Lou Lucier, the older living Boston Red Sox player, turned 96 years of age on March 23, 2014. The following story appeared in Diamond Days, the Red Sox magazine for former Boston players, in the fall of 2013,
Last March Lou Lucier, the oldest living Red Sox player, celebrated his 95th birthday in style. His special day on March 23 started with good wishes from his many friends at his assisted living facility in Webster, MA. Then the festivities moved on to his nephew’s home where he was surrounded by family including grandchildren and great grandchildren.
“Dad had a great birthday,” his daughter Nancy reports. “He moved from room-to-room to be part of the conversations, and we talked baseball and other family stories. He had one of his favorites, homemade clam chowder, and pizza, and a birthday cake, of course,” she added. “He had a very busy day and enjoyed every minute of it.”
WORLD WAR II MEMORIES
Last winter I spent a Saturday afternoon talking baseball with former Red Sox pitcher Lou Lucier. I can’t think of a better way to brighten a gloomy, damp day than to hear stories about major league baseball during World War II, and to listen to first-hand memories of Joe Cronin, Bobby Doerr and former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey.
At age 95, Lou Lucier may have lost a step running to first base but he still knows his way around the pitching mound. Lou took a baseball and showed me how he gripped it and discussed the mechanics of his curve ball with authority.
“I always gripped my fastball and curve ball exactly the same,” he emphasized while demonstrating his grip, “because those coaches in the other dugout are watching every move you make. If you change your grip at all for the curve, they’ll pick up on it and let the batter know what’s coming.”
Lou acknowledged that his curve ball was his out-pitch. “When the count got to 3-2, the batter would be expecting a fastball and I would break off my curve. It would be coming in high, right where the batters liked it. But then it would break low and they would either swing and miss it, or pop it up,” he recalled with delight.
Lou Lucier played seven seasons of professional baseball but he is very humble about his achievement. Several times during our discussion he referred to himself as, “Just a pitcher from the Blackstone Valley League.” The Blackstone Valley League was a strong semi-pro consortium that included cities and towns from Worcester, MA, in the north to Pawtucket, RI, in the south. The league produced a number of major league ballplayers including Hall of Fame members Gabby Hartnett and Hank Greenberg.
Former Red Sox manager Joe Morgan remembers Lou Lucier’s curveball. “I was just a kid playing in the Blackstone Valley League in 1947, and Lou had come back there to pitch when his professional career was over,” Joe recalled in a recent interview. “Lou threw me a curve on a 3-2 count, and it was a beauty, but I lined it right back through the box for a hit. Lou told reporters, ‘I don’t know the name of that kid who hit my 3-2 curveball, but he belongs in the big leagues!’”
Lou was originally signed to a minor league contract by the Boston Braves at age 19. But he quit after a brief stay at Class D Beaver Falls (PA), and returned to the Blackstone Valley League. A Red Sox scout spotted his potential and the club signed him to a minor league deal.
POTENTIAL TWENTY-GAME WINNER
After two outstanding seasons pitching in the Red Sox minor league system at Canton, OH (23-5), and Louisville, KY (13-9), Lou was summoned to a meeting at FenwayPark before the 1943 season. “I met with the owner Mr. Yawkey, Eddie Collins [General Manager], and Joe Cronin [player-manager].” Shaking his head in wonderment, Lou says, “Here I am sitting with three people who I never expected to meet, and they’re telling me they want me to report to spring training and play for the Red Sox.”
Even better than meeting with three future Hall of Fame members, the Red Sox paid Lou a $1,000 cash bonus as an inducement to sign for the 1943 season. “My wife [Marcella] and I stopped for a steak dinner on the way home,” he remembers, relishing the memory.
After pitching in two relief appearances to begin the 1943 season, Lou started and completed a 4-2 win over the Chicago White Sox on May 16 at ComiskeyPark. Two weeks later he made his first start at FenwayPark and earned a 5-1 complete game win against the Detroit Tigers. Asked if the win at Fenway was the highlight of his big league career, Lou answers, “No, it was that first win over the White Sox because then I felt I belonged in the major leagues.”
After his fast start, Red Sox pitching ace Tex Hughson told manager Joe Cronin, “That guy [Lucier] is going to be our next twenty-game winner.” But a chronically sore shoulder prevented Lou from full fulfilling Hughson’s prediction. “To be honest, I’m not sure how I came down with the sore shoulder,” Lou says. “I thought I might have picked it up during spring training in the cold weather. But I will never know for certain.”
Lou remembers that he pitched with pain throughout his major league career. He pitched in 16 games for the Red Sox in 1943 but he was limited to 3 appearances with the team in 1944. Towards the end of the 1944 he picked up by the Philadelphia Phillies, and he pitched for the Phillies in 13 games in 1945, his final season in the big leagues.
Lou remembers Red Sox manager Joe Cronin with fondness. “He was a terrific manager and everyone who played for him felt the same way,” Lou recalls. But his warmest words are for former teammate Bobby Doerr. “Bobby was wonderful to me. He was my roommate and when I was pitching he would sit beside me between innings and tell me about the batters I would be facing in the next inning. He’s a great guy.”
HALL OF FAME OF GENTLEMEN
Lou grew up a Red Sox fan and he remembers traveling to FenwayPark with family members as a youngster. “I’ve always been a Red Sox fan,” Lou says proudly. He still keeps close tabs on his favorite team and he is much fonder of the 2013 Red Sox than he was of last year’s edition.
On October 29, 2013, in an interview with Channel 10 in Providence, RI, Lou predicted the Red Sox World championship in six games. “They’ve got to win. They’ll win Wednesday night I bet, Lucier said.
He still receives a half-dozen or so requests from fans for autographs each month. And he is rightfully considered something of a celebrity at his assisted living facility.
Bobby Doerr is the oldest living member of baseball’s Hall of Fame. But his former roommate Lou Lucier has him beat as the oldest Red Sox player. After Lou turned age 95 on March 23, it was another two weeks before Bobby caught up to him on April 7.
After spending an afternoon with Lou and having interviewed Bobby Doerr many times over the years, I can tell you that if there was a “Hall of Fame of Gentlemen,” Bobby Doerr and Lou Lucier would be charter members.