Thursday, July 17, 2014

Card #76: Greg Pryor

Who Can It Be Now?
Gregory Russell Pryor was born on October 2, 1949 in Marietta, Ohio. According to his articles on the website of the nutrition company he co-owns, Pryor was the fourth of six children born to a math teacher and a housewife.  He was never a big man and claims that he was 5'9" tall and weighed 149 pounds when he graduated from high school in 1967 from Orlando Evans High School.  

Pryor says in that same article titled "The American Dream" that he was not a highly regarded prospect coming out of high school.  He certainly was not drafted, and Pryor claims that the only reason he got a baseball scholarship anywhere was because his older brother Jeff was a great pitcher with a scholarship to NCAA Division II Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida.  

It turned out to be a good move for FSC and for Greg.  Pryor was named to the NCAA Division II All-American Team twice and, in 1971, he led the FSC Moccasins to the first of their nine Division II National Championships (along with four other runner-up finishes) through 2014.  FSC honored Pryor by inducting him into its Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and retiring his number 17 jersey.  

On the strength of his collegiate career, the Washington Senators selected Pryor in the 6th Round of the 1971 June Amateur Draft. Pryor signed almost immediately and was assigned to a low-level Single-A team in the New York Penn League at Geneva.  From there, Pryor slowly worked his way up through the Texas Rangers system after the Senators moved to Arlington after the 1971 season.  He struggled in two different years in Double-A -- slash of .227/.325/.310.  But, the Rangers moved him up to Triple-A in 1975 anyway, and Pryor played adequately there -- .263/.324/.364 is pretty much the definition of Triple-A adequacy but not stardom, certainly.  Pryor even got a look-see in an injury fill-in situation in June of 1976 with the Rangers.

At the end of 1976, however, the Rangers used Pryor and fellow utilityman Brian Doyle to obtain the remnants of Sandy Alomar, Sr.'s career.  According to an interview that Pryor gave with White Sox Interactive, this did not make Pryor happy:
I finally got to the big leagues at the end of the 1976 season with the Rangers but that offseason I was traded as part of a deal involving Sandy Alomar Sr.  I wound up going to Syracuse, the triple A club of the Yankees and I was angry.  I was ready to play major league baseball but with New York, especially at that time, there was no place for me.  This was my third year in triple A, I was in my late 20's and I knew I had to get out.
For Pryor, this meant screaming at Gabe Paul, the Yankees GM, breaking and protesting against the Yankees' minor league policy against facial hair, and telling Syracuse manager Pete Ward that Pryor "was going to be [Ward's] worst nightmare." It takes a lot of cojones to be a utility infielder type to be a pain in the ass to his organization, but that is what Pryor pledged to be.

As it turned out, Pryor had to cool his heels in Syracuse for the entire 1977 season.  After that season, the collective bargaining process allowed 11 guys including Pryor to become free agents.  Again from White Sox Interactive:
I was in the major leagues in 1976 and was sent back to the minors in 1977, so according to the labor agreement we were allowed to test free agency. I couldn't believe it! Shortly afterwards I got a call from the Yankees saying that they wanted me to come to New York for a meeting so I did.  
I went to the Yankee offices where I met with Gabe and Mr. Steinbrenner. They offered me a two-year contract at thirty thousand dollars a year plus they would bring me up every September to be with the team. I told them that I'd think about it but that I really wanted to try free agency.  Mr. Steinbrenner looked at me and said that for the rest of my life I'd be able to have 'New York Yankees' on my resume and that if I didn't take the offer, I'd move to the top of his dumbass list!
Pryor refused the offer and signed with the White Sox.  He said in that interview that he did wonder going forward how things might have worked out for him, but believes he made the right decision.  After all, as he put it, he "didn't turn out like George Zeber. He's the guy the Yankees did call up in September.  He played a month, got a ring, and you never heard of him again."

Once Pryor got to the White Sox, he turned into a typical utility man.  Outside of 1979 -- when he played 143 games and notched 525 plate appearances -- he never was a regular with any team for which he played despite making appearances at every single infield position and a few spot starts as a DH.

He was traded in spring training in 1982 to the Royals, and he spent five seasons there as George Brett's and Frank White's injury replacement.  He got to appear in the 1985 World Series and picked up a World Series Ring for his efforts.  If you don't believe me, just take a look at his Twitter page or, for that matter, some of his photos on Facebook.  

Pryor's career came to an end when, at the end of spring training in 1987, the Royals released him.  By that point, he was 37 years old and had enjoyed a nearly improbably 10-year career that in 1977 never looked like it would happen.

Mustache Check: Pryor's smiling face shows the pride with which he wears his mustache. That pride probably results from his 1977 protest, but chalk up another one for the hairy-faced.

Everybody Wants You
As I mentioned above, Pryor was traded to the Kansas City Royals in March of 1982.  The White Sox received pitcher Jeff Schattinger in return.  Schattinger made one appearance with the Royals in September of 1981 but never made another appearance in the major leagues again.  

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
I couldn't have picked Greg Pryor out of a police lineup before I wrote this bio, but he comes across as a guy who genuinely enjoyed his time as a baseball player and, further, as a guy who wasn't afraid to step up and take a chance on something when it meant a lot to him.  The conversation with Steinbrenner in 1977 is rich -- even if it happened with Pryor being half as much the hero as the story makes him out to be, the look on Steinbrenner's face must have been priceless.  

In the interviews I've read and heard from Pryor, the one thing that strikes me about him is that he comes across as a true baseball fan. From his sheer delight in working with Hall of Famer Bob Lemon as a manager to watching the Pine Tar game in 1983 from the bullpen as the emergency catcher (this link has a radio interview with Pryor where that is discussed) to his position as the starting shortstop on Disco Demolition Night in Chicago in 1979, Pryor lived a truly rich baseball life.  

For the past twenty years or so, Pryor's business life now revolves around two companies. First, for the past twenty years, Pryor has co-owned a vitamin supplement company called Life Priority.  He writes monthly articles about the supplements, and he also has some background information about himself on that page.  

His other endeavor is called Sports-aholic.  They appear to have been granted a license by the University of Washington, the University of Missouri, and Kansas University to use those logos in selling t-shirts and other tchotchkes.  The Life Priority supplements are also available for purchase there. There's even a video greeting from Pryor on that website front page.

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