The Obit For Jim Pruett

Pruett's career spanned decades, despite just 9 major-league ball games

Last Updated: Aug. 4, 2003

Waukesha - For nine brief, glorious games in the 1945 and '46 seasons, James Pruett was a major-league catcher for the Philadelphia Athletics.

But for 17 years, Pruett was a journeyman catcher, who bounced among a bevy of minor-league clubs, including the first incarnation of the Milwaukee Brewers, then in the American Association. He made stops in Charleston, W. Va.; Gainesville, Fla.; Birmingham, Ala.; and a host of other cities.

"If you've got that dream, it's pretty much your life," said his daughter, Susan Buyatt of Waukesha. "I don't know if I could've lived that kind of life, moving three or four times a year. But there was never a dull moment."

Pruett moved 42 times during his tenure as a ballplayer. When it was time to hang up his cleats, he didn't return to his home state of Tennessee, but instead laid down roots in Wisconsin.

That was 1954.

Years later, after he retired, he returned to his first love - this time in another role. He worked for nearly 20 years as an usher at County Stadium, where the Brewers, revived as a major-league club, made their home. He ended that job when Miller Park opened.

Pruett died July 29, at the age of 85.

Joined Brewers in 1943

Pruett cemented his love for baseball in 1937, when he turned down a football scholarship to play professional baseball.

"It was probably a good choice on his part," his daughter said.

Pruett came to the Milwaukee Brewers, then a minor-league team, in 1943 as a prospect who was considered to have the potential to play third base or outfield, in addition to working behind the plate.

The Brewers liked what they saw, and re-signed him in 1944. When he returned the signed contract, The Milwaukee Journal reported, he enclosed a letter that told management, "I'll be your No. 1 catcher this year."

After that season, he was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics, under manager Connie Mack. Pruett caught only one full game for the Athletics, and garnered 13 at-bats during two brief stints in Philadelphia, before returning to the minors.

He married his wife, Beulah, in 1944 in Milwaukee, just hours after he had wrapped up a ball game. A Brewers infielder served as best man at the nuptials, and they postponed their honeymoon until the season was over.

"I don't know why they did it after a game," their daughter said. "Probably because he was in town. Every time he was in town, he was playing."

Buyatt said her parents finally settled in Waukesha, where her father opened Jim's Beverage Mart and operated Top's Grill. Those businesses later closed, and he took various other jobs before retiring in 1982.

Returns to the game

Forty-five years after beginning his career in baseball, Pruett returned to it - this time donning a black usher's hat and matching jacket before heading to County Stadium for every home game.

As an usher, Pruett helped patrons to their seats and bonded with a group of regulars, who frequently chatted about the players, as well as life beyond the stadium.

Three hours before game time, Pruett would turn up at the ushers locker room, where he and fellow workers would play cards.

"We always played the same game," said Louis Montgomery, who worked at the section next to Pruett for 14 years. "Yes, it was always sheepshead."

His wife had traveled with Pruett since their marriage in 1944, and still listened to the Brewers games at which he was ushering.

"When he ushered, she kept the radio on, so she would know when he was coming home," said Jennifer Pruett, a granddaughter.

His wife died in 1999.

Always a part of the game

The connections Pruett made as a player never faded and, several years ago, he took Buyatt and her two sons to see the Yankees face the Brewers, and to introduce them to an old acquaintance.

"He goes, 'Hey, Yogi man, come over here,' " said Buyatt, who said her father knew Yogi Berra from his time with the Yankee organization. "(Berra) remembered him from all those years back then. My kids thought that was pretty cool."

Buyatt said her father kept a small collection of photographs in a desk drawer in his later years, for fans who requested autographs.

"He still used to get a lot of people - baseball nuts - who would write to him and ask for pictures, after all these years," she said.

Services were Monday at Randle-Dable Funeral Home in Waukesha. Memorials may be sent to the Regional Cancer Care Center at Waukesha Memorial Hospital, 721 American Ave., Waukesha, WI 53188.