Baseball

This lefty pitcher from a Kansas farm is the 'last Yankee Dodger'

Fred Kipp is the last living person to play baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees. The former left-handed pitcher is from Piqua, Kan., and now lives in Overland Park.
Fred Kipp is the last living person to play baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees. The former left-handed pitcher is from Piqua, Kan., and now lives in Overland Park.

When Kansas farm boy Fred Kipp stepped on the mound that Friday evening in April 1958, his first pitch to a future Hall of Fame hitter worked perfectly.

It was just the 10th game for the Dodgers after moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, and their seventh home game at the Coliseum.

Kipp, a left-handed pitcher from Piqua, Kan., got his first major league pitching start that night, facing Stan "the Man" Musial and the St. Louis Cardinals.

With two outs in the top of the first inning, Kipp shook off two pitch choices from his catcher because he wanted to throw his best pitch against Musial, one of the most consistent hitters in professional baseball.

"I gripped my knuckleball with my fingernails instead of my knuckles and wound up and threw a nice floater — almost no spin," Kipp recalled in his new book. "The stitches caught the cool air, and I saw the ball wobble and drop right below his bat as he swung hard for his first strike."

Kipp — the last living baseball player who played for both the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees — released a book in January telling his story: "The Last Yankee Dodger: Fred Kipp from Brooklyn to LA and the Bronx."

Kipp played for the Dodgers both in Brooklyn and Los Angeles before he was traded to the New York Yankees — but he never played high school baseball.

He grew up in a town of about 100 people perhaps best recognized by motorists as a collection of homes surrounding a grain elevator on U.S. 54 between Yates Center and Iola in southeast Kansas. The only other piece of Piqua skyline poking over the trees is a church steeple, across from which was the Kipp family farm.

Kipp, 86, who lives in Overland Park, will be visiting the area around his hometown to promote the book he co-authored with his son, Scott . He planned to be at Iola's library on June 4.

He will speak and sign books at the Kansas City Public Library on June 28.

Kipp's baseball story starts on the farm and what was a newly-built lighted ball field on the church's land.

"I didn't play American Legion ball or Ban Johnson and the high school didn't have a team at all," Kipp told the Eagle. "I learned to play ball with town ball."

Farming was hard work and he didn't want to be a farmer, Kipp wrote in his book. As a boy growing up in the 1930s and 40s, he played baseball in the field, in barns and in gravel streets downtown.

"I always went to the earliest morning mass in the summer so that I'd have more time to play baseball," he wrote.

After World War II, Kipp starred on the basketball court at Iola High School. He went to Kansas State College, now Kansas State University, to play on the freshman team for Coach Tex Winter, who at the time was an assistant to Hall-of-Famer Jack Gardner.

Kipp couldn't play baseball at K-State, but he sometimes went to the baseball fields and pitched to Earl Woods, the father of golfer Tiger Woods. Earl Woods broke the baseball color barrier in the Big Eight Conference, and Kipp would later play on the same team as Jackie Robinson.

Kipp was only at K-State for a semester before he transferred to Emporia Teachers College, now Emporia State University, where he could play both basketball and baseball. While pitching for Emporia, Kipp threw a no-hitter against Washburn University .

He played three years of baseball at Emporia State before the sport was dropped his senior year due to low enrollment amid the Korean War. But over Easter weekend in 1953 he went to a Dodgers camp in Florida.

He then reported to Miami to play for the Sunsox in the Dodgers organization, then went to Asheville, N.C., to pitch for the Tourists. At the end of the 1953 season, he was drafted into the Army. He pitched for the 136th Infantry Regiment and was the ace on the team that won the Camp Rucker league.

"Somebody had to do it," Kipp said with a laugh.

After the war ended, he played baseball in graduate school, pitched in the Caribbean Leagues and then joined the Dodgers . He pitched one game for Brooklyn in the 1957 season.

But then the team moved to Los Angeles.

In that first start in 1958, Stan "the Man" had four hits in four at-bats, but Kipp got the 5-3 win for the first of his major league career.

Two years later, he was traded to the Yankees.

Two more years later, at the end of the 1962 season, Kipp retired from professional baseball. He was married and his first son had just been born.

Pay for professional baseball players was not like it is today. Kipp said the most he ever earned in a year playing baseball was $9,500 — when the minimum wage was $6,000 in 1956. Adjusted for inflation, $9,500 in 1960 would be about $81,000 now.

"There are guys that make more per inning today than I made in my whole career," Kipp said. "But I'd do it again.

"I got to do it on three continents, against the best and with the best," Kipp said of playing in the "golden era of baseball when the Yankees and Dodgers ruled."

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