Sudlersville, Md., Finally Warms Up To Jimmie Foxx

Morning Edition's summer series — "Honey, Stop the Car!" — which is about roadside monuments continues. We travel to Maryland's Eastern Shore with a stop in Sudlersville, where a statue honoring one local legend and baseball great was a long time coming.

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DAVID GREENE, Host:

We're on a road trip this summer with our series called Honey, Stop the Car! You're making your way through a small town or maybe the center of a village, something catches your eye and you just have to pull over. Well, today a stop along Maryland's Eastern Shore. NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin explains why it took so long for one town to honor a local legend.

SELENA SIMMONS: Right at the center of Sudlersville, Maryland is a bronze statue of Jimmie Foxx, bat in hand. The Hall of Famer was one of baseball's greatest sluggers, who faced off with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. In the 1930s he was MVP three times. Today in Sudlersville he's a hero, but for years he was ignored, even shunned.

That was tough for Gil Dunn, one of Jimmie Foxx's biggest fans. Now 93, he moved to the eastern shore in the '60s and was thrilled to be near the hometown of his boyhood hero.

GIL DUNN: I couldn't wait to get down there to see some of the effects of Jimmie Foxx. And when I got down there, nobody had a good word to say about him.

SIMMONS: That's because after Foxx's peak in the '30s, he bottomed out. He lost a lot of money, began to drink, had health problems, got divorced. He retired from baseball in 1945 and drifted from job to job, including one season as manager of the Fort Wayne Daisies of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. Remember Tom Hanks in the movie "A League of Their Own"?

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TOM HANKS: (as Jimmy Dugan) Are you crying? Are you crying? There's no crying. There's no crying in baseball.

SIMMONS: That character, Jimmy Dugan, was partly based on Jimmie Foxx. Over the years, Foxx would visit Sudlersville, but by the '60s folks there didn't want anything to do with him. Once he couldn't even get a check cashed.

None of that deterred Foxx's number one fan, Gil Dunn. Dunn started a display of Foxx memorabilia in his drugstore on nearby Kent Island. He wrote letters to Foxx about it. Even spoke to him on the phone.

DUNN: One day I look up in the drugstore, there's the person named Jimmie Foxx standing there.

SIMMONS: Foxx had driven up from Florida with a trunk full of bats, uniforms, MVP plaques. He said no one else seemed interested and gave it all to Dunn for free. It was in keeping with Foxx's reputation as a man with a big heart.

DUNN: He was very kind to me. He was a very kind person.

SIMMONS: Foxx died in 1967, but it wasn't until decades later that people here in Sudlersville began to remember what good Foxx had done for the town.

LORETTA WALLS: And he never forgot where he came from.

SIMMONS: Loretta Walls, a distant cousin of Foxx, says that during his prime he would bring famous teammates to his hometown for benefit games.

WALLS: That was a big time, I would say, for Sudlersville.

SIMMONS: Sudlersville put up his statue in 1997. It shows the famously powerful slugger, nicknamed The Beast, hitting the ball.

WALLS: He was quite a muscular fellow.

SIMMONS: Once a Yankees pitcher said of Foxx: He has muscles in his hair.

Today, Sudlersville has even started a museum in honor of Jimmie Foxx. It's a welcome home that was a long time coming.

Selena Simmons-Duffin, NPR News.

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GREENE: And you can follow our entire summer road trip - Honey, Stop the Car! - by stopping at our website, NPR.org.

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