|Here's the card that introduced me to Demeter.|
Thursday, June 1, 2017
Don Demeter overcame disrupted childhood, played ball
Don Demeter was a fine 1960s baseball player who had a conflicted youth. His father was a painter and his mother a housewife. The family lived in Oklahoma City. Sounds like a classic American family. They moved to Denver when young Don was age 10. About a year later, the parents broke up - why? - and Don headed back to Oklahoma City to live with grandparents. Grandparents to the rescue again!
But Don got re-joined with his mother after she re-married a man from New Hampshire. Don spent a winter with them but it was an unsettled situation again. It seemed like the only reliable home base for Don was the city of Oklahoma City. He went through high school in Oklahoma City. His family? Don came under the care of foster parents. Surely foster parents can come to the rescue too - bless them.
What issues were so terrible with his biological parents? We don't really know. But Don was able to land on his feet in his hometown. He lauded those foster parents on instilling in him the faith that was an underpinning for the rest of his life. Foster Dad George Stevens was a Sunday School superintendent and chairman of the deacons at a Baptist church. Don said of him: "He was a real witness and testimony for me."
Echoes of my own background
A disrupted or dysfunctional family came close to home for me once. My family provided shelter for an aunt - my mother's sister - who left her husband who she felt might kill her. She had five children, first cousins of mine, who I knew well for a time, then we got separated for many years. Obviously I had problems understanding what could make a family come apart so badly. How could a relationship that began in love end up severed and with poisonous feelings?
I have never been married so I cannot imagine how such a split might develop. It profoundly troubles me. Reading Demeter's bio brings back some of those memories and that sense of puzzlement. He appears to have found his own solution: a deep Christian faith. If that works for you, congrats. My generation of the boomers never really took to that stuff. In older age I think a lot of us are drifting back to it.
Demeter would have looked fine in a Minnesota Twins uniform. We were not so fortunate. I got familiar with this big and lanky outfielder through his baseball card on those Post cereal boxes. He was with Philadelphia at the time. He is one of those players who quite arguably was outstanding but for some reason is not well remembered today.
He became known as a player who was part of trades where the other team got the better deal. Can't blame Don for that.
He roamed center field for his high school team which won the state championship his junior and senior years. Eleven boys from that team signed pro contracts. Most signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Demeter was the only one making it into the big leagues. Many are called, few are chosen. Don got an $800 bonus for signing with those old Dodgers in 1953.
He plunged into the typical scenario for aspiring big leaguers, going from one stop to another including winter ball in Venezuela. He socked 41 home runs with Fort Worth in 1956. He got the call to get a taste of big league ball with the Dodgers. He appeared at Ebbets Field in September. He struck out. The next day he stepped up to bat as a pinch-hitter and hit a homer on his first swing. The Dodgers won their second straight National League crown.
Seasoning with the St. Paul Saints
We're proud to note that Don came Minnesota way for 1957, playing the whole season with the St. Paul Saints of the American Association. He hit 28 home runs and batted .309.
The Dodgers re-located to Los Angeles in the off-season. Don began 1958 with L.A. but got sent back down to St. Paul. He re-joined L.A. for good on July 30, helping compensate for an ailing Duke Snider. He struggled at the plate.
Bring on 1959 with Ike still in the White House: Demeter hit three two-run home runs in a single game on April 21. The last of these was in the bottom of the eleventh to beat the Giants 9-7. The Dodgers won the pennant as they got past Milwaukee in a two-game playoff. They beat the White Sox in the World Series. Demeter appeared in all six World Series games and went three-for-12 with two runs scored.
In '59 there were rumors that Demeter would come to Calvin Griffith's Washington Senators in a trade. This would have set the stage for the big guy coming to Minnesota again. Alas it did not happen. Legend has it that Griffith backed off due to reports that Demeter might quit baseball for the ministry. Demeter had a serious injury on July 3 of 1960. He was out for the rest of the season, a season that saw him hit .274 with nine home runs. He was still a Dodger for the start of '61.
Don then became a Phillie and did fine, achieving his second three-homer game of his career, putting down the Dodgers and none other than Sandy Koufax. It was a 19-10 win! Demeter had his best season in 1962 as he batted .307 with 29 home runs and 107 RBIs. He started an errorless streak as an outfielder. Demeter claimed batting average didn't mean much to him, rather he stressed RBIs.
In 1963 he traveled to Japan with another noted Christian ballplayer, Bobby Richardson, to spread the gospel. Demeter had another fine season in 1963, socking 22 home runs. In '63 he became a Detroit Tiger. Chuck Dressen, the Detroit manager, claimed Demeter was a better player than Rocky Colavito. I think highly of Demeter but I could not disagree more with Dressen on this. I have written a song about Rocky Colavito.
Demeter held his own but was not outstanding with Detroit. He would get Bibles from fans which he would then autograph. On August 12 of 1965, Demeter drove in seven runs on a single, triple and grand slam in an 11-1 win over Kansas City. The Tigers finished fourth, 13 games behind our Twins. Don declined in productivity in 1966. He joined the Red Sox who weren't exactly on a roll. They finished ninth, a half-game ahead of the sinking New York Yankees. Demeter reported back problems.
In '67 with Boston destined to streak to the top, Demeter did not finish out the campaign with them. He joined Cleveland. He did make some contributions while with Boston. Demeter wrapped up his career with Cleveland, getting two home runs in a game vs. the Yankees. Nagging injuries and a suspect heart took a toll.
Amazingly, his heart problems seemed to get resolved when the big guy just improved his diet! Many of us should take note.
He got two hits in his last start, on August 27, and his final at-bat saw him deliver a single.
Demeter as a retiree appeared in old-timers games for the Dodgers. He became a pastor in his church. He had an unsuccessful run for the state legislature as a Republican in 1976. I seem to recall the '70s not being great for Republicans! In 1999 Don was inducted into the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Fame. He pastors Grace Community Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. He can be proud of his long big league career with no shortage of thrills.
We wish he had pulled on a Twins uniform for a time.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org