WHERE THEY ARE NOW: BUDDY BRADFORD : They Put On a Professional Block Party : Baseball: Five pals from the same Pacoima neighborhood signed contracts, and two of them made it to the majors.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In bookmaking halls, the odds of five childhood friends from the same neighborhood block signing contracts to play professional baseball probably would be higher than Elvis going on tour.

But Charles (Buddy) Bradford and some of his old pals from Pacoima know that sometimes longshots defy all reasoning.

They know because many years ago, when the Valley was wide-open spaces interrupted here and there by fruit groves and small communities, it happened to them. It was amazing then and it's still incredible today, more than three decades later.

"Five of us from that little area made it to the pros," said Bradford, a major league outfielder for 11 seasons before retiring in 1977, after playing one season in Japan. "We all grew up basically on Judd Street, between Bradley (Avenue) and Pala (Avenue)."

That block, just north of Van Nuys Boulevard and east of San Fernando Road, was home and playground to Bradford, brothers Curtis and Claude Fontenot, Bobby Mitchell and Gary Matthews. All became baseball standouts at San Fernando High and then minor league players, although only Bradford, who broke in with the Chicago White Sox in 1966, and Matthews, who started with the San Francisco Giants in 1972, reached the majors.

And as unlikely as it would be to generally find that much talent in one place, Bradford was not surprised when pro scouts flocked to the neighborhood, pens and contracts in hand.

"We had some real good athletes around there," Bradford said.

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That Bradford, who will turn 50 on July 25, knew what to do with some of the money he was paid for playing baseball is clear after one glance at his surroundings.

Now owner of C&P; Investments, a company that acquires apartment buildings, Bradford lives with his wife, Patricia, and 16-year-old daughter, Tambry, in an elegant home in the Ladera Heights section of Los Angeles.

The house, which Bradford and his wife bought in 1974, three years after they were married, includes a playroom above the garage with a pool table and mementos from his major league career. The large room doubles as his office.

There's a grand piano by the fireplace in the living room so Tambry, a senior at an exclusive all-girls prep school in Westwood, can sharpen her musical skills.

In the den, with sliding glass doors that lead to the backyard pool, photo albums show stills of the family on vacations to Hawaii and cruises to the Caribbean.

"When I first came up with the White Sox, some of the players were always talking about the stock market and investments," Bradford said. "Guys like Ken Berry and Wilbur Wood and Bob Locker would be in the training room every day talking about it, and that's how I got interested."

But, by his own admission, perhaps a bit much for his own good on the field.

After signing with the White Sox the day after he graduated from high school in 1962, Bradford joined the club briefly in 1966 and '67 before staying for good in 1968.

However, he had a disappointing rookie season, hitting only .217 in 103 games. He got off to a flying start in 1969, leading both leagues in batting through the first month of the season with a .420 average, before fading and finishing at .256.

And although only 5 feet 11 and 170 pounds, Bradford hit a home run onto the roof at old Comiskey Park on April 25, 1969, becoming only the fourth White Sox player to achieve the feat.

Those outside interests, however, were already affecting Bradford, who by then owned a rest home in Arleta and co-owned, with teammate Tommy McCraw, a telephone answering service in Culver City.

He kept his eyes more on the businesses than the fastballs thrown to him by opposing pitchers.

"I got caught up in the investments and trying to survive outside of baseball," Bradford said. "I got distracted as a player. I wasn't focused on the game and I think that hurt me."

It did, to the point where the White Sox sent him to baseball purgatory--Cleveland--in June of 1970. He got word of the trade soon after completing a training stint with the National Guard at Twentynine Palms.

"I was in a platoon that was made up of athletes only. Rudy May, Clarence Williams, Tom Egan, Clyde Wright were in it," Bradford said. "I would have to go and train right in the middle of the season sometimes, but I thought it was a good break.

"I learned to appreciate what I had as a ballplayer by doing that. As a ballplayer, you get so pampered and spoiled because you think the world is going to cater to you all the time. It gave me a balance and perspective."

It didn't do anything for his hitting, however. One month into the 1971 season, Bradford was batting .158 for the Indians when the club figured he belonged elsewhere in Ohio, so they shipped him to Cincinnati.

That arrangement lasted until the end of the season and Bradford was back in Chicago the following year.

As he had five years before, Bradford started fast in 1974 but crashed into a fence chasing a fly ball and broke his collarbone. It was an injury that sidelined him for several weeks.

He returned but tore a hamstring that put him out again and finished with a .333 average in 39 games. The bad breaks came when Bradford thought things were finally looking up.

"I was really coming back that season," Bradford said. "I was a little older and more focused. If I hadn't gotten injured, I think that it would have been the beginning of me putting a solid career together."

It became more like the beginning of the end. Bradford split time between the White Sox and St. Louis in 1975, returned to Chicago the following year and played with the Kintetsu Buffaloes in Japan in 1977 until he tried to steal a base and tore the same hamstring he injured three years before.

Bradford returned to Los Angeles, sensing his playing days were over.

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Once back, and with a newborn daughter in the house, Bradford decided to get a job closer to home. His wife, a Superior Court reporter, suggested he become a U.S. marshal and Bradford agreed, working for a year as a bail officer in an arraignment court in West Los Angeles.

He left that position for personal reasons, became a minor league batting, running and outfield roving instructor for the Chicago Cubs, and then worked in a few other jobs--mostly in the security industry--before starting his real estate investment company with collateral from stocks he owned.

The modest success he found in baseball then parlayed into a comfortable living are far removed from his humble childhood.

Born in Mobile, Ala., Bradford moved with his family to Pacoima soon after his father died. Bradford was about 4.

An older brother had settled in the area after college and persuaded his mother to gather Buddy and his three sisters and head west. Bradford said the family loved the Valley.

"It was nice to be a kid growing up there," he said. "You could sleep on your own lawn when it was hot and nobody would bother you."

The block was filled with kids who passed their free time playing ball in the street or in empty lots, going to movies or swimming at the park.

Through those years, Bradford developed a bond with the guys who dared dream of becoming professional ballplayers and later would realize their ambition, some to a greater degree than the others. Mitchell remembers his friendship with Bradford.

"We were pretty inseparable for a long time," recalled Bobby Mitchell, who went as high as triple-A ball with the Angels. "We used to double date, we worked out together. Sometimes, we would sit in a car for hours and just talk about life. He was always a pretty level-headed guy."

And an excellent athlete. At San Fernando High, Bradford played varsity baseball two seasons, was on the varsity track team two seasons and played halfback on the varsity football team his senior year. For him, they were memorable years.

"San Fernando High at the time was such a great school," Bradford said. "Those were some of the best years of my life. Those were unforgettable years. I'm sure glad I had them."

Bradford, who preferred football to baseball, says he didn't have an overwhelming senior season and was a little surprised the White Sox, Dodgers and Minnesota Twins pursued him so actively.

"My senior season I hit only about .333, but I could throw real well and I could run real well, and I guess they thought I had a lot of raw talent," he said.

Which for the scouts back then were good enough odds.

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