Roy Gleason

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Roy William Gleason

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Biographical Information[edit]

"(Roy Gleason) has the size, desire, speed, and arm to become a great player" - Pete Reiser, after watching him in spring training, 1962

Roy Gleason retired from major league baseball with a perfect 1.000 batting average and a 2.000 slugging percentage, since he went 1 for 1 with that hit being a double.

Born in Melrose Park, IL in 1943, he was a star baseball player for Garden Grove High School in Garden Grove, CA and signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in June of 1961 for a bonus somewhere between $55,000 and $108,000. He was a big man, standing 6' 5½", and reminded scouts of slugger Frank Howard, but with better speed. The Dodgers taught him to switch-hit in the instructional league - he was a natural right-handed hitter. However, he lacked the ability to make consistent contact. He struck out 214 times in 448 at-bats for Reno of the California League in 1962; he did slug 19 doubles and 22 homers, though. In 1963, playing for Salem of the Northwest League, he hit .254 with 16 doubles and 15 homers in 358 at bats, while cutting down a bit on his whiffs. He was called up to the big club in September of 1963 and was used in eight games by the pennant-winning Dodgers. Seven of the games were as a pinch runner, but he did smack a double in his one at bat as a pinch hitter. He was not eligible to play in the 1963 World Series.

Gleason never achieved the greatness that had been predicted. In 1964, he was back with Salem, and again hit .254 with the same power. His cup of coffee that year was with the AAA Albuquerque Dukes of the Pacific Coast League, where he went 8 for 33 with two homers. In 1965, he was back at Salem but hit a dismal .144, then was sent down to Santa Barbara in the California League, where he was even worse, hitting .129 in 47 games. He lost his spot on the Dodgers' roster, and the team considered converting him to pitching. He would be used in 9 games on the mound between 1965 and 1969, but his record of 0-2, 10.89, with 37 walks in 19 innings doused any thoughts of a full-time switch. In 1966, he was back in the Northwest League, this time with the Tri-City Atoms, and hit well, with a .281 batting average and 16 home runs in 74 games. He did strike out 97 times, but earned another look with Albuquerque, where he failed dismally, batting .173 in 45 games, with 3 homers and 59 K's.

Gleason received his draft notice in April 1967 and served in the U.S. Army for 21 months during the Vietnam War, making him the only former major leaguer to serve there. He was promoted to the rank of sergeant and led search-and-destroy missions. In one such mission, he was wounded in the left arm and both legs by a shrapnel explosion and was one of only two survivors of his 45-man platoon. He earned a Purple Heart as a result. However, when he went back to baseball in 1969, his wrist had been weakened by the injury. He only hit .209 in 74 games with little power for Bakersfield of the California League, and then .121 in 27 games for Albuquerque. Still, the California Angels took an interest in him and selected him in the minor league draft after the season, sending him to the Mexican League in 1970. He did find his power stroke again, but kept on striking out. In the off-season, he was involved in a truck crash and broke his collarbone; he tried to come back too soon after the injury and re-injured it, bringing his career to an end.

His 1963 World Series ring was a casualty of his service in Vietnam, as he had brought it with him and kept him in a locker with his personal effects. However, after he was medivacked out of the country, his effects were only returned to him much later, and the ring was missing by that time. In September of 2003, he was invited to Dodger Stadium to throw the ceremonial first pitch before a game, and on this occasion, broadcaster Vin Scully surprised him by gifting him a replacement ring on behalf of the team, who all came out of the dugout to pay him their respects. He was honored by the Dodgers before Game 2 of the 2017 World Series as the "Hero of the Game", in celebration of his service to the country.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Ted Berg: "Dodgers honor Purple Heart recipient who lost World Series ring during Vietnam War", "For the Win!", USA Today Sports, October 26, 2017. [1]
  • Clifford Blau: "Leg Men: Career Pinch-Runners in Major League Baseball", in The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 38, Number 1 (Summer 2009), pp. 70-81.

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