Matthew Daniel Batts

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Batts, Matthew Daniel July 15, 2013. (1921-2013) Baton Rouge baseball legend, Matthew Daniel Batts, known to Major League fans as Catcher Matt Batts, entered his field of dreams Sunday, July 14, 2013. He was 91. A friend to all who were lucky enough to work with, play with, know him or even play against him, Matt Batts started life in San Antonio where he learned sandlot baseball on gravel streets. I was always the one who hit the furthest, he recalled to biographer Bill Nowlin. In junior high, I was quite a hitter \and everybody wanted me to play. I'd ride my bicycle across town. In high school, he made Texas All-State in American Legion ball and still holds the Texas high school javelin record. Batts started playing on a semipro team for five dollars a game and, in a runaway over an opponent, he asked to play catcher. I wanted to see how it was catching. I picked off a runner at first and threw one out at third. I always had a great arm. I could throw one from home plate over the left field fence. When he was a 20-year-old Baylor student in 1942, the Boston Red Sox signed him as an amateur free agent and secretly paid his tuition. He was kicked off the college team as a result (ultimately inducted into Baylor's Hall of Fame) and joined the Army Air Corps serving the duration of World War II, finishing as sergeant. After the war, he moved to Boston. Matt Batts debuted with the Red Sox on September 10, 1947, hitting a homerun in his very first major league at bat. He rocked Boston in the double header, batting a sensational .500 in sixteen times to the plate. Next year was even better. When you woke up in the morning, you wanted to get to the ballpark to play ball, because you enjoyed it, he remembered to sportswriter Peter Golenbock. And you loved the people you were with, loved the manager (Joe McCarthy), loved the coaches, and of course, we had great ballplayers. He played as an outstanding Red Sox catcher and fielder for four seasons. Batts was traded to the St. Louis Browns in 1951 where he hit .302 and caught for Satchell Paige, the first pitcher from the Negro leagues in the American League. He was there when pinch-hitter 3'7 dwarf Eddie Gaedel made his only at-bat wearing Browns' jersey 1/8 as a publicity stunt. The following year, St. Louis traded Batts to the Detroit Tigers where he started 116 games as catcher. On August 25, 1952, Batts caught for Virgil Trucks when Trucks became only the third Major League pitcher to throw two no-hitters in a season. In 1954, Detroit traded Batts to Chicago, then to Baltimore later that year. Finally, the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds purchased Batts' contracts. His last appearance on the diamond was May 8, 1956, catching for Cincinnati. In 546 games of which he started 409, Batts racked up 26 home runs, 219 runs batted in, a batting average of .269 and a fielding percentage of .985. Rather than go back to the minors, Batts retired his catcher's mask. Crisscrossing Louisiana during spring trainings, Batts had begun stopping in Baton Rouge to help with baseball clinics. He and his wife Arleene liked the people and moved to Louisiana's capital city. Batts started the Baton Rouge Cougars as a way for LSU University High students to play baseball and to encourage baseball in the Baton Rouge area. He also befriended East Baton Rouge Sheriff Bryan Clemmons who recruited him to help with juvenile delinquents. Instead of deputies arresting juveniles, Batts recalled, we would pick them up and talk to them and see if we couldn't get things straightened out. He and Arleene started one of Baton Rouge's successful printing companies, Batts Printing, before selling out a decade ago and retiring. Golf became his game and on his 83rd birthday, Batts hit a hole-in-one on the Country Club of Louisiana course. His loving wife of 69 years, Arleene preceded him in death less than three months ago. He was also preceded in death by his parents, Matthew senior and Margaret, and by half-sister Eva Heep, the mother of Mets and Dodgers outfielder Danny Heep. He is survived by two grateful daughters, Susan Batts and Denise BattsClaflin of Baton Rouge; four grandchildren, Matthew Claflin and wife Megan of St. Louis, MO; Foster Alessi; Jary Claflin; and Kellie Claflin Joseph and husband Cheney Joseph; and two greatgrandchildren, Madaleine Alessi and Alexandra Bethea. His dog Max will also miss him. Services: Following visitation from 4:00 to 6:00 PM on Saturday July 20 at Rabenhorst Downtown, a memorial service will be held officiated by Dr. Ken Ward, Coordinator of Chaplain Services for the Louisiana Legislature. Former 5-time College World Series Champion Coach and LSU Athletic Director Skip Bertman recalls, Matt Batts really was an unsung hero who was legendary for helping kids play better ball. Long after he left the big leagues, he always gave of himself as an instructor, and he and Arleene donated printing to help the clinics and LSU baseball. He will be missed. Political kingmaker and baseball fan James Carville adds, Matt Batts had arguably one of the greatest names in the history of baseball. All of his contributions to baseball serve only to compliment his later contributions to Baton Rouge. The city lost one of its great citizens and treasures in Matt. Baton Rouge car dealer and former Giants Minor Leaguer Eric Lane said of Batts, Mr. Matt helped us considerably with the Kids Clinics. He taught catching and everybody loved him. He gave his time freely and printed all the programs for our fundraising banquets. Ten years in the majors as a catcher is phenomenal. Former Baton Rouge sportscaster Mike Rhodes remembers, Matt Batts was an unsung but true legend who finished very well as a man. He was a friend to everyone and was instrumental in helping put Baton Rouge baseball on the map. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to the Miracle League, 15881 Airline Highway, Baton Rouge, LA 70817 or online at
Published in St. Louis Post-Dispatch on July 19, 2013
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