Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The King of Infield Conversions, Remembering Monty Basgall



He was the infield position converter guru.  The guy that made catcher’s into second basemen (Ted SIzemore), third basemen into 1st sackers (Garvey), outfielders into middle infielders (Lopes and Russell).  Two rookies of the year gave the credit for their development to the little known instructor, scout and coach (Lefevbre and Sizemore).  He spent hour after hour smacking grounders to those guys.  Very few knew how to teach infield footwork better than him.  His legacy lives on as Davey Lopes continues to teach much of his philosophy to the present day players.
Romanus “Monty” Basgall was a native of Pfeifer, Kansas.  Born in 1922, baseball was in his blood  and his dream was fulfilled when he was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1942.  Shortly afterword, World War II disrupted his baseball career for three seasons.  He returned to the game he loved in 1946 only to be traded to the Pirates organization following the 1947 season.  It was there that he worked his way up to the big leagues.  Monty spent two years with the Pirates as a light hitting second baseman batting, (.216 and .218 in 1948-49), before returning to the minors in 1950 in favor of second baseman Danny Murtaugh, of future Pirate managerial fame.  In 1951, Basgall was called up to the majors again, but his .209 average doomed him to the minors, this time for the remainder of his playing career, which lasted another seven years.
Monty is remembered for his time in Southern California as a player with the Hollywood Stars at Gilmore Field from 1952-54.  He concluded his playing career as a player manager in Waco, Beaumont and Lincoln from 1956-58.  
Recognized as a savvy young baseball man, Dodger G.M. Buzzie Bavasi hired him as a Dodger scout in 1959.  He worked in that capacity for the next 12 years with off and on stints as a Dodger minor league instructor and within the minor league coaching ranks.   While a scout, one of his signings in 1966 was of a raw athlete from Pittsburg Kansas that only played basketball in high school.  He was from a school so small, it didn’t even have a baseball team.  That young signee, Bill Russell, would be instrumental in the development of Basgall’s career for the next 20 years.  Interestingly, their careers intertwined until Monty finally retired from the game in 1986.  
Monty Basgall managed Dodger farm teams in El Paso and Albuquerque in the early 70’s, but his ascendency to the Dodger coaching staff came directly out of his ability to convert key players to infield positions, a talent that few had ever succeeded at before.
Ted Sizemore was the first successful conversion.  Moving from catcher to second baseman, primarily through the tutelage of Basgall in 1968.  By 1969, Sizemore won the starting second base job and more than held his own as a full time major league second baseman, winning the Rookie of the Year award.   That success encouraged the organization to do the same with Basgall’s signee, sleek fielding outfielder Bill Russell.  Russell was a fine hitter but lacked pop and shortstop seemed to be the ideal spot for him.
Ted Sizemore, 1969 Rookie of the Year
An aging Maury Wills started the first 12 games in 1972 going 4 for 47 (.106), and Russell took over the position.  It was a difficult chore to ask of anyone changing positions, but the 23 year old youngster was replacing a popular Dodger legend who wasn’t about to help the guy that was going to force him into retirement.  Russell, was on his way to committing 34 errors at his new position as he was learning it on the fly in the majors, was dealing with a lot of stress and a booing fan base.  Basgall started the year managing the first 62 games for the AA Texas League El Paso Dodgers when Dodger management decided to call him up to the big club to work full time with the struggling Russell.   What Monty was able to accomplish was to provide a confidence and a calming influence that helped the youngster settle down and finish the year off solidly.

Walter Alston's 1973 Dodger coaching staff
The next year, Basgall was a permanent fixture on the Dodger coaching staff.  He had already been working on another outfielder conversion with speedy outfielder, Davey Lopes moving to second base over the last few years.  Additionally, he spent much of the 1972 winter with Steve Garvey helping him learn the footwork at the first base bag and converting him to play the position from his original third base.  The end result: by June, 1973, the historic Dodger infield of Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey was permanently in place.  Basgall upon his retirement several years later acknowledged that infield as his greatest achievement saying “I think my greatest satisfaction has been the development of Lopes and Russell, to realize how far they progressed is very rewarding.”

Monty was Tommy Lasorda’s bench coach for much of the early Lasorda years.  A loyal Dodger to both Alston and Lasorda, Basgall was called upon to solve Steve Sax of the yips in 1983 when he routinely threw souveneirs to fans behind the first base dugout.  Again, Basgall was the calming influence, unlike Lasorda, who was tearing his hair out over the troubles of young Sax.

Steve Yeager clowning around with Basgall in the Dodger dugout
With four pennants, six division titles and one World Championship as a coach from 73-86, Monty announced he was calling it quits when Bill Russell retired following the 1986 season.  And who replaced Basgall’s spot on the Dodger coaching staff?   Monty’s successful student, Bill Russell himself.
Lasorda leaned on Basgall for strategy, and was mainly responsible for filling out the lineup, being Tommy’s closest advisor amongst his coaching staff.  But Basgall's charm, voice of reason and poise served the high strung Lasorda well.  As the architect to the Dodger infield that had an eight year run, very few realized the blueprint that Basgall put in place and his major influence on the organization.
As the 1987 season was about to begin without Basgall, he said, “Tommy’s been doing this for 10 years now and the longer you’re in the business, the more confident you get.  Tommy is the kind of guy that relies a lot on his coaches, which is great.  Alston was the same way."  
Bill Russell, the new coach filling Basgall’s spot knew he had huge shoes to fill saying, “Tommy’s going to miss Monty more than anybody.  Monty helped out with the lineup, everything.  We'll all miss his grumpy voice.  All I hope is that some of his knowledge has rubbed off on me.”  
Source: “A Rookie Again: After 18 years as a Dodger Player, Bill Russell Makes Coaching Debut,” Sam McMannis, Los Angeles Times, February 26, 1987
Monty Basgall lived his retirement years in Sierra Vista, Arizona.  He passed away in 2005 at the age of 83.  Many related very kind words about Basgall upon his passing, several being kids that would knock on his door and simply ask to talk baseball with him.  It was something that Monty would kindly do, giving of his time to strangers. Tommy Lasorda made the following statement posted on his MLB blog the day after he died:
"Monty (Basgall) wore the Dodger uniform with pride, dignity and character. He signed his first professional contract with the Dodgers, but played most of his career with the Pirates. However, he served many different roles in the Dodger organization. He was a scout, a minor league instructor, a major league instructor and my bench coach; he was my right-hand man. His tremendous knowledge of the game was a true help to me, and I will be forever thankful for his help in the dugout.

Monty was the epitome of what it means to be a Dodger.  He was a man of integrity, he loved the game and he was a champion both on and off the field.  His example is one we can all learn from.  His contributions to the game and to our organization, are endless."

" - Hall of Fame Manager Tommy Lasorda on Tommy Lasorda's World (MLBlogs, 09/27/2005)




7 comments:

  1. Hello...I am not a baseball fan, but I saw your post at "By Ken Levine" (another soul who bleeds Dodger blue). I just had to check you out and see if you had the same name, or in fact WERE Wes Parker, but I see I am wrong.
    Heck, the only reason I know Wes Parker is that he appeared on an episode of THE BRADY BUNCH...don't get confused--Don Drysdale was on a show in the second season. Wes' was in Season 1, playing the beau of the teacher on whom Greg Brady had a crush.

    Paul Duca

    ReplyDelete
  2. Another Dodger Blogger, Emma Amaya, has a post up showing video footage of Wes Parker being interviewed by a number of people at the SABR convention last year. You might want to check it out at: http://crzblue.mlblogs.com/2011/07/15/wes-parker-at-sabr-41-in-long-beach-ca/

    Thanks for reading and for your comment. As a kid, Wes Parker was a favorite of mine. I always felt that he retired too soon.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi, My name is William J Basgall, My dad is William Sr. Monty Basgall was My Dads uncle, and my great uncle. We were at the 1974 games with the Chicago Cubs. I seem to remember it being 4 games that we went to with box seats on the 1st base side. We have a picture of Uncle Monty and my family at Wrigley Field. I just happened to stumble upon this site. Thank you for honoring him. My dad is now 74. I did not have relationship with Uncle Monty, but I knew he was a great asset to the Dodger organization. Thanks again, Bill Basgall

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comments Bill, your Uncle Monty is well respected amongst us. He was a calming influence in the Dodger clubhouse a great contributor to the organization. If you ever get a chance to scan the photos from '74 at Wrigley, I'd love to see them. Any insight on your uncle that you could share would be appreciated. All my best, Evan

      Delete
  4. Thank you Evan, That is my 13 year old son's name. I will see if my mom or my sister have the pictures. I know my sister has the Dodgers penant, signed baseball and yearbook. She got them since she was the oldest! Ugh. I also had a boss back in 1999 who was a HUGE Dodgers fan and had most all of the books.

    Thanks again, Bill

    ReplyDelete
  5. Evan, I just read your about me column. We are right here in Alameda. So close.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Monty is my cousin...He was a big inspiration to me while I was growing up...My Grandfather Fidelis Basgall and him were really close, both being born in raised in the tiny blip of Pfiefer Kansas, not more then 15 miles where I grew up and have spent my entire life...I am glad I found this...Thank you so much, OP

    ReplyDelete