South County Scene: Lazor had a ball to the end2002-12-13
by Mary Swift
Renton's Johnny Lazor loved baseball.
Even at 90, he was a passionate baseball fan.
But then, baseball had been in his blood ever since he was a kid in Maple Valley, a kid who grew up to play for the Boston Red Sox.
Lazor died Monday at the age of 90 at an adult care home just a short distance from his home in the Bryn Mawr area on Renton's West Hill.
Back in the early days of his career a lot of teams were company-sponsored. A good player didn't have much trouble getting a job with a company that wanted a good team.
He got his start with the Record Chronicle (newspaper) team in Renton, playing in the Northwest League. Lazor would walk a mile to the Hobart store, then hitch a ride with a bakery truck to Renton. A job -- and a place on the Stoneway team -- followed. That was in the Industrial League. Next came the Seattle League.
Uniforms were furnished, but players bought their own mitts.
Lazor, a catcher in his early days, eventually switched to the outfield. The math just made sense: one catcher, three outfielders. Play in the outfield and you had a better chance at starting, he figured.
On weekends, he went to Bremerton to play in the Northwest League. The manager of the team he played on scouted for the Boston Red Sox. He sent Lazor and another player down to San Diego to baseball school.
In 1937, Lazor moved on to a minor league team in Moultry, Ga. He made $100 a month. Meals cost him 50 cents a day. Next was Canton, Ohio, where he met his first wife, Dorothy-Rae Dugan. They divorced a few years later. Life in baseball meant life on the road. It was a combination that took its toll on family life, says Lazor's daughter, Barbara Ochoa.
By 1940, Lazor was playing for a minor league team in Scranton, Pa. The next year he was at Louisville.
In 1942, he made it to the big leagues. Boston called him up.
He played four years there, ending his career with the Portland Beavers from 1947 to 1949.
His favorite story?
``That was telling about the day he hit three home runs in the first game of a double header -- and a fourth home run in the second game,'' Ochoa says.
Although the Boston Red Sox played in the World Series in 1946, Lazor never played.
His daughter says he always attributed that to a tiff that developed between himself and manager Joe Cronin after the 1945 season.
``He was lousy!'' Lazor said in answer to a fan's letter asking what he remembered most about Cronin.
``He punished me in the 1946 season for going to an exhibition game after the 1945 season. I only got up to bat 29 times in 1946 after ending the 1945 season batting .310.''
Ochoa said her father figured to play in the exhibition game because it was off-season -- and it paid $1,000.
``That was a lot of money back then,'' she said.
(To be fair, it might be worth noting that by the 1946 season Ted Williams and others who had left to serve in World War II were back, which might have affected Cronin's decisions.)
Ochoa still lives in the home her father bought in 1945 in the Bryn Mawr area.
``Physically he wasn't that strong,'' Ochoa says of the last months of her father's life, ``but he was still very alert right up until the end.''
He liked to read Harlequin romance novels, she said, and he read them by the bagful.
And he loved to follow the Mariners and the Boston Red Sox on TV.
``The last five years of his life that's what he did --watch baseball,'' she said. ``When the Mariners and the Red Sox played each other he rooted for both of them.''
He liked former Mariner manager Lou Piniella, though he didn't always like Piniella's decisions --particularly about pitching, his daughter says.
``He thought Piniella made stupid mistakes,'' she said. ``He'd watch Piniella pull a pitcher who was doing good and he would say, `He just screwed up again.' He'd say, `If a guy's on a run and he's doing good and he's still got innings left, why pull him?' If we were ahead when Piniella did it, dad would turn the TV off. He said he didn't want to watch how it would end.
``He usually watched the games with the TV and the radio turned on at the same time.''
A memorial Mass for Lazor is scheduled for Wednesday at 11 a.m. at St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Renton.
Besides photos from her father's years in professional baseball and other memorabilia, Ochoa also plans to have a pair of pinstripe overalls and some chewing tobacco there.
``He always had those bib overalls and chewing tobacco,'' she said. ``Up to the day before he died he chewed tobacco.''Photo: Renton's Johnny Lazor shown during his days with the Boston Red Sox.