This past winter baseball lost one of its treasures in Paul LaPalme. He was never a star, nor did he have great accomplishments in the game, but he was a great ambassador for baseball. He passed away in February, 2010 at the age of 86, and left behind a strong connection with baseball, the game he loved.
LaPalme was a left-handed pitcher who spent seven seasons in the major leagues between 1951-1957, pitching for the Pirates, Cardinal, Reds, and White Sox. He began his professional career in 1941, and spent the 1943-1945 seasons in military service.
When LaPalme returned to professional ball in 1946, he did so with a bang. Pitching for the Bristol Twins, a New York Giants affiliate of the Appalachian League, he 20-2 with a 3.16 ERA in 27 games. Despite such success, he had to toil for four more years in the minor leagues before he finally got his chance in the majors.
Lapalme went 1-5 with a 6.29 ERA for the 1951 Pirates. However the entire team stuck, as evidenced by their 64-90 record. Because of this he was given another chance the following year and turned it into a decent major league career. He went 24-45 with a 4.42 ERA in 253 games, including 51 starts. Some of his top performances include the 11 innings he pitched in a game against the Cardinals in 1953, and a 5-hit shutout he threw against Johnny Sain and the Boston Braves, representing the first win of his career in 1951. More information about his career statistics is available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/l/lapalpa01.shtml.
Over the years many fans had the pleasure to meet LaPalme or receive an autograph from the gregarious player. He represented the golden age of baseball, and unfortunately more and more players from his generation are slipping away. I was fortunate enough to exchange letters with him before he passed, and was able to ask him some questions about his life and baseball.
Paul LaPalme Questionnaire:
What was your favorite city as a visiting player?: New York. I got to play in Yankee Stadium, and also the old Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. What a park! Wow, very small.
Who was the toughest hitter your team ever faced?: I would say Ted Williams, Mantle, and Stan Musial. Berra was the best bad ball hitter.
What was your favorite moment as a ball player?: As a 12 year old sand lot pitcher, winning three games to win a trip to New York and Yankee Stadium. What a day!
Who was the most underrated player you ever played with or against?: Stan Musial. He was a super hitter. And also Red Schoendienst and Ralph Kiner.
What do you do now that you are retired?: I do too much; try to play golf in summer, skeet shoot in winter. But most of all, baby-sit with my wife our two grandsons, and spend as much time as we can with them- Nick and Josh, 12 and 9. They are super kids.
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