in the last decade.) the last expansion, in 1998, added tampa bay and phoenix, which tugged the geo center southward but prob'y had little effect on the east-west alignment; ditto the expansion before that, in 1993, when denver and miami joined the big leagues. so i'm guessing the geo center has lain within an hour's drive of tuscumbia since 1976, when the addition of seattle and toronto gave the coordinates a good hard yank to the west.

nonetheless, neither connie wyrick, a teacher at tuscumbia high school, nor peggy hake, a local historian and former commisioner of miller county, was aware that such an important landmark lay in such close proximity. hake, who wrote pioneer families of miller county, missouri: a journey to the past, seems to know ev'ything about the place; her web site is loaded with civil war stories, geneaological information, and other local history. (kevin vernon's site is another good resource for historical info about miller county.) i learned from hake that the osage river used to carry a lot of riverboat traffic. per this article, the first steamship came upriver in the the same year tuscumbia was founded (1837) and ran aground on a gravel bar somewhere in the general vicinity; it was called the north st. louis. by the early 20th century, tuscumbia had become a decent-sized freight center with more than 500 residents, a hotel, and its own hospital; an important town. but when bagnell dam opened in 1931 about 25 river miles upstream, creating the lake of the ozarks, the waterline in the osage dropped to unnavigable levels and the river traffic abruptly ceased. the nascent trucking industry likely would have put the river freighters out of business anyway in a matter of years; still, the dam altered the course (no pun) of tuscumbia's history. here's a photo of the jr wells riverboat, which used to ply the osage waters.

the new industry created by lake of the ozarks -- tourism -- hasn't had much effect on tuscumbia; although it lies less than half an hour's drive from the lake, the town doesn't draw (or seek) much visitation. there has been talk of converting the old county courthouse into a bed and breakfast, and miller county's concentration of picturesque swinging bridges (some photos here) does bring a few cars through town, but that's as far as it goes. tuscumbia's main industries today are turkey and hog farming, connie wyrick reports (next time you enjoy a club sandwich, thank these folks). indeed, one of her students won a a nationwide high-school science competition for her study on hormones in piglets. wyrick also says a disproportionate number of tuscumbia's 200-plus residents belong to families that have lived there for four or five generations; her husband's familiy (per peggy hake's page) has been in miller county since 1851. the school in which wyrick teaches, a k-12 institution, has been in continuous operation longer than the national league, which was founded in 1876.

unfortunately, the geographic center of major-league baseball has never produced a major-league baseball player. the nearest source is eldon (12 miles north of tuscumbia), whose son jim golden debuted with the dodgers on the final weekend of the 1960 season; he started and won against the cubs with relief help from don drysdale. the following year he threw 42 innings out of the los angeles bullpen, picking up his lone win that season in relief of an ineffective sandy koufax. in 1962 the houston colt 45s took golden in the expansion draft; he went 7-11 for them with a 4.07 era in 153 innings that inaugural season. but he pitched only three games for houston the next year and vanished from the major leagues. golden's baseball card:

in his second game for the colt 45s, on april 25 1962, golden came on in the 7th inning against the cardinals, who held a 4-3 lead. he held the birds scoreless for two innings; in the bottom of the 8th, a catcher named merritt ranew homered off ray washburn to tie the game. an error and sacrifice immediately ensued, putting the lead run at second base with one out. houston manager harry craft left golden in to hit for himself, god knows why; the colt bullpen was very well rested, hal woodeschick having thrown a complete game the previous day (and the team had an open date the day before that). but craft apparently knew what he was doing, because golden yanked a double to right to put the colts ahead 5-4 and set himself up for his 2d win of the season. alas, he yielded singles to flood and javier leading off the top of the 9th and handed the ball over to turk farrell, who gave up a game-tying single to ken boyer. that was the last run of the ballgame, which continued for 8 more scoreless innings before ending in a 5-5 tie. red schoendienst and stan musial both pinch-hit for the cards in that game; long, long time ago.

i was unable to find any other baseball players from miller county. jefferson city, about 35 miles northeast of tuscumbia (and 40 miles from geo center), has sent a handful of players on to the majors, including current chisox third baseman joe crede and former cardinal (briefly) hurler dennis higgins. the hamlet of high point, about 30 miles northwest of geo center, produced pitcher jack tising, a career minor-leaguer who reached the majors at age 32 with the pirates and made six starts for them in 1936; he won one major-league game. tising was still pitching in the minors as late as world war ii, taking his turns in the rotation for the buffalo bisons between shifts at a defense factory.

that's all i got for now. maybe i can persuade connie wyrick to send one of her students out with a digital camera and a GIS tracker to photograph the exact spot that constitutes the center of the major-league universe. keep an eye peeled for pix.