Bittersweet Memories of Only One Game in the Majors
by Richard Tellis
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ROBERT EARL "BERT" SHEPARD
A few days after Testa's one-time appearance against the Cardinals, manager Bill Rigney called him into his office. "He told me that with the team doing well, he only needed to carry two catchers and would be sending me out. But he said, 'I'd really like to keep you, though. You're well-liked and you do so much to help. Would you be interested in staying as a coach?' I told him I'd fight [Rocky] Graziano if he wanted, if it meant I could stay with the team. So they made me a coach, and I stayed with the team for the whole year."
The Giants that year had a surplus of talented hitters. In addition to Davenport, Mays, Cepeda, Lockman, Jablonski, Spencer, Sauer, Wagner, and Kirkland, they also had Bill White and Jackie Brandt on their roster. Lockman, Jablonski, and White were traded away after the season, but another slugger was added -- Testa's old teammate at Dallas, Willie McCovey.
Testa does not recall whom the Giants brought up to take his spot on the roster, but thinks it was a pitcher named Dom Zanni. This right-hander, who was born in the same part of New York City as Testa, picked up a win in relief for the Giants in the only game in which he appeared that year. Zanni then went on to play a total of seven years in the majors.
Another New York City-born pitcher, John Fitzgerald, started a game for the Giants that year but was not involved in the decision. Testa remembers Fitzgerald as being "a happy-go-lucky left-hander with a great arm." Fitzgerald struck out three men in the three innings he pitched, but the appearance was the only one he ever made in the major leagues. This made Testa and Fitzgerald one-timer teammates. (Fitzgerald could not be reached for this book.)
Following the 1958 season, Testa began taking graduate courses at New York University, which would lead to his master's degree in administration and physical education. At the same time, he says, "I just kept on playing ball."
In 1959, he was a player-coach for Omaha, Nebraska, in the Triple-A American Association. "I caught Bob Gibson there," Testa says, "and he was terrific. He was great. You could tell he was gonna be big. He had great stuff, was always around the plate, a great competitor, everything you've ever heard about him -- and more."
In 1960, Testa played in Little Rock, Arkansas, and then, in the next year, in Macon, Georgia. In 1962, he went to Japan to play and coach with the Tokyo Orions in Japan's Pacific League. "I liked the country," he says, "but not the baseball. I saw little action. [Larry] Doby and [Don] Newcombe were there that year."
Back in the United States in 1963, Testa was a player-coach for Pittsburgh's Reno, Nevada, affiliate, and then, in 1964, he played at Yakima, Washington, in the Atlanta Braves' system. While in the Braves' spring training camp in 1965, Testa hurt his knee badly and had to take most of that year off. He applied for a teaching position at Lehman College in New York City, part of the City University of New York system, and began teaching physical education and health courses there in 1966.
But Testa's baseball career was far from over. "As a college instructor, coach, and professor, I had long summer vacations," he points out, "so I was able to keep playing professional ball." He played five more years in Canada's Provincial League, with teams in Granby, Sherbrooke, and Trois Rivers, and then played periodically for many more years. "I played actively till I was sixty years old," he says, "which was something I always wanted to do."
Testa retired from teaching, and finally from playing baseball, in 1987. But he still throws batting practice for the Yankees in the Bronx, near where he lives, and when the Yankees are out of town, he travels to Shea Stadium in Queens to do the same thing for the Mets. "I still enjoy it," Testa says. "For a 7:30 game, I'm dressed by 3:30 in the afternoon, pitch batting practice, then spend some time in the gym and go home. All in all, I'm still in uniform about four hours a day.
"The teams both call me a traitor," he says, "and once in a while, not often, they're both home on the same day. That's when I'm really in trouble. That's what I call 'the moment of truth.'"
And how did being a one-time major leaguer affect him? "It was a big thing for me personally," Testa says. "Just being on the Giants as a player, and later during the season as a coach, was a lifetime ambition. People still seem to respect me for it, and even though I never did much then, I am a little proud of it all."
From Once Around the Bases by Richard Tellis.
Copyright © 1998 by Triumph Books and Richard Tellis. Reprinted with permission.