The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Great-grandson of former New Orleanian Joe Vitter aims to chronicle his pro baseball career

Ian O’Dougherty knew his great-grandfather Joe Vitter had been a professional baseball player, originally from New Orleans. But he didn’t know much about the details of his career that spanned the 1930s and 1940s. The discovery of a family scrapbook by his mother, containing artifacts of his great-grandfather’s baseball career, triggered his quest to learn more about him.

O’Dougherty is currently a video producer working with the Vegas Golden Knights. He previously worked with the major-league Colorado Rockies for ten years, where one of his projects was to produce a documentary of baseball in Colorado. His hope is to find enough information and photographs about Vitter’s career so that he can eventually produce a film, likely a series of short episodes, that feature his great-grandfather.

Vitter was born in 1911 in New Orleans. One of the uncertainties about Vitter’s career is the high school he attended and whether he played baseball as a high schooler. O’Dougherty says Vitter’s brother attended St. Aloysius, so if his great-grandfather attended high school, it would likely have been there. The first mentions of Vitter in the local New Orleans sports pages were about his playing for numerous semi-pro teams in the area. It appears some of his teams played in what were likely the early days of the Sugar Cane League in Southeast Louisiana, while his teams’ travels also took them into Mississippi.

O’Dougherty discovered Vitter’s-father, uncles, and brothers were baseball players with brief appearances in the minors, while legendary New Orleans player “Oyster Joe” Martina was his uncle by marriage. This fact contributed to his desire to learn even more about the family’s baseball history. He found newspaper evidence that the Vitter family members, including his great-grandfather at one point, played for a local team called the Greenleafs.

At a time when numerous local players started out playing in the Evangeline League in South Louisiana or with the hometown New Orleans Pelicans, O’Dougherty says it’s not clear how Vitter ended up signing his first professional contract., one of the definitive sources of pro baseball player information, shows Vitter playing his first professional season at age 23 for Pine Bluff in the Class C Dixie League in 1934.

In February 1936, The Sporting News noted Vitter as one of the hopefuls seeking a major-league job. He must have made an impression with his play for Pine Bluff, because the Chicago Cubs acquired rights to him. They sent him to Catalina Island for the Cubs’ spring training camp in 1936 when he joined the major-leaguers, including Charlie Grimm, Billy Herman, and others. However, on a Cubs barnstorming trip to the east coast, he was cut and sent to Portsmouth, Virginia, in the Class B Piedmont League.

He spent the 1937 season with several teams in the Pacific Coast League, then considered one of the highest leagues of Organized Baseball. With the San Francisco Seals, he was a teammate of 20-year-old Dominic DiMaggio, who later became one of three DiMaggio brothers, including Joe and Vince, in the majors. O’Dougherty found a box score of a game in which Vitter played against Ted Williams, then playing for San Diego.

In 1938 Vitter was shipped to Shreveport in the Texas League, where he spent five seasons. He was a teammate of New Orleans native Joe Valenti that year. In Nico Van Thyn’s book “That’s the old ballgame, Shreveport,” Vitter was noted as one of Shreveport’s most popular players during his stay. The book stated Vitter made the league’s All-Star team in 1938, 1940, and 1941.

The Brooklyn Dodgers farm system acquired him in 1943, and he played for their St. Paul affiliate for five seasons. One of his teammates in St. Paul was another New Orleans native, John “Fats” Dantonio. World War II was in full swing, but Vitter was rejected for military service in 1944 by his draft board. At a time when the major leagues had a shortage of players due to military service, it seems Vitter might have gotten a shot in the big leagues. Perhaps his age, then in the early to mid-30’s, likely worked against him.

He finished his career in the lower levels of the minors. He also served as manager for his teams in 1948 and 1949, after which he retired from baseball at age 38.

Vitter was elected to the New Orleans Diamond Club Hall of Fame in 1973. In the program for the induction ceremony for the honorees, prominent New Orleans baseball historian Arthur Schott wrote about Vitter, “He played all four infield positions and all three outfield positions and was probably the finest utility man ever to leave New Orleans.”

O’Dougherty’s initial research has surfaced that his great-grandfather’s career crossed paths with several prominent baseball names from the New Orleans area in the 1930s and 1940s--Dantonio, Valenti, Martina, and the Gilbert family. He’s hoping to connect with their relatives and others who can potentially help him fill in some of the missing details of his great-grandfather’s career. He’s especially interested in any original photos involving Vitter.

O’Dougherty was 17 years old when Vitter died in 1995. Of course, he now wishes he had spent more time talking to his great-grandfather about his sixteen years in pro baseball. For example, O’Dougherty would love to know how his great-grandfather came to be photographed in Denver in 1953 with major-leaguers Eddie Lopat, Lou Kretlow, Jackie Jensen, Billy Martin, Dave Philley, and Mel Parnell.

Crescent City Sports readers who have knowledge of Joe Vitter’s years in New Orleans or his baseball career can contact Ian O’Dougherty via email at

Add a Comment

(Enter the numbers shown in the above image)