ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Mr. Buddy ‘Fireball’ Haley was born in 1918 and just 12 short years later, he found his life’s calling on the pitchers mound. At an early age, he moved to Hamlin, Texas, where he would live most of his adolescent life and later play semi-pro on the all Black Hamlin team.
“Couldn’t nobody beat us, nobody beat Hamlin,” Haley said.
That is, until he left the team. A game against the Abilene Black Eagles saw Haley strike out 21 of their batters. Instead of being upset, the team asked him to join. After that, Abilene was the team to fear, as Haley recalled.
“Thousands of people and with the bases loaded by the fifth inning, then strike, the next three out. Isn’t that something? I could throw that ball, man,” Haley recalled.
Even as he turns 105-years-old on January 7, Haley said he will always remember the road that’s led him here.
“I learned on the farm. He (possibly Jack Westbrook) taught me from a boy. The way to curve that ball, drop it, everything,” Haley explained.
But even a living legend like Fireball Haley saw some difficulty in his day. Haley said that as a young man of color on tour in the south, the treatment of him and his teammates was different than that of white players.
“Back then, the coloreds had to go through the back door. A whole lot of places wouldn’t even feed us,” Haley recalled.
Things like this is similar to the adversity faced by Haley’s all time favorite ball player, Willie Mays.
“Oh man, Willie Mays… I saw him hit back to back home runs when I was a boy,” Haley explained.
Haley continued to strike out men half his age well into his 60s. In the mid 70s, he was called to join an all Black and Hispanic team out of Hamlin. Although his reputation preceded him, some players had their doubts about old fireball, like Cruz Orona, a Vietnam veteran who played alongside Haley in the 70s.
“We all kinda said ‘Well can he pitch? He’s getting a little older.’ He really showed out that first day, he went out there and they couldn’t hit him,” Orona recalled.
Throughout his senior years, Haley coached teams in Hamlin and all over the Big Country. Though many like Orona said they’d rather have seen his face on a pack of bubble gum, they had no doubt he would have made the majors if he had been given the chance.
“It’s kind of sad, because I really wish I could have seen what he could have done in the major leagues. He just never got the opportunity,” Orona expressed.
If you ask Haley, a century of strikes to look back on is more than enough to be proud of.
“It’s good to be 105, man it’s great,” Haley expressed.