Undeterred at 97, former AL MVP Bobby Shantz makes annual visit to Pottstown
If there’s any quality that was highlighted by the man of the hour on Bobby Shantz Day, it was his reliability.
While he can still drive at 97 years old, Shantz wasn’t behind the wheel this time while traveling 40 minutes to his alma mater from Ambler, where he currently lives. Typically arriving at 3:30 p.m. each year, first pitch between Pottstown and Methacton was just 20 minutes out when the silver 2016 Lexus belonging to Shantz’s son-in-law arrived.
Never a doubt, Shantz — 1952’s Most Valuable Player from Major League Baseball’s American League and a Pottstown High School alum of 1943 — made it back to his field’s namesake for the annual ceremonial first pitch.
“I almost get lost every time I come up here. I don’t get back to Pottstown too often,” Shantz said. “I really do like to be invited back because I really like it here.”
With the passing of Yogi Berra in 2015, Shantz is currently the oldest living MVP from the bigs. His career-best season in 1952 which garnered those honors came with the Athletics when he earned 24 wins while posting a 2.48 ERA, finishing 27 of his 33 games in which he pitched.
The 16-year MLB veteran logged 119 wins with a 3.38 ERA. Shantz recorded over 1,000 strikeouts for eight different teams between 1949-64. The journeyman also won eight consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 1957 to 1964 and was selected to the MLB AllStar Game in 1951, 1952 and 1957.
Along with the reliability of returning for the annual ‘Bobby Shantz Day,’ Shantz arrived donning his trusty black New York Yankees cap, given to him by manager Casey Stengel when the two won the 1958 World Series.
“I still have this thing. Can you believe it?” Shantz said.
After signing autographs and taking photos with players from Methacton and Pottstown, Shantz threw out the ceremonial first pitch, halfway up from the mound. He did so with his right hand, as the natural lefty can’t raise his dominant arm as much in recent years.
Both teams and coaching staffs then met in the infield, Shantz front and center, for a moment of unity ahead of the Pioneer Athletic Conference crossover action.
“Everybody here knew Methacton was the better team, there’s no hiding that,” Pottstown coach Chris Petro said after the game. “We knew we were going to come out and compete, but the day itself, both teams out there for the picture, both teams getting autographs and just talking to him, some of them didn’t even get autographs, they just talked to him and that was important.
“It shows it’s bigger than baseball. We’re molding lives as coaches.”
More than anything, with age and success, Shantz has stories. He has stories from his days with the Philadelphia (1949-1954) and Kansas City (1955-1956) A’s, as well as his run with the Yankees (1957-1960) and relief pitching during the 1957 and 1960 World Series.
Shantz has tales of the Pittsburgh Pirates (1961), Houston Colt .45’s (1962), St. Louis Cardinals (1962-1964), Chicago Cubs (1964) and of course, the Phillies (1964), where he spent the last 14 days of his career.
Pottstown High School tells us another story, too.
“There’s a case in the high school here that has Bobby Shantz’s picture and the last trophies
that any baseball team here has gotten were from his crew,” Petro said. “That’s a long time ago. But it’s life lessons, he tells us stories.”
The most important story doesn’t have anything to do with wins or losses, awards or accolades. Shantz stresses to today’s players that his biggest takeaway was from finishing games, closing out what he started and being a gamer through and through.
Shantz points to putting in the work to have his longevity. Not just in age, but on the mound where he left it all.
“Sometimes I can’t understand how the hell I won 24 games and had 27 complete games,” Shantz said, noting his proudest accomplishment beyond the glamor of any hardware earned through the ages.
Methacton was the victor on Bobby Shantz Day, defeating Pottstown 15-1 in five innings.
The Warriors (14-2, 8-1) stormed out with a five-run opening frame before piling on another
nine in the top of the fifth. Aided by four Trojans errors and wild pitch scores, Methacton saw two RBI plays by Tommy Kratz and Anthony Daddazio.
Twelve different players plated runs for the Warriors, Ayden Fitch with a game-high three runs scored. Austin Frank earned the win with two strikeouts and one hit allowed through three innings of work.
Trojans (2-13, 0-8) senior Gabe Hicks drove in Pottstown’s lone run with a double in the third inning. Before Shantz departed from the field, he noted that he plans to be back next year. And to that, the invite is automatic.
“In September he’ll be 98. When we ask him, ‘Are you ok, do you want to throw out the first pitch?’ Without a doubt he says, ‘As long as I can walk, I’m out there,’” Petro said, crediting Shantz’s durability, reliability and drive to give back to the game and his community. “That’s what we take away.”