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Pitching to the Stars in the Stripes

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Donning New York Yankees pinstripes in the late 1950s, pitcher Zack Monroe ’58 represented Bradley University on a national stage during the 1958 World Series. He is one of 14 former Bradley athletes to play in the big leagues. Photo courtesy BaseballBirthdays.com.

Zack Monroe ’58 has lived a baseball lover’s dream. While sporting New York Yankees pinstripes in 1958, he retired Boston Red Sox icon Ted Williams at Fenway Park.

“I faced Ted once and got him out,” Monroe said as a smile spread across his face. “In fact, I was sitting next to Bobby Shantz in the bullpen and asked him how to pitch against Ted. Bobby told me Ted was very fidgety at the plate, so I should take my time between pitches. After the game, I told Bobby I really appreciated his advice. He just looked at me and said, ‘Don’t count on it the next time.’”

With countless recollections of life in the majors, Monroe recalled one memorable 1959 minor league playoff game in Havana, Cuba, involving former college pitcher and avid baseball fan Fidel Castro. When Monroe was sent down to play in Richmond, Va., the team traveled to compete against the Havana Sugar Kings, the Cincinnati Reds’ International League Class AAA affiliate based in Cuba.

“Castro was there that night, 10 seats from the aisle, directly behind home plate,” Monroe observed. “I pitched a pretty good game, but the Sugar Kings beat us. I took the loss pretty hard because we were eliminated from the playoffs, and I was slow getting dressed. The next thing I knew, Castro was in our locker room congratulating me on the game I pitched. Cuban soldiers formed a V with Castro at the end of it, and he shook my hand. I was stunned.”

Bradley Baseball and Beyond

Ironically, the Peoria Woodruff High School athlete came to Bradley to play basketball, his “best game.” However, Monroe learned that the 1950s were a competitive time to make the team and see playing time, noting “too many big guns.” He left basketball behind to concentrate on baseball with Coach Leo Schrall, MA ’67, “a real tough guy who was a good coach with many successful teams.”

As he reflected on Bradley baseball, Monroe commented that Schrall, who was recognized as an MVC Coach of the Year seven times, had only one assistant coach while he was on the team — Chuck Orsborn ’39 MA ’51. When Monroe was signed into the minor leagues, many times one coach did it all. Once in the majors, he said the team had a pitching coach, a bullpen coach, and often one additional coach.

“Baseball has changed considerably since I played. It was hard,” he noted. “I remember when I was called up and sent to Cleveland to pitch. From there, I was bused to consecutive games in Detroit and Chicago. From Chicago, I was sent by train to Kansas City. The only time I remember flying was from Kansas City to Baltimore.”

The Korean War veteran recalled earning about $7,500 a year compared to Yankees legend Mickey Mantle’s estimated annual salary of $80,000–$85,000. Nevertheless, Monroe continues to be acknowledged each year by the Yankees organization with a special birthday card, and he appreciates the experience and lifelong connection.

One minor regret the former Yankees pitcher has involves his teammates. “It would have been nice to have some of the guys on the team’s autographs now — Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, and my manager Casey Stengel. Of course, Yogi Berra doesn’t sign autographs,” Monroe added with a laugh. “Yogi’s autograph is worth a lot of money today.”

— K.M.