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April 24, 2014

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Heyward Injury Brings Back Rance Pless

Originally published: 2013-08-24 01:58:18
Last modified: 2013-08-24 01:59:02

Every time Rance Pless sees a player get beaned, like Atlanta's Jason Heyward did Wednesday night against the New York Mets, it brings back some bad memories.

Nightmares might be a better description.

Pless, the Greenevillian who won two Minor League batting titles in a 14-year professional baseball career, said he shuddered when Heyward crumpled to the ground after being struck on the side of the head by a Jonathon Niese pitch Wednesday night. Heyward sustained a broken jaw and may be sidelined the rest of the regular season. He had surgery Thursday.

Although the Braves currently have a comfortable lead in the National League East, it's still a severe blow during the upcoming run to the playoffs as Atlanta will miss Heyward's defensive prowess as much as his bat.

Pless well remembers getting plunked in the side of the head when he was playing at Nashville in 1952. The ball hit him squarely and broke his cheek bone, but Pless feared even more damage.

"I thought I might lose my sight," Pless said when recalling the incident. "Lordy, I looked awful with my head all swelled up. And we were getting ready for the playoffs, and I wanted to play because that meant more money."

Pless went to a doctor in Atlanta to have his eye checked out. Fortunately there was no damage to the eye and he was back in uniform in a couple of weeks, helping Nashville into the post-season.

"The guy that hit me was a head-hunter," Pless said. "He threw it in the 90s, and when the ball's coming at that speed it's just hard to get out of the way in time. I really feel for Heyward and hopes he gets back earlier than they say he will. The Braves need him."

Pless, who began his professional career in 1947, is close to the Braves because he was a scout for the organization for a number of years after his playing career was over. He spent 14 years in the pros, nine of them in the New York Giants farm system. He spent one year in the big show, with the Kansas City A's in 1956.

Pless won two batting titles in the Minors, in 1952 (.364) in the Southern Association (AA) and in 1955 (.337) in the American Association (AAA). In 1755 games in the Minor Leagues, he had a career batting average of .303.

After leaving the pro ranks, Pless was a standout with the local Greeneville Magnavox team.


Pless has lots of memorabilia from his days in professional baseball, and new items are discovered regularly.

Recently when cleaning out a box of old records in Pless' basement, his nephew, Ronnie Wilhoit, found an old phonograph record that included a 1950 interview that Pless had conducted with radio station KCOM in Sioux City, Iowa.

Wilhoit got the old phonograph record to his friend Nathan Humbard, a Radio Greeneville employee who it seems can do most anything with an old record or tape, and it was converted into an audio that is most interesting.

Considering the age of the record, over a half-century, plus the fact that it had to be converted, the sound is remarkably clear.

I've listened to the interview several times and Rance's voice sounded in 1950 just like it does today.

Pless had just been shipped from Jacksonville (Fla.) to Sioux City during the 1950 season. The radio interviewer questioned Pless about his career and the 800-mile trip that Pless had just made from Jacksonville to Sioux City.

"My home is in Greeneville, Tennessee, and I came through there to drop off my wife before coming on to Sioux City," Pless said on the recording. "I guess I'm kinda' nervous -- probably driving too long. I should'a took two days to get here instead of driving it all in one day."

Pless told the radio station that he had played in Trenton the year prior and had batted .320. He updated the interviewer on several players that he had been on the field with in Jacksonville who had played at Sioux City the previous year.

Pless said playing in Jacksonville was tough. "It's awful hot down there ... takes a lot out of a ball player. The long road trips and the heat ... that's the two biggest differences I guess."

Pless also told the station that he was happy to be in Sioux City and looked forward to playing there.

Pless only played one year in Sioux City. The next year he was back in Jacksonville, then was moved to Class AA Nashville in 1952, where he won the Southern Association batting title, and rose to the Class AAA level in 1953 with Minneapolis. He won the American association batting title while with Minneapolis in 1955.

For more information and stories, see The Greeneville Sun.

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