Sunday, June 22, 2003

Wally Post still huge in tiny town

Memory of former Reds strongman lives on in St. Henry

By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Twenty-one years ago, on Jan. 7, 1982, Wally Post died of cancer at 52. Somebody - and something - truly good left the world that day.

"It's still a shock to recall it," said Charles Karcher, 90, who was Post's coach at St. Henry High School, about 115 miles north of Cincinnati.

Wally grew up on a farm in a family of nine kids.

"Wally was a shy boy, pleasant, quick smile," Karcher said. "Unassuming, the kind of kid you want to know and be around. He was a little chubby when he first came out for the team - about 5-9 and 165 pounds - but by the time he was a junior, he was 5-11 and 190. He was so good, the Reds signed him after his junior year; he couldn't play as a senior."

Maybe it's merely a coincidence - just when the Reds are hitting home runs at a pace frenetic enough to recall Post's heyday as a Red in 1955 and 1956 (the Reds tied the major-league record for home runs in a single season) - but the St. Henry high school baseball team a few weeks ago won its third state title in five years.

Before the current stretch, St. Henry hadn't been to the state baseball final since Post's high school days in the mid-1940s.

He hit the long ball

Right-handed Wally Post grew up hitting the long ball. He didn't play baseball until he got to high school. He played softball up until then. When he first went out for the high school team, he kept hitting the ball foul toward right field - but long.

"I remember the first home run he hit in a game as a freshman," Karcher said. "We were playing in Houston, Ohio, about 25 miles from St. Henry. There was an embankment in left field that led to the highway. Nobody ever hit a ball out there. Wally did. Nowadays the phrase would be, 'He got all of it.' It went about 400 feet."

Wally's brother, Eddie, was on those great St. Henry teams in 1945-46. The Post boys would switch between pitcher and first base.

Joe Nuxhall played pro ball with Eddie Post at Muncie, Ind. Eddie hurt his arm in the service on an obstacle course, and his pitching career was over.

"Our problem was we didn't have a third pitcher, and we had to play three games in two days," St. Henry catcher Pete Stammen, 75, recalled of the state final. "Coach wasn't one to pitch guys until their arms fell off, like some of those coaches did.

"The fact we lost didn't have anything to do with Wally. He hit two home runs in the state finals - there weren't any fences, so you had to run 'em all out - and on one of them, the left fielder was still running as Wally came around third base. We were ahead 8-7 in the sixth inning but wound up getting beat 9-8."

The Post brothers

Eddie was the better pitcher. Wally threw harder, but his pitches didn't have much movement. The Reds converted him to a right fielder in the minor leagues. He and the Brooklyn Dodgers' Carl Furillo had the best arms in the National League.

As a Red, Wally was 6 feet, 200 pounds.

"Bull strong," Stammen said. "It was nothing for him to hit it over the roof of the laundry at Crosley."

Nuxhall compares Post's build to present-day left-handed-hitting star Bobby Abreu of the Philadelphia Phillies.

The years have eroded some of the public's memory of Post. There isn't much permanent in Cincinnati to remember him by, save a plaque in the Reds Hall of Fame. But fans who were in Cincinnati in the mid-1950s never will forget him. That includes Nuxhall, his best friend.

"He was just an easy-going, regular guy," Nuxhall said. "There'd be winter baseball banquets in Cincinnati, and Wally'd drive all the way down from St. Henry, and he and his wife would stay at our house. We'd pick up Gus Bell and his wife, and Klu and his wife would be there.

"And I'd drive up to St. Henry and go to dances and play charity basketball games at the high school gym on Sunday afternoons," Nuxhall said.

Remembering Wally

There's a new gym and other new sports fields at the recently opened high school in St. Henry. It's called "The Wally Post Athletic Complex."

In the trophy case there is a framed Dayton Daily News story, dated Nov. 23, 1947: "Six St. Henry Boys in Pro Ball ... Two More Probably Headed That Way."

"Not bad for a senior class with 28 kids in it," Stammen recalled.

Wally's son and three daughters by his late wife, Pat, live within a half-mile of one another in St. Henry. Wally's brother, Ralph, 80, is not in good health.

"You know all those suits (11) they talk about my dad winning for hitting home runs off the Siebler suit sign atop the laundry beyond the left-field wall at Crosley?" John Post asked. "Dad must've been the best-dressed guy on the road, because he never wore those suits in St. Henry - or to Crosley Field. He preferred golf shirts. He didn't wear a tie very often. But my guess is he had the best-stocked closet in Mercer County."

People still drop by to visit Post's hometown, population 1,500 - 40 minutes west of I-75, two towns east of the Indiana state line, in the middle of farm country. They stop to take a photo of the sign, "St. Henry - Home of Wally Post" (and three NFL players) ... to visit his gravesite (Wally C. "Wally" Post) ... and to have a burger and fries at Fishmo's (formerly Kite and Katy's, where Wally occasionally would drop in). Fishmo's is where St. Henry's best memorabilia is, including four framed national stories (Time, Look, Parade, Sports Illustrated) about the 1956 Reds, for whom Post was the longest home run hitter. He also shared the Reds' popularity marquee with Ted Kluszewski.

"I delivered the daily newspaper to Mr. Post's house when I was a kid," said Fishmo's owner, Matt Steltzer, 36. "He lived on Columbus Street, downtown. I didn't even know he was a ballplayer until after he died. He was very unassuming."

Wally's grandson is Bobby Hoying, the former Ohio State quarterback who is currently between NFL backup QB jobs.

The one-room schoolhouse where Wally learned his ABC's in St. Wennelin is still there, being used as a rent-a-hall. Church is still the same. His old baseball field is under the new high school now.

There's a Wally Post golf outing every year to benefit the local cancer society. Nuxhall emcees the post-round banquet almost every year. They've been doing it every year in St. Henry, since Wally died.

"No, not much has changed here," John Post said. "Back when Dad was playing for the Reds, people'd turn down the sound on their TVs and listen to Waite (Hoyt) and Jack Moran. Now they turn down the TV and listen to Marty and Joe."



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