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The Collected Wisdom of Don Demeter

Former major league baseball player Don Demeter is pastor of Grace Community Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. [PHOTO BY CHRIS LANDSBERGER, THE OKLAHOMAN] 

Former major league baseball player Don Demeter is pastor of Grace Community Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. [PHOTO BY CHRIS LANDSBERGER, THE OKLAHOMAN] 

Oklahoma City native Don Demeter, 83, played 11 seasons in the major leagues with the Dodgers, Phillies, Tigers and Indians. He is pastor of Grace Community Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.

I signed (with the Brooklyn Dodgers) right out of high school. At that time, our Capitol Hill High School team had eight or nine guys who signed professional contracts. There were two years we didn't lose a game at Capitol Hill. I was the least of all of them but I was the only who eventually made the major leagues.

The bonus at that time was $3,000. If you got over that, you had to go on the major league roster. The kids I signed with all got $3,000. They gave me $800.

I started in Shawnee, which was (the Dodgers) Class B team. The next year, I played in Bakersfield and roomed with a guy named Don Drysdale. That was his first year. The next year, I played in Fort Worth and started to hit a little bit. I hit 41 home runs in Fort Worth, and they brought me up to Brooklyn.

My first full year (with Brooklyn) was '59 and we won the World Series, and I thought, 'Well, we will do that every year.' But that is the last year I was in the World Series.

We had a guy here in our church who played with the Yankees, Tommy Sturdivant, who passed away. He had three World Series rings. Every time I would mention from the pulpit I was in the World Series, Tommy would stand up, right during the service, and put three fingers up. I miss him.

When I came up to Brooklyn, I didn't realize this at the time, but I look back now and there were seven Hall of Fame guys on that one team. Jackie Robinson was still there. Roy Campanella. Drysdale and (Sandy) Koufax. Duke Snider. Pee Wee Reese. The manager, Mr. (Walter) Alston. They all turned out to be Hall of Fame players and great guys.

It was a good ride. I quit really early at 31 years of age, but I knew I wasn't getting to the balls that I used to get to in the outfield. We had to put our children in school in Florida every spring training and then (somewhere else) wherever we played. I found myself making a living but not making a life for them, so that is when we decided to quit.

I still get calls from Carl Erskine. When we have a storm come through Oklahoma City, he will call me to see if I am still alive.

The Detroit Tigers' Al Kaline was probably the best all-around player I ever played with. Al could hit for power, for average, had a throwing arm in the outfield. You never saw him look bad at the plate.

The guys I played against, I don't see players anymore of the caliber of Mickey Mantle, who could do it all. And when I played against him, Mickey was hurting, had bad knees and couldn't run like he used to run, but he was still head and shoulders above everybody else.

The other one would be Willie Mays. Somebody asked me the other day why I never made the All-Star team in the National League. I said, "Well, there was a guy named Willie Mays who also played center field."

I did have a chance (to make the All-Star team) one year. I played third base for the Phillies one year and at All-Star time I was hitting .320 and had 15 or 16 home runs. I thought I would be the guy they would pick for third base. They picked Kenny Boyer of the Cardinals. Kenny was hitting .200.

The (pitcher) I had more trouble with was Warren Spahn. When I got to the Dodgers, we were in Milwaukee and I hit two home runs off Warren one night. I didn't get another hit off of him for two years.

The toughest guy to hit was probably Bob Gibson of the Cardinals. Bob would always start you off with a ball right under your chin. When I was traded over to the Phillies and had to face the Dodgers, I had to face Koufax. His fastball would come and it would rise about three or four inches.

The guy I could hit with the Dodgers was Drysdale. Don wouldn't throw at me because we roomed together in the minor leagues. He didn't like it, but he just wouldn't back me off the plate. I knew he wasn't going to hit me.

I had one decent year (1962) in the major leagues (finishing 12th in the MVP voting). I hit over .300, drove in over 100 runs and hit 29 home runs. I can remember looking back and thinking I would get a big raise the next year. I had to fight for a $12,000 raise, and the general manager told me, 'You know you are not worth that.' I settled for $10,000.

At that time in the major leagues, the chapel services were just getting started. We had a writer in Detroit named Waddy Spoelstra, his grandson is coach of the Miami Heat, and he kind of got the baseball chapel organized.

Dave Wickersham, me and a guy named Bubba Phillips kind of got the chapel service going in Detroit. We would go to New York and Bobby Richardson had it going over there. Every team had some guy who was interested. It is far more organized now.

I have always had an interest in God's word and to share it. My wife and I began to teach married young people in our church. A group of people started this church and asked me to come and teach them how to live, so that is what we've done.

I kept thinking, we will do this for a year, and God will send you a pastor. Well, we've been here 15 years. I am still waiting for that guy to replace me.

I used to get baseball cards sent to me (to sign) and they would say, "My dad saw you play." Now I get cards and they say, "My granddad saw you play."

Ed Godfrey

Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more... Read more ›

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