Baseball Select Stories

Baseball History in Dayton Ohio


From: Baseball Days—Dayton’s North Side Field 1922-1934

Written by Roland L. Larke, Sponsored by the Dayton & Montgomery County Public Library, 1992

In 1929 Bill Knelbelkamp of the Louisville Cardinals and owner of Churchilll Downs took over the Dayton professional baseball franchise as the St. Louis Cardinals switched their interests to Ft. Wayne, also of the Central League.


The officials assembled a group of spirited young players who were to become perhaps the most popular and colorful team of the era. They were managed by Merito Acosto, a peppery dapper Cuban with a silver streak in his coal black hair. He induced a zestful and entertaining quality to baseball at North Side Field, popular after the methodical and lackluster manner of former manager Everett Booe.


Although not among the leaders in the league standings, the fans took immediate liking to these young southerners. Especially exciting was eighteen-year-old Laurence “Toots” Merville’s slugging and reckless outfield play; Clarence “The Hawk” Nachand’s bullet-like accurate throws from center field; Johnny “The Moose” Marcum’s struggle to become a winning pitcher as well as an accomplished hitter; and Billy Herman’s spirited play that would make him a member of baseball’s Hall of Fame.


Pleasant recollections of that season were marred by two tragedies: the suicide of Tony Brotlene and later demise of Wayland Dean. The devotion of some men to the sport of baseball and the struggle to survive in a short seasonal career was illustrated in the case of Tony Brotlene. Brotlene was a sturdy veteran, journeyman catcher who had played with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Washington A’s. Besides turns at catching with the Aviators, he assisted in the development of young pitchers and catchers. Early in the season he became acting manager with the illness of Merito Acosto.


But the vagaries of a baseball career and the bred callousness of baseball ownership were exemplified when Brotlene was released after suffering a disabling split finger and because of his weak hitting. After an attempt to sign on with his former bosses, the St. Louis Cardinals farm system, he was found in a Chicago hotel room, a suicide. The instrument he used was said to have been a pocketknife frequently borrowed by teammates.


Wayland Dean, a strapping handsome Virginia youth, was a great pitching prospect. It was said that his development became hampered by his indulgence in the nightlife of New York City while he was with the Giants. Released by the Giants, he had tryouts with the Philadelphia Phils and the Chicago Cubs but was unsuccessful. Bill Knelbelkamp and Cap Neal, his old bosses at Louisville, assigned him to the Aviators where he pitched some games without much success. However, he became a favorite of the fans and had a productive season as a strong hitting outfielder. Despite his healthful appearance it was discovered that he had tuberculosis and he died a short time later in Huntington, West Virginia.