Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

A Friend Passes On

By David M. Jordan

Emory Nicholas Bubba Church

On Monday evening, September 17, 2001, Emory Nicholas Bubba Church died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Birmingham, Alabama. Bubba Church was one of the key members of the 1950 Phillies Whiz Kids, and that fact alone makes his death a sad piece of news for Philadelphias baseball fans. Konstanty, Ennis, Ashburn, Jones, Waitkus, Hamner – the list of departed heroes from that team grows ever longer. For members of the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society, the passing of Bubba Church means even more. For, while Bubba never pitched for the As, he has been a longtime and faithful friend of the Society. The day before his death, Bubba spoke with Society general manager Ernie Montella about his eagerness to attend the Society’s breakfast reunion on October 21.

Bubba Church was born on September 12, 1924, in Birmingham, so he had just celebrated his 77th birthday when he died. He joined the Army Air Force in World War II, serving in the China-Burma-India theatre. He signed with the Phillies and had his first taste of professional baseball in 1947 with Salina, Kansas, in the Western Association. In thirty games with Salina, Bubba was 21 and 9, with an earned run average of 2.93. In his spare time, he played 48 games in the outfield, hitting at a .280 clip. After the season, Bubba started attending Louisiana State University, which he did after the following two seasons as well.

In 1948 and 1949, Church pitched at Toronto in the International League, at the time the Phillies top farm outpost. After winning fifteen games in 1949, he was an obvious prospect for the big league teams pitching staff, and he took full advantage of the opportunity. At Clearwater, Bubba made a positive impression on manager Eddie Sawyer and his coaches, and when the club came north Bubba Church was on the roster.

For the Whiz Kids, Bubba became an important member of a very young pitching staff, teaming with Robin Roberts, Curt Simmons, Bob Miller, and the more seasoned Russ Meyer, Ken Heintzelman, and the incredible reliever, Jim Konstanty. Churchs numbers for the season were eight wins and six losses in 31 games, with a 2.73 earned run average. He was placed in the starting rotation in mid-July, when Heintzelman struggled, and promptly ran off three straight very important victories.

Near-tragedy struck Bubba Church on September 15, 1950, when a screaming line drive off the bat of Cincinnatis Ted Kluszewski smashed into his face. The ball was hit so hard that it caromed into right field on the fly. Church went down as if pole-axed and had to be helped off the field by his stunned teammates. Showing indomitable courage, however, Bubba was out on the mound again to face the hard-hitting Dodgers little more than a week later.

In 1951, Church was again a mainstay of the Phillies staff, compiling a record of 15-11 with an e.r.a. of 3.53, including a one-hitter over Pittsburgh. Early in the 1952 season, Bubba was traded to the Reds for outfielder Johnny Wyrostek. He was 5-9 for Cincinnati, and 7-8 for the Reds and the Chicago Cubs in 1953. Two more seasons with the Cubs, pitching only occasionally because of arm problems, brought Bubba Churchs big league career to an end in 1955. His career record was 36-37, but in Philadelphia he was always remembered as one of the Whiz Kids who brought a pennant to the Quaker City, the first flag since the Athletics great run of 1929-30-31.

After baseball, Bubba Church returned to Birmingham, where he ran a linen service for medical clinics until his retirement in 1988. He was a frequent visitor to As Society events, and he was one of the featured guests, along with Roberts and Andy Seminick, at the celebration of the 1950 Whiz Kids sponsored by the As Society and the Chester County Historical Society in 2000. Everyone who had a chance to talk with Bubba was struck by his kindness and soft-spoken Southern charm.

Bubba was very close to his family, and he is survived by his daughters Lisa and Cindy, by five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, and a sister. He is sadly mourned by all of them and by the many friends he made in the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society.

‘A Friend Passes On’ provided courtesy of the Athletics Historical Society


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