Dalton honors sports pioneer 'Suitcase' Simpson

Dalton honors sports pioneer 'Suitcase' Simpson

October 25th, 2009 by Kelly Jackson in News

Staff Photo by Kelly Jackson Kerry Simpson and Gary Simpson, sons of the Dalton's famous baseball player, Harry "Suitcase" Simpson, unveil a new grave marker and monument at their father's gravesite in Dalton's historic West Hill Cemetery.

Staff Photo by Kelly Jackson Kerry Simpson and Gary...

DALTON, Ga. -- At the top of a hill overlooking the mountains east of Dalton, residents can visit the grave of one of Dalton's most memorable characters.

Harry Leon "Suitcase" Simpson (1925-1979) is best known for his accomplishments as a baseball player. More than 100 family, friends and community members gathered Saturday morning at his grave in Dalton's historic West Hill Cemetery to see the unveiling of a granite monument.

"When I was a kid, I really, really felt proud to have a cousin who played professional baseball," said Melvin Pender, who is also a famous athlete from Dalton. He won a gold medal in the 4 x 100 relay in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico.

Mr. Pender said he remembers playing baseball with a friend and they'd take turns pretending to be Harry "Suitcase" Simpson.

Thomas Pinson, director of the Dalton Community Center, said many people helped create the memorial, which features career highlights and background information about Mr. Simpson. The grave is one stop in a new brochure that showcases historic figures who are buried in the cemetery.

Mr. Pinson said that Mr. Simpson was one of the first 13 black players to join the major leagues.

"Some say he was the third, some say he was the 13th, but he was one of the first and he was from right here in the city of Dalton," Mr. Pinson said as the gathered crowd burst into cheers.

Mr. Simpson first played with the city's black baseball team, the Dalton Tigers. He joined the Negro League in 1946 as a member of the Philadelphia Stars. His American League debut was with the Cleveland Indians in 1951 and he played in the World Series with the New York Yankees in 1957. He was an outfielder and first baseman with teams including the Kansas City Athletics, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago White Sox, according to a news release.

Mr. Simpson led the American League in triples in 1956 and 1957. His finest season was in 1956 when he batted .293 for Kansas City with 21 home runs, 11 triples and 105 RBIs and was selected to the American League All-Star team.

Mr. Pender said that Mr. Simpson got his "Suitcase" nickname because he played and traveled with many different teams.

But, most people in Dalton knew him by the nickname "Goodie," said Elbert Easley, who also played with the Dalton Tigers.

"He was a great person to be around," said Mr. Easley.

Family remembers recalled that Mr. Simpson had other interests, including hunting and fishing. They said he also was a devote Christian.

Harion Renee Simpson Davis, Mr. Simpson's youngest daughter, said that while others knew her father as a great baseball player, she knew him simply as "Daddy."

Mr. Simpson's granddaughter Lashawna Shufford was only 3 years old when he passed away, but she said she vividly remembers the time she spent with him, like all the days he carried her in his arms to preschool class.

"I was very spoiled by my grandfather," she said.

HARRY "SUITCASE" SIMPSON

* Retired from Major League Baseball in 1959

* Career stats:

* 888: Games played

* .266: Batting average

* 752: Hits

* 381: RBIs (Runs Batted In)


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