SABR

Pete Daley

This article was written by John F. Green.

Catcher Pete Daley played in seven major-league seasons, including five with the Red Sox backing up Sammy White. In 233 games behind the bat for Boston, his defensive skills earned him a fielding percentage of .996; in 1,005 total chances, he was charged with only four errors. Despite irregular playing time with Boston the 6-foot, 195-pound right-hand hitter batted .245 (160-for-653), with 11 home runs and 78 RBIs.

Twice in his Red Sox career, Daley had four-hit games; by coincidence, both were on the same date. He went 4-for-5 on June 14, 1956, at Fenway Park when Boston edged Cleveland, 10-9; three of his hits came off the offerings of future Hall of Fame hurler Bob Lemon. Exactly three years later, on June 14, 1959 he was a perfect 4-for-4 off Johnny Kucks and Tom Gorman in a 6-1 win over Kansas City. Ironically, in Pete’s other five years in the major leagues, his name never appeared in another June 14 box score.

The elder of two sons of Peter H. and Hannabelle Morrison Daley, Peter Harvey Daley was born on January 14, 1930, in Grass Valley, California, one of the boom towns of the California Gold Rush. Pete's grandfathers were from Cornwall, England (on his father's side), and Nova Scotia (on his mother's side). Both wound up as miners in the Grass Valley area. They mined for gold underground, extracting it from quartz, Pete said. Pete’s father worked in the mines, too, as gold continued to be pumped out of Grass Valley until World War II.  Today the Empire Mine State Historic Park in Grass Valley is a designated historical landmark.

Daley played all sports in high school. “I always liked playing baseball and basketball,” he said1. He was attracted to the catching position early, and played on American Legion and sandlot teams in addition to the Grass Valley High School nine. He was signed to a contract by Red Sox scout Charlie Wallgren in June 1948, and began his professional career that summer with the San Jose Red Sox in the Class C California League, where he batted .225 (36-for-160) in 47 games. He hit two home runs and had 16 RBIs for the seventh-place club.

He was invited to spring training by the Red Sox in 1949, and said he was “scared to death,” adding, “Especially where I came from out of Grass Valley. I graduated from a high school class of about 105. I couldn’t name you three clubs in the big leagues in those days.” He was sent to Roanoke of the Class B Piedmont League, and responded by hitting .295 in 121 games. He put up power numbers, too, with 26 doubles, 5 triples, and 17 home runs. The extra-base knocks, the 129 hits and the 437 at-bats turned out to be the high marks in Pete’s 13 years as a professional. His play at Roanoke was rewarded with selection to the circuit’s All-Star team.

Pete started the 1950 campaign with Scranton in the Class A Eastern League, and in midseason was moved up to Louisville, the top rung in Boston’s farm system, when regular catcher Bob Scherbarth was sidelined with an ankle injury. Concurrently, veteran catcher Buddy Rosar of the parent Red Sox was dispatched to the American Association club to assume a dual role as Daley’s tutor and emergency backup. The youngster performed well, batting .263 in 62 games, with four home runs and 31 RBIs, topping his 35-game totals at Scranton (.243, 2, 22). It appeared the 20-year-old was on the fast track to Fenway Park.

Uncle Sam intervened, however; Daley was drafted and spent 1951 and 1952 in the Army. He took basic training at Camp Roberts, California, and from there was sent to Japan to finish his tour of duty. After his discharge in 1953, he married Evelyn Fesmire of Grass Valley. Scout Charlie Wallgren served as Pete’s best man, and the marriage produced another generation of Daleys, two boys and two girls.

Resuming his baseball career at Louisville in 1953, Daley played in 84 games and batted .256. Piloted by Mike Higgins, who later managed the Red Sox, the Colonels finished in third place. Daley remained with Louisville in 1954, a most rewarding season. The club ended the campaign in second place, then knocked off pennant-winning Indianapolis in the league playoffs, and in the Little World Series defeated Syracuse of the International League. For the season, Pete batted .275 in 115 games, with nine home runs and 62 RBIs, and was named to the American Association All-Star team.

In 1955 Daley went to spring training with the Red Sox, had a good camp, and made the Opening Day roster. (Mike Higgins had also been promoted to the Red Sox.) Pete made his major-league debut on May 3 in the ninth inning of the season’s 20th game; he struck out as a pinch-hitter in a 4-2 loss to the Tigers. Three weeks later, he cracked the starting lineup in the second game of a doubleheader in Baltimore. The Red Sox won, 5-2, behind right-hander Ike Delock’s five-hitter, and Daley recorded his first big-league hit, a second-inning single off the Orioles’ Don Johnson. He was 1-for-4 in the game.

But backing up the durable Sammy White, Pete started behind the plate in just 10 games, seven of which were the back half of doubleheaders. In his rookie season, Daley batted .220 (11-for-50) with two doubles, a triple, and five RBIs. The club won 84 games, lost 70, and finished fourth, 12 games behind the first place Yankees in Higgins’ first season as manager.

Daley caught in 57 games in 1956. White played in 114 games, batted .245, hit five home runs, and knocked in 44 runs, while Daley turned in what would be his most productive year with Boston: .267, 5 homers, and 29 RBIs. The club duplicated its record of the previous campaign: 84-70 and fourth place. The first of Daley’s 18 major-league home runs (11 with the Red Sox) came on April 21 at Yankee Stadium. He replaced White defensively in the seventh inning, and came to bat in the eighth with Boston trailing 9-8. His two-run shot off Jim Konstanty put the Red Sox ahead, but New York rallied for five runs in the bottom of the inning to seal its 14-10 victory.

A series of multihit games highlighted Daley’s 1956 season. On May 20 in a 12-5 win over the White Sox at Comiskey Park, he batted in five runs with a grand slam and a double. The five RBIs were his career best, and the grand slam was the only one he hit in the big leagues. It came off a pitch delivered by Dick Donovan, who five years later teamed with Pete as the Opening Day battery for the expansion Washington Senators.

On June 12, in a 9-7 home win over Cleveland, he was 3-for-3, with two singles, a home run, a walk, and two RBIs. The four-bagger was surrendered by Early Wynn. Two days later, Daley had the first of two career four-hit games as Boston bested the Indians in a 10-9 slugfest. On July 27, Comiskey Park was the scene of another three-hit performance as Pete batted in two runs in a 4-3 Red Sox squeaker over the White Sox. The following day, he had three safeties in a 13-1 rout of Chicago. At Briggs Stadium on August 2, one of his two hits was a homer off Jim Bunning as Boston triumphed, 18-3.

Yankee left hander Whitey Ford beat the Red Sox, 5-3, on September 5 at Fenway Park, but Daley touched him for a home run, triple, and single. In the season finale on September 30 in New York, Daley ended on a high note with a 3-for-4 day in a 7-4 victory over the Yankees. Three of the five homers he hit in 1956 came off future Hall of Famers: Ford, Wynn, and Bunning.

The 1957 race saw the Red Sox move up to third place (82-72), as the Yankees captured the flag for the third straight season. The Boston backstops slumped badly at the plate. White batted .215, and Daley wasn’t much better; in 78 games he hit .225. Each had three home runs, and Sammy led Pete in RBIs, 31 to 25.

The first week of September was the high mark in Daley’s 1957 season. On September 4 at Yankee Stadium in an 11-inning game interrupted for 61 minutes by a rainstorm, Pete was inserted as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning against Whitey Ford. He singled in two runs for a 5-3 Red Sox lead, but New York responded with a pair of runs to tie the score in the bottom of the inning. Then, in the 11th, Daley’s two-run homer off Tommy Byrne provided a 7-5 victory. Two days later in Boston, his walk-off double plated the winning tally in a 4-3 win over Baltimore. The next day, the Orioles’ Connie Johnson took a 2-0 lead into the seventh inning, when Daley homered with a man on to knot the score, and five batters later Frank Malzone hit a bases-loaded single for two more runs. Boston held on for another 4-3 triumph.

Daley’s strong finish coupled with White’s subpar season indicated increased playing time for the backup in 1958, but it didn’t happen. Pete started the first four games of the year, but had only one single in his first eight at-bats. White took over as the starter in the fifth game and remained there until May 1, when the Red Sox traded rookie infielder Ken Aspromonte to Washington for Washington catcher Lou Berberet. The left-handed-hitting Berberet had averaged .261 in successive seasons with the Senators, and was expected to add some punch to the Boston lineup. His acquisition relegated Daley to third-string status, and either White or Berberet started every game until late August.

Pete’s only game action came in late-inning situations as a defensive replacement or as a pinch-hitter. On August 24, though, he started the first game of a doubleheader at Fenway Park and had a big day with three hits, three runs scored, and three RBIs in a 14-3 pummeling of the Kansas City Athletics. Frank Sullivan was the complete-game victor on the hill, and five days later, Pete caught the big right-hander in a 5-2 win over the Orioles. Daley’s offensive explosion included a triple, a home run, and four RBIs. In a 7-2 loss to Baltimore the following day, he stroked three hits off Milt Pappas. In a 4-1 loss in a game he started on September 18 in Kansas City, his homer was the lone Red Sox run off A’s hurler Bud Daley (no relation).

The Red Sox finished the 1958 season in third place for the second straight year with a 79-75 won-lost mark, 13 games behind New York. The club’s catchers posted mixed results: The veteran White batted .259 in 102 games, Berberet .210 in 57 games, and Daley .321 (18-for-56) in just 27 games, with two homers and eight RBIs. In December, Berberet was traded to Detroit for pitcher Herb Moford.

In 1959 Boston had a miserable season, finishing out of the first division for the first time in seven years. With the team mired in the cellar on July 2 with a 31-42 won-lost record, manager Higgins was fired. Former major-league infielder and coach Billy Jurges took over as pilot on July 4 and the Red Sox climbed from the basement to finish in fifth place by winning 44 of its final 80 games. White played in 119 games and batted .284, his final season in a Boston uniform. Daley was used in 65 games and slipped to .225, with a lone homer and 11 RBIs. Again his playing time came in spurts. On May 15, White injured his back on the basepaths, and his backup started the next 13 games. The club won six and dropped seven, and Daley batted .235 (12-for-51) during that stretch. He had three hits in an 8-3 loss to Washington on May 24, and two days later in New York he batted in four runs with two hits and a sacrifice fly in a 12-2 Red Sox drubbing of the Yankees.

Daley was busy in June: from the 4th until the 28th he started 17 of 24 games and hit .228 (13-for-57). His only home run of the season came on June 13 in a 6-1 victory over Kansas City. The Red Sox won the next day by the same score and Daley was 4-for-4 -- a double and three singles -- for the second time in his big-league career. Then, after Jurges succeeded Higgins as manager, Pete started only four games, the last one on July 28. He played as a late-inning replacement in just 11 games in the season’s final two months, and had just one hit in 10 at-bats. On December 3, he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics for pitcher Tom Sturdivant.

With the A’s in 1960, Daley recorded major-league highs for a single season in five categories: 228 at-bats, 60 hits, 89 total bases, 41 strikeouts, and 5 pinch hits (in 14 at-bats). Kansas City won only 58 games and finished in the cellar. Skipper Bob Elliott’s roster was dotted with familiar names, several playing out the string as major leaguers and others on their way to future notoriety with other clubs as players and managers.

Pete had some noteworthy days with the A’s, beginning with a doubleheader loss to Cleveland on May 1. He was used as a pinch-hitter in both games, and doubled each time for his first hits of the season. In his first start, on May 10, he caught Dick Hall’s 10-0 whitewashing of Baltimore. On June 15, batting for former Red Sox teammate Leo Kiely with the Athletics down 7-4 in the 12th inning, he hit a two-run pinch homer in the bottom of the inning off the Yankees’ Ryne Duren. (The a game was called off in the 13th with the score tied because of rain.) When Baltimore beat Kansas City, 9-3, on July 19, Pete’s three-run homer off Chuck Estrada prevented a shutout. He belted another three-run shot off ex-batterymate Ike Delock on August 1 when the A’s outlasted the Red Sox, 10-8, in 10 innings.

On August 7 it was a “Daley Double” for the Athletics. Left-hander Bud Daley threw a complete-game 13-3 win over the Yankees in the second game of a doubleheader; Pete Daley contributed a pair of hits and an RBI. Two days later, the veteran backstop had two more hits in Don Larsen’s only victory of the season, an 8-3 decision over Washington. Pete hit home runs in consecutive games on September 25 and 26; a two-run round-tripper off Frank Lary gave the A’s a short-lived lead over Detroit, and the next day he hit a solo shot off Carl Mathias as Bud Daley beat Cleveland, 6-1. In the season finale, on October 2, the A’s beat the Tigers, 2-1. Daley batted in both runs with a single and a double; it was his final game with Kansas City. On December 14, the new Washington Senators claimed Pete in the American League expansion draft.

Opening Day on April 10, 1961, was huge in Washington. The American League expanded to 10 teams and played a 162-game schedule that season, and the brand-new Senators hosted the Chicago White Sox. Pete Daley was in the Senators’ starting lineup and President John F. Kennedy tossed out the ceremonial first pitch before a sold-out crowd of 27,550 (26,725 paid). Chicago edged Washington, 4-3, in a loosely-played game tainted by four Senators errors.

As was to be expected, the new club’s inaugural season was a tough one; under rookie manager Mickey Vernon, the Senators won 61 games, lost 100, and tied Kansas City for ninth place. Composed of aging veterans and untested rookies, the Senators struggled all season. After beginning the season as the starting receiver, Daley saw his playing time reduced by the emergence of Gene Green, who played in 110 games (79 as catcher), batted .280, hit 18 homers, and drove in 62 runs.

On May 13, Pete caught Tom Sturdivant’s one-hit, 4-0 gem against the Red Sox and laced a pair of hits. The following day, Washington swept a doubleheader from Boston, 3-0 and 4-1. Daley caught both games, and in the ninth inning of the nightcap he tripled and scored the winning run on a bases-loaded walk. A pair of one-run wins over the Yankees followed and the resulting five-game winning streak was the high point of the 1961 season for Washington.

Losing skeins were the norm, however. The Senators suffered through a pair of 10-game streaks, and at another juncture lost 14 straight. One wild game demonstrated the club’s plight: On June 18 at Fenway Park, Daley homered in the sixth inning to put the Senators up, 7-3. Washington took a 12-5 lead into the ninth, but Boston rallied for eight runs in the bottom half for a 13-12 win. All the Red Sox’ scoring came with two men out.

Daley made his final start of the year on September 29 in left-hander Pete Burnside’s 2-0, two-hit win over Kansas City. On October 1 Daley made his last appearance in a major-league game, catching the last inning of a 3-2 loss to the A’s. Daley’s numbers for the 1961 season resulted in a .192 batting average (39-for-203) in 72 games, with 2 home runs and 17 RBIs.

Washington shook up its roster of receivers after the 1961 season. Green was traded to Cleveland in October, and in December the Senators acquired catcher Bob Schmidt in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds. In spring training in 1962, Schmidt was designated as the starter, with left-hand-hitting Ken Retzer ticketed for the No. 2 position. Daley became expendable, and on April 2 he was optioned to Toronto, a Triple-A club in the International League. Five days later, he was sold outright to the Maple Leafs and, after he played in six games, Toronto sent him to Raleigh, North Carolina, the Senators’ affiliate in the Class B Carolina League, where he batted .268 (51-for-190) in 67 games, with 7 home runs and 29 RBIs. On October 18, 1962, Pete Daley’s baseball career came to its end when he was released by Washington.

In seven big-league seasons Daley played in 391 games, batted .239, hit 18 homers and batted in 120 runs. One can only speculate what effect the two years of military service in the early 1950s had on his baseball career.

After baseball Pete took over management of a 60-lane bowling alley and pro shop in the Boston area, and remained in that position for three years. In 1965 the Daley family moved to California and located in the Los Angeles area, where Pete became a salesman of health and beauty aids, calling on major retail chains in Southern California. His wife, Evelyn, died in 1976 after undergoing kidney surgery. On May 20, 1979, Pete married the former Carol J. Wheelwright; the couple moved to a comfortable community northwest of Los Angeles.

There is still some “Red Sox Nation” in Pete Daley; his automobile is embellished with a most thoughtful gift from his daughter: the personalized California license plate reads: “X RED SOX.”

 

Sources

Thanks to Alan Pierce and Edith Pierce.

 

Notes

1 All quotes in this biography are from two interviews conducted with the subject, the first by Bill Nowlin on November 8, 2008, and the second by John Green on November 18, 2008.

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