Colorful Browns memories
By Trevor Hayes
Bill Purdy was born and raised in St. Louis. But last week, he and his wife, Mary Beth, experienced what felt like a homecoming in Cooperstown.
For a few days at the Baseball Hall of Fame, Purdy relived a youth spent as close to the big leagues as you can get without being listed in a box score.
Purdy grew up a fan of the St. Louis Browns and by the time he entered high school, they were his obsession. As a catcher during his teen years, Bill was a fan of Les Moss, who caught for the Browns from 1946-53. They shared a similar trait aside from catching.
“He was about as slow as a turtle running the bases, and I wasn’t fast either,” said Purdy, who supports the Hall of Fame as a Member of the Museum’s development program. “But I sure could hit the ball.”
It was Purdy’s catching ability, however, that dictated his baseball life after 1952. Bill Veeck, who purchased the Browns in 1951, was working to create greater interest in the team. So in 1952, the future Hall of Fame executive held a promotional contest to work as a bat boy for the Browns. Purdy won the contest.
During the middle of the season, the Browns needed someone to catch batting practice, so Purdy started doing that. For the rest of the season, he was the team’s bat boy and batting-practice catcher. In 1953, he served as just the batting-practice catcher and also traveled with the team.
As the bullpen catcher, he caught many legends, including the seemingly ageless Negro league great and future Hall of Famer Satchel Paige; an aging Virgil Trucks, who won 177 big league games; Harry Brecheen, who won three games in the 1946 World Series with the Cardinals; Don Larsen, who threw the only perfect game in World Series history; Bob Turley, who went on to win four World Series games, two rings and five pennants with the Yankees; Ned Garver, who won 20 games for the last-place Browns in 1951; and Tommy Byrne, a left-hander and part of the Yankees dynasty in the 1940s and ’50s.
Purdy also has one great memory from a trip to Yankee Stadium in 1952. Like the players, Purdy kept his uniform, catcher’s mitt and the rest of his equipment in a trunk. The trunks were unloaded from the team’s train and taken straight to the clubhouse at the ballpark. Just before the team went to New York, the Browns were carrying three catchers, something the Yankees apparently knew. St. Louis’ third-string catcher, however, was sent to the Minors before the team arrived and another catcher wasn’t called up — something the Yankees apparently didn’t know.
“I’m assuming that the clubhouse man from the Yankees saw my stuff in there and thought I’d been activated,” Purdy said. “So they printed the scorecard with my name and number on it. I have it to this day, and it will baffle any historian here, because you won’t find my name on the list of active players. But my name is on the scorecard from Yankee Stadium — it’s the same scorecard that had Mantle, Berra and Casey Stengel on it.”
That scorecard, along with autographed balls and other artifacts — including seat frames from old Sportsman’s Park with original Busch Stadium seats in it — are among the memorabilia Purdy still has from his days with the Browns.
But the stories are what he treasures most.
Trevor Hayes is the editorial production manager at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.