Ray Shearer

This article was written by Bill Johnson.

On the last day of the 1957 season, Sunday, September 29, the Milwaukee Braves entered their final home game against the Cincinnati Redlegs as National League champions after clinching the pennant a week earlier. At the end of six innings the game was a scoreless tie, and when the visiting Redlegs plated three runs in the top of the ninth, overcoming Milwaukee’s manufactured runs in the seventh and eighth innings, the Braves could have scarcely been faulted if they’d conceded the contest rather than continue the fight through to the final out. 

In the bottom of the ninth, a Joe Adcock single prompted manager Fred Haney to substitute Mel Roach as a pinch-runner, and it became apparent that, even with nothing but pride at stake, the team was simply not going to give up. One out later, an outfielder recently called-up, 28-year-old Ray Shearer, stepped in to pinch-hit for catcher Carl Sawatski, and singled to right field off Cincinnati relief pitcher Bill Kennedy. With two outs, Red Schoendienst singled, scoring Roach and moving Shearer to second. Felix Mantilla then ended the game with a single that pushed Shearer across the plate.

Shearer’s hit and subsequent run, decisive acts in an otherwise meaningless game on the final day of a regular season already decided, marked both the apex and the end of his major-league career. The base hit left Shearer with the unusual career batting average of .500, and it afforded him a slice of baseball immortality in a small role with the world champion Braves. 

Ray Solomon Shearer, Jr. was born on September 19, 1929, the first child to 19-year-old Ray and 16-year-old Katie (Herman) Shearer, in the borough of Jacobus, Pennsylvania. An outstanding scholastic athlete, the boy excelled at baseball and football at the elite levels in his area, and even spent two seasons with the York City Junior American Legion squads in 1944 and 1945. By the time of his high-school graduation as a multisport star, he had enough confidence in his own abilities that he declined a contract offer from the Phillies in order to play football on scholarship at nearby Gettysburg College.[1] 

A car trip between Gettysburg and Jacobus is less than 35 miles, yet for a young man experiencing his first separation from home, it seemed much longer. At the time, just after World War II, the level of telecommunications technology meant that while the actual distance was short, a direct phone call home was impossible. In York there were only a few switchboard operators for the entire community, and they were almost exclusively female, so over the span of Ray’s college phone calls home he naturally became acquainted with them. Norman Stoner’s daughter Joan was one of those operators, and she and Ray got along so well that on September 26, 1952, they were married.[2] The union was both happy and productive. In addition to remaining married for the rest of Ray’s life, the couple had four children, daughters Roxanne and Jami and sons Scott and Randy.

After college Shearer finally chose baseball, and signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers as an amateur free agent before the 1950 season. He was dispatched to the lowest level of the organization, the Sheboygan Indians of the Class D Wisconsin State League. There, under the guidance of his manager, former slugger Joe Hauser, Shearer proved the wisdom of the Dodgers’ scouting team and showed his slugging potential, by leading the league in hits (160), RBIs (137), and home runs (30), all while batting .317 in 124 games.[3] That squad finished the year in second place, and Shearer was named to the league All-Star team as an outfielder.

He followed that success with a promotion to the Class B Asheville Tourists (Tri-State League), and helped the team to a second-place finish after losing in a four-game sweep) to the Spartanburg Peaches in the 1951 championship series. He was promoted for the 1952 season, this time to Class A and the Pueblo Dodgers, and again in 1953 when he made the jump to the Mobile Bears of the Double-A Southern Association. Although the Bears finished more than 20 games behind the league champion Memphis, the 6-foot, 200-pound Shearer was selected to the league All-Star team in the outfield. He spent the next season, 1954, and much of 1955 with Mobile before earning a seven-game call-up to Triple-A and the Montreal Royals. 

Shearer experienced his first setback in 1956 when the Dodgers assigned him to the Fort Worth Cats of the Double-A Texas League after spring training. On June 15 Blackie Sherrod wrote a story on the slugging Cats in The Sporting News, noting that Shearer was among the team leaders in homers. Within a few weeks, however, on July 4, the Braves orchestrated a deal with Brooklyn that brought Shearer into the Milwaukee organization in exchange for outfielder Jim Frey. After the trade Shearer remained in the Texas League and simply changed into the uniform of the Austin Senators. A few weeks later, on August 2, he confirmed his value when he hit a three-run homer with two out in the ninth that enabled Austin to defeat Shreveport, 9-7.[4] On August 24 he became the first Austin player that season to homer twice in a single game, and according to The Sporting News he continued his slugging heroics throughout the winter with Leones del Escogido, a team that, under manager Red Davis, defeated the Tigres del Licey for the 1956 Dominican Winter League crown. 

After eight seasons in the minor leagues, years in which he batted over .300 three times and had shown a power stroke with 26 home runs in 1956 and 29 in 1957 (the latter with Wichita in the Triple-A American Association), the Braves summoned Shearer to the majors as their 1957 pennant run neared conclusion. He made three plate appearances for Milwaukee that September. The first two came in his major-league debut, on September 18, against the New York Giants. He started the game as the left fielder and struck out in his first at-bat against Johnny Antonelli in the bottom of the second inning. He followed that with a walk in the fourth before giving way to pinch-hitter Wes Covington in the fifth inning. His only other appearance, on September 29, yielded his lone major-league hit. 

The following spring the Braves returned Ray to Wichita to start the season, but his batting average dipped below .300 and he hit only 18 home runs. At 28 Shearer was already beginning to show the effects of age in the boys’ game. In 1959 he was traded to Cincinnati, which assigned him to the Double-A Nashville Volunteers. Shearer batted .320 at Nashville to lead the team that season, and late in the year was sent to help the Triple-A Havana Sugar Kings of the International League. In Game Three of the league championship series against Minneapolis, Shearer “put on a one man show … as Havana beat Minneapolis 3-2 in ten innings and took a 2-1 lead in baseball’s Little World Series. The Havana right fielder singled home a run in the eighth to tie the score, 2-2, got off a beautiful throw to third on Stu Lockwood’s single in the top of the tenth that put down Minneapolis’s Carl Yastrzemski trying to go from first to third, and singled home Tony Gonzalez with the winning run in the last of the 10th with two out.”[5] 

In 1960 the Reds returned him to Triple-A, again southward to Cuba. With the country in the midst of Fidel Castro’s revolution, the US State Department coerced Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick to direct the relocation of the Havana team to New Jersey, and the Sugar Kings became the Jersey City Jerseys during that season. The team’s relocation did not help Shearer’s bat, as he and the Reds watched his average fall to .261. The aging outfielder split the 1961 season with Triple-A squads in the New York Yankees’ and Cleveland Indians’ organizations, and in 1962 he split his season at the Class A level with the York White Roses (Eastern League) and the Augusta Yankees (South Atlantic League). Despite hitting .344 in his brief stint with Augusta, time and competition had corralled the slugger. Not only was he battling with himself to try to regain his old hitting stroke, but he was competing with the likes of Tony Oliva and Richie Allen in this league, the new generation of superstar hitters who were ascending their career ladders.

Ray Shearer retired from baseball after the 1962 season, days before his 33rd birthday. He had earned a shot at the big leagues, and boasted a 13-year minor league record of 204 home runs and a .288 batting average in 1,614 games. In his first job out of baseball, he worked for American Machine and Foundry as a maintenance supervisor, a job that allowed him to play for the corporate softball team. Within a few years, using Ray as player and coach, the York AMF softball team was playing so well that it won three consecutive Pennsylvania State Industrial championships, in 1967, 1968, and 1969. After his job at AMF, and now approaching his 40s, Shearer took a job with UPS for a time before settling into a driving position with Preston Trucking. 

In the mid-1970s, although only 46 years old and without warning, Shearer suffered a heart attack. He recovered, but at age 51 had a second episode, this one resulting in a consultation with cardiac specialists from Johns Hopkins University. According to Ray’s son, Scott, the doctors told the still-young family man that while he might be just over 50 by the calendar, he had the heart muscle of an 81-year-old.[6] On the evening of Friday, February 20, 1982, Ray spent an overdue evening with old friends and acquaintances, sharing memories and – probably – a few laughs. Later that night Ray suffered a final, fatal heart attack. He died the next day in a hospital in York, Pennsylvania, and is buried at the Salem Union Cemetery in Jacobus. Ray Shearer was inducted into the York Area Sports Hall of Fame in Pennsylvania in 1994. 

This biography is included in the book Thar's Joy in Braveland! The 1957 Milwaukee Braves (SABR, 2014), edited by Gregory H. Wolf.

To download the free e-book or purchase the paperback edition, click here.


[1] “George Powell and Ray Shearer Jr. Will Be Inducted on Feb. 9; York Area Hall of Fame Grows By Two,” York Daily Record, January 15, 1994.  

[2] Emails/telephone conversation with Scott Shearer and family, October 25-26, 2012.  

[3] Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, eds., Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, 3rd ed. (Durham, North Carolina: Baseball America, 2007), 446.  

[4] The Sporting News, August 15, 1956.  

[5] “Shearer Stages Power Display: Havana Wins,” Jefferson City (Missouri) Post Tribune, October 2, 1959.  

[6] Shearer conversation, October 25, 2012.


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