Doc Edwards

Former Cleveland Indians manager Doc Edwards died recently at age 81.

By any historical measure, he should have been a curmudgeon.

“Baseball lifers” have a way of becoming irascible, prickly, unfriendly characters as the seasons pass by.

Doc Edwards never got the memo.

He spent 57 years in the game totally debunking that very stereotype while emerging as one of most likeable, accommodating, charming and patient ambassadors professional baseball has ever known.

When word of his passing, at age 81 in San Angelo, Texas, scrolled across the MLB network’s news feed on Monday night, I felt more than a twinge of sadness.

My first recollection of him was as a teenager.

Oh, I knew him from his two years with Indians, the team that originally signed him, his two stints with the Kansas City Athletics and even the partial season with the Phillies, at age 33, after five years away from the majors.

But it was with the Yankees, in 1965, that I really became aware of him.

Growing up outside of Albany, and being a huge Dodger fan, I hated the team from the Bronx. But because my heroes were in Los Angeles and only rarely available on radio, my transistor was usually tuned to the Yankees … hoping they would lose.

Yet, for whatever reason, I liked Doc Edwards … Elston Howard’s backup that season. It fascinated me that his nickname was the product of being a medic in the Navy. Besides, as with football where the most popular player is usually the reserve quarterback, it was easy for me to root for New York’s No. 2 catcher. Best of all, for me, that was a tough season for the Yanks who went 77-85 and finished sixth in the American League, 25 games behind the pennant-winning Twins.

YEARS LATER, I ended up writing about the 6-foot-2, 215-pound West Virginia native … a lot.

In the early ’80s Doc managed the Orioles triple-A farm club in Rochester for a couple of seasons, including 1981, when the Red Wings were part of the longest game in professional baseball history, a 33-inning, 8 ½ hour, 3-2 loss at Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

But my first meeting with him came several years later when he had been hired as manager of the Maine Guides, the Indians top farm club. By then, Doc had moved with then-wife Connie, to the town of Humphrey, not far from her family.

Shortly thereafter, while vacationing only 40 miles away, I made the trip to Old Orchard Beach, media credential in hand, and sat down with him after the game.

Two things struck me.

One was the stream of young players who filed into his office asking Doc’s advice on everything from batting stance to where to get their car fixed. It was clear how much they admired and respected him.

The other was how generously he gave me his time while expressing amazement that a “hometown” sports writer would come nearly 600 miles to one of his games, while on vacation no less.

Shortly after his two-year stint with the Guides, Doc was hired as a coach for the Indians.

That’s when I visited his home on Humphrey Road, not far from Chapel Hill headed toward Great Valley, to do a story on … hunting.

Edwards was an outdoorsman, but he never talked much about fishing as baseball chewed up his spring and summer.

However, as he told me, “I love to hunt … and living here, I can walk out the back door and I’m in one of the best spots around.”

His concession to technology was a huge satellite dish via which he could get any major league game in the rare times he got home during the season.

And when Cleveland’s manager, Pat Corrales, was fired just short of the midway point in the 1987 season, Doc took over.

He lasted until late in the ‘89 campaign, compiling a 173-207 record as a big-league skipper.

Over that span, I made several trips to huge Municipal Stadium with its minuscule crowds.

And, again, sitting in his office, there were those same player visits seeking his counsel.

One game, as he talked to a pitcher, an Indians beat writer, realizing I was doing a piece on the manager, without prompting, told me, “Doc Edwards is really good people … there aren’t many in baseball like him.”

Certainly not with his sense of humor.

During one visit for an Indians home game, after my obligatory questions, I said, without smiling, “Doc, I’m in a baseball fantasy league and Brook Jacoby is my third baseman … but he’s killing me, you’ve got to start playing him more.”

He shook his head, looked at me, laughed, and allowed, “Do you realize how many notes I get from fans who want to tell me how to manage and who to play? Certainly these fantasy leagues increase interest in the game, but they sure don’t make my job and easier.”

EDWARDS spent the 1991 season as a coach with the Mets before becoming the hitting coach for the Buffalo Bisons the next year.

He then managed that team, the Pirates triple-A affiliate, in 1993 and ’94 and didn’t even have to move.

Again, it was clear his players revered him and the main reason was that Doc was one of them.

Though in his late 50s, he told me, with no small degree of pride, “I love working with the pitchers … I can still catch those guys.”

What’s certain is that Edwards’ personality transcended the game.

He showed not a trace of ego and was beloved by his players, fellow coaches, fans and the media for always being engaging, interested and infinitely approachable.

One reason was that he loved the game and never took for granted that it provided him with a good living.

Need proof?

From 2006 to 2014 he managed the San Angelo Colts, retiring when he was 77.

He didn’t need the money and surely not earning it from an independent league team in west Texas.

But for those nine seasons he let another generation of players know that “Doc Edwards is good people.”

(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald sports columnist, can be reached at cpollock@oleantimesherald.com)