This article was written by Bill Nowlin
The name John Lickert flickered momentarily at baseball’s top level. On September 19, 1981, the catcher appeared in half an inning for the Boston Red Sox. The game ended before he stepped into the batter’s box, and though he played on in the minors through 1985, he was never seen again in a big-league box score.
John Wilbur Lickert was born on April 4, 1960, in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, John’s father, Raymond Robert Lickert, an exterminator by trade, died of pneumonia when John was two years old. His wife Margaret was left with three young children — Ray (age 3), John (age 2), and Keith (age 1). Margaret Lickert raised the three boys, helped by her mother, who looked after the children while she worked. Social Security provided additional assistance. About 10 years later, she remarried — to Joe Yogmas, who worked at a Pittsburgh steel mill as a crane operator. Margaret and Joe had met about three years after she had been widowed. A stepsister, Lori, joined the family.
John’s older brother Ray played some baseball in high school, but it didn’t go further than that. Joe Yogmas “took us out of the ghetto and moved us into a nice area,” John recalled in 2020. “That’s how I started to play Little League when I was 9 or 10. My stepfather really got me into playing. I was a pitcher in Little League and high school. The only reason why I caught was because we needed a catcher in high school. I’d pitched all my life.”1
An All-American his last three years at Pittsburgh’s Langley High School, Lickert was a 13th-round draft pick for the Red Sox in the June 1978 amateur draft. He was scouted and signed by Broadway Charlie Wagner. The righty hitter grew to 5-feet-11 and 175 pounds.
Lickert was assigned to play for the 1978 Elmira Pioneers of the Single-A New York-Penn League. Dick Berardino was the manager, With the talent he was furnished, Berardino finished last (21-48) in the league. Lickert appeared in 41 games, catching in 34 of them. He hit .257 but drew 12 walks to boost his on-base percentage to .325. He drove in seven runs.
Promoted in 1979, he played in 112 games for the Carolina League’s Winston-Salem Red Sox, a Single-A team playing under manager Bill Slack. The team led the six-team league by a big margin, finishing a dozen games ahead of the second-place Alexandria Mariners. Working in 110 games behind the plate, Lickert recorded a .987 fielding percentage. His batting average was .272, and his good eye boosted his OBP to .378. He drove in 43 runs.
In 1980, Lickert moved up to Double A, playing 124 games for the Eastern League’s Bristol (Connecticut) Red Sox. Tony Torchia was the manager. Bristol finished first in the South Division, with the most wins and the highest winning percentage in the league. However, the odd way playoff berths were calculated meant that the BriSox were not involved in the playoffs.2 Lickert hit .257 with 52 runs batted in. but picked up an impressive 127 assists in 120 games, throwing out most of the baserunners who tried to steal on him. It was “his defensive skills that .made Lickert a legitimate big-league prospect.”3
In 1981, Lickert showed well in spring training, but was the first one cut. “You’ve got to have a chance to play every day,” he was told as he was sent to Bristol for another season.4 Indeed, Joe Morgan (manager of Boston’s top farm team, the Pawtucket Red Sox) had said even before spring training had begun, “John Lickert positively will be a catcher in the big leagues. He has the tools and the enthusiasm. But he isn’t ready yet. He needs another year or two.”5
Lickert had a reputation as a cocky kid. Self-confidence was important to him. “If you’re ever going to do anything in life,” he said, “you’ve got to believe you can do it. Confidence. Every time anybody’s ever told me I couldn’t do something, it’s made me work that much harder to prove I could. And when I signed, I wouldn’t have if I didn’t believe I’d play in the big leagues.” He was also seen as something of a loudmouth and sometimes rubbed pitchers the wrong way. “He talks and talk and talks,” one Red Sox pitcher said, “and it bothers some guys.” But Tony Torchia said that one time at Bristol he had told the pitchers, “I know you guys can’t stand Lickert, but he’s just trying to help you get the most out of yourselves.”6
Bearing down was something Lickert had been taught early, back in Little League. “I used to fool around and not take it seriously,” he said. “My dad didn’t like that. Finally he said, ‘Why play if you’re not going to play right?’”7
Lickert was determined. “I’ve got to work hard. I’ve got to put out. I’ve always been like that. I’ve got to win. I’ve got to know, even if I don’t make it, that I gave it everything. I’ll never look back and say, ‘maybe if I had done this…’”8
He played well and was promoted to Pawtucket at the end of May, but was sent back down again after 15 games. Lickert finished the season with Bristol, and by the time he hit the playoffs, he had picked up another 94 assists in 109 games to go with a .270 average, five homers, and 57 RBIs. Bristol, under Torchia again, finished first in the South Division (after riding an 11-game winning streak in August. in which Lickert drove in 10 runs). The BriSox beat the Glens Falls White Sox to win the league playoffs. Lickert drove in two runs in the win that clinched the second-half divisional championship and two more in the ultimate four-games-to-two win over Glens Falls.
Lickert was on the big club’s expanded September roster, called up right after the Eastern League playoffs were over. Roger LaFrancois was the catcher at Pawtucket, but did not get his day in the sun until 1982.
Lickert joined the Red Sox in Detroit — though he got there early enough that he had to wait outside Tiger Stadium for an hour and a half before the Tigers opened the park and let him in. About 10 days later, he was in a game — albeit only briefly.
Playing at Fenway Park on the 19th, Red Sox pitcher Mike Torrez had given the Yankees one run in each of the first four innings while Ron Guidry had yielded just one. It was still a very tight race in the second half of that strike-interrupted split season. The Sox were in third place in the AL East, only one game behind the Milwaukee Brewers for the division lead and tied with New York — in fact, five teams were within a game and a half of each other. The score was 5-1 when the Sox came up in the bottom of the eighth. Ron Davis had relieved Guidry. He got the first two outs — but then the roof fell in. By the time the inning was over, Boston had an 8-5 lead.
In the top of the ninth, with catchers Gary Allenson and Rich Gedman both out of the game, defensive duties fell to the untested Lickert. He formed a battery with Mark Clear, who had just entered the game in relief of John Tudor. Clear held the Yankees scoreless in the top of the ninth, allowing just one hit while striking out one. “It was the Game of the Week — Saturday,” Lickert recalled. “My parents, all my buddies in high school seen it. I got all kinds of letters, telegrams, calling me, congratulating me, so at least everybody seen it when I did play. That was good.”9
This was an important win for the Red Sox, keeping them just a game out of the second-half lead with 14 games remaining. They drew into a tie with Detroit on September 25, but eventually fell short by 1½ games. Lickert was not used again.
“I knew I was good enough to play with the guys because I did in spring training and I did very well. I finally get called up — but never got a chance to play. I couldn’t understand the last three games of the season. My parents drove all the way up to Cleveland and he [manager Ralph Houk] didn’t play me, Garry Hancock, or Bobby Ojeda. My father went in there and had a talk with him afterwards. By that time, they were out of it. Even Carl Yastrzemski came up to me and said, ‘John, I can’t believe that you guys are not playing today.’”10
It’s not as though the final game of the season mattered. The morning’s Boston Globe had even noted that Lickert’s parents had come to Boston from Pittsburgh and had never seen him play in a professional baseball game.11 But he wasn’t even accorded a cameo.
The next spring, he was certainly hoping to come back. He recalled hitting 8-for-16 in spring training and leading the team in home runs, RBIs, and stolen bases — but this time he was cut on the final day and sent to Pawtucket. Again, the aim was to give him a chance to play every day. The Sox had Gedman and Allenson, though; General Manager Haywood Sullivan’s son Marc was also in the system, and rated highly for his defense. Marc Sullivan himself got into 137 games over the next several years, batting .186. John Lickert had appeared in a game but never had even one official at-bat. As of the end of the 2019 season, only six position players in half a century had gotten into just one game in the majors without a plate appearance.12
Lickert served four more years in the minors, and says he caught every game Roger Clemens pitched in Pawtucket. “I caught a Hall of Famer. That’s one thing they can’t take away from me.”
In 1982 he played in 115 games, batting .252 (.316 OBP) and driving in 36 runs. Houk knew he was there and told sportswriter Peter Gammons before the season that, if needed, Lickert could be called up and become an everyday catcher.13 He was seen as one of the best defensive catchers in the Red Sox system.14 He just never got the call. There was one stretch from May into June when he didn’t drive in a single run for a solid month, but then broke out on June 4 with a grand slam and another home run, driving in six.15 There might have been an opportunity late in 1982 when Rich Gedman broke his collarbone, but Lickert had already been ticketed for winter ball and hadn’t been playing. Thus, he wasn’t as prepared to go up as Marc Sullivan.16
The next year Lickert (69 games) and LaFrancois (70 games) split most of the catching duties; Lickert hit .263 (.333 OBP) with 36 runs batted in.
In 1984 he appeared in 88 games, hitting .294 — but with a most remarkable .464 OBP. He played against the big club in one game, an in-season exhibition game in Pawtucket. He drove in the fourth run of a 4-4 tie with a sacrifice fly in the ninth inning (the game was called after nine.)17 The PawSox won the International League playoffs again, and Lickert’s three-run ninth-inning triple built on what was already a 9-0 lead in the first game.18
The Red Sox were out of options on Lickert, and let him go rather than put him on their 40-man roster.
His final year was 1985, beginning with the Richmond Braves, also in the International League. He set a Richmond record with seven RBIs in the June 12 game against Maine.19 Later in the season, he was released — and signed in early August with Pawtucket. He became a free agent at the end of the year.
That was the end of his baseball career. In the major leagues, he had no at-bats, no base hits, no runs scored, no runs batted in, a batting average of .000, an on-base percentage of .000, etc. Looking back, this provided one distinction, he once told the New York Times: “I’m probably the only guy who has 17 zeroes in the record book.”20 As it happens, there is one category in which he rated a perfect 1.000 — fielding percentage. He had one chance; when Mark Clear struck out leadoff batter Larry Milbourne, Lickert didn’t drop the third strike.
After baseball, Lickert outlined in 2020, “I worked for Local 1333. Glaziers Union from ’86 to like ’96. Glass. Windows. Installing windows — commercial, residential, a little bit of everything. Ten, 11 years.” He had earned a license to drive tractor-trailers and for most of the 25 years since the mid-‘’90s has driven trucks. He did some car hauling for Subaru of New England, out of Norwood, Massachusetts, driving an automobile transport truck carrying nine cars. That work was seasonal. “The union had gone from like 150 guys down to 30 guys, so I took a job at Ryder for 10 or 11 years. I delivered to CVS and Rite-Aid.
“I left Ryder for Sysco Foods. I’ve been at Sysco for eight years now.” He delivers food supplies for the Houston-based corporation, bringing the products to different restaurants and institutions. “Colleges. Fenway Park. I’ve delivered to Fenway Park a few times. The Garden. Sysco’s number one in the country. It’s insane what we do compared to all the other distribution centers all over the United States. We’ve got like 250 drivers and everybody else has got like 50 or 60 [in this area]. With all the hospitals, nursing homes, there’s a lot of work up in this area, Boston.”
Lickert still remains active with sports. It started in non-profit work for the Rhode Island Hurricanes. “We took 10 kids, 1985 to ’95, kids who couldn’t afford to play AAU basketball, and we ran like three tournaments. I did everything. Organized everything. Reffed every single game that I could. Gave everything back to the kids. We traveled all over the place. They were 10 to 18. We went to Las Vegas, to the nationals, D.C. for the nationals, Walt Disney World for the nationals. All expenses paid. They didn’t have to pay anything. We raised everything. They never would have had a chance. Like I never would have had a chance if people didn’t help me when I was a kid.
“I’ve been coaching girls’ basketball for 20 years at Shea High School in Pawtucket. This is my 20th year. I enjoy it. I work 60 hours and then I coach basketball, but I mean…I just do it. I enjoy it. Giving something back. The kids are good, you know.”
Had he started doing this because he had a daughter at the time? No. “I love kids. That’s why I started that. I ran into [the woman who became] my wife, Jill Banno. We coached high school together. She’s a little bit younger than I am. It was about 10 years before we got married. Then we had two kids. She kept her maiden name. Our daughter Mackenzie is 11 now. My son Brady’s 7. I had my daughter at 48 and my son at 52. Life is good. I can’t retire any time soon. Both of them play all the sports. They love it. My daughter’s a really good tennis player. Now she’s starting to play basketball. Softball. Soccer. She loves it all. She likes the seasons. Every season. Now it’s time for softball. She doesn’t want to play travel — one sport all year. No. I don’t believe in that. You’d get burned out at that age, playing just one sport.”
As of 2020, the Lickerts live in Scituate, Rhode Island. John was hurt at work a couple of years earlier and was unable to drive trucks for a period of time. The Scituate Hurricanes girls softball team needed a coach, so he started doing that as well. “I’m glad the Red Sox drafted me and gave me the opportunity. That’s why I try to give back to the kids.”21
Last revised: July 23, 2020
This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin. Thanks also to the Boston Red Sox, Rod Nelson, and Alan Cohen.
This biography is expanded from a profile that first appeared in Bill Nowlin, Red Sox Threads (Burlington, Massachusetts: Rounder Books, 2008). In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.
1 Author interview with John Lickert on May 6, 2020.
2 Something of an explanation was offered by Owen Canfield, “Success Not Enough for Bristol Red Sox,” Hartford Courant, August 31, 1980: 5C.
3 Steve Harris, “LIckert Gains Some Recognition,” Boston Herald, March 7, 1981: 2.
4 Author interview with John Lickert, late 2001. Date not noted.
5 Joe Giuliotti, “Sullivan Wondering: Are Sox’ Glory Days Behind Them?,” Boston Herald, January 15, 1981: 53. In the May 2020 interview, Lickert said, “Joe Morgan? You can’t say anything bad about Joe. One of the best managers I ever played for. They had some really good coaches when I came up.”
6 Steve Harris, “Talkative Lickert Joins Sox,” Boston Herald, September 10, 1981: 11.
7 Owen Canfield, “Bristol Has Two Catchers Who Don’t Get In Each Other’s Way,” Boston Globe, May 25, 1980: 5C.
8 Canfield, “Bristol Has Two Catchers Who Don’t Get In Each Other’s Way.”
9 2001 interview.
10 2001 interview.
11 Larry Whiteside, “Tanana Has A Fling: Sox Shut Out Indians,” Boston Globe, October 4, 1981: 77.
13 Peter Gammons, “The Decisive Year,” Boston Globe, April 3, 1982: 33.
14 Owen Canfield, “Sullivan Isn’t Riding Free on Dad’s Merry-Go-Round,” Hartford Courant, April 21, 1982: D3B.
15 “International League,” The Sporting News, June 28, 1982: 44.
16 Peter Gammons, “Sullivan Earns Chance to Play,” Boston Globe, September 19, 1982: 42.
17 Tom Yantz, “Pawsox Rally To Gain 4-4 Tie with Red Sox,” Hartford Courant, August 28, 1984: D4d.
18 Associated Press, “Pawsox Take Playoff Lead,” Hartford Courant, September 6, 1984: D8.
19 “National League,” The Sporting News, July 1, 1985: 27.
20 David Margolick,” New Season for Stars and One-Game Wonders,” New York Times, April 4, 1999: 1.
21 2001 interview.