one of majors' few deaf players, dies at 82
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
The autographs make Sharon Terwelp's pieces of Chicago Cubs memorabilia valuable.
The heart-felt gesture behind the gifts makes them priceless.
While teaching at St. Mary School, Terwelp received an autographed picture of Ryne Sandberg and a baseball signed by the Cubs as a birthday present from the school custodian, Dick Sipek. A major league outfielder in the 1940s, Sipek called on an old friend, former Cubs general manager Dallas Green, to help secure the gift.
"No one would have known this humble, salt-of-the-earth man would have affiliations with such influential people," Terwelp said. "Knowing that he cared enough about a personal friendship makes those gifts priceless, but more important than any of those things is the man himself. I feel very blessed to have known him."
Sipek, one of only four deaf players to have ever reached the major leagues, died Sunday at Blessing Hospital, 60 years after he made his major league debut with the Cincinnati Reds. He was 82.
"He worked a lot with the seventh- and eighth-grade classes and he'd tell stories to them about how he played ball," said Trudi Dreier, a longtime St. Mary teacher. "He was such a friend with everyone. He always had a smile on his face."
Sipek moved to Quincy with his wife, Quincy native Betty Schmidt, after his baseball career ended in the minor leagues in 1951 when he suffered a broken collarbone diving for a fly ball. He worked at Bueters Bakery for many years before landing the job at St. Mary. He retired from St. Mary in 1988.
He is survived by his wife, a son, Ron, and two daughters, Janice and Nancy.
And his love of the game will be part of his legacy.
Sipek was an avid fan of the Reds and Cubs and passed on his knowledge of the game to generations of kids. Three weeks ago, Sipek attended a baseball camp for more than 1,000 deaf children in the St. Louis area.
"It was part of who he was," Terwelp said. "When he'd come in to clean or come in to visit or after he left St. Mary, he would mention the Cubs. He loved to talk baseball."
Born in Chicago in 1923, Sipek suffered extreme hearing loss in an accident around the time he was 5 years old.
"My mother never did tell me what caused my hearing loss," Sipek had said.
At 9 years old and struggling with his studies, Sipek's family sent him to the Illinois School for the Deaf in Jacksonville, where his house-father was Luther Taylor. A pitcher for the New York Giants who won 27 games in 1904, Taylor pushed Sipek to develop his outstanding athlete skill.
An all-state back in football, Sipek earned an invitation to join the Cincinnati Reds' minor league team in Birmingham in 1943. After two seasons where he hit .336 and .314 for Birmingham, Sipek made the Reds' major league roster in 1945.
He made his major league debut April 28, 1945, in a 1-0 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals at Crosley Field. He played in 82 games that season, hitting .244 with 38 hits in 156 at-bats. He finished with six doubles, two triples and 13 RBI.
The next season, he was sent back to the minors.
"It was just overwhelming and I met so many different people," Sipek told WGEM's Ron Brown for a segment of Tri-State Crossroads that aired in May. "I had to do my best when I played, to show them that the deaf can do."
Sipek was just the third deaf player to reach the major leagues. William Hoy, who was an outfielder who played for six teams over a 14-year career that ended in 1902, and Taylor were the first two. Nearly 50 years after Sipek's one season with the Reds, Curtis Pride made his debut with the Montreal Expos.
"I was motivated and I showed them that deaf can do it," Sipek said. "No matter if I can't hear or I'm hard of hearing, it doesn't make any difference. I can do it."
Sipek lived by that notion his entire life.
"No matter what it was, he did the best job he could," Terwelp said. "He truly was a treasure."
Funeral services will be held on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. in the Duker & Haugh Funeral Home and at 10 a.m in St. Mary Catholic Church. Visitation will be held Wednesday from 4-7 p.m. with a parish prayer service at 4 p.m.
Memorials can be made to the Illinois School for the Deaf alumni or the JCCD Housing Project.