Pruett's career spanned decades, despite just 9 major-league ball
By KATHARINE GOODLOE
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.
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
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
Always a part
of the game
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.