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    Give Another Hoya!

With this issue, we debut a new column by sportswriter extraordinaire, John W. Gearan ’65. A native of Fitchburg, Mass., Gearan was an award-winning reporter and columnist at the Worcester Telegram and Gazette for 36 years, during which time he chronicled
all manner of Crusader athletics. “I’ve been attending Holy Cross games for 60 years,” he recalls. “My father, Paul Gearan, Class of 1927, began bringing me up the Hill in the 1940s!” Gearan resides in Woonsocket, R.I., with his wife, Karen Maguire.

By John W. Gearan '65

With a tremulous hand held aloft, the Rev. Leonard McCarthy, S.J., trumpeted with Shakespearean grandeur, “Gentlemen, we have a celebrity in our midst.’’

An erudite and theatrical Jesuit with magnetic stage presence, Fr. McCarthy proceeded to introduce Dick Joyce ’65, an embarrassed 6-foot-5-inch freshman scrunched into an archaic chair-desk contraption in Wheeler Hall.

The current Time magazine (Sept. 15, 1961), Fr. McCarthy noted, had highlighted Joyce’s unfathomable decision to turn down a $100,000 bonus offer from the Boston Red Sox to attend Holy Cross on a baseball scholarship.

That astounding news induced less-than-polite applause as fellow freshmen goosenecked to gaze at Joyce, a gap-toothed behemoth squirming in the back row. Joyce’s choice had made headlines in his hometown of Portland , Maine , and in Worcester and received more than a mention nationally. His bonus offer was the same as what Carl Yastrzemski had accepted months earlier after Ted Williams bid adieu.

Joyce proceeded to garner more than one of Fr. McCarthy’s rare A’s but not due to his celebrity or his choice of fuzzy academics over cold, hard cash. During the spring lecture, Fr. McCarthy, known as “Learned Leonard,’’ flippantly promised an “A” to anyone in our class who might identify a poetic reference to “Eyeless in Gaza.”

Joyce raised his southpaw meekly.

“Was it Sampson?’’ he asked modestly.

“Mr. Joyce you have just won yourself an ‘A,’’’ Fr. McCarthy replied. True to form, gentleman Joyce did not skip a single class thereafter, “because Lennie McCarthy was a great teacher, maybe the best I ever had.’’ He even opted to take the final exam, scoring another “A,” just for emphasis.

Joyce earned his baseball marks the old-fashioned way. His dad, Joe “Jabber” Joyce remained a Portland pitching legend (22 strikeouts in a schoolboy game) after laboring in the minor-league vineyards of the Yankees and Braves. He tutored his son from diapers on.

“I was having a pretty good senior year at Bishop Cheverus High (8-0) and had pitched well in Legion ball (46-7), so scouts began showing up at my games,’’ recalls Joyce, now living in Cary, N.C., with his wife Jeanne, his junior-high sweetheart.

His baseball pedigree and demonstrated talent made Joyce a blue-chipper. His uncanny control—especially for a 6-5, 220-pound lefty—his blazing fastball and Koufaxian curve left fans and scouts gasping.

The Red Sox invited him for a private workout at Fenway Park , where he threw impressively for 25 minutes, absorbing tips from Sox hurler Bill Monbouquette.

On that summer’s day of 1961, the Red Sox promised him a $100,000 signing bonus ($50,000 up front and $10,000 a season over five years) and guarantee to pay for college if Joyce flunked out of baseball.

His dad, a car salesman whose baseball dreams had been thwarted by a sore arm, wanted his son to sign on the spot. But Dick, a Jesuit-educated Cheverus cum laude grad, wanted time to contemplate.

“My dad told me I could always go to college later,” says Joyce. “I had visited Dartmouth , Boston College , Harvard and Holy Cross. I had high-school teammates who were at Holy Cross, and I felt comfortable there. I know I disappointed my dad, but it was my decision.”

Joyce consulted community leaders, calculated his bonus minus taxes, and compared the long-term value of a college education and his scholarship (room, board and tuition was $3,600). There were rumors about baseball outlawing bonuses. But Joyce figured, barring injury, he could play pro ball later. So he turned down a small fortune and came to Holy Cross.

“I’ve never been disappointed with that decision,’’ says Joyce, now 61 and a longtime, high-ranking IBM executive.

Joyce enhanced his pitching resume and career potential at Holy Cross. Academically, athletically and otherwise he became a leader in the Class of 1965. He seemed joined at the hip with Tim Murtaugh, his celebrity batterymate. With low-key pride, Murtaugh toted around a burdensome media tag: “Son of Pittsburgh Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh.” His dad’s Pirates had won the dramatic 1960 World Series on Bill Mazeroski’s historic ninth-inning homer.

Joyce was elected freshman class president as astute campaign manager Paul “Willis” Hart blared “the Duke of Earl’’ out a window in O’Kane III whilst disseminating a pre-recorded spiel of inflated promises. Murtaugh would become senior class president, demonstrating superior political skills, which flourished when he was an elected county commissioner in Pennsylvania .

In the spring, Joyce posted an amazing earned run average of 0.44 with a 4-0 record for the frosh. Murtaugh, later a minor-leaguer and triple-A manager, hit .483 and served as Joyce’s catcher and hardball mentor. “I can still picture impish Tim smirking behind that mask as he called for a curveball, knowing we were going to make someone look foolish,” recalls Joyce.

As sophomores, Joyce and Murtaugh delivered on their baseball promise. Joyce had a glittering 0.94 earned run average and 80 strikeouts. Murtaugh hit .312 and drove in 14 of the College’s 29 runs as the Crusaders swept doubleheaders against Boston College and Providence College to win a trip to the College World Series in Omaha .

At the Crusaders’ spirited core were four members of the Class of 1963 who had been state champs for St. Stephen’s of Worcester under Holy Cross Hall of Famer John Tivnan ’48. Those four lads were righty Donnie Riedl, second baseman Billy Prizio, first baseman Bobby Arena and shortstop Paul Morano, the team’s leading hitter (.338).

“It was a quick trip. I pitched the first game, and we lost 3-0 to Missouri (the 1962 NCAA champ) on a Monday. The next day we lost a tough one, 5-4, to USC, the eventual winner,’’ Joyce says. “Playing for Holy Cross in the World Series remains my greatest baseball thrill.’’

Despite Morano’s two-run triple and holding a 4-0 lead going into the seventh, Holy Cross came up short against legendary coach Ron Dedeaux and the USC Trojans, who beat Arizona 5-2 for the title.

The consensus of 60 major-league scouts at the World Series labeled Joyce as “the best long-range prospect.” During his college years, Joyce honed his reputation and skills earning All-Star status in the Basin League in South Dakota , where Hall of Famers Jim Palmer and Don Sutton also twirled.

In his junior season—troubled somewhat by curveball control and, according to a local scribe, “a tendency to pack on suet”—Joyce had a 7-2 record, but his ERA slipped to respectable 2.28.

In the summer of 1964, Joyce turned down handsome major-league offers. He decided to take the fall semester off to pitch for the United States Baseball Federation team that would compete in Japan during the Summer Olympics. Joyce was 3-0 (20 innings, 2 earned runs) on the 20-game international tour.

On Dec. 23, 1964 , he decided to turn pro. In the penthouse of Charles O. Finley’s Chicago office building—with the Kansas City A’s General Manager Pat Friday dressed up as Santa Claus—Joyce signed a contract with a $40,000 bonus attached.

Flashing typical wit, he labels his major-league career, “distinguished by its brevity.” Yet it had many yarn-worthy memories.

On Sept. 19, 1965 , prideful classmates arrived at Fenway Park on a Saturday afternoon (attendance 10,854) to bear witness to Joyce’s first and only appearance there. At 21, the Kansas City rookie call-up squared off against Earl Wilson in what Finley sarcastically touted as a “battle of the American League cellar dwellers.”

Joyce did not survive the first inning. He walked Frank Malzone, then, seemingly, picked him off, employing his marvelous move to first. Alas, Joyce was called for a balk. Then doom struck: a two-base throwing error by the A’s Wayne Causey, a walk to Tony Conigliaro, two wild pitches and a Tony Horton single. Joyce got the hook.

He pitched in four other games and in 11 other innings without yielding a run. Yet his major-league experience cannot be summed up by the very decent 2.77 ERA statistic.

“I had the very cool pleasure of pitching on the same staff as Satchel Paige,” Joyce says. “I remember Yaz screwing himself into the ground trying to hit Satchel’s famous hesitation pitch. Satchel would stop in the middle of his delivery, almost imperceptibly, and turn a fastball into a mesmerizing 20 mile-an-hour lob. He pretzelized hitters. I was in awe, sitting in the bullpen listening to Satchel tell stories about the Negro Leagues and guys like Cool Papa Bell.’’

Owner Finley signed Paige to make him eligible for a major-league pension. Paige, 59, pitched three innings of shutout ball for the 1965 A’s to close out his legendary career. Joyce shared in another historic hardball moment that month. He started the game in which Bert Campaneris played all nine positions in a nine-inning game.

Back in the minors, Joyce arrived late for the 1966 season due to Army Reserve commitments. After an excellent start with Triple A Vancouver, Joyce heard a dreadful pop in his left shoulder during a midseason game. Cortisone treatments and rest were prescribed but nothing cured the nagging pain of what was likely an undiagnosed rotator cuff tear.

For two seasons he did well and built a repository of stories. Rooming in spring training with Catfish Hunter. Rubbing shoulders with Sal Bando, Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers, Reggie Jackson, Dave Duncan and others who would win the World Series after the A’s moved to Oakland . Being managed in Birmingham by John McNamara of 1986 Red Sox infamy.

But as the 1967 season wound down and the arm still ached, Joyce decided to return to Holy Cross. Finley called, imploring Joyce to change his mind. But Joyce played the percentages. He would earn his degree, and the A’s would pick up the tab. “I knew it was time to return to the real world,’’ says Joyce. He even got to hear “Learned Leonard’’ lecture once again.

Since leaving baseball, life has been good. Joyce worked his way up the corporate ladder with IBM, from sales to corporate strategist to international communications chieftain. He and Jeanne have raised three terrific children—Tyler, Brandon and Danielle—and have two grandchildren.

In recent times, fate has thrown Joyce a few nasty sliders. Already dealing with diabetes and outfitted years ago with a pacemaker, Joyce has endured two major-league heart surgeries since October. An aortic valve was repaired, four arteries were bypassed, his pacemaker wires were relocated—infections attacked, and Joyce barely survived the ordeal.

“My surgeon attributed my survival to miraculous intervention,’’ Joyce has told family, friends and classmates.

Joyce had not kept in close contact with classmates over the years. But when his fellow Crusaders learned of his heart surgeries, his old pals began to call and write. He heard from his catcher, Murtaugh, who immediately challenged him to a footrace. He talked with his old roomie, John Connorton, a New York lawyer and powerbroker. Another teammate Jim Gravel became class liaison with Dick’s family, talking with Jeanne and e-mailing progress reports to others.

“Friends are the hands of God,’’ is the saying hand-written by Jeanne Joyce and hanging in the kitchen as a constant reminder to her husband.

“I have nothing but humble thanks for your wonderful and powerful prayers for life,’’ Joyce wrote to his friends.

After 40 years, Dick Joyce remains a man who has lived up to his celebrity and a Crusader who continues to be admired as the very best, by the Class of 1965 and so many others.

 

 

 

John W. Gearan ’65
John W. Gearan '65

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