Bill Purdy never made it to the major leagues, but for two years in high school, he came as close as he could be without taking the field.
The 71-year-old St. Louis Hills resident lived for baseball and the St. Louis Browns and caught on ball teams in grade school, high school and college. He yearned to play in the
big leagues. But while still in high school, he realized he didn't have what it takes to make it to The Show.
But what his bat couldn't do for him, his pen could. In his freshman year at Southwest High School, Purdy won an essay contest to be a bat boy for the Browns in the 1952 season. He soon worked himself into a job catching
batting practice and kept at it until the Browns moved to Baltimore after the 1953 season.
In those years, he met superstars, saw baseball's good and bad sides and
received advice from a baseball great that guided him through life.
"I've always loved baseball and I was blessed by God to give me an opportunity to be part of major league baseball," Purdy said.
In his time with the Browns, he traveled to stadiums in cities like Boston, New York and
Philadelphia and saw stars like Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle.
In Yankee Stadium, a game program once accidentally identified him as a Browns catcher. Two of the programs are on display in his basement, a museum of sports memorabilia.
He became close to many Browns players in the team's last two years here, especially former Negro League pitching great Satchel Paige.
He recalls receiving advice from Paige that stayed with him a lifetime.
"He said, 'Billy,
what do you want to do when you get older?'" Purdy said.
"I quicky said 'I want to be a major league catcher,'" Purdy said. "Satchel smiled and then he said to me, 'If you're going to be a catcher, be the best catcher in the whole world."
Purdy took that advice to be the best as he went a different direction, first as a teacher, then as a principal and finally as a a member of the St. Louis City Schools Board.
Purdy's experiences caught the eyes of Trevor Hayes and Tim Wiles, writers for a web site of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Hayes wrote about Purdy when he and his wife, Mary Beth, visited the museum.
Purdy spoke to them at length about his experiences, including Aug. 19, 1951 when Purdy and every other fan in the stadium watched three-feet, seven-inch Eddie Gaedel step to the plate and walk on four pitches. Gaedel's plate appearance is the most famous of the many stunts pulled by legendary Browns owner Bill Veeck as he tried to build attendance for the financially faltering franchise.
Cooperstown has been the recipient of numerous bits of memorabilia from Purdy's time with the Browns.
"He is a wealth of stories about the Browns, and he saw it all: Satchel Paige, Bill Veeck,and Eddie Gaedel," Wiles said. "Every visitor to Cooperstown has his or her own baseball
story, but few are as interesting as Bill's."