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Don Demeter, Dodger star from the future who was not, dies at 86

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Don Demeter, Dodger star from the future who was not, dies at 86

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When Don Demeter was installed in the middle of the field for the aging Los Angeles Dodgers of 1959, largely supplanting future Hall of Fame Duke Snider, he was billed as a star from the future.

Demeter, a 23-year-old rookie with a powerful right-handed swing from his 6-foot-4 frame, hit three home runs in an April game at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the latter giving the Dodgers an 11th-inning victory over the San Francisco Giants. He logged in for 18 home runs and led 70 points to help the Dodgers win a World Series championship, a six-game victory over the Chicago White Sox, in their second season since leaving Brooklyn.

“The winds of change were definitely in the air,” Snider recalls in “The Duke of Flatbush” (1988), written with Bill Gilbert. “Don Demeter was prepared to take my place. “

But Demeter, who died on Monday at age 86 of unknown causes at his Oklahoma City home, never lived up to expectations as Dodger. He broke a wrist in a collision with Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills in a July 1960 game and was traded early in the 1961 season to the Phillies when he started slowly at home plate . Willie Davis, the future All-Star center fielder, had shown promise as a hitter while seeing limited action with Los Angeles the previous season and looked set to step in as a regular. Plus, the Dodgers got Phillies relief pitcher Turk Farrell in the deal.

Demeter went on to have a great career, his best seasons coming with Philadelphia in 1962 and 1963, when he hit a total of 51 homers, had another three-homer game and produced 190 runs.

In 11 seasons, Demeter hit 163 home runs playing for five teams. He played 266 consecutive games without error as an outfielder with the Phillies and Detroit Tigers, a major-league record at the time. (He made mistakes when he played third and first.)

Demeter’s outfield streak ended on an odd note with the Tigers in a July 1965 road game against the Kansas City Athletics.

“They had dogs trained to run with bases in their mouths between the sleeves,” he told Oklahoma newspaper The Shawnee News-Star long afterward. “A line practice hit me and they thought I caught it, so the infield team let the dogs run free on the field. I got the ball and threw it to second base to hold the runner back, and the dog went through the legs of our shortstop Dick McAuliffe. Dick looked at the dog and missed the ball I threw at him, bringing the runner forward, and they gave me the error.

Donald Lee Demeter was born June 25, 1935 in Oklahoma City, one of four children of Lewis Demeter, a painting contractor, and his wife, Ailene.

Don played the outfield on a state championship high school team. An avid Baptist, he was offered a sports scholarship from Oklahoma Baptist University, but refused to sign with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in 1953 for a bonus of $ 800 (the equivalent of about $ 8,300 today ‘hui).

Demeter slowly progressed through the Dodgers’ vast farming system and was finally called up by Brooklyn in September 1956 after making 41 home runs for the Fort Worth Cats of the Texas League.

Facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Ebbets Field as a pinch hitter in his major league debut, Demeter struck out three called-up strikes by their outstanding southpaw Vinegar Bend Mizell.

“I was so thrilled to have a Brooklyn uniform,” he told The News-Star. “I didn’t want to embarrass myself swinging and missing the ball. I stayed awake most of the night thinking that if I ever hit again, I was going to swing.

The next day, striking once more, Demeter hit a home run against Cards left-hander Don Liddle. “I thought I was already in heaven,” he recalls.

Demeter’s reputation as a minor league slugger was duly noted in the clubhouse.

“When I got to the end of the game,” he told the Oklahoma newspaper in 1999, “some of the reporters there had written on the board ‘Demeter – 59 behind Ruth’.”

But he was not deemed ready for a lasting promotion to the Dodgers. Demeter was back in the minors in 1957 and split his 1958 season between the minor leagues and the Dodgers.

Snider was still a productive hitter during the 1959 Dodgers championship season, but he was hampered by a knee injury and played part of the time in right field, giving Demeter a chance to run through the cavernous central field of the Colosseum. .

After his stint with the Dodgers, Phillies and Tigers, Demeter played for the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians. He retired after the 1967 season with a career batting average of 0.265.

Demeter, whose death has been confirmed by a grandson, Cole Cleveland, is survived by his wife, Betty (Madole) Demeter; one son, Russ; one daughter, Jill Cleveland; his sisters Betty Ragan and Delores Mohr; and many grandchildren and great grandchildren. Her son Todd, who played in the minor leagues, died of cancer in 1996.

After quitting baseball, Demeter owned a swimming pool installation business. In his later years, he was the founder and long-time pastor of Grace Community Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.

In September 2014, longtime Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, who arrived in Oklahoma City to mark the Dodgers joining their RedHawks of the Pacific Coast League, was cited by the Oklahoman as calling Demeter “a Dodger on hand. in part ”.

“He’s a preacher now, someone who helps save people’s souls,” Lasorda added. “What I’m trying to do is stop people from taking root for other teams.”

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