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Major league success doesn't come right
By LEE ROBERTS
Special to the STH
The chances of any one person
playing major league baseball are
miniscule. Even if a ballplayer signs
a professional contract, he's only got
a one-in-20 chance of playing in the
big leagues, and about one player in
a hundred has any lasting success
Those numbers simply enhance the
accomplishment of three former
North Carolina baseball stars who
burned with dreams of making it to
the top and who have made it.
But the road to the big-time has
not been easy for Scott Bradley,
Dwight Lowry and Scott Bankhead.
TheyVe paid their dues and perhaps
have more dues to pay.
"All I ever wanted," Bradley said
recently from his Seattle, Wash.,
hotel room, "was a chance to prove
myself. I've played more in three
weeks here than I did in Chicago and
New York combined."
"Here," in Bradley's case, is behind
the plate as the Seattle Mariners'
catcher. After being jerked around
by two impatient organizations (the
Yankees and the White Sox), Bradley
was traded to Seattle in late June for
outfielder Ivan Calderon, and he has
taken advantage of his chance to
As of this writing, Bradley led the
Mariners in batting with- a .313
average, was their starting catcher
against right-handed pitching and
was the top left-handed batter off the
bench when he wasn't starting.
Bradley was a two-time All
America player at North Carolina
from 1979-81, the first-ever Tar Heel
to receive such billing. Known as a
player with an intense work ethic, he
didnt even go downtown on a Friday
night until his junior year. He was
too busy practicing and lifting
He left school after his junior
season in 1981 when he was drafted
by the New York Yankees, his
For four years, Bradley worked his
way up the Yankees' minor-league
ladder until spring training of 1985,
when Yogi Berra put him on the big
club. Two weeks into the season,
Bradley was injured on a play at
home plate, and didn't play for two
months. When he got back, things
George Steinbrenner had fired
Berra and rehired Billy Martin as the
Yankees' manager. Martin has tra
ditionally shied away from playing
youngsters, so Bradley sat on the
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bench until he was sent to the minor
leagues to work out at third base.
He was their "third baseman of the
future," they told him. When he was
recalled, Bradley rarely played, and
not for a moment at third base.
Over this past winter, the Yankees
recalled Bradley from the Puerto
Rican League, telling him he was
their "catcher of the future" and that
they didn't want him to risk injury.
So Bradley quit the winter ball, came
home, and was promptly traded to
the Chicago White Sox.
Once in the Windy City, Bradley
heard a lot of wind about how he
was the White Sox' starting catcher.
The only problem was, he got no at
bats in spring training and was sent
to AAA Buffalo to start the season.
He hit .330 with five home runs in
a month at Buffalo and was called
up to the White Sox in late May.
In the major leagues with the
White Sox, he played a few games
at designated hitter, hit .300, and was
benched. Two weeks later, he was
Said Bradley of his chance to play
in the big leagues: "It takes some luck.
You need a chance to play. And it
takes dedication and hard work.
When you finally get here, it makes
all that work worthwhile."
Lowry had his cup of coffee in the
major leagues in 1984 with the
Detroit Tigers after five years of at
times exasperating minor-league
ballplaying. He spent most of the
year in the Tigers' Evansville farm
club, but was a backup catcher with
the team at the beginning when
they went on their incredible 35-5
seasonal start, the best ever and
at the end when they rocked the
San Diego Padres for a 4-1 World
"I was blessed to be a part of that,
and Jesus Christ had a lot to do with
it," Lowry said.
A born-again Christian, Lowry
plays baseball to glorify the Lord. His
faith in his religion and in himself
171 E Franklin St.
Chapel Hill, NC
has enabled Lowry to pursue a
baseball rebirth this season.
After the dream year of 1984,
things fell completely apart for the
former All-ACC backstop. He had
his worst year ever in 1985, hitting
.182 for the Tigers' Nashville farm
club, and this spring the Tigers
offered him a minor-league coaching
Lowry balked at the thought of
going out to pasture. "I knew that
until I had exhausted all opportun
ities to play in the big leagues, I'd
be giving up on myself," he said.
So he went to Nashville again this
spring, played well, and when both
Dave Engle and Scotti Madison were
injured, was called up to back up all
star Lance Parrish in mid-May.
Lowry got three hits in his first game,
was hitting .364 at the time of this
writing, and appeared to be sticking
with the Motowners.
At North Carolina, Bankhead was
the essence of the Tar Heels' success
from 1982-84, and was twice an All
America pitcher for the Tar Heels.
Bankhead went 9-0 his sophomore
season and followed that up with an
incredible 11-0 junior year 20
straight wins to end his college career.
He left after his junior season when
he was drafted by the Kansas City
Royals, and toiled that summer for
the USA Olympic team. It seemed
that the spring of 1985 would bring
Bankhead unlimited success in his
first professional season.
But what a surprise he was in for.
Bankhead was clobbered in his
professional debut season with the
AA Memphis Chicks. He lost four
of his first five decisions and his
effectiveness was seemingly eroding
with every pitch. "I was really
struggling," Bankhead recalled
recently. "I had no confidence."
Things got so bad that the Royals
flew minor-league pitching instructor
Jerry Cram to Memphis just to help
Bankhead get back on his feet. He
was one or two bad starts away from
for men and
Esprit Duck Head
a demotion to the low minors.
Cram found some of the answers
to Bankhead's problems by looking
at films of those successful years
spent here in Chapel Hill. Cram
compared films of Bankhead from
his North Carolina days and from
his Memphis dog-days and found a
couple of flaws with the Memphis
Once Bankhead fixed his mechan
ics, his season turned around. "Jerry
Cram helped my season turn
around," Bankhead said. He
embarked on a 7-1 second half to
finish with an 8-6 record and a 3.59
This spring Bankhead pitched
strongly and was the last player cut
by the Royals in early April. He
proceeded to tear up the American
Association, racking up an eye
popping 1.49 ERA and allowing just
31 hits in 48 13 innings for Omaha.
It was only a matter of time before
he got the call, and when the Royals
traded away an ineffective Mark
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Heel Monday, August 18, 198627
off the bat
Huismann to Seattle May 21, that
He was told of the promotion at
4:30 p.m. in the bullpen in Buffalo,
N.Y. By 6:30, he was on an airplane
flight to Arlington, Tex., where the
Royals were playing the Texas
Bankhead waited four days to
appear in a game, and when he did,
he made it count.
"It didn't hit me that I was in the
major leagues until I walked out to
the mound," Bankhead said. "I was
standing out there all alone and I
looked at home plate and thought
to myself, 'Well, let's go.' "
And go he did. In his major-league
debut, he pitched four innings,
allowing two hits and one walk, and
had five strikeouts. When the Royals
won the game in the 17th, he was
the winning pitcher. Just like the
good old days.
Bankhead has since worked his
See BASEBALL page 28
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