Baseball BeatJune 02, 2010
They Don't Make 'Em Like This Anymore
By Rich Lederer

Happy 80th Birthday to Bob Lillis. My favorite player growing up was signed by Brooklyn in 1951 and played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, and Houston Colt .45s/Astros. He was the expansion team's MVP in its inaugural season in 1962.

Born in Altadena, California, during the first year of the Great Depression, Robert Perry Lillis attended Pasadena High School, Pasadena City College, and the University of Southern California. He was on PCC's national championship team in 1949 and was nominated for the College World Series Legends Team based on his performance for USC in the 1951 tournament. Lillis made his MLB debut with his hometown Dodgers in August 1958 during the club's first year in Los Angeles. He wore jersey No. 30 a year before Maury Wills was called up to the big leagues. Both shortstops were previously buried in the team's minor league system behind future Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese.

Lillis was traded to the Redbirds in 1961 and was drafted by the Colt .45s as the fifth pick in the 1961 expansion draft. He played ten years in the majors and was a scout, coach, or manager of the Astros from 1967-1985 and a bench coach with the San Francisco Giants from 1986-1996.

Even though Lillis hit only .236/.270/.277 with just three home runs in nearly 2,500 plate appearances, a young kid could not have had a better favorite player. He was the friendliest athlete I met, sending me autographed photos with hand-written inscriptions three times.

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The first photo that Lillis sent to me was almost 49 years ago to the day when he thanked me for sending him a card on his 31st birthday. I was a month short of my 6th birthday. On the verso, he wrote "Dear Richard, That was a very nice picture you sent me. Thank you for the thoughtful birthday card. Sincerely, Bob Lillis."

Over the years, I lost contact with the player I called "Bobby" but he's always occupied a special place in my heart and the photos have been a treasured part of my collection now for nearly 50 years.

Happy Birthday, Bobby. If you happen to read this, please feel free to contact me via email. I would enjoy hearing from you. Thank you.



Thanks for the post. Those photos sure bring back memories. Can't imagine a player today taking the time to send a card to a young fan.
I hope you hear from him.

Love the pictures. The pictures have the same pin holes from your cork board that my hero's pictures had. Classic. You must have loved these because they made "the cut" on several rearrangements.

Our favorite players don't have to be the big names. Any other Steve Reed, Walt "No Neck" Williams or Henry Blanco fams out there?

I wonder if kids write to ballplayers much these days? I remember writing to players when I was a kid and getting autographs back from them in the SASE I enclosed. Some of those autographs I remember to this day. I would get so excited to get mail from a ballplayer.

By the way, I checked and no one has written about Bob Lillis for the SABR Bio-project. I can't think of a better person to write about him other than yourself.

Stan from Tacoma

Thanks for the memories of the man known as "Flea."

You're welcome, Eric and C.T. Thanks Wimbo, Al, and Stan.

@Wimbo - Good eye. Those photos spent many years on my bedroom bulletin board and, like you said, survived several rearrangements.

@Stan - I might have to take on that project at a later date.

@C.T. - Yes, Lillis was dubbed that nickname by Dodgers teammate Frank Howard who reportedly picked him up by his shirt collar in spring training and said, "I'm the Horse and you're the Flea."