The Waycross Bears, a professional Class "D" Baseball Team, never experienced too many championship teams. Very few people thought the 1948 Bears team stood much of a chance of winning the 1948 Georgia-Florida League Pennant.
Some folks said that they needed a miracle! At mid-season, on June 1, 1948, they had won 22 and lost 28, and were third from the bottom of an eight-team league. In the final games of that season the Waycross Bears went on a campaign of pitching and hitting; winning .660 percent of their games.
Robert Latimer Hurst, in his book, "Magic Wilderness," tells the story best. The big showdown had finally arrived. After two consecutive doubleheaders in Valdosta, the Bears were leading by a half game. It was "now or never," and Valdosta was now in Waycross for a double header. By the fifth inning, nervous twitching had begun as the Dodgers and Bears stood 5 - 5, but the Valdosta Dodgers jumped ahead to win the game, the first game of the doubleheader.
Harry Raulerson, a graduate of Nahunta High School, and a World War II veteran, was a member of that championship team, and was a steadfast performer in that winning drive during the closing months of the 1948 season.
The members of the team were, George Fisher, Bobby Lyons, Burr Austin, Walt Bremer, Charlie Brewster, Jeff Bell, Charlie Weathers, Don Gross, Ray Seidel, Jack Ingalls, Harry Raulerson, Don Harwood, George Fulz, Norm Galankin, Bob Cook, and batboys Mathison and Darrell Williams.
Harry continued to play with the Bears in the following years, and became their star pitcher. During this period, a steady stream of Brantley County cars could be seen each evening headed to Waycross for every home game. It was never quite understood, "Were the Brantley County fans that interested in supporting a city that was their rival in other sports, or were they there to boost their home-grown Brantley County hero, Harry Raulerson." We expect the latter!
Waycross Journal-Herald, Saturday, July 15, 2000 (by Larry Purdom, Staff Writer): Long is the list of local heroes who have graced Memorial Stadium, Newton Field and the homegrown sandlots of Waycross. But Brantley-born Harry Raulerson might just be the rip-roarin'ist baseball player to ever survey a local diamond. In his day Raulerson was king of the lot, equally adept in the batter's box as he was confounding opposing hitters from his perch on the pitcher's mound.
The Hortense-born youth still lives in Nahunta, not too many miles from the old family place where he grew up. He keeps a photograph on the wall of his granddad and grandmom and the big ol'rambling house in which he grew up with the long porch and the picket fence out front. It somehow finds its place among some of the many awards and momentos Raulerson gained from his stellar career with the Waycross Bears and other teams.
No one who lived in South Georgia during the 1949 season will forget Raulerson's winning 17 consecutive games from the pitcher's mound. He would eventually go 18-3 for the season and 21-4 after the playoffs, which the Bears won for the League Championship. "I went up against Moultrie trying for my 18th," he laughs, "and it didn't go well at all. They bombed me pretty good and that was that for the streak."
Then there was the 1951 session Raulerson pitched 31 complete games, a modern record. The feat was made the more remarkable for the way in which he got them, pitching on two successive days to close out the season. (He got the win in the 31st game too.) Our scribe (Waycross J-H) of the day wrote, "It was Raulerson all the way with a brilliant three-hitter. It was the 31st complete game by the curve-ball master. Bear officials say that this is believed to be a new record for organized baseball for number of games completed in a single season." Raulerson led the league in pitching that '51 season, but he also helped his cause from the plate. Not one to simply fling the ball, Raulerson was also a terror as a batter, hitting .355 in 1949 and in the '51 season he won both the pitching and team batting crown. He pitched right handed and batted left handed. "My best hit was between left and center at Newton Field. I got a lot of doubles there," he says.
He also drove the team bus, and if he won more than 15 games, they paid him $25 more. He collected every year! "We made $150 per month. The bus driver got a little extra and every bit helped. That was when a dollar was a dollar though, and for $8 you could get a room for a week," he recalls..
Raulerson leans back in his chair, a gregarious man still full of vim and vigor, and recounts momentous games in Savannah, Augusta, Albany, and Moultrie, then moves to another chapter, when he pitched for the Miami Beach Flamingoes and played games in Havana, Cuba. A smile comes over his face now, remember rough and tumbling times in the Cuban capital. "There was some rotten stuff at times, but you know, you'll put up with things as a young man you wouldn't as an older one" he says.
No one knows how it is for a gifted athlete, one that can run faster, throw farther, and hit harder, yet for Raulerson the accolades began early, as he excelled in basketball and baseball for Nahunta High School. He once struck out 18 of the 21 batters he faced versus Wacona High, and against Waycross one game he struck out 22. Those were the days when he used to drive just south of the railroad tracks in Nahunta so he could pick up a Bears' game on WAYX on the radio.
Once he became a Bear, Raulerson was a one-man economic development factor, as half of Nahunta would show up in Waycross on days he was pitching. Many are the friendships made around the old diamond. There aren't a whole lot of the former Bear boys still around the old campfire. They include folks like Jack Ingalls, Herb Reeves (both fine pitchers in their own rights), Burr Austin, and Mickey McGowan who are still in the area.
"Dan Harwood died recently; so did Skeeter Webb," the 75 year-young Raulerson says. One friend was perhaps more special, that being Mickey Katkaveck, the one-time Bears skipper who went on to guide the Waycross Recreation Department during its infancy, a civic king who developed the elementary school's midget program, Midget Bowl, Dixie Classic and numerous local youth sports. When Katkaveck was dying of cancer, he knew he wanted some of the old boys to be his pallbearers. Some would've just given the funeral home a list, but not the old skipper; he called all of them to his bedside to make the request.
"It's funny the things you remember," he says. "I'll never forget something Mickey said to me very early in my career. I was pitching against Albany and he was catching; afterwards he came up to me and said," "you could beat any league tonight," I've never forgotten. "For a young pitcher just starting out, that was great."
Raulerson retired from the diamond in 1952 and settled down in Nahunta. Through all the baseball and afterwards the one constant had always been his wife, Virginia, a wonderful woman who served the whole county. Her title was County Extension Agent, but she was much more than that. Interestingly, she at one time was the "Electrification Advisor" for Okefenokee Rural Electric, a home economist who showed new electricity users ways to get the most out of this new thing. Such were her contributions to civic and community life that Mrs. Raulerson was posthumously awarded the coveted Liston Elkins Award in 1987. tragedy struck again at the Raulerson home when his son, Dennis was killed in an automobile accident 2 1/2 months after his wife's death.
These days Raulerson rises and walks two miles each day. He doesn't dwell in the past, neither does he avoid it, proud of his accomplishments in a humble, non-showy way. But if a stranger asks, he'll show him the newspaper clipping from when he got his 31st game, with a philosophy simple but very effective.
"I forget the losses; I just remember the wins," he smiles. He had very few of the former, and many of the latter. In truth, this quiet man, born and bred in Brantley County, was one of the greatest athletes ever to grace Memorial Stadium.
Web Editor's Note: While surviving "heart by-pass surgery" in St. Vincents' Hospital in the spring of 2001, Harry was reminiscent of the above stories, still with a sparkle in his eyes as he recalled special events. I ran into Harry again at the Brantley County courthouse in early August, 2001. He continues to walk and exercise, and is doing real well with his rehabilitation.
My Claim to Fame: With me growing up in the mid-1940s, Harry was one of the big boys that were returning home from fighting World War II. He had played basketball with the Nahunta Athletic Championship team for a couple of years, and was going to "try out for baseball with the Waycross bears." Harry needed a "baseball glove for this important event, and didn't want just any old glove, "It had to be flat and sufficiently flexible to hide the ball from the batters!" I had just such a glove; one that I had bought by selling peanuts on Plant Avenue in Waycross as a 10-11 year old. Harry borrowed my baseball glove for his "try-out" and apparently had reasonable success. Unfortunately, I entered the U.S. Air Force in April 1948 and was not able to witness Harry's success as a Bear. (By the way, Harry is getting old and doesn't remember this event!) Signed, Thomas "Earl" Cleland, editor.