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Ernie Banks, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle.
When Bob Humphreys, of Bedford, reflects back on his professional baseball career, he recalls pitching to the likes of that trio of Hall of Famers, as well as many others.
Humphreys' big league playing career began in 1962 and extended until 1970. During that period, Humphreys pitched for the Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Senators and Milwaukee Brewers. During his time in St. Louis, he threw for the World Series champion Cardinal team of 1964.
That team featured players such as Lou Brock, Tim McCarver and Ken Bowyer.
Humphreys came a long way from his high school days when he played at Montvale under the legendary Gus Welch, who had been a teammate of Jim Thorpe. "He was a nice man," said Humphreys of Welch. "He told us a lot of stories about Carlisle (College), Jim Thorpe and the boys."
Enrolling at Hampden-Sydney, all Humphreys wanted to do was focus on baseball. His efforts paid off, as the team won the Mason-Dixon Conference three straight years.
Graduating in 1958, Humphreys had the attention of several teams and, since there was no draft in those days, he had the freedom to sign with whomever he chose. The Phillies were interested in him as an infielder, while Detroit liked him as a pitcher.
"I figured it was easier to get guys out then to be a .300 hitter," said Humphreys of his signing with the Tigers organization.
With a $1,000 bonus in hand, he reported to Class D, in the Florida League. From there, he started an alphabet soup migration up the food chain: Durham (Class B), Victoria (AA), Birmingham (AA), Knoxville (A) and Denver (AAA).
At each step along the way, he encountered teammates who had played at a level or two higher, and that gave him confidence. "I got to thinking if that guy can play up there, so can I," commented Humphreys. "I always liked to pitch against the best guys in the league, knowing if I can get them out, I can go to the next level."
Joe Morgan, Brooks Robinson, Billy Williams
The thinking paid off as he got his first taste of the big leagues, with the Tigers, in September, 1962. In his first appearance, against the Twins, he went three innings, giving up but one run.
At the start of spring training the following season, he was sold to the Cardinals.
Humphreys realized the dream of every red-blooded American when he joined the Cards. He suddenly found himself a teammate of his boyhood hero, Stan Musial, who was playing his final season for the team, in 1963. "One of my biggest thrills was on the last day of the season. (Musial) had three hits. Then he went around the ballpark with his wife in a convertible. When he arrived at home plate, there were tears in his eyes. That sent chills down my spine."
The following season was that World Series run, one of the more remarkable in baseball history. 1964 was the year of the famed collapse of the Philadelphia Phillies, in which the Phils watched a six game lead evaporate over the course of the last ten games of the season.
To ice the title, the Cards had to beat win their last game of the season. Bob Gibson, pitching on two days rest got the job done, helped out by Bill White's 3-run homer. White later became the president of the American League.
In the World Series, the Cards topped the New York Yankees in seven games, taking the title at home as Gibson picked up the win while going the distance.
It was the first World Series for baseball-crazy St. Louis since 1944. Incidentally, that 1944 series was the first time that Humphreys listened to a ball game on the radio.
The following season (1965), Humphreys found himself on a hapless Chicago Cubs team. While he was one of only two Cubs pitchers to post a winning record, he asked to be traded. "I didn't care for all of those day games," he explained.
The Cubs honored his request and swapped Humphreys with Washington for pitcher Kenny Hunt.
The Senators provided a nice home for the righty. In the 1966 season, his best in the majors, he posted a 7-3 record with an ERA of 2.82 over the course of 58 games. He stayed with Washington into the 1970 season, the year he was traded to the Brewers.
Lou Brock, Louis Aparicio, Frank Robinson
He credits the development of a knuckleball with extending his career by two years, helping to ride out persistent arm injuries. "They didn't have MRI's or arthroscopic surgery in those days," he explained.
Another time, he pulled a muscle in his ribcage, an injury that sidelined him for a solid month. The batter when he hurt himself was none other than Roberto Clemente.
Humphreys also witnessed baseball's greatest rarity: an unassisted triple play, when he was with the Senators. It was turned in by shortstop Ron Hansen against the Indians and was the first unassisted triple play in the majors in 41 years.
Over the course of his career, Humphreys got to live the dream. He played winter ball in the Dominican Republic and went on a goodwill tour of Japan. He spent many more years in baseball, developing hurlers into big league pitchers, working with the Dominican teams and managing the Virginia Tech varsity squad.
He's played and coached all over the country. Yet, when it came time to settle down, he and his wife, Genny, choose to return here.
Genny, a local gal and his wife of 26 years, can be thanked for that. "In 2005, I told Genny 'You've followed me all over. You find where you want us to be."
It's obvious Humphreys was pleased with her choice. "Home's home no matter where you're from. This is one of the most beautiful places in the country."