Ex-Lookouts boss Ermer dies at 85

Ex-Lookouts boss Ermer dies at 85

Chattanooga's 1952-57 manager later managed and scouted for the Minnesota Twins.

August 9th, 2009 by David Paschall in Sports

Hope springs eternal.

It was a message once blared over the loudspeakers in Denver during the 1960s, when Cal Ermer was managing the Triple-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. His Bears were trailing 17-0, but they rallied to within 20-17 and had the bases loaded before a flyout to the warning track ended the game.

Ermer clung to the expression in his later years and bellowed it throughout AT&T Field's press box whenever his beloved Chattanooga Lookouts were trailing in the late innings.

"Baseball at its very best is unpredictable," he often added. "You never know what's going to happen."

One of the great figures in Chattanooga baseball history died early Saturday in his sleep at the age 85. Ermer had battled Alzheimer's disease in recent years and additional complications in recent days but attended almost every Lookouts home game this season until the current homestand.

Last month, former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda came to AT&T Field and requested a visit with Ermer.

"He was a good, solid man," Lasorda said. "You meet so many people in the game of baseball, and there are few people like Cal. He's class. He was a great guy who never caused any problems. He did his job, and he did it to the best of his ability.

"The game is better for having him and all the years he put in. In all my years in baseball, I never heard a bad word about him, and that's amazing."

Ermer was promoted from Denver in June 1967 to manage Minnesota, guiding the Twins to a 66-46 finish and a 91-71 overall mark. The Twins needed one win in a doubleheader on the final day of the regular season at Boston's Fenway Park to win the American League pennant but lost both contests.

The Twins had high hopes in '68 but took a hit when Harmon Killebrew injured his hamstring in that year's All-Star game. Minnesota skidded to a 79-83 record, and Ermer was replaced by Billy Martin, debuting as a major league manager.

Ermer never made it back to the big leagues after compiling a 145-129 record. He had served as a scout for the Twins since 1986.

"I've been in pro baseball 65 years, and I haven't made a million dollars yet," Ermer joked earlier this season.

In 1952, Joe Engel hired Ermer, then 28, to manage the Lookouts, who had not finished better than seventh in the previous four seasons of the eight-team Southern Association. The Lookouts won the regular season in '52 and set a season attendance record that remains.

Ermer managed the Lookouts to a 484-445 record in six seasons, 1952-57, reaching the playoffs three times. Nobody has managed Chattanooga for a longer stint since.

Last September, the press box at AT&T Field was renamed the Cal Ermer press box.

"We thought that was the least we could do, because he meant so much to all of us," Lookouts owner Frank Burke said. "Cal Ermer taught me so much about baseball over at Engel Stadium. I used to love listening to those stories, and I remember Cal saying the difference between a good team and a bad team at this level can be two or three guys, and that sometimes you have them and sometimes you don't.

"He's forgotten more about baseball than I'll ever know, and he'll be sorely missed."

Ermer signed as an 18-year-old player with the Washington Senators, making $85 a month. He felt blessed to have so much money, noting that Stan Musial signed a couple years earlier for $65 a month.

Ermer was hoping for a long career in baseball, but his dad thought otherwise.

"My father wouldn't sign the contract," Ermer said. "He said, 'I'm not going to let you play with a bunch of drunks.' My mom finally convinced him, so he signed it, but not before saying, 'I won't go see you play until you reach the big leagues.'"

His father died before Ermer played his lone big-league game as a second baseman with Washington in 1947.

Ermer loved a well-placed bunt, detested pitch counts and got great enjoyment out of Mississippi manager Phillip Wellman's post-ejection tirade at AT&T in 2007, when Wellman followed a military crawl to the mound with a grenade toss to home plate.

"We used to do that in the Marine corps," Ermer said.

His happiness in baseball was matched by his marriage to Gloria Williams, a Chattanooga lady who convinced him where to call home.

"She was Miss Tennessee in 1952," Ermer said. "I didn't have a chance."

Ermer spent 28 seasons as a manager and recorded more than 2,000 wins. The most notable players he helped develop were Killebrew and Rod Carew, and he believed Joe DiMaggio was the game's all-time greatest because "he did everything so well and did it so easily."

He also believed the Lookouts would win all 140 games each season, because hope springs eternal.

"It's been a great career, I tell you," he said. "I've enjoyed every bit of it and made lots of friends."


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