Even when hospitalized in the final week of his life, Earl Averill still analyzed every pitch of a baseball game.
At age 83, from his hospital bed, he pointed out to his son, Randy, the likely chain of events after Mariner Mike Zunino fouled off a change-up thrown high in the strike zone.
“Dad said, ‘Watch this, he’ll throw the same pitch and (Zunino) will take it for strike three’,” Randy Averill said. “That’s exactly what happened, he called it perfectly. He really knew how to get batters out; the old catcher in him never faded.”
How could it? Baseball was a part of Earl Averill’s genetic coding.
He died Wednesday from complications following surgery after living in the South Sound since his professional baseball career ended.
Some called him Earl Averill Jr., although he wasn’t exactly a “Junior.” His father, Howard Earl Averill, also was known as “Earl” during his Hall of Fame career with the Cleveland Indians.
A six-time All-Star, the elder Earl Averill batted .378 in 1936, and finished with a .316 lifetime average. When it ended, he returned to his home in Snohomish, ran a greenhouse, and raised a family that included son Earl Dean Averill.
Although he was the first All-American baseball player at the University of Oregon, Earl Averill had planned on becoming a teacher after graduation.
In the first year of what would become a 63-year marriage to Averill, his wife, Pat, recalled that Earl received a contract offer from the Indians only a day before he graduated from UO.
But was baseball really what he wanted, considering he already had a teaching job arranged? “He said, ‘It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,’ ” Pat Averill said Thursday.
She recalls their life as baseball vagabonds, living in 39 locations in the following 14 years as Earl fashioned a career in both the minors and majors. “That’s what happens when you just can’t quite bat .300,” Randy joked.
Batting .300 or not, Earl Averill was productive, with his best performances coming once he was snapped up by the original Los Angeles Angels in the 1961 expansion draft. He blasted a career-high 21 home runs that season, and the following season reached base in an MLB-record 17 consecutive plate appearances.
The stories Randy Averill most remembers from his dad’s highlights were when he had “come through in the clutch, with pinch-hit home runs and pinch-hit RBI, and in extra innings.”
Like the capacity to predict a game pitch by pitch, performance under pressure also was a knack Earl Averill never lost.
“I could see it when he played golf and he reached the green,” Randy said. “If you put a quarter on the putt, he’d make it every time, guaranteed.”
Averill came to Tacoma after his baseball career to serve as developmental director for St. Joseph Medical Center.
In the process, he honed his skills as a story teller, sometimes with embellishment but always with humor.
“He always loved to joke because, he used to say, people always needed a smile,” Randy said. “He was an awesome story teller.”
When Stan Musial died, one of Earl Averill’s granddaughters asked him if he had played against him.
“Dad got a sly grin on his face and said, ‘I not only played against him … I used to steal his bats,’ ” Randy said. “In the old St. Louis ballpark, the visiting team had to go through the home team’s dugout to get to the field. He said he’d take one of Musial’s bats on the way out and grab another on the way back in.”
Because Randy Averill said his father “loved baseball, loved life, and loved people,” he surely would be glad to have that Musial story retold in the newspaper.
Consider it a curtain call, a step from the dugout one more time to tip his hat to the crowd of those who also love baseball stories reaped from a rich family legacy.