After his pro-baseball career came to an end, Jethroe planted his roots in Erie, working in a local factory, continuing to play baseball in semi-pro leagues, and eventually opening a bar.
AS MANY PEOPLE my age are prone to do, I was sitting around reminiscing with some friends of mine at dinner recently and we started talking about the "good ole days," of course. We had all played baseball so our exploits on the diamond dominated the conversation.
It was probably hard to separate fact from fiction, but no one really cared, as it was a totally delightful event, although my friends seem to relish reminding me of my failures over the years – and there were plenty. However, it got me to thinking, and I was still in that thought process driving home and it continued when I went in the house and sat down.
Baseball ruled a good part of my early years, and it was extremely enjoyable thinking back and remembering how much joy the sport of baseball gave me.
I was blessed to play Boys Baseball for nine years, high school for two, American Legion for one, college for one (I was only eligible one year), and then wrapped up my "career" with one year in the Glenwood League. And I have to admit there actually were many highlights I was extremely proud of, but there is one that stands above all the others – way above.
As I looked back at my 12 years of organized ball (high school and American legion overlapped one year in case you did the math), I still got goose bumps thinking of my year in the GL, having the honor, the privilege, the thrill of playing with the great Sam Jehtroe, a true legend in all of baseball. Sam and I were teammates on the Kohler Beer team, and it's an experience I wouldn't trade for anything.
I was 20 years old at the time, of course that means I knew everything about everything, especially baseball, when I joined the KB squad, coached by GL legend Tom Lee. Playing for the true gentleman Tom Lee is a story in itself, and could be told another time.
I'll never forget the first practice with the Kohler squad when a gentleman near 50 years old came up to me and started discussing the art of hitting, and then showing me how to put his advice to use with a batting clinic I'll never forget. I was awestruck.
And I became more awestruck when I asked someone, "Who's that coach?" After a bit of a giggle, I was told, "You have to be kidding. He's not a coach; he's a player.
"That's the Jet!"
I was in shock, getting a personal hitting clinic from the legendary Sam "The Jet" Jethroe was almost too exciting.
After his pro-baseball career had come to an end, Jethroe planted his roots in Erie, working in a local factory,continuing to play ball in semi-pro leagues, and eventually opening a bar.
What a dream season that was for me, sitting at practice or between innings picking his brain and hanging on every word he spoke was beyond description. I remember thinking many times that year, "I'm sitting and talking baseball with the Sam Jethroe…" It was almost beyond belief.
I can remember like it was yesterday, Sam hitting gap shots in games at Bayview and completing his inside-the-park home run before an outfielder could get to the ball.
He also loved to pitch and that gave many opportunities to talk to him during the game as I was the first baseman. Some of the comments were classic.
It was amazing how truly humble he was. And it was even more amazing he had no anger directed at the game that didn't permit him to play in its segregated league until he was past his prime.
But he didn't make any excuses once he received his chance, as he was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1950 with the Boston Braves – at the age of 32 – and adding stolen base titles his first two seasons in "the bigs."
The native of East St. Louis, Ill., was billed as the fastest human in the world and he lived up to it, including beating an Olympic sprint champion in several exhibition races when he was in his mid-30s.
When Jethroe was in his prime, he played seven seasons in the Negro league and led the Cleveland Buckeyes to two pennants and a NL championship in 1945, hitting .340 during that span. He also won two batting crowns with averages of .393 and .353, and pacing the loop in stolen bases three consecutive seasons.
He had a true love for the game and continued to play well into his 50s.
We became great friends and I spent many an evening after my Glenwood League days going to his bar at 14th and Parade streets to continue our baseball discussions, including some sessions when former major leaguers, such as George Crowe, would show up and join the conversation.
Jethroe was a regular, and one of the most popular members, at the Downtown YMCA. It seemed the comment was always the same when someone met him for the first time at the Y. "I met Sammy Jethroe today at the YMCA," they would point out. Followed by, "I can't believe how humble he is and what a great person. "
Great person! That pretty much summed up The Jet.
James R. LeCorchick can be contacted at JRLSportsReport@gmail.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @JRLSports.