Rac passed away October 11th in his hometown of Galveston, TX, with little fanfare at the age of 81. Some 55 years ago; however, he sat among the top of the prospects in the Cardinals organization.
|Rac (c.) in between Don Blasingame (l.) and Rip Repluski (r.)|
Interviewing Rac in 2008, he gave an assessment of his talents that mirrored that of the scout quoted in Baseball Digest.
“I just happened to be in the wrong organization, because I was fast, but I wasn’t fast enough for center fielders,” he said.
The momentum he built entering the 1956 season was put to a halt by Cardinals GM Frank “Trader” Lane. While playing in Venezuela, Rac picked up a copy of the Sporting News to find he had fallen out of favor with the new GM, without even talking to him.
“Frank Lane came to the Cardinals, and the Cardinals had set a record of signing all of their players way before spring training,” he said. “I pick up the Sporting News in Venezuela and he made some sort of ugly remark about not signing a contract. I never got a contract, that’s the truth. They sent it to Mexico City. Here I am playing in Maracaibo and they sent it to Mexico City. I go to spring training and everybody wants to know why I didn’t sign. I said, ‘I can’t sign a contract I never got.’”
Rac started out the winter playing in Mexico City, but switched to Venezuela without notifying the Cardinals. After some frantic searching, Lane found Rac in Venezuela and offered him a contract.
“The contract they offered me was $600 per month,” he said. “What was the big holdout? Hold out for what? I was tickled to death to go to spring training.”
His difficulties with Lane, whether they were rightfully deserved, put him in the dog house during spring training. He received a limited chance to show that he was fit for the big leagues.
“[Lane] was a sorry guy in my book,” said Rac. “I never got an opportunity. Fred Hutchinson was the manager and I never got an opportunity to play.”
After 1956, Rac would never get another shot with the parent club, playing two more seasons until he retired in 1958, finishing up what was an 11-year minor league career. He didn’t go quietly; he batted .312 his final year, placing him among the leaders in Texas League in hitting. Back injuries, however, prevented him from continuing.
“I played [ten] seasons and I couldn’t play no more,” he said. “My back hurt and it wasn’t no fun playing.”
After baseball, Rac was fortunate enough to find work in his hometown of Galveston with the longshoremen. He was a clerk and a timekeeper. He worked in that position for 33 years until retiring in 1992.
Our 2008 conversation allowed him to reflect on some of the characters he met during his travels. The one that stood out the most was his teammate, a 19-year-old second baseman, Earl Weaver. Even as a rookie, Weaver showed traits as a player that made him such a great manager.
“You remember Earl Weaver?” Rack asked. “That was my roommate. … He was a helluva second baseman. He reminded you of [Eddie] Stanky. In other words, he couldn’t do anything great, but I tell you what, he was at the right place, at the right time, all the time.”
Rac held tight to the effects the reserve clause had on the players of his generation. With the Cardinals in full control of his destiny, he had little choice to play until they decided to promote him, trade him, or retire. He toiled in the minor leagues waiting for a chance that never came.
“Baseball is different today than it was back then,” he said. “In those days, you could be the number one player in the world and [if] they had a guy in front of you that’s been there and did a good job, you never would get an opportunity. … They held you forever.”
He paid tribute a fellow Cardinal Curt Flood and his crusade to challenge the reserve clause. He feels current players owe a debt of gratitude to Flood and should do more to honor his legacy.
“It was terrible [the reserve clause],” he said. “That’s why all [of] these players should pitch in a fund and send money to Curt Flood’s wife because of what he did. They wouldn’t have the opportunities they have today. Now they’re paying these guys three-to-four million to sign and they haven’t done anything.”
He stressed that even with free agency and million dollar contracts, the political nature of the sport has remained a constant.
“Baseball was politics and still is today,” he said. “It’s like jobs; you have to be in the right place at the right time.”
Well for Rac, one day in Venezuela, far away from the politics of American baseball, he found himself at the point where the right place and the right time met.