For Larry Erbaugh, Turks Provide a Welcome Return to the Diamond

Written by Shelton Moss
Turks Web Broadcaster
Jun. 11, 2021

When Larry Erbaugh got a call from his old friend Bob Wease asking him to be the Harrisonburg Turks’ pitching coach this summer, he knew right away it was an opportunity too good to pass up.

“Bob just called me and asked me to be the pitching coach,” Erbaugh said. “I decided to give it a try. I’m retired, so it’s something that I can do.”

It’s been a long road back to baseball for Erbaugh, who grew up in Rockingham County and was a five-year starter for Clover Hill in the Rockingham County Baseball League. That is where Erbaugh met Wease, as the two played in the league together from 1968 to 1973, though for different teams.

Erbaugh first dipped his toes into baseball with the American Legion team in Staunton, winning two state championships in three years. He played sparingly as a freshman at Turner Ashby High School in nearby Bridgewater, but broke out following his sophomore season. Erbaugh graduated from Turner Ashby in 1968 after compiling 253 career strikeouts, the fifth-most in program history. His efforts earned him a spot in the Turner Ashby Hall of Fame in 2008. Erbaugh credits his development as a pitcher to Ted Bosiak—in his words, “the best coach I ever had.”

“Ted taught me how to pitch my second year,” Erbaugh said. “I developed a curveball. I could always throw pretty hard. I didn’t have a blazing fastball, but it was pretty quick for high school.”

One year, Erbaugh and his Staunton American Legion team won the district championship and advanced to the regionals in Gadsden, Alabama. In a 10–2 victory over a team from Greensboro, North Carolina, the umpire calling balls and strikes, who was also working as a scout for South Carolina, took note of Erbaugh’s performance and gave him a recommendation to the Gamecocks’ staff. Erbaugh took the offer, and the rest is history.

Upon arrival in Columbia in 1969, Erbaugh didn’t play as a freshman, but immediately made an impact the following year, posting a 2.16 ERA in 12 appearances, mostly in relief. He became a full-time starter as a junior, posting six wins and leading the team with 75.2 innings pitched, nearly 30 more than the next-closest Gamecock. 

As a senior in 1972, Erbaugh pitched to the tune of a 1.46 ERA with a 6-5 record in 92.1 innings. Of his 10 starts, nine were complete games. You might assume this was an era in which starters usually pitched the whole game, but in fact, less than half of South Carolina’s games featured a pitcher going the distance, and no other pitcher had more than five complete games that season. That type of durability is something rarely seen in today’s game.

“When I was growing up, at 9-, 10-, 11-years old, I threw and threw and threw,” Erbaugh recalled. “I threw a rubber ball against a building day after day. I think it increased my arm strength. I never had any arm trouble.”

In addition to his curveball, Erbaugh added a slider to his arsenal which, combined with good command, made him incredibly effective on the mound.

“I could throw strikes. I didn’t walk anybody. I kept it around the plate and didn’t give anything away.” 

This was, however, an era that favored the pitchers. Runs were much harder to come by in the 1970s than they are today, a fact that Erbaugh attributes to the development of hitters.

“It’s just a different game,” he remarked. “These hitters today are bigger and stronger than when I played. It’s significant how much more skilled they are in the field and at the plate. I’m just amazed at it.”

Erbaugh’s coach at South Carolina was Bobby Richardson, who played second base for the New York Yankees from 1955 to 1966. Though Richardson was overshadowed by fellow Yankee legends Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Roger Maris, he was a spectacular player in his own right, earning eight All-Star selections, five Gold Gloves, and three World Series rings. He also owns the dubious distinction of being the only World Series MVP to play for the losing team, as New York fell to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1960 Fall Classic, despite Richardson’s 12 RBI.

After exhausting his eligibility, Erbaugh spent one year as a graduate assistant for the Gamecocks, while also teaching in school. He returned to the valley and settled down, working as a banker for several years before joining Rockingham Redi-Mix, a concrete production company that serves the New River and Shenandoah Valley. Since that graduate year at South Carolina, Erbaugh had been away from coaching and baseball—until the call came from Wease.

“I had just retired two months ago, and it freed up my time to do what I’m doing with the Turks.”

Erbaugh did have previous experience with Harrisonburg, having played with them for five seasons back in the day. There are a few things that have changed between now and then.

“Back then, you worked during the day and played at night,” Erbaugh said. “These guys today are able to enjoy playing in the summer a lot more than we did.”

For Harrisonburg, the season is still young, and Erbaugh is still trying to get a feel for the qualities of the pitching staff.

“We’ve only played two games and you can’t evaluate anybody until you get into game situations,” he noted. “It’s hard to evaluate anyone without several opportunities. There’s lots of arms out there, but it’s too early to separate abilities. For a pitcher, the main thing as far as I know is to throw strikes.”

Reiterating the point about how much the players have improved over the years, Erbaugh said that watching the Turks is almost like watching a minor league game. The level of play, in addition to the quality of the facilities, is the highest it’s ever been.

“I wouldn’t know why any baseball fan in Harrisonburg wouldn’t want to come watch the Turks. It gives you a feel for what good baseball can be.”