Nebraska Minor League Baseball
Nebraska State League
Kearney Yankees 1956

The Yankees placed their class "D" rookie franchise in Kearney as the Nebraska State League was restarted in 1956. Games were played at Memorial Field with the first game scheduled for July 1st against Grand Island.

Randy Gumpert was the manager for the Yankees in 1956. He broke into the majors in 1936 with the Philadelphia Athletics. His career included stops in New York with Yankees, Newark, Little Rock, Kansaas City and the U S Coast Guard for three years during the war. His last year in the majors was 1952 with the Senators. He then played for Los Angeles in the Pacific Coast League in 1953 and 1954 and finished his playing days in 1955 with Charleston in the American Association. The stint at Kearney was his first managers job.

Gumpert welcomed over 35 prospects in June. League rules only allowed for a squad of 21 so his first task was to cull the stock of prospects.

Fan support for Kearney was strong from the start. They led the league in season ticket sales with 760 season tickets being sold. They also had the largest crowd of the year on August 26th. Noted acrobat Jackie Price and a twin bill against Lexington were the lure to draw 3,216 fans to the park. Another big night was when Max Patkin visited Kearney. A crowd of 1,853 was saw the clown prince of baseball do his act during a Yankees game. At the end of the game Harold George presented Max with a bonus check from the league and luggage.

During the year the local little league and legion team scheduled their games around the Yanks home games. The Yanks held a number of "knothole" games where kids under 18 were allowed free admission to the bleachers. Otherwise admission was 50 cents for single games.

Opening day saw over 2,000 fans in the stands as they took on Grand Island. Rookie Deron Johnson showed his talent with a 4 for 4 day and two home runs and Kearney went on to win 15-10.

Kearney spent the first part of the season as a second division club but made a late surge to take third in the league. In August they set a league record in a game where they defeated Hastings 26-11. The game was a "joke" according to the Kearney paper as Hastings put in a 16 year old Sam Fulton to pitch in the 8th inning for Hastings. He gave up a dozen runs on 10 walks, four hits a couple of wild pitches and two errors.

Kearney had a number of stellar performances during the year. Phil Murdock pitched the first no hitter of the NSL season on August 21st. The 18 year old joined Kearney from McAlester in the Sooner League on August 3rd. He had 10 k's and 5 walks during a 11-0 rout of North Platte. Hal Reniff lost a no hitter in the ninth inning on August 17th vs Holdrege. Tom Plath hit a home run to ruin the no hit bid. During this game, Jay Ward hit two grand slam home runs and a solo shot for a 9 RBI game. Deron Johnson also hit a grand slam setting a record three grand slams in one game during the 20-0 rout of Holdrege.

Bill Fries was a strong lefty for the Yankees. He led the league in hitting with a .394 average and split his time between first base and the outfield. He entered the service at the end of the year as a second lieutenant and after getting married in September reported to his assignment in Fort Bliss Texas.
John "Jay" Ward averaged .331 while playing third base for the Yankees in 1956. The 17 year old hot corner artist was expected to enroll at Hastings College in the fall. The Kearney Hub reported that he was from Illinois as did the Sporting News, but Baseball Reference indicates that he was born in Brookfield Missouri. He hit two successive grand slam home runs in one game against Holdrege. He had one other RBI for a league record 9 RBI's in one game. He made it to the major league with Minnesota in 1963. He played in parts of three major league seasons with the Twins and the Reds.
Deron Johnson was signed by the Yankees in 1956 as an amateur free agent. He led Kearney and the league in runs scored, home runs and RBI's in 1956. The outfielder average .329 for the year. According to the Kearney Hub the eighteen year old from San Diego went back to San Diego to work at the Western Lumber Company in the off season. In 1957 he played with Binghamton in the Eastern League. He led that league in total bases, runs scored and home runs. In 1958 and 1959 he was with Richmond. Deron won three minor league home run championships. He debuted with the Yankees in 1960. He played sixteen seasons and had a lifetime .244 average.

Ralph Cunningham was the regular at second for the year. He averaged .253 for the year and planned to return to his home state of North Carolina to enter Wingate College after the season.

Jerry Moore was the Yanks short stop for 1956. He averaged .243 and planned on returning to St. Louis to work for the Rawlings Sporting Goods Company. He also planned on getting married in the fall.

Carlos Mobley tended the outfield garden for Kearney in 1956. The Georgia prep star averaged .240 for the Yanks and planned to enroll in Armstrong Junior College in Savannah in the fall. Carlos was issued a 90 day suspension in August for touching an umpire during the last week of the season.
Claiborne "Skip" Leonard and his twin brother Bob Leonard returned to Ettrick Virginia to complete high school. Skip averaged .263 as the regular catcher for the Yanks and Bob was 2-0 with nine appearances as a pitcher.
Tom Anderson from Axtell Nebraska was acquired late in the year as a backup catcher for the Yanks. He returned to Luther College in Wahoo at the end of the season.
Wayne Tucker a tall Texan from Houston averaged .325 for the Yanks. He joined the team late and played in 23 of the 63 games in the season.
Fay Dunbar a graduate of Hastings college hit .220 for the year and had eight home runs. The native of Oklahoma planned on enlisting or returning to work in Oklahoma at the end of the season.

Ron Fahnestock had a 7-5 record for the Yanks with 85 k's in 88 innings of work. The curve ball hurler from Peoria Illinois planned on returning to Illinois for college at the end of the season. He was also an excellent batter. In the 21 games he played in he had a .405 average.
Wendell Maupin who was listed from Grainton Nebraska by the Kearney papers was 4-1 as a pitcher for the Yanks.
Rudy Stoehr was a 6'3" righthander from Lincoln Nebraska. He was an all state selection in basketball while playing for Lincoln Northeast and had a 3-1 record in spring baseball. In 1955 he was the leading pitcher for the legion Lincoln Optimists. They won the Nebraska State, regional and sectional legion championships. He lost a 1-0 decision to Cincinatti Postal, the eventual national legion champions. He had a 2-1 record for the year and returned to the University of Nebraska Lincoln in the fall. An arm injury ended his baseball career and he turned to basketball. He played for Nebraska Wesleyan and in one game scored 62 points. After two years he was ruled inelgible due to his pro baseball connection. He played for one year with the Chicago Majors in the ABL. He returned to Lincoln and was a teacher and coach at Lincoln East High School for 31 years. He died in Lincoln in 2003.
Dick Rump from New York was 4-3 for the Yanks and returned to New York to "hunt and fish" his offseason. He planned on using the three hunting rifles he acquired in Kearney during the summer.
Harold "Hal" "Porky" Reniff , born in Warren Ohio and living in Ontario California had a 5-5 record for the Yanks. The seventeen year old played for Modesto in 1957. He started with Modesto in 1958 and finished the year in Salem. He spent most of 1959 in Modesto with a short stint at Greensboro. He played in Amarillo and Binghamton in 1960 and started 1961 in Richmond. He made it to the New York Yankees in 1961 where he had a six year major league career.
John Kopp a Brooklyn native was 4-2 on the year. He planned on returning to work for Western Electric in New York at the end of the season.
Phil Mudrock from Louisville Colorado joined the Yankees late in the year, He was moved from McAlester in the Sooner State League to Kearney in early August. He hurled the first and only no hitter in the league in 1956. He struck out 10 and walked five in an 11-0 victory over North Platte. He had a 2-4 record with a 2.25 ERA. The 19 year old made it to the majors in 1963 where he pitched one inning for the Chicago Cubs.
Ken Bracy from Normal Illinois was 5-2 as a pitcher for Kearney and had a batting average of .286. He planned on returning to Normal and enroll in Illinois Normal (now Illinois State University) in the fall.

Nebraska State League Standings 1956

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