Don Demeter

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Don Demeter
Don Demeter
Don Demeter in 1959
Outfielder / Third baseman / First baseman
Born: (1935-06-25) June 25, 1935 (age 79)
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Batted: Right Threw: Right
MLB debut
September 18, 1956 for the Brooklyn Dodgers
Last MLB appearance
August 28, 1967 for the Cleveland Indians
Career statistics
Batting average .265
Home runs 163
Runs batted in 563
Teams
Career highlights and awards
  • World Series Champion: 1959
  • Set a major league record for outfielders with 266 consecutive errorless games (September 1962–July 1965)

Donald Lee "Don" Demeter (born June 25, 1935 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) is a former outfielder, third baseman, and first baseman in Major League Baseball who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, and Cleveland Indians. He batted and threw right-handed.[1]

From September 1962 to July 1965, Demeter had 266 consecutive errorless games in the outfield, a Major League record that would stand for almost 30 years until Darren Lewis broke the mark in 1994 with 369.[2]

Don Demeter is a member of The Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame.[3]

Early career[edit]

In 1945, Demeter started his life in baseball when he joined the Oklahoma City YMCA Junior League.[4] In Demeter's senior year at Capital Hill High School, his team won 59 games of 60.[3] They went on to win the 1953 Oklahoma state title.[4] After graduation, the New York Yankees signed two members of the team, while the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Don and eight of his teammates.[3] He was signed by Dodgers scout Bert Wells.[5] While his classmates each received a $3,000 signing bonus, Demeter was given only $800.[3][6] Demeter was the only member of the Capitol Hill High School starting varsity team that was not chosen to be on the Oklahoma City all-star prep team, yet he would be the only player to go on to be a success in the Major Leagues.[4] By 1959, Don was the only remaining Capital Hill High alumni of 11 that was still in professional organized baseball in any capacity.[7] As a stepping stone to professional baseball, in the early 1950s Demeter played ball for the American Legion's Mosier's Tiremen of Oklahoma City.[8] After signing with the Dodgers, Don was assigned to the Minor League Class D Sooner State League Shawnee Hawks.[9] For his first season of professional baseball, he was paid a salary of $150 a month.[4] In 104 games for the Hawks, Don had a .223 batting average to go with 9 home runs, 6 triples, and 42 RBI.[1][10] After the disappointing season, Demeter said, "I don't enjoy baseball. I'm not sure I should continue it," feeling that he was living a more useful life. His passion for the game was reinvigorated though after the 1954 World Series. "But when I saw Alvin Dark tithed the church from his 1954 World Series share, I realized that baseball could have a very real meaning.".[11]

For the 1954 season, Don was promoted to the Class C California League Bakersfield Indians, where he hit .267 with 26 home runs and 89 RBI.[1][10] In December 1954, Demeter decided to put in some extra playing time and experience by going to Venezuela and playing for team Cabimas.[12] In the 33 game loop, Don hit .306 with 15 RBI, half of which came from two grand slams over the course of the season.[13][14]

He began the 1955 season with the Class A Pueblo Dodgers of 1955 Pueblo Western League. He impressed early, hitting .262 with 5 home runs and 23 RBI in 39 games before being promoted to the Class AA Southern Association Mobile Bears. In 92 games at Mobile, Don his .251 with 11 home runs and 36 RBI.[1][10]

Don rejoined Cabimas for winter league play in the 1955–56 Venezuelan Occidental League.[15] Demeter set the pace early in the league, hitting for a .433 average with 7 home runs and 12 RBI in his first 60 at bats.[16] On January 21, 1956, Demeter tied a Venezuela national record by hitting 16 home runs in a season, hitting two in one game.[17] Demeter finished the winter-ball season second in the league in batting average with a .369 mark and tied for first in home runs with 17, compiling 73 hits and 38 runs scored in 52 games.[18]

Demeter continued his Venezuelan power surge back in the States for the AA Texas League Fort Worth Cats. Don went on a tear in the 1956 season. He hit home runs on four consecutive days from April 24 to 27, and six in his last seven games, a new league record.[19] On May 20, he had a 5 hit day that included his 10th home run of the season in a 17–4 victory over San Antonio.[20] Don finished the year with 41 home runs and 128 RBI, both second only to minor league journeyman Ken Guettler, who had 143 runs batted in and shattered the Texas League record for home runs with 62.[21] He also was very busy in center field for the Cats, leading the league in putouts with 442.[1][10] Demeter was selected to the Texas League All-Star Team, receiving a scroll and a $100 check.[22] Fort Worth General Manager Spencer Harris compared him to an all-time great, saying, "He's ahead of Duke Snider at a similar stage in Duke's development."[23]

Don played his first major league game on September 18, 1956, pinch hitting in the bottom of the 3rd inning for pitcher Roger Craig. He struck out against St. Louis Cardinals hurler Vinegar Bend Mizell, taking all three strikes looking.[1][24] Mizell and Demeter later became very close Christian friends.[25] Don got over his rookie jitters the next day against the Cards, hitting a 2-1 pitch off Don Liddle into the left field stands to contribute to a 17-2 victory.[24] Demeter finished the season 1 for 3.[1]

He didn't compete for the Dodgers in the 1956 World Series, but did join the team for a playing tour through Japan.[26] In the 18 game series, the Dodgers went 14-4 with Demeter hitting above .300 and five home runs, just one behind the team leaders Gil Hodges and Duke Snider.[27] During the tour, Dodgers Vice President Buzzie Bavasi named Demeter as one of the stars ready for the Majors. The Dodgers were offered $750,000 for Demeter and five other prospects, but the offer was turned down.[28] On November 2, Bavasi announced that Demeter would be one of the prospects invited to an early tryout training camp at Vero Beach, Florida the next February.[29] National League president Warren Giles gave Don very high praise, saying that he, "should make the grade as a regular with the Dodgers next season. He played outstanding ball in Japan."[30] Brooklyn President Walter O'Malley announced during the Japan tour his plans to move Duke Snider over to left field to make room for Demeter in center.[31]

Before the 1957 season, Demeter was rated as one of the top 8 rookie prospects in February in a poll conducted by 12 major league organizations.[32] On January 12, he signed his contract to play with the Dodgers for the year.[33] In an exhibition rematch of last year's World Series, the Dodgers beat the New York Yankees 1-0 in 11 innings after Demeter hit a double and later in the inning scored on a wild throw by Gil McDougald as he ran to third.[34] Overall, Don failed to impress during spring training and was cut by the Dodgers on March 31 and subsequently optioned to the AAA St. Paul Saints of the American Association.[35][36]

Don started the season very strong, hitting .350 with 35 RBI and a league-leading 12 home runs through June 5.[37] On July 4, Demeter helped his team improbably overcome an 8-1 deficit by hitting three home runs to help the Saints beat the Minneapolis Millers 9-8.[38] Two days later, he was selected to the American Association all-star team on July 6, 1957.[39] He was one of only four unanimous picks by the league's broadcasters and writers.[40]

On July 14, Demeter had to leave a game after severely pulling a tendon in his left hand.[41] Still hurt, Don returned on August 2 to pinch hit a game-winning double in the 10th inning to beat Louisville 3-2.[42] However, the injury still severely limited Demeter's play all the way to September.[43]

By season's end, Demeter's numbers were down from last year, but still highly productive. His 28 home runs were good enough for 3rd in the league, he was 5th in OPS with a mark of .940, 3rd in steals with 13, and 3rd in slugging percentage at .562.[44] Don finished the season with 86 RBI and a .309 batting average in 134 games.[1] He appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on September 29 after being voted to the all AAA team. Dodger VP Bavasi recalled Demeter from St. Paul after his minor league team was eliminated from the Association playoffs, but once he learned that Don was one of the players selected to the team, he told Demeter to go to Hollywood instead.[45]

Los Angeles Dodgers[edit]

1958 and 1959 seasons[edit]

At the start of the 1958 season, The Sporting News listed Demeter as the "kid with greatest potential," and "best bet for batting title," titles for the newly relocated Los Angeles Dodgers.[46] After serving a six-month term with the Army in San Antonio, Texas, Demeter was discharged on April 17, 1958 and left to immediately join the Dodgers in Los Angeles.[47] Playing time was initially scarce for him, only playing in 6 games before being optioned back to the AAA St. Paul Saints on May 9.[48] In 80 games with St. Paul, Demeter hit .283 with 14 home runs and 48 RBI.[1]

Demeter was recalled to the majors by the Dodgers on July 30.[49] To make room for him on the roster, Randy Jackson was sold to the Cleveland Indians for $20,000.[50] Don struggled in his first full month as a regular Major Leaguer. In the month of August, he hit just .148 with 1 home run and 2 RBI in 54 at bats. Demeter started to get more comfortable in mid-September, hitting .263 with 4 homers in his final 12 games. Don finished his rollercoaster short season for the Dodgers with a .189 batting average, 5 home runs, and 8 RBI in 43 games.[1]

Don signed a new contract with the Dodgers on February 16, 1959 for $8,500.[51][52] At the Dodgers camp in Vero Beach, Florida, Demeter took the time to try to reinvent himself as a hitter. He was always going for the home run swing, which resulted in 32 strikeouts in just 106 at bats last season. Manager Walter Alston and new coach Pee Wee Reese would be his teachers. Reese stated that Don was upper-cutting at the ball with each swing, and Pee Wee had him cut down on his swing, which led to immediate results. Alston had Demeter stand outside the batting cage and hit ground balls to the infielders while waiting for his turn in the cage. Don and Alston agreed that the simple exercise helped level off Demeter's swing.[6] While adapting his new batting style, Demeter injured himself on February 27 by pulling a muscle in his right leg.[53] It was not serious, and Demeter returned to spring training play in less than a week. On March 12, he had a game-winning single with the bases loaded against the Cincinnati Reds in the 9th inning to give the Dodgers the 7-6 win.[54]

The Dodgers finally carried out their original plan for Demeter for the most part, set all the way back in September 1956.[31] He became the new starter in center field, while Duke Snider was moved over to right field. Don had a very successful spring training and was expected to be the opening day starting centerfielder against the Chicago Cubs, but instead he rode the bench for the duration of the game. The next day, Duke Snider's lingering knee problems came back, and Demeter was given his first start of the season with the temperature around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The new and improved Don Demeter made the best first impression he could, hitting a home run and a single while driving in two runs en route to a 5-3 win. Snider started the next game, the series opener against the St. Louis Cardinals.[6] In his second start the next day, Don hit another homer. The next day, another home run. In just three starts, Don already had three home runs and six runs batted in.[1] Demeter was only just getting started with his April tear.[6]

On April 21 against the San Francisco Giants, he hit three home runs and had six RBI in a single game. In the 3rd inning off Giants pitcher Dom Zanni, Demeter hit the first ever inside-the-park home run at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The next inning saw another home run, this time off Mike McCormick and to deep left. Demeter capped off the performance by hitting a game winning walk-off two-run home run in the bottom of the 11th inning off Al Worthington to win the game 9-7.[6] It was the only game of his career where Don had an inside-the-park or walk-off home run.[1] Don was the first Dodger to hit three home runs in a single game since Snider did it four years prior on June 1, 1955 at Ebbets Field.[7] As of July 2009, only 22 players in the history of the majors since 1900 had three home runs in a single game during their rookie season. Demeter was the 1st Dodger and 9th overall to accomplish the feat, sharing the accomplishment with hall-of-famers Eddie Mathews and Mickey Cochrane.[55] The next morning, a photographer got Demeter out of bed at 5 in the morning to take photos for an afternoon Los Angeles newspaper.[6][7]

In Don's first 15 games, he hit .345 with 6 home runs and 21 RBI,[1] challenging early for the NL's rare triple crown title.[56] On Demeter's early success, Philadelphia Phillies manager Eddie Sawyer remarked, "Seldom have I seen a player come so far so fast. When I saw him for the first time late last season, he was just another journeyman. Now he's a real good-looking ball player."[6]

Demeter had another multiple home run game in an 11-0 win over the Phillies.[57] Don's bat eventually slowed down, but he still had well above average numbers for the months of May and June, hitting a combined .278 with 10 home runs and 34 RBI. Once summer hit its full stride, however, Don countered his three-month offensive production with two months of offensive despair, hitting below .160 in both months and having only 2 home runs.[1] The bad luck reached its height on August 18 when he dropped an "easy" pop fly against the Milwaukee Braves in the bottom of the 9th inning. The Braves tied the game, but the Dodgers later won it 7-6 in 13 innings.[58] Demeter attempted to stop the tying run from coming home, but the catcher had thought the game was over. He said later, "When I threw it to home plate, it was a perfect strike. But there was nobody there to catch it, because (Johnny) Roseboro was out at the mound congratulating (Don) Drysdale on the victory."[59] On the bus ride to the hotel, Demeter shook every one of his teammate's hands, showing his appreciation for "the team's win". At season's end they were tied with the Braves for the National League pennant. They won the playoff and a berth in the World Series. Demeter later said, "My error could have lost us the World Championship."[60]

Don finished the regular season with 18 home runs and 70 RBI in 139 games. He was hit by 6 pitches, good enough for 4th in the National League. He also had the 5th highest fielding percentage at center field with a mark of .983. His strikeout numbers were high, coming in 7th in the NL with 87.[1]

Don played in all six games of the 1959 World Series for the Dodgers. He replaced Duke Snider late in the first two games, started the next three, and came off the bench once more in the decisive game six. In 12 at bats, Don hit .250 with 2 runs scored.[1] Demeter tithed his World Series earnings to his church.[25]

Early in the offseason, there were talks of trading Demeter. Near the end of November, there was a six player offer between Los Angeles and the Washington Senators, where Washington wanted Don in place of Sandy Amoros.[61] The Dodgers were reluctant to lose their 24-year-old hitter, offering outfielder Ron Fairly to the Senators in Demeter's stead. Washington continued to hold out on the trade for Demeter until Los Angeles officially killed the deal on December 2.[62] The Dodgers had confidence in Don, believing that he was beginning to overcome the many weakness in his hitting game that plagued him in previous seasons.[63]

1960 season and early 1961 season[edit]

Demeter signed a $14,000 one-year contract with Los Angeles on February 11, 1960.[52][64] Coming into training camp, team management was pleased that he gained 12 pounds in the offseason, raising his total weight to 185 pounds.[65] In an intrasquad game on March 11 at Vero Beach, Don hit a home run off eventual Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax.[66]

On April 12, Demeter had his first opening day start in the Major Leagues.[67] He started the majority of the team's games until July 3, where he fractured his wrist on the road against the Pittsburgh Pirates after colliding with Los Angeles shortstop Maury Wills, prematurely ending Don's season.[68] In the shortened year, he hit .274 with 9 home runs and 29 RBI in 64 games.[1]

Of all the players on the Dodgers roster, general manager Bavasi believed that the key Dodger of the upcoming 1961 season was Demeter, expecting Don to make a large comeback after his disappointing outing last season. "If Don can show us the Demeter of early 1959, we won't have to look for added power. We'll have all we need."[69] It was announced on February 14, 1961, that Demeter had signed his new yearly contract with the Dodgers for around $16,000.[70][71] However, Don would have stiff competition to regain his starting role in center field. Newcomer Willie Davis, coming off a huge season in the Pacific Coast League and last season's number one player of the year as named by The Sporting News, was considered a serious threat to take Demeter's job.[72] By the start of the season, Demeter had his role reduced to coming off the bench.[73]

Philadelphia Phillies[edit]

1961 season[edit]

Before opening day for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1961, talks had already started between the Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies for a potential trade involving Demeter and Phillies reliever Turk Farrell.[74] A deal was reached on May 4, sending Don and Charley Smith to Philadelphia for Farrell and Joe Koppe.[75] Phillies manager Gene Mauch was glad about the deal, announcing immediately after the trade that Demeter would be a starter immediately. Mauch remarked, "There aren't many better center fielders around than he is, and you can put it in the book right now that he'll hit more than 20 home runs any year he plays a full season in our park."[76] Don would prove the prophetic manager to be correct, hitting 21, 29, and 22 home runs in 3 seasons with Philadelphia.[1]

Don started slow with his new team in May, but quickly picked up steam in the month of June where he hit .337 with 4 home runs and 21 RBI.[1] In August, he had a 10-day period from August 15 through 25 where he racked up 6 home runs and 13 RBI, including hitting a home run in three consecutive games.[1] However, as the season dragged on, Don's nagging injuries caught up with him. Over the course of the year, Demeter had to sit out for a week in May with a pulled groin muscle, several more days in June after a jammed middle finger on his right hand, and four times with a left knee injury, with the fourth occurrence shutting him down for the short remainder of the season.[77]

On September 12, Demeter had a titanic outing on the road against the very team that had traded him to Philadelphia just four months prior, the Los Angeles Dodgers. With the Phillies at 50 games under .500 and the Dodgers trying to just barely stay alive for the National League Pennant, Don hit three home runs and drove in seven runs en route to a 19-10 win, all but killing any chance of Los Angeles winning the pennant.[78]

Don finished the season with a .257 average to go along with a team-high 70 RBI and a career-high 21 home runs.[1]

1962 season[edit]

In August 1961, the Phillies began experimenting with moving him into the infield at first base. Two months later, Phillies management expected Don to be their regular first baseman on opening day.[77] Plans changed when recent acquisition, third baseman Andy Carey, announced his retirement, sparking interest in making Demeter the Phillies new third baseman.[79] Mauch had high expectations of Demeter, predicting that he and Roy Sievers would be the two catalysts to make the Phillies successful and improve upon their 47-107 record from last season.[80] This marked the first season where Don knew he would have regular playing time for the Phillies no matter what, whether it be at third base or in the outfield. "We have to have Don's bat in the lineup somewhere," said his manager.[81]

Demeter agreed to terms on his contract for the 1962 season in early February.[82] He impressed early in spring training games, having a two home run, five RBI effort against the Minnesota Twins on March 10, 1962.[83] On opening day at the Cincinnati Reds, Demeter started at third base, hitting a home run and driving in three runners to contribute to a 12-4 win.[84] He had three multiple home run games throughout the season, and on one occasion drove in 6 runners.[1][85] Don's hottest month was August, where he hit .398 with a .669 slugging percentage, 8 home runs, and 31 RBI in 32 games.[1] His stellar play down the stretch helped the Phillies win 30 of their final 44 games, giving them a final record of 81-80, which was an improvement of over 30 games from last year. The United Press International named Gene Mauch the National League manager of the year.[86]

On August 15 against the New York Mets, Demeter attained a unique feat. He hit two home runs that day off two separate players named Bob Miller. In the 3rd inning he hit a homer against Bob Lane Miller, and in the 9th another off Bob Gerald Miller.[87]

1962 was a breakout season for Demeter. He led his team in all triple crown categories and more. His homers, runs batted in, and batting average were all top marks, as were his slugging percentage, OPS, and sacrifice flies.[1] Demeter became the first Phillies player in seven years to drive in over 100 runs since Del Ennis in 1955.[88] Don broke the top 10 in many offensive categories in the National League. Don placed 8th in home runs with 29, 7th in runs batted in with 107, 9th in batting average with a .307 mark, 6th in slugging with .520, 9th in OPS with an .879, 10th in at bats per home run with 19, 2nd in times hit by pitch with 10, and he had 11 sacrifice flies, a major league best. Demeter carried an offensive WAR mark of 5.4, 7th best in the league. He finished 12th in the voting for National League Most Valuable Player Award.[1]

Defensively, his errors were way up from last season. In 1961, Demeter had only four errors.[1] At third base for the 1962 season, Don's 18 errors was 5th worst in the National League and his .937 fielding percentage in 105 games at third base was the worst in the NL for all players that played 60 or more games at the position.[89] Regular centerfielder Tony González was injured in mid-August with a back injury that left him hospitalized for three weeks, forcing Demeter back into his old position in the outfield for the remainder of the season.[90][91] After season's end, Don played in an exhibition game on October 21 for a National League squad managed by Cardinals manager Johnny Keane to face off against the American League in an all-star game sponsored by the Houston Professional Baseball Players Association.[92]

1963 season[edit]

In a move to potentially get Demeter back into left field on a regular basis, the Phillies acquired all-star Don Hoak from the Pittsburgh Pirates.[93] Demeter officially agreed to terms with his new contract on February 12, 1963.[94] Demeter started the season with yet another hot start, hitting .455 with 4 home runs and 12 RBI during his 11 game hit streak.[1] The Cardinals finally brought his streak to a close on the second game of a doubleheader on April 21, but Demeter quickly got things rolling again with another two-hit performance the next night.[95]

On May 5, Don was involved in a dramatic play to end the game against the Houston Colt .45's. Phillies pinch hitter Wayne Graham hit a ground ball back toward Houston pitcher Hal Woodeshick, who threw the ball back to catcher John Bateman. Demeter attempted to run towards home plate from third base and collided with Bateman, knocking the ball loose and scoring the final run in a 6-5 win.[96] May 17 saw Don gain the distinction of being one of the select few in MLB history to score a run in a game against a pitcher that ended up throwing a no-hitter. Don Nottebart of Houston held the Phillies hitless, but in the fifth inning Demeter hit a ground ball past J. C. Hartman, resulting in what was recorded as a two-base error. Clay Dalrymple dropped a bunt to successfully move Demeter to 3rd, and he later scored on a sacrifice fly from Hoak to tie the game at 1-1. Houston went on to win the game 4-1.[97] Don missed several games in May against the Colts after taking a pitch that hit his right hand on the middle and index fingers,[98] and two more in June when he jammed his right ankle while sliding back into first base against the Cardinals on June 12.[99] Beginning on the day of Nottebart's no-hitter, Demeter was platooned to third base. Hoak was not living up to expectations at third, hitting just .197 before being benched.[100]

Demeter got hot again in the last half of June, hitting six home runs over a period of nine games.[101] He had his second multi-homer outing on June 19 at Cincinnati in a 6-5 loss in 10 innings,[102] but had 10th inning heroics of his own on June 25 at Pittsburgh when he launched a home run in the top frame against Pirates reliever Harvey Haddix.[101] Demeter suffered another minor injury on July 28 when Don Drysdale of the Dodgers hit him on his right forearm, resulting in several more missed games on the season.[103]

Demeter finished the season as the team-leader in RBIs with 83, one ahead of first baseman Roy Sievers. He was also second in home runs with 22 to right fielder Johnny Callison's 26. He ranked sixth in the National League in at bats per home run with 23.4. His 10 intentional walks were 8th highest in the league. Despite gathering 7 errors at third base, Demeter was the only player in the entire MLB to finish with a perfect 1.000% fielding percentage at center field, and also the only outfielder in the National League to accomplish the feat. Don finished 21st in the MVP balloting, getting just 3 vote points. Demeter tallied 63 runs scored, 20 doubles, and a .258 batting average.[1]

In the offseason, Pittsburgh expressed interest in acquiring Demeter. Gene Mauch said he'd only consider the offer if Bill Mazeroski or Roberto Clemente were involved in the deal.[104]

In a 1965 interview, Demeter alleged that when the Phillies put him at third base, they would sometimes alter the dynamics of the infield. He said, "They used to let the grass grow for me whenever I played third base over in Philly. And whenever Cal McLish pitched, they'd be out there in the afternoon wetting down the grass in front of the plate." This was designed to make ground balls to Demeter roll slower.[105]

Demeter holds the bizarre distinction of being the only major leaguer on record to field an apple. There was a game during his tenure with the Phillies where Demeter had missed several defensive plays at 3rd base. The fans were upset and booing loudly, even prompting one overzealous fan to throw an apple onto the field. Demeter recalled, "I'd made two errors and here came an apple sailing out of the stands." He continued, "So I just picked it up, took a bite out of it and the booing stopped."[106]

Detroit Tigers[edit]

1964 season[edit]

On December 5, 1963, the Phillies traded Don Demeter and reliever Jack Hamilton to the Detroit Tigers for catcher Gus Triandos and eventual hall-of-famer Jim Bunning. Manager Charlie Dressen assigned Demeter to center field, moving previous starter Bill Bruton to left. Commenting on the trade, Dressen remarked, "Demeter is a better all-around player than Rocky Colavito." Dressen's plan early on was to have Demeter bat 3rd in the lineup against right-handed pitchers, and 5th against lefties. Demeter was excited to play alongside right fielder Al Kaline, saying, "I've always thought he was the greatest thing to put on a uniform."[107] In spring training, Demeter hit .364 in his first eight games as a Tiger,[108] including a bases-loaded 3 RBI triple against the Cardinals on March 18.[109] He finished the 27-game exhibition circuit with 12 RBI, second only to Norm Cash.[110]

Demeter injured his ankle in the first game of a doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins on April 19, hitting two foul balls off it. After the X-rays came back negative, he rejoined the team on April 22 against the Los Angeles Angels with a special guard for the ankle.[111][112] The setback resulted in a .138 batting average in his first seven games in the American League. However, he started to turn it around on April 26, hitting his first home run as a Tiger off Jim Kaat.[113] On April 29, he hit a decisive home run in the top of the 10th inning against the Kansas City Athletics off reliever John Wyatt, leading the Tigers to a 5-4 win.[114]

On May 23 at the Cleveland Indians, Demeter went back to catch a long fly ball from Leon Wagner, but as he tried to catch the ball, he hit his head on a padded metal bar on top of the outfield fence. The ball bounced off his glove and over the fence, resulting in a three-run home run for the Indians. Dressen remarked that he had seen the same incident occur with Billy Bruton on a three-run home run by Tommie Reynolds at Kansas City on April 30.[115]

Demeter was slumping for the first two months of the season, accruing a statline of just 2 home runs and 14 RBI in 37 games to go with a batting average of .238.[1] On June 8 and 9, he turned it around by slugging for a combined 2 home runs and 9 RBI against the Twins. On June 13 he homered again against the Angels, and he followed it up by delivering a game-winning double on June 14 to complete a sweep of the three-game series.[116] On July 14, Demeter hit a home run and drove in two runs, and also made what was described as a "spectacular" diving catch that denied the Angels an opportunity to score the tying run in the 9th inning. He commented that the day was his best game since joining the Tigers.[117]

On July 31, Demeter set a Major League record with 206 consecutive errorless games in the outfield, passing former Phillies teammate Tony González's mark of 205.[118] The streak began two seasons ago on September 3, 1962.[119] Demeter downplayed the record, citing it as "deceptive." He remarked, "With the Phillies, I started quite a few games at third base and went to the outfield in the late innings." He claimed that he thought he made two errors throughout the 1964 season. "I lost one ball in the sun. Another one I didn't play very well in the wind. They were scored as hits. In my mind, they are errors."[118] At season's end, he had extended his streak to 228 games.[25]

From August 25 to 27 at the Boston Red Sox, Demeter had game-winning hits in all three, leading to a Tigers sweep.[120] In the September 7, 1964 issue of Sports Illustrated, Demeter was awarded with player of the week honors for his clutch play.[121]

Demeter finished the 1964 season with similar numbers to the prior season with the Phillies. He had 22 home runs and 80 runs batted in to complement a .256 batting average. He finished first in the Major Leagues in fielding percentage in the outfield with a perfect 1.000, the only qualifying player to accomplish the feat. Demeter finished 2nd on the team in RBI to Cash's 83, but he tied 8 games with RBIs and gave the Tigers the go ahead run in 28 more, posting a team-best 36 games overall.[1][122]

1965–1966 season[edit]

In January 1965, Demeter signed a new contract with the Tigers for the amount of $30,000.[122] In late January, he joined manager Dressen on an annual press-radio-television tour that went to Toledo and outstate Michigan.[123] Demeter was cited as the Tigers most clutch hitter,[121][124] but Demeter still wasn't satisfied with his power output. He trained in Oklahoma during the winter, chopping wood and gaining 12 pounds to 202.[122] On February 5 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Demeter was given the Art Griggs Award given to Oklahomans with the most outstanding performance at the major league level. He remarked, "I would have to thank Mickey Mantle for moving out of the state, Allie Reynolds for retiring and Warren Spahn for just getting old."[125]

In spring training, Demeter had a two homer outing against the Washington Senators on April 2,[126] followed by another solo home run against the Cincinnati Reds on April 4.[127] He later admitted after his two-homer outing, one over the right field wall and another over the right, that he wanted to try for a third home run over the wall in center field. However, he didn't get the chance as he was walked and subsequently pulled for a pinch runner. "It tears me up to walk when I'm swinging that good," Demeter said.[128]

Demeter was the opening day starter in center field on April 12, 1965 at the Kansas City Athletics. Demeter was hit by a pitch from Athletics pitcher Moe Drabowsky in the first inning, but he finished the game on 3-for-3 with a triple and two runs scored.[1][129] Although it was intended for Demeter to remain in the outfield, Demeter was asked to again take his duties to the infield at first base.[130] In May, he sat out several games after suffering a minor case of whiplash in the neck and shoulder after he slid head-first into third base.[131]

Demeter played at first for almost every game for two months before returning to the outfield full-time in July to resume his record errorless streak,[1] only for it to abruptly come to an end at 266 games on July 15 in an exponentially improbable fashion. A dog ran onto the field as Demeter fielded a ball hit to him. Demeter looked at the dog, then promptly made a wild throw, ending his record-setting error-less game streak.[132] The record would stand for almost 28 years to the day. On July 16, 1993, Darren Lewis played in his 267th consecutive error-less game.[2]

On August 12 against the Athletics, Demeter hit a grand slam and had 7 RBI, tying a career high.[1][133][134] However, the great moment couldn't be celebrated long as the next night against the Angels ended with Demeter being carried off the field in a stretcher and hospitalized overnight after a pitch in the fifth inning from California pitcher Dean Chance struck him in the head, resulting in two missed games.[134][135] Demeter suffered another injury on August 27 at Los Angeles, damaging his left wrist while trying to make a diving catch on a line drive hit by Jimmy Piersall. After 12 X-rays, it was finally determined to be a sprain and not a broken wrist as originally diagnosed. It was the same wrist he broke in 1961 during his tenure with the Dodgers. Several key players were injured at the time, leading Demeter to remark, "I really feel sick for Charlie (Dressen). The poor guy gets his team where it can make a move and then injuries hit him."[136]

Due to the injury-laden season, Demeter had his lowest output since 1961. In 122 games, Demeter had 16 home runs and 58 RBI. His batting average improved over last season, jumping from .256 to .278, second highest on the team to Kaline's .281. He was hit by 6 pitches on the year, 6th highest in the American League.[1] He had a .400 batting average as a pinch hitter, furthering his reputation as the most clutch hitter for the Phillies.[137]

Seven outfielders, including Demeter, were brought to the Tigers spring training facility in Lakeland, Florida.[138] Demeter was one of the last players to sign his contract for the 1966 season, receiving a raise to $33,000.[139] Unlike years past, Demeter's spot as everyday starter in center field was not guaranteed. By March, it was already being predicted that Demeter was going to lose his position to a young Mickey Stanley, who was described by Baseball Digest magazine as a defensive ace.[140] Demeter had trouble with a sore right shoulder during spring training, requiring a cortisone shot. Eventually, it was officially announced that he had lost his slot in center field to Stanley.[141]

In the early days of the season, Demeter had an 0-for-23 slump, the worst of his career. It got to the point where manager Dressen told him to, "not pick up a bat," benching him for several games.[142] Demeter had few offensive highlights in the opening months. On May 17 against the Yankees he broke a 2-2 tie with a two-run homer off New York pitcher Fritz Peterson.[143] Demeter remarked that the day was his wedding anniversary. "I've hit home runs six of the last seven years for her."[144] Later, on May 21 at the Orioles, Demeter started a six-run rally in the 4th inning with a three-run home run off pitcher John Miller to tie the game 4-4.[145]

Late career[edit]

Boston Red Sox[edit]

On June 4, 1966, Don Demeter and Julio Navarro were traded by the Detroit Tigers to the Boston Red Sox for outfielder Joe Christopher and pitcher Earl Wilson. The Red Sox had been attempting anywhere from several weeks to several months to obtain Demeter, offering a combination of catcher Bob Tillman and an infielder, but the Tigers continually rejected the offers. General manager Billy Herman had known Demeter ever since he was a coach for the Dodgers several years prior. Demeter was a player Herman wanted to acquire ever since he took the manager post in September 1964. "He (Demeter) is a good hitter with power. I know he will take good advantage of our left field wall." He went on to say, "One of the things I like best about Demeter is that I can use him at five positions. He can play anywhere in the outfield, and he can play both first and third base. Don will shake up a few people on this club." Herman cited that his then current plan was to put Demeter in center field, but was also considering playing him at third base, where Joe Foy had been struggling offensively. Herman also said he would start Demeter at first base for a few days should rookie first baseman George Scott need any sort of rest.[146]

Demeter went from a benchwarmer in Detroit to being an everyday starter once again in Boston. In his first game for the Sox on June 17, Demeter hit a home run off Orioles pitcher Steve Barber to tie the game 2-2, but Boston would go on to lose the game 5-3.[147] From his opening performance through the end of the month, he raised his batting average over 40 points by batting .348 with 3 home runs and 8 runs batted in.[1] Even with the hot start in his new home, Demeter still sat out several games due to various ailments. A foul tip hit Demeter on the knee cost a few games.[148] Later in July he had back problems that forced him to sit out intermittently.[149]

On August 3 at Minnesota, the Twins scoreboard flashed a message to the crowd as Demeter walked to the plate saying, "Demeter a Dad." His first daughter had been born that night in Newton-Wellesley Hospital just outside of Boston earlier in the day. After the message flashed, Demeter launched the first pitch from Twins pitcher Dave Boswell into the left field bleachers for a home run. While Demeter ran around the bases, the organist played the theme, "Rock-a-bye Baby."[150]

Demeter returned to Detroit for a four game series in early August. On August 6, he hit a home run off former teammate Denny McLain.[151] In 7 games against his old team, Demeter ripped the team for 2 home runs, 7 runs batted in, a .381 batting average and a .762 slugging percentage.[1]

Although Demeter had low offensive marks all around in his last days with the Detroit Tigers with a triple crown line of .212-5-12 in 32 games, he hit much better in his last 73 games with the Red Sox. He hit for a batting average of .292, the highest batting average for regular starters on the team. His .478 slugging percentage was second best to Tony Conigliaro, and his .783 OPS ranked just behind Conigliaro (.817) and Carl Yastrzemski (.799). Demeter thrived in his 37 games batting from the 5-hole. In 23 games, he posted a .372 batting average with 4 home runs, 14 runs batted in, and a .991 OPS. For the overall season, Demeter hit .268 with 14 home runs and 41 runs batted in, playing in 105 games.[1]

After the season's end, Demeter's starting role in center field once again lost its guarantee despite the near .300 batting average. Rookie Reggie Smith looked to be the new starting center fielder, with Jose Tartabull to be his backup, leaving Demeter as the odd man out. Talks of trading Demeter surfaced in December, with some even suggesting that they try and trade him back to Detroit to retrieve pitcher Earl Wilson.[152] Near the end of spring training, George Thomas had also passed him by on the depth chart.[153] In the regular season, Demeter rode the bench, not getting a start until May 7, Boston's 20th game of the season.[1] He went 2-for-5 in the game with a double and a run scored, as well as two notedly hard line drive outs.[154] After his successful first start, manager Dick Williams told the Boston press that Demeter would likely start in right field for Conigliaro, but come the night of May 8, Conigliaro was starting in right and Demeter was once again riding the bench, much to his reported chagrin.[155]

Cleveland Indians[edit]

The Boston Red Sox traded Don Demeter and Tony Horton to the Cleveland Indians for pitcher Gary Bell on June 4, 1967.[156]

On June 19, with two men out in the bottom of the 9th and one man on base, Demeter pinch-hit for Indians pitcher Sonny Siebert, hitting a game-tying home run, which later led to a 2-1 victory for Cleveland.[157] Demeter missed several games towards the end of the month with a pulled leg muscle.[158]

On August 31, 1967, the Detroit Tigers announced that they had bought Demeter from Cleveland.[159] Demeter was going to be their first baseman, but the deal was called off as it was found out that Demeter had circulatory problems around the heart area and he never reported to the team.[160] Demeter complained about chest pains and had several doctor examinations. It was originally diagnosed as a minor muscle strain, but an EKG on September 5 showed "changes which indicate a disturbance in his coronary artery circulation."[161]

Demeter played in 51 games for Cleveland, batting .207 with 5 home runs and 12 runs batted in. For the 1967 season overall, he appeared in 71 games, hitting 6 home runs, driving in 16 runners, and batting .226. His best month was his final month, hitting .313 with 6 RBI and 2 home runs over 19 games in August before playing the final game of his major league career on August 28.[1]

In early January 1968, Demeter was still listed on the Indians roster, but he was heavily considering retirement.[162]

On February 29, 1968, Don Demeter officially announced his retirement from Major League Baseball. He reported for spring training in Tucson, Arizona and successfully passed a complete physical examination, but still decided to end his career due to potential health concerns about his heart from September. The doctor said Demeter didn't have a heart attack or suffer damages to his heart, but Demeter ended by saying, "However, the doctor added that there was the possibility that I'd be running down the line some day and have an attack." [163]

Demeter participated in the first ever old-timer's game hosted by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He started in center field for the 1960s Dodgers. The 1950s Dodgers won the game 1-0 in front of a crowd of 48,227.[164]

Career statistics[edit]

In an eleven-season career, Demeter posted a .265 batting average with 163 home runs and 563 RBI in 1109 games played. He had a career average of 21.1 at bats per home run, which stands as one of the top 150 rates of all-time as of 2010.[1]

G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG TB SH SF HBP
1,109 3,443 467 912 147 17 163 563 22 25 180 658 .265 .307 .459 1,582 33 32 42

Personal[edit]

Don is the son of Lewis and Aileen Demeter, the third of four children.[6] His foster father, George Stevens, was a Superintendent for Sunday school in Oklahoma City at the Exchange Avenue Baptist Church.[4] As a junior in high school in 1950, he met his future wife Betty Jo Madole at the Exchange Avenue Baptist Church during a social event. They married on May 17, 1957 and had a son, Russell Don Demeter, on January 26, 1959.[6][165] Todd Demeter, Don's son, was a second round draft pick of the New York Yankees in 1979.[166] Todd played four seasons in the Yankees farm system and two with the St. Louis Cardinals, but never advanced past Class AA.[167] Two of his grandchildren, Cole and Caden Cleveland, were stars at Christian Heritage Academy with All-State honors, and are currently set to play Division 1 college baseball at Morehead State in Kentucky.[3]

After winning the World Series with the Dodgers in 1959, Demeter returned home to Oklahoma City to spend the winter as a youth director at a Baptist church.[65] In Oklahoma City, he lived near neighbor Washington Senators catcher Mike Brumley, who often accompanied Demeter to church appearances several nights a week throughout Oklahoma and Texas throughout the years, as well as a special series of church meetings in Alaska in 1966.[122][168] In the aftermath of his career-best 1962 season, Don toured on a team put together by Willie Mays, was a speaker at church functions across five states, and finally in February 1963 went on a church-sponsored tour of Japan along with Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson.[169][170] The tour was sponsored by the Texas Baptist Convention in order to participate in what was referred to as the "New Life Campaign". They gave Christian testimonies to locals and spoke to Japanese professional baseball players. Before leaving, they held a news conferenece, emphasizing their goals in their trip to Japan. They said, "We are two Christians from the United States. We are here to present our witness for Christ."[169]

Demeter did not drink, smoke, or curse during his baseball career. He also rejected endorsement deals for advertising alcohol and tobacco products.[171]

Once his baseball career was over, Don returned home to Oklahoma to start a pool-building business and later became a preacher.[3] In 1973, Don became president of the minor league Oklahoma City 89ers.[172]

Demeter entered a political race in 1976 as a Republican, losing a bid for a seat in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.[173][174]

References[edit]

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