R.I.P. to Glenn Mickens, pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers and a longtime coach on the UCLA baseball team. He died from pneumonia on July 9 at the age of 88. Mickens played for the Dodgers in 1953.
Glenn Mickens was born in Wilmar, Calif., on July 26, 1930. He stayed in California for his education, attending Fremont High School in Los Angeles and the University of California – Los Angeles for college. He was unable to pitch for the Bruins, though. He was deemed ineligible after he received $20 for transportation costs after attending a Dodgers tryout. Instead, Mickens pitched semipro ball. In 1950, while pitching for the St. Louis Cardinal Juniors, Mickens threw a no-hitter against Ontario. According to the Los Angeles Times, Mickens visited his 84-year-old grandfather in the hospital that evening to tell him about the news. Thomas Mickens, who was suffering from a throat ailment, had attended many of his grandson’s other pitching outings. He died the following morning.
Mickens was signed by the Dodgers and reported to the Billings Mustangs in 1950. He went 6-4 with a 2.67 ERA and helped pitch the Mustangs into the Pioneer League playoffs. He had an equally strong showing in 1951 with the Fort Worth Cats before he was drafted into the armed forces. He missed the entire 1952 season but did pitch in a military league in Texas, where he was stationed.
Mickens was ineligible to start the 1953 season in the Big Leagues, as he wouldn’t be discharged from Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio until May. Nevertheless, he was allowed to report to Spring Training and didn’t allow an earned run. Once the season started, Mickens, back in San Antonio, sent a letter to Dodgers manager “Sgt. Charley Dressen” in late April to provide a scouting report of himself and fellow Dodgers hurler Don Newcombe.
“I threw a nine inning game when I first got back here, gave up four hits, one run (unearned), two walks, seven strikeouts, and we won, 5-1. I kept that curve high and tight on those left-handed hitters, threw a few under the chins of those guys and kept working on my change, most of the game. If I can get it over like Carl [Erskine] does, I know I’ll be able to win for you.
“Big Don has only thrown five innings since I got back, but he was ‘humming that tater’ as [Ben] Wade says,” Mickens continued. “His control was pretty good and he seems to be in pretty fair shape. He was in the outfield running with me. So I know he wants to get ready to win another 20 for you.”
Mickens pitched briefly for Fort Worth once he was discharged. The Dodgers called him to the majors in mid-July and put him on the mound for the first time on July 19. He allowed a home run to Ted Kluszewski in an inning of work. He got a start on July 22 against the Cubs and allowed 4 runs on 6 hits in 4 innings before being relieved by Wade. He threw a scoreless inning on July 24 against the Braves and got one more start against the Cubs, again, on July 30. It went worse than the first one, as Mickens was knocked out of the game after retiring just one batter. He gave up a three-run bomb to Ralph Kiner.
For his 4 appearances with the Dodgers, Mickens posted an 0-1 record, 11.37
ERA, with 5 strikeouts and 4 walks in 6-1/3 innings.
He was sent back to the minors, joining the Montreal Royals. He stayed in
the Dodgers organization until 1958, pitching everywhere from Victoria, Texas, to St. Paul to Los Angeles — back when the Los Angeles Angels was a minor-league team. He had a 61-55 record in the minor leagues.
In 1959, Mickens signed a contract to play with the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes of the Japan Pacific League. He and catcher Ron Bottler were the first Americans to play for the team. There seemed to be some question as to whether Mickens had his release from the Dodgers when he went overseas, but nevertheless, he played with the Buffaloes for five seasons. He won a career-high 13 games with the team in 1950, to go with a 2.24 ERA. In his five seasons in Japan, he won 45 games, lost 51 and had a 2.55 ERA.
In correspondence with Cubs General Manager Jim Gallagher, Mickens reported that the Japanese Leagues had talented players. However, they were not being taught some of the basics that would make those players major-leaguers in the United States. “Their most glaring weakness is sliding — they just don’t know how to break up the double play,” he wrote in 1959. “Against a U.S. club, their second baseman and shortstop would get killed. Again, it’s not that they can’t slide, but just for some reason they aren’t taught properly.”
(If you’re interested, check out my grave story on Wally Yonamine, a Hawaiian-born Japanese-American who went on to a Hall of Fame career in Japan. He grew up playing the American game and found out early that it was much more aggressive than the Japanese game.)
While he was still playing in Japan, Mickens was starting to work at his old college, UCLA, in the offseason. He began as an assistant coach to Art Reichle in 1962. He became a full-time assistant coach in 1965 and worked with the school’s baseball program for more than 25 seasons, retiring in 1989.
“Coach Mickens was, in a lot of ways, like John Wooden,” UCLA Coach Gary Adams said. “Coach Wooden had been named as the greatest coach of the 20th century, but for me, I felt like Mick was the greatest assistant coach of the 20th century. That’s my opinion. He could throw batting practice all day long, and they were strikes. The guys loved to hit off of him. He was a great assistant, very loyal, and you always knew that he had your back.
“I saw Tommy Lasorda last week,” Adams added, “and he was bragging about how he probably threw more batting practice to his players than anybody in America. But I had to bite my lip. I didn’t want to tell him that Coach Mick had probably out-pitched him there. He was more than just a pitching coach, in my estimation. Guys who’ve gone on to manage in the big leagues, such as Torey Lovullo and Ron Roenicke, Mick was their coach, too. He was just a coach’s dream. He was a wonderful guy who everybody loved.”
After his retirement from UCLA, Mickens and his wife, Ruth, moved to Kapaa, Hawaii.