Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tom Saffell, former MLB outfielder and WWII veteran dies at 91

Tom Saffell, an outfielder who played parts of four big league seasons from 1949-1955 with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Athletics, passed away last week. He was 91.

Saffell was the president of the Gulf Coast Rookie League for 30 years from 1979-2009, working until he was 89 years old. That capped a career in baseball that started almost 70 years prior in 1941 in the Class D Newport Canners of the Appalachian League.
Tom Saffell / Author's Collection
His playing career was interrupted in 1942 when he signed up for the Army Air Corps in World War II. He served until 1946, getting out right in time for the baseball season. During his service, he flew 61 missions over Europe, without being wounded or shot down.

Saffell’s breakout year came in 1947 when he batted .370 for Class B Selma Cloverleafs. He started out the season with the Atlanta Crackers, but he was displaced upon the arrival of a future Hall of Famer.

“I played part of the season for one month until they signed Charley Trippi," Saffell said in a 2008 interview from his home in Florida. “That’s when they sent me out to Selma, Alabama.”

His outstanding performance earned him a promotion to AAA Indianapolis, where he hit .299 in 1948. The next season, he was in the big leagues.

“I had a good year my first year up there, I hit .322,” he said.

It would be the only year in the major leagues that Saffell would see consistent playing time.

"That's the only year I played regularly for Pittsburgh," he said to SABR member Jim Sargent. "I played against both right-hand pitchers and left-handers. After that first season, they usually put me in for defensive purposes or against right-handed pitchers.”

He shuttled between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis during the 1950-51 seasons but didn’t see the majors again until 1955. When he returned, there was a fresh face in Pittsburgh outfield, Roberto Clemente.

“One of the greatest ballplayers that put on a uniform,” he said. “You could see that Clemente had great talent. Anyone could see that. He was one of the better-coordinated ballplayers I ever saw. He could throw off-balance and get himself in position to throw quickly.”

Saffell was released by the Pirates toward the end of the season and latched on with Kansas City to finish out the year. He remained in the minors as a full-time player until 1959. In 1960, he was offered a managing job with the Dodgers Class C team in Reno and began a 13-year career as a minor league coach and manager.

It was then in 1978 when he was approached by Murray Cook to become the president of the Gulf Coast League. Saffell gladly accepted and held the position until 2009. He was honored in 1999 as the "King of Baseball," at the baseball winter meetings in Anaheim, Calif.


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