Malzie’s chair

 

 

 

JMalzie's chair

 

 

It’s upstairs now. Much of what was in the family room has been moved or is being packed up, including the trophies and gloves that surrounded Frank Malzone when he sat in this chair, watching “Criminal Minds,” his favorite show, or the Sox or Bruins.

“I keep looking over there,’’ said Jim Malzone, “expecting to see him there.’’

It is a Sunday afternoon in Needham. A football game is on the living-room TV. Jim Malzone is sitting on the sofa, the remnants of half-smoked cigars on the coffee table. His brother, John, who scouts for the Washington Nationals, is sitting on the other side of the room. He calls his brother “Jimbo.”

Jim Malzone works for Coca-Cola. When he was a kid, he and his father and mother, Amy, and another ballplayer and his wife, had appeared in an ad. They were all at the beach. “Have a Coke with Frank Malzone,’’ the ad said.

Six days earlier, in St. Bartholomew’s, the neighborhood parish, Jim and John and brothers Paul and Frank Jr. had served as pallbearers for their father, who had died in this house, the split-level white, ‘60’s-style Colonial with the red trim that had been his home for nearly 50 years. John, who is divorced and the father of two daughters, and Jim share this house. Their mother, Amy, died in 2006. They cared for their father after he fractured his hip and never truly recovered, his mind slowly slipping away.

Red Sox fans of a certain age remember Frank Malzone as the six-time All-Star third baseman who won three Gold Gloves in  11 seasons, 1955-65. His Sox tenure was bookended by the last six seasons of Hall of Famer Ted Williams’ career, and the first five seasons of Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski’s career.

Malzone was friends with both men. “I used to terrorize Ted in the clubhouse when I was a little kid,’’ Jimmy Malzone said.

John Malzone, born in 1967, the year after Frank ended his career with the Los Angeles Angels, never saw his father play, But he remembers Ted’s voice booming over the telephone while speaking with his dad, and got to know Yaz even better, especially as a minor-league hitting instructor, when Yaz would come to spring training for a couple of weeks and would enlist John’s help in rounding up some kids to work with in the batting cages.

“A wonderful man,’’ said John Malzone, a Division 3 All-American outfielder at North Adams State who signed with the Sox and made it as high as Triple-A before retiring as an active player.

Before being hired by the Nationals, John was a hitting instructor for the Sox for the Lowell Spinners and Augusta Greenjackets. He and Victor Rodriguez were among the first to work with Hanley Ramirez.

Frank Malzone was a very good player on very mediocre Red Sox teams. He played in 475 consecutive games, which ranks third all-time among Sox players, but never came close to appearing in the postseason. The biggest thrill of his career, he often said, was hitting a home run off Don Drysdale, the Dodgers’ ace, in the 1959 All-Star Game on Drysdale’s home turf, the Los Angeles Coliseum. In another All-Star Game, Jim said, Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle hit a home run with a bat borrowed from Malzone.

“He liked to joke,’’ John Malzone said, “that he may have been the only big-leaguer to get picked off right after getting his first hit. The first-base coach told him, ‘This guy has a good move.’ He takes two steps, and bang, he gets picked off.’ My father said, ‘He doesn’t have a good move. He has a great move.’

When Malzone died, his old roommate, catcher Pete Daley, called and spoke with Jim for nearly an hour. Dick Berardino, a Sox player development consultant beginning his 49th season with the organization, spoke at the funeral. Former players John Tudor and Rich Gedman and Jim Lonborg and Luis Tiant were among those who paid their condolences at the wake. Bob Ryan, the great Boston Globe columnist, occupied a pew at the funeral. So did Sox president Sam Kennedy and general manager Mike Hazen, and club vice-president Pam Kenn, a long-time Malzone friend.

“Pam loved my father,’’ Jim Malzone said. “She called him ‘Malzie.’’’

Malzone was hired as a Sox scout by Dick O’Connell and Neil Mahoney in 1967. He remained in that role for decades, before returning to the club in 2008 as a consultant. In his years with the Sox, he helped Rico Petrocelli make his transition from shortstop to third base, assisted Wade Boggs in honing his defensive skills, offered encouragement to Kevin Youkilis.

In his years on Aletha Road in Needham, Frank Malzone spent countless hours in his chair in the family room, watching TV and playing cards, which was a favorite pastime as a player, too. “They played a lot of pinochle,’’ Jim Malzone said. “There were pinochle decks all over the house.’’

But when one of his five children needed him—in addition to his four sons, there was a daughter, Anne—John Malzone remembers how the card game would stop and Frank would turn away from the TV and devote his attention to his kids.

And his granddaughters? Forget it.

“I have two girls, Julia and Amanda,’’ John Malzone said. “They’d come over, and he played ‘school’ with Julia. Whatever Papa was doing, he stopped.

“Jennifer, my brother Frankie’s daughter, she’d go down with her,’’ Jim Malzone said.

Funny thing is, the sons said, Frank Malzone was not one to talk much about his playing days. He was always faithful about answering his fan mail and requests for autographs, a dozen or more a week still sent his way, and would go to the ballpark a couple of times a year to appear in the Legends suite or Autograph Alley, but that did not occupy the center of his life.

His family did. He met Amy while playing ball in Class A Oneonta, N.Y. He invited her to share a burger and a shake at a local malt shop, then frequently walked her home after games. “They were walking one night,’’ John Malzone said, “and Eddie Popowski, who was the manager, saw them. ‘Hey, young lady,’ he said to my mother,  ‘If you’re serious about this guy, you’d better stay with him. Don’t mess with this guy. He has a chance to be a pretty good ballplayer.’’’

They married in 1951, and remained together for almost 55 years. In the backyard, Frank would line up his five kids, including daughter Anne, and play pepper with them, the rapidly moving game in which he’d take half swings and hit the ball to each child. “He loved playing pepper,’’ John Malzone said.

On the press level at Fenway Park, there is a picture of Frank Malzone, being presented with a new car on a day held in his honor. In the background, there is a sign that proclaims him “The Nicest Guy in Baseball.”

There is a framed copy of that picture on Aletha Road, and it is a prized possession.“To me, that is the greatest honor anyone could get–nicest guy in baseball,’’ John Malzone. “That’s my dad? That hits me pretty hard. Not only a great baseball player, a great dad, a great husband—my mom loved him to death—but the nicest guy in baseball.’’

3 Comments

I remember Frank Malzone quite clearly from my childhood in a small town in Massachusetts about an hour northwest of Fenway Paaak. He was special because he dared to play the “hot corner” for the Red Sox. I also recall he had a wide batting stance and used a long bat (at least 34-35″, I’ll bet). RIP, Frank!

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Great story, Gordon. I started following the Red Sox during Malzie’s last season with them — 1965 — but never really knew much about him other than the fact he was a really good third baseman. Thanks for the memories.

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Great man!

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