Saturday, October 1, 2011

Eddie Bockman, MLB veteran and scout that signed Larry Bowa, dies at 91


On the eve of the opening game of the ALDS playoffs, Yankee fans had a moment to pause. Another one to wear the pinstripes left their ranks. Joseph “Eddie” Bockman, a rookie third baseman with 1946 Yankees, passed away Thursday at his home in Millbrae, Calif. He was 91.

Bockman’s career was almost over as soon as it started. He first signed with the Class D Bisbee Bees of the Chicago Cubs organization in 1939. After playing in 62 games with a .285 average, Bockman was nose-to-nose with one of baseball’s harshest realities, being released.

Eddie Bockman / Bowman
I wasn't doing that bad. … I sat around a whole day trying to figure out why,” said Bockman in a 2009 interview I conducted with him via telephone. “It was quite a while after I got released, two to three weeks before they went out and hired someone else. I couldn't understand it. You're just a kid at that time and you can't really put it together.”


Bockman dusted himself off and drew the attention of the New York Yankees, signing to their Class A team in Joplin the following season. As he started to move up the ranks, another team requested his services, the United States Navy.

Bockman joined the Navy in 1943 and was stationed in San Diego. It was here that Bockman would begin to mature as both a man and a ballplayer.

“As I got older, I did well in the Navy," he said. "Of course, you weren't playing against the competition as good as you did in professional baseball, but it was a ballgame. Over the course of two to three years, I played well, even if I say so myself!”

During his service time, Bockman would team up with many budding major league stars as a member of the Long Beach Service Stars.

“We had a good ballclub. Ray Boone, George Vico, Charlie Gilbert, Cliff Mapes and Bob Lemon were all with us.”

Returning to the Yankees organization in 1946, Bockman’s skills gained by playing in the Navy allowed him to make the jump to the Kansas City Blues of the Class AAA American Association. Bockman feasted on the league’s hurlers to the tune of a .303 average with 29 stolen bases. This led to a late September call-up by the Yankees that also included future Hall of Famer Yogi Berra.

Despite playing alongside such legends as Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, and Bill Dickey, it was Bockman’s trade to the Indians with Joe Gordon for Allie Reynolds during the offseason that would place him in a front row seat to an even bigger piece of baseball’s history.

On July 5th, 1947, Indians owner Bill Veeck ushered Larry Doby in to the clubhouse, seeking to integrate the American League. Bockman vividly recalled a timid Doby making his way into the fold.

“In the clubhouse, the day he walked in, in Chicago, he was scared to death," he said. "He didn't know what to expect.

“He was different than Jackie Robinson. Robinson was a cocky guy. If he disagreed with you, he'd be ready to fight you. Doby was the other way. [He was] kind of a laid back guy, a good kid. I got along with him well.”

Bockman was used sparingly for the remainder of the 1947 season and was then purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He spent two seasons as part of their third base platoon and then continued in the minors as a player-manager through the 1958 season.

He used his extensive career as a player and manager to transition into a scouting role with the Philadelphia Phillies. He left his mark on the 1980 World Series Championship team by signing seven of the members of that club, including his most prized recruit, Larry Bowa.

“He was very easy to sign," he said. "He wanted to play and nothing was going to stop him. When I went over to sign him, he jumped in the back seat of the car. That's the term we use when we didn't have any problems signing the player.”

Bowa carved out an All-Star career with the Phillies. He marveled at Bowa’s durability despite the shortstop's small stature.

“He played 16 years in the big leagues and I said he was pretty damn lucky to play that long in the big leagues and never was hurt," Bockman said. "He was always there, never a broken bone, a sore arm, or bad legs. There wasn't a hell of a lot on him to hurt! He got 100% out of his ability. He wasn't scared to work. You had a hell of a time getting him off the field. I had to pull him off the field a few times, he didn't want to leave.”

During our 2009 conversation, Bockman, using his scouting eye, took a humble assessment of his abilities.  As a scout, Bockman questioned whether he would sign himself.

“I wasn't that good of a player. I look back on myself now; I was good enough to get there,” said Bockman. “I scouted for 45 years and I would stop and think sometimes if I would scout myself [with] my abilities. I'd say to myself, ‘Shoot, I wouldn't sign myself.’”

Despite his post-playing reservations about his abilities, Bockman found a redeeming quality in his desire to be on the field.

“I liked to play and it bothered me when I wasn't in the lineup; I wanted to play," he said. "That was a factor of why I got signed in the first place. I had the ambition and I wanted to play. I didn't care where or who I was.”



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