The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

April 12, 2013

Popovich had fine major-league career

MORGANTOWN — Did you ever hear of a Major League player with a perfect batting average of 1,000 for a season?

Well, meet Paul Edward Popovich, a native of nearby Flemington in Harrison County. He made his debut in the big leagues with the Chicago Cubs by hitting the first pitch into centerfield for a clean single against Philadelphia.

That was his only at-bat in the 1964 season, and he was 24 years old. Manager Leo Durocher lifted the 6-foot, 175-pound Popovich from the Cubs’ lineup after that one-pitch, one-bat appearance and shipped him back to the Triple-A farm club for more seasoning.

So the young man, who had played two years of both basketball and baseball at West Virginia University in 1959-60, is listed in his 11-year Major League resume as one hit and a 1,000 batting average for 1964.

Popovich had signed a contract with the Chicago organization in June 1960 while in Morgantown with a Cubs scout for a bonus of $40,000, which was a lot of money then. He bought a home for his parents in Morgantown so they could be closer to WVU Hospitals.

How did Popovich feel getting that first hit as a Major Leaguer? “It truly was beyond description,” he recalled recently. “Nobody could have understood the thrill that was for me.

“The pitcher threw me a fast ball and I hit the very first pitch to center field. The fielder threw it back in and I was given the ball.”

But Popovich said he has no idea where that ball is now. It eventually got lost in the shuffle of souvenir-savings.

After more seasoning in Class AAA, Popovich returned to the Majors for six at-bats in 1966 (no hits), and then finally to stay up there in 1967.

He was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers with whom he spent two years, then rejoined the Cubs in 1970 for another four-year hitch.

Popovich retired after playing two seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1974 and 1975. “I really enjoyed playing closer to home before family and friends,” he said.

Popovich, who averaged 41.3 points per game at Flemington High to set a state basketball record, played one year of varsity basketball and baseball after a year on a freshman team in each sport.

In baseball, he led the WVU varsity in batting (.427) in 1960 and also was tops in home runs and runs batted in.

He and pitcher Steve Kline (1993) each played 11 years in the Major Leagues. Charlie Hickman (1898-1906) logged the most years of any former Mountaineer in the Major Leagues with 12.

Hall of Famer Don Drysdale of the Dodgers set a record pitching 58 2/3 innings without giving up a run in 1968 or 69, and he said Popovich was a major contributor with his plays at second base.

“That’s the equivalent of six complete games,” Paul noted. “Nobody made an error to spoil that feat.”

During his Major League career, Popovich played 682 games, had 1,732 at-bats, 176 runs, 403 hits, 505 total bases, 42 doubles, nine triples, and 14 home runs.

He also logged 134 RBI, 127 walks, four stolen bases, and had a .233 batting average.

Paul and Susan Popovich have been married 42 years and still reside in the Chicago area.

They have two sons, Paul and Damon. They also have three young grandchildren.

1
Text Only
College Sports
  • 042314 trickett Mountaineers have benefited from incoming football transfers

    Recruiting in college football seems to get more and more attention every season. Websites like Scout.com and Rivals.com stalk the high school sidelines and blow up potential recruits’ cell phones in search of the latest information. But there’s one important aspect that often goes ignored — transfers.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • WVU baseball pounds Terps

    The offense had 16 hits and sophomore left-hander Ross Vance struck out six as the West Virginia University baseball team routed Maryland 14-2 on Tuesday evening at Hawley Field.

    April 22, 2014

  • Crutchfield not interested in Division I job

    You would think Jim Crutchfield would be a great candidate for a head basketball coach’s job at an NCAA Division I university.
    But the Clarksburg native keeps saying that he’s perfectly content in that role at West Liberty, a Division II powerhouse. His 10-year record there is an absolutely amazing 272-49. Significantly, 10 of those defeats came in his first year at the West Liberty helm.

    April 22, 2014

  • Stepping up: Kelly racking up wins for Lions

    Sundays have become red-letter days for Chris Kelly.

    April 22, 2014

  • Paul Popovich, now 73, wishes he were playing baseball today

    If you’re a longtime baseball fan, you may recall Morgantown’s Paul Popovich.

    April 22, 2014

  • Hiring an interim while waiting on D’Antoni would be an injustice

    The search for Marshall’s new men’s basketball coach remained in a holding pattern over the Easter weekend while the Los Angeles Lakers put off their decision on coach Mike D’Antoni’s future until this week.

    April 21, 2014

  • 041914 gibby WVU trying to find speed on defense

    Tony Gibson took over as West Virginia’s new defensive coordinator over the winter with the goal of trying not to do too much to rock the boat. As the fourth coach to hold that spot in as many years, the Van native — in his second stint as a Mountaineer assistant — knew that his players needed some stability.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Turnbull’s tenure dominates WVU wrestling history

    Did Oliver Luck really do a thorough job in deeply evaluating Craig Turnbull’s 36-year career as wrestling coach before firing him?

    April 17, 2014

  • WVU’s top football prospects working out for NFL teams

    As we draw ever closer to the NFL Draft, the prospect workouts for teams are picking up steam for former Mountaineers. Both running back Charles Sims and defensive end Will Clarke have a busy road ahead.

    April 17, 2014

  • 041714 millard Kickoff time set for WVU-Alabama

    West Virginia football fans can now start counting down to the exact minute, instead of just the day.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo