The Obit For Richard Probola


The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In 1945, Richard J. "Pro" Probola went to work for the city's Public Works Recreation department for 53 cents an hour. By 1965, he was a recreation center director and his salary was $5,351.

Mr. Probola, of the South Side, never did make a lot of money. But he would have described himself as a rich man anyway, for by the time he got that promotion with the city he also was living his dream as a part-time scout in Major League baseball.

He also had discovered and delivered to the Cleveland Indians the kind of baseball player every scout seeks: "Sudden Sam" McDowell, the pitcher who came out of Central Catholic High School to star for Cleveland and later for the Pirates.

"That was a big deal for Pro," said Pirates announcer Greg Brown, a close friend who delivered the eulogy Wednesday following Mr. Probola's death at age 74 last Saturday. "He would hang onto that his entire life."

Probola's scouting career spanned three teams and followed a stint playing in Cleveland's farm system. He scouted for the Indians from 1959-65; the Pirates from 1966-88; and the Anaheim Angels from 1989-99.

Dr. Mitchell Antin, an orthopedic surgeon on the South Side who forged a lifelong friendship with Mr. Probola as a college student working a summer job with the city, remembered one of the stories that circulated after he signed McDowell.

"In order to sign him, Pro had to bring in the big regional director from Cleveland because they were talking what was big money in those days," Antin said. "They didn't have radar guns in those days, so Pro slipped McDowell some Little League balls so he could throw even faster, and McDowell threw really fast already. The bosses were very impressed."

But Mr. Probola had time for the kids who wouldn't make it to the big leagues, too, managing the Little Pirates amateur baseball team, coaching baseball at the former St. Elizabeth High School in Pleasant Hills and coaching basketball at St. Stephen's Elementary School in Hazelwood.

Antin met Mr. Probola when they did a traveling baseball caravan for city neighborhoods that starred former Pirate Maury Wills.

"He helped a lot of kids, helping them go to school and not always go to baseball. He helped kids get scholarships," Antin said. "He knew thousands and thousands of people."

That was one of the aspects of Mr. Probola's life that Brown found so fascinating.

"He was a man of limited means," Brown said. "But he had as many friends from all walks of life as you'd ever meet.

"My brother and I used to go places with him in the city, and invariably on every block somebody would see him and come up to talk. It was surprising how many people knew him. Almost anybody involved with baseball in Pittsburgh came in contact with Pro."

Sister Carol Daugherty of Ursuline Services, who took care of Probola's affairs during his lengthy illness, said the two-hour visitation at John J. Gmiter Funeral Home attracted at least 100 people, mostly men carrying souvenirs from and stories about Pro.

"He was so generous. He never had any money. He gave away everything," Antin said. "I was always giving him money and then he'd give it away. He had the [Bill] Mazeroski uniform Maz was wearing when he hit the [World Series-winning] home run. He gave it away. He gave away a Clemente uniform, balls and bats."

But Antin agreed that Mr. Probola would consider himself wealthy.

"He was a rich man because he had an enormous man of friends," he said.

Mr. Probola also was a veteran of the Korean War. "He got shot, in his right foot, and he loved to show off his scar," Brown said.

He is survived by a sister, Florence Koscielniak.