Monday, September 28, 2009

Remembering Ray Berres

After spending the day and night in Fort Myers yesterday for the very successful “Ta Ta Takedown”, I arrived home way after 3 in the morning. I did manage to wake up for my early morning classes, and then went to the dentist. It was a four-filling visit and I am very numb and cloudy and not feeling very creative. The dentist was kind enough to put on the replay of yesterdays Rays vs. Rangers game for me and the Rays won 7-6! The Bombers also won yesterday, it was truly an amazing game. They pulled it off 104-103 in the final seconds. I didn’t take pictures as I was very, very busy hosting the Breast Cancer benefit (we raised a bunch of money!) as well as calling all of the derby action by myself (Ft.Myers announcer was ill). I am still a bit hoarse, but the Novocain (or whatever they use now) has me forgetting all of that. Anyway, last week, I was rifling through my Mom's storage and I found some cool stuff that I hadn’t seen in 10 years. There was a short interview that I did with Bob Shaw, former MLB pitcher who outdueled Sandy Koufax in Game 5 of the 1959 World Series and also an interview and many cool pics of Johnny Sain. There was also a stack of letters and correspondence that I had with former players at that time. I think (if anyone is interested) I may post all of them sooner or later. The one that I will post today is from Ray Berres. I wish I had a copy of the letter that I had sent to him that he was replying to, but I do not. We went back and forth several times over the years, but this is the only letter that I have found so far. He was 90 years old when he wrote this letter to me. I was writing a book about the Chicago White Sox at the time and really wanted to meet with him. We never did meet face to face, mostly due to his age, but also because he was nervous about going on record, in fear of hurting peoples feelings by forgetting to mention a name of any of the Greats that he coached. During his playing days, Berres was a catcher who made his MLB debut in 1933 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, prior to his death in 2007; he was the oldest living Dodger. He died at age 99 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, his birthplace, offseason residence and lifelong home. His nephew sent me a copy of the Kenosha obituary and said that his uncle enjoyed our correspondence. His playing career spanned 11 seasons and 5 different teams; his final year in the Majors was 1945 with the New York Giants. Following that year, he was a player manager with Richmond, and then retired from playing. He was a lifetime .216 batter, he had 287 hits and 78 RBI. His size (5’8”/165 LBS) wasn’t typical of a catcher, but he was known for defense. With the Braves in 1941 he led all catchers in fielding percentage with a .995 average. He had just 2 errors in 422 total chances while turning 13 double plays and having 64 assists from behind the plate. His career crossed paths with Hall of Famer Al Lopez many times throughout his days as a player and a coach. He worked as Lopez’ backup catcher, the two were traded for each other and he served as Lopez’ pitching coach for many years with the Chicago White Sox. In an interesting (to me) note, in 11 seasons he wore 9 different uniform numbers. The #32 which he wore with the Pirates was the only number he used in two consecutive years. As a coach, Berres was recognized by his students as pure genius. He spent 20 years with the White Sox as a pitching coach, starting in 1949 and continuing (with a short interruption) until 1969. I had interviewed quite a few of the Sox pitchers and Berres name always came up and this is why I so desperately wanted to meet him. During his 20 years in that position, he (the White Sox) produced 15 different All Star pitchers. I think this is a remarkable statistic. Those pitchers are: Ray Scarborough, Randy Gumpert, Billy Pierce (7 times), Bob Keegan, Sandy Consuergra, Dick Donavon, Jim Wilson, Virgil Trucks, Early Wynn (3 times), Gerry Staley, Ray Herbert, Juan Pizzaro (2 times), Gary Peters, Eddie Fisher and Tommy John. That is a total of 24 All Star Appearances by his pitching staff in 19 seasons! To put this in perspective, the prior 16 years the Sox had 8 All Star pitchers total, and in the 10 years after he left, there only 3 different pitchers to make the All Star team-Wilbur Wood (3 times), Goose Gossage (2 times) and Jim Kaat. He also was part of the coaching staff that led the White Sox to the World Series (lost to Dodgers) in 1959. Simply put, he had a remarkable career-baseball was very good to him. I have scanned the letter (2 pages) and I will also type it here. Mr. Berres isn’t going into Cooperstown any time soon, certainly not as a player, but his impact as a coach was felt by MANY and I will remember him as a Legend and a pen pal. I will always treasure the 1940 Playball card (#164) that he sent to me with one of his letters. The sentimentality of it, coupled with the fact that it is from 1940, makes it one of my favorites of all-time. I always wondered why he sent the card without autographing it; I think he was just that modest. I thought of sending it back to him for him to sign, but I thought it would be best to keep the gift as he gave it to me. This letter was written on August 2, 1998 when Mr. Berres was 90 years old. Transcription follows: Dear Mr. Generous,
And that you are, generous with your remarks and thank you for your complimentary letter. I can’t be deserving of all that, but it is nice to hear. I wasn’t all that successful (ed note:as a player) and if I hurt anyone along the way (ed note: referring to frequent trades and becoming a starter in 1941), I am sorry and it was done inadvertently. I still feel badly for those who tried so hard, but for one reason or another did not “make it”.
You asked about my career with the Chicago White Sox. Well, Frank Lane brought me to the Sox in 1949 after having worked for the Milwaukee Brewers, then in the American Association in 1948. I quit the big club after the 1966 season and went into the farm system in 1967-rejoined the parent club during the 1968 season for a total of 20 years. Went back into the “farm system” in 1970 when I decided to retire.
(I) had an enjoyable tenure with the Sox, mainly because of the wonderful guys to work with. I was not aware of the 15 pitchers that pitched in the All Star games. I do not like to mention favorites-lest I forget to mention a deserving one. Most were cooperative and if I enjoyed a modicum of success it was because of them.
As for Sarasota (Florida), I enjoyed training there. I’m talking so many lies here my pen went dry. (using a new pen, now…) The location of the hotel and the ballpark made it very convenient for the players to go to and from. I also liked Sarasota because I had relatives and friends living there and the fans were great. I miss it at times, but you can’t turn back the clock. I’m pushing 91 and these arthritic fingers are acting up. So let me thank you once again with hopes this note will suffice.
Best Wishes,
Ray Berres.
We continued to be pen pals for several years after this and he always sent a note in reply, but they became shorter and eventually were written by someone else on his behalf. I truly enjoyed this communication with a man that I truly respected and admired. There are many GREAT players that have excelled at this game over the years, but many of them owe huge debts to the GREAT TEACHERS that helped them ply their craft. Mr. Berres was a great teacher and a great friend.
For a few endnotes… Bloggers, a few of you have written to me asking how you can get players to respond to letters. First, current players rarely have time to read and respond to them. I have only gotten letters from a very small number. The best way to get your letter noticed from a retired player is to not include an autograph request. Many players get 100s a week and even those who have great reputations as signers will often just skim the letter to check and see if you want the autograph personalized or not. If you send the letter without a card, it will more likely be responded to. Also, take the time to write “Thank you” notes. I know everyone gets excited when they get a cool autograph in the mail, take a minute and thank the old-timer for taking the time, you may be surprised how much that means. I have written 1,000s of letters to ball players over the years, most were attempts at initiating interviews, some were autograph requests and some were just out of curiosity. I wish I still had even 10% of these great letters, but anyone who has ever survived a divorce knows what that does to your life and your important belongings. I thank my Mom for saving the small bunch that I found this letter in. Thanks for reading and Rest in Peace Mr. Berres, I really enjoyed our correspondence. On a personal note, my face is still numb and I am getting REALY hungry! Thanks to all who took the time to read this, I cried a little when I found this letter in the box from Mom’s. I am so glad she saved it. Switching gears completely I want to send a thank you to all who bit at the trade bait. Nearly all of the cards have been claimed and are noted as such. I am still taking offers for the rest of them. My Wife’s family is visiting from Michigan, so as soon as I can feel my face again, I will be meeting up with them. I didn’t check the mailbox today, but I have about 15 trades that I need to catch up on-these will be posted soon. Thanks again for reading and if this got you in the mood for some Chicago White Sox history, I suggest you head on over to the White Sox Cards blog, it is highly recommended! Go Rays! Troll out.


  1. I was just reading about Ray Berres and how he worked magic with the pitching staff. Very cool letter!

  2. Damn you Troll,
    Your such a great write.... I just wish i could write like you brother!! As always Keep up the great work!

  3. Great post! I really enjoyed it.

    I have one question for you that I am sure has been answered in the past. But, I am relatively new to your blog, so I am curious. You mention that you interviewed players. Who did you interview them for? I know I said one question, but you mentioned in the post about writing a book about the White Sox. Did you ever finish it and where can I find it?

    Again, great post and I look forward to seeing more of these in the future.

    Thanks for the Williams address. I haven't found an extra yet, but I will keep looking.

  4. Thanks! To all 3 of you. Much appreciated. Zach, I sent you an e-mail in response to your question...

  5. Great post. It's important to keep the great TEACHERS of baseball alive. I've written a couple of posts about legendary Cardinals coach George Kissell (I'll be writing at least one more). These are the people most valued by those who play baseball.

    Also, I've interviewed Bob Shaw, too!