The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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April 22, 2014

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

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

He was a two-year standout at West Virginia University in 1959-60 in both baseball and men’s basketball. Then the Flemington native signed a contract with the Chicago Cubs for $40,000.

That was a lot of money for a professional signing bonus in those days, believe it or not.

Popovich, now 73 years old, played 11 years in the Major Leagues. That included two separate stretches with the Cubs, a pair of seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers and then his final two seasons back home with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

While he doesn’t care to discuss how much his salary was when retiring as a player in 1975, Popovich indicated that it wasn’t close to $1 million.

Popovich, who went on to serve as an infield coach in pro baseball for 10 years, will tell you that he never so much as dreamed a player’s pay rate would reach today’s multi-million dollar level.

But the former Mountaineer second baseman, in an interview from his Chicago area home, said he’s delighted to learn of fellow Morgantown native Jedd Gyorko’s recent financial windfall.

The San Diego Padres signed this WVU graduate to a contract extension worth $35 million for the next five years. He is in his second season as a Major Leaguer.

“All I can say is I wish I was playing baseball today,” Paul stated. “You ask whether my salary was ever close to a million — my answer is, ‘Not really!’”

To him, it has bordered on disbelief.

Popovich thinks the first appearance of what many consider outrageous contract salaries popped up in the 1990s. As everyone knows, those not only involve coaches and players but executives and administrators.

The fans of pro and college sports also have been affected at box offices and commercial stands at games.

“I’m very happy for Jedd,” Popovich stressed. “I have seen him play on TV. I think he hit 23 home runs last year (as a rookie).

“I believe he certainly has a fine future.”

Gyorko also had 63 runs batted in and hit .249 in the 2013 season.

In case you’re interested, Popovich’s best season was in 1969. He had a batting average of .281. That started with the Dodgers and finished after being traded back to the Cubs.

While with Los Angeles, the WVU Sports Hall of Famer also was singled out by pitcher Don Drysdale for a tribute. He said Popovich was a key to his record of 58 2-3 scoreless innings streak.

“I played second base in all of those games,” Popovich recalled. “And I made some pretty good defensive plays.”

Paul said he’ll never forget that there were two plays in particular that he remembers specifically with a runner on third base with two outs to preserve Drysdale’s scoreless streak.

“Maury Wills was the hitter on one of those plays,” he noted. Wills is a Hall of Famer.

Popovich, who set a WVU school record with a batting average of .426 in 1960, was named West Virginia State High School Basketball Player of the Year in 1958. He averaged an all-time record of 41.3 points per game.

He was quite an athlete at every level of competition, indeed.

For an 11-year Major League career, Popovich played in 682 games and had 1,732 at-bats, 176 runs scored, 403 hits, 42 doubles, nine triples and 14 home runs.

Popovich also logged 134 RBIs, 127 bases on balls, four stolen bases and had a .233 batting average.

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