Eight to enter SEMO baseball Hall of Fame

Thursday, February 21, 2002

SIKESTON - The 21st Annual Southeast Missouri Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Banquet will be held Saturday at the Sikeston American Legion Hall on South Kingshighway. A reception will begin at 6 p.m. with the banquet and program following at 7 p.m.

The speaker for this year will be Ray Burris, former pitcher for several major league teams. He was born Aug. 22, 1950, in Idabel, Okla., and was drafted by the Detroit Tigers out of high school, but decided to play college baseball. A 1972 graduate of Southwestern Oklahoma State University, he was drafted from college that same year by the Chicago Cubs, where he played through May 1979. He then played with the New York Yankees, New York Mets, Montreal Expos, Oakland A's, Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals until 1987. From April 1987 through October 1991 he was a professional coach with the Milwaukee Brewers and with the Texas Rangers from November 1991 through October 1992.

In 1971, he was named NAIA all-American Pitcher and was elected to the Jackson County Hall of Fame and Southwestern Oklahoma State University Hall of Fame in 1985. In 1994, Burris was elected to the NAIA Hall of Fame.

Now the owner and operator of the Ray Burris Academy of Sports Instruction, he and his wife, Debra, live in Fort Worth, Texas, and have five children.

The following people have been chosen to be inducted into the Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame this year: Francis M. Baird of New Madrid, Larry Raymond Kitchen and Clay E. Hunter of Cape Girardeau, Robert Nitsch of Jackson and Dennis M. Myers of Sikeston.

To be inducted posthumously will be Wayne Limbaugh Jr., George D. "Gabby" Lefler and James W. "Jim" Parker.

Tickets are available from Hall of Fame Board members Jack Whiteside of Charleston; Charles Miller, Arthur Bruce, Lynn Hasty and Shirley Miller of Sikeston; Bob Wachter of Chaffee; Gary Tanner of Catron; Bob Owens of Campbell; and Homer Dickmann of Cape Girardeau.

Tickets will also be available at the door the night of the banquet.

Parker played in the Charleston Little League and Babe Ruth programs starting in 1952. During his freshman and sophomore years of high school, he caught for the Charleston Bluejays.

After his playing days ended, Parker stayed involved with baseball as a coach, umpire and scorekeeper. As a coach, he managed teams to numerous league championships and considered his greatest achievement in amateur baseball as helping the Charleston Little League program flourish and in encouraging the youth of the area as they played.

Sikeston's George Lefler was an active third baseman and catcher from 1946-53 with the Morehouse Lumber Jacks and from 1954-56 with the Sikeston Stags. He was regarded by many as an outstanding and standout third baseman and his defensive skills and cannon arm were considered to be top notch.

Eventually, however, his playing days came to a close and the opportunity to coach in the Sikeston Little League and Babe Ruth programs presented itself. As a coach from 1960-77, Lefler stressed the fundamentals and proper way to play the game.

Robert Nitsch, who was from Jackson, was a utility infielder for nearly two decades spanning from 1945-64. As a second baseman, shortstop and third baseman, he played for many teams, including the Jackson American Legion and various teams in the Perry County League.

The most notable of these teams was the Jackson Giants, who dominated the Perry County League in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Nitsch played the game the way it should be played - with the innocence of a child and the purpose of having fun. He continued his baseball lifestyle by teaching young players and passing on his traits after his playing career.

Clay Hunter's playing and managerial career lasted from the 1930s through 1965. In the 1930s, the Cape Girardeau man played for three teams in Jefferson City as a catcher. In the 1940s, his career brought him to Illmo where he played for the Big Bucks and was part of the Big Bucks team that played the first night game in Illmo in 1945.

As a playing manager for the Chaffee Red Wings, he enjoyed many successful years from 1956 through his career's ending in 1965. Hunter's biggest accomplishment throughout his career was simply playing the game for fun. He was also instrumental in teaching the game to the youth of Chaffee.

New Madrid's Francis M. Baird was an outfielder and pitcher for the Hayti High School Indians from 1934-36. His playing career continued in the U.S. Navy from 1942-45 and his managerial career began in 1948 and lasted to 1960.

He coached the New Madrid American Legion Post 595 to a District title and second place finish in the St. Louis Eastern Division Championship in 1960. Baird also coached for two years in the New Madrid Little League. He continued giving back to baseball as the commissioner of American Legion District 14 in 1961 and 1962. Baird continues to support all sports areas in the New Madrid area.

The playing career of Larry Kitchen of Cape Girardeau continued from 1959-73 with teams ranging from those of the Cape Little League, Central High School, American Legion and Capahas. Kitchen won a state championship as a member of the Babe Ruth Little League team in 1964. He was All Conference First Team for two years while attending Cape Central High School and was a varsity letterman for three years. Kitchen was also part of various All Tournament Teams in the American Legion State and Regional Tournaments.

After finishing his playing career, he had a short stint of coaching the Capahas and umpired for many years. Most notably, he was named 1998 Umpire of the Year in Missouri. He dedicated most of his life to baseball as a player, coach, umpire or director of free clinics.

Dennis Myers of Sikeston played his career in Charleston in the Little League, Pony League and Babe Ruth League and was described by many as a very good player. Later in life, he continued baseball as an umpire for eight years and manager.

Myers emphasized sportsmanship and fundamentals as a coach.

In 1982, he started a T-ball league to give kids a head start on baseball before they were of age for the Little League program.

Sikeston's Wayne Limbaugh Jr. started his career in the Sikeston Little League and Babe Ruth programs as a left-handed shortstop on teams like the Arthur Bruce "Police" team and Reiss Dairy. He was also a member of the Potlatch Forest Connie Mack team for three years which dominated the midwest during that time. The most notable of these teams was the 1967 team that finished fifth in the World Series Tournament in Farmington, N.M. Limbaugh was named to the 10-Man All World Series Team for his spectacular play.

Before graduating in 1967 from Sikeston High School, he was a three-time All-District and All Conference player. He was also a member of the 1966 Sikeston team that finished second in the high school state to a Ritenour High School team that was anchored by Jerry Ruess, who later went on to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals. In the title game, Limbaugh was 2 for 2 with two doubles and two walks.

After high school, he was pursued by many professional teams, including the Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds.

Chet Montgomery, a scout for the Reds, sent Limbaugh to Centerville (Iowa) Junior College to play baseball with a promise to draft him after his two-year stint at the collegiate level. As a freshman, he was named to the All "Hawkeye" Conference for his incredible speed, range in the hole, strong arm and powerful bat.

Limbaugh joins his grandfather and father in the Southeast Missouri Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame.

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