Daily file photo by Emily Saunders|
Decatur’s Marve Breeding, who died Saturday, in February 2006. Breeding spent four seasons in the major leagues during 1960-63.
A rare Breeding: Decatur’s major leaguer
By Mark Edwards
Decatur resident Jack Allen still remembers getting to see the powerful New York Yankees play in the early 1960s.
But what made it such a memorable day for Allen wasn’t the star-studded Yankees lineup of the day, but instead the hustling second baseman for their opponent, the Baltimore Orioles — Decatur High graduate Marve Breeding.
Breeding, who died Saturday at 72, spent four seasons in Major League Baseball, including three with the Orioles.
Allen and his wife, Betty, traveled to visit family in Cortland, N.Y., and went back home through Baltimore.
“We either called Marve or his wife, Gee Gee, and told them we would be in Baltimore,” Allen said Monday. “Marve left us passes so we could see the game. It was a Sunday afternoon, and we got to see a major league game.”
Allen said his family and the Breedings were friends, and in fact, Betty Allen grew up on College Street as did Marve Breeding.
“Marve was a very gifted athlete. I don’t know of many others from this area who got to play in the major leagues,” Jack Allen said. “Also, he was a very nice man. He really was.”
Breeding belonged to a select group of Decatur natives who found big success in professional baseball. Truett “Rip” Sewell, a cousin of Hall of Famer Joe Sewell, pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates during 1938-49, and Ray Pepper played for the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns during 1932-36.
Breeding played for the Orioles during 1960-62. He then spent the first part of 1963 with the Washington Senators before they traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He finished the season with the Dodgers, who won the World Series over the Yankees.
In a February 2006 interview with The Daily, he joked that his biggest highlight as a baseball player came when he sat on the bench for the World Series.
“I was basically a cheerleader and glad to be there,” he said. “We were slapping ourselves with the way our pitchers were shutting down the Yanks.”
He told The Daily in 1991 that he never would forget the experience.
“A lot of people play a long time in the big leagues and never play for a World Series team,” he said. “Even though I didn’t get to play in the Series, I was part of the team and got part of a Series share (prize money). I got a ring and bat from the Series — the ring, the bat and the memories I’ll have forever.”
The Dodgers traded for him because of injuries to infielders Maury Wills and Junior Gilliam.
“I knew I was coming over to provide help at a couple of infield positions and for my bat,” Breeding said. “When those guys got healthy, I became a part-time player.”
However, he got a chance to play behind Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax, the World Series most valuable player that year.
“Koufax was probably the best pitcher to ever put on a uniform,” said Breeding, who played infield for Los Angeles. “He could tell you what was coming, and you couldn’t hit it.”
Breeding graduated from Decatur High in 1952 and then played baseball and basketball at Samford, which was then called Howard.
He did well in basketball, averaging 20.8 points a game in 1955. However, he shined the most in baseball and in 1955, he signed a contract with the Orioles.
“I signed for $4,000,” Breeding said in 2006. “That was a lot of money back then. I immediately went out and bought a big yellow Chrysler with those high wings in the back. It cost me $3,700.”
He played in the minor leagues in 1955-56 before spending 1957-58 in the military. He returned to baseball, spending 1959 in Triple-A Vancouver and batting .288 in 142 games.
He earned a promotion to Baltimore in 1960 and served as the Orioles’ regular second baseman, batting .267.
After the season, he received a small mention in a Time magazine article about Danny Murtaugh, then the Pirates’ manager, and Paul Richards, then Breeding’s manager with the Orioles.
Printed in the Sept. 26, 1960, issue, the magazine wrote, “Richards’ tightly reined patience even solved the ... task of teaching Rookie Second Baseman Marve Breeding how to pivot on the double play. ‘Baseball is repetition,’ says Richards. ‘Hundreds of moves all over again. All spring we worked with Breeding, and he couldn’t quite make it. Then, ten minutes before an exhibition game in Richmond, he caught on. He got it. The double play.’ ”
Perhaps it worked, because Breeding helped turn 116 double plays that season.
After the 1963 season, the Dodgers didn’t have room for Breeding on their major league roster, and he spent the ’64 season at their Triple-A team in Spokane, Wash.
He spent 1965-68 with minor league teams belonging to the Orioles, Giants, Astros, White Sox and Twins. In his final stop, he played for Denver, and his manager was Billy Martin, who later managed the Yankees to a world championship.
After baseball, he worked as a manufacturer’s representative. He eventually started Marve Breeding Enterprises, which included M&B Industries machine shop in Decatur.
In February 2006, Samford elected him to its Baseball Hall of Fame.
In an interview with The Daily, he had no trouble picking out his best memory from his time at Samford: “I met Gee Gee, my wife, there.”
The Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame also included him in its initial induction class in 1989.
Even years after he finished playing baseball, he still followed the sport. In an October 2006 interview, he gave his prediction of who would win the World Series. He chose the Yankees.
“I hate them, but this is probably the best hitting team ever assembled,” he said. “They’ve got a great player like (Alex) Rodriguez hitting sixth. That ought to tell you how good they are. Their pitching may be suspect, but they’ve got the hitting to make up for that.”
Marve Breeding in the majors
Made his major league debut in the Baltimore Orioles’ season opener April 19, 1960. Baltimore won 3-2, and Breeding played second base and batted leadoff. He went 1-for-3 and was hit by a pitch. Got his first hit when he tripled against Pedro Ramos in the third inning.
Played in 152 games in 1960 and batted .267. Ranked ninth in the American League with 117 singles.
Was a part-time starter for the Orioles the next two seasons, batting .209 in 1961 and .246 in ’62.
Traded to the Washington Senators in a five-player deal Dec. 5, 1962.
Played third and second bases for the Washington Senators in 1963, batting .274 in 58 games.
Traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 30, 1963, for pitcher Ed Roebuck.
Appeared in 20 games for the Dodgers, batting .167.
Played in his last major league game Sept. 29, 1963, in a 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. Pinch-hit for Don Drysdale in the fifth inning and struck out. Stayed in the game at second base and singled against Chris Short in the seventh inning.
Finished his major league career with a .250 average, seven home runs and 92 RBIs in 415 games.
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