This article was written by Doug Engelman
For young Dickie Cole, growing up in Southern California in the 1930s, dreams of becoming a major leaguer must have seemed as distant as the nearest big-league team, the St. Louis Cardinals, half a country away. Lying on the living-room floor and listening to France Laux doing the Cardinal games on KMOX radio in St. Louis, he could only imagine the sights and sounds of a major-league ballpark. But dreams of a big-league career do come true. Cole’s baseball career spanned nearly six decades. After 16 seasons as a player, he remained in the game into the second decade of the 21st century as been a minor-league manager, major-league coach, and a highly respected scout. Cole was valued for his versatility in the field and his studious approach to the game. He played every infield position during his major-league career: 169 games at shortstop, 118 games at second base, 107 games at third base, and two appearances at first base. At 87 years old in 2013, Cole was still active, scouting for the San Francisco Giants organization. It seems dreams do come true!
Richard Roy Cole was born on May 6, 1926, in Long Beach, California, the first of two sons born to Almer and Gertrude (Jones) Cole. His parents were transplants to the Los Angeles area; his father’s family migrated from Nebraska and his mother’s family from Illinois. They met in California and married in 1924. In the busy and rapidly expanding port city, Almer worked as a salesman and deliveryman for a bread company; Gertrude was a secretary for a fruit-juice company. An athletic youngster, Cole was fixture on the sandlots of Long Beach. In June 1943 he graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School, where he was a standout shortstop, equally adroit with the glove and bat. That August, at only 17, Cole was signed to his first professional contract, by St. Louis Cardinals scout Bob Hughes. On August 25, 1943, he began his professional career playing third base for the Sacramento Solons, the Cardinals’ minor-league affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. In his first professional game, according to the account in The Sporting News, “Cole singled and scored a run as the Solons bowed to the Padres, 7-4. In the field, he muffed one of three chances, and started a twin-killing.” Cole recalled in an interview with the author the frustrating beginning to his professional career, “Our record was 1-14. Nippy Jones (later a major-league first baseman) was on that team, too. He was only 18. I had to hitchhike home from Sacramento, because as a Double-A player, I was broke.”
During the offseason, Cole, along with eight other Solon players, was reassigned to the Columbus Redbirds of the Double-A American Association, another Cardinals farm team. Early in the 1944 season he was demoted to the Allentown Cardinals of the Class B Interstate League. At Allentown he batted .281 in 97 games. Like many other ballplayers of that era, Cole found his career interrupted by World War II. In June 1944 he passed an Army physical, and in August he was inducted. (Just before his last game the fans at an Allentown game took up a collection and gave him $138.80.) In 1945, after completing basic training, Cole was sent to Camp Roberts in Southern California, where he played several games alongside future Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr.
Cole was discharged in 1946, and on June 17, 1946 he rejoined Columbus. Shaking off the rust from two years of military duty, he hit .241 in 37 games with the Red Birds. He began the 1947 season with the Omaha Cardinals of the Class A Western League. Blocked from playing by a logjam in the middle infield, Cole was shipped to the Fresno Cardinals of the Class C California League. There he batted a career-high .386 and led the league in batting.
Considered tall for a middle infielder, the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Cole went to spring training with the Cardinals several times but spent five years shuttling between Columbus, Omaha, and the Rochester Red Wings of the International League. Though he never came close to matching his unexpected hitting success with Fresno (his batting average fluctuated between .236 and .297 between 1948 and 1952), Cole was thought of as a “wizard with the glove.” In 1951 he went north with the Cardinals, and made his major-league debut on April 27 when he was inserted as a pinch-runner in the fifth inning, then replaced Marty Marion at shortstop. In the eighth he got his first at-bat, walking and later scoring on Stan Musial’s fly ball. He played in 15 games, ten of them as a starter at second base, and batter.194 (7-for-36). On June 15 he was sent to the Pittsburgh Pirates as part of a seven-player trade. (One of the Cardinals traded along with him was Joe Garagiola.) The Pirates optioned Cole to Indianapolis in the American Association, where he batted .297 in 57 games, playing only shortstop. He was recalled by the Pirates in August and started 31 games at second base and eight at shortstop over the last seven weeks of the season, batting .236.
Sent to the Hollywood Stars in 1952, Cole played in 178 games and batted .286 as the Stars won the PCL pennant. With Hollywood Cole encountered manager Fred Haney, who would have a major impact on his playing career. The next season he made the Pirates’ roster, and spent the next four years with the club. Cole was a versatile and solid defender, starting at every infield position during his tenure with the Pirates. Primarily a spot starter and defensive replacement, he was a steady but unspectacular infielder for the hapless Pirates, with a .253 batting average.
Cole’s finest season as a major leaguer was in 1954. Appearing in 138 games, he had starts at second base, shortstop and third base and batted .270 with 22 doubles, five triples, and one home run. Though fleet of foot, he grounded into 20 double plays, the second-highest total in the National League. Cole’s home run, his second and last in the majors, came off the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Carl Erskine.
In 1955 Cole lost playing time to Dick Groat who returned to the shortstop position after a stint in the military and to 21-year-old, hard-hitting Gene Freese at third base. Then, in early April 1957, Cole was traded to the Milwaukee Braves even up for utilityman Jim Pendleton, and went from the basement to the penthouse as the Braves won the National League pennant and the World Series over the New York Yankees.
The story of Cole’s trade to the Braves shows how closely his fate was tied to manager Fred Haney. In 1952 when Cole was promoted from Hollywood to the Pirates, Haney, his manager with the Stars, also moved up to Pittsburgh, as the manager. By 1957 Haney was managing the Braves, and helped engineer the trade for Cole. Haney had taken a liking to Cole at Hollywood. More than 60 years after their first encounter, Cole was unable to explain why. Perhaps it was his maturity (he was 26 in 1952) or his versatility, he surmised. “I was Fred Haney’s little ‘Bobo,’ ” he told sportswriter Jack Heyde. “I guess Fred liked the fact that I worked hard and was a student of the game. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I could play all of the infield positions pretty well.”
At the end of May Cole was optioned to Triple-A Wichita, then was recalled on June 23. After playing in eight games, primarily as a defensive replacement, he was sent back to Wichita in late July when the Braves called up Bob Hazle. Hazle went on to bat .403 for the Braves in their pennant drive. Cole remained with Wichita, batting .331 in 52 games as Wichita won the American Association pennant. When the Braves expanded their roster in September, they called up infielder Harry Hanebrink and pitchers Phil Paine and Carl Willey, but Cole never made it back to the big leagues.
In 1958 the 32-year-old Cole hoped for another chance to reach the majors and signed with the unaffiliated Sacramento Solons of the Pacific Coast League. His major-league experience and versatility made him a valuable asset, and he hit .280 for the year. The following year, Cole was reunited with his former Cardinals manager, Marty Marion, who was president of the Houston Buffs of the Texas League. Marion had signed Cole along with several other former big leaguers, eyeing a spot for the Buffs in the planned Continental League. Backed by New York attorney William Shea, the league was conceived as a third major league; Shea’s motive was to get another team in New York to replace the departed Dodgers and Giants. Marion and his former big leaguers hoped that this was their opportunity to get back to the majors. After Major League Baseball subsequently announced expansion in 1961 for the American League and 1962 for the National League (including the New York Mets), the Continental League lost its support and folded before it could get started.
After the season in Houston, Cole retired with his wife, Katherine, and their four children, and transitioned into coaching. In 1961 he became part of what some baseball observers consider one of the greatest oddities in major-league managerial history; the Chicago Cubs’ “College of Coaches,” instituted by Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley. Cole was one of 11 coaches listed on the roster of the 1961 Cubs. However, he was not one of the principal coach-managers. Along with his rotation as field coach for the big-league club, Cole spent time managing two Cubs farm teams, Wenatchee of the Class B Northwest League and St. Cloud of the Class C Northern League. He was instrumental in the careers of two future stars. “I was sent to work with (future Hall of Famer) Lou Brock on his bunting, and I was the one who moved Kenny Hubbs from shortstop to second base,” Cole said. The next year with the Cubs Hubbs was the National League Rookie of the Year.” Cole was one of a four-manager rotation along with Rube Walker, Bobby Adams, and Vedie Himsl. He was the only one of the four not to serve a rotation as manager of the Cubs. His stint with the Cubs lasted just one year, and the College of Coaches concept was abandoned after the 1962 season.
In 1962 Cole took the reins of the Auburn Mets of the Class D New York-Pennsylvania League. Still only 36, with a lot of baseball left in him, Cole was one of four designated player-managers in the league that year. However, he had no appearances as a player. That season Cole enjoyed his greatest success as a manager with the New York Mets affiliate. After a third-place finish (62-57) in the regular season, Cole led the team to the league championship and was named Manager of the Year. The following season the league was elevated to Class A status; the club finished in first place, posting a 76-54 record, but lost in the first round of the playoffs. By the late 1960s Cole was back in the Pirates organization; he managed in the Rookie League with the Gulf Coast Pirates in 1970 and tutored Dave Parker in his first year of professional baseball.
Cole began his scouting career in with the Pirates. In 1971 he was named scouting supervisor and held that role for the next three seasons. In 1974, after escalating player salaries placed significant financial burdens on major-league organizations, baseball’s Central Scouting Bureau, now called the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau, was founded. Seventeen participating clubs, including the Pirates, contributed some of their best scouts to the combine. Cole was one of the initial 56 scouts who formed the bureau, earning the Scout of the Month designation in December 1976.
As of 2013 he resided in Costa Mesa, California, with his second wife, Ada, and continued to work in various scouting capacities with the San Francisco Giants. As of 2013, Dick Cole had spent all but 17 of his 87 years as a part of professional baseball. In 2008 he was honored by his hometown with induction into the Long Beach Baseball Hall of Fame. He is a member of his high-school athletic hall of fame. In a phone interview with one of the authors, he said, “I dreamed of being a major-league ballplayer, and everything I wanted came true for me.” Recalling highlights from his career, Cole said: “Henry Aaron said I was the worst batting practice pitcher he ever faced.”
Who wouldn’t love to make that claim?
Last revised: July 1, 2013
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.
Telephone interview with Dick Cole conducted by Doug Engelman on February 11, 2013.
 The Sporting News, September 2, 1943, 23.
 The Sporting News, August 26, 1943.
 Telephone interview with Dick Cole on February 11, 2013. All quotations from Cole are from this interview unless otherwise noted.
 The Sporting News, June 29, 1944, 24.
 The Sporting News, August 10, 1944, 22.
 The Sporting News, March 21, 1951, 19.
 Jack Heyde, Pop Flies and Line Drives; Visits With Players from Baseball’s “Golden Era” (Victoria, British Columbia: Trafford Publishing, 2004), 75.
 The Sporting News, November 17, 1962, 16.
 The Sporting News, April 4, 1962, 31.
 The Sporting News, August 22, 1970, 44.
 The Sporting News, October 12, 1974, 18.
 The Sporting News, December 4, 1976, 17.