Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Larry Shephard, Ex-Bucco Skipper, Dies

Larry Shepard, manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1968 to 1969, died today. He was 92.

As a player, Shepard was a right-handed pitcher who never made the show. He toiled in the minors from 1941-1958, with a break for the service during World War II. The righty wasn't too bad a hurler, finishing his minor-league career with a record of 179-84.

After the war, he led the 1948 Class D Far West League with 22 wins for the Medford Dodgers and the Pioneer League in 1949-1950 with the Class C Billings Mustangs, going 21-6 and 22-6. And he did it as a player-manager, helping himself immensely by notching 89 wins over those four seasons in the bushes.

He worked his way to the Pacific Coast league's Hollywood Stars in 1952-53, specializing as a relief pitcher and giving up his manager's role. But he was too gray to get a shot at in the bigs, and left the Dodgers' organization to hook up with the Pirates.

As a minor-league skipper, he won the 1956 Western League title with the Lincoln Chiefs, still pitching along with running a club. He finally became a full-time field boss, and from 1958 through 1966, he managed at the AAA level for Pittsburgh with the Salt Lake City Bees and Columbus Jets, adding three more three first-place finishes to his resume.

In 1967, Shepard finally got into the majors when he was named pitching coach of the Phillies. It was a quick stop.

In 1968, he became the Bucco manager, replacing Danny Murtaugh, who had replaced Harry "The Hat" Walker in midseason of 1967. But the Bucs, who had high hopes for the team, floundered and finished 80-82.

He did better in '69 with an 84-73 slate, but the year took its toll. Shepard lost 25 pounds and missed three days because of chest pains. The stress test came to an end when he was axed for Alex Grammas after a double-header loss to the Phils. (Grammas held the job for five games; Murtaugh reclaimed the reins in 1970.)

It's too bad that he couldn't stick around. The Bucs were in the midst of a youth movement, and guys like Al Oliver, Richie Hebner, Bob Robertson, Manny Sanguillen, Steve Blass, Dock Ellis and Bob Moose were getting ready for showtime, and would lead the team to a World Championship in 1971.

Shepard would be a thorn in Pittsburgh's side during the decade, though. He quickly became the pitching coach of Sparky Anderson's Big Red Machine, holding the post from 70-78. It helped ease the disappointment of losing that 1971 Pirate World series ring when the Reds won the World Series in 1975 and 1976, eliminating the Bucs both years.

He finished out his career in 1979 as the Giants pitching coach.

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