In 2019, Ann LoPrinzi brought me in to work as a book editor with Marty Devlin. Meeting in Marty’s gazebo, we began getting to know each other. After a few months, Marty would carry to our meetings boxes of material that contained a vast collection of newspaper articles, letters, and artifacts from his life. These boxes held the past, they held stories, and they led me on a magical mystery tour of Marty’s life as a professional ballplayer in the 1950s, years before he became a tennis legend.
A few of the letters and programs from Marty’s collection
I was intrigued by the baseball years of Marty’s intriguing life. My first game at old Municipal Stadium in Kansas City as a first grader hooked me, from the moment the vast emerald field opened before me. For years, I read baseball news in any form I could get it. I spent summer nights with my brother rooting for the AAA Tucson Toros of the Pacific Coast League. (For readers who are not baseball fans, Class AAA is one short step below the major leagues. It’s where players teeter on the edge of making it to the major leagues.) Marty reached this second highest peak in pro baseball with the storied Montreal Royals of the International League, the team Jackie Robinson played for in 1946, the season before he crossed the color line with the Dodgers.
Last August I drove to Baltimore and to the Society for American Baseball Research’s (SABR) annual conference to explore baseball research and see where Marty’s story might fit. There, I met Paul Hensler. Paul is the author of four books on baseball and society. When I told him about Marty’s memoir, he said, “I think people [researching baseball] would be interested in Marty’s story.” That evening Paul sent me the links to two conferences on baseball (who knew!). Once back home, I told Marty I wanted to tell his story. He was onboard, with his usual positive attitude about this potential opportunity.
Both of my proposals were accepted, and in March I traveled to Phoenix and appeared on a panel in March at the Nine Conference. Eighty-some people were in attendance, including Andy McCue, who had written a biography of Walter O’Malley, the Dodgers owner when Marty was playing. Before the conference, I’d spoken to George Gmelch, a cultural anthropologist and author of a memoir of his time as a minor leaguer with the Detroit Tigers organization. And I thought I knew baseball!
Fast forward to May 31. I walked through the dimmed, churchlike Plaque Gallery to the Learning Center at the Baseball Hall of Fame in beautiful Cooperstown, New York. Old uniforms hung in lockers on the wall to my right, weathered gloves and spikes rested on their shelves. What a thrill it was to tell Marty’s story at the Cooperstown Symposium! I traced Marty’s baseball career and hit the highlights of his life after baseball. Marty agreed to be videoed before the conference. I showed a clip so they could “meet” Marty. Here he talks about learning how to hit with such bat control that he could place the ball wherever he wanted.
Among the questions from the audience: why didn’t Marty make it all the way to the major leagues? That’s a question Marty and I have discussed. Was it the injury with the AA Fort Worth Cats that derailed him? Not learning how to switch hit? He came so close to the major leagues. Marty made it all the way to AAA, playing with the Royals, a team that won the International League title that year (1958).
Meeting baseball researchers helped Marty and me understand more of what his memorabilia was telling us. The letters of the Dodger brass keeping tabs on him while he was in the Army during the Korean War (facilitated by Marty’s mom, one of his biggest supporters)? Photographs of Marty with Walter O’Malley, Fresco Thompson, and a young Sparky Anderson? His contribution to a promotional brochure for prospective players? A program of a game between All-Star minor leaguers and the coaches, managers, and executives during spring training in Dodgertown? And, of course, his year as manager of the D League Orlando Dodgers? (Where three of his players would later become major leaguers—a huge accomplishment.) Andy McCue knows the Dodgers inside and out. He said the Dodgers likely saw Marty’s potential as a manager or executive in the organization.
Marty left professional baseball after that 1959 season to return to school and finish his degree. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Fortunately, Marty’s baseball history is not being lost. And even if he didn’t quite make it to the “biggies,” he can say his story was told in Cooperstown.
If you haven’t picked up a copy of Marty’s book, you can learn more about his life in baseball in his recently published memoir, Ol’ Buddy Marty.
Cathy Kreyche presenting at the Cooperstown Symposium at the Baseball Hall of Fame at the session “Chasing Dreams: The Summer Game”
Panel at the Nine Conference in Phoenix (L to R: Daniel Anderson, Cathy Kreyche, Richard Black, Erik Sherman)