Phil Pote, a Los Angeles coach and scout who helped build baseball in the inner city, dies at 85

Phil Pote in 2009. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Phil Pote, whose success coaching high school baseball in South Los Angeles inspired efforts to rebuild the sport in the inner city here and around the country, died Sunday. He was 85.

Pote had moved to Turlock, Calif., to be closer to family. He had been in poor health after a series of strokes followed a heart attack three years ago, said his niece, Jan Bloom.

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Pote worked as a scout for half a century, for the Dodgers, Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners. He is best remembered for coaching a Fremont High team with three future major leaguers — Willie Crawford, Bobby Tolan and Bob Watson — to the 1963 Los Angeles City Section championship.

“His whole life was about helping kids,” said Dennis Gilbert, founder of the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation.

Pote never married and had no children of his own. He coached at Fremont, Locke High and Los Angeles City College.

“In the ‘60s, if you were in the inner city, he was the guy,” said Gilbert, who played at Gardena High.

Pote held even future major leaguers out of the lineup if their grades were not acceptable. He coached neighborhood kids at a city park on Saturday, and he provided food and clothes for players running short on either.

“He has a heart as big as Mt. Olympus,” former Fremont player Charlie Porter told The Times in 2005. “He walks around looking like a bag man, and people don’t know.”

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Porter spoke at a reunion of that 1963 championship team. Pote was 71 at the time, and he showed up wearing the jacket he wore as their coach that season.

“This jacket is a little wrinkled, and I apologize,” Pote said. “But as you can see, I’m also a little wrinkled.”

From the outside, the story appeared to be that of a white man leading an African American team from the inner city to victory. But that 1963 Fremont team was the last team from South Los Angeles to win the City championship. In the last 45 years, only one team outside the San Fernando Valley has won the title at the highest level: San Pedro, in 1992.

Pote aspired to rebuild baseball in South Los Angeles, where such stars as Eric Davis, Eddie Murray, Ozzie Smith and Darryl Strawberry grew up. The late John Young, who founded Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, an academic and athletic program that has since been adopted by Major League Baseball and expanded nationally, said he was inspired by Pote’s efforts.

“I was a poor kid from Pico and Union, and sports was the attraction,” Pote told The Times in 2011. “As a coach, I saw this repeated a number of times: Athletics is the attraction, education is the goal. But you can’t educate them if you don’t attract them.”

In 2009, Times columnist Bill Plaschke wrote about how Pote had remained active in scouting without using the not-so-new tools of the trade: a radar gun, a video camera, a cellphone, even an email address.

“I came into this world without all that technology,” Pote said. “I will leave without it.”

Pote is survived by his brother, Wayne, 98, and two nieces. In lieu of flowers, the family encourages contributions to the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy in Compton.

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