VBL Inducts Second HOF Class

Written by Phil D’Abbraccio
Daily News-Record

HARRISONBURG – When Sam Perlozzo was a New Market Rebel in the early 1970’s he was set up with a job in Harrisonburg working for a glass company.

But the only directions he knew ere from New Market to the company’s store.

“The guy took me out on a job one day and told me to go back to the store to get something, and I’m driving the Valley glass company truck asking people where (the store) is,” Perlozzo recalled with a smile, “so I wasn’t a very smart kid at that point.”

Perhaps he wasn’t, but more importantly, he soon found his way to the major leagues – thanks to the Valley Baseball League.

“I got too the big leagues for a couple cups of coffee, but who can say that, you know?” Perlozzo said Sunday, shortly after being recognized in the league’s Hall of Fame ceremony. “You’ve got to be realistic. Everyone has a turning point and mine was here. Mine was the fact that I came to the Valley League and played.”

The 66-year-old Perlozzo, a former Baltimore Orioles manager and longtime MLB coach, was among the four VBL Hall of Fame inductees on hand as they were honored before the start of the league’s All-Star Game on Sunday at James Madison’s Veterans Memorial Park.

Shenandoah native Wayne Comer, another former major leaguer and the current baseball coach at Page County High School, was also at JMU’s ballpark to receive his VBL Hall of Fame induction plaque.

The other two inductees on hand Sunday were Marion “Bo” Trumbo, a former New Marker Rebel who went on to be a scout for six major league teams, and Maynard “Mo” Weber, a coach at multiple levels for over 65 years.

The other members of the VBL’s Hall of Fame induction class for 2017 were former MLB all-star and ex-ESPN analyst John Kruk; Claude “C.C.” Michael, the VBL’s president from 1946-67 who was also the Rockingham County Baseball League’s first commissioner, and Earl Shirkey, a longtime scorekeeper for the Harrisonburg Turks.

“I see some of the talen that’s been inducted into this Hall of Fame,” said Perlozzo, whose VBL Hall of Fame class is the second. “It’s big-time talent, big time work. It’s Hall of Fame. Any time they put “Hall of Fame” on something, it’s special.”

Perlozzo, a Cumberland, Md., native played for New Market and Waynesboro during his VBL playing days in 1972 and ’73.

In those days, the VBL, Cape Code and Alaska Leagues were among the few premier summertime spots for college players.

“All the good players came to these leagues, so when you came here, if you got invited — number one, that’s a compliment — and then you had to figure out a way to stay,” said Perlozzo, who played at George Washington University. “If you really wanted to chase your dream, be a pro player, the Valley League offered me that opportunity. You were going to play 50 ballgames a summer. You’re going to play with talented kids and then you find out how good you really are.

“Then not only do you learn how to get better, but you learn how to intermingle with those guys, too. It’s a life experience from both sides of it.”

His break came when, as he walked off a field in his New Market uniform, a Minnesota Twins scout approached Perlozzo and asked the middle infielder if he wanted to play pro ball.

Perlozzo went on to play with Minnesota and San Diego in the late 1970s. He then went on to compile a 122-164 record managing the Baltimore Orioles from 2005-007, and he’s also served on the coaching staffs of the New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies.

As the third-base coach of the 1990 Cincinnati Reds, perlozzo enjoyed a World Series sweep of the “big, bad” Oakland Athletics, as he called them.

“I had dark hair then,” the graying Perlozzo said with a laugh. “It was awesome. It’s something when you sit back and you go “God, I wish everyone in the world could have that feeling.” That’s how good it feels.”

A veteran of 10 postseasons, his right hand sported the 2009 National League pennant ring on Sunday that he earned on the Phillies’ staff as third-base coach.

Now a Tampa Bay, Fla., resident, Perlozzo is the Twins’ minor league infield and baserunning coordinator.

“I enjoy doing that with the kids and I’m still capable. I’m still on two feet and above ground so I still give back. I don’t have an ego,” said Perlozzo, who spent 26 consecutive years at the major league level as either a coach or manager. “Then I missed one year and now I can’t get back, but if you’d have told me that 40 years ago. I’d take that any day.

“I’ve been a pretty lucky man, and a lot of that was from here. I got seen down here. If I don’t play down here and I don’t play any place else, I’m not going to get signed, I’m not going to get signed, probably.”

That’s why it was important for Perlozzo to return to the Valley this weekend. He and his wife, Beth, visited their son in Pikesville, MD., before taking the trip down.

One the way, he stopped in New Market to show his wife where he lived and played, and he visited some he knew from his VBL days.

“It was like a big homecoming, nostalgic thing, you know,” Perlozzo said. “It’s pretty cool … I’m glad I came down.”

Comer had a considerably less involved commute to Veterans Memorial Stadium, but the sense of gratitude wasn’t any different.

“It’s great that they would recognize me as a player worthy to be inducted into the Valley League Hall of Fame,” the 73-year-old Comer said.

Comer won a VBL title in 1961 with the Shenandoah Indians, his only year in the league, and seven years later he won a World Series championship with the Detroit Tigers, picking up a base hit in his only at bat of the 1968 series. The outfielder also played for the Seattle Pilots, Milwaukee Brewers and Washington Senators during his time in the majors from 1967-1972.

He ws the head coach of the Spotswood High School from 2000-2006 and led his alma mater, Page County, as its coach for the second season this past spring.

When Comer joined the Valley League as a 17-year-old, the league was full of older, veterans players who were returning from playing professionally.

“It gave me a start as a young player,” Comer said. “It was quite an honor for me to be involved with the Valley League and it was a stepping stone to the major leagues for me. Being around these older guys, I learned so much from ’em.

“The Valley League did a lot for me. I enjoyed every minute of the Valley League.”

The first memory that came to Comer’s mind from those days, however wasn’t quite as enjoyable.

He recalled the Indians’ rivalry with Harrisonburg and a time when he homered to center field at the old Memorial Stadium off Elkton native and Turks pitcher Garland Shifflett.

“Net time up, he beans me, so I’m laying there and I finally come to and I look up and who’se standing over top of me? My mother,” Comer said. “I said, Mom, what’re you doing? She said, “I’m worried about ya.”

“I said, I’m all right, Mom” They carted me off and I did fine after that.”