Caroline County — A Baseball Story In 3 Acts
Act 3: The Beasleys
He attended Bowling Green’s Union High School in the 1960s – the county’s “colored” school. I couldn’t find him in any of their mid-1960s yearbooks so I can’t tell you when – or if – he graduated, but reports say he played on the school’s powerhouse baseball team.
Beasley, an outfielder, was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the second round of the January 1967 draft.
With the minor league Miami Marlins in 1969
Though short and stocky, he was known for his speed. They called him “Quick Lew” and his 41 stolen bases in 1969 was a then-team record for the minor league Miami Marlins.
“I couldn’t call myself good,” he told a reporter in 1968, “I’ve just gotten some very lucky breaks.”
Don Baylor, a power-hitter who went on to a big league playing and managing career, remembered his 1967 minor league season on the O’s rookie league team in Bluefield, West Virginia, in a 1989 Baltimore Sun story:
“In the minors, players move in with families because they cannot afford apartments or hotel rooms. In Bluefield, there were very few black families, and that left the black guys on the team in sort of a bind. So Herman Grant, Lew Beasley, and I decided to share a hotel room, for $100 a month. … There were only two beds. Herman, a pitcher, always got one bed. The other one went to the guy who got the most hits. Get more hits, you get the bed and the box spring. The other got the floor and the mattress.”
By the end of the 1969 season, after nearly three seasons at Single A Miami, Beasley told reporters he would retire if he wasn’t promoted.
“If I’m not moved up, then I’ll go home to Virginia and back to the factory. It’s tough to face that but I can’t waste any more time in this low classification.”
He moved up. The Orioles sent him to the AA Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs in 1970 – a generally lousy team in the Texas League.
He played in 107 games and batted .280. Only a handful of Spurs played in more games than Beasley that season. Players came and went. Beasley stayed put.
In 1971, he was sent back down to Single A. This time in Stockton, California.
He led the Stockton Ports that season in games played, with 136. Everyone else was passing through – the lucky ones moving up, the not-so-lucky moving down. Beasley, again, stayed put.
Beasley’s .303 batting average led the team. So did his 87 runs and 24 stolen bases – no one else seemed to stay with the team long enough to challenge those numbers.
In 1972, the Orioles released him and he signed with the Texas Rangers where he spent six seasons on AA and AAA teams.
In all, Beasley spent 10 seasons in the minors – Miami, Bluefield, Miami, Clearwater, Dallas, Stockton, Pittsfield, Spokane, Pittsfield, Sacramento, Tucson.
Beasley’s 1977 Tucson Toros trading card didn’t have enough room for all the seasons of his “lifetime” minor league career.
Then, in May 1977, Beasley was called up to the Texas Rangers to fill in for an injured player.
In his first game, versus the Blue Jays, on May 22, 1977, Beasley debuted in right field and went 3-for-4 – with two singles, one double, one walk, one run, one RBI, one caught stealing, and one error. The Rangers won 7-4.
“It was something I have dreamed of all my life,” he told reporters after the game. “I worked so hard to be here for 10 years. But, I never gave up on myself.”
Beasley knew the call up was temporary. Twenty-five games later, the injured starter was healthy and back in the lineup, and Beasley was sent back down.
A couple years later Gary Gray, another long-time minor leaguer, told an Arizona paper, “This [Rangers] organization has messed up so many people. … and I’ll name them – Keith Smith, Lew Beasley, and Keathel Chauncey.”
They didn’t get a chance, Gray said. He suggested that race played a role. “If I were white, I wouldn’t be [in the minors],” he told the reporter.
When Beasley didn’t make the big league club in 1978, he retired.
Lew Beasley played in 25 big league games, made 37 plate appearances, and batted .219. He stole one base.
He still lives in Caroline County.
Tony Beasley, Lew’s nephew, was born in 1966 in Caroline County.
After playing at Liberty University in Virginia, he was picked by the Orioles in the 19th round of the 1989 MLB draft and spent nine seasons as an infielder in the Orioles and Pirates minor league systems. He batted .260 with 22 home runs over his minor league career.
He never played a major league game, but managed and coached widely in the minors. In 2006, he became the third base coach for the Washington Nationals under Frank Robinson. He was the Pittsburgh Pirates’ third base coach from 2008 to 2010.
He’s been the Texas Rangers third base coach since 2015.
In 2016, Beasley was diagnosed with stage 2 rectal cancer and underwent aggressive radiation and chemotherapy treatment. Beasley stayed positive and continued to work with the team when he could throughout his treatment.
Rangers infielder Joey Gallo accompanied Beasley to one of his treatments.
“For me, it was eye-opening; I had never been to a chemo session like that,” Gallo told Fox Sports. “We walked in there, and a lot of people were pretty down on their luck. It was pretty sad. But he came in, and he was just like a bright spot to everybody. He was smiling, laughing, making everyone happy to be there — or at least have some fun in a situation like that.”
Beasley is now cancer-free and returned to full-time coaching duties with the Rangers in 2017.Embed from Getty Images
Tony Beasley congratulates Joey Gallo after a home run, September 2017.
“Just to be back doing things that I enjoy doing, at full capacity without limitations, I’m thankful and honored,” he told reporters. “My health is back.”
On Opening Day 2017, Beasley sang the National Anthem at the Rangers game.
He grew up with seven brothers and sisters and learned to sing in the choir of Sparta’s Jerusalem Baptist Church, where he is still a member.
Tony Beasley preaching at Sparta’s Salem Baptist Church in 2017
He continues to live in Caroline County in the off season.
Congratulations. You have made it to the end of Caroline County, Virginia: A Baseball Story In 3 Acts …
But, wait. Don’t go. Can I cover one more important Caroline-ian thing?
It’s that annoying Neil Diamond song “Sweet Caroline.”
It has nothing to do with Caroline County.
And, it has nothing to do with baseball, no matter what those Boston Red Sox fans who love to sing along to it will tell you. (Fenway organist Josh Kantor once called it a “silly, cheesy song” which about sums it up.)
Geoff Edgers of The Boston Globe summed it up even better in 2013: “It’s a largely forgettable, three-minute slab of Velveeta with a distinct creepiness (“Warm, touchin’ warm”) when you consider it was written by Neil Diamond, pushing 30 at the time, about Caroline Kennedy, then a preteen. For whatever reason, the Sox, so innovative and dynamic in so many ways, treat the tune as if it’s one of the Dead Sea Scrolls.”
In conclusion …
Take Me Out To The Ballgame. A wonderful baseball song.
Sweet Caroline. Not.
There. Now the Caroline County section of the Virginia-Born Baseball Project is complete. Thank you for your kind attention.
Caroline County: A Baseball Story In 3 Acts.
Act 1: The County is here.
Act 2: “Soup” is here.
And, more on The Virginia-Born Baseball Project is here.