Norm Sherry, a backup catcher who played four seasons for the Dodgers and spent decades as a coach in the majors and minors, died on Monday at age 89.
Nine years after signing with the Dodgers, Norm Sherry made his major league debut in 1959, a team that featured his brother Larry Sherry, a relief pitcher who would win World Series MVP that season. In four seasons with Los Angeles, Sherry the catcher hit .249/.311/.414 with 16 home runs, and started 96 games behind the plate from 1959-62.
In spring training in 1961, a mound conversation with a 25-year-old Sandy Koufax, who at that point had a 4.10 career ERA and an exactly average 100 ERA+. Sherry recalled the encounter in an interview with the Jewish Baseball Museum in 2016:
It was 1961 in Orlando, where we went to play the Twins in an exhibition game. We’d talked on the plane going over there, and he said, “I want to work on my change-up and my curveball.” We went with a very minimal squad because one of our pitchers missed the plane. Gil Hodges went as our manager. [Koufax] couldn’t throw a strike, and he ended up walking the first three guys. I went to the mound and said, “Sandy, we don’t have many guys here; we’re going to be here a long day. Why don’t you take something off the ball and just put it in there? Don’t try to throw it so hard. Just put it in there and let them hit it.”
I went back behind the plate. Good God! He tried to ease up, and he was throwing harder than when he tried to. We came off the field, and I said, “Sandy, I don’t know if you realize it, but you just now threw harder than when you were trying to.” What he did was that he got his rhythm better and the ball jumped out of his hand and exploded at the plate. He struck out the side. It made sense to him that when you try to overdo something, you do less. Just like guys who swing so hard, they can’t hit the ball. He got really good.
Sherry after his playing days stayed in baseball, including scouting and coaching. He managed three years in the Dodgers system with Class-A Santa Barbara (1965-67), where he managed 19 future major leaguers, including Hall of Famer Don Sutton.
Sherry managed the Angels for parts of two seasons (1976-77), and served as the bullpen coach for the Expos (1977-81), then pitching coach for the Padres (1982-84) and Giants (1986-91), reaching the World Series with both San Diego and San Francisco.
“Working with young players and the impression he left on people was probably his biggest legacy, I think,” Norm’s son, Mike, said. “Everybody liked him, and his working with Sandy Koufax was probably his shining moment.”
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