Former Astro catcher Bill Heath was a solid line drive hitter on Monday, September 9, as the main speaker at the monthly meeting of the SABR Houston/Larry Dierker Chapter inside the always beautiful Inn at the Ballpark, catty-cornered across the street from Minute Maid Park on the SW corner of Texas at Crawford.
Mixing a crisp brand of his own talent for expressing clarity, self-deprecation, humility, wisdom, and the point-of-view that only comes full-blown to those who make it in the big leagues on a marginal very limited playing time basis, Heath gave us a great thumbnail on how important it is to maintain a winning attitude if one hopes to stick for any time in the big leagues.
74-year old catcher Bill Heath (5’8″, 175 lb.) (BL/TR) (DOB: 03/09/39) had a 4-year MLB career (1965-67, 1969) as bench guy with the White Sox, Astros, Tigers, and Cubs. He hit .236 for his 227 times at bat, garnering only 7 extra base hits (six doubles and one triple.)
Heath says he was proud of his stolen base record of having never been caught stealing as a baserunner. He stole one base successfully and never tried again.
Heath blames the Astros for ruining his MLB chances by destroying his confidence. After one unsuccessful time at bat for the 1965 White Sox, Heath was traded to the Astros that winter and promptly followed up by hitting .301 in 55 games for the 1966 Astros, and getting hits of some of the greats of the game — greats like Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson. “It didn’t matter who I faced that year, ” Heath says, “my belief in my ability to hit was unshakeable.”
That changed in 1967. Heath says he came to camp that year, expecting to play more, based on his previous good year, but instead, he found himself riding the pines and coming up only rarely as a pinch hitter. “I started putting pressure on myself. but that just made it worse. I just lost confidence in my ability to hit and never got it back. By the time the Astros traded me to Detroit that same ’67 season, my bad confidence just came in the bag with me. By 1968, I was back in the minors, missing out on the Tigers’ World Series title run in 1968.”
The Cubs signed Heath for 1969 and the little catcher got to be a member of the great Cubs team that just ran out of gas in September 1969 to make way for the “Miracle Mets.” Heath blames Durocher for the Cubs’ swoon. “Leo just wore the starters out. By September, they were gasping for air, but Durocher wouldn’t rest anyone. As a result, I got to miss out on another World Series opportunity.”
”I was about done after 1969,” Heath says. “I played another year in the minors with Tacoma in 1970, but that was my swan song in organized baseball. I was offered a coaching job in the minors with Cubs, but I had no interest in doing any more of those long bus rides in the country. I was ready to go home and build on my new career in accounting.”
By 1970, the USC graduate Heath was working on completing a correspondence course in accounting through the University of Chicago. By 1972 he had become a CPA and had established his new practice in his new hometown of Houston. And, he says, he and the business are still going strong.
Bill Heath nodded a personal hello to the man who had been the Astros’ travel secretary during his brief stay with the Astros. SABR member Tal Smith was in the audience for Heath’s talk.
Other speakers last night included Chris Chestnut, who presented a new sabermetric formula for evaluating the relative value of pinch hitters. You will have to attend the next article or lecture that Chestnut plans to do to get the lowdown on this subject.
Mike Vance stressed the importance of everyone getting out the vote on November 5 in favor of Referendum Proposition #2. According to Vance, the outcome of this referendum vote will determine the final fate of the Astrodome. For time-critcal news and endorsements, please check out the following website for further information:
Joe Thompson provided a brief survey of his master’s thesis work on Marvin Miller, the attorney whose strategies brought the MLB Players Union into position for becoming the powerful force it is today.
Chapter leader Bob Dorrill reported on SABR 43 in Philadelphia; gave a brief positive report on our almost completed Early Houston Baseball book; and, he began the general outline of things we need to be considering now in our plans for SABR 44 in Houston next summer.
And finally, Herb Whalley administered the monthly baseball trivia quiz.
A good time was had by all.
— Bob Dorrill and Bill McCurdy