Terry Changed Course, but He Still Knows How to Pitch

Ralph Terry realizes now that you do not always realize the magnitude of what you are doing, even while you are doing it. "You go through life real fast, and you really don't stop to see what's going on," he said.

"I got to play with Roger Maris when he hit 61 home runs. I got to play with Mickey Mantle, one of the greatest baseball players who ever lived. I got to play for Casey Stengel. I played on seven pennant winners, pitched in five World Series. I screwed one up and I won one. That's a lot to happen to one guy.

"And now I'm out there playing golf with Arnold Palmer, and pretty soon Big Jack (Nicklaus) and Lee (Trevino) will be out there grabbin' some of the gravy, and I'll tell you what, it's such a nice feeling to watch these men play and not have to buy a ticket," Terry said. "I guess you could say I'm an ambassador from one sport to another.

"The poor man's Bo Jackson."

Ralph Terry, at 53 only five years older than Pete Rose, has been out of baseball since 1967. Today he finds himself on the Senior circuit--no, not that baseball league in Florida, but the PGA Senior golf barnstorming troupe. Terry will be one of 72 competitors in this week's GTE West Classic at Ojai, along with Palmer, Billy Casper and dozens of other distinguished (one-sport) athletes.

Hey, nobody can ever say Terry hasn't spent his life playing with the best.

A quarter-century ago, the poor man's Bo was pitching in his fifth consecutive World Series. Two years before, he won 23 times during the season and then twice more as Most Valuable Player of the 1962 Series. Seeing as how no New York Yankee right-hander had won so many games in one season since 1904, this made him a fairly famous fellow for an organization that had already given us Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and the gentleman standing in center field, directly behind him, the Mick.

Two years before that, Terry was the man on the mound when Bill Mazeroski of the Pittsburgh Pirates propelled into history a World Series homer every bit as dramatic as the ones by Carlton Fisk and Kirk Gibson that would follow in years to come. Terry much rather would have induced Maz to strike out--after all, since he fanned 1,000 men in his major league lifetime, he definitely knew how.

Ralph Terry knew pressure, knew fame, knew hits and misses.

Only now, he's the guy trying to hit the ball--and there's nobody backing him up out there; no Ellie Howard, telling him what to do, or Mantle, chasing down his mistakes. Being out there by oneself, as during last year's three-way playoff for the final two exempt positions at the Senior tour's national qualifying tournament, can humble even a guy who knows what it is like to have 50,000 customers in a grandstand and millions of television viewers staring bug-eyed as he grips a baseball in his hand.

That golf playoff was "as tough as pitching the seventh game of the Series," said Terry, who should know.

Although he remains winless on the tour, and last year never placed among the top 10 at any event, he does occasionally make appearances on the leader board. In August, Terry tied for 10th place at the Showdown Classic in Utah, his best finish yet.

"I never fancied myself the next Ben Hogan or anything," Terry said.

When he was 22, a car wreck left the pitcher with a busted left hip. "I had to spend the whole winter in traction. It's lucky they didn't have to replace it," Terry said.

"Well, when 1958's spring training rolled around, I still wasn't 100%. I played a little pepper, but couldn't do any running. So a couple of the coaches, who were avid golfers, said: 'You want some exercise? Go play golf.' And that intrigued me. I'd only been to the driving range, or played, you know, putt-putt. Bob Swift and Don Heffner told me to go rent a set of clubs and play this public course over in Haines City.

"Before long, I had this nice little duck hook I was really proud of. And I stopped hitting grounders. I hate grounders. Some pitchers like 'em, but I hate grounders.

"Anyway, Mickey was always out there playing, and we're both old Oklahoma boys, and he and Billy Martin and Tom Sturdevant always bet a lot of money, and they needed a fourth. So they started out giving me two shots on the (par) 5s. And we keep playing, day after day. And pretty soon I'm getting half a shot on the 5s."

Terry spent a dozen seasons in the baseball show before permanently changing cleats. He hasn't gotten rich from golf. From 1986-88, he earned $66,134 on the Senior tour.

"The money they make in baseball now, oh, man," Terry said. "In '56, Mickey was the Triple Crown winner. The next year he batted .377. But Ted Williams batted something like .388. And Williams was about 40 then and couldn't run. If his legs were any good, he probably would have hit .420.

"Well, George Weiss tried to cut Mickey $20,000--because he didn't win the league batting title.

"Gabe Paul was that way in Cleveland. I roomed with Sam McDowell, when Sam struck out 325 men in 280 innings. That was the greatest strikeout percentage of all time, at least until Nolan Ryan came along. So I said, 'Sam, you are a star, man. You give 'em hell.'

"He ain't in Gabe Paul's office 15 minutes before he comes out. 'What happened?' I asked. 'I don't know,' he said. 'I didn't get nothing.'

"Sometimes I felt the same way, especially when I won 25 games in one year. But, some things you do for money, and some things you don't. With golf, I'm just grateful they don't kick my butt off the course."

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