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Pete Ward, Major League Baseball player and Oregon Sports Hall of Fame member, dies at 84

Pete Ward, a nine-year Major League Baseball player and member of the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame, died last month from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 84.

Ward arrived in Portland at age 8, when his family relocated from Canada, and he quickly became a fixture in Northeast Portland. He attended old Kennedy School, played sandlot baseball games at Alberta Park, and later went to Jefferson High School, where he developed into an All-State shortstop.

It began a baseball odyssey that spanned parts of three decades. After starring at Lewis & Clark College, Ward signed with the Baltimore Orioles in 1958 at age 20, and spent five years in the minor leagues before earning a big-league call-up in September 1962.

Ward played all over the diamond in the Orioles organization, but settled in at third base. There was only one problem – future Hall of Famer third baseman Brooks Robinson was blooming into a star in Baltimore. So the Orioles traded Ward to the Chicago White Sox in 1963 in a multi-player deal that included a pair of future Hall of Famers. The White Sox performs to be a perfect fit.

Ward started at third base the next season and instantly became a star, hitting .295 with 22 home runs, 34 doubles and 84 RBIs, while finishing second in the American League with 177 hits. He placed ninth in MVP voting and second in Rookie of the Year voting to teammate and close friend Gary Peters, but earned a consolation prize: The Sporting News named Ward its Rookie of the Year.

Ward and Peters remained close friends long after their playing careers, and whenever they’d get together, Ward said Peters would needle him about the close finish – the ballot was decided by a mere four votes.

“Almost every year, Gary would walk up to me and the first thing he told me is, ‘I just got through polishing up all my trophies,'” Ward recalled in a 2011 interview.

A 6-foot-1, 185-pound hustler, Ward was known for playing hard and getting his uniform dirty. Sportswriter Roy McHugh once wrote that Ward would have perfect fit with the “Gashouse Gang” St. Louis Cardinals of the 1930s.

“Untidiness goes with his style,” McHugh wrote, “for Pete has come as a latter-day Gas House Gangster himself, a gabby, disheveled, hilariously absent-minded, impish anachronism who can hit.”

Off the field, Ward was laid-back, funny and often scatterbrained. His teammates loved him. On one trip early in his career, he accidentally left his suit in his hotel room when the team checked out, but could not remember the city or the hotel name where he left it – only his room number. During his rookie season, Ward had a 19-game hitting streak. When it ended, he told reporters: “Now DiMaggio can rest. My streak is broken. ”

Ward followed his sensational rookie season with a standout sophomore season, hitting .282 with 23 homers and 94 RBIs, even though he missed the first two weeks with a back injury. He finished sixth in MVP voting. In 1965, Ward came within hours of landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated. But just before the June 7 issue was scheduled to go to print, Muhammad Ali knocked out Sonny Liston in a heavyweight boxing match in Lewiston, Maine, and editors decided at the last second to bump Ward in favor of a shot of Ali delivering a powerful right hand to Liston’s jaw.

Afterward, Sports Illustrated sent Ward four test copies of the cover that never ran, and he proudly displayed one in his office for decades.

Ward’s first two seasons with the White Sox were so good, he seemed destined to earn another shot at a Sports Illustrated cover. But before the 1965 season, Ward was a passenger in a car that was rear-ended and he suffered a neck injury. He aggravated it on the field the following season and had to be hospitalized, with doctors putting his neck in traction.

“The day after the accident I woke up with a stiff neck,” Ward recalled in a 2000 interview with Sports Illustrated. “I was never comfortable from that point on.”

He went on to play just 138 games that season, hitting just .247, with 10 home runs and 57 RBIs, and was never the same, as neck and back injuries hindered him the rest of his career. He played four more seasons with the White Sox, then one season with the New York Yankees. He hit .260 in 66 games with the Yankees in 1970, and was released in the spring of 1971.

“It was terrific,” Ward said in 2011 of playing with the famed organization. “It’s kind of a dream of everybody to play with the Yankees. I didn’t play that much, I basically pinch hit and filled in at first base. And that was the end of my career. ”

Ward transitioned into coaching after he retired, managing teams in the Yankees minor league system for six years. In 1978, he coached in the majors on Bobby Cox’s staff in Atlanta, then returned to Portland to coach the Portland Beavers in the Pacific Coast League.

But in a way, Ward never left his Portland roots. In 1971, he started an annual baseball clinic and banquet that awarded college scholarships to Oregon high schoolers and helped fundraise for Portland-area youth baseball leagues. For 20 years, a who’s who of major leaguers rolled through Portland, as Rod Carew, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Whitey Ford, Tommy Lasorda and others helped at the clinic and attended the banquet, giving Portlanders a chance to meet face-to- face with legends.

Ward ended the clinic in 1991 after raising more than $ 85,000 for Portland-area kids.

After his managing career, Ward opened his own business in the travel industry, creating the Pete Ward Travel and Cruise Center in Lake Oswego, and he remained active in the Portland area. He was a member of the Riverside Golf Club, a lifelong racquetball player, a founding member of the Kruse Way Rotary Club and an active member of the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce.

All the while, decades after his playing career, Ward remained a fan favorite. In a 2011 interview, Ward said he still received between 60-100 pieces of mail a month from fans.

“It’s surprising to me that my last year as a player was 1970, and I still get a number of pieces of mail every month,” he said. “You get them from all over the country. It’s kind of nice and surprising. ”

Ward is survived by wife Margaret, sons Michael and Tom, sister Gayle Acker, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at 10 am Saturday, May 14, at Lake Grove Presbyterian Church in Lake Oswego. Donations in Pete’s memory may be made to the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center Caregiver Respite Program.

– Joe Freeman | jfreeman@oregonian.com | 503-294-5183 | @BlazerFreeman | Subscribe to The Oregonian / OregonLive newsletters and podcasts for the latest news and top stories.

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