Bradenton ballpark's namesake profiled in book by Mitch Stinson

vmannix@bradenton.comMarch 17, 2013 

BRADENTON -- McKechnie Field has been a community fixture for decades, but do folks know much about its namesake?

Mitchell Conrad Stinson's new book, "Deacon Bill McKechnie, A Baseball Biography," is rich with details about the Hall of Fame manager and former Bradenton resident whose legacy includes the charming ballpark on Ninth Street West.

"I've lived here for years, but I never knew the histo

ry," said Lorraine Tetlus after the author's talk before the Friends of the Central Library on Tuesday.

"It was illuminating," said the group's president, Lois Flagg.

McKechnie was the first manager to win pennants with three different ballclubs, winning the World Series with two of them -- 1925 Pittsburgh Pirates, 1940 Cincinnati Reds. He also won a National League pennant with the 1928 St. Louis Cardinals.

Yet there are other fascinating facts from his biography:

n When McKechnie managed Pittsburgh to its 1925 title, it came against legendary Walter Johnson and the Washington Senators.

n When Johnny Vander Meer pitched consecutive no-hitters in 1938, McKechnie was his manager.

n McKechnie coached Larry Doby, the American League's first black ballplayer in 1948, and iconic Satchel Paige, with the Cleveland Indians.

Although the devout McKechnie was never an official church deacon, his nickname spoke to the stature and respect accorded him throughout his baseball life. The Wilkinsburg, Pa., native spent almost a half-century in major league baseball from 1907 as a Pirates infielder to 1953 as a Boston Red Sox coach.

"It was more about his demeanor," Stinson said. "He was an upright guy his whole life, a moral man, a religious man, a fatherly figure and baseball genius who knew the game, knew how to get the most out of players.

"He was kindhearted and approachable. People gravitated to him."

McKechnie moved his family to Bradenton in 1946, investing in a local produce venture and eventually becoming one of numerous resident major leaguers.

"He was the elder statesman of our baseball community -- Birdie Tebbetts, Fred Hutchinson, Warren Spahn," said Kent Chetlain, a former Bradenton Herald sports editor and county commissioner. "He was the patriarch of baseball around here."

That prominence was cemented when McKechnie was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962. His fellow inductees? Bob Feller, Jackie Robinson and Edd Roush, McKechnie's pal and Bradenton winter resident.

The city council voted that year to rename the ballpark in McKechnie's honor.

The "Deacon" died in 1965 at the age of 79.

"He never fell off the pedestal," Stinson said. "If you're looking for people who fell from grace, it might be a more interesting story. But you will find his contemporaries never had a bad word to say about him."

The author will hold a book signing today at McKechnie Field.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix.

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