Baseball mourns passing of Dave Philley, 91, one of the game’s greats
Dave Philley holds his Baltimore Orioles “Most Valuable Player” trophy, awarded in 1955 for leading the club in hitting with a .299 batting average. He still holds the major league record for nine straight pinch-hits. In 1961, he had 24 pinch-hits in 72 at-bats, which is still an American League record.
Philley was born May 16, 1920 about 20 miles northwest of Paris in the Garretts Bluff Community of Lamar County. He graduated from high school and attended East Texas State University.
The 6-foot, 188-pound athlete began his professional baseball career in 1940 as a 20-year-old with the Marshall (Texas) Tigers. When he hit .341 for two clubs the following year, he got a shot in the major leagues.
Philley threw right-handed, but hit from both sides of the plate. He made his major league debut on Sept. 6, 1941, appearing in seven games for the Chicago White Sox during the final month of the season.
He was back in the minor leagues with the St. Paul Saints for part of the 1942 season. He married Nell Marie Bratcher on June 11, 1942, in St. Paul and joined the Army, serving his country in World War II for the next three years.
After the war, he spent most of 1946 in the minors with the Milwaukee Brewers, hitting .329 with 13 home runs and earning another late-season call-up with the White Sox.
He became Chicago’s regular left fielder the next four seasons, then went to the Philadelphia Athletics, with whom he had his best season of his career in 1953, hitting .30-3 with a career-high 30 doubles.
He played for the Chicago White Sox (1941, 1946-51); Philadelphia Athletics (1951-53); Cleveland Indians (1954-55); Baltimore Orioles (1955-56, 1960-61); Detroit Tigers (1957); Philadelphia Phillies (1958-60); San Francisco Giants (1960); and the Boston Red Sox (1962).
In 2003, Philley was recognized as one of 35 players who have hit a homer for seven or more major league clubs. He had a lifetime batting average of .270 with 276 doubles, 72 triples, 84 home runs, 789 runs, 729 runs batted in, and 102 stolen bases.
Philley hit 20 or more doubles in seven consecutive seasons (1947-53), and he had 1,700 lifetime hits. He was regarded as having a great batting-eye, walking 596 times and striking out 551 times.
Beginning in 1957, at the age of 37, Philley saw less and less time in the field and more as a pinch-hitting specialist during his last six years in the major leagues. As a pinch-hitter, he had 93 hits in 311 pinch at-bats.
In 1958 — in his first year in the National League, with the Philadelphia Phillies – Philley ended the season with eight consecutive pinch hits. He added a double against Lew Burdette of the then-Milwaukee Braves on Opening Day of 1959 to raise his consecutive pinch-hit streak to nine, a record that still stands.
With Baltimore in 1961, Philley set a record with 24 pinch-hits – an American League record he still holds.
Philley was a teammate with Eddie Robinson – who was also born in Paris in 1920 – on the 1950 and 1951 Chicago White Sox and on the 1953 Philadelphia Athletics. He appeared with Robinson and made a few remarks at a book-signing in downtown Paris on March 1, 2011, for Robinson’s book, “Lucky Me,” about Robinson’s 65 years in baseball.He once explained his uncanny success as a pinch-hitter:
He once explained his uncanny success as a pinch-hitter:
“When I went up to the plate, I felt the pitcher was in a jam, not me. I made it a point to study pitchers, knew what they thre to players that hit like I did. I was ready for them.”
Philley also has the major league record for most at-bats in an 18-inning double-header – 13 in 1951.
After ending his career with Boston in 1962, he tried his hand at managing. He was with the Modesto Colts in 1963, the Statesville Colts for part of 1964, the Cocoa Coplts later in 1964, and the Durham Bulls in 1965 — all with the Houston Astros organization, or the Houston Colt .45′s as they were known in their early years.
Asked one season about his work with 22 rookies in the Florida Rookie League wearing the Houston Colt .45′s label, Philley said: “You have to be father, mother, brother and sister. But I like to work with them.”
After leaving the Houston Astros organization, he managed one year in the Red Sox chain with the Waterloo Hawks.
Burial will be at 11:30 a.m. Monday at Evergreen Cemetery in Paris, followed by a memorial service at 1 p.m. at the First Baptist Church of Paris, where he was a longtime member. Following the memorial service, the family will receive friends in the foyer of the church. Fry & Gibbs Funeral Home has charge of the arrangements.
Philley is survived by two sons, Bill Philley and wife, LaQuita of Colorado Springs, Colo., and Paul Philley and wife, Donna of Elkhart, Texas; four grandchildren, Rebecca, Sarah, Anna, and David; and four great-grandchildren, Judd, Addison, David Louis, and Jonathan Patrick. He was preceded in death by wife, who died on Aug. 20, 2008; his parents and two brothers, Frank Philley and Noel Philley.
Honorary pallbearers are Reggie Hodges, Jimmy Hodges, Steve Reagan, and Jimmy Skelly
News of Philley’s death circulated Friday on Facebook. Friends in Paris, who knew him for his life after baseball, posted their thoughts.
Peggy Iglehart: “I will miss seeing him at church and the hug I always got.”
Bill Cathey: “He was a neat guy. I have a ’57 card that he autographed for me. His house looked like a museum. He had his Orioles uniform and a team pic of the (American League champion) ’54 Indians signed by all the players.”
Carol Allen King: “I always enjoyed seeing his smile.”
Linda Flanary: “He was a one-of-a-kind super special guy, and I will miss him. He gave me an autographed baseball picture of him many years ago, and I treasure it.”
Jon McFadden: “This will make Sundays different. Seeing him at the front door was just about as likely as seeing the stained glass of Jesus over the baptistry. You just knew they would both be there.”
Dottie Billman: “One-of-a-kind, old-time baseball player. He played for so many teams and was a scout for years. He was a funny old guy. We will miss him.”