News & Opinion

Baseball and golf help ex-Yankees star go the distance

Sports fans of a certain age will remember Ralph Terry for his role in one of the most dramatic finishes in baseball history.

Terry, a New York Yankees right-hander, gave up the walk-off home run to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Bill Mazeroski in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series. Although Terry enjoyed a 12-year career in Major League Baseball, including consecutive World Series titles with the Yankees, the pitch to Maz still hurts.

“That pitch cost my teammates a lot of money: about a $5,000 difference between the winners’ and losers’ shares,” Terry said in a recent phone interview.

Baseball led Terry to golf and an extraordinary multisport career.

Terry was introduced to golf during 1958 spring training with the Kansas City Athletics. He had fractured a hip in a car accident that winter and couldn’t participate in running drills during spring training. A coach told Terry to go to a nearby golf course each day and rent a set of clubs and walk 18 holes to improve his flexibility.

“I hit nothing but grounders for two weeks,” he said, “but when I got it airborne, I was hooked.”

Terry eventually would play in 96 Champions Tour events, including 16 top-25 finishes.

Terry, a right-hander, pitched eight seasons with the Yankees, including a key role on two World Series champions. In 1961, he posted a 16-3 record with a 3.15 ERA as the Yankees bounced back from the stunning 1960 loss to defeat Cincinnati in the Fall Classic. Many baseball experts consider the ’61 Yankees to be one of the sport’s greatest teams.

Terry compiled his finest season in 1962, when he posted a 23-12 record and a 3.19 ERA, leading the AL in victories. That fall, he found himself in another pivotal situation in the World Series, facing future Hall of Famer Willie McCovey with two runners on base and the Yankees clinging to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning. Terry got the out and was named the World Series MVP.

Terry was making only $25,000 per year with the Yankees in ‘61 and, like most ballplayers of that era, needed year-round employment. Seeking a winter job in golf, he set up a meeting with Arnold Palmer, who owned 10 percent of a course in Miami.

“Arnie told me that he would teach me everything he knew about the golf business,” Terry said. “He said he only knew one way, and that was his way. He wanted me to play with the members every day before or after I worked in the shop. Arnie offered me $400 a month and a condo to live in. I was set to go to work for him in the winter of ’61, but I got a $10,000 raise from the Yankees plus the winners’ share in the World Series, plus my wife was expecting our first child, so I took a raincheck. But, we became good friends over the years.”

On one occasion, Palmer, a Latrobe, Pa., native and Pirates fan, asked Terry what it felt like to give up that homer to Mazeroski. “I said, ‘Arnie have you ever tried to get drunk and couldn’t?’ He just looked at me like he understood. It was probably how he felt when he blew the ’66 U.S. Open to Billy Casper.”

When Terry was released by the New York Mets in the summer of 1967, he immediately went to work as the club professional at the Roxiticus Golf Club in Mendham, N.J., a course in which he held an ownership stake. He literally went from the pitcher’s mound to the golf shop overnight.

“You will enjoy golf, Ralph. That golf bag will take you a lot of places,” Jack Nicklaus once told Terry, who spent countless hours on the practice range with Nicklaus, Palmer, Gary Player and Chi Chi Rodriguez, among others.

With golf as his priority, Terry improved quickly. In 1974, Terry, who was born and raised in Oklahoma, moved to tiny Larned, Kan., his wife’s hometown. He won the 1980 Midwest PGA Section Championship and played in five PGA Tour events before competing on the Champions Tour in the late 1980s and early ’90s.  

Terry, 81, a PGA life member, recently co-authored the book, “Right Down the Middle: The Ralph Terry Story” (2016, Mullerhaus Publishing). He hangs out at the Edwards Park Public Golf Course in Larned, where he had signed a $1 annual contract to help teach kids. He started the program in 1977 with eight players. During the ensuing years, he sent 45 youngsters to play college golf before he stepped down from overseeing the instruction a few years ago. Larned’s high school teams have won 12 state championships: nine girls’ and three boys’.

“I’m just a short hitter with a 2-handicap trying to hustle these farmers out here,” Terry said with a laugh.

Spoken like a true MVP.

Ted Bishop, who owns and operates The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Ind., and is the author of “Unfriended,” was president of the PGA of America in 2013-14. Email: tedbishop38pga@aol.com; Twitter: @tedbishop38pga