Back in April of 1957, Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up” topped the national music charts, I Love Lucy was the most-watched television show and Dwight Eisenhower was a few months into his second term as president.
For Honey Brook native Tom Patton, however, that special spring provided a Moonlight Graham-like moment of a lifetime.
Just like Graham – whose story was popularized in W.P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe as well as the movie Field of Dreams – Patton’s Major League baseball debut would be his lone big-league appearance.
April 30 will mark the 60-year anniversary of Patton’s six-inning stint for the Baltimore Orioles in a 6-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park.
Patton, a Honey Brook High grad and then 21-year-old catcher, went 0-for-2 but did turn in a memorable defensive highlight by throwing out Larry Doby on a stolen-base attempt.
The game, with a reported attendance of 4,470, featured five future Hall of Famers – Chicago’s Doby, Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox and Baltimore’s Dick Williams and George Kell.
“Every once in a while I’ll get a question about it,” Patton said of his brief turn in ‘The Show.’ “I don’t really think of it too much anymore. As a matter of fact, my memory’s so bad I’ve forgotten a lot about it.”
Patton was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals and began his pro career shortly after graduating in 1953. After four years in the Cards’ organization that included stops in Class D Dothan (Ala.), Class B Peoria (Ill.) and Class A Columbus (S.C.), he was drafted by the Orioles in the Rule V draft in December, 1956.
Though he began the season with the big-league club, Patton didn’t see action until that fateful afternoon on the final day of April.
With starting catcher Gus Triandos out with an injury, backup Joe Ginsberg took a foul tip off his throwing hand in the bottom of the third inning.
“At that time, all catchers were basically two-handed catchers,” Patton recalled. “Today they catch with one hand and hardly ever get hit like that. That knocked him out of the game. Now we were down to our third guy, and that was me.”
Patton happened to be out in the bullpen when he got the proverbial call to duty from manager Paul Richards. His increasing heart rate rose even more thanks to a practical joke precipitated by pitching coach Harry (the Cat) Brecheen.
“As soon as Joe got hit, he knew I was going to be coming in,” Patton said. “We had a six- or seven-foot cyclone fence around the bullpen, and he snapped the lock on the gate so I couldn’t get out. I was ready to go climb the fence, but then they got an attendant to get the key to unlock it.”
Much like the rest of the Orioles lineup, Patton didn’t fare too well against Sox righty Billy Pierce – grounding out to third in his first at-bat, then bouncing back to the mound in his other time up. Pierce, who was in the middle of notching back-to-back 20-game-win seasons, tamed the Orioles on a six-hitter, striking out seven.
“When I went up to bat, my knees were knocking,” Patton said. “I was nervous, you bet. I keep telling everyone they (the groundouts) were hit like bullets, but the truth is they weren’t.
“In Chicago, it was always windy, and around the second inning that I was catching, someone hit one straight up to me, a foul pop. I must have looked like a Little Leaguer making a couple circles around it, but I did catch it.”
Then in the bottom of the sixth, with one out and Doby on first, Patton pegged the seven-time All-Star to complete a strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out double play.
Patton’s hopes of getting continued playing time were dashed when Ginsberg was able to start the next day, and shortly thereafter he was demoted to the minors and never made it back to the MLB stage.
After suffering an arm injury in 1960, Patton was traded to the Phillies organization, and played for Williamsport in 1961 before calling it a career. He wound up playing a total of nine seasons professionally, appearing in 670 games with a .261 average and 33 home runs.
Patton eventually moved back to Honey Brook, and worked for more than three decades at Pepperidge Farms before retiring and eventually moving to New Holland, where he lives with wife Nancy.
Last fall, Patton was inducted into Twin Valley’s sports Hall of Fame, along with 1997 grads Joe Casey and Nick Mattioni.
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The 81-year-old Patton, who was inducted into Twin Valley’s Sports Hall of Fame (along with 1997 TV baseball standouts and fellow pro baseball players Joe Casey and Nick Mattioni), was on hand April 8 for the Raiders’ Throwback Game against Tulpehocken.
Patton and fellow Honey Brook product Bill Wilson, who also played pro ball, threw out the ceremonial first pitches prior to a 5-2 Twin Valley victory highlighted by six strong innings from Raiders hurler Hunter McInaw.
The game was the brainchild of fellow Honey Brook High grad Don “Duck” Leisey, whose generous donation funded the Honey Brook throwback uniforms that the Raiders donned to pay homage to the Honey Brook squads of the 1950s.
“I told my wife it was the best uniform material I ever had,” joked Patton.