August 18th, 2013
The most national publicity Gulfport, Mississippi ever got was when Hurricane Katrina practically destroyed the Gulf Coast city of 69,000 people in 2005. Before that, Gulfport’s biggest claim to fame was being the birthplace of Brett Favre, the now retired Super Bowl winning NFL quarterback. Before the “Gunslinger” became an NFL legend, the most notable native athletes of this second biggest city in the state, played baseball.
In1931, Gulfport siblings Gee and Hub Walker both played in the same outfield for the Detroit Tigers. Gee was the older of the two but it would be Hub who would become the more successful big leaguer. Then in the late 1960’s, “Beltin” Bill Melton went north to Chicago and spent almost a decade as a decent home run hitter for the White Sox.
Then there were the Lawton brothers. Marcus and Matt. Like the Walker’s before them , it would be the younger of the two, Matt, who would become the big league All Star, but it was older brother Marcus, who had all of baseball buzzing back in 1985.
He had been drafted out of high school in the 6th round by the New York Mets in 1983. Two years later, he had played his way up to Class A ball and was starting in the outfield of the South Atlantic League’s Columbia Mets. In just 128 games, he stole 111 bases, getting caught only 8 times! He only had 126 base hits that season but he walked 83 times and scored 113 runs. He would put two more consecutive solid minor league seasons together, but they were happening during a time when the Met’s parent club was fielding some of the best teams in that franchise’s history. There was no room or no need for a base-stealing, singles-hitting outfielder who also struck out a bit too much and Marcus Lawton never got his chance to play at Shea Stadium.
In July of 1989, the Yanks traded pitching prospect Scott Nielsen to the Mets for Lawton. He finally made his big league debut in August of the 1989 season, striking out in his first two at bats as a Yankee in a game against the Twins. He stole his one and only big league base three days later. His first Major League hit didn’t happen until September 21st of that season, when he singled in the ninth inning off of the Brewers’ Paul Mirabella in a 14-1 Milwaukee rout of the Yankees. He ended up hitting just .214 in that 10-game trial and the Yankees waived him after the season. He would never again play in a big league game, eventually returning to Gulfport where he dealt cards on a riverboat casino and together with his dad, helped his younger brother Matt get better prepared than he had been for big league success.