Baseball is all about statistics, and here are some numbers about Jack Waters: A native of Robindale, in East Wheatfield Township, he played 12 seasons for 10 teams in six organizations, across eight states and two provinces, in eight leagues and five classes of minor league baseball. He played in more than 1,500 games, went to bat almost 6,000 times, ripped 1,666 hits, scored 810 runs, and drove in 505.
That all adds up to one amazing career. But it doesn’t tell the whole story about Waters.
At Armagh High School (now part of United), he was the quarterback of the football team, a state-level hurdler on the track team, and one of the top basketball players in his school. He might have been able to pursue any of those sports at the college level, but baseball seemed to be his calling.
For his stellar baseball career –– which began the year Eisenhower beat Stevenson (the first time) and ended when Kennedy was in the White House –– Waters will be inducted into the Indiana County Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday.
Not bad for a guy who grew up in a tiny coal town that no longer exists.
AT THE BEGINNING of the 20th century, Smokeless was a burgeoning coal town along the Conemaugh River, named for the company that owned the town. In 1917, a company from Philadelphia bought the property and renamed it Robindale.
At the time, the mine employed roughly 30 men. By 1930, that number had grown to nearly 200. Among the miners who lived and worked there was Jack Waters Sr. His namesake attended school in Armagh and was popular with his classmates and active outside the classroom.
In his 1951 senior yearbook, Waters is credited for earning four letters in basketball, three in football and two in track. He was in the Varsity Club and Future Farmers of America, and he was the art editor on the yearbook staff. He also played the role of Jose Garcia in the class production of “Aunt Cathie’s Cat.”
Under each senior class portrait in the yearbook, there is a four-stanza poem. For Waters, it’s “Yes, he’s our star in football / Shines in basket-ball too / He’s a friend to everybody / Including you and you, and you.”
In football, Waters was such a good quarterback that he reportedly received a scholarship offer to play at the University of Maryland. In basketball, he scored 205 points his senior season for a team that totaled 828. And in the spring, he earned a spot at the state track meet, where he finished third in the 180-yard low hurdles.
Baseball, though, is where Waters really shined. Most high schools didn’t field baseball teams in those days, so Waters played wherever he could. The summer after he graduated from Armagh, he played for the Lincoln Street team in Johnstown and made an impression on pro scouts at Point Stadium in the blossoming AAABA tournament.
ACCORDING TO a blurb in The Indiana Gazette on April 3, 1952, Waters had headed “down south” to a tryout camp for the Cleveland Indians. Waters made the cut, signed a contract and was shipped off to Green Bay of the Class D Wisconsin State League. He batted .302 that summer in 121 games, earning a promotion the next year to Sherbrooke (Quebec) of the Class C Provincial League.
During Waters’ professional baseball career, he gained a reputation as one of the best defensive outfielders any team, at any level, could have. But in 1953, Waters garnered headlines for winning the league batting title (.348) and topping the PL in hits (182) and total bases (253).
The standout season earned Waters a promotion to Class A Reading, of the Eastern League, where he spent the entire 1954 and 1955 seasons, hitting a combined .275 in 267 games. He spent most of the next four seasons at Mobile (Ala.) in the Southern Association, and two offseasons in the Mexican Pacific Winter League. He did get a brief call-up to Class AAA San Diego in 1958 but otherwise was a mainstay in the outfield for Mobile, growing a reputation as a light-hitting defensive whiz.
Waters finally caught a break in 1960 when the Indians promoted him to Class AAA Toronto. He hit only .236 that season, with 99 of his 131 hits being singles, but his value in the outfield was immeasurable.
George Beahon, a columnist for the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle, singled out Waters in a 1961 article for his play the year prior. In 1960, Waters and the Maple Leafs won the International League pennant. The next season, Toronto was mired in a midseason slump and Beahon suggested one of the reasons was that Waters was no longer on the team.
“Waters played center and covered the entire outfield and made unassisted double plays, etc., etc.,” Beahon wrote. “When Frank Funk pitched a no-hitter one day (June 16, 1960), the official scorer was tempted to put Waters’ name down as the winning pitcher. … Some said he was the best relief pitcher on the staff. Waters had the nerve to ask for a raise this spring. He wound up in Houston, where he is hitting .304 and torturing opposition hitters with his unreal outfielding.”
Then Beahon summed it up.
“Today, Toronto is in seventh place.”
INDEED, WATERS was in the Chicago Cubs organization in 1961. At 29, he spent the entire season with Houston, in the American Association, and then had a series of one-year deals with the Washington Senators and the Houston Colt .45s before he found himself back in the International League in 1963, with Detroit’s team in Syracuse.
But after only 11 games, Waters was hitting .214 when the Tigers released him. Three weeks later, Waters signed a contract with the Los Angeles Angels. The 31-year-old outfielder was shipped to Nashville, of the South Atlantic League.
“I don’t know how well he can hit in the ‘Sally’ League,” Ed Doherty, the Angels’ general manager, told F.M. Williams, of The Tennessean upon signing Waters. “But he’ll be the best centerfielder, defensively.”
Waters’ time in Nashville ended after 29 games, when he was released on July 6, 1963. At the time, he was hitting .198 with only two RBIs in 81 at-bats.
That turned out to be the end of Waters’ run in professional baseball, one step short of the major leagues.
“He wasn’t angry about it,” Waters’ son, Jack III, told The Indiana Gazette’s Bob Fulton last May. “He was just heartbroken that his baseball career didn’t go where he knew that it could. He had regrets that things didn’t turn out the way he wanted.”
AFTER BASEBALL, Waters lived in Ohio with his family and took on blue-collar jobs. His son said Waters didn’t often talk about his baseball career, choosing to leave the past in the past.
Just as Waters’ playing career was history, so was his hometown. In 1977, when the Johnstown Flood rearranged the terrain along the Conemaugh River, it swept up Robindale and left little of it behind. The land Robindale once stood on is now part of the Seward Power Plant.
In 2006, at the age of 73, Waters died in Brunswick, Ohio, 43 years after he last played pro baseball. Sixteen years later, he will be honored for his stellar athletics career when he is inducted into the Indiana County Sports Hall of Fame.
Some might say it’s an honor long overdue, considering Waters’ playing career ended so long ago. But it’s an honor earned. Waters’ prowess as a defensive outfielder doesn’t show up in box scores, but this is a case when baseball numbers don’t tell the whole story.