Baseball BeatOctober 19, 2009
Jim Gilliam and My Dad
By Rich Lederer

Thanks to Lee Sinins' ATM Reports, I learned that last Saturday was Jim Gilliam's birthday. If the former Dodgers infielder were alive, he would be 81.

I did a double take when I saw his years of birth and death. Gilliam and my Dad were born in the same year (1928) and died in the same year (1978). Their careers overlapped in Los Angeles as Dad covered the Dodgers from 1958-1968 with Gilliam a prominent member of the team for nine of those years. The Dodgers won the World Series three times during that span (1959, 1963, and 1965). Gilliam was an unsung hero in Game 7 of the 1965 Word Series, making a spectacular backhanded catch on a sharp grounder down the third base line and forcing a runner at third and saving at least one run. As I opined in Sandy Koufax and the 1965 World Series nearly six years ago, Gilliam's fielding gem was one of the best defensive plays in the history of the fall classic.

Richard%20Colt%20League.jpgToward the end of his career, Gilliam gave Dad his game-used glove, a Rawlings Trapeze six-finger model. While I have no reason to suspect that it was the same Heart of the Hide as the one he used to make that play, it doesn't much matter today as it is long gone. You see, very few people thought in terms of collector's items in those days.

John Roseboro gave Dad his catcher's mitt at about that same time. Dad would use the Gilliam glove when he played catch with us or the Roseboro mitt when he got behind the plate and caught my older brother Tom and me. Gilliam's glove was passed on to me when I needed one (as I was the logical heir, seeing that Tom was a lefty and my younger brother Gary had yet to play Little League). That's me on the left in my Lakewood Colt League All-Star uniform with the Gilliam glove posing for the family camera in our front yard in the summer of 1970.

After reviewing that photo (check out those sanitary socks and stirrups), I now realize that I was more pigeon-toed than I thought. Heck, I may have pitched beyond high school had I not thrown across my front foot like that. As with so many things, if I only knew back then what I know today . . .

Take a look at the front toe of some of the best pitchers in baseball, past and present, be it Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Pedro Martinez, Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum, or Zack Greinke. The front toe is pointed toward home plate in every case.

Oh well, that's why they made — or are making — the big bucks while leaving me in the dust reminiscing about Junior Gilliam and my Dad.

* * * * *

Gary turned the above photo of me into a 1970 Topps Sporting News All-Star baseball card, did the same thing with a Lakewood Village Little League All-Star photo, and gave me those two cards along with a vintage Pete Rose card in a screw-down holder with plexiglas as a Christmas present several years ago. This item, which beats the heck out of another tie, sits on my bookshelf at home.

My brother is not only creative but he is a funny guy. Prompted by an email I sent to my Mom, two brothers, and sister on Saturday morning re the Gilliam-Dad connection, Gary shared the following story: "Twenty years ago today, I was driving to Dallas from Phoenix and I was in the middle of nowhere-ville, Texas, and was listening to the A's/Giants World Series game when the earthquake struck."

I wrote back: "One nitpick. You weren't listening to the A's/Giants World Series *game*. Instead, you were listening to the *pre-game* as the earthquake struck 11 minutes before game time."

Gary immediately responded: "Regarding nitpick...remember, I was in it was two hours later (which meant in Texas, the game was in the fourth inning)!" Ha.

* * * * *

On a more serious note, Saturday was also my Uncle Bill's birthday. He died of cancer earlier this year. He would have been 78. An Irish Catholic, he loved Notre Dame and any team that was playing USC (even though his nephew was a USC graduate). He would have been disappointed that the Trojans beat the Fighting Irish, 34-27, for the eighth consecutive year. As it turns out, the last time Notre Dame defeated USC was when we were all together celebrating his 70th birthday at his home in Glendale in 2001.

Tagged Big Bill Donovan in a newspaper photo showing him swinging the lumber 60 years ago, he was an All-City first baseman at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa in 1949. My three cousins gave me their Dad's first baseman's mitt as a keepsake upon his death. He may have been using it in this photo dated April 1948, although it's more likely that the MacGregor G154 three-fingered "Trapper" model endorsed by Earl Torgeson is from the 1950s.

Unlike the Gilliam glove, this mitt will never be used again or misplaced. Instead, it will stay in the Lederer or Donovan household forever and a day.

May Jim Gilliam, Dad, Uncle Bill, and their gloves rest in peace.


Thank you, Richard. Dad is smiling. Love, Erin

Just a sidebar to the long history of the Notre Dame/USC football classics. Early in my relationship with my bride (aka, Bill Donovan's second daughter), she suggested it would be fun to engage Bill in a friendly wager on the outcome of the annual fall battle. The loser bought the winner dinner. Of course, I had take USC and what ever the points-spread was. I figured the law of averages would work to my advantage somewhere along the way. (Ironically, I never did like USC, but that's another story.) For twelve straingt years, I had to buy dinner for Bill at the restaurant of his choice. UGH! Along the way he took pity on me and agreed to buy the pre-dinner cocktails. I had to wait thirteen years for the pendiulum to swing my way. When we moved to Atlanta in 1997, we had to abandon the practice since there were 2,000 miles between us, but we always went through the motions.

What a beautiful piece you have written. Thank you. Marni

Great job, Richard. I love the picture of Uncle Bill in his Roosevelt uniform! (Where's his cap??!!)

An aside to your reference to Junior Gilliam and the '65 World Series---I had been a Dodger fan since visiting you and your family in So Cal in 1959, but, growing up in South Dakota during that time, when the Twins moved from Washington (we got the Minneapolis Tribune as our morning paper), I had also become a big Twins fan. The '65 Series made me miserable, as I realized halfway through, that no matter who won, one of "my" teams was going to lose!

Keep up your great stories!


To Erin, Jan, Marni, and Bob - Thank you all. Take care, - Richard

Reading your stories makes me feel good about so much in life. You live such a well balanced life- admire that.

Just looking about the internet for information about Jim Gilliam and came across your post. It brought back many memories, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was a kid growing up in Rahway, NJ, and a Brooklyn Dodger fan by birth. He and his family moved into our neighborhood right down the street from my family. What a thrill it was having a big league player as a neighbor. His son, Malcolm, and I became friends.