The Post-Journal

Cassadaga Man Wishes He Stayed In Center Field

Art Asquith of Cassadaga will be inducted into the Western New York Baseball Hall of Fame in September, mainly for his accomplishments in the Buffalo's Suburban League from the late 1940s into the 1960s. And when the former Cassadaga Valley Central School coach of multiple sports for 50 years decided to play closer to home, he starred with several area teams such as Jamestown Bombers, the Jamestown Merchants and the Cassadaga Bombers.

But for one year Asquith took a break from amateur baseball and had a one-season stint in the pros. His pro career ended due to a pitching injury, but being on the mound was not Asquith's favorite place.

The place his baseball activity started was in Little Valley where he grew up.

"When I was a junior in high school, East Otto asked if I would play with their town team and I did," he recalled. "After my senior year in high school they asked me if I'd go up and pitch for them for $8 a game and I couldn't believe it."

But Asquith explained he wasn't a true pitcher.

"I was a pitcher because I could throw hard," he said. "I wasn't a 'pitcher pitcher;' I was a thrower. When I was playing pro ball I had only a fastball, a crossfire and a slider and got by with it until I hurt my rotator cuff, which was inevitable because I was just throwing heat."

But that's jumping ahead a few years.

Asquith played for Cattaraugus Merchants from 1946-1957 in the Western Division of the Suburban League. However, he also played for Salamanca Moose in another league and with another team from Red House.

"At one time I was playing with three ball clubs," he said. "If I wasn't pitching, I was playing center field and for some of those teams I played everywhere, but I never caught."

But he noted, "My love was center field."

With the Cattaraugus Merchants from 1947 to 1951, Asquith hit in the high .300s and also surpassed .400 while winning 75 percent of his starts on the mound. And it was his pitching, and mainly his velocity, that was catching everyone's eye.

"They told me I was throwing in the 90s," he said. "Of course they didn't have radar, they had a stopwatch and they clicked it twice."

Asquith was drafted in 1951 during the Korean War, but that didn't interrupt his baseball career. Fortunately, Asquith was sent to Germany where he played for the Heidelberg Hawks and participated in the G.I. World Series. Word of his successful pitching in Europe filtered back to the U.S.

After returning home from the service in December of 1952, Asquith was planning to continue his education at Ithaca College, but in the spring of in 1953 he got a call from Olean, a farm club of the New York Yankees in the PONY League (now the New York-Penn League). They wanted to sign the right-hander and have him meet the team in Maryland, where they were making a stop while heading north from spring training. Asquith decided to put college on hold and began his professional baseball career with the headliner of major league organizations.

"I was thrilled," he said. "I was like every kid at that time; the Yankees were THE team."

He added, "I signed on as a pitcher. At that time I didn't care. I was thrilled to be part of it."

And he had performed well on the mound without a change-up or a curveball.

When the PONY League season began, his first appearance was in relief in Jamestown.

"I must have done all right because that gave me a starting role," Asquith said.

And his first game as a starting pitcher was at Hamilton, Ontario, where he found somebody very familiar behind home plate. The umpire calling balls and strikes had played high school basketball with Asquith.

"I won the ballgame in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded on a called third strike," said Asquith with a laugh. "I didn't go near him (the home plate umpire) and he didn't go near me."

But in late August he injured his rotator cuff and his pro career changed. He was sidelined for more than a week and his next start was an Olean home game that was moved to Salamanca because the team thought it would draw more people from Asquith's home area. Unfortunately, the Asquith on the mound was not the same one as before the injury.

"I had lost the hop on my fastball," he recalled. "I got hit pretty hard and that was a real downer for me mentally and emotionally because I knew I didn't have what I had that they were interested in. Then I had to make that choice, do you pursue this or do you make sure you get your degree and get out of there and get on with your life, so I did."

So he returned to college and put professional baseball behind him.

"I had a great time, I thoroughly enjoyed it," he said about playing with Olean, where one of his teammates was Bobby Richardson.

He continued to play baseball in the Suburban League and in addition to playing center field he also pitched with his same three deliveries.

"I didn't really learn how to throw a curveball until I was coaching high school baseball," he noted.

He resumed play for the Cattaraugus Merchants and from 1954 to 1956 he hit .350 to .400 and was still successful on the mound. In a win over Silver Creek, he struck out 19 and helped his cause with a home run and a single with three RBIs.

When he began teaching at Cassadaga Valley, Asquith played for the Jamestown Bombers and Jamestown Merchants for one season each before playing for the Cassadaga Bombers of the County-Grape Belt League from 1961-1964. From 1961 to 1963, the Bombers won 32 straight games.

It's those accomplishments that earned Asquith induction into the WNY Baseball Hall of Fame. But he still thinks about his short pro career that might have been longer if it had started differently.

"If I could have signed as an outfielder, where I wouldn't have put the stress on the arm, I might have hung in there longer," he said. "If I could have stayed the heck away from the mound... I was convinced I was a pitcher for them because I could throw hard. But if I could have stayed away from that doggone mound. I loved center field, I loved chasing fly-balls."

He added, "Without a change-up and a curve, I was probably lucky to last as long as I did."

But one season as a member of the Yankees' organization is better than none.

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