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Uncle Andy's Blog

Looking back with Bart


 

Marcel Proust once said, “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”  Every once in a while, I meet an athlete who becomes a true friend, a guy I can trust and one I feel comfortable with.  Bart Shirley is one of those guys.   

Just being around Bart; made me feel ten-years old.  He has a way of serving as the rainbow in everybody’s cloud.  In my opinion, Bart Shirley was born with a heart three sizes too large.  There is nothing this man would not do for you, and that’s a good thing.  Bart is humble, God-fearing and snail quiet.  I proudly refer to him in public as a “Corpus Christi Treasure.”  

Barton Arvin “Bart” Shirley was born on January 4, 1940, in Corpus Christi, Texas.  Bart played and starred as a shortstop in baseball for Head Coach A.J. Luquette and left halfback in football for Head Coach Bill Stages, for Ray High School.  His play was such that Bart was inducted into the Ray Texans’ Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995.  After graduating from Ray in 1958, Bart signed an athletic scholarship and headed to Austin, Texas, to play for the Longhorns.  In 1959, after his freshman year, Bart would line up as a halfback for legendary football coach, Darrell Royal.  Bart would complete four of ten passes for two touchdowns, while executing the halfback-run option.  One of those touchdown passes came against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, for a Texas win.  Bart also rushed for 90 yards on 25 carries and caught two passes for sixteen yards.    

Bart’s star shined even brighter on the baseball diamond for the 1960 Longhorns, as Bart started at shortstop for Head Coach “Bibb” Falk and was voted to the All-Southwest Conference team.   Later that same year, Bart was signed as an amateur free agent by celebrated scout, Hugh Alexander, of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  “Once I signed the contract I lost my amateur status at Texas,” said Bart. “I went to Spring Training in 1960 and sent my signing bonus home to my mother.”    

In 1961, Bart Shirley reported to the Atlanta Crackers, the Dodgers’ Double-A team, of the Southern Association.   Bart later joined the U.S. Army Reserves and attended basic training, in 1961.  He would fulfill a six-year obligation to his country.  By 1962, you could find Bart playing shortstop for the Triple-A Omaha Dodgers of the American Association.  In 1963, he would hone his skills for the Triple-A Spokane Indians of the Pacific Coast League, before being called up to the Los Angeles Dodgers on September 14, 1964.  At the beginning of the 1966 season, Bart was called up again to the big club on April 19th.  Shirley would stay with the Los Angeles Dodgers until June 25.   Walter Alston and the Dodgers continued to play well and won the 1966 National League pennant with a 95-67 win-loss record.  With stars like Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, winning was made easy, but it was not enough.  Bart was proud to be a part of that team.  The Dodgers were swept by the Baltimore Orioles for the 1966 World Series title.  Bart received his share of the 1966 World Series money.    

In 1971, Bart decided he was not yet through playing baseball and did what many American players have done before him.  He headed to Japan.  There he signed with the Chunich Dragons of the Japan Central League.  Bart would play there for two years.  Other American Major League players that played in Japan while Bart was there include Clete Boyer, Davey Johnson, John Miller and his close friend Jim Lefebvre.

Bart Shirley returned to the States in 1973 to manage in the Dodgers’ Minor League system.  Bart would manage a total of 401 games in three years, while winning 199 for a .496 winning percentage.

Pastor Mark Salmon introduced me to Bart Shirley.  Mark had met Bart in August of 2001 when Mark became the Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church.  Mark Salmon, being a diehard baseball fan of the Yankees, and his friend Bart spent hours talking baseball.  “His greatest days were not when he was a professional baseball player, but as a true and devoted friend,” said Salmon.

One of those devoted friends was a fellow by the name of Garron Dean.  Garron has been a Bart Shirley fan for sixty-plus years.  “We went to junior high and high school together and participated in sports together all those years,” exclaimed Garron.  “Upon graduation, he went to Texas and I went to LSU and we lost each other until he returned to Corpus Christi.  Bart had been in Japan playing baseball.”  Dean continues, “Bart is one of the most honest individuals I have ever known and a devout Christian who spends a lot of hours devoting his life to Christ,” said Dean.     

Interestingly, Bart’s high school relationships with teammates stand as strong today as ever.  They continue to move in and out of each others’ lives to this very day and gather occasionally to remember and celebrate their past.  Bart and his current wife, Victoria, make their home here in Corpus Christi.  What I would want to leave with Bart and others is the realization that whoever you are, there is some younger person who thinks you are perfect.  I would count myself as one of those who feel that way about Bart Shirley.  The fact is we need our heroes more than they need us.

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or purvis.andy@mygrande.net.

 

 

 

 

 

Give my regards to the catcher.


 

He was born in New York City, a few blocks from the Pologrounds, but raised in Newark, New Jersey, the son of a Jewish pharmacist who thought baseball was a waste of time and energy.   At the age of four, he began playing baseball in the street anyway and his father, Bernard, never allowed himself to watch.  His father taught him Hebrew and Yiddish at home and made sure he learned to speak Latin, Greek and French while attending Barringer High School.  It has been said that as a teenager, he read ten different newspapers a day.  No doubt he was brilliant, and he attended New York University for one year before enrolling at Princeton.  He graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University where he added Spanish, German and Sanskrit to his bag of languages.  He also played baseball while at Princeton.  He later studied overseas in Paris and attended Columbia Law School here in the States, while learning Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian, Arabic, Portuguese and Hungarian.  If you’re counting, that’s fifteen different languages in all, not including some regional dialects.   

Born a genius but a mediocre ballplayer on March 2, 1902, Moe Berg played fifteen seasons of professional baseball for five different Major League teams. On June 27, 1923, Berg was signed by the Brooklyn Robins.   After the season was over, Moe took his first trip abroad by sailing from New York to Paris.  Instead of returning in 1924, to get in shape for the upcoming baseball season, he decided to tour Italy and Switzerland.  Berg later played catcher with the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators, and Cleveland again, then finished with the Boston Red Sox.

In the winter of 1932, Herb Hunter, a retired ballplayer, arranged for three Major League players to travel to Japan to teach baseball seminars to the Japanese.  Those three players were Lefty O’Doul, Ted Lyons and Moe Berg.  They talked and taught baseball in six of Japan’s largest universities at that time.   Berg stayed behind when the seminars ended and continued to explore Japan.  Berg also visited Manchuria, Shanghai, Peking, Indochina, India, Egypt and Berlin.  Berg’s second trip to Japan occurred in 1934, when he was asked to travel with an American Baseball All-Star team that included future Hall-of-Fame players like “Babe” Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earl Averill, Charlie Gehringer, Jimmie Foxx and “Lefty” Gomez.  They were to play against the Japanese All-Star teams.  Berg took with him a 16 mm Bell and Howell movie camera to document his trip.  During this trip to Tokyo, Berg paid a visit to St. Luke’s Hospital, where the American Ambassador Joseph Grew’s daughter was a patient.  This hospital was the tallest building in the Japanese capital.  While he was there, he sneaked on top of the hospital and filmed the city, military installations, railway yards, factories and its harbor.  He never did visit the ambassador’s daughter.  So why was a third-string catcher (Moe Berg) asked to join this Hall-of-Fame group?  He was a spy for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS), to later become known as the CIA.  The film footage he shot would later be used by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle to plan his famous bombing raid on Japan near the end of World War II.  Berg had two loves, baseball and spying.

During the war, Berg was also asked to parachute into Yugoslavia to assess the value of two groups of partisans.  Berg reported back to Winston Churchill that one group known as Marshall Tito’s partisans would be of value to the war effort.  Churchill ordered all-out support for these underground fighters based on Berg’s report.   Berg also later parachuted into German-held Norway and joined an underground group who helped him locate a secret heavy water plant to be used by the Nazis to build an atomic bomb.  Berg’s info helped the Royal Air Force find and destroy the plant.

Moe Berg would also receive a code name, “Remus.”  Berg was sent to Switzerland to hear a leading German physicist, Werner Heisenberg, lecture on building an atomic bomb.  Berg posed as a Swiss graduate student.  He managed to slip past the SS guards and then sat in the front row.  In his pocket were a pistol and a cyanide pill.  Moe Berg was to listen to the lecture and determine if the Germans had progressed far enough along to build an atomic bomb.  If so, he was to shoot Heisenberg and then swallow the cyanide pill.  Berg determined that the Germans were nowhere near their goal of building an atomic bomb.  So, after the lecture, he congratulated Heisenberg on his speech and walked him back to his hotel.  Moe Berg’s report was read by Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  It was reported that Roosevelt responded, “Give my regards to the catcher.” 

Casey Stengel never quite put it together, but he knew something was up.  Casey said of Moe Berg, “That is the strangest man ever to play baseball.”  The baseball writers also had their fun with Moe Berg, claiming that he could speak fifteen different languages but he couldn’t hit in any of them.  After the war, Moe Berg, the third-string catcher, was awarded the Medal of Freedom, America’s highest honor for a civilian in wartime.  Berg refused to accept the medal, claiming he would have to tell people about his travels and reveal his spying secrets.  In 1972, after his death, his sister accepted the medal.  It now hangs in Cooperstown in the Baseball Hall-of-Fame Museum. 

Moe Berg’s 1933 Goudey baseball card #158 is the only baseball card on display at CIA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or purvis.andy@mygrande.net.

Billy Ripkens Bat


 

In 1988 Fleer Baseball Card Company sent Bob Bartosz into the field to take pictures of the Major League baseball players for their 1989 issue.  Second baseman Billy Ripken, younger brother of Cal Ripken, stood proudly with his bat on his right shoulder, his right hand on top of his left hand as he gripped the bat.  Billy was the third member of the Ripken family to be associated with the Orioles as his dad Cal Sr., was the manager.  It is interesting to note that Billy was known more for his glove than his bat as he had only hit four home runs in first two years with the Orioles. So, why did they picture him with a bat instead of fielding a ground ball?  That is the real question.  But, on this day, his batting stance would be the least of his worries and probably shed some light on how he felt about his hitting in general.  You see, there were two words written on the bottom of the handle of his bat that were clearly legible, F___ Face.  How this got by the proof readers is beyond my imagination.  Nevertheless, When Fleer discovered the error, they rushed to correct.  Many cards had already been released to the public and of course Billy was questioned over and over by the media.  He denied knowing anything about the curse words written on the bat handle. 

Fleer released versions in which the text was scrawled over with a marker, whited out with correction fluid; the card was also cut by machine in an effort to take out the explicative words and also airbrushed.  On the final corrected version, Fleer obscured the offensive words with a black box.  Many of these corrected cards have become collector’s items with some cards reaching as high as $1,200 in mint condition.  There are at least ten different variations of this card, #616.  Years later, Ripken finally admitted that the bat was his and he only used it in batting practice.  The words written on the handle were to help him distinguish it from his game used bats and he had never intended to use that bat for the Fleer baseball card.

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or purvis.andy@mygrande.net.

Shoot the President


 

It was July 4, 1976, Independence Day.  The Philadelphia Phillies and the rest of the country were celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  They invited the President, Gerald Ford, to throw out the first pitch.  At the time, Pat and Bob Bartosz lived in Philadelphia where he had been a cop.  He was now a professional photographer, and Pat was a proofreader.  They were also huge baseball fans.  In fact they would later be hired in 1980 by Fleer Baseball Card Incorporated, to take pictures of professional baseball players for their sports cards.  But on this day, Bob had asked and received clearance from the President’s Secret Service to be on the field taking pictures of the event for the Philadelphia Enquirer.  Bob left for the ballpark early.  He had not been gone very long when the phone rang and Pat answered.  The president of the Gannett Company (a news service marketing company) would also be in attendance and would be on the field as a guest of President Ford during the throwing out of the first pitch.  The Gannett Company wanted a picture of their president and President Ford together.  This was before cells phones so Pat hurried to the ballpark to get word to her husband, Bob.  Pat did not have clearance to be on the field so she wrote a note to Bob and handed it to a policeman.  He gave the note to the Secret Service.  As soon as they read the note, the Secret Service whisked Bob off the field into the dugout where they frisked him briskly.  The note said, “Bob if you shoot the President shoot the guy in back of him, too.” 

Wives, don’t you just love them?

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or purvis.andy@mygrande.net.

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