Published Sunday, October 07, 2012
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
(The following is the first in a series of upcoming stories on former and current pro players residing from Coweta County)
The boy who once thrived as an athlete along with his older brothers in the Sadowski family’s downtown Pittsburgh home is now an old man, his body now tired at 74-years of age.
Yet while struggling physically, Bob Sadowski’s memory, however, remains as sharp as his slider once was while pitching for the Atlanta Crackers in the early 1960s.
Georgia has always felt like a second home to the Pennsylvania native better known to the 6-foot-4 right-hander’s teammates as just plain “Sid,” derived from the pronunciation of his Polish surname.
“I played three and a half years in big leagues ‘til I hurt my arm. But I actually enjoyed it more with the Crackers,” Sadowski said, having moved from the northside of Atlanta in the mid 1990s. “We were their team. When we played at Ponce de Leon, they used to pack the stands. They loved us. And that made us feel so good.”
Even on its prettiest days, the weather can be equally brutal on arthritic joints that once belonged to a standout baseball, football and basketball player from Pittsburgh in the 1940s. And tucked away far from show, he has a Pennsylvania Hall of Fame ring that proves it.
But he’s never looked back, either.
Sadowski and second wife, Gail, settled into Coweta County in the mid 1990s. The area was a perfect match, right down to the name, which brought back memories of Pennsylvania’s Sharpsburg area between the 1st and the Highland Park Bridge not far from his childhood home in downtown Pittsburgh.
“I was the first one of my mother’s boys to move out of Pittsburgh. Back there, everybody was a Sadowski,” he said. “I had been living up in Chamblee before I moved here. And then I saw Newnan, and went hmm .... We came down and looked around and saw Sharpsburg. I thought, hey, there’s a Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania. I said, ‘That’s where we’re going to live.’
“I love it here,” he added. “The people here are among the nicest I’ve ever been around. You’ll see a tomato stand on the side of the road and it’ll say ‘honor system please.’ If they’d done that in Pittsburgh, they’d be getting robbed left and right.”
Sadowski left the tiny home on Mintwood Street that he shared as the youngest of 11 brothers and sisters that sat adjacent to a junkyard. He’d follow older siblings Ted and Ed to the major leagues, each of which also had brief careers.
Both brothers passed six months apart in 1993, Ted, a pitcher for the Senators and Twins, from cancer, and Ed, a backup catcher with Atlanta, to Lou Gehrig’s disease. His oldest brother, “Spike”, passed away in March.
Sadowski’s mother, who lost her husband when Bob was 12 as well as a son in World War II, remains the focal point of any conversation about his career.
“Everything centered around my mother, because she was just a great lady,” he said.
Leaving Pennsylvania provided quite the journey, one that led him to the major leagues and sharing clubhouses with the likes of Braves legends Aaron, Matthews, Spahn, Niekro and others in Milwaukee for three years, then with Carl Yastrzremski and others in Boston.
Originally signing with the St. Louis Cardinals as a free agent in 1958, he spent many a spring training with Hall of Famer Bob Gibson.
“I remember the first couple of times I talked to him,” Sadowski said. “I said, ‘Mr. Gibson,’ and he looked right at me and said, ‘Gibby.’ He was a heck of a fella and a pitcher.”
His first five seasons in the minors was an eye-opener to the rest of the country as well. On his way from Winnipeg, Canada to St. Louis’ Double-A team in Oklahoma during one of his first plane rides, he mentioned in passing to an adjacent flyer that he had never been to Tulsa, TEXAS.
“I said Texas,” he smiled. “I didn’t even know what state Tulsa was in.”
After arriving with the Crackers, where he roomed with future Cardinals Tim McCarver and Phil Gagliano originally in 1962, Sadowski remembers frequenting the Royal Peacock Lounge during those early years in Atlanta, sipping on a beer while listening to the music upstairs being blared onto Auburn Ave. by fresh trios like The Shirelles and a young singer named Sam Cooke.
Just as vividly he recalls, nearly verbatim, the reaction he received at the local cleaners in College Park after getting some strange looks when they found out the three roommates dropping off dirty laundry were players for the Crackers.
Then there’s lessons learned that he continues to practice to this day.
They include a heart-to-heart from Braves Hall of Fame third baseman Eddie Matthews during Sadowski’s rookie year in Milwaukee while the two were walking from the stadium to their cars in front of young autograph seekers. Thinking little of the value of his own, he politely declined to the Hall of Fame third baseman’s fury.
“(Matthews) was one of my idols and he comes up to me and says, ‘Don’t you ever do that again.’” Sadowski said. “I said to him, ‘But Eddie, I’m just Bob Sadowski. You’re’ Those kids don’t know who I am,” the rookie pitcher said. “Eddie says, ‘I don’t care.”
Sadowski keeps a rubber-band bound pile of letters from fans who have made autograph requests, at times sending mint Topps “bubble-gum flip” cards to some in return. When one included a $10 check in a letter, he quickly phoned back saying both the autograph — and the check — was coming back to him.
“When you get someone who asks for Bob Sadowski’s autograph ... me, Bob Sadowski? ... that just lights you up inside,” he said. “You see these ballplayers that charge for their autograph, that’s just terrible. It’s what completely turned me off to [pro] baseball.”
Even after his playing days, Sadowski had remained active as a youth coach in north Atlanta, instructing players including son, Troy — who took his own path to professional sports while playing tight end at Georgia in the late 1980s before embarking on a 10-plus year NFL career.
“I did that for years until I couldn’t do it anymore physically,” he said. “I loved being around those kids.”