Red Sox to induct Kauai's Sullivan
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By Bill Kwon
By Bill Kwon
Longtime Kaua'i golf professional and former major leaguer Frank Sullivan might have lost vision in one eye, but he can still see the funny side of life.
"Now my golfing buddies are only half as ugly," said the 78-year-old Sullivan, who will take one final bow in baseball later this year.
He is one of six players selected in the Class of 2008 for induction into the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame. He and his wife, Marilyn, whom he met on Kaua'i and married 42 years ago, will go to Boston for the ceremony on Nov. 7. He'll be honored with pitchers Wes Ferrell and Bill Lee, outfielder Mike Greenwell, first baseman Mo Vaughn and shortstop Everett Scott, who played in three World Series during the early years of the franchise.
"I was totally surprised. It came out of the blue," said Sullivan, who pitched 252 games for the Red Sox from 1953 to 1960, winning 13 or more games in five straight seasons. The first of his two All-Star Game appearances came in 1955 when he posted a career-high 18 victories and a 2.91 ERA.
Sullivan retired from baseball and moved to the Garden Island in 1964. And in an unbelievable harmonic convergence, he re-united with Sammy White, his batterymate for eight years with the Boston Red Sox, who was at Princeville.
Fenway Park to Kaua'i is a stretch. And it was only some time later that they both found out, to their surprise, they were on the same island. It seems Sullivan just couldn't get away from his old catcher and Red Sox roomie.
Sullivan likes to tell the story about one of their many mound conferences. It was on a muggy summer day in 1957 at Comiskey Park in Chicago and White came out to talk to Sullivan, who had loaded the bases and was facing Minnie Minoso.
"Sam called time out and it was OK with me. I figured he would have some situational advice," Sullivan recalled.
Instead, White stared at the three runners on base, each time after looking at Sullivan, who was getting antsy. White finally said, "Jesus Christ! You're in a lot of trouble!"
White is no longer with us, while Sullivan is fully retired after nearly 30 years with the Kaua'i Surf hotel and golf property under different ownerships. Later he was a consultant in the development of the Puakea Golf Course.
But before golf, it was all baseball.
Sullivan was signed right out of high school in 1948 after a tryout at Fenway Park, but his baseball career was put on hold because of the Korean War, where he fought on the front lines above the 38th Parallel.
After ending his military duty in Japan where the 6-foot-7 Sullivan played basketball and got the nickname, "Watashi," he finally made his major league debut in August of 1953 against the Detroit TIgers.
The day after being called up from Albany of the Eastern League, Red Sox manager Lou Boudreau came up to Sullivan in the locker room and said, "Can you pitch today, if I need you?"
Next thing Sullivan knew, he was in the bullpen after the Tigers chased the starting pitcher. Nervous, Sullivan's first warm-up pitch totally missed the catcher, hit the concrete wall and bounced into the stands. Finally, he walked to the mound to be greeted by White — who else? — who said, "Took your sweet time getting in here, rookie."
"Yeah, I'm so goddamn nervous I can hardly walk," Sullivan replied.
Listening in, the home plate umpire said, "Don't worry, kid. You just get the ball close and I'll call them out."
The first Detroit batter Sullivan faced was Walt Dropo, who had been the 1950 AL Rookie of the Year for the Red Sox. The pitch was right down the middle of the plate and White didn't even have to move his glove.
Sullivan let out a sigh of relief. The crowd cheered. The umpire called, "Ball one."
"Men in blue were not to be trusted," said Sullivan about his first big-league lesson.
Like every Red Sox player, Sullivan also has a lot of Ted Williams stories to tell. One of them shows how good Williams was with the bat.
It was during a game at Fenway Park and Bob Lemon was pitching for the Cleveland Indians. A loudmouth in a box seat along first base was getting on Williams.
"(Ted) hit five pitches into that box," Sullivan remembered. "It was unbelievable. And Lemon, a great pitcher, could only shake his head."
Sullivan is finishing a book, which he hopes to publish this fall. So I hate to steal his stuff.
But one more:
Summer of 1956 and the Red Sox had a rare day off. Management told Sullivan, White and Jackie Jensen to take their uniforms and drive 140 miles to Stockbridge, Mass., for a photo shoot, although they didn't call it that in those days. They got there, posed for some pictures and wondered what the heck was going on because the guy didn't seem like he knew what he was doing.
He offered them nothing but iced tea and told them that Williams didn't want to make the drive but agreed to have his face painted in the final product.
Titled "The Rookie," it was the front cover of the Saturday Evening Post the following March to herald the beginning of spring training.
Oh, the guy's name? Norman Rockwell.
Sullivan received permission to use the Rockwell illustration for the cover of his own book some day.
You can bet Sullivan will regale the folks with more stories at the induction dinner.