Len Yochim (COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR)

Len Yochim

This article was written by Richard Cuicchi

Len Yochim (COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR)Former major league player and scout Lenny Yochim once said in a New Orleans Times-Picayune interview, “I had a good life doing something I love.”1 From his teenage days in the Crescent City in the 1940s until his retirement in 2002, Yochim spent practically every summer participating in some aspect of the sport to which he was devoted. Altogether he put in almost 60 years on a journey from high school and American Legion star to hometown hero for the New Orleans Pelicans, to pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates (12 games in 1951 and 1954), and ultimately to renowned major league scout, which is how he is most remembered in baseball history.

Leonard Joseph Yochim was born on October 16, 1928, in a neighborhood four blocks from Pelican Stadium, home of the New Orleans Pelicans of the Class A Southern Association.2 His parents were Joseph and Josephine (Beiswinger) Yochim, native New Orleanians of German descent. Lenny was the youngest of six children. One of those siblings — Ray Yochim, born in 1922 — also made it to the majors as a pitcher for four games in 1948-49.

The Yochims owned a boarding house, in which they also lived, near Tulane Avenue and Carrollton Avenue in the Mid-City area of New Orleans. Josephine was a housewife who also tended to the boarding house. Joseph maintained railroad tank cars for the Pan American Refinery in New Orleans.3

Yochim’s first diamond accomplishments came as a grade school student at Sacred Heart School. There he was a member of indoor ball teams that were city champions for three consecutive years from 1940 to 1942.4 He enrolled at Jesuit High School as a freshman and played for their American Legion team during the summer of 1943. He transferred to Holy Cross High School the next year and pitched for the school’s American League entry, the Comiskeys. They trampled Baton Rouge, 34-0, in the Legion state championship game; Yochim went 3-for-4.5

Yochim missed the 1945 prep season because Holy Cross decided not to field a high school team. However, he was a productive pitcher and first baseman for the Comiskeys that summer. In a game against Easton, he struck out 17 batters in seven innings, believed to be a local Legion record at the time.6 He was named to the first team All-Legion squad as a pitcher.

Yochim led the city’s prep league in 1946 with five home runs and was named to the All-Prep team as a utility player, since he had both pitched and played first base during the season. He later performed as a two-way player in the minors. The talented group of high school all-stars included eight eventual professional players, including future major leaguers Yochim, Tookie Gilbert, and Putsy Caballero.

The Brooklyn Eagle newspaper sponsored a three-game series later that summer in New York City, called “Brooklyn Against the World.” The event featured a team of teenage players from Brooklyn competing against an all-star team of players from around the United States. Yochim was sent by the New Orleans States newspaper to represent New Orleans on the “World All-Stars” squad, managed by George Sisler. His selection validated him as one of the better prep players in New Orleans. He was the starting pitcher for the “World” team in the first game, allowing four hits and striking out eight in four and one-third innings. The only runs scored off him were unearned. The “World” team lost, 4-2.7 His team evened the series the next day, as he played first base. He was involved in the game-winning run when his infield hit and a throwing error by the Brooklyn shortstop allowed a run to score.8 In the series finale, the Brooklyn All-Stars, managed by Chuck Dressen who filled in for Leo Durocher, won, 5-1.9

The exhibition games in Brooklyn gave the players an opportunity to play in front of scouts from every major league team. After the series, Yochim worked out with a number of clubs: the New York Giants, managed by native New Orleanian Mel Ott, Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, and Cincinnati Reds. Those were the years of open signings and direct negotiation between the player and the team. Yochim wrote, “The Reds made me the best offer and then drew back the offer at a later date. I walked four blocks down Tulane Avenue to Pelican Stadium and asked Mr. Charley Hurth, the Pelicans GM, and Vince Rizzo, their scout [who had also signed Lenny’s older brother Ray in 1942], how much could they give me. My mother wanted me to go to college, as I had offers from Loyola University (New Orleans), LSU, Alabama, and Notre Dame. I didn’t want to play two games a week; I wanted to play every day.”

With his parents’ permission, in September he signed with the Pelicans, who had a working agreement with the Boston Red Sox. He received a $1,500 bonus with a clause that he was to receive 20 percent of the sale price if sold to a major league club. 10

Yochim reported to the now-AA Pelicans in the spring of 1947. Among the most memorable personal highlights for the 18-year-old left-hander was his first pro outing, an exhibition game in New Orleans against the defending American League champion Boston Red Sox. Upon realizing the first batter he would face was Boston’s famed slugger Ted Williams, Yochim later told the Times-Picayune, “My arm got the jumps, my knees started shaking, and I said to myself, ‘Yochim, that’s Ted Williams — $250,000 worth of ball player; and if you don’t relax and get that ball in there, you might bean him and then even the skipper might kill you.’ That’s all I was thinking about — not hitting Williams.”11 Luckily for Yochim, Williams wound up grounding out to first base.

Yochim didn’t stick with the Pelicans coming out of spring training. Instead, he was optioned to their affiliate in New Iberia, then part of the Class D Evangeline League. He lost his first three decisions and began to have some concerns about being able to compete. Years later he recalled, “Our manager Harry Strohm saw a way to get me to relax and learn what pro ball was about. After about a week or ten days, then he told me I was ready to pitch.”

Strohm turned out to be right. Yochim posted 10 straight wins by mid-season and began drawing speculation by local sportswriters about the price the Pelicans could command for his services from a big league club. He went on to win 20 games for New Iberia, while losing only six. He struck out 17 in a May game against the Natchez Giants. One of his teammates for part of the season was a fellow New Orleanian, Nolan Vicknair, who recalled playing with Yochim. He said, “Lenny was a big guy [6-feet-2, 200 pounds]; he could really hit the ball. So, our manager would often play him at first base when he wasn’t pitching.”12 In fact, Yochim led New Iberia in batting average with a .343 mark. He hit seven home runs and batted in 38 in 213 plate appearances.

Yochim was notified at the end of the 1947 season that he should report to spring training in New Orleans in 1948. The Pittsburgh Pirates, who had acquired the New Orleans franchise prior to the season, sent him to their Class A affiliate in Albany, New York. He had another fine season with a 14-4 record. On November 6, 1948, Yochim married Dorothy “Dottie” Murphy. They had grown up together, living a block apart on Ulloa Street, off Tulane Avenue. They would have four children: Brian, Daryl, Jamie, and David.

Yochim spent the entire 1949 season with the Pelicans, posting a 5-10 record and 4.44 ERA against stiffer competition. He went back to the lower minors in 1950, splitting his time between Class A Albany (Eastern League) and Class A Charleston (South Atlantic League). He started the 1951 season with New Orleans but didn’t see much playing time. Upset with Pelicans GM Joe L. Brown and manager Rip Sewell, he asked for his release. Brown told Yochim there wasn’t a market for the Pelicans to sell him and suggested he go to Charleston. Yochim threatened to quit and sat out for a few days before his wife convinced him they needed the paycheck.13 He went on to have a solid season with Charleston, posting an 11-1 record and 2.50 ERA.

Following the Charleston club’s elimination from the playoffs, the Pirates invited a couple of players, including Yochim, to work out in Pittsburgh. After a few days the Pirates offered him a major league contract. Yochim wrote about the circumstances of signing: “I was called into a meeting with Mr. Branch] Rickey on September 18. He told me I had to sign a Pirates contract, which I understood. I had a clause in my original contract that called for 20% of my sale to a major league club [to be paid to me]. The contract he offered had no monies for my bonus and if I wanted to pitch that night and I did, I had to sign the contract he had on the table. I was a little under 23 years of age and I wanted to pitch, so I signed.”

Yochim made his major league debut on the day of his signing, drawing the starting assignment against the Boston Braves. He was credited with the win as the Pirates downed the Braves, 6-5, although he gave up eight walks, hit a batter, and had two wild pitches. He made another start for the seventh-place Pirates on September 28, but this time he didn’t make it out of the second inning against Cincinnati and was tagged with his first loss as the Reds won, 4-3. Those were his only two games with the Pirates in 1951.

Yochim went to spring training in San Bernadino, California, with the Pirates in 1952. One of his favorite memories was meeting singer/actor Bing Crosby, who dressed out and came onto the field. Yochim said Crosby, who was a part-owner of the Pirates, addressed him by name and asked if he could join a pepper game. Unfortunately, Yochim hadn’t fully recovered from kidney stone surgery, which had caused him to lose 25 pounds during the off-season. He felt his condition affected his chances to compete for a major league roster spot.14

Yochim became a mainstay in the Pelicans’ pitching rotation in 1952 and 1953, claiming 25 victories. He was a Southern Association All-Star selection in 1953 and was the starting pitcher against league leader Nashville. Following the 1953 regular season, he played winter ball in Venezuela, where he helped his Vargas team get to the league finals (losing to Caracas) with an 11-6 record.

Yochim started the 1954 season with Pittsburgh and pitched in 10 games, mostly in relief. The last straw in his stint with the Pirates occurred on June 19, when he tied a major league record by throwing three wild pitches in one inning against Milwaukee. Yochim’s stay with the Pirates that year included only 19 2/3, innings in which he posted a 7.32 ERA. He said he was in the majors “long enough for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie.” Yet he took away a fond memory of the Pirates’ home ballpark. He wrote, “Forbes Field was like a good kitchen with food cooking. It had that smell, the aroma of all the things that make a ballpark. The clubhouse with all its different scents, the trainer rubbing down a pitcher and all the goings on prior to the game and after a win or a loss.”

Sent back to New Orleans, he won seven straight games in the Pelicans’ race for the pennant. He finished the 1954 season with a 9-3 record and 3.06 ERA, as the Pelicans finished in second place in the Southern Association behind Atlanta.

In 1955 Yochim was purchased by Triple-A Hollywood, a Pirates affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. After only three games with them, he was sent back to New Orleans, where he finished with a 12-8 record. The highlight of his pro career occurred over the winter when he pitched the first-ever no-hitter in Venezuelan professional baseball on December 9. Playing for Caracas, he allowed only two walks to Magallanes. He also collected two hits in the 3-0 win.15

Yochim finished his professional playing career in 1956, helping the Atlanta Crackers, a Milwaukee Braves affiliate that acquired him in June, win the Southern Association title. Faced with a future of having to deal a sore arm, he voluntarily retired. Plus, he wanted to spend more time as a husband and father.16

Still only 27 years old when he finished his pro career, Yochim returned to his hometown to work for the Shell Oil Refinery in Norco, Louisiana. The main reason he was hired was to play for the company baseball team. 17 The Shell Oilers were a prominent local semipro team that included a couple of other former professional players. In addition to their play in the Pelican State League, the Oilers occasionally provided practice game competition against local colleges, as well as the Pelicans. Local fans especially enjoyed the semipro contests in which he and his older brother Ray were mound opponents. Ray’s pro career had also ended in 1956, though he made a comeback with the Pelicans in 1958.

As part of a community service activity of the Shell Employees Club, Yochim helped to organize baseball clinics for youths in Southeast Louisiana. He used his personal connections to attract current and former professional ballplayers from the area to participate as instructors. After he left Shell, he continued as an instructor for similar clinics during the off-seasons.

Lenny got into scouting in 1957 as a “bird dog” for Tom “Shaky” Kain, who was working for the Chicago Cubs. There was no salary, only money for gas, ticket admission, and refreshments. He evaluated players at high school and college games as his work and baseball schedule permitted. He followed that with a part-time job working for Buster Mills in the Kansas City organization from 1958 to 1961. When Mills moved to the New York Yankees, Hank Peters offered Yochim Mills’s old job with the A’s in 1962, but it lasted only until August, when A’s owner Charlie Finley reduced the number of scouts. The layoff forced him to take an interim sales job with the Jackson Brewing Company in New Orleans.18

Yochim signed on with Mills again with the Yankees, for whom he scouted the Louisiana area from 1963 to 1965. Joe L. Brown, who’d become GM in Pittsburgh, and Assistant GM Joe O’Toole, who were in the same positions in New Orleans when Yochim played with the Pelicans, signed him to a scouting contract before the 1966 season.19

As a territorial scout with the Pirates, Yochim, by his own admission, wasn’t that productive. He believed that was “primarily because I didn’t get too many players in the draft.” Two signees who did get to the major leagues were Craig Reynolds (first round in 1971) and Stew Cliburn (fourth round in 1977).20 However, Reynolds played just 38 games for the Pirates before going on to a long career elsewhere. Cliburn ultimately made his major league debut in 1984 with the California Angels and went on to become a minor league pitching coach.

Yochim eventually advanced within the Pirates organization to National Cross Checker, Major League Scout, Special Assistant to the General Manager, and finally Senior Advisor/Player Personnel. Yochim wrote, “All those titles meant the same thing. I was a scout and very proud of the title. I truly loved my job.”

“In my position as the National Cross Checker for the Pirates, I was spread out all over the U.S. and I would see many scouts throughout my travels. We would visit with each other and break bread together on occasions. I learned from the likes of Howie Haak, Jerry Gardner, George Digby (my Legion coach in New Orleans), Milt Bolling, Al LaMacchia, Hugh Alexander, and Fred McAlister. Our free agents were similar. They didn’t work by the clock and they were diggers for information to get a leg up in getting their player drafted. They were tough competitors and they would fight to get their player drafted.”

He received the “Pride of the Pirates” Award in 1996, recognizing the person in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization who displayed sportsmanship, character, and dedication during a lifetime of service. Yochim wrote in his notes, “Getting that award was quite a tribute and a warm, humbling experience. God has been good to me. I have a wife who has been very understanding, patient, and strong, allowing me a chance to continue my love for the game of baseball.”

Yochim wrote, “I had some success in advance scouting. In 1971 I covered the San Francisco Giants and we beat them in the National League playoffs. In 1979 Jim Maxwell and I were assigned to cover the Orioles for World Series coverage. From the clubhouse after the final game, Pirates manager Chuck Tanner on national television gave credit to the scouts for their work in putting together plans for how to pitch and defense Baltimore. We know the players are the ones who performed but it was nice to be recognized for our effort.”

Yochim also brought in a useful role player for the Pirates in 1978. He gave a helping hand to veteran pinch-running specialist Matt Alexander, whom he had scouted at Louisiana’s Grambling University more than a decade before. Alexander won a World Series ring with the “Fam-a-lee” in 1979 and acknowledged his ongoing gratitude to Yochim.

Yochim’s daughter also remembered that her father developed close friendships with several of the Pirates players, especially during his early years with the organization. She specifically mentioned Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente.21

Yochim spent three weeks in November 1972 with Clemente in Managua, Nicaragua, helping him manage a team of Puerto Rican all-stars playing in an amateur tournament. 22 Clemente developed a special relationship with the Nicaraguan people during the tournament. Following the massive earthquake in Managua on December 23, Clemente organized several deliveries of relief supplies. On a trip there on New Year’s Eve, Clemente tragically died in a plane crash.23

The Pirates did not renew Yochim’s contract for the 2003 season. Through various emails with his counterparts, Yochim expressed disappointment and bitterness at being let go. Even though he was 74 years old, he felt he could still do the job satisfactorily. He was subsequently offered a job by the Pirates on a part-time basis, but as he wrote to his colleagues, “Most of us know what that means—full-time work at part-time money.” He decided to end his career in October 2002.24

In a Times Online.com interview, Yochim said about his departure, “It’s disappointing to leave the organization after so many years. It’s not easy. But I really feel I have no choice. Everybody has a certain amount of ego and pride. I don’t think I have a whole lot of ego but I do have pride. My pride won’t take a smaller role and pay cut.” He added, “I think I have more to offer the organization than that.”25

Altogether Yochim put in 37 years of scouting with the Pirates. Several years after his retirement, he wrote, “I had a good run of it. Thirty-seven years with one club, worked with some real fine people, good character and some characters. Good baseball people, dedicated to the game. I worked under seven different general managers and seven different field managers. I was satisfied with my work ethic. I am satisfied in what I gave to the Pirates. I didn’t short-change them a bit.”

During the off-seasons and for years after his retirement, Yochim belonged to the Diamond Club in New Orleans, a social club comprising primarily former professional baseball players living in the area. George Strickland, Mel Parnell, Gene Freese, Connie Ryan, and his brother Ray were among the ex-players who regularly met for lunches and other social functions.26

Yochim garnered his share of recognition for his lengthy service in major league baseball. He was named to the Diamond Club Of Greater New Orleans Hall of Fame in 1972 and the All-State Sugar Bowl New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame in 1995. In 2001 he was elected to the Texas Scouts Association Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the New Orleans Professional Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, along with his childhood friend George Strickland.

Yochim died in River Ridge, Louisiana, on May 11, 2013, of congestive heart failure at age 84. He is buried in the Greenwood Cemetery in New Orleans.

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Alan Cohen.

 

Sources

The author obtained access to Lenny Yochim’s personal files and working papers as a scout, through the permission of his daughter, Jamie Jacob of Destrehan, Louisiana, during March 2021. Yochim kept meticulous records of his entire playing career, correspondence with fellow scouts and his Pirates supervisors, interviews he granted sportswriters, and requests for information about his career from fans and organizations that honored his baseball contributions. Unless otherwise noted, the quotations by Yochim in this essay are taken verbatim from his personal papers.

In addition to the Notes, the author consulted the following:

Baseball-Reference.com.

Antunovich, Jack. “Six Jays on All-Prep ‘9’,” Times-Picayune, June 9, 1946: 26.

Antunovich, Jack. “5 Comiskeys on All-Legion,” Times-Picayune, July 22, 1945: 17.

Harris, Terrance and Terrell, Katherine. “Yochim loved life in baseball — Ex-pitcher, scout dies at 84,” Times-Picayune, May 12, 2013: C-1.

Hernon, Jack. “Bucs Edge Braves, 6-5, as Kiner Hits No. 41,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 19, 1951: 22.

Hernon, Jack. “Reds End Pirate Dream of Sixth Place, 4-3,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 29, 1951: 10.

Joly, John. “Five Enter Fame “Hall,” Times-Picayune, October 26, 1972: 6,2.

Keefe, William. “Viewing the News: Yochim to Pitch, Play First,” Times-Picayune, August 6, 1946: 14.

Keefe, William. “All-Stars Spot Vols Five Runs, Then Slug Way to 8-6 Triumph,” Times-Picayune, July 8, 1953: 32.

“Lenny Yochim Death Notice,” Times-Picayune, May 12, 2013: B-7.

Lenny Yochim Hall of Fame Inductee Bio, All-State Sugar Bowl, https://allstatesugarbowl.org/classic/lenny-yochim/. Accessed August 26, 2021.

Lutz, Antonio. “Starr on Mound as Caracas Keeps Venezuelan Title,” The Sporting News, February 18, 1953: 27.

Reid, John. “Four Picked for N.O. Hall,” Times-Picayune, April 30, 2006: C-4.

 

Notes

1 Yochim Files.

2 Yochim Files.

3 Author’s interview with Lenny Yochim’s daughter Jamie Jacob, on March 2, 2021, and email exchange on August 26, 2021.

4 Yochim Files.

5 Carol Hart. “Holy Cross Comiskeys Down Baton Rouge Ideals, 31-0,” Times-Picayune, July 24, 1944: 10.

6 Jack Antunovich. “Comiskeys Swamp Regals Behind Yochim’s 2-Hit Job,” Times-Picayune, June 14, 1945: 13.

8 James J. Murphy, “Brooklyn vs. World in Title Tilt Tonight,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 9, 1946: 1, 12, 13.

9 James J. Murphy, “Boro 9 Tops — Beats the World, 5-1,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 10, 1946: 1. 6.

10 Yochim Files.

11 William Keefe. “Viewing the News: Yochim Now Pitching!,” Times-Picayune, April 4, 1947: 19.

12 Author’s interview with Nolan Vicknair, August 10, 2020.

13 Yochim Files.

14 Yochim Files.

15 M.J. Gorman Jr. “Yochim Hurls No-Hitter for Caracas Lions,” The Sporting News, December 21, 1955: 31.

16 Yochim Files.

17 Yochim Files.

18 Yochim Files.

19 Yochim Files.

20 Yochim Files.

21 Jamie Jacob.

22 Yochim Files.

23 Bruce Markusen. Roberto Clemente: The Great One (2001: Sports Publishing LLC): 310.

24 Yochim Files.

25 John Perrotto. “Yochim leaves Pirates after 36 years in organization,” Times Online.com (Beaver County Times/Allegheny Times), October 10, 2002.

26 Jamie Jacob.

Full Name

Leonard Joseph Yochim

Born

October 16, 1928 at New Orleans, LA (USA)

Died

May 11, 2013 at River Ridge, LA (USA)

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