by Scott Kindberg
August 8, 1997
A Hall-Of-Famer For The Ages
Diethrick Joins Babe Ruth League's Elite For His Service to Baseball, Community
Family, friends and business associates gathered at the Falconer Rod & Gun Club some years ago with the intent of honoring Russell E. Diethrick, Jr. on his 50th birthday.
It was supposed to be a roast.
But as roasts go, this one was a dud. Try as they might, the assembled guests could find little to zing one of Jamestown's most beloved residents.
Even Don Rickles would have been at a loss for words.
As friend Russ Payne remembers: "It's hard to dig up dirt on God."
Such is the esteem by which Diethrick, who will be inducted into the Babe Ruth Hall of Fame Saturday, is held. Walk with him down a city street or join him for lunch in a downtown restaurant and you'll see what I mean. There may not be a more recognizable person - his white hair is a sure giveaway - in Jamestown than him. But, more importantly, there may not be a more loved one. Just ask Bonnie Magers, Diethrick's secretary for many years when he was the city's parks and recreation director.
"I don't know if we'll ever have another Russ Diethrick," she said.
Added Payne, "They broke the mold."
Ellen and Russell E. Diethrick, Sr. lived in Patton, Pa., in the early 1930's where they shared a passion for baseball.
"My father was interested in baseball and his father was interested in baseball, so it was a part of the conversation all the time," the younger Diethrick said.
But the Diethricks did more than just talk about it. Sometimes that just wasn't enough. Baseball is a numbers game, understood best by poring over the box scores, analyzing every hitter and pitcher.
That was something Mr. and Mrs. Diethrick did regularly.
"I was born on October 9, 1934," Diethrick said, "and that was the final game of the 1934 World Series between the Cardinals and the Tigers. As my mother was waiting for me to arrive, she used to be at home doing box scores off the radio so that my father, when he came home from the coal mines, would have the box score results."
Baseball was literally Diethrick's birthright.
And his timing couldn't have been better. The 1930's through the 1950's were baseball's golden era when some of the game's greatest players were at their peak.
Not coincidentally, Diethrick's interest in baseball grew even more.
In fact, before he reached his teens, he was not only playing in the Little League (Babe Ruth League Baseball had not reached Jamestown at that point), but he was also managing.
"We were always looking for somebody to go out and get a sponsor to supply the balls and bats, and I was able to do that, playing at one age level and coaching at another age level," Diethrick said. "I started that back in the mid-40's when I was 10 or 12 years old playing with the older groups and managing the younger groups."
It was merely a foreshadowing of things to come.
By the mid-50's, Diethrick was working at Marlin Rockwell where he moonlighted as manager, scorekeeper and "water boy" for the Marlin Rockwell Rollers, a semi-pro team in the MUNY A League. Included on those teams were Ted Wyberanec, Lyle Parkhurst, Tom Hurst, Clare Hammond, Jack Fulford, Tom Sharp and Tom Warner.
Later, at the urging of then parks and recreation director Jim Sharp, Diethrick accepted a job managing the athletic leagues for the city. He did that nights and weekends while continuing his day job assembling bearings at Marlin Rockwell.
By 1962, Diethrick was also a board member of the Jamestown Furniture City Baseball Inc, which had a team in the New York-Penn League. Three years later he became an officer with the team.
Diethrick's one-man juggling act of sports responsibilities caught the eye of Sharp, who told his young protégé that he would have to play or supervise.
"I decided to supervise and I put the ball and glove down," Diethrick said. "After six years, I was appointed full-time (as director of Parks, Recreation and Conservation)."
He held that position until 1990.
During that tenure, he worked at various times to keep professional baseball alive in Jamestown, while continuing his affiliation with Babe Ruth Baseball. In 1972, he was the tournament director for the 13-year-old Mid-Atlantic Regional at College Stadium and served in the same capacity for the 13-15 Mid-Atlantic Regional in 1973.
It was during the latter regional that Ron Tellefsen, then a Babe Ruth commissioner, brought up the idea of Jamestown being the site for a World Series.
That became a reality in 1980 and now, eighteen years later, Diethrick is the host president for the seventh time. But as far as he is concerned, that's simply a title, something he cares little about. Teamwork, he said, is what has made everything go.
"I think it comes from being left-handed," Diethrick said with a laugh. "I found out early that a left-hander can only do certain things in a baseball game. You can play the outfield, pitch, and play first base but you can't do the rest. If you're going to have a successful team, you have to leave it to a lot of other people to do that. You can't be the superstar at every position. You really need to put a team together."
Typical Diethrick. He's the master at deflecting the spotlight to someone else, a trait he learned from his parents. It's that kind of attitude that makes others want to work with and for him.
Call it trust.
"Even way back in the 60's," Bonnie Magers said. "Russ had this Bonneville car. Normally, nobody would let a 16-year-old girl take this car and park it, but he always had faith in me and that's the way he is with everybody."
Particularly when it comes to the World Series.
With a committee numbering in the hundreds, Diethrick delegates responsibilities, allowing those with the specific expertise to get the job done. While some in his position might choose to have their hands in all aspects of the operation, Russ retreats to where he's most comfortable, which is on the sidelines.
"I can't put together a parade. I can't put all the kids in host families. I can't sell all the advertising and I can't do all the things that are necessary down at the stadium," Diethrick said. "This is a team effort. You're really only a point man for the results of a lot of people. If those people hadn't given their time and worked so hard over all these years, this honor wouldn't be happening."
Larry Magers, Bonnie's husband and a member of the Babe Ruth League board of directors, spoke in support of Diethrick's induction last December and echoed those sentiments last week.
"He's more deserving (of induction) than anyone I know of," Magers said.
Added Payne, "I was so moved, I cried. That's how much I felt for him."
But don't expect Diethrick to rest on his laurels now that he's been enshrined.
"The honor of being in the Babe Ruth Hall of Fame, I hope, is just a launching pad for some other things," he said. "I would hope that it would not be the end. We'll go on and do other things as long as the committee is willing to do that and would allow me to be part of the process."
No second necessary.
The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame. We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.