Talking baseball and family with Dick 'Ducky' Schofield
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 3, 2009 - Baseball's spotlight is in New York, and one of the players that has done well in its glare is the Phillies' Jayson Werth, who has hit seven World Series home runs -- so far.
The goal of excellence in sports goes back a long way for Werth. Back to his native Springfield, Ill., and his grandfather who was no slouch in the baseball department. The same is true for his uncle.
We met up with Ducky Schofield, 74, and talked family and baseball.
John Richard "Dick" Schofield, a good enough baseball player to play major league ball for 19 years, remembers when he knew his son Richard Craig "Dick" Schofield might be good enough to follow in his footsteps, and then some.
"I will tell you when I knew that Dick had something in his brain," says the elder Schofield, who is often called by the nickname given to his father, "Ducky."
"We had a flag football team. Dick was running for a touchdown and kinda let up and jogged the last 20 yards. I called him over after the play and said. 'You better keep running, you can't let up.'"
"He said, 'Well, the sun is behind me, so if there's a shadow I'd know somebody was coming.' I figured he was ahead of me. He figured that out."
When did Schofield the elder see that Schofield the younger had major league DNA?
"When he was about 12. He was twice as good as everybody else. Not everybody can catch a ground ball, just catch it and throw it without a lot of effort."
Father-son Dick Schofields playing (mostly) major league shortstop for a combined 35 years make up only one branch of the athletics family tree. Dick and Donna Schofield's daughter Kim Schofield Werth competed in the 1976 U.S. Olympic trials in the long jump and 100 meters and was a star at the University of Florida. Middle daughter Tammy was a fine athlete and is still an excellent golfer.
And when Kim married Dennis Werth, who played for four years with the Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees, the athletic alchemy really kicked in. Their daughter Hillary ran track at UCLA. Their daughter Hannah is a freshman volleyball player at nationally ranked University of Nebraska.
And that brings us to Jayson Werth, Kim's son and Dennis' stepson. Jayson, remember, is the elder Ducky Schofield's grandson for those of you keeping score at home. Werth plays right field for the Philadelphia Phillies and is heading back to New York for Game 6 of the World Series. Jayson hit 36 home runs and drove in 99 runs during the regular season.
Asked the question he's likely been asked a million times, Schofield says, "I don't know why everybody in our family can play. It takes a certain mindset. You have to give up things. If you like parties ... you sacrifice some of your social life. It's not that easy to be dedicated.
"Everybody talks about genes and that stuff. My dad was a good athlete; he played 11 years of pro baseball. My wife's dad was one of the best handball players in Springfield and a good swimmer. They all come together. You (might) have a lot of ability, but you still have to want to do it.
"I wasn't going to be a doctor. Dick wasn't going to be a doctor. Jayson wasn't going to be a computer scientist. They were going to play baseball because that's what they could do. A lot of people don't think athletes are smart and maybe not book-smart, but there is something up there that helps you make good decisions."
The other question Schofield likely has been asked a lot, but perhaps would prefer not is: So, who is the best athlete in the Schofield/Werth family?
"Well, gee whiz," he says poking at a bowl of chili in a Springfield, Ill., barbecue restaurant. "I thought Dick was a fantastic basketball player. He might have been able to play pro golf. Jayson was an outstanding basketball player.
"They are two different type players. Dick was money in the infield, he was your best infielder. Dick was probably the best defensive shortstop for about 10 years in the American League. He played one year with the Mets ('92) and in the whole year made seven errors. Gene Mauch (veteran manager of four major league teams) said he thought he fielded a ground ball better than anybody he'd seen play. And he'd seen a thousand shortstops.
"Now Jayson is hitting home runs and driving in runs, getting to be one of the best outfielders in the game. Kim was a super athlete - she could run and jump. And Hillary (javelin/shotput/heptathlon at UCLA)."
That brings us to Hannah Werth, a 6-foot-1-inch outside hitter for the Cornhuskers.
"She's a killer," says grandpa Schofield. "She is as good as there is in college volleyball right now, that's how good she is.
"We've been fortunate. We've had a lot of guys who could play. You take our family, Dick (now living in the St. Louis area and a batting coach for the Angels rookie team in Arizona) and Kim and Tammy, our middle daughter who was good in track and field hockey. And Kim's family - that's almost like a freak family. You have Jayson, Hillary and Hannah. You can look at a lot of kids and families and not find that. And, Dennis (Jayson's stepfather) played pro baseball."
Dick Schofield the father and Dick Schofield the son shared the same name, game and position, What does the father think he taught the son?
"He'd probably say, respect and love for the game. I think he would remember how much time I spent with him. I did the same thing my dad did. I threw him a million baseballs, live batting practice. His sisters would shag balls. We'd throw them and hit them, pick them up and hit them again. We'd go to parks where nobody was and hit baseballs, hit ground balls and fly balls out back in the yard."
Hard to believe as it might be today, "Ducky" Schofield played in his first major league game at age 18.
"I signed out of high school with the Cardinals in 1953. I was a bonus player, so I had to go to the big leagues. I was probably a little bit scared, overmatched of course, in some parts of the game."
Schofield virtually can name the Chicago Cubs' lineup position by position in his debut. "My first game was in Wrigley Field. I was a pinch runner ... one guy was telling me to steal, another guy was telling me to get back. They were playing games with me, actually. "
Schofield is widely remembered and respected as the shortstop who filled in for injured Dick Groat for the '60 world champion Pittsburgh Pirates. ("When you win, people remember.") He has no trouble remembering one team he played on that should have won. "The '65 Giants. We had 14 games to play. And we figured if we won seven and we lost seven we'd win the pennant. We did. But the Dodgers won 13 in a row and beat us. We should have won easily. We had the best team, but we didn't win it."
One of his few regrets, apparently, is the time spent on the bench, especially with Pittsburgh. He says he could have played regularly elsewhere, improved his game and, in the process, earned more. "I (wish) I could have made my own deal. In those days you went some place and they'd keep you. From '58-'62 (the Pirates) kept me. I don't know why. I could have gone to Philadelphia any of those years and played shortstop."
It becomes evident from his memory and up-to-date observations that, despite the long years waiting for his chance on the bench and the near-pennants, Schofield relishes his legacy - and especially longevity - in the major leagues.
"You look at it," he says, and somebody says, 'Oh, yeah, he's making only $8,000 (playing major league baseball.)' But (the person says) I was teaching school all year at Griffin and making only $1,500. So it's all relative."
Now that all of the athletes are out of the house and out of Springfield, Schofield has a little more leisure time. "I watch a lot of Cardinals and Cubs games on TV. I like to mess around in the yard. Don't ask me why because I don't know what I'm doing. But I like to plant flowers. I like to play golf. I used to be pretty good, but now I just go beat it around. I'm swinging just as hard, but the ball isn't going as far."
He's been a figure on the Springfield political scene. He only recently resigned - he'd been a board member since 1983 - from the Springfield Metropolitan Exposition and Authority that oversees the Prairie Capital Convention Center.
He did so, he explains, because he needs to spend more time at home caring for his wife Donna, who has been coping for the past three years with Alzheimer's disease. Daughter Tammy has moved in temporarily to help out.
Schofield says that despite regularly winning a seat on the convention center board, "I've never really been a politician, never really gotten into it. They used to want me to run for stuff like county recorder of deeds. I was on the county board for awhile. But I didn't want to run for anything. Not with my disposition. I say what I think too much, and pretty quick."
Play the game
Baseball "is still the best game," says Dick "Ducky" Schofield. "There's no other way around it. You have to get three outs an inning, no matter how long it takes. And you play it every day. There are a lot of ups and downs during the course of a year."
That said, Schofield is not short of opinions on how the grand old game could be improved, were he commissioner for a day.
"The first thing I'd do is change the length of the season. Play the same number of games, but have the season over at the 25th of September, then start the playoffs. They shouldn't be playing baseball at this time of year.
"And I don't like guys going up to home plate with all of that armor. They just stand there, move into the ball and get hit.
"The instant replay could be used a little more than it is.
"I would not have a designated hitter.
"The winner of the All-Star game would not be the home team in the World Series. That is dumb, the dumbest.
"The schedules are bad sometimes. Interleague play is not fair. The Cardinals get to play Kansas City every year. The Cubs have to play the White Sox.''
In his era, Schofield says, players never even heard of steroids.
"Steroids, to my way of thinking, that's cheating. I am a firm believer that Roger Maris should still hold the (single season) home run record. I just don't see how it can be good for you. We've seen a lot of football players die young. You just don't see somebody 45 years old having kidney or liver or heart failure. (Unless) it's from something that's not supposed to be in your body."
But what really ruffles the Duck's feathers is the appearance of many modern ballplayers.
"Everybody wears their pants hanging on the ground. I can't stand all the hair on their face, the beards and stuff. The closer for the Cardinals, that (Ryan) Franklin. He looks like he has a goat hanging on his face. That's just me. That's why the Yankees look so much nicer on the field than most teams because they don't allow facial hair. I think it's a plus. A lot of guys wear these big old baggy uniforms."
That, however, doesn't make Schofield a Yankees fan.
"The money is just so screwed up in sports. The Yankees just go buy a team, buy your first baseman, buy your third baseman. You need your starting pitching, you just go buy it."
Today's baseball is "home run happy," he says. "... When I played, nobody hit home runs in centerfield, nobody. You could play all year long and not see anybody hit a home run in old Sportsman's Park. If one was hit there, you'd marvel at it."
Back to the grooming - or lack thereof -- of some of today's players. We are obligated to mention that, um, with all due respect, Mr. Schofield, your grandson (the Phillies' Jayson Werth pictured) wears very long pants, longish hair and a beard.
"I'd shave his head right now," the clean-shaven, still-trim Schofield says. "That's the first thing I'd do."
Paul Povse is a freelance writer based in Springfield, Ill.