In a roomful of Major League Baseball fans, there could easily be arguments all day long about who was the best player ever. You could say the same for managers, only there probably would not be so many diverse opinions, because there have been few really great managers.
But on one subject it would be difficult for baseball fanatics to argue over who was the best scout in professional baseball who ever lived. That's because a man from Willard is widely regarded as having a tight lock on that title.
Greenwade was named after a great inventor, but went a different route. You see, he had a simple and unadulterated love for the game of baseball.
Thomas Edison Greenwade was born Aug. 21, 1904, to Edward and Nancy (Tinsley) Greenwade. Eighty-two years later, he would die in Willard. In between, he traveled some.
Greenwade's mother died when he was 10 years of age. Eventually his father remarried. Greenwade attended school at Willard. After graduating from high school, Greenwade played amateur baseball.
A traveling salesman for a cookie company saw him pitch and offered Greenwade $25 each Sunday to play for a town team in Clinton. That was Greenwade's first foray into semi-pro baseball.
In 1923, at the age of 18, Greenwade became a minor league baseball player when he signed a contract with the Portsmouth, Arkansas club. In 1925, he signed a contract with a club in Enid, Oklahoma in the Southwestern League and by 1927, he had advanced to playing with Muskogee in the Western Association.
Then the St. Louis Browns bought out Greenwade’s contract and he played for their Tulsa and Springfield teams. In his last season pitching in the independent Northern League, Greenwade had a record of 22 wins and only two losses. Then he suffered a long bout with Typhoid that robbed him of two years of playing time.
Greenwade moved to Dallas, where he worked in pipeline construction, before moving to Kansas City to study law in 1934 and 1935. Next, he worked for the IRS before quitting in 1937 for an unsuccessful run for Greene County sheriff. A Democrat, Greenwade came from a family that had always been active in local politics.
In 1938, Springfield businessman Ike Martin asked Greenwade to coach the Springfield Merchants American Legion team. That team won the state playoffs under his management and Bill DeWitt, General Manager of the St. Louis Browns, requested that Greenwade bring several of his best players to tryouts with the Browns.
Five of Greenwade's players signed contracts. DeWitt was impressed by Greenwade's ability to pinpoint a player’s talents and bring them to the forefront and hired him as player/manager for the Paragould (Arkansas) Browns minor league team in 1940. Greenwade's Paragould team won the Northeast Arkansas League pennant that year and the St. Louis Browns asked him to serve as a scout in 1941.
Greenwade got a big break when the Brooklyn Dodgers' Branch Rickey hired him as a scout. By October of 1941, Greenwade was in California where the Dodgers were hosting a tryout camp. His job was not only to look over the young men for potential minor league players, but also, as an article in a newspaper said, to “guide them.”
Greenwade helped change the face of baseball while he was scouting for the Dodgers. While he signed Gil Hodges and other fine players for the Dodgers in 1943, it was two players in particular that made a big difference.
One was Roy Campanella. His parents were an African-American mother and a father who was the son of Italian immigrants. Campanella was playing in the Negro League when Greenwade scouted him. Greenwade had once pitched a game against the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League at Walnut Grove, Missouri, and knew what kind of talent those players had.
Greenwade was also the man who scouted Jackie Robinson after Branch Rickey sent him on a “secret mission” to follow Robinson, who was playing for the Kansas City Monarchs, to assess both Robinson’s skills and his demeanor to see if he could withstand the abuse that was bound to be heaped upon his head by the white spectators as the first black player in the major leagues.
Greenwade followed Robinson for 22 days. By the end of that stretch, he felt good enough about Robinson to recommend him to Rickey as the right man for his “great experiment.”
By the time Robinson and Campanella signed with the Dodgers and were sent to their minor league teams in 1946, Greenwade had already switched over to the New York Yankees as a scout in 1945.
Jackie Robinson moved up to the big leagues with the Dodgers in 1947 and was named Rookie of the Year at the end of the season. That was the same year Gil Hodges was called up. Campanella's first season in the big leagues with the Dodgers came in 1948. They all three had stellar careers.
Greenwade wasn't there to sign these two black players, but it seems obvious that his recommendations to do just that played a big part in their signings, and thus Jackie Robinson broke the so-called “color barrier,” and Roy Campanella swept away the remnants of that barrier.
While that was an important role for Tom Greenwade to play in baseball history, his amazing scouting career was really just getting started.
Next week: Tom Greenwade signs “the one.”