Baseball in Wartime

Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice

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Johnny Echols

Date and Place of Birth: January 9, 1917 Atlanta, Georgia

Died: November 12, 1972 Atlanta, Georgia

Baseball Experience: Major League
Rank: Unknown
Military Unit:
US Army

Area Served: United States

John G. Echols was born on January 9, 1917 in Atlanta, Georgia. As an infielder he played baseball at Boys’ High School in Atlanta.

In 1935, Echols and several other high school boys, including future Cardinals legend Marty Marion who played for Tech High School in Atlanta, attended a baseball school conducted by the St. Louis Cardinals at Rome, Georgia. Marion and Echols worked briefly, and played only two innings before they were offered contracts, which they declined.

Branch Rickey received a report on them, however, and invited them to Sportsman's Park, all expenses paid. They went to catch the final series of 1935, in which the Cubs ran their winning streak to 21 to beat out the Cardinals. The boys worked out with the Cardinals but still didn’t sign.

That winter, scout Frank Rickey came to Atlanta and offered Echols and Marion contracts they could not refuse. The boys signed four year contracts which were unheard of at that time.

“Branch Rickey was crazy about Echols, a good ballplayer," Marion said in a Newspaper Enterprise Association article in March 1946. “I believe he signed me to get him.”

Echols and Marion joined the Huntington Red Birds of the Class C Mid-Atlantic League for 1936. While Marion hit .268 in 130 games as the team’s starting shortstop, Echols contributed a .260 batting average and five home runs in 65 games at third base before joining the Asheville Tourists of the Class B Piedmont League. Echols batted .236 in 51 games with the Tourists.

In 1937, with Marion playing for the Class AA Rochester Red Wings, Echols spent the year with the Mobile Shippers of the Class B Southeastern League. In 130 games he batted .255.

Echols was reunited with Marion during the spring of 1938 while training with the Rochester Red Wings before being optioned back to Mobile, where he batted .225 in 108 games.

At the end of the 1938 season the Cardinals released Echols. He went to visit his friend Marty Marion in St. Petersburg during the spring of 1939 and Marion reminded Echols that Rickey had signed them both to four year contracts and therefore couldn’t release either of them. Commissioner Landis got involved at this point and Echolsd was back with the Cardinals.

He began the 1939 season with the Columbus Red Birds of the Class AA American Association and was called up to the St. Louis Cardinals in May. He made his major league debut on May 24 at Sportsman’s Park against the Boston Braves as a pinch runner for catcher Mickey Owen. He made a second and final appearance on May 29 against the Pittsburgh Pirates, again as a pinch runner for Owen.

That was the end of Echols major league career and pretty much the end of his professional baseball career, too. He played just a handful of games with the Columbus Red Birds of the Class B South Atlantic League in 1940, and did not reappear on the baseball scene until 1943, when he was manager and coach of the 803d Signal Training Regiment baseball team at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey.

Johnny Echols later worked as a salesman for a wholesale electrical company. He succumbed to cancer on November 12, 1972 in Atlanta, Georgia. He was 55 years old and is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Atlanta.

Added: November 14, 2010

Copyright © 2015 Gary Bedingfield (Baseball in Wartime). All Rights Reserved.