RIP to Pete Ward, who started his career as an Orioles prospect before becoming a rookie sensation with the White Sox. He died on March 16 from Alzheimer’s Disease at the age of 84. Ward played for the Baltimore Orioles (1962), Chicago White Sox (1963-1969) and New York Yankees (1970).
Peter Thomas Ward was born on July 26, 1937 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. His father, Jimmy Ward, was the right wing for the Montreal Maroons, which won the Stanley Cup in 1935. So how did the son of a hockey player discover baseball? As it turns out, Jimmy Ward was also a pretty fair baseball player. In fact, in July of 1936 — a year before his son was born — he was the starting pitcher for an NHL All-Star team that played a Montreal police team in a charity event. He defeated a group of war veterans the previous year. “His mound record in hardball is one that would do credit to many twirlers,” reported The Montreal Daily Star. “Jimmy has a steady effective delivery and keeps control of the situation at all times.”
The Wards moved to Oregon when Jimmy’s playing days were over and he got a job as a coach in Portland. With no pro hockey in Oregon, Pete Ward quickly turned to baseball. He became an All-state shortstop while attending Jefferson High School in Portland. He continued to play ball at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, as well as various amateur teams in Oregon. In his two seasons playing ball at Lewis and Clark, Ward batted .437 and .410. He signed with the Vancouver Mounties, a Baltimore Orioles minor-league affiliate, in August of 1958. Orioles scout Don McShane announced that the 20-year-old would remain with the Mounties for the rest of the season. Ward would have been one of the youngest and most inexperienced players in the Pacific Coast League at the time, so Mounties manager Charlie Metro was very careful about using him. In 11 games, Ward had 20 plate appearances and batted .353, with a double and a triple among his 6 hits. He was then assigned to the Stockton Ports of the Class-C California League, which was more suited to his development level.
Ward played all over the infield and outfield while with the Orioles’ organization, but he spent more of his infield time at third base. That proved to be a problem, as Brooks Robinson was starting to blossom into stardom in Baltimore. But Ward could hit — he batted .321 for Stockton in 1959 and a league-leading .345 for Fox Cities in 1960. He was named the MVP of the Three-I League for his 1960 campaign, in which he hit 12 home runs and 34 doubles while driving in 105 runs. His home run power came in spite of his batting grip. Early on, he had his hands several inches apart on the handle. When he moved them closer together, he began hitting with more power.
“I haven’t had any major league experience, so I don’t know whether I’m ready, but I feel now that I can do the job hitting,” Ward said after his 1960 season. He began seeing more time in the outfield as he moved up the ranks. Early 1961 reports had him potentially starting the season with Baltimore as an outfielder that season, but he didn’t reach the majors until September of 1962.– after be hit .328 with 22 home runs in Triple-A Rochester.
Baltimore manager Billy Hitchcock wasted no time in testing Ward. The Orioles were losing to the Minnesota Twins 2-1 in the seventh inning on September 21, when they loaded the bases against Camilo Pascual, who was trying for his 20th win of the season. Hitchcock replaced the right-handed second baseman Marv Breeding with the lefty Ward. The rookie hit a 1-0 pitch into left field to score two runs, and the Orioles held on to win 3-2. A day later, he hit a double to drive in the first run of a 2-0 win over the Twins. He ended the year with 3 hits in 21 at-bats for a .143/.280/.238 slash line in 8 games, but he put himself into the running for an outfield job in 1963.
Ward’s big break wouldn’t come in Baltimore. The Orioles traded him, reliever Hoyt Wilhelm, shortstop Ron Hansen and outfielder Dave Nicholson to the Chicago White Sox for shortstop Luis Aparicio and infielder/outfielder Al Smith. The White Sox moved him back to third base to replace the departed Smith. Ward made an immediate good impression with Sox fans, hitting a 3-run homer in the first game of the 1963 season, which put the Sox on top of Detroit in a 7-5 win. He also made a nice grab of an Al Kaline grounder in the ninth inning to keep the Tigers from starting a rally. After the game, manager Al Lopez told the press, “He was the guy we wanted in that trade with the Orioles. They kept trying to avoid us and offering several other players. But we knew about Ward and we really wanted him.”
Ward solved one of the team’s biggest weaknesses by re-establishing himself as a third baseman. His return to the keystone corner wasn’t completely smooth — he had 38 errors for a .923 fielding percentage, but his fielding improved as he grew more used to the position. His hitting, though, was good all year long. He finished the year with a .295/.353/.482 slash line for a 134 OPS+. He had 34 doubles, 6 triples and 22 home runs while driving in 84 runs. He was second in the AL with 177 hits, behind only Carl Yastrzemski’s 183. The only thing that kept him from winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 1963 was the fact that his teammate, pitcher Gary Peters, led the AL with a 2.33 ERA and won 19 games, and he finished first. Ward came in second and ninth in the MVP voting. He was named Rookie of the Year by the Sporting News, at least.
Ward had a laid-back, wise-cracking and occasionally scatter-brained personality that made him well-liked among his teammates. He once left a suit of clothes in a hotel room on a road trip, but he could only remember his room number and not the city where it was left. But he was confident in his abilities. Early in the 1963 season, he put together a 19-game hitting streak. When he went hitless in the next game, he told Lopez, “Now DiMaggio can rest. My streak is broken.”
Ward’s sophomore season with the Sox was almost as good, even though a back injury sidelined him for the first couple weeks of the season. He hit .282 in 1964, with 23 homers and 94 RBIs. Three of those home runs came with the bases loaded. He also improved his fielding to .958, which was better than league average. He finished in sixth place in the MVP voting, and he looked poised to become the greatest Canadian ballplayer in the major leagues since George Selkirk played 20 years earlier. But injuries began to limit his effectiveness. He was involved in a car accident –after attending a hockey game, of all things — early in the 1965 season that injured his neck, and he aggravated it on the field soon after. He had to be hospitalized in July, with his neck put in traction. He was limited to 138 games, and he hit a disappointing .247, with only 10 home runs and 57 RBIs.
Ward was never able to match the numbers that he had in his first two seasons. He lost the starting third base job to Don Buford in 1966 and appeared in only 84 games. He batted .219, and his power all but vanished, with 3 home runs and 7 doubles. He spent that year and the rest of his career as a corner infielder and outfielder. He gained more time in 1967 as a starting left fielder and was one of the better-hitting White Sox regulars, with a .233 batting average and 18 home runs. He had a 4-for-4 day on August 17 with 2 home runs in a 16-1 pounding of the Kansas City A’s. The usually calm Ward showed a rare burst of temper in an argument with umpire Emmet Ashford on September 4. The outfielder felt he had been hit by an inside pitch, but Ashford ruled the ball hit his bat. Ward flung his helmet and was ejected, and when he showed no signs of stopping, White Sox manager Eddie Stanky tried to intervene. Ward pushed him away, and the manager, who weighed about 20 pounds less than Ward, grabbed his player, threw him down and jumped on top of him to keep him from getting suspended. “If I get a broken back, I can manage from a hospital bed. But I need Pete tomorrow,” Stanky reasoned.
The relationship between Ward and his manager remained strong, and Stanky came to Ward’s defense in early 1968 when the White Sox allowed several unearned runs in a doubleheader against Detroit because of Ward’s errors at third base. “He acted like a professional. He didn’t embarrass himself by making any gestures. I’m proud of him,” Stanky said.
Ward hit .216 in 1968, with 16 home runs and 50 runs driven in. In the year of the pitcher, that gave him an OPS+ of 115; he was one of the only above-average hitters on the team and the only one to reach double-digit home run totals. He remained a league-average hitter in 1969, when he appeared in 105 games and batted .246, with 7 doubles and 6 home runs among 49 hits. Fifty-eight of those games came as a pinch-hitter, and he batted .370 in that role. After the season, Chicago sent him to the New York Yankees for pitcher Mickey Scott and cash. Gary Peters, who beat out Ward for the 1963 Rookie of the Year Award, was traded to Boston five days before Ward’s departure. Ward finished out his career with the 1970 Yankees working again as a pinch-hitter. He hit .260 in 66 games and was released in the spring of 1971.
Ward played for 9 seasons in the majors and had a .254/.339/.405 slash line. He hit 136 doubles, 17 triples and 98 home runs among his 776 hits. He drove in 427 runs and scored 345 times. Ward had a career OPS+ of 115 and is credited with 20.2 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference. His 98 homers stood as a White Sox record for a left-handed hitter until Harold Baines broke it in 1985.
The Yankees may not have wanted Ward as a player in 1971, but they still wanted him as a manager. He was named skipper of the Fort Lauderdale Yankees of the Florida State League in 1972, after he spent ’71 as a minor-league coach for Syracuse of the Orioles organization. Ward still remembered the patience that Al Lopez showed him when he was an error-prone third baseman breaking into the majors. “I just hope I have the patience as manager that Lopez did with me,” he said.
Ward managed in the Yankees organization for six seasons, advancing as high as Triple-A Syracuse in 1977. Four of his teams finished at or above .500, and he won two pennants. He returned to the majors in 1978 to serve as first base coach for the new Atlanta Braves manager, Bobby Cox. He was fired after a year, when the Braves finished in last place and Cox replaced most of his coaching staff. Ward returned to manage in the minors in 1980 and ’81.
Ward held baseball clinics in the Portland area for many years after his retirement as an active player. He also operated a travel agency in Portland. Ward was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1985 and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991.
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