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Where are they now?: Jim Pagliaroni

Thursday, July 18, 2002

By Rich Emert

Jim Pagliaroni was a catcher for the Pirates for only five years in the mid-1960s but left his mark on the team's record book. In 1965, "Pags" smacked 17 home runs, which is still the Pirates single-season record for a catcher.

Former Pirates catcher Jim Pagliaroni, center, chats up the meaning of life with Vern Law and Bob Veale in 1966. (Post-Gazette)

He came to the Pirates along with pitcher Don Schwall in a blockbuster trade before the '63 season that sent first baseman Dick Stuart and pitcher Jack Lamabe to the Boston Red Sox. Pagliaroni was the Pirates starting catcher through the '66 season and was traded to Oakland in '68. A bonus baby with the Red Sox, he played 11 seasons in the majors and finished with a .252 batting average, but had his best seasons with the Pirates.

A fan favorite, Pagliaroni, 64, lives in Grass Valley, Calif., and is executive director of a food and agricultural company that services the Pacific Rim. He is also director of marketing for the Jim "Catfish" Hunter ALS Foundation. Hunter, who died in 1999, had ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). They became friends while playing for the A's in '68, and Pagliaroni caught Hunter's perfect game against the Minnesota Twins May 8, 1968.

Q: You broke in with Boston, did you ever meet Ted Williams?

A: I sure did, in fact I was in the on-deck circle when he hit his last home run in 1960. I dropped my bat and cried. He was one of the reasons I signed with the Red Sox as a 17-year-old. He was such a great player and gracious individual.

Q: Did Williams ever help you with your hitting?

A: I was a dead pull hitter and he helped me change my swing. I didn't hit the ball well in the minors in 1959, and he spent a lot of time with me in spring training in 1960. I started out at Spokane that season and was hitting at or close to .300 when the Red Sox called me up. He was as proud and as happy for me as if I were his own son.

Q: Was he the great hitter you ever saw?

A: I'll tell you something that happened. I was with the Pirates in '63, and that was Stan Musial's last season. I was talking to him about Ted, and he said, "Nobody has even seen Ted Williams take a check swing. The rest of us have done that on pitches, but not Ted." His point was that Ted always knew where ball was. I would catch behind Ted in spring training and you'd go to squeeze the glove because you figured you were going to catch the ball only to have Ted hit it. He had those great wrists and arms and could wait until the last split second to swing.

Q: How about Hunter's perfect game? Did he shake you off much?

A: I could tell you no, which is true, and say that's because I called a great game. But the truth is that Catfish never shook anybody off. He just had such great confidence in his pitches that he threw what you called.

Q: At what point did it hit you he had a perfect game going?

A: Well, I could see all those zeroes out there on the scoreboard. You know how there is that rule in baseball where you are not supposed to talk about a no-hitter. Well, it's the middle of the seventh inning, and I'm sitting at one end of the dugout and Catfish is at the other, and all of a sudden he yells to me, 'Hey Dago, we got a no-no going. That ought to given 'em something to think about.' Everybody laughed and it broke the ice.

Q: Was Hunter as loose and as good a guy as he seemed?

A: This tells you what kind of guy he was: After the perfect game the A's were going to be on national TV that Saturday. Never one to miss an opportunity, Charley Finley, the A's owner, came in and told Jim he was going to present him with a $5,000 check on national TV ... that he had gotten the OK and the air time. I said something to Jim that Saturday about being on TV and he said, "You're going to be on, too. You're my catcher, and I told Finley you needed a check, too, or I wasn't going to do it." He had Finley in a bind, so I ended up getting a check for $2,500, which was nice, but I think Charlie took it back out of my salary the next season.

Q: How about still holding the Pirates record for homers by a catcher?

A: That's something and it's only 17. Of course, I played at Forbes Field which was huge. I'd hit a shot and it would just be off the scoreboard in left and I'd end up with a single.

Q: Still have fond memories of playing for the Pirates?

A: I do. My daughter Dana lives in Gibsonia with her family, so I've gone back there a lot over the years to visit, or on business, and I'm always surprised because I'll be walking through the airport and some one will yell, "Hey Pags!" How they recognize me with out a uniform or anything I don't know. My wife, Linda, and I always say how we get a warm fuzzy feeling when we go to Pittsburgh.

Q: What do you remember most about playing for the Pirates?

A: The guys and playing for Danny Murtaugh. He taught me more about how to handle people than anybody. Just when you'd feel like you were worthless because you struck out four times with guys on base, he'd come pat you on the back and say, "You called a great game." He just had great people skills, and I've used a lot of things I leaned from him in the business world.

Q: What was the best part of playing with the Pirates at that time?

A: Watching Bill Mazeroski and Gene Alley set the record for double plays. Watching them do that was really a lot of fun. That was in 1966, and we were in the pennant race until the very end, when we lost four straight at home to the Giants.


If you have any suggestions or candidates for Where Are They Now?, e-mail Rich Emert at emert196@home.com.

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