Erie recently lost two native sons who rose to the top of the sports world.
Dave Wickersham, who was born in West Springfield and raised here, pitched in the major leagues for 10 seasons. He died at age 86 on June 19 in Overland Park, Kansas. And Hobie Billingsley, one of the world’s top diving coaches who mentored more than a dozen Olympians, died July 16 in Bloomington, Indiana, at the age of 95.
Wickersham, who pitched for the Kansas City A’s, Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals, was a shrewd right-hander who won 19 games for the Tigers in 1964. He later transferred to the bullpen when the Tigers’ starting pitchers included Dennis. McLain, Mickey Lolich, Earl Wilson and Joe Sparma.
After:Dave Wickersham, whose ejection in 1964 cost him a 20-win season for the Tigers, dies at 86
I remember a speech Wickersham gave at a local sports banquet when he jokingly lamented his banishment to the bullpen. “The Tigers told me they wanted to keep the hard-throwing pitchers in the starting rotation,” he said. “I threw hard too, but my pitches just took a little longer to get to home plate.”
Go find the New York Times obituary on Billingsley, whose accomplishments as a trainer and diving innovator were incredible. When Hobie was a boy in Erie, he and his mother endured terrible poverty. Billingsley said he learned to swim at a local YMCA and developed his innovative training techniques by studying diving pictures on the wall.
After:Hobie Billingsley, who helped create one of college sports’ greatest dynasties, dies at 95
● We were about to leave for the horse races at Almost Isle Downs on a recent Friday when I called to check on the start time. Lo and behold, Friday races have been canceled for the rest of the season. Something is wrong.
● Send a card to longtime Erie Times-News editorial page editor and writer Ed Wellejus, who is battling illness. Ed was one of the giants of local journalism and he was always a gifted historian and storyteller – not to mention a really good guy.
● Mercyhurst University has lined up some big names for its Institute of Arts and Culture’s 2022-23 season. Bernadette Peters will open the season at the D’Angelo Performing Arts Center on September 17. She will be followed by Fran Lebowitz on October 6, Michael Feinstein on October 26 and many others.
● When I purchased a copy of Cleveland writer Dan Coughlin’s book, “Crazy, With the Papers to Prove It,” at the recent Great American Book Sale, I was surprised to find an extremely funny profile by Erie native Don Elbaum. Coughlin captures the boxing promoter really well.
From archive:Boxing promoter Don Elbaum, who grew up in Erie, fondly remembers Ali
● Fans of Erie basketball star Kayla McBride won’t want to miss Mary Solberg’s interesting profile and interview with the former Villa Maria and Notre Dame star. The article will appear in an upcoming issue of Faith magazine, published by the Catholic Diocese of Erie.
● August is just days away, which means Erie can expect two of its best local ethnic festivals. St. Paul’s Italian Festival is scheduled for August 12-14, and Zabawa, Erie’s Polish Festival at Holy Trinity Catholic Parish, is scheduled for August 26-28.
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Kevin Cuneo can be contacted at [email protected]