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WSI News - Season Features

 

Earl Battey Remembered

   

By Mark Liptak


Earl Battey's 1959 Topps baseball card.

He was one of those who got away and the White Sox paid a high price for it during the 1960's.

Earl Battey, who wore number 26 for the White Sox, passed away recently from cancer at the age of 68 in Florida where he was living with his family.

Battey played for the Sox in parts of the 1955 through 1959 seasons and was regarded by many as the Sox catcher of the future. He became a four time All Star, unfortunately it wasn’t on the South Side, as he was traded to the then Washington Senators along with Don Mincher in April 1960 for Roy Sievers. Sox owner Bill Veeck had wanted Sievers for quite some time and while Roy had a good season or two for the Sox, Battey helped transform the Minnesota Twins (which is where the Senators moved to after 1960) into American League champions by 1965.

Battey was on the Sox target list from back when he was in high school. Chicago Tribune assistant sports editor and noted Sox author / historian Bob Vanderberg explained. "Billy Pierce told me the story that when the Sox were in California training, Paul Richards after practice asked Billy to go with him to see a high school game. When Billy asked why, Richards told him about a great young catcher who supposedly was the best in the country." That catcher turned out to be Battey, whom the Sox signed right out of high school in 1953.

Battey moved up the Sox minor league ladder and was the Three-I League Rookie Of The Year in 1954 (beating out teammate Luis Aparicio). By the next year 1955, he was with the Sox during their crucial stretch drive making his big league debut on September 10th at the age of 20.

In 1956 and 1957 Earl was with the Sox right after they broke camp to start the season but would get sent back down both years. In 1958 he appeared in 68 games spending the entire year with the Sox, hitting eight home runs and driving in 26 RBI’s in only 168 at bats. He was starting to show signs of developing into a very good all around catcher.

"I was with him for part of the year, 1959," said former Sox star pitcher Gary Peters. "I remember that he trained very, very hard. He’d do 200 - 300 pick up’s every day. He was a very good defensive catcher."

Someone however must have lost faith in Battey after the 1958 season because in the Sox championship season he only appeared in 26 games.

Vanderberg quotes Veeck in his book "59 Summer of The Sox" as saying, "Al (Lopez) had assured me that he was not going to catch either Battey or Johnny Romano. So I figured ‘let’s see what we can get for them, rather then leave it on the bench.’ That revelation from Lopez seemed surprising since Earl was the type of player that Al was when he played, a tough, defensive specialist, with a great arm, who could handle a pitching staff.

And so the deal with Washington was made, along with others deals that sent away future All Stars in Johnny Callison, Norm Cash, Romano and Barry Latman. Those deals stunned the Sox players who remained, as both Pierce and Jim Landis said in their interviews with White Sox Interactive.

As for Battey himself, reportedly he had tears in his eyes after being informed of the deal while the Sox were ending a series of exhibition games in Puerto Rico. Earl considered the Sox and Chicago his home. Forty years after the trade, Earl was quoted in Vanderberg’s book still not being able to figure out the rationale for the deal. "They had built that team (1959) on pitching, speed and defense. That’s basically what we had. And that was the surprising thing about being traded. I thought we had a nucleus of some very good young ballplayers. And they it seemed like they changed their philosophy, that they didn’t believe they could win it again with pitching, speed and defense. They went for power instead."

Ironically Battey would wind up slugging 91 home runs in his days with Washington / Minnesota. The White Sox meanwhile continued to have excellent teams through 1967 but lost pennants in 1964 and 1967 by small margins. Most historians and fans feel that if the Sox had just kept one or two of the players traded after the 1959 season, it wouldn’t be 44 years (and counting) since the Sox last made the World Series.

The trades of both Battey and Romano left a major void at catching since Sherm Lollar was getting up in years. That led to some changes with some of the remaining Sox prospects like J.C. Martin. "That’s the reason the Sox asked me if I’d try catching," said J.C. "Al Lopez was looking specifically for a left handed hitter who could catch. I went down to Savannah, Georgia for three months to see if I could learn the position." He learned it well enough to spend eleven seasons in the major leagues but Martin, Gerry McNertney and Camilo Carreon simply didn’t hit consistently enough to off set the losses of Battey and Romano plus Earl would win a Gold Glove with the Twins.

Martin also remembered his former teammate in good terms. "Earl was a real happy go lucky guy. He was just getting ready to play full time when the Sox traded him."

He is survived by his wife, Sonia, and five children.

Earl Battey’s White Sox Statistics:

Year     G     AB     R     H     2B     3B     HR     RBI     AVG.

1955     5        7      1      2       0       0         0        0        .286

1956     4        4      1      1       0       0         0        0        .250

1957   48    115    12    20       2       3         3        6        .174

1958   68    168    24    38       8       0         8      26        .226

1959   26      64      9    14       1       2         2        7        .219

(Author’s Notes:) Battey did not appear in the 1959 World Series with the Sox. He would go on to appear in the All Star Game four times (1962, 63, 65, 66) win a Gold Glove and appear in the 1965 World Series with the Minnesota Twins.

 


Editor's Note:  Mark Liptak is an experienced sports journalist, holding several awards for both his electronic and print media work.  He has held numerous sports reporting positions for various TV and newspaper organizations, including Director of Sports for KNOE-TV (Monroe, Louisiana) and KPVI-TV (Pocatello, Idaho), and sports writer for the Idaho Falls Free Press, where his column "Lip Service" has appeared for for a number of years.  "Lip", his wife, and cats presently live in Chubbuck, Idaho, where they collectively comprise 100 percent of the Pocatello River Valley's long-time Sox Fan population.  

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