SABR

Joe Trimble

This article was written by George Tuetken.

After never losing a baseball game as a pitcher for LaSalle Academy, a high school in Providence, Rhode Island, Joe Trimble went on to play a decade of professional baseball in the minor leagues and briefly in the majors for the Boston Red Sox and later the Pittsburgh Pirates. Though serious injuries ended his professional baseball career only a year later, Trimble was able to find success in the business world and in a wonderful family life, while still getting lots of enjoyment out of sports.

Joseph Gerard Trimble, Jr. was born on October 12, 1930, in Providence, the second child of Joseph G. and Magdalen E. (McCoy) Trimble, who had married in Providence in August of 1927. Both were of Irish descent. Joe and his older sister Magdalen later welcomed another sister, Maureen, and then another brother, William, to the Trimble family.

Though Little League baseball had not reached Rhode Island in the mid-1940s, there were certainly plenty of organized baseball teams for kids to join. Joe began playing Veazie Street Baseball at the playground behind the Veazie Street Elementary School in his neighborhood, and he also played CYO ball for St. Edward’s parish, but it was his outstanding pitching at La Salle Academy from 1946 through 1948 that first brought him into the public eye. La Salle, then an all-male Catholic high school, has produced several Rhode Island governors and US senators.

Trimble pitched a couple of no-hitters, never lost a game, and never allowed more than four hits in a game that he pitched for the La Salle Rams. The Providence Journal reported that on May 4, 1948, “while displaying a blazing fastball and a tantalizing curve which he alternated with the skill of a master,” 17-year-old Joe Trimble pitched a perfect game against Central High School. It was reportedly the first nine-inning perfect game by a Rhode Island high-school pitcher. Of the 27 batters he faced, he struck out 19 and did not allow any ball to be hit out of the infield. His RBI single down the third-base line started the scoring in what ended as a 6-0 victory. Joe wasn’t the only star high-school pitcher in tiny Rhode Island in those days, as the local papers reported on some epic battles involving future major leaguers Phil Paine, pitching for Burrillville High School, and Chet Nichols Jr., representing Pawtucket East High School. (Nichols’ father had a six-year major-league career in the 1920s and early ’30s.)

Trimble also starred as a hockey player for La Salle Academy and he continued to love that sport for the rest of his life. Years later, after his baseball career was over, he enjoyed playing a very rugged brand of hockey, mostly as a left wing, well into his 50s. Most of the 11 injury-related operations that he had after high school, however, were on his knees and were the result of playing high-school hockey, though three of the operations were on his pitching arm and two more on his elbow, and those were the ones that shortened his baseball career and made it painful for him to even comb his hair with his right arm as he got older.

Like so many other high-school baseball players, Trimble spent several of his summers playing American Legion baseball, in his case for the Rochambeau Post and later for the Roger Williams Post. In 1946 he was a very young pitcher for the Rochambeau team that won the Legion state championship and went on to the regional Legion Championships in Glens Falls, New York, where the Rhode Islanders eventually lost to the New Jersey team. One of his teammates on that team and on the La Salle Academy team was first baseman Lou Gorman, who was one grade ahead of him and who later became an executive for seven major-league baseball organizations, including the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox.

After graduation from high school in 1948, Trimble was signed to a professional contract by Cincinnati Reds scout Don Burke, who also managed the Providence Grays of the Class B New England League.  In three games Joe posted an 0-2 record for the Grays, who played their home games in Cranston Stadium, before being sent to Lockport, New York, in the Class D Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League. In 1949 he was still with the Lockport Reds and in 17 games with 11 starts and 80 innings that summer he had posted a 5-5 record with a 4.16 earned-run average when he was promoted to the Tyler Trojans of the Class C East Texas League. There Joe was an 18-year-old on a mature pitching staff that included five players between the ages of 29 and 45. In nine games he was able to win only one of his six decisions and had an ERA of 6.61.

Trimble spent the 1950 season in Oklahoma pitching for the Muskogee Reds and ended as the team’s co-leader in games pitched with 33, though he was the youngest pitcher on that team, too. He won 9 games and lost 10 while the Reds won fewer games than any other team in the Western Association that year. (The Joplin Miners, led by 18-year-old Mickey Mantle, won by far the most games.) Trimble pitched 173 innings and lowered his ERA almost two runs per game, to 4.79, but he also began to develop significant arm injuries and was released by Cincinnati before the next season. For a brief time in 1951, he pitched independently for Richmond in the Piedmont League and for Columbia in the South Atlantic League, but his arm only got worse and he left baseball.

The other reason Trimble left was that the North Korean communists had invaded South Korea in June 1950 and with a strong sense of patriotism he enlisted in the US Marine Corps. After training at Parris Island, South Carolina, his first assignment was as a guard at the Brooklyn Navy Yard brig. The war was still going on in 1952, however, when Trimble was shipped to Korea to join the 2nd Regiment of the 1st Marine Division and he served there as a mortarman for nine months until the armistice in July 1953.

By the time Trimble had left the Marines and returned to Rhode Island, his pitching arm had regained its old strength and he wanted to try to resume his baseball career. The Pittsburgh Pirates organization took a chance and signed him as a free agent for the 1954 season. Trimble went to North Carolina, where he pitched in 43 games for the Burlington-Graham Pirates in the Class B Carolina League. He started only 15 of those games, but threw a career-high 185 innings and garnered a career-low 3.02 ERA, while compiling a 9-12 record.

Two other important things happened to Trimble in 1954. In February he married Jennie Moretta, whom he had met at a dance. Their 57-year marriage brought forth three daughters—Jean, Joanne, and Jane—and then two sons—Joseph and John. The other important 1954 event occurred on November 22, when the Boston Red Sox took Trimble in the Rule 5 draft, and he was on the Red Sox’ Opening Day roster in 1955. Clearly the Red Sox had been impressed by his baseball comeback.

Trimble’s first major-league game came against the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park in Chicago on April 29, 1955. Willard Nixon was the starting pitcher for Boston, but by the eighth inning he and a pair of relievers had given a 7-0 lead to Chicago. In the eighth the 24-year-old Trimble, wearing uniform number 44, made an inauspicious debut by walking both center fielder Ed McGhee and pitcher Dick Donovan to bring up the top of the batting order. While Chico Carrasquel was batting, however, McGhee was caught in a rundown for the first out while trying to steal third base. Carrasquel then was Trimble’s third walk of the inning and that brought Nellie Fox up to the plate. Fox had hit one of his rare home runs earlier in the game. Perhaps that had gone to his head and he was trying to hit a second one, because Trimble induced him to fly out to left field, then struck out Minnie Minoso to end the inning and Trimble’s debut.

Nine days later, on May 8 at Fenway Park, the Yankees beat Boston 5-0 in another game started and lost by Willard Nixon. Again Trimble pitched the final inning for the Red Sox. This time he faced infielders Andy Carey, Gil McDougald, and Billy Hunter and got all three to ground out.

Despite his having now pitched two innings in two games while allowing no hits and no runs, the Red Sox returned Trimble to the Pirates three days later, on May 11. For the rest of his life Joe never understood why Boston gave up on him so quickly, though he believed that for some unknown reason manager Pinky Higgins just didn’t like him. The walks at the start of his major-league debut may have shown that Trimble had first-time jitters, but how could anyone be upset about no runs and no hits pitching?

Believing that he wasn’t quite ready for the major leagues even for a last-place team like Pittsburgh, the Pirates sent Trimble to be managed by Bobby Bragan with their Hollywood Stars farm team in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Amazingly, Trimble was one of 18 players who pitched for that 1955 team who had pitched or eventually would pitch in the major leagues. Two of them, however, Jack Lohrke and Dick Smith, were infielders used in emergency relief for a total of three innings. Trimble was one of the best pitchers on the team, posting an 11-4 record and a 3.27 ERA. He started 18 of the 37 games he appeared in and completed eight of them, including two shutouts.

That winter Trimble pitched for the San Juan Senadores in the Liga de Béisbol Profesional de Puerto Rico and he reported that he led the league in both strikeouts and had the league’s best earned-run average. He remained with the Hollywood team for the 1956 season, but injuries significantly curtailed his production. He pitched in only 22 games, though that included 19 starts, six complete games, and one shutout. His ERA rose to 4.40 and his record reversed itself from the previous year to 4-11.

Nonetheless, the Pirates promoted Trimble the following year to the parent club where he rejoined manager Bobby Bragan and stayed with the club all season, though arm problems plagued him much of the time. His National League debut didn’t take place until June 26, when he started the second game of a doubleheader at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Through five innings Pittsburgh was leading 2-0 and Trimble was pitching well, as he had allowed the Cubs only two singles. In the sixth, however, Chuck Tanner led off with a single and Ernie Banks followed with a home run. One out and one single later Trimble was relieved by Roy Face. After 11 innings, it was too dark to continue play and the game ended in a 5-5 tie. A tie was an appropriate way for those two teams to end a game, since they ended their seasons with identical records of 62-92-1. The Cubs and Pirates were tied for last place –33 games behind the pennant-winning Milwaukee Braves.

After only three days of rest, Trimble again started the second game of a doubleheader – this time in Milwaukee against the powerful Braves in what proved to be Trimble’s finest major-league performance. He pitched seven innings, striking out four and walking only one, while allowing only three singles and a solo home run by Hank Aaron. Trimble was taken out for a pinch-hitter in the eighth as the Pirates scored four runs to take a 4-1 lead. Roy Face and then Luis Arroyo came in to relieve him, but were unable to save the win for Trimble and Pittsburgh eventually lost the game in the 13th inning.

Trimble’s third start came on July 5 at the Polo Grounds against the New York Giants. He started off well, allowing only one single in three shutout innings, but then the Giants struck for two-run homers in the fourth and fifth innings and then two solo homers in the sixth inning to give Trimble his first major-league loss. A week later Trimble again faced the Braves—this time in Pittsburgh—when he was brought in to relieve Vernon Law and Roy Face to start the eighth. After one scoreless inning, he allowed a leadoff home run to Johnny Logan in the ninth and then an unearned run before being taken out.

Only two days later, on July 14, Trimble was the starting pitcher in the second game of a doubleheader at Pittsburgh against the Cincinnati Reds. It was the third time in less than three weeks that he had been called upon to start the second game of a doubleheader. He retired the first batter he faced, but then allowed four singles, a walk, a hit batsman, and five runs before manager Bragan brought in Roy Face to replace him. Trimble was charged with his second loss in what proved to be his final major-league appearance. In later days Trimble said his arm was hurting so much that he shouldn’t have been pitching and, in fact, he didn’t pitch anywhere for the rest of the year.

The Pirates sent Trimble to their Salt Lake City team in the Pacific Coast League for the 1958 season. There his 4-4 record kept pace with the Bees’ 77-77 record, but with a constantly sore arm and a 5.83 ERA Joe knew he was no longer a prospect at the age of 27 and he left pro baseball at the end of the year. When he returned to baseball some time later, it was to amateur baseball. In fact, while he was a manager in a Rhode Island amateur league, one of his players for a while was another La Salle Academy baseball star who went on to the majors—Davey Lopes.

Like most professional baseball players before today’s incredible contracts, Joe Trimble spent his offseason time either playing winter ball in the Caribbean, as he did one season, or working other jobs to support himself and his growing family. For a while he worked as an electroplater in Providence, but three days before Christmas 1958 he was hired as a truck driver by the local Coca-Cola plant. Having signed to play baseball right out of high school rather than going to college, and not having learned any useful civilian skills while in the Marines, Trimble wasn’t qualified to do much else. Before long, however, he began taking night-school classes aimed at providing himself with a more promising career. It took quite a few years, but eventually college courses at Bryant College and at Brown University helped him receive promotions from Coca-Cola. He also credited hard work and leadership skills learned both from his years in baseball and from the Marines with helping him to advance.

In the late 1960s Trimble was appointed route manager and then cold drink sales manager. In January 1980 he became known as a troubleshooter and was promoted to division manager for Coca-Cola in Fall River, Massachusetts, where he remained for two years until he was needed for the same position in Worcester, Massachusetts. By July of 1985 he was a vice president and division Manager back in Providence, where he stayed until he retired from Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of New England on October 1, 1991.

Joseph and Jennie Trimble’s youngest child, John, was born with autism, and that led to their long association with the Groden Network, a Rhode Island-based organization dedicated to helping children and adults with autism and related disabilities. Part of that network is the Groden Center, at which John Trimble was one of the first students. In 1980 Joe decided to host a charity golf tournament to raise money for the Groden Network. It proved so successful that for 30 years he continued to be the driving force behind the John Trimble Fund Pro-Am Golf Tournament for Autism, which through 2010 had generated more than a million dollars to help cover the costs of a wide variety of services for families associated with the Groden Network.

Doing so required a lot of dedication and hard work on Joe Trimble’s part, but it was certainly a labor of love for him. He was understandably proud of the tournament’s success and of the many new friendships, including that of Arnold Palmer, that it made for both himself and the Groden Network. In the spring of 2011, Trimble was named a grassroots recipient of a Jefferson Award. (The Jefferson Awards were established by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Senator Robert Taft, and Sam Beard in 1972 “to honor individuals for their achievements and contributions through public and community service, and for their ability to inspire and encourage others to get involved.” The awards have recognized an amazing assortment of people, including Ralph Nader, Betty Ford, Jimmy Carter, Oprah Winfrey, Cesar Chavez, Eunice Shriver, and Paul Newman, as well as many individuals with names no more well known than Joe’s.)

In the summer of 2010 Joe was diagnosed with cancer and, though he spent much of the following year undergoing treatment for it, he lost the battle on August 11, 2011, at the age of 80. His death certificate indicated that tobacco use contributed to his death, the immediate cause of which was metastatic lung cancer. After a Mass in St. Jude’s Church in his adopted town of Lincoln, he was buried with military honors at Resurrection Cemetery in neighboring Cumberland on August 15.

Despite an abbreviated major-league baseball career, Joe Trimble had few regrets about his life. He certainly wished the Red Sox had not given up on him so quickly and he also wished he could have received some of the pampering that modern ballplayers receive for their injuries, instead of the overuse and cortisone shots that he got whenever his pitching arm was sore. But he loved the fact that he had been able to spend so much of his life doing things that he enjoyed, like playing baseball, playing hockey, and playing golf. And he was very proud of his service as a Marine, of the hard work that earned him such success with Coca-Cola, and especially of his contributions to making life somewhat easier for families with autistic children. For a while he also enjoyed participating in giving baseball clinics with other former ballplayers whom he counted among his many friends. But perhaps most of all he was proud of each member of his large family, including his wife, Jennie, his five children, and his seven grandchildren.

 

Sources

Joe Trimble, interviews.

Paul Donovan, Charlie Hogan, Tom Hunt, Richard Pumpel, Joseph G. Trimble, III, Bill Nowlin, Len Levin, and Steven Lawrence, other information

“2011 Jefferson Award Winner: Joseph Trimble,” NBC 10 News, April 12, 2011.

Obituary, Providence Journal, August 12, 2011.

Joe Trimble Family Baseball Collection

Providence Journal, May 5, 1948 through June 1948

State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Certificate of Death, August 12, 2011.

Boston Red Sox 1955 Yearbook

Grodencenter.org

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