The Seattle World’s Fair (Century 21 Exposition) opened on Saturday, April 21, 1962; the No. 1 song on “Billboard” magazine’s Pop Music chart was “Good Luck Charm” by Elvis; Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You” topped the Country Music chart.
On this date, “Rome Adventure,” starring Troy Donahue and Suzanne Pleshette, was released; and “The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show,” “The Lawrence Welk Show,” “The Jackie Gleason Show,” “Have Gun Will Travel,” “Gunsmoke,” “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour,” “The Joey Bishop Show” (color), and “Saturday Night at the Movies” (color) aired on TV.
On 4-21-62 in Dallas, Lester Wayne Lancaster was born, much smaller than the 6’2”, 200-pound right-handed Major League pitcher he would become when, as a rookie, he pitched 2.1 scoreless in relief for the Chicago Cubs in a 9-3 home loss to the St. Louis Cardinals opening day 1987.
“Les” Lancaster was the fifth Cubs pitcher that day, behind Rick Sutcliff, Greg Maddux, Dickie Noles and Jamie Moyer.
The “Long, Tall Texan,” who enjoyed a seven-year Major League career, pitching for the Cubs 1987-91, the Detroit Tigers in 1992 and the St. Louis Cardinals in 1993, is now in his first year as pitching coach at Enterprise State Community College.
Lancaster and his wife have lived in Dothan several years.
A relief pitcher much of his career, Lancaster is a firm believer in the old adage: “The longer you wear a baseball uniform the harder it is to take off.”
“Someday, I’m going to take it off, but I have too much passion for the game to get out of it now,” Lancaster said before Wednesday’s practice.
Like millions of American boys, Lancaster embraced baseball early on and became skillful enough to pitch a baseball into a college career.
Lancaster, who grew up in Irving, Texas, was drafted by the Yankees coming out of high school but chose to attend the University of Arkansas instead; he was drafted by the Texas Rangers, but again opted for college.
Ultimately, after Lancaster had transferred to Dallas Baptist University, he was signed by the Chicago Cubs in 1985, and quickly moved up through the minor league system.
“This is the first time in 33 years I haven’t been in pro ball,” Lancaster said.
Lancaster has managed professional teams in Mexico and Taiwan, in winter ball, several independent leagues and has been named “Manager of the Year” several times; one year he was named the top manager in all independent leagues.
As a player, Lancaster played for Major League managers Don Zimmer, and Baseball Hall of Fame members Sparky Anderson and Joe Torre.
In addition to Maddux, his roommate on the road, Lancaster played alongside Hall of Famers Goose Gossage, Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg, Alan Trammell, Ozzie Smith and newly-elected Lee Smith.
First baseman Mark Grace, who batted .303 and had 173 home runs in his 16-year career but couldn’t garner enough HOF votes, was also Lancaster’s teammate.
Lancaster faced a number of the game’s elite hitters in both leagues, most notably Tony Gwynn.
“He was going to get his hits no matter what,” Lancaster, who had a Wrigley Field hotdog named for him, instantly said of the late San Diego Padres right fielder.
Lancaster also played with former ESCC center fielder/pitcher Jerome Walton, who was National League Rookie of the Year as an outfielder in 1989, the best year the Cubs had while Lancaster pitched for them.
Chicago went 93-69 in 1989, won the NL East race but lost the NL Championship to San Francisco, 4-1.
Lancaster, who still holds the Cubs record for scoreless innings pitched, was on Chicago’s roster, but didn’t pitch, in Wrigley Field’s first night game, a 6-4 win against the Mets, Aug. 9, 1988.
Lancaster came to ESCC after Mackey Sasser, the former New York Mets catcher and current baseball coach at Wallace Community College-Dothan, mentioned head ESCC coach Bubba Frichter might need a pitching coach.
“I started here in the fall and I’m really enjoying working with these young guys,” Lancaster said. “Teaching players at this age is different but the guys have taken to it. I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made and the results we’re getting.”
Boll Weevil pitchers allowed eight runs total in three games, February 23-24, but took three losses.
“That’s baseball,” Lancaster said.
Last weekend, ESCC split a doubleheader with Pensacola State College; the Weevils played at Bishop State Thursday, then hosted the Wildcats Friday at Dothan’s Westgate Park.
Frichter expects ESCC’s bats will soon warm up, the team’s defense will tighten, and the mound staff’s efforts will produce wins.
Credit for much of that, Frichter noted, comes from Lancaster, who’s able to offer a different perspective of big-time baseball and what it takes to get there.
“I can sum up coach Lancaster in three words,” Frichter concluded. “He is professional, personable and loyal.
“And he’s always on time!”