One Ump Lists Top 1960s Catchers

Ask, ask, ask!

When I wrote the book Great Catchers (Metrobooks, 1997), I called out my TTM collecting skills to do some fast research. Bill Valentine, a colorful umpire of the 1960s, was the first to respond. Minor league baseball fans know Valentine as the front office force behind the Arkansas Travelers for 40 years.

Valentine sent an eye-popping response, giving his frank assessment of the men he worked behind. He wrote:

“I guess everyone has told you that Del Crandall was one of the top defensive catchers in baseball when he played for Milwaukee. Looking at his batting average, you can see he must have been, or he would not have been in a a lot of lineups. Sherm Lollar was such as a catcher for the White Sox. Both men kept the baseball in front of their body, and had quick release of the ball when runners attempted to steal.

“I liked Bob Rodgers of the California Angels. He was one of the team leaders, and he took command behind home plate. It was his game, and the pitchers threw to him. He did not allow his pitchers to argue with umpires, and would tell them that was his department. ‘Just throw the ball.’

“[On the other hand] Earl Battey of the Minnesota Twins was very quiet, but a leader in his actions.”

Tomorrow: Valentine reflects on some of the oddest receivers he encountered.

Ken Retzer: John F. Kennedy’s Batterymate

Many people catch the President, on TV, even at a rally.

Ken Retzer caught John F. Kennedy at a ballpark in 1963.

Retzer, starting catcher for the Washington Senators, received the 1963 season’s ceremonial first pitch from JFK.

The Illinois-born receiver enjoyed another milestone that year. Behind the plate for baseball’s 100,000th-ever game, Retzer handled the historic ball that would be displayed in Cooperstown’s Hall of Fame.

I was fascinated to see Retzer’s success in hitting knuckleballers like Hall of Famer Early Wynn. He wrote me:

“I was a line drive hitter,few strikeouts. Just 31 in 1961. So that helps to hit all pitchers. Knuckleballers were hard to catch, almost like catching a butterfly.”

He seemed to wear a different uniform number yearly. Why?

“Any time I veteran player would join the team, I gave up my uniform. The last was #14 for Gil Hodges the manager.”

Twins fans should know that Retzer played a role in the team’s 1965 American League championship. When catchers Earl Battey and Jerry Zimmerman held out, owner Calvin Griffith called Retzer as a bargaining chip. Signing Retzer, who performed admirably throughout spring training, convinced the other two catchers to ink new contracts. Unfortunately, Retzer was cut a day before the season began.

Retzer deserved a World Series. He’s a World Champion autograph signer, giving all-star treatment to every fan who writes. Ask any Senators fan.