Hail & Farewell to Billy Loes, 1929–2010

By Michael Kaufman

Billy Loes seemed surprised when Bill Raley told him that people were selling his old baseball cards and autographed memorabilia on the internet. “He did not use or know of the internet as far as I could tell,” recalls Raley, who befriended the former major league pitcher in 2008 while working for Adult Protective Services in Tucson, Arizona. “Billy was just getting out of the hospital then and I saw him in an official capacity. But we got to know each other a bit. I never saw a computer in his apartment. I printed out a lot of stuff for him to read about himself. He was amazed that people were making money off his name ….and that he himself never had received any of it.”  

Loes, best known for his seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s, died July 15 at a hospice in Tucson. “I really enjoyed my time with him,” adds Raley. “He still had a sense of humor. He had been in an assisted living facility after a hospital stay, but left against medical advice and went back to his apartment at Prince and Campbell Roads. In a gruff way, he said the assisted living place was a ripoff and they weren’t doing anything for him that he couldn’t do himself. He complained they were overcharging him. He seemed stubborn…but in a way that made me smile.”

Raley remembers Loes as “very humble.” He did not talk about his baseball career unless others brought it up. “I was the one who talked and made a big deal about it.” According to Raley, Loes was a regular at a small diner where he would walk from his apartment and was a favorite among the waitresses and other patrons. “During my time knowing him, he was living alone and didn’t seem to venture far away from the immediate area of Prince and Campbell in Tucson. He spoke of enjoying the casinos but it appeared he was not able to get there much, if at all.”

Raley and others who knew Loes were surprised to learn that he was still legally married at the time of his death. His estranged wife, Irene, of Chapel Hill, N.C., is his only survivor. “Those who had assisted him thought he was single or divorced,” says Raley, who wonders if Billy might have thought so too. “Certainly in his time of need (medically) back in 2008, he didn’t mention her and I was under the assumption he was all alone.”

As noted in the obituary by Richard Goldstein in The New York Times, Loes compiled a record of 50 wins and 25 losses during his best four years with the Dodgers, from 1952 through their World Series championship season of 1955. His best season was 1952, when he finished 13-8 with four shutouts and a 2.69 earned run average. He was sold to the Baltimore Orioles during the 1956 season and pitched for the American League in the 1957 All-Star Game. He ended his big-league career pitching for the San Francisco Giants in his last two seasons and retired with an 80-63 record.

William Loes was born Dec. 13, 1929, in Queens and became a star pitcher for William Cullen Bryant High School in Long Island City. Popularly known as the “Kid from Astoria,” he made his debut with the Dodgers in 1950 and rejoined the team in 1952 after serving in the Army. He is remembered as much for his sense of humor as for his pitching skills and was often depicted as a goofy character by sportswriters for some of his antics and comments. But he was also a stand-up guy who was not afraid to confront the management of the teams for which he played. In 1948, fresh out of high school, he negotiated a $28,000 bonus, a huge amount in those days, from Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey to sign with the team. He maintained his stubbornness as well as his sense of humor, until the end.

Two days after George Steinbrenner had his fatal heart attack at his mansion in Tampa, Billy Loes died quietly at a hospice in Tucson—so quietly that his death went unreported for nearly two weeks. Both men were 80. Steinbrenner loved owning a baseball team. “When you’re a shipbuilder, nobody pays any attention to you,” he said, “but when you own the New York Yankees…they do, and I love it.” Billy Loes loved playing baseball. Too bad he wasn’t around to play for one of Steinbrenner’s Yankee teams. He’d have given The Boss what for.

Michael can be reached at Michael@zestoforange.com.


3 Responses to “Hail & Farewell to Billy Loes, 1929–2010”

  1. Tad Richards Says:

    Mike – thanks for this tribute. I have a nod to Billy Loes in my “Bring the Dodgers Back to Brooklyn” video —


  2. Michael Says:

    Thanks, Tad. I love the lyrics and the pics. Now if you can just get John Prine to record it…

  3. Marco Ribeiro Says:

    My first wife’s aunt married Billy Loes, and so I got to know him. I grew up in Maryland, so I was an avid Baltimore Oriole fan, and was thrilled that I actually got to know “a former Oriole.” Of course, Billy was much more famous as a Brooklyn Dodger.

    What I can say about Billy is that he was very modest and had a great sense of humor. He was full of funny stories. Here’s one: Billy told me that he was pitching one game where there was a very attractive lady fan wearing a short skirt sitting at the railing right near first base. She kept of crossing and uncrossing her legs. The first baseman was distracted by her antics, and when Billy made a good throw to the first baseman to hold the runner, the ball flew right past the first baseman because he was staring right at the foxy lady instead of paying attention to the game. The runner advanced to second base, and a minute later the official scorer’s decision flashed up on the scoreboard: Error 1 (instead of Error 3). Billy shook his head and yelled up to the press box (where the official scorer sat), “What the hell, are you staring at her too?!”
    Bill always said some of the quotes attributed to him were not true (he was supposed to have said of the Mets, when they began as an expansion team, something like, “I think the Mets are a very good thing. They’re like the WPA — they’ll give anyone a job.” He told me that he was not into bad mouthing anyone, and would never have said something like that, but if you look in the books & old newspapers, you are sure to see that quote.

    Billy gave me a “Salute to the 1985 LA Dodgers” Lite Beer mug, and still treasure it. He was a great guy.

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