Former White Sox third baseman, travel agency owner, died last month in Lake Oswego.
For a baseball kid in 1970s Portland, the name Pete Ward was synonymous with a popular winter baseball clinic.
In the 1960s, Portlanders followed Pete Ward’s baseball success through the box scores in the Oregonian and Oregon Journal newspapers.
“It was fun to see a local kid in the major leagues,” longtime Portland sports journalist Dwight Jaynes said. “It was really a fun thing for all of us kids around Portland in those days.”
Ward, who died March 16 in Lake Oswego at the age of 84, was chosen the 1963 American League Rookie of the Year by The Sporting News following his first season with the Chicago White Sox.
A 1955 graduate of Jefferson High, Ward played at Lewis & Clark College before signing in 1958 with the Baltimore Orioles.
A decade in the big leagues was followed by another decade in the game, mostly spent as a manager for minor league teams in the Yankees’ system. Ward spent the 1978 season as a coach for the Atlanta Braves under manager Bobby Cox. His last stop as a manager was with the 1981 Portland Beavers, after which he built a successful travel agency.
No matter where his baseball travels took him, Portland remained Ward’s home base. His impact on baseball included the Pete Ward Baseball Clinic that brought baseball royalty here beginning in 1971. Among the players who spoke at Ward’s clinic were Micky Mantle, Hank Aaron and Brooks Robinson.
In addition to his clinic, which ran for more than a decade, Ward championed baseball locally as a board member for the Oldtimers Baseball Association of Portland, which since 1933 has supported amateur baseball in the region.
“I like to think of dad as Portland’s best kept secret,” Mike Ward, one of Pete and Margaret Ward’s three sons, said.
Born in Montreal on July 27, 1937, hockey was the sport that brought the Ward family to Portland. Pete’s father, Jimmy Ward, played 12 NHL seasons, winning the 1930 Stanley Cup with the Montreal Maroons. He came to Portland to coach the Portland Eagles of the Pacific Coast Hockey League.
Ivan Kafoury, who was a couple years behind Ward at Kennedy Grade School and Jefferson High, remembers Ward was one of the smaller players on the Democrats’ baseball team. The story goes that he grew 10 inches and filled out between his junior year at Jefferson High and his sophomore year at Lewis & Clark.
Ward’s contributions to baseball in the Portland area included serving as a board member for the Old Timers Baseball Association of Portland, a non-profit organization that since 1933 has supported amateur baseball in the region.
Pete Ness, who coached three seasons at Jefferson High and 16 at David Douglas, is a past president of the Old Timers organization. He said said that Ward was an influential supporter of the Old Timers’ mission.
“Anything that we ever wanted, he would help us get” using his connections in baseball, Ness said.
“Pete was an outstanding baseball player, but he was equally as fine a person,” former Portland State baseball coach Jack Dunn said.
“With the Pete Ward Clinic, the Portland State clinic, the Old Timers baseball, he reached out to the youth in the community and really did a service,” Dunn said. “He really was a quality guy and really put forth some effort through the Oldtimers and his clinics to enhance baseball for the community in general, and specifically for the kids.”
Jaynes, who became friends with Ward in 1981 when Ward was managing the Portland Beavers, remembers first seeing Ward play at Lewis & Clark College and being fascinated by the split grip Ward used on the bat. “I’d never seen anybody do that,” Jaynes said.
A left-handed hitter who threw with his right hand, Ward adjusted his grip when he turned pro and hit with his hands together to generate more power.
“He was a good man. He was always cordial and affable,” Jaynes said. “He was never one of those guys who put himself on a pedestal or thought he was better than you because he was in the major leagues.”
Mick Hergert was a few years behind Ward at Jefferson High and at Lewis & Clark but became friends with Ward during Hergert’s tenure as the Lewis & Clark baseball coach from 1969 through 1980. Hergert worked with Ward to build the Pete Ward Baseball Clinic into a must-attend event for coaches and players in the region.
“Pete was a funny, gracious guy who was always interested in you and what you were up to,” Hergert said.
Hergert played on an over-50 slow-pitch softball team with Ward and said he quickly realized why Ward made the major leagues.
“His hands, his wrists and his timing stood out. I saw why he was a major leaguer. The (softball) just jumped off his bat,” Hergert said.
That bat, and his easygoing personality, made Ward a popular White Sox player during his seven seasons in Chicago, which acquired him in a trade with Baltimore after the 1962 season.
In 1963, Ward came in second in Associated Press voting for AL rookie of the year to White Sox pitcher and friend Gary Peters. The Sporting News named Ward its 1963 AL Rookie Player of the Year after he batted .295 with 22 home runs. Pete Rose won the National League honor.
In some ways, that season portended a career of “almosts” and “what-ifs” for Ward.
In May of 1965, Ward was going to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. But Muhammad Ali knocked out Sonny Liston so the magazine made a late switch, moving its Ward profile inside.
In Ward’s first three seasons, the White Sox finished second in the American League. In 1964 they won their last nine games and still finished one game behind the powerhouse Yankees — the closest Ward came to a World Series.
As what-ifs go, the big one was how productive Ward’s career might have been had he not suffered a neck injury in a car accident prior to the 1965 season.
Playing in a “dead-ball” era when pitching dominated (only nine players hit more than 30 homers in 1963), Ward hit 45 of his 98 major league home runs during the 1963-64 seasons. From 1965 until 1970, when he homered once in 66 games with the Yankees in his final season as a player, his best season was 18 homers in 1967 and he never hit better than .247.
Articles profiling Ward in his playing days sometimes described him as forgetful and a bit quirky.
A 1965 profile of Ward in the Saturday Evening Post recounts a time that Ward left a suit behind in a hotel room. Ward remembered the room number — but not the hotel or the city.
In that article, writer Myron Cope described Ward as standing “a fraction of an inch over six feet but appears much shorter because his 210 pounds are assembled like a Goodwill bundle.”
In that same paragraph, White Sox manager Al Lopez describes Ward as “not exactly the picture of an athlete.”
That Saturday Evening Post profile describes Ward as the most important batter for an offensively-challenged Chicago team in a tight pennant race. As for defense, Ward put his sometimes-erratic play at third base into perspective:
“I’m not an important player,” one quote in the Post story reads. “But I’m exciting. When they hit me a ground ball, it’s exciting to see what I do with it.”
Getting things done was part of Ward’s personality. A case in point: Looking for a copy of the Sports Illustrated cover that was printed, but never published, Ward visited the magazine’s New York office unannounced.
Art Berke was the VP of Communications at Sports Illustrated. In 2019 on a White Sox blog, Berke wrote about how that unexpected encounter with his boyhood idol led to a lasting friendship.
“During my career in sports I’ve met Muhammad Ali, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and countless other legends. But Pete Ward? He was my guy,” Berke wrote.
Copies of Ward’s SI cover were not located that day, but Ward eventually tracked down copies.
Another friend who held Ward in high esteem was Herm Schneider, who for 40 seasons was the highly-respected head trainer for the White Sox. Schneider got his start as the trainer for Yankees’ minors league teams managed by Ward in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and in West Haven, Connecticut.
“I loved Pete to death,” Schneider said. “He was just a wonderful guy.”
Schneider lovingly called Ward, “Buffy Buffoon.” Schneider could not recall the genesis of the nickname, but said Ward’s fun-loving approach to life helped him connect with young players during his managerial career.
Schneider noted that Ward remained popular on Chicago’s South Side long after his time with the White Sox.
“Pete had a really good personality,” Schneider said. “He has a special place in my heart.”
In addition to baseball adventures, racquetball, golf and pick-up basketball were among the activities Ward enjoyed. Leaving baseball after the 1981 Beavers’ season, he worked selling Miller beer to bars and restaurants in Portland before building his successful travel agency.
Baseball tours organized by Pete Ward Travel and Cruise were popular because Ward’s connections in baseball meant great seats — and the opportunity to meet and hang out with some of Pete’s baseball pals.
No matter what he was up to, Mike Ward said his dad “just went about life and enjoyed it.”
Mike Ward knows his dad’s life was well lived, one filled with friendships, purpose and plenty of adventure. Even when Alzheimer’s disease meant spending his final year in a Lake Oswego memory care facility, Pete Ward made trips to the post office to mail autographs to fans who reached out.
“I wish I could live that life,” Mike Ward said, recalling his father’s many adventures. “That is an amazing life to have lived.”
In addition to Mike and Margaret, Ward is survived by son Tom, sister Gayle Acker, seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his brother Jim, sister Wendy Hill and son Steven.
A memorial service for Pete Ward is scheduled for 10 a.m., Saturday, May 14 at Lake Grove Presbyterian Church, 4040 Sunset Drive in Lake Oswego. Donations in Ward’s memory can be made to the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center Caregiver Respite Program, 505 G Avenue, Lake Oswego, Oregon, 97034.
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