George StricklandBaseball Player
S.J. Peters H.S./N.O. Pelicans/MLB
[Reprinted from the Times-Picayune, Feb. 23, 2010]
George “Bo” Strickland, a big league shortstop for 10 seasons and a coach, manager and scout for 11 more, died on Feb. 21, 2010 at the age of 84.
Strickland, a New Orleans native who was a standout baseball player at S.J. Peters High School in the early 1940s and played two seasons with the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association, was one of the city’s more celebrated players.
He also was one of the more provocative speakers among a group of retired local athletes who met once a week for lunch and some good-old-days conversation.
Strickland often was the life of the party.
“Everybody wanted to sit near George at those things,” said local baseball historian Peter Barrouquere, a former Times-Picayune reporter. “He told the most amazing stories. When (Hall of Fame pitcher) Bob Lemon passed away, he kept us going for 3 1/2 hours with Bob Lemon stories. He had us in stitches.”
Mel Parnell, a former All-Star pitcher with the Boston Red Sox and a high school teammate of Strickland, agreed.
“It was great getting together like that because we had a mixture of athletes,” Parnell said. “We have baseball, football, basketball, a boxing referee and a race horse trainer. And we all talked about our profession. We would bring up stories about our playing days, which were interesting.”
Strickland had much to talk about.
After graduating from high school, Strickland served in the Navy in 1944 and ’45. He then spent five years in the minor leagues, including two seasons with the Pelicans, before making his major league debut in 1950.
Strickland played for the Pittsburgh Pirates (1950-52) and Cleveland Indians (1952-57, 1959-60).
The highlight of his career came during his days with the Indians. As the starting shortstop, he helped the Indians win a record 111 games in the American League and advance to the World Series in 1954. The following year, he led all shortstops in fielding and had a .284 batting average.
Regarded as a defensive specialist, he led AL shortstops in double plays in 1953 and in fielding in 1955. He also shared the major league record for shortstops involved in double plays in a game (five) in 1952.
He finished his career with a fielding average of .965 and was in on 558 double plays. In 1955, he led all big league shortstops with a .976 fielding percentage. He finished his career with a .224 batting average, 36 homers and 284 RBIs.
“Strickland was one of the better shortstops in the American League during the time he played,” Parnell said. “He was a very smooth fielder and handled the ball very well. He was just a very good, outstanding baseball player.
“Knowing George as a kid in high school, I had a lot of respect for him. He was a great individual, a good person. He was really a class act and a guy I always enjoyed being with. I wished we could have been teammates in the big leagues. But as it happened, we weren’t. We were opponents, but we always had a lot of respect for each other.”
After his playing days, he twice served as Cleveland’s interim manager in 1964 and 1966, compiling a 33-39 record.
Strickland was elected to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2006, the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Diamond Club of New Orleans Hall of Fame in 1968.
But as talented of a player and coach as he was, friends said Strickland was an even better person.
“He was a great human being, a very religious man,” said Strickland’s longtime friend and former Tulane baseball coach Milt Retif, who was with Strickland the day before he died. “He was just a great man.”