Angelides beat odds


Editor’s note: Harry Angelides is the third of four Auburn-Lewiston Hall of Fame inductees being profiled.

Harry Angelides’ life story couldn’t happen today.

Sure, kids outsmart Maine’s seven-month winter and achieve the dream of playing professional baseball. Just ask Tip Fairchild, Bryan Lambert and Eric Cavers, or sit down with Mike Bordick, Billy Swift or Larry Gowell.

You can be discovered here. But not when you’re already 22. Not after serving in the Air Force during a world war. Not while swatting black flies as a middle infielder for a town team on a dusty diamond in Dexter or Dover-Foxcroft.

“I was batting around .350 that summer (of 1946). Chuck Ward was the scout from the Philadelphia Phillies who came up to watch me play,” Angelides said. “He asked me to sign and I said, Absolutely.’ I had to get baseball out of my system and find out how far it would take me.”

Sixty years later, the answer to that question includes the Auburn-Lewiston Sports Hall of Fame. Angelides will be inducted Sunday at the Hall’s 23rd annual banquet, just across the bridge from the city where he was born, started school and worked for most of his adult life.

Despite those Lewiston ties, he figured the Hall might see him as an out-of-towner.

Angelides is already a member of the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame. He played his high school career at Ellsworth, college in Orono, semi-pro in Dexter, military barnstorming ball all over the country, and finally, the minors in Wilmington, Del.

“I’m afraid I will get up to make my acceptance speech,” Angelides said, “and people will be saying, Harry who?'”

In a nutshell

Let’s eliminate his reasons for apprehension.

Angelides was an all-state player in one semester at the University of Maine. He topped .300 in two seasons with the Wilmington Blue Rocks before a collision at second base caused a career-ending back injury.

In his brief brush with fame, Angelides got to know Enos Slaughter, Dutch Leonard and Schoolboy Rowe. At Wilmington, he roomed with three-time National League All-Star Curt Simmons. Slaughter is enshrined in the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y. Leonard, Rowe and Simmons were pitchers who combined for 542 big-league victories.

“It was worth everything I went through. My back still bothers me occasionally,” said Angelides, now 82. “But when I feel that pain, I think to myself, how many guys get a shot to do what I did? Especially in 1946, and especially being from Maine.”

At the university, most games were played against in-state rivals Colby, Bates and Bowdoin. Angelides’ exploits made him the unanimous choice as all-star second baseman of the so-called State Series.

Then Angelides entered the service, where he said his commanding officer was a “baseball nut.” Suddenly, the kid from Down East was playing against legends such as Slaughter.

“We traveled and played a lot of exhibitions,” Angelides said. “You know how the Harlem Globetrotters go around and play in all these small towns? We were the other’ team. We were like the Washington Generals.”

Good ol’ days

In the minor leagues, Angelides encountered an odd mix of intensity and laugh-out-loud camaraderie.

“High school and college coaches are pussycats compared to minor league managers,” he said. “As long as you produce, you’re OK. They don’t have the time to be patient.”

That no-baloney approach led to its share of lighter moments. Angelides recalled a game in which he assumed his post in shallow right field on a base hit and then had trouble handling the cutoff.

“There I was, fumbling and juggling all over the place as guys are rounding the bases. And I hear the manager hollering, J—- C—–, Angie, get a stake and kill it!’ I’m laughing all the way into the dugout between innings,” Angelides said. “He’s telling me to wipe the smile off my face and I have to explain that I’m not laughing about the error, I’m laughing because I never heard that expression before.

“If I wanted to expand my vocabulary in an expletive manner, baseball was the place.”

Minor-league pitching had the same dynamic as today, Angelides said, with many hurlers capable of throwing a 90 mph fastball but only a select few able to locate it safely. And position players approached every play at full speed as if it could be their last, as evidenced by the encounter that eventually ended Angelides’ career.

For love of the game

Yet even that injury afforded Angelides a few Forrest Gump-like glimpses at history.

While in rehabilitation, he was referred to an orthopedic surgeon in Philadelphia and used the whirlpool in the Phillies’ clubhouse. There, he met Leonard and Rowe.

“They brought me water,” Angelides said.

The Phillies were a last-place club at the time. Ben Chapman, the manager, was accustomed to the revolving door. Angelides looked like any other call-up.

“Chapman sees this new guy in the tub and says, Are you ready to go in there?’ And I said, If you saw me trying to walk right now, let alone run or swing a bat, you wouldn’t be asking me that,'” Angelides said.

Angelides estimates that a player sustaining his type of injury today would return to the field in six months. In 1947, lesser medical technology and advanced age for a minor leaguer spelled the end of his career.

Encouraged by some of his friends to apply for a baseball front office job, Angelides instead returned to his birthplace and launched a career in the insurance and financial planning industry.

Away from baseball, Angelides tried to quench his competitive thirst with golf. He even ascended to the presidency of the state golf association. But the links represented neither his ticket to the Hall of Fame nor his first love.

“I always say that I have never done anything with my clothes on that I enjoyed as much as baseball,” Angelides said. “I never had that kind of passion for golf or business. I met wonderful people, but it was nothing like the passion I had for baseball.”

Kids from Maine still share that passion, even that talent. But they won’t ever share the experiences of Harry Angelides.