Dick Greco always left an impression, whether because of his large physical stature, the mammoth home runs he hit as a Tacoma Tiger or the scandalous end to his 17-year run as Pierce County auditor that led to four years in prison.
Greco, who was born and raised in Tacoma and spent most of his life here, died July 5 at 87 after a long battle with dementia. Friends and family members will gather at a memorial service Sunday to remember him.
After graduating from Stadium High School in 1943, Greco served in the Navy during World War II. After the war, he played baseball in the minor leagues for 11 years, making stops in Tacoma, Mexico and Missoula, Mont., among other places.
“He was an outstanding talent,” said Stan Naccarato, a Tacoma baseball icon and a friend of Greco’s. “I could never understand why they at least didn’t give him a chance (in the major leagues).”
Dubbed the “Babe Ruth of the bush leagues,” Greco was best known for his ability to hit the long ball and was a fan favorite. Greco hit 333 home runs and won four home-run crowns, according to oldtimerbaseball.com.
“When he hit a home run, it wasn’t just barely going over the fence,” Naccarato said. “Everybody loved a guy who could hit a home run, and he could do it three times a day.”
Naccarato was there when Greco went five-for-five with three home runs. But that wasn’t his most impressive performance, Naccarato said; that distinction goes to the three-run home run he blasted over the center-field wall to win the game in the final inning.
During Greco’s 1950 season with the Tigers, arguably the best of his career, he dominated the Western International League. He led the league in virtually every offensive category, including batting average, home runs, runs batted in and total bases. He is featured in the KBTC documentary “Invincible: Baseball in Tacoma.”
Greco also could thank baseball for helping him become a family man. He met his future wife, Evelyn, on a road trip in Victoria, B.C., and they were married at home plate in Tacoma’s Tiger Park in 1950.
During the offseason, Greco worked for Pierce County Auditor Jack Sonntag. When his baseball career was over in the late ’50s, Greco went to the work at the Auditor’s Office full time and was appointed auditor when Sonntag died in 1969.
He won election and held the office for 17 years, supervising elections and overseeing automobile licensing, among other duties.
Evelyn Greco said Friday that her husband ran a good office and that employees loved working for him.
“Everything that had to be done, was done,” she said. “He had a happy work force for him.”
But his stint as auditor ended under a storm cloud. In 1986 he was charged with 19 counts of bribery. The next year, he was convicted of soliciting bribes and accepting cash payments from auto-license renewal agents and others.
Brian Sonntag, the son of Jack Sonntag, was elected county auditor in the next election. After moving from his position as county clerk, Sonntag said it was clear how troubled Greco’s employees were by his sudden departure.
“It was a tumultuous time in that office. One day you’re going to work and the next day your boss is being arrested,” Sonntag said. “He broke the law, and he paid for that. One of the good things he left behind was an office that was in good hands with the people who worked there.”
At Greco’s 1987 trial, a business owner testified he gave the former auditor thousands of dollars over the course of several years to ensure Greco did not rescind his business license. The defense countered by arguing the payments were Christmas gifts and undocumented campaign donations.
Greco was convicted of nine counts of bribery and one count of official misconduct.
A lengthy appeals process ensued. Greco eventually went to prison, serving time from 1994-98.
Shortly after Greco’s release, The News Tribune caught up with him while he was trimming his Italian plum trees. He said he didn’t hold any grudges against the system that locked him up.
“It was a tremendous waste of time, but that’s what they said I had to do, so I did it and it’s over with,” he said.
Greco enjoyed golfing for many years, but he kept a low profile and in his last few years stayed at home with his wife, she said.
While the public might know him mostly for his indiscretions as auditor, his friends and family members remember him fondly.
“He would help anyone he could, and he did,” Evelyn Greco said. “He was just one of the good guys; he really was.”
Greco also is survived by a daughter and two grandchildren. Sunday’s memorial service is set for 4 p.m. at the Am Vets Hall at 5717 S. Tyler St. in Tacoma.