Obituary: Norm Sherry (1931-2021)


RIP to Norm Sherry, a catcher who became a coach, manager and mentor to several Hall of Famers. He died on March 8 from natural causes at the age of 89. He had been living at a long-term care facility in San Juan Capistrano, Calif, according to the Los Angeles Times. Sherry played for the Los Angeles Dodgers (1959-62) and New York Mets (1963).

Norman Burt Sherry was born on July 16, 1931 in New York City. The family moved from New York to California, where his younger brother Larry Sherry, who had an 11-year career in the majors, was born in 1935. Both of the Sherry brothers attended Fairfax High School in L.A., and they would be teammates on a few minor-league teams before spending four years together with the Dodgers. Additionally, a third brother named George pitched in the Pittsburgh organization in 1951 before he hurt his arm. Norm Sherry was a pitcher like his brothers and would move behind the plate on his off days. Eventually his hitting abilities eclipsed his pitching abilities.

Sherry was named to Los Angeles’ All-City Baseball Team in 1949 as a catcher, along with 3 other Fairfax players. He batted ,419 and only allowed three baserunners to steal off him. Also making the All-City team were future major-leaguers Chuck Essegian, another Fairfax standout, and future bonus baby pitcher Paul Pettit of Narbonne High. Sherry was also named Player of the Year for the Western League, as the Fairfax Colonials won the city baseball title. When he wasn’t doing all that, he also was leading his American Legion team to the Southern California playoffs, where they lost to a team from San Diego. Oh, and he was also a basketball star as well, but he followed baseball as a career, with his little brother soon to follow.

Norm Sherry (right) and his brother Larry give out autographs to a fan. Source: Spokane Chronicle, May 17, 1958.

Sherry and several other LA high school prospects signed with the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League in 1950. There were some concerns about his hitting ability, but they felt that the 5’11” and 160-pound catcher could add a little more power when he added a little more weight. He was signed to the Santa Barbara Dodgers of the Class-C California League to start his career. Over his first couple of seasons, he moved through the Dodgers’ low minors but failed to show much of an ability to hit for average or power. An experiment to make him an outfielder ended after 22 games and a fielding percentage below .900 in 1950, but Sherry’s skills behind the plate played at the minor-league level, at least.

Military service interrupted his baseball career, and Sherry was out of the game entirely until 1954. When he came back, he hit 12 home runs for the Newport News Dodgers of the Class-B Piedmont League and batted .257, which were well above his previous statistics. Sherry kept advancing up the Dodgers ladder, but part of the problem was that he was seldom able to claim the top catching role on any minor-league team. In 1955, he was a backup to Joe Pignitano and batted .261 in 67 games. In 1957, he broke his arm (the day before his wedding, of all days) and lost playing time to 37-year-old Dixie Howell with the St. Paul Saints.

Sherry finally played a full season as a starter for the Spokane Indians of the Pacific Coast League in 1958. Even though he hit just 2 home runs, he batted .278. Along with being one of Spokane’s top hitters, Sherry also experienced a couple of milestones. On May 17, he caught his younger brother Larry for the first time in a professional game. On June 14, Norm Sherry became a father for the first time… and an uncle. His wife, Mardon, gave birth to daughter Cynthia at 3:52 p.m. A little over three hours later, Larry’s wife Sally had baby Suzanne! Upon hearing the news, the sportswriters in the press box pooled their resources and bought clothes for the babies, a new shirt and tie for the fathers and 100 diapers to be divided evenly between the two families. When the news spread, Spokane fans also delivered clothes, toys and more.

Sherry made the Dodgers roster in 1959, though he only made two appearances before being sent back to the minors in mid-April. His MLB debut came on April 12 against the Cubs. He caught Sandy Koufax, though Koufax lasted only 3 innings and gave up 3 runs. At the plate, Sherry was hit by a Taylor Phillips pitch on the first pitch he ever saw in the majors. He made up for it by driving in 2 runs with a single off Phillips in his next at-bat.

Sherry spent the rest of 1959 with Spokane, but he returned to the majors for good in 1960. The Dodgers had a wealth of catching talent at the time, as Johnny Roseboro had the starting role, and Pignatano was a capable backup. Sherry was limited to 47 games, with a .283/.353/.500 slash line. He hit 8 home runs, including the first grand slam of his life on May 31. It was his first start in nearly three weeks, and it led to an 8-3 win over St. Louis. Stan Williams picked up the win, and Larry Sherry worked the final 1-2/3 innings of perfect relief. Norm also homered in the 11th inning of a game on May 7 to give brother Larry a 3-2 win over Philadelphia.

“I’ve always thought I’d make it one of these days,” the catcher said of his trip to the majors. “Baseball men have always told me that I have the right tools and if I get a break I could do it.”

Sherry’s grand slam did give him more starts. He caught most of the Dodgers games in June and worked his way into a platoon situation with the struggling Roseboro, but then he broke his wrist in late August after he was hit by a pitch from San Francisco’s Stu Miller, ending his season. Roseboro returned to form offensively in 1961, and Sherry was again limited to 47 games. He batted .256 and homered 5 times with 21 RBIs — a career high. Injuries again limited his use — he suffered a kidney injury in a home plate collision and then broke a rib when Roseboro hit a line drive into the bullpen before a game that struck Sherry in the back.

Sherry was healthy but ineffective in 1962. He failed to reach 100 plate appearances while playing in 35 games, and he hit .183 with 3 home runs. After the season ended, his contract was sold to the New York Mets. The transaction broke up baseball’s only brother battery at the time. In 1962, there were 11 sets of brothers playing in the major leagues, but Larry and Norm were the only ones who were on the same team, and the only ones who were a pitcher and catcher.

The Dodgers sold off much more than a backup catcher when they sent Sherry to New York. They lost a valuable baseball mind who helped turn Koufax into a Hall of Fame pitcher. It went back to a spring training game in 1961, when Koufax was still more a thrower than a pitcher. “Norm encouraged me to pitch to spots and to change speeds and not try to throw quite so hard,” he explained. “I pitched the first seven innings (of a spring training game) that afternoon and didn’t give up a hit. I’ve tried to pitch that way ever since.”

The 1963 Mets were not quite as bad as the infamous ’62 team, but they were by no means good. The two catchers who worked the most innings behind the plate were Choo-Choo Coleman and Sherry. Of the two, Sherry was the far better defender, but neither one of them hit well. Sherry appeared in a career-high 63 games but carried a lowly .136 batting average and .205 on-base percentage. He spent all of 1964 in the minor leagues with AAA Buffalo, but that marked the end of his career as a full-time player.

In 5 seasons in the majors, Sherry had a slash line of .215/.279/.346. He had 107 hits in 194 games, with 9 doubles, 1 triple and 18 home runs. He drove in 69 runs and scored 45 times.

Sherry utilized his baseball knowhow to help resurrect brother Larry’s career when the pitcher fell out of favor in Los Angeles and was traded to Detroit. “The Dodgers watched me for six weeks, and nobody could tell what I was doing wrong,” Larry said. “My brother saw me throw three pitches and knew right away what the trouble was.” Sherry turned in several more good seasons as a reliever before the end of his career.

The Dodgers brought Norm Sherry back into the organization by making him the player-manager of the Santa Barbara team in the California League. He stayed there for three years, and future star pitchers Don Sutton and Charlie Hough learned from him on their way to the majors. After that, he was a Yankees scout, a minor-league manager for the Angels and a pitching coach for the Angels’ big-league team in 1970 and 1971. While he was managing the Angels’ minor-league team in Idaho Falls, he was continuously victimized by a tough young hitter in the Atlanta organization named Mickey Rivers. When the Angels and Braves made a trade that sent knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm to the Braves, Sherry recommended that the Angels ask for Rivers in return. Rivers quickly jumped to the majors with the Angels and spent six years with the team.

Sherry returned to the Angels minor leagues and managed there for four more seasons. His beat team was the 1975 Salt Lake City Gulls, which finished first with an 80-64 record. The team had just one player who hit double digits in home runs, but The Gulls stole plenty of bases, including 32 from Dave Collins in 51 games. He also had 13 wins from pitcher Charlie Hudson and 14 from Sid Monge to lead the team. Sherry returned to the Angels’ big-league club as a part of Dick Williams’ coaching staff. However, The Angels were 18 games under .500 under Williams, and he was fired after an altercation on the team bus with Bill Melton.

Sherry learned that he was named as Williams’ successor when he came to the ballpark and was handed a press release. “I started reading it and I see, oh gosh, Dick Williams has been relieved of his job.. Then I read a little further and it says, ‘Norm Sherry’ — me?!

The Angels played better under Sherry, going 37-29 the rest of the year. If anything, Sherry created a much more relaxed atmosphere than Williams had, the Angels responded favorably to it. Unfortunately, the 1977 Angels suffered injuries to key players like Bobby Grich and Joe Rudi, and after the team lost five straight games on the road, Sherry was fired and replaced by Dave Garcia. The Angels had a 39-42 record under Sherry and didn’t improve at all without him. Sherry, in 147 games as a manager, led the Angels to a 76-71 record. He was the fifth manager fired by general manager Harry Dalton in six seasons.

Sherry conducts a press conference after being named manager of the California Angels. Source: Los Angeles Times, October 13, 1977.

Sherry returned to the majors in 1978 as a third base coach for the Montreal Expos, again working under manager Dick Williams. He was sidelined in September of 1978 when the 47-year-old underwent open heart surgery but returned to act as the bullpen coach until 1981.

The Expos brought him onboard to help with Gary Carter’s defensive skills behind home plate. The team loved his offense, but at one point Carter was relegated to right field so that they could have the superior defensive abilities of Barry Foote on the field. “Norm is showing me how to turn my glove instead of backhanding a ball, and how to get in front of the ball better. I’ve got to avoid getting down on both knees so that I can get rid of the ball faster. He’s also working with me on how to be quicker and more accurate with my throws,” explained the future Hall of Famer.

Sherry followed manager Williams, who had been fired in Montreal, to San Diego to serve as his pitching coach. He held that position until 1986 and then went to San Francisco to be the Giants’ pitching coach until 1991. The Padres made it to the World Series in 1984, thanks to strong pitching performances by the likes of Eric Show, Ed Whitson and Mark Thurmond. Sherry worked with them all to help improve their control, mechanics and pacing. The starting pitching fell apart against the Tigers in the World Series, though, and Sherry was let go over reports of personality conflicts between him and some of the Padres pitchers. He joined the Giants staff under manager Roger Craig, giving the team two highly respected pitching gurus, and the Giants led the NL in ERA in 1988 and 1989. The ’89 Giants also made it to the World Series before losing to Oakland.

Sherry spent 1992 and 1993 as the manager of the Everett Giants, the low Class-A affiliate for San Francisco, before retiring from the game. He is survived by his children Cyndi, Mike and Pam. He was predeceased by his second wife, Linda.

For more information: Los Angeles Times

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