Former Major League catcher Matthew Daniel "Matt" Batts died at his home in Baton Rouge Sunday at the age of 91.
In 1951, he was among the first catchers teamed up with Satchell Paige when Paige became the first black pitcher in the American League. He was also catcher for Detroit pitcher Virgil Trucks when Trucks became only the third Major League pitcher to throw a second no-hitter in a season.
Born in San Antonio and a standout player for Baylor, 20-year-old Batts accepted tuition money from the Boston Red Sox for signing in 1942. As a result, he was kicked off the team and joined the Army Air Corps for the duration of World War II. Batts would later be inducted into the Baylor Hall of Fame.
In a fluke position change on San Antonio's semipro team, Batts found his niche behind the plate. Hired as backup catcher in Boston, Batts wowed Sox fans at his debut in 1947 by cracking a home run in his first Major League at bat. He batted .500 in his first sixteen appearances at the plate.
"When you woke in the morning," he recalled to New York sportswriter Peter Golenbock, "you wanted to get to the ballpark because you enjoyed it… loved the people, loved manager Joe McCarthy, coaches and the great ballplayers."
After four seasons, Boston traded Batts to the St. Louis Browns in 1951 where he hit .302 and caught for Satchell Paige. He was there when, as a publicity stunt, 3-foot-7-inch tall pinch-hitter Eddie Gaedel made his only at-bat wearing Browns' jersey number "1/8." The following year, St. Louis traded Batts to the Detroit Tigers where he started 116 games as catcher. On August 25, 1952, Batts caught for Virgil Trucks when Trucks threw his second record-setting no-hitter. In 1954, Detroit traded Batts to Chicago, then to Baltimore later that year. Finally, the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds purchased Batts' contracts. His last appearance on the diamond was May 8, 1956, catching for Cincinnati. In 546 games of which he started 409, Batts racked up 26 home runs, 219 runs batted in, a batting average of .269 and a fielding percentage of .985.
Batts retired to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where fans asked him to coach baseball clinics. He and wife Arleene started Batts Printing, donating programs and tickets for games.
Former 5-time CWS Championship Baseball Coach and LSU Athletic Director Skip Bertman recalls, "Matt Batts really was an unsung hero who was legendary for helping kids play better ball. Long after he left the big leagues, he always gave of himself as an instructor, and he and Arleene donated printing to help the clinics and LSU baseball. He will be missed."
James Carville adds, "Matt Batts had arguably one of the greatest names in the history of baseball. All of his contributions to baseball serve only to compliment his later contributions to Baton Rouge. The city lost one of its great citizens and treasures in Matt."
Services are Saturday afternoon July 20 in Baton Rouge.
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