NOTE: The socio-political aspect of this column is statistically zero. Proceed with carefree abandon.
Norm Housley was “a bonus baby”… From California!
with a Corvette… and a Dream
As I recall… there were 4-5 Corvettes parked outside Grainger Stadium in the Spring of 1962. They belonged to professional baseball players for the Kinston Eagles. One of them had California license plates!
That one belonged to Norm Housley. Norm Housley was “a bonus baby”… from California! … and he was blond; but wasn’t everyone from California in 1962?
The Eagles were a minor league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Class B Carolina League. Other notable players in the Carolina League around that time were Rod Carew, Carl Yastrzemski, Rusty Staub, and Norm Housley’s Eagle teammate Steve Blass.
NOTE: And, of course, my boyhood idol – Harper Cooper. You might recall Harper from a column right here several years ago – “Where Have You Gone Harper Cooper?”
In 1971, Steve Blass won the 7th game of The World Series versus Baltimore. He had a notable 10-year career with the Pirates including one All Star game. But Steve Blass’ contribution to Baseball – not unlike Tommy John’s surgery – was “Steve Blass Disease”…. When a pitcher can no longer throw the baseball in the strike zone from 60’6”. Over 40 years later there is still no known cure for Steve Blass Disease. … I digress…
In 1954 Norm led the Colton Little League All Stars to the Little League World Series Finals… they lost 7-5 to Schenectady New York. Three of those 5 runs came on a Home Run by 12 year old Norm.
Norm Housley died of cancer in September 1999. In an interview with the local newspaper prior to his death, Housley said…
“My biggest thing was receiving the Little League World Series pin. It wasn’t much, but to us, it was just a great thing.”
Mr. Housley treasured his home-run ball from the game, kept with other memorabilia in a trophy case at home.
NOTE: In some ways, Norm Housley was Colton’s version of Danny Talbott… or Leo Hart… or Paul Miller… or Bob Kennel (WHOA!)… or “Prince Albert” Long... or….. … Norm Housley was a Hometown High School Hero.
I have no clue what “a bonus baby” in Baseball signed for back then. Certainly not the “millions” we read about these days. A new Ford Mustang in the mid 60s cost about $2,500 so let’s assume a Corvette went for $8-10,000?
Let’s assume Norm Housley’s signing bonus was somewhere north of $25,000 and south of $50,000… I could be way off. Regardless, he arrived in Kinston NC that Spring of 1962 wearing the title of “a bonus baby”… driving a shiny new Corvette… From California.
The TV series Happy Days derived from the 1973 movie American Graffiti which “took place” in 1962 in the Northern California town of Modesto which I assume was similar to Norm’s SoCal hometown of Colton. … and a west coast version of my hometown – Kinston NC.
Alls I knew about California, I learned from Beach Boys’ songs. But, I don’t think there was “surf” anywhere around Modesto or Colton… or Kinston.
My Kinston growing-up friends from the early-mid 60s have always identified with the whole Happy Days thing. I wonder if Norm Housley, 2,500 miles from his hometown, ever felt “at home” in Kinston. Probably not as events unfolded…
Imagine being 19… 2,500 miles from home and friends who idolized you as a Hometown Hero… driving a shiny new Corvette… and wearing the title of “a Bonus Baby”… and then realizing almost from The Get-Go that this wasn’t Little League or Colton High School any more…
Linus from “Peanuts” said “There is no heavier burden than a great potential…”. Norm Housley would learn that Life Lesson that Spring / Summer 1962.
Baseball’s Infamous Mendoza Line (batting average at .200) was not created until the late 70s… by George Brett if the legend is true.
A journeyman shortstop named Mario Mendoza was the quintessential “good glove / bad bat” player. His batting average over his eight-year MLB career hovered around .200. Actually Mario’s MLB career average was .215. Those 15 points were probably very special to Mario.
Tommy John has his “surgery”. Steve Blass has his “disease” … and Mario Mendoza has his “line”. Just another of a lotta reasons I LOVE BASEBALL…
Prior to being assigned to Kinston, Norm had a “cup of coffee” in two “Rookie Leagues” where he hit around .250 – decent but not “phenom” level.
Kinston was Norm’s first shot playing “with grown men” if guys in their early 20s can be so categorized.
Suffice to say, Norm Housley was NOT a 1962 version of Mike Trout or Bryce Harper. Wherever his baseball skill level was… it was quickly determined it was not at the Class B Carolina League level.
I don’t recall the first time an Eagles’ fan yelled it out, but it was likely late April / early May… “Lousy Housley”. … “Lousy” and “Housley” don’t really rhyme but in the world of irate leather-lunged sports fans the rules are pretty loose.
The bonus baby driving the Corvette from California was “A Bust”.
Exceling as a professional athlete is a universal dream for many/most kids. For some the harsh reality hits as a nine year-old in Little League when you are assigned to dreaded “right field”. “Right Field in Little League” is where “I want to be a professional baseball player” dreams first begin to DIE.
If one is still playing right field as a 10-11- or, perish the thought – 12 yr old alternative careers should be considered.
Norm Housley obviously cleared that hurdle as well as the next one – High School Varsity. He earned nine varsity letters at Colton High. His on-field prowess merited that signing bonus from the Pirates…
Those catcalls of “Lousy Housley” persisted all season.
A High School Hero… 19 years old… 2500 miles from home… unable to hit Class B pitching… being ridiculed night after night by leather-lunged fans in a small Eastern NC “tobacco town”. Young Norm’s dream was a nightmare.
Certainly not on a par with landing on Omaha Beach or slogging thru a Viet Nam rice paddy hoping to not step on a booby trap or worse… but not “Happy Days” either.
Because the Pirates had an investment in Norm, he hung on two more seasons in “the low minors”. In 428 professional baseball games Norm Housley accrued a career batting average of .228.
By 1964 “Norm’s dream” was toe-tagged and Norm returned to Colton.
In the 1920s, the poet AE Housman wrote “To An Athlete Dying Young” … Norm Housley did not “die young”… but his dream did.
Norm Housley’s obituary says he went on to get a teacher’s certificate and taught Jr Hi typing for many years… then transferring to a position with the Colton Unified School District as “a maintenance worker” for 14 years. He also coached Colton Little League for “many years”.
On August 27, 1999… a month before he died – and 45 years after the fact… Norm Housley, dying of cancer, got “His Day”
Norm Housley Day in Colton CA commemorated his role in The Big Game when he hit a 3-run Homer but his team lost in the LL World Series Finals to Schenectady NY…
“… he was a great guy and is truly missed.”
Most obituaries say something like that regardless. I hope it was true about Norm Housley.
EPILOGUE: In 1962 I was “just a kid” hawking peanuts and crackerjacks in Grainger Stadium. I never met Norm Housley.
I’m pretty sure I never yelled “Lousy Housley”. Maybe something inside me said “he (Norm Housley) is trying his best… but his best as a professional baseball player just isn’t good enough.”
On second thought, I doubt I was that introspective. That quality would emerge many years later.
I wonder how many “Norm Housleys” there are / have been across America? A lot, I bet.
What happened to the shiny Corvette, with the California plates, has been lost to history.
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