Obituary: Ted Savage (1937-2023)

RIP to outfielder Ted Savage, who had a 9-year career with eight different teams in the 1960s and early ’70s. He died on January 15 at the age of 85. His death was announced by the St. Louis Cardinals, for whom Savage spent parts of 3 years as a player and 25 years as a part of the Community Relations department. Savage played for the Philadelphia Phillies (1962), Pittsburgh Pirates (1963), St. Louis Cardinals (1965-67), Chicago Cubs (1967-68), Los Angeles Dodgers (1968), Cincinnati Reds (1969), Milwaukee Brewers (1970-71) and Kansas City Royals (1972).

Theodore Ephesian Savage was born on February 21, 1937, in Venice, Ill. Venice is located on the Mississippi River, directly across from St. Louis and close to East St. Louis. Growing up there, Savage made his first baseball uniform out of cardboard. It tore the first time he slid. He attended nearby Lincoln High School in East St. Louis and then moved on to Lincoln University, located in Jefferson City, Mo. Savage was one of the top basketball players for Lincoln High and carried his skills to Lincoln University. Savage’s SABR biography notes that the ballplayer’s college education was interrupted by a three-year stint in the Army. Savage spent his tour of duty with the Brooke Army Medical Center — and their baseball team, the Comets. In 1958, BAMC won its third consecutive Fourth Army championship, beating the Fort Bliss Falcons in the championship. Savage, who hit .411 during the regular season, was one of the stars of the game, as he singled three times and added a ninth-inning insurance run by stealing home.

Source: Buffalo Evening News, April 5, 1961.

Savage also played basketball while serving at BAMC, and he averaged 25 points per game. When he was discharged in the fall of 1959, he signed with the Wichita Vickers, an amateur basketball team in the National Industrial Basketball League. However, the league folded before he could play a game. He also played for a Pearl Brewery sandlot team from San Antonio and led the team to a championship in a national tournament. He batted .696 in the tournament with 7 stolen bases. Savage decided to turn pro in February of 1960, when he signed a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. It was actually his second pro contract, as the Kansas City Athletics inked him to a deal after he got out of high school. However, reported columnist Al Cartwright of the Journal-Every Evening (Wilmington, Del.), Savage signed the contract with his father’s name, and the deal was declared illegal — “and please don’t say too much about that. It was a very bad, foolish thing to do,” Savage said after the Phillies signing.

Savage was an immediate sensation and drew all manner of comparisons in his first spring training in 1960. Savage was compared to many of the great African-American ballplayers of the day, including Jackie Robinson. Phillies hitting coach Paul Waner said he had a whip-like swing like Henry Aaron. Scout Hap Morse, who signed Savage, told the Phillies, “This kid could be another Willie Mays. Whatever you have to pay, get him.” General manager John Quinn said, “I know of only two players who ever inspired that pay-what-you-have-to report from a scout.” The other player, Quinn said, was Pee Wee Reese. The estimated signing bonus for Savage was $20,000.

Though the outfielder had no professional experience, he fit in well with the other prospects in the Phillies camp. Savage expressed a couple of goals in his career. One, he also wanted to play professional basketball as well as baseball. Two, he wanted to reach the majors immediately, though he was realistic about his chances. “The only thing that would delay me this year would be my hitting. By that, I mean a lack of experience against top pitching. That’s what impresses me the most here, the pitchers,” he explained. “They’re so quick, and they think a lot more than they do in the service.”

See Ted Savage at Baseball Almanac

Savage was one of the fastest Phillies and capable of amazing catches in the outfield, but Cartwright noted that Savage’s game wasn’t completely polished. In one spring game, he tried to throw out the Dodgers’ John Roseboro at third base and fired the ball over everybody’s head, causing a couple of runs to score. “Still, it was nice to see a center fielder actually overthrow third, after all these years of Richie Ashburn three-bouncers,” Cartwright reasoned.

The Phillies started Savage at Class-A Williamsport for 1960, and he batted .284 with 9 home runs and 40 stolen bases there. He moved all the way up to Triple-A Buffalo of the International League in 1961 and hit at a .325 clip, with 24 home runs, 111 runs scored and 31 stolen bases. He also hit .519 in the Postseason as Buffalo won the Little World Series. He was an easy selection for the IL All-Star Team and MVP Award. “He’ll be a major-league star for ten years or more,” said Buffalo manager Kerby Farrell, “and I doubt that he’ll ever be back in the minors again.” Farrell wasn’t exactly correct in his prediction, but it was the last that Buffalo saw of Savage.

Savage had a background in education and worked as a elementary school teacher in St. Louis during the offseason. He hinted of returning to it full-time if he didn’t join the Phillies soon, but he came into the 1962 training camp with a pretty secure spot on the Opening Day roster. He laughed off the comparisons to Willie Mays or Jackie Robinson. “All I’m trying to be is Ted Savage, a rookie who wants to make good.”

Despite the hype, Savage had a hard time breaking into the Phillies starting lineup. Wes Covington made the Opening Day start in left field against Cincinnati. Savage pinch-hit for him in the fourth inning and hit into a force play against Bob Miller. He then scored on a Don Demeter 2-run homer that extended the Phillies’ lead to 9-1. Savage also laid down a sacrifice bunt and drove in a run with his first-major-league hit, a single off Dave Hillman. He added another RBI single off Jim Brosnan later in the game to make the final score 12-4. Then Savage sat for more than a week before he started a game against Pittsburgh. He was 2-for-2 with 2 walks, 2 runs scored and a stolen base on April 18. Savage started a few more games in April but failed to get another hit. He batting average dipped as low as .154 before he started hitting in May. His first major-league home run came on May 4 off the Mets’ Roger Craig. He played in a total of 127 games and ended the year with a .266/.345/.373 slash line. He had 7 home runs and drove in 39 runs, and he stole 16 bases as well. Savage made 93 appearances in left field but also played 10 games in both right and center field. He also was a frequent pinch-hitter and pinch-runner.

It was a fine rookie season for Savage, but it would be his only one with the Phillies. The team, for reasons that aren’t fully understandable, gave up quickly on the youngster. Manager Gene Mauch moved him back into a platoon role with Covington, and Savage’s batting average fell as his playing time was reduced. On November 28, the Phillies traded him and first baseman Pancho Herrera to Pittsburgh for veteran third baseman Don Hoak. The trade, according to Mauch, allowed Demeter to move from third base to his natural position in center field. However, Hoak was 34 years old and near the end of his career, and Savage was just 26. The parting apparently wasn’t pleasant. Years later, when Savage was playing with the Cubs, he came back to Philadelphia on a road trip and ended up in a hotel with no electricity and bathroom faucets that oozed black sludge instead of water. “Philadelphia is a bad town for me,” Savage commented to columnist Sandy Grady, “But this is ridiculous.”

The Pirates had a wealth of outfielders, and Savage had a difficult time finding playing time for the Bucs in 1963. Roberto Clemente and Bill Virdon were regulars who seldom rested. Willie Stargell was a promising outfielder-first baseman with power, and veterans Jerry Lynch, Bob Skinner and Manny Mota also needed playing time. Savage hit a game-winning single as a pinch-hitter in the Pirates home opener against Milwaukee on April 9 and then made the most of his early opportunities in center field when Virdon was sidelined for a week in May. However, Savage was hospitalized in the summer with a persistent fever and missed more than a month of the season due to the illness. His playing time diminished when he returned, and he ended the year with a .195 batting average in 85 games. Savage spent all of 1964 in the minor leagues, where he hit poorly and was bothered by a back injury. That November, the Pirates traded him to St. Louis, along with pitcher Earl Francis for utility man Jack Damaska.

Source: Kansas City Times, May 12, 1971.

Going to play for his hometown team should have been a great moment, but the Cardinals didn’t keep Savage on the roster very much during the three seasons he spent with the team. He started 1965 in the minors and didn’t appear in a major-league game until late July. Savage was hitless in his first 18 at-bats until doubling off Dodgers reliever Ron Perranoski on August 2. Savage stole third base and scored the tie-breaking run on a Lou Brock grounder. He played in 30 games, mostly in right field, and hit .159. Savage saw even less action in 1966, as he appeared in 16 late-season games and hit .172. He had 2 doubles and a triple among his 5 hits and stole 4 bases, so he made the most of his limited opportunities. Savage played well in the minors for the Cardinals when he wasn’t battling various leg injuries, but with Brock, Curt Flood and Mike Shannon roaming the St. Louis outfield, he had few opportunities at the big-league level. The Cardinals tried to make a third baseman out of him, just to give him a position, but the experiment didn’t work.

Savage started 1967 with St. Louis but had just 9 pinch-hit at-bats; he was 1-for-8 with a walk. He would have been sent back to the minors, but a frustrated Savage threated to quit baseball entirely. Multiple reports stated that he smashed his ukulele to splinters in the dugout when he got the news of his demotion. Instead, Stan Musial, in his only season as the Cardinals general manager, worked out a deal to send him to the Chicago Cubs in late April. The Cubs had good outfielders in left field and center field with Billy Williams and Adolfo Phillips, but there was a gaping hole in right field. Lee Thomas tried to fill it but didn’t hit much, and the Cubs’ other options included Al Spangler and Clarence Jones, neither of whom set the world on fire. Savage ended up with 96 games played for the Cubs and garnered the most appearances on the team in right field. He hit .218 and stole only 7 bases, because manager Leo Durocher kept a tight leash on him. However, he stole home twice.

The first sign that 1968 wasn’t going to be a great season for Savage came in spring training, when he got into a fight… with a pitching machine. The machine was throwing the ball too slowly for Savage, who went out to the mound to try and adjust it. The machine toppled and fell on the outfielder, slicing his hand badly enough to need four stitches. Once the season got underway, he made it into 3 games with the Cubs, getting a pair of singles in 8 at-bats, when he was on the move again. Durocher demanded relief pitching, and the Cubs traded Savage and pitcher Jim Ellis to Los Angeles for reliever Phil Regan and outfielder Jim Hickman. It was a brilliant trade for the Cubs, as Hickman and Regan made important contributions to the Cubs’ near-amazing 1969 team. Savage hit .206 for Los Angeles as a backup corner outfielder and was traded to Cincinnati in 1969 for catcher Jimmie Schaffer. He hit .227 in 68 games but got quite a few starts in center field when Pete Rose missed a couple of weeks for military service. Savage was grateful to manager Dave Bristol for the starts but lamented his role as a fourth outfielder.

“It’s tough to sit on the bench. You just try to do your best when you’re called on. You try to stay ready,” Savage said. “I come out to the park early every day, about 3:30 PM, and get extra hitting. But it’s not like playing a game every day. I still feel lost at the plate.”

The Reds sold Savage’s contract to the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970. The manager of the newly relocated Seattle Pilots team was Dave Bristol, who had entrusted Savage to replace Pete Rose in Cincinnati the previous year. Savage started as a pinch-hitter but hit his way into the lineup with regularity. He was 33 years old, so it was a little too late in his career for a full-blown renaissance. But for the 1970 season, Savage was Milwaukee’s best outfielder. He slashed .279/.402/.482 and had an OPS+ of 144. He reached career highs in virtually every major offensive category. While he hit a mere 10 doubles, he added 5 triples and 12 home runs. One of them was a pinch-hit 2-run blast that beat the White Sox 4-3 on July 7. Savage also drove in 50 runs, scored 43 times and stole 10 bases. He punished lefties with a .310 batting average, but he wasn’t bad against righties, either — he batted .244 with 4 homers against them.

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 12, 1987.

The 1971 Brewers had a surplus of outfielders and a distinct lack of infielders, and Savage was the odd man out. He spent April and early May acting mainly as a pinch hitter and hit .174 in 33 games before he was traded to Kansas City for third baseman Tommy Matchick. He replaced Lou Piniella on the roster, as Piniella went on the disabled list with a fractured thumb. Savage didn’t hit well with those opportunities and broke his own hand in July while diving for a fly ball. The injury effectively ended his season, as he played a few games in the Royals’ minor leagues but never joined the big-league club again. Between the Brewers and Royals, Savage hit .174 in 33 games without an extra-base hit.

Savage signed a minor-league contract with the Cardinals in 1972, who let him work out with the team in spring training while still calling other teams for a full-time job. Savage eventually went to Mexico, where he played for Jalisco in the Mexican League for a couple of years. He hit 30 home runs with the team and batted well over .300. He retired after the 1973 season at the age of 36.

Over parts of 9 seasons, Savage played in 642 games and slashed .233/.334/.361, with 321 hits that included 51 doubles, 11 triples and 34 home runs. He stole 49 bases and was caught 24 times. Savage also scored 202 runs and drove in 163.

Savage, with his education degree from Lincoln University and masters at University of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, became the assistant principal at a St. Louis school. He added another degree in 1978, becoming a doctor of urban studies from St. Louis University. Savage was named the athletic director of Harris-Stowe State College, a teacher’s school in St. Louis that competed at the Division II level in college sports. His re-entry into professional baseball came at one of the worst baseball moments of the 1980s. Long-time baseball executive Al Campanis went on the news show “Nightline” in 1987 and said, among many racist things, that African-Americans lacked the “necessities” to work in a front office. Savage wrote every major-league team for a job, listing his credentials. The Cardinals, who were one of the teams without any minorities in the front office, hired him as assistant director of community relations as well as a minor-league outfield instructor.

Savage said that team President Fred Kuhlmann “was adamant that he wasn’t being forced to hire me. He said he was hiring me to do a job that was needed.” Savage told St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports editor Kevin Horrigan that it wasn’t a token minority hire. “I’m doing exactly what I wanted, because I’m going to learn all facets of the Cardinals organization. I’ll be qualified to do anything.”

The Cardinals had two major-leaguers in their community relations department, Savage and Joe Cunningham, who became institutions in the position. Savage helped organize MLB’s Reviving Baseball in the Inner City (RBI) program in St. Louis, and the Cardinals paid to refurbish fields, supply uniforms and pay for managers and coaches. “We picked out five of the so-called blighted areas in the city and pulled out 18, 18, 20 teams just like that,” Savage said in a 1992 interview. “The kids wanted to play but didn’t have anybody to sponsor them.” The lack of volunteers forced the program to scale back, but Savage remained committed to keeping interest in baseball high in the city’s black communities. He noted that declining minority attendance could be attributed to the fact that there were so few minorities on the field. “Our kids really don’t have anybody to identify with. I think that’s having a small effect on minorities coming to the ballpark,” he said.

Savage was a marketing whiz and later attained the role of director of team marketing. Even into his 80s, he remained a part of the Cardinals organization as a team ambassador. He was inducted into the Lincoln University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013 and the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016. Savage had created a golf tournament that raised funds for the RBI program in St. louis. When he retired in 2012, the tournament was renamed the Ted Savage RBI Golf Classic. A GoFundMe page has been organized by Wanda Savage-Moore to donate $10,000 to the Golf Classic in his memory. You can see it here:

Follow me on Twitter: @rip_mlb

Follow me on Instagram: @rip_mlb

Follow me on Facebook: ripbaseball

Support RIP Baseball


One thought on “Obituary: Ted Savage (1937-2023)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s