The Obit For Ray Berres
Ray Berres 1907-2007
Pierce: Kenosha native `never wanted to take credit for anything'
By Bob Vanderberg
February 3, 2007
Berres, 99, died of heart failure and pneumonia.
A native of Kenosha, Berres spent 11 seasons in the big leagues as a backup catcher but made his biggest impact as the Sox's pitching coach from 1949 to '66, and then again for parts of the 1968 and '69 seasons as a favor to his longtime boss and former teammate, manager Al Lopez.
Berres, seven months shy of his 100th birthday, was the second-oldest living major-leaguer. Rollie Stiles, who pitched for the St. Louis Browns in 1930-33, is 100.
Berres' staffs annually were among the American League's best in earned-run average and he made a habit of turning around the careers of pitchers who had failed elsewhere, including Marv Grissom, Bob Keegan, Bob Shaw, Juan Pizarro and Ray Herbert.
And there's an equally long list of veteran pitchers judged to have been washed up who then resurfaced with the Sox and suddenly regained their touch.
Among them were Virgil Trucks, Gerry Staley, Turk Lown and Don Mossi.
But Berres was much more than a brilliant pitching coach.
"He was a gentleman, No. 1," said Shaw, a hero of the 1959 pennant-winning club. "He had great rapport with the players."
"He never wanted to take credit for anything," said Billy Pierce, who like Berres joined the Sox in 1949. "A real wonderful fellow."
"To me," said Gary Peters, the Sox's top lefty winner during the '60s, "he's the best pitching coach I ever came across. I never saw him get upset with one of his pitchers. Of course Lopez would do that for him."
Berres stressed mechanics.
"I always worked toward a delivery that was conducive to throwing strikes," he said in a long-ago interview at his home in Twin Lakes, Wis. "I preached delivery and keeping the ball low. If you have the proper delivery, the pitch will be low or you'll have command of it.
"My argument was, you can never practice theory unless the mechanics of pitching are ironed out. To tell a guy to throw a ball low and away, and it goes high and inside, there's something wrong with the mechanics."
Shaw, acquired from Detroit in 1958 with his career at a crossroads, became one of Berres' most eager pupils. He had several big years with the A's, Braves and Giants as well as the Sox and later became a pitching coach himself at both the minor- and major-league levels.
"What he basically taught," Shaw said, "was quite simple: You have to `break' your hands--get the hand out of the glove--keep your weight back, get your arm up. It wasn't all that elaborate. Just basic fundamentals, and he knew them and there are really very few people in the country who know what they are.
"The more I listened to him and watched him, the more I learned and the more I became an advocate of what he was teaching."
Tommy John, 2-9 for Cleveland as a 21-year-old in 1964, came to the Sox the next year and was 14-7. Berres had gotten John, an avid golfer, to change his mechanics by comparing the lefty's golf swing to his pitching delivery.
"He just illustrated it to me in terms I could understand," John said. "And, to me, that's a good instructor."
Years ago Berres was asked if he ever had wanted to be more than an instructor.
"I was offered a few managerial jobs," he said, "but I always turned them down. It wasn't meant to be. I'm not the type. I could hire, but, doggone it, I couldn't fire. My greatest satisfaction came in helping somebody if I could."
Berres was preceded in death by his wife, Irma. He is survived by a son, John. Services are pending. Information will be posted at www.piasecki-althaus.com.