Missoula Timberjacks - where are they now?
For many players, their time in Missoula and the Class C Pioneer League was but a blip in their lives and professional baseball careers. Here's what the future held for several members of the 1958 Timberjacks:
n Jack McKeon, catcher-manager. He went on to manage 13 more years in the minors and has managed 11 seasons in the majors, including his current stint with Cincinnati. Besides winning manager of the year honors in the Pioneer League in 1958, he earned that distinction by winning pennants with Wilson of the Class B Carolina League in 1961, and Omaha of the American Association in 1969 and 1970. He broke into the majors as a manager with the Kansas City Royals in 1973. Besides Cincinnati he also has managed at Oakland and San Diego. His 1973 Royals were second in the AL West and his 1989 Padres were second in the NL West. He also has served in a number of front-office positions in the majors, including general manager and assistant GM. He signed his first pro contract as a player with the Pittsburgh organization in 1949. He graduated with a degree in physical education from Elon College in North Carolina. He resides in North Carolina during the off-season.
n Jim Kaat, left-handed pitcher. After Missoula, the Michigan native only spent the equivalent of two seasons in the minors. He first was called up to the majors by the Washington Senators late in the '59 season, losing two games. He started the 1960 season with them and won his first game in the majors on April 27. After a 1-5 record, he went back down the minors. When the franchise was moved to Minnesota in 1961, Kaat became a fixture with the Twins. Although 9-17 that season, he compiled several outstanding seasons with the Twins after that. When the Twins lost the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1965, he was 1-2, with his victory coming against Sandy Koufax. Kaat went 25-13 in 1966, but Koufax won the only Cy Young Award that year. Traded to the Chicago White Sox late in 1973, Kaat recorded back-to-back 20-win seasons in 1974-75. He pitched in the majors through 1983. During a major-league career that spanned four decades, 25 years and 898 appearances, he won 283 games and earned an amazing 16 Gold Glove fielding awards from 1962 through 1977. After retiring as a player, he has had a career as a broadcaster for several national networks. Kaat joined Madison Square Garden Productions in 1995 as a commentator on New York Yankees telecasts. His home is in Florida.
n Sandy Valdespino, outfielder. A native of San Jose del las Lajas, Cuba, he reached the AAA level of the minors by 1960. Injuries, including a broken finger, curtailed his 1961 season with Syracuse and Indianapolis. Out of the Twins farm system in 1962, he hooked on to play two seasons under McKeon at Vancouver and Dallas-Fort Worth in the Pacific Coast League. In 1964, with Atlanta in the International League, Valdespino won the league batting title with a .337 average. The Twins signed him and he hit .261 in 1965 when they went to the World Series, where he batted .271 in five games. The following season he split time between the Twins and AAA Denver, where he hit .327 playing for McKeon. Valdespino was back with Minnesota in 1967 and stuck in the majors with several clubs as a utility outfielder. After Milwaukee traded him in late 1970 to Kansas City, he was sent to AAA Omaha, where he broke a leg in the last game of the playoffs. He played briefly with Kansas City in 1972, but was released. Valdespino had a career .230 average in the majors. Afterward, he played in Mexico and Dominican Republic. He was a coach in the Yankees' minor-league system a few years, spent two years managing Rimini in the Italian League, and was hired by the Orioles as an instructor and coach during 1984-85 for their AAA club at Rochester, which sent 10 players to the majors. He's been involved in the construction business since 1986 and currently lives in New Jersey.
n Jay Ward, third base-outfield. The Missouri native and former Yankees prospect was drafted from that organization by the old Kansas Ci
ty A's in 1959 and spent most of his career in the high minors with several organizations. He had three brief stops in the majors. He spent 1959 and part of 1960 in AA ball at Shreveport of the Southern Association, before moving up to AAA at Dallas-Fort Worth. He played at AAA through 1963, mostly in the Pacific Coast League, and once was traded from Spokane to Vancouver, British Columbia, for former Timberjack teammate Berto Cueto. Back with McKeon at Dallas in 1963, Ward homered in the club's first seven games and was called up by the Twins late that season. He also was summoned by the Twins late in the '64 season and hit .226 after playing at AAA Atlanta and Tacoma. At Denver in 1965, he was among the PCL's batting leaders. After the Twins made some trades to shore up their roster, Ward said "he'd been knocking around long enough" and played in Japan in 1966. He played at AAA again from 1967 through 1970 and was called up by Cincinnati late in '70. He wrapped up his playing career in 1971 at Omaha under McKeon. Ward then was out of baseball more than a decade, operating a ranch in Missouri. He returned to organized ball in the mid-1980s, managing in the minors for several organizations and was a hitting instructor at the major-league level for a number of years, including the Yankees in 1987. He was the minor-league hitting coordinator for the Braves in 1993 and 1994. Ward currently is handling baseball operations for Miles Wolff's Quebec City franchise in the independent Northern League. Wolff is chairman of the Baseball America publication and operated the Durham Bulls of "Bull Durham" movie fame for several years. Ward's permanent home is Florida.
n Dagoberto Cueto, right-handed pitcher. A native of San Luis Pinar, Cuba, he was in the high minors for a number of years and pitched briefly for the Minnesota Twins in 1961. He had a 1-3 record in seven games, including five starts, and a 7.17 ERA. Valdespino said McKeon wanted to make Cueto a relief pitcher at one time. At last word, Valdespino said, Cueto was living in North Carolina.
n Rigoberto "Minnie" Mendoza, third base. Originally from Cieba del Agua, Cuba, he had a long career in the upper echelon of the minors and played briefly in 1970 for Minnesota, where he was used almost exclusively as a pinch-hitter and batted .188. Still involved in baseball, he was working in player development for the Cleveland Indians and made his home in North Carolina.
n Valdes Vila, infielder-outfielder, and Alberto Castellanos, pitcher. From the Havana area, both played winter ball and in the minors awhile. Valdespino said he last heard that Vila had remained in Cuba and Castellanos was in Mexico, where he played for several years.
n Chuck Weatherspoon, catcher-infielder-outfielder. A native of Pineland, Texas, he went to spring training with the Senators in 1959 after his big season with the Timberjacks. He was due to be called up by the Twins toward the end of the of the 1962 season from AAA Vancouver, but suffered a dislocated shoulder, preventing him from an opportunity to play in the majors. He played a number of seasons under McKeon. Big Spoon holds the all-time single-season record for professional ball when he hit seven grand slams for Wilson of the Class B Carolina League in 1961, including slams in his first two at-bats during a game in early May. He played at the AAA level during most of the '60s, retiring from baseball after the 1969 season at Denver when his wife became ill. "He was the most popular guy in Missoula; a lovable guy," Kaat said. "He had great ability as a hitter." Defensively, scouts said he wasn't skillful enough at any one position, according to Kaat. If the designated hitter had been around then, Weatherspoon would have been in the majors for sure, McKeon said. "He was four or five years ahead of his time." The DH went into effect in 1973. As a black player in that era, "He endured a lot of hardships and handled them very positively," McKeon said. "He had great character." Weatherspoon's youngest daughter, Teresa, was a two-time All-America
n basketball player at Louisiana Tech in 1987 and 1988. She won the Wade Trophy in 1988 as the outstanding women's player in the country and was a two-time Olympian. Big Spoon still lives in Pineland.
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n Clancy Weatherspoon, outfielder. Chuck's younger brother by four years, he originally signed with the Orioles in 1956, but was drafted into the Senators organization. He was optioned from Missoula to Class D Elmira in the New York-Pennsylvania League in early June and also played at Elmira in 1959. He returned to Texas after that season to help care for his ill father and left pro ball. A graduate of Jarvis Christian college, he was a high-school teacher, coach and school administrator for 35 years in Texas before retiring. He resides in Lubbock. The Weatherpoons' father played a couple of seasons in the Negro Leagues.
n Bennie Sinquefield, center fielder. A native of Alabama, he died in 1990 at the age of 56 at his home in Georgia. Sinquefield had a marvelous throwing arm and the speed to play in the majors, but not the bat. As a defensive outfielder, Clancy Weatherspoon remembered Sinquefield as "the best I've ever seen - in any league." Sinquefield initially broke into pro ball as a pitcher with the Pirates organization in 1952 and retired after the 1962 campaign, according to his widow, Barbara. Besides three seasons in Missoula, Sinquefield spent four more seasons with McKeon. "Everywhere that Jack went, he wanted Bennie on his team," said Sinquefield's brother, Larry. Bennie's liability as a hitter: "He was always overswinging," said Larry. "He had that high leg kick." A right-handed batter, Larry said his brother experimented with switch-hitting, but it "never did happen." After retiring from baseball, Bennie went into the insurance business. Larry Sinquefield was an outstanding fastpitch softball player and was inducted in the Alabama Softball Hall of Fame this year.
n Jerry Palma, shortstop-third base. After the '58 season, Palma said the Cubs bought his contract from the Yankees for $25,000. He played for the Lancaster Roses in the Class AA Eastern League in 1959. In 1960, he was batting .389 and was expecting a call-up by the Cubs, but sprained an ankle, derailing that opportunity. In 1961, he was assigned to Wenatchee of the Class B Northwest League. During a game with Eugene, a pitch fractured his right wrist. Palma said umpire Bruce Froemming called it a foul ball. Palma said Froemming apologized the next day after a seam of the ball had left an imprint on the wrist. The wrist was operated on after the season, but Palma injured a shoulder in spring training in 1962. "I went back to Wenatchee, but didn't last very long," he said. The injuries caused him to leave baseball. He returned to California and has been in the commercial printing business more than 30 years. Two of Palma's sons, Brian and Jay, also have played minor-league ball.
n Addie Hintze, second base. From Waldorf, Md., Hintze first signed out of high school in 1954 for $4,000. He worked his way up in the minors from Class D to Class B , before first joining the Timberjacks in 1957. After the broken wrist wrecked his '58 season here, Hintze was assigned to Missoula early in 1959 before going up to Class B Appleton. He decided to leave the game after that season and returned to his home in Maryland. He then became involved in several family businesses and continues to operate them. His first name was Adolf, which wasn't popular for a kid growing up in the 1940s. "I took some grief over it," Hintze said. Hence the name, Addie, during his playing days.
n Billy Sheffield, right-handed pitcher. If he developed a changeup, scouts believed he had the stuff to pitch in the majors. After being unable to pitch in 1958 because of the shoulder injury, Sheffield went back to Virginia. The Senators had him go to D.C., where he was treated by specialists. Surgery was done to remove calcium deposits at one point. "I kept hoping my shoulder would come around," he said. Sheffield went to spring training with the Senators in 1959, but never was able to
regain his competitive form. "It was one of the worst things in my life," he said of the injury that dashed his dreams. He said the Senators paid him through the 1959 season. After a stint in the military in the early 1960s, Sheffield started a plumbing business which he continues to operate.
n Don Orwiler, left-handed pitcher. As a young teen, he played with a town team in Poulsbo, Wash. He originally signed with old St. Louis Browns in 1951. A pitcher, who also could hit, Orwiler also played winter ball in Venezuela and Mexico. In spring training with Yankees' minor-league teams at Modesto, Calif., in 1958, Orwiler said he "didn't make up his mind until late" to come to Missoula. The crafty lefty was the most experienced pitcher on the staff, but 1958 was his last season. After getting married, "I had to get a good, steady job," Orwiler said. A retired truck driver, he lives in Silverdale, Wash.
n Ron Dibelius, third base. He and Harmon Killebrew were the Senators' first two big-bucks "bonus babies." Also a gifted basketball player, Dibelius was drafted by the NBA's New York Knicks in 1961, but never played with them. He was noted for having a rifle for a throwing arm. He was attending Marquette University in Wisconsin when he signed in 1958 and had worked out with the Milwaukee Braves in the spring. Dibelius went to spring training in 1959 with AA Charlotte, before playing that season at Missoula and Class B Wilson and Appleton. He played one more season professionally, but felt "basketball was my real sport." He returned to college in 1961, finished his degree and was a high-school coach and teacher for many years. Later, he became an assistant athletic director at Boise State, where he also coached tennis and helped out with the basketball program. Now retired, he and his wife live in Nampa, Idaho.
n Bill Felker, right-handed pitcher. A native of New Jersey, he joined the 1958 club in early May after starting out at Appleton. He remembered that when he and his pals would skip curfew for some fun, they couldn't escape McKeon's clutches. "Everywhere we'd go, he'd find us." Felker played in the Senators minor-league system for several years and went to spring training with the big club a couple of times. He developed arm trouble in 1961 while serving in the Army Reserves and last played professionally in 1963. An accomplished golfer, he remembers playing a round in Kalispell in 1958 and he has qualified for three U.S. Senior Opens during the past 10 years. He currently lives in Florida.
n Fred Hill, shortstop. Another New Jersey native, Hill was known for his glove and range. He signed for $300 and was a teammate of Kaat's in 1957 at Class D Superior in the Nebraska State League. Hill described Kaat as "an outstanding person with an amazing work ethic. You knew then his talent level was major league." Hill was optioned to Class D Fort Walton Beach of the Alabama-Florida League in late May. Hill was assigned to Missoula for the '59 season, but decided to get out of baseball. He said Zoilo Versalles was the Senators' shortstop of the future then. Married with two children at the time, Hill started his career in 1958 as a high school and college coach in his home state. He became head baseball coach at Rutgers in 1983. One of Hill's players from the 1998 Big East championship team, outfielder Adam Neubart, is in the Diamondbacks' farm system. He hit .326 at High Desert in the Class A advanced California League last year.
Monday - 6/14/99