09-27-2020 - Leuzinger Coach Paul William Pettit, MLB's $100,000 Bonus Baby
MLB's $100,000 Bonus Baby
Leuzinger High School's
Coach Paul William Pettit
George William Paul Pettit (November 29, 1931 – September 24, 2020) was an American professional baseball pitcher, who played in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1951 and 1953. The Harbor City Narbonne High School pitching phenom who struck out 27 batters in a game in 1949 and was the first player to receive a six-figure signing bonus from a major league team, died of natural causes at his home in Canyon Lake, CA on Thursday, his family announced. Pettit was 88.
Nicknamed “Lefty” and the “Wizard of Whiff,” Pettit combined a mid-90s fastball with a slow curve to throw six no-hitters and strike out 390 batters in 140 high school innings, according to the Society of American Baseball Research.
Pettit was thrust onto the national stage as the most sought-after amateur pitcher in America at age 18. Former Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey compared Pettit to future Hall of Famer Bob Feller, who was pitching for the Cleveland Indians at the time.
Pettit was courted by Hollywood movie producer Frederick Stephani who offered him $60,000 for the rights to his life story in 1949 (the movie was never made as Pettit's pro career was short-lived), and he signed baseball’s first $100,000 bonus with the Pittsburgh Pirates that year. He rubbed elbows with Bing Crosby and Jayne Mansfield, and retained Rickey as an informal advisor. “He definitely lived life to its fullest,” Tim Pettit, Paul’s 63-year-old son, said Friday. “He didn’t get cheated at all.”
Pettit reached the big leagues as a 19-year-old, and he pitched in 12 games for the Pirates in 1951 and 1953, going 1-2 with a 7.34 ERA. But a serious elbow injury he suffered in a minor league game in 1951 derailed his pitching career.
Pettit reinvented himself as a first baseman and outfielder as he played parts of five seasons (1952, 1954-57) with the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League. He played his final four seasons (1958-60, 1962) with triple-A Columbus of the International League and triple-A Salt Lake City and Seattle of the PCL.
Paul Pettit attended Cal State Long Beach during baseball’s offseasons. After retiring from baseball, he finished his degree, and was hired as a full-time teacher in September 1962. Paul enjoyed a 30-year teaching career in a variety of subjects during stints at Jordan High in Long Beach, as well as Lawndale and Leuzinger High Schools in Lawndale CA. He coached each high school’s baseball team as well. He also served as a scout and minor league instructor for the Kansas City Royals. “When my brothers and I got to high school, he walked away from baseball to spend time with his kids,” said Tim Pettit, who pitched briefly in the Angels’ farm system. “It gave us unfettered access to one of the best coaches I had in baseball. We got all of him. We didn’t have to share him with MLB. That was a cool thing.”
Tim Pettit said his father was slowed since last year by a nerve disorder that limited his mobility and some cardiac issues, and he suffered a stroke Sept. 18.
Pettit was predeceased by Shirley Joan Jennings-Pettit, his high school sweetheart and wife of 65 years. She passed away in Hemet CA on April 7, 2016 in the comfort of her cherished home with her beloved husband, Paul Pettit by her side.
Paul is survived by his wife, Sally; six children Paul (68), Mark (66), Cynthia (65), Tim (63), Mike (53) and Stephanie (48); 12 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. Services are pending.