The Obit For Pete Cera

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Posted on Thu, Feb. 26, 2004

'Pete' Cera, 86; worked for Phillies

Inquirer Staff Writer

Pasquale "Pete" Cera, 86, the beloved Phillies clubhouse assistant who one manager said "should be remembered in Philadelphia as the greatest guy in baseball history," died Tuesday at Hazleton (Pa.) General Hospital.

To many, Mr. Cera was the Phillies. From 1974 until he retired in 1998, he was a trainer, traveling secretary, clubhouse man, manager's helper, players' friend - and a combination mother, father and favorite uncle. And for 36 years before coming to the majors, he was was a hero to hundreds of ballplayers in the minors, primarily with Phillies farm teams.

Former Phillies manager Frank Lucchesi was a big fan of Mr. Cera's. The men he most admires are "Frank Sinatra, Joe DiMaggio and Pete Cera," Lucchesi said yesterday.

In 1998, the year he retired, Mr. Cera was the first recipient of the Richie Ashburn Special Achievement Award, which is given annually to the Phillies employee who shows the most loyalty, dedication and passion for the game.

Mr. Cera's six decades in professional baseball began after he graduated from Hazleton High School in 1938. He worked as a batboy, groundskeeper and equipment manager for the Boston Red Sox' farm club in Hazleton. He earned $5 a week. When that team moved to Scranton in 1938, Mr. Cera moved with it.

The only three years of his adult life he ever spent away from baseball were during World War II, from 1942 to 1945, when he was with the Army building bridges in the Pacific.

When his hitch was up, he returned to the minors, working in Scranton in the Washington Senators organization.

Mr. Cera, who completed trainers' school in Barto, Fla., on the GI Bill, joined the Phillies organization in 1953.

He worked in Williamsport, Pa., Reading and Little Rock, getting to know the players and managers he would see in the majors.

He became lifelong friends with Dick Allen, whom Mr. Cera met in 1960, when Allen was a youngster playing in Clearwater, Fla., in the Phillies organization. That was before the civil-rights movement, and Allen, who was right out of high school and one of the few African Americans in the Phillies organization, needed a friend.

Throughout his career, Allen said, he would head straight to Mr. Cera whenever he came to the ballpark.

"He was my best friend," Allen said. "He washed your socks... . He shined your shoes. He checked on curfew. He did everything."

"I thank God that Pete walked through my life. He was a great influence on me through tough segregated times. He was there for all of us, no matter what color. He stands among the tallest men in my career," Allen said.

Lucchesi, who started working with Mr. Cera in the minors in the 1950s and managed the Phillies in the early 1970s, said: "Pete should be remembered in Philadelphia as the greatest guy in baseball history."

A devout Catholic, Mr. Cera greeted the players each Sunday by asking if they went to church. "You better go or we aren't going to win," he said.

Mr. Cera saw managers come and go, and in his later days he was in charge of keeping the uniforms clean.

Mr. Cera, who never married, lived in Hazleton with his two bachelor brothers during off-season. During the season, he lived with a family near Veterans Stadium, behind left field on Juniper Street. Mr. Cera, who never got his driver's license, walked to work. On game days, he arrived at the stadium at 6:30 a.m. and stayed until midnight.

Mr. Cera is survived by brothers Frank, Agustus and Anthony.

Friends my visit at 6 p.m. today and at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow at Moran Funeral Home, 229 W. 12th St., Hazleton, Pa. A Funeral Mass will be said at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Most Precious Blood Church in Hazleton. Burial will be in the church cemetery.