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"Dad" Is Beginning His 49th Season

“Dad” Is Beginning His 49th Season

By George McClelland

 

Vern Hoscheit was just setting in when Barry Lyons popped through the door of the coaches’ quarters in Port St. Lucie to say hello.

            “Hi, Dad, glad you’re here,” said catcher Lyons to the catching guru of the Met organization.

            “Ready to go to work?”  Hoscheit asked.

            “You bet, been waiting for you.”

            This exchange on day one of spring training places in context the role of a man beginning his 49th season in baseball, the seventh in Met blue.

            “He’s here for a reason,” says Lyons.  “He understands and he helps.  And his work ethic is such that you just have to be as enthusiastic as he is.”

            For Hoscheit, a self-styled “145-pound Nebraska farm kid,” it has been ever thus.

            “I was maybe 16, when my father got me to catch in an American Legion game.  He cut a sliver off an inner tube and wrapped it around my fingers so I’d catch the ball in the webbing.  We won, went to the state tournament and I was sold on catching from then on.

            “I’d been the original error-making second baseman.  It wasn’t long before I preferred catching a doubleheader to playing a single game at another position.  I never could catch a ground ball.”

            In those 49 years, Hoscheit has done everything in baseball from manage to serve as president of a league (the Three-I in 1960 and 1961).  He’s coached and scouted and been a general manager.  And now – after four years on the New York coaching staff – he’s in his second season as a troubleshooter. In this capacity, he may be in New York one day, Kingsport the next. ”I have an itinerary for the season,” said Hoscheit, who spent spring training in the major league camp, “but I go where I’m needed, for however long I’m needed.” The work ethic was obvious that first day in 1941, April bright in Nebraska when Vern was among 13 fledgling at a NY Yankee tryout camp in Norfolk.

Half a dozen Class C and D clubs were being assembled. Norfolk, though, had two holdover catchers and no one had less chance of making good than this scrawny kid.

“But the No. 1 catcher pretended he didn’t hear when the manager told him to catch batting practice. I watched the guy amble toward the outfield, went in and put on my catching gear and walked up behind the manager and said, ‘I’m ready, skip. Give me a chance.’”

“I caught BP for an hour, and when it came time for an intra-squad game I told him I could keep going. When he said he figured I’d be too tired. I told him ‘No.’”

A week later, Hoscheit was one of 45 players lined up outside the office of the man who doubled as mayor and baseball general manager. The first player to enter was the 145-pound catcher.

“On the table were lined up 15 contracts. The mayor pointed to the first one. ‘If you will play for 75 dollars (a month, not a week), sign on the dotted line and you’re on the team.’”

“I stole a glance at the other contracts. The numbers on all were the same. I signed and so did the next 14 guys. We were the ball club. The other 30 were out in the cold.

“We had eight position players and seven pitchers. The rightfielder could catch, but if he caught I had to rest up playing right.”

Both in baseball – Ted Williams batted .406 and Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 consecutive games – and outside the horsehide realm, 1941 was a year to remember.

Hoscheit surely won’t forget it.

“The baseball moment that remains the most vivid is the signing of that first contract. Another that comes close is the day I received my first (of four) World Series rings.

“As a catcher I never got higher that Triple-A, with Kansas City in 1947, but I scouted and I made it to the big leagues as a coach with the Orioles and the A’s and then with the Mets. I’ve been very fortunate.”

This from a man who, as a first-year manager in McAlester, Okla., in 1948, drove the bus and served as his own trainer.

“My wife did the clubs laundry, too, and the salary was $300 a month. The people there were great, though. We won 91 games and the pennant (the first of five as a manager) and I stayed there four years. The people saw to it that I had an off-season job every year. I worked for the public service company and for Buick.”

Hoscheit would manage for 12 seasons, the first 11 for the Yankees. He proved a favorite of Casey Stengel, serving both as the manager’s spring training chauffer and sliding instructor.

“I’ll never forget how Phil Rizzutto helped me. He didn’t need any instruction, of course, but the first day the players were sliding he both started the line and got after Berra when Yogi did a swan dive into the sliding pit.

“‘The kid’s trying to do a job’, Rizzutto said, ‘give him a break.’”

Hoscheit went from the dugout to the president’s office in the Three-I League in 1960 “after Johnny Johnson of the Yankees called to tell me they didn’t have a job for me that year.”

Jobs seek him out, though.

After two years as minor league president, Hoscheit returned to the field as a minor league coordinator for the Orioles in 1962. For six years in the Baltimore organization, he doubled as a scout. In 1965 he spent the major league season watching Frank Robinson perform in a Cincinnati uniform. If there were doubts about Robinson’s ability to help the Orioles, Vern did not share them. He urged the making of the trade that helped make the Birds World Champions in 1966.

Hoscheit joined Earl Weaver’s coaching staff in 1968, then moved to Oakland to coach on that championship club. In 1976, Vern was with the Angels. After a stint in private business in Nebraska limited his baseball work from 1977 to 1982, He returned to a full time role, this time with the Mets.

In 1983, he worked with young catchers in spring training and managed a Sarasota club in the Gulf Coast League. When Davey Johnson became manager with the Mets in 1984, he quickly named Hoscheit to his coaching staff.

 ‘He’s a great detail man,” the manager points out. “He’s done every job that’s possible in baseball and as far as I’m concerned there isn’t a better catching instructor anywhere.”

He has worked with catchers in five organizations, counting the Mets, and despite his decision to retire from the coaching staff in New York, Hoscheit continues a full schedule, beginning with spring in the major league camp.

“If we have an open date, I go over to the minor league complex. John Tamargo, the Sarasota manager, is a former major league catcher and an excellent instructor. I just like to keep tabs on the kids.

“We had Chris Jelic and Dave Liddell, to good prospects, in the big league camp, and Todd Hudley and David Lau are two other good ones.”

Ironically, Hoscheit’s own richest memories as a player are those of a fellow out of position.

 “I opened the ’46 season with Binghampton and we were in Utica. Our manager, Garland Braxton, the former Yankee pitcher, stuck me out in rightfield. With the tying run at third, a guy hit a long fly. I caught it and let loose a throw to plate that had every chance to go over the grandstand.

“I had no idea were the ball was going. Lucky for me, it got to the catcher on one bounce. Braxton loved it.

“Then I joined the Norfolk, Va. club and arrived just in time to miss the bus to Portsmouth. I caught the ferry to Portsmouth and got there just in time to see a fight break out. Our third baseman was ejected and Shaky Kain, our manager, put me out there.

“ ‘Vern’s a good third baseman,’ someone told him. Heck, I’d never played there. Again I was lucky. With one out and a guy at first, the batter hit a pea in my direction. If it takes two hops I’m dead, but it didn’t. One true bounce, right in my glove. I start a double play and we’re out of the inning.

“Like I said before, I’m a very fortunate individual .”

You get the feeling that Vern Hoscheit thinks everyone involved in baseball is pretty fortunate. Catchers in the Met organization know they’re lucky to have ‘Dad’ around when they need help.

This story published in the 1989 New York Mets Official Score Book
Vol. 28 No.1 Shea Stadium
Flushing, N.Y.