Goldie Holt, we barely knew you

 

Holt  In the past 145 years, nearly 4,000 professional baseball players have been born in Texas. Most never made the big leagues, and many only had a sniff of life in the minors. Even with Texas’ vast geography dwarfing most of the lower forty-eight states, with so much rural and undeveloped acreage, the larger cities of Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio claim a large percentage of Texas’ native professional ballplayers. But, many communities and settlements ranging from those large enough to host junior colleges to those never exceeding a population of 500 lay claim to a professional ballplayer. Such is the case with Enloe, a tiny Delta County community. The town, which was built and died with one-time Texas League franchise owner E.H.R. Green’s Texas-Midland Railroad, saw the height of its population in 1929, with 450 residents. Today, fewer than 100 live in what remains of Enloe, a virtual ghost town with a shuttered front street lined with the shells of businesses having closed doors nearly seventy years ago.  It’s likely few, if any, of those remaining in Enloe realize their settlement can claim a little-known but influential professional baseball player and scout as its own. It’s just as likely that those who lived in Enloe during its heyday had never heard of Golden Desmond Holt.

The Holt family is well-known in Sharp County of northeast Arkansas. Sometime in the 1840s, the family patriarch, Enoch Holt, moved to the area from Tennessee and began purchasing marginal farmland. Over the years, his several children had several of their own until the Holt name became widespread in the area. The Holts learned to live off Sharp County’s rocky soil on the eastern edge of the Ozark Mountains.  A Holt born in Sharp County didn’t normally leave the area, much less the state. But, around 1901, twenty-one year old Lacy C. Holt made the controversial decision to relocate to Texas, where he hoped opportunities for farming, most likely cotton, were more lucrative. Eventually, Lacy Holt made a name for himself as a Delta County farmer before moving to West Texas later in his life.

In 1901, Lacy apparently convinced his cousin James Holt, eleven years his senior, to come to Delta County as well. James, more of a carpenter than a farmer, likely saw the continued growth of Texas and its cotton industry creating demand for carpentry skills, and he uprooted his wife Mary Elizabeth and their five children, travelling 300 miles southwest by wagon to Enloe.

Soon after arriving in Texas, James realized he had made a mistake. The area, in terms of terrain, farming practices, and availability of building materials was far different than Sharp County, and both Mary Elizabeth and the children yearned for a return home.  The journey back to Arkansas would be most comfortable following the intense heat of August, and it’s likely the family decided to leave Enloe in the early fall. As the date to head home approached, though, the Holts learned Mary Elizabeth was pregnant with the couple’s sixth child. They decided to delay the trip until spring, after the baby was born.

Golden Desmond Holt was born in Enloe the day after spring officially arrived on March 22, 1902. Assuming the Holts remained in Enloe until mother and baby were up to the long trip, they likely left for Arkansas before the summer heat set in. As far as history and ancestral records are concerned, James and Mary, as well their children, had seen the last of Delta County, Texas.

Back in Arkansas, James resumed his carpentry business, but Mary Elizabeth became ill and passed away in 1904, leaving James a thirty-five year old widower with six children between two and sixteen years old.  As often happened at the time, James wasted little time finding a new wife, marrying Linne Oyler, a woman barely older than his first child, a year later. The couple went on to have at least two children of their own, the last born in 1916.

Exactly how the only native Texan of the Holt family, “Goldie” as he was called, became involved in baseball is unclear. By the age of seventeen, he was assisting his father and learning the carpenter’s trade, but four years later he made his professional baseball debut with the Fulton Railroaders of the Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League. His twenty games as an infielder with the Railroaders cemented Goldie’s future, and over the next twenty-three seasons, he played professionally in fifteen different minor leagues and twenty cities, mostly in the Southern United States and California. At  5’-7” tall, Goldie remained a steady, though not outstanding, minor league infielder throughout his career, finally retiring in 1947 after posting a .293 career batting average and a .938 fielding percentage. Goldie never caught a sniff of the big leagues, playing only five games at the AAA level at the age of forty-four.

Despite a lifetime in the mid-level minors, Goldie Holt had a reputation for his knowledge of baseball.  He spent six of his twenty-three seasons as a player-manager, winning the Western Association Championship in his first year as a manager with Ponca City in 1938. He couldn’t duplicate the feat with other organizations, but he became well-known among baseball executives.

Even though Goldie Holt qualified as a native Texan, he did not appear in the Texas League until his final season, as player-manager with the 1947 Beaumont Exporters. At the age of forty-five, Holt appeared in one game for the Exporters that season, pitching a five-hit complete game victory in only his twenty-second pitching appearance in 2,011 minor league games. The Exporters, a New York Yankees affiliate, finished tied for last place in the Texas League under Holt, winners of only sixty games despite having nine future major leaguers on the roster over the course of the season.

In 1948, Goldie Holt finally found his way to the major leagues, serving as a coach under manager Billy Meyer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Coaching alongside Honus Wagner, Holt spent three seasons with the Pirates before moving on to his duties as a scout and minor league manager with the Brooklyn Dodgers until 1958. He then coached with the Cubs for several years before returning to the Dodgers organization as a scout until the 1980s.

Though spending little time in Texas and seemingly forgotten in professional baseball circles, over the course of his six-decade involvement in baseball, Goldie Holt made two pronounced contributions to both Major League and Texas baseball history. First, while scouting an American Legion team in California in the early 1950s, Holt attended a game in which he expected to see a young second baseman who reportedly showed professional potential. Coincidentally, the team’s pitcher failed to show for the game, and the coach called on the second baseman to pitch in his place. Though he had never pitched a game in his life, the fellow did well enough that Goldie approached him after the game to ask if he’d ever thought about changing positions. The young player, Don Drysdale, went on to a Hall of Fame pitching career with the Dodgers, including a Cy Young Award, eight All-Star teams, and five World Series.

For Texas baseball fans, Goldie Holt’s most important contribution to the game may have come in 1970 during Dodgers spring training. While passing Charlie Hough, a pitching prospect who had struggled in his first few seasons with the organization, Holt took him aside and suggested Hough consider adding a new pitch to his repertoire or finding a new profession. Holt taught Charlie Hough the art of the knuckleball on the spot. The rest is history. After a decade as a Dodgers reliever, Hough joined the Texas Rangers in 1980 and converted into a starting pitcher. In eleven seasons with a team who played profoundly poor baseball, Hough posted double-digit wins nine times. His famous knuckleball also managed to hit 89 batters and helped catcher Gino Petralli set a major league record when he allowed four passed-balls in a single inning in 1987. Twenty-five years after throwing his last pitch in Arlington, Charlie Hough remains the Rangers all-time leaders in wins, strikeouts, and complete games.

Back in Enloe, Texas, there is no sign of Goldie Holt to be found. It is not known if the native son ever returned to his birthplace after leaving it in 1902 at the age of about eight weeks. Holt may not be remembered in Enloe, but he does offer the community its only recognized connection to professional baseball. Twenty-three professional seasons as a player and another forty years of involvement as a coach, manager, and scout is nothing for Enloe to sneeze at, and for Texas Rangers fans, neither is Charlie Hough.

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