LIMA — Leo Mangum had stories and, on an August afternoon in 1965, the 69-year-old proprietor of L&L Bowling sat down with a Lima News reporter to share some of them. But Mangum’s stories were not about strikes and spares and 300 games, although a headline in the News once described him as the “grandad of city bowling.”
Among the tales Mangum could share was the one about a July afternoon 41 years earlier, when the likeable, longtime Lima bowling alley operator was a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox, toeing the rubber on the Yankee Stadium mound, staring down at Babe Ruth. Mangum spent nearly two decades in professional baseball; he had lots of stories.
His story is told by Mike Lackey in the Allen County Reporter, which is available at the Allen County Museum. Lackey, a former Lima News columnist who has written extensively on baseball, is the author of “Spitballing: The Baseball Days of Long Bob Ewing,” an award-winning biography of an Auglaize County native who pitched for the Cincinnati Reds in the early 20th century.
Mangum was born on May 24, 1896, in Durham, North Carolina, one of four children of a carpenter and building contractor. His father retired in his 50s because of ill health. This, Lackey noted, “might partly explain the recollection of Leo’s wife that her husband ‘came from a very poor family and had very little education.’”
Although he was born in North Carolina, Mangum lived most of his life in Lima after his 1925 marriage to 22-year-old Winifred Scheid, the daughter of Lima plumbing and heating contractor Theodore Scheid. “They met in the early 1920s; Leo said it happened when he played a few ballgames in the neighborhood, possibly on a post-season barnstorming junket. According to family lore, he fell hopelessly in love and never went home again,” Lackey wrote. According to the 1927 Lima city directory, Mr. and Mrs. Mangum were living with her parents at 843 W. Spring St.
One of Lima’s newest arrivals was soon adopted as one of Lima’s own by the News. Before long, Lackey wrote, the News was referring to him as “the big Lima boy.”
The “big Lima boy” — he was a 6-foot-1, 187-pound right hander — got his start in baseball on the diamonds of his North Carolina hometown. “He started in baseball as an outfielder, switching to pitcher only when the team he was with encountered a shortage of arms.” Lackey wrote. “He decided to concentrate on pitching after learning he could make $2 a game pitching for local semipro teams.”
In 1919, he attracted the notice of the Pittsburgh Pirates. “As Mangum remembered it,’ Lackey wrote, “he was making $60 a month working for the American Tobacco Co. when the Pittsburgh Pirates offered him $500 (per month) to play ball.” Mangum signed a contract on Feb. 25, 1920, and reported to spring training in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Mangum “made the team out of spring training and went north with the Pirates, but after hanging around for two weeks without getting into a game, he was farmed out to Albany (New York) in the Class A Eastern League,” Lackey wrote.
He made his debut for Albany on May 3, 1920 — and it was a memorable start. Mangum tossed a no-hitter. The Albany Argus described it as “one of the greatest exhibitions of hurling ever seen on the Chadwick park diamond …”
“Needless to say,” Lackey wrote, “it wasn’t that easy every day. After his won-lost record slid to 8-11, Mangum was demoted to Portsmouth in the Class B Virginia League.” Mangum promptly came within two outs of completing another no-hitter.
For the better part of the next four years Mangum bounced around the minor leagues. In 1924, after running off eight early season wins, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox, joining the team in New York on July 11, 1924, and, that same afternoon, found himself facing Babe Ruth. It didn’t go well for Mangum. After one long foul ball, Ruth deposited Mangum’s second pitch in the seats in right center.
Mangum encountered Babe Ruth again 2 1/2 weeks later in Chicago, and things went only slightly better. “Counting both games,” Lackey wrote, “he had faced Babe Ruth three times and been battered for a home run, a single and a double. Mangum never got another chance to retire baseball’s greatest slugger. But their paths would cross again.”
In 1926, the White Sox shipped Mangum to the Portland (Oregon) Beavers of the Pacific Coast League. At Portland “he won 19 and lost 20 and worked by far the most games (53) and innings (328) of his career,” Lackey wrote. Three months after the season ended, the White Sox dealt him to the Washington Senators, who sold him to the Buffalo Bisons of the International League before the 1927 season.
Mangum thrived in Buffalo, compiling a career-best 21-7 record in 1927 and, on a team that carried a .318 batting average, even managed a .289 batting average himself. Following the season, Babe Ruth, who had belted a record-setting 60 home runs that season, came to Lima on a barnstorming tour.
This time, Mangum played for Ruth’s squad against a Celina team headed by Ruth’s Yankee teammate Lou Gehrig. “Ruth crashed two home runs in the game and also claimed a 9-6 pitching victory, while Mangum whiled away the afternoon in left field,” Lackey wrote.
Meanwhile, Mangum’s solid 1927 season in Buffalo got him back to the big leagues with the New York Giants in 1928. But, after a shaky showing against the Boston Braves in late April, he was again shuffled off to Buffalo where he would remain until he was dealt to the Newark (New Jersey) Bears in July 1930. In September 1931, the 35-year-old Mangum was back in the majors after being drafted from Newark by the perennial National League doormat Boston Braves.
Two months into the 1932 season, Mangum was optioned to the Montreal Royals of the International League and pitched well enough to earn an invitation to Boston’s spring training camp in 1933 where he won a roster spot.
In Boston, on June 27, 1933, Mangum had probably his finest Major League moment. Facing a St. Louis Cardinals team with eight future hall-of-famers in uniform, Mangum wiggled out of jam after jam. With Boston clinging to a 1-0 lead, St. Louis sent out the aging but still potent Rogers Hornsby to lead off the eighth inning.
“When he stepped into the batter’s box that afternoon, Hornsby was working on a string of five consecutive pinch hits. Mangum got him on a pop foul to first base,” Lackey wrote. “Within moments the game was over. The score stood up, and in just 85 minutes, Mangum had completed the lone shutout of his tortuous career.”
Mangum would stay with Boston for two more years. Ruth, released by the Yankees before the 1935 season, joined the Braves and was briefly a teammate of Mangum. Ruth retired just after Memorial Day of 1935, about two weeks after Mangum was released by the Braves. Mangum returned to the International League, playing for Montreal, Syracuse and Jersey City. Released by Jersey City, he passed through Wilkes-Barre and Williamsport of the Eastern League before finishing his career with Clinton of the Class B Clinton Owls of the Three I (Indiana-Illinois-Iowa) League.
Before the end of the 1938 season, Mangum and partner Les Friesner opened the L&L Bowling Alley at 123 W. North St., across the street from the Ohio Theater. “Mangum kept his hand in baseball for a time as a volunteer coach for Lima’s team in the Class D Ohio State League,” Lackey wrote. “He enjoyed reminiscing about his playing days with local sportswriters (one of whom described him as ‘friendly, fiftyish and owner of a drawl thick as black-eyed soup’) typically exaggerating a bit for the entertainment of his audience.”
The bowling alley closed in 1969. Mangum “died of a stroke on July 9, 1974, two days short of the 50th anniversary of his major league debut,” Lackey wrote.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.