BobLee:. Norm Housley was “a bonus baby”… from California

Norm Housley
BobLee
July06/ 2018

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NOTE:  The socio-political aspect of this column is statistically zero. Proceed with carefree abandon.

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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.

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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?”

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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…

Norm Housley was born (1942) in Colton, CA. Colton in a suburb of San Bernardino … about 50 miles east of Los Angeles.Norm Housley

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 whichAmerican Graffiti “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…

Grainger Stadium in Kinston NC in 1962, as a Kinston Eagle, was where NormGrainger Stadium Housley’s professional baseball dream began to die. In 125 games, he hit .204. Hello Mario.

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…

The final paragraph of his obit says…

“… he was a great guy and is truly missed.”

Most obituaries say something like that regardless. I hope it was true about Norm Housley.

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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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IF You “Do Twitter”… Follow BobLee at @BobLeeSays

2,000 more BobLeeSays commentaries – LINK

SoTheBlondeSaid…. LINK

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AgentPierce

 

 

 

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TheCowdog
TheCowdog
2 years ago

Fayettewuf, it was Norm Sloan that brought Spo to Raleigh. Old Chicago/Indiana friends.

Yes, Sam Esposito, my old coach, was a one of a kind. It was he that moved me to RF, and as CNR said, that position is a spot not for the weak.

Keith Spence
Keith Spence
2 years ago

Being from Kinston (and still working here!) this article has great meaning. Yes, there have been a lot of Norm Housley’s over the years, in all sports, but there have also been many doctors, lawyers, writers, etc. also who failed to realize their potential. It’s the nature of high expectations that some will succumb to the pressure. Grainger Stadium, of course, is still here, but much updated. You should come on down to a Wood Ducks game. I’ll buy you a ticket and a beer.

Doug
Doug
2 years ago

REPLY to CNR: Thank you Coach. PFC Earl was seriously wounded twice in battle. Once he was sent to a hospital in the nearby village of Rethel, France. Another time he was sent to Wales to recover from a German mustard gas attack. After the war he returned home and never mentioned his time in the great war. His one constant reminder of the war was that he named his first child, my daddy Rethel Wales. For someone who never talked about that time in his life he was never that far removed form his time in uniform. I often… Read more »

CNR
CNR
2 years ago

Correction: 30th Division from NC, TN, SC, IL, IN not 27th that had NY, including Brooklyn.

CNR
CNR
2 years ago

REPLY TO DOUG: . I know you will not “brag” about your grandpa, so I will. PFC Earl was a true American World War hero. He served in France with a unit comprised of the 27th Division of Rebels from Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Illinois and Indiana, as well as a 27th Division of Dang Yankees from New York. With each were several of my uncles from Brooklyn. Thousands of them were KIA, the greatest number of any divisions in the war. . https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0ahUKEwj_6qX9rqTcAhUO7awKHS56AV4QFgg7MAE&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ncpedia.org%2Fold-hickory-division&usg=AOvVaw1kAOMu7pO5kZcATzUuo7Lk . https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0ahUKEwi5nd-W1KTcAhWm64MKHQtvDzAQFggyMAI&url=https%3A%2F%2Farmyhistory.org%2Fborrowed-soldiers-the-american-27th-and-30th-divisions-and-the-british-army-on-the-ypres-front-august-september-1918%2F&usg=AOvVaw2-ctdJS06JeJZe8CzLwOxN . Interestingly, that ridiculed RF position as youngsters advanced in age and ability… Read more »

CNR
CNR
2 years ago

Reply to BL: . You entered UNC at the perfect time regarding basketball. That 65-66 Frosh Team was a thing of beauty at every position, The Tuttle family from the Appalachians could play ball. Gerald was one of the them. He and Richard were Hazel Green High boys. Those hill, mountain, and river boys have steely eyes. The same can be said of poor boys who have been kicked and punched too often, especially with African, Latiin and Celtic blood. They will practice on their own until their hands and feet bleed, and ache. . We played Duke Texas Western… Read more »

CNR
CNR
2 years ago

Reply to Prince Albert: . Perhaps you will recognize the name of the star player on that Collton LL team. He is your kind. The young man is still a household name among Chicago Cub fans of all generations. Consensus vote for top prep baseball player in California. . The coach at UCLA was emphatic that if he had been successful in having this player attend UCLA, his team would have beaten Cincinnati in the NCAA Final Four and then won the tournament championship. Pete Newell concurred. Consensus vote for top prep basketball player in California. . Ara Parseghian and… Read more »

Fayettewuf
Fayettewuf
2 years ago

Great piece. CNR’s reply was enjoyable too. These sort of discussions make me miss conversations with my ex-father in law, who was a scout for the Chicago White Sox. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball and a wicked sense of humor. Just read of Sam Esposito’s passing and wondered what led a retired major leaguer to Raleigh.

CNR
CNR
2 years ago

To BL,

Might coulda been. You will have to ask Dickie about that. Dickie made an excellent choice going with Ken Rosemond and Dean. Dickie will always be one of my favorites. Pat was his hero, if I recall correctly. By the tiime Dick entered UNC, I was beginning graduate school in Theology/Philosophy at Notre Dame. With Bobby Lewis, Bill Bunting, and Dickie wearing the Double Blue for Dean, I was a huge UNC fan, except when I was at UCLA.
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Great youngsters those three.

CNR
CNR
2 years ago

The Schenectady LL team that defeated the Colton team in the 1954 championship game was led on the mound and at the plate by Lee Riley’s boy whose name was Pat, . Pat was a Jr. Olympic speed skating champion as well as a three meter Jr. Olympic diving champion who also pitched many no-hitters in prep baseball (his father was a pitcher and manager in the Phils organization). His brother Lee, held the interception record in the AFL for several years. . As a prep quarterback his team defeated prep power Aquinas Institute of Rochester with his passing and… Read more »

CNR
CNR
2 years ago

“Memories, memories,
Round me at twilight come stealing
Shadows of days that are gone
Dreams of the old days revealing
Mem’ries of love’s golden dawn.”
Egbert Van Alstyne
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Thank you Bob Lee and your commenters for another glorious recollection of those halcyon days of yesteryear and the glorious game of baseball in all of our lives.

UncBlue
UncBlue
2 years ago

Very nice thoughts.
BL, are you following the story of “Six Flags Over Kinston” aka Woodmen of World Water Park? Quintessential mess every town gets into.

Lakepacker
Lakepacker
2 years ago

The more amazing memory of that time, rather than the players, was a very innocent time when kids could ride their bikes to Grainger Stadium, even at night, watch a ball game, and return home safely to their parents. The players blended into the neighborhoods where they lived for the summer. It is a time we will never see again. Kinston, with the Eagles, was a great place to grow up in. I remember all the items that have been brought up, but only when people write about them. The greatest memory is the time of innocence.

Colonel Batguano
Colonel Batguano
2 years ago

Points of clarification. American Graffiti came out in 1973. Happy Days’ debut was in 1974.

Former96heel
Former96heel
2 years ago

Wonderful read from another generation. How did mlb, with half the teams support so many minor league teams? We’re they all able to make it on gate alone? . I had a modern bonus baby work for me about 10 years ago. I felt kind of sad for him. He was a first rounder, lefty, who took the 7 figures out of hs instead of going to State. . 3 years in Arizona playing with mid-teens from Latin America and the islands and his elbow was shot. Camaraderie was short when only 3 on the team spoke English. An Escalade… Read more »

Robert. Kennel
Robert. Kennel
2 years ago

More topical is what several NC State “draftees” did last night. Carlos Rodon left after 5 against champion Houston, but Astros won 4-3 ovet White Sox with 2 runs in the bottom of the 9th.
Trea Turner, however hit a homer with the Nationals down 9-0 to the Marlins.
and later hit a grand-slam to take the lead. He ended up with 3 hits and 8 RBI I’m a 14-12 win.
Don’t know what money each got, but well worth it in today’s baseball economy.

Doug
Doug
2 years ago

Replying to TOMMY.IN.HENDERSON:
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Claytons and Frazier’s (Clay) also littered the tobacco industry too. Ted, Alton “Long Rifle” Steve (RIP) and Clay. I worked with Steve at Export Leaf and Clay also until the company downsized making the last hired the first ones out. Steve never tired of Cotton stories and retelling of feats. Tried to hire Clay back to ELT in the early 90’s but he made the right career choice. Great family and great history.

Tommy.in.Henderson
Tommy.in.Henderson
2 years ago

Enjoyed the article. My uncle Lawrence Cotton Clayton was a bonus baby. He signed with Baltimore in 1961 for $50,000. He had just won the NAIA National championship with East Carolina. He played for 8 years in the Orioles organization but his career paralleled Earl Weaver and they never got along. . Earl believed in platooning… Cotton didn’t. He never made the majors but Baltimore would not trade him. He finally retired in 1969. He was drafted by New Orleans from the ABA even though he hadn’t played basketball in 7 years. . By this time he had 4 children… Read more »

Robert. Kennel
Robert. Kennel
2 years ago

Great day for good memories of the way it used to be in small town America. Down in New Bern in the early to mid-50’s we had the Class D Coastal Plain League New Bern Bears. . We had Red Derda who came to play baseball and ended up running a bakery for over 20 years. We had home-grown players like shortstop Billy Bevill who went up several leagues and disappeared. We had my favorite Centerfielder Zippy Zunno who was a good fielder, .300 hitter, and stolen base champ. . Best of all was Lefty Bunky Stewart in 1951 whom… Read more »

Doug
Doug
2 years ago

Reply, Price of 1962 Vette: According to Wikipedia ~$4,000.

Doug
Doug
2 years ago

I think it was 1971 when Francis Combs was a 17th round NY Yankees draft pick and came to play for the Eagles and batted .292 that season. If memory serves me he also showed up in a Vette. . Your description of right field is spot on. That was me as a 9 year old. By 10 I was at 2nd base and actually started getting a few hits. By 11, I was a solid fielder and started making good contact batting, going 3-4 a time or two before my Little League career was cut short. I got drafted… Read more »

bob hutchins
bob hutchins
2 years ago

Another very good one, Bob! But, I must remind you that the first year of the Ford Mustang was a 1964-1/2; so you couldn’t have bought one for $2,500 or even twice that. . I grew up in Raleigh pulling for the Caps at Devereaux Meadow and listening to Ray Reeve broadcasts. That was before there was a Downtown Boulevard and the neighborhood was mostly Smoky Hollow. The Caps had a first baseman named ‘Stretch’ Halleau (sp?) so named because he would often do a full balletic split on taking a throw from the infield. Us kids ate it up.… Read more »

Porgie
Porgie
2 years ago

And the last batter of that game was “Stick” Michaels in a bases loaded, 2 outs and down a run situation. He promptly hit a weak grounder to short and was thrown out at first. Since it was the bottom of the ninth, I was excused from my job in the underneath concession stands to watch. Yes, it is amazing what we remember from the past, but a little jog of the memory will awaken it.

Prince.Albert
Prince.Albert
2 years ago

I THOROUGHLY ENJOYED READING ABOUT NORM HOUSLEY EVEN THOUGH I NEVER HEARD OF HIM. (Yes, I saw that “prince albert was mentioned.) Great “researching.” Can’t wait to read comments later on this afternoon or tonight.

P.Coleman.Buck
P.Coleman.Buck
2 years ago

How did you unearth all this? I remember the very first game. Cold night. The leadoff batter hit the first pitch – a bullet grounder to third. Norm gloved it just fine and then threw it into the “colored section” bleachers.

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