Diamond 9: Hillcrest’s Bob Detherage once struck out 32 in a Legion championship

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He once struck out 32 batters in an American Legion district championship game, and that may not even be Bob Detherage’s best story.

For that, go back to the late 1970s when his dad, about a year before he would pass away, phoned the Kansas City Royals – posing as his son – and asked for one more chance in baseball. Lo and behold, the former Hillcrest High School standout made his big-league debut two years later.

Yes, call it a magical career, and one that will soon be remembered by the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. The Hall is recognizing Detherage with a Diamond 9 award during its Baseball Luncheon resented by the Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper Bottling Company, set for 11 a.m. May 18 at the University Plaza Convention Center in Springfield.

For tickets, call 417-889-3100.

“When I was contacted for this award, I didn’t immediately think of (the memories) playing of the game,” Detherage said. “I thought more about the people who made it all possible.”

Among them was his dad.

“My dad, who loved and played baseball, spent countless hours with me as a youngster,” Detherage said. “Unfortunately, my dad became ill with a rare disease and missed a large portion of my high school career. Some of the guys from the JV team – Sammy Miller and others – did a play-by-play recording so my dad could listen to the games later.”

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But one of his dad’s last acts paved the way to the big leagues.

“Later in my career, in 1978, after I had asked for a release from the (Los Angeles) Dodgers,” Detherage said, “my dad somehow managed to get ahold of Kansas City management, told them he was me, and two weeks later I was a member of the Kansas City organization.”

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Detherage eventually reached the big leagues as an outfielder with the Kansas City Royals in 1980, playing 20 games in the season’s first month in a year when the Royals went on to win their first American League pennant.

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What a journey it was.

Detherage was a standout right-handed pitcher and hitter for Hillcrest High School and its American Legion program when both were under the watchful eye of the legendary Dick Birmingham, a future Missouri Sports Hall of Fame inductee.

In fact, Detherage was voted by News-Leader readers as the “Player of the Century” for high school baseball in January 2000, and was All-State his junior and senior years. He also was one of three future big-leaguers – the others being George Frazier and Keith Drumright – on Hillcrest teams that were a combined 41-10 in Detherage’s final three seasons.

Detherage also played on the Hillcrest Merchants American Legion teams that won two state championships (1970 and 1971) and finished as the Legion state runner-up in 1972. The 1971 team itself eventually saw six players drafted by big-league clubs.

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His 1972 summer was punctuated by two events – Detherage was a third-round draft pick of the Dodgers, the 56th player selected overall; and, weeks after deciding to wait to sign the contract, he struck out 32 batters and went the distance in a 16-inning, American Legion district championship game.

Detherage, who walked only one batter that night, doesn’t remember too many details other than the game being scoreless at 0-0 heading into the 16th as he dueled Springfield-Central’s Andy Newton.

“It was just one of those games that I was just locked in and, if someone had asked me what inning it was, I wouldn’t have known,” Detherage said. “It never crossed my mind about being tired, but at that point in my life I was a strong young buck who hauled hay all day for some spending money and then played ball at night.”

Detherage was still pitching for the Legion team at that point because he felt he owed it to Birmingham to help the club, not as a way to hold out for more money from the Dodgers.

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Overall, he spent nine seasons in the minor leagues before retiring after the 1981 season, hitting 58 home runs with 108 doubles, 36 triples and 378 RBI.

He was mostly in Double-A and Triple-A, with stops in the Dodgers, Houston Astros, St. Louis Cardinals and Royals farm systems. In 1973, Detherage was voted Rookie of the Year in the rookie-level Pioneer League while with Ogden, Utah and later helped the Triple-A Charleston (W.Va.) Charlies win the 1977 International League.

But he says the most fun he ever had was in high school, especially those three years in Legion when the Merchants played Ballwin in the state championship three times.

He credits Birmingham and teammates for making his career possible.

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“I remember that Dick was such a stickler for the fundamentals of the game,” said Detherage, now living in Carl Junction. “Dick used to say things like, ‘Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect,’ and ‘No such thing as luck. Luck is simply when opportunity meets preparation.’ Through it all, Dick would teach and keep you grounded.”

Hillcrest teammates made it memorable as well.

“When I played on those teams, I never thought of myself as ‘the guy’ because there were so many other good players on the teams,” Detherage said. “My junior year, in 1971, of the nine guys who started, six were eventually drafted by pro ball. It’s kind of hard to think of yourself as ‘the guy’ when on any given day you’re probably not the best player on the field. Those were the days though. The most fun I had playing baseball was during those high school years.”

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The Baseball Luncheon features the naming of longtime Missouri State University athletic director Bill Rowe as a Missouri Sports Legend, and the inductions of St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen, Kansas City Royals and Kansas City Chiefs groundskeeper George Toma and Mansfield High School baseball coach Doug Jones.

The Diamond 9s this year are Marin Whorton Cooney (Ozark High School/Missouri Southern), Sophia Alexander Denning (Strafford High School/Drury), Bob Detherage (Hillcrest High School/Kansas City Royals), Bill Helfrecht (Glendale High School/Missouri State), Brent Maggard (Sparta High School/Crowder/Southern Arkansas), Kristen Marshall (Glendale High School/William Jewell), Troy McMain (Willard High School), Christian Overstreet (Nixa High School/Missouri State) and Tom Wilson (Bolivar High School/Detroit Tigers).

An individual tickets is $40, while a head table ticket is $100. A table of eight is $400 and includes associate sponsor recognition in the printed program as well as an autographed print. Call the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame at 417-889-3100.