Seventeen-year Valley Club resident Paul Hartzell, 66, started his work career at age 15 washing and waxing cars at his father’s Chevy and Cadillac car dealership in Bloomsburg along the Susquehanna River in eastern Pennsylvania.
Bloomsburg was mad for baseball in Hartzell’s youth.
He remembers his Little League All-Star coach John Babb introducing him to the idea that “baseball is not a random event.” At age 12, Hartzell didn’t quite understand. He does 54 years later.
It has to do with tenacity and determination, like the characteristics of teenager Hartzell’s favorite pitcher—Hall of Famer Bob Gibson. It involved the myriad of connections you make along the way.
Coach Babb’s son, Bob Babb, has gone on from his Bloomsburg roots to 41 years as head baseball coach for Johns Hopkins University. He boasts a proud 1,183-435-15 record for the Baltimore, Md. program that placed third in the 2019 NCAA Division 3 College World Series.
Brainpower, baseball, winning the right way and becoming successful in life afterwards have been Bob Babb’s lessons for generations of Johns Hopkins players. Hartzell was a Bloomsburg disciple of the Babb baseball way.
He chose Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. for his mechanical engineering degree, but also played basketball and baseball successfully at Lehigh. The lanky 6-5 right-handed pitcher spent his summers developing his sinking fastball for various amateur teams in Pennsylvania and Colorado.
The odds were against him, since only 4% of college graduates play major league baseball. But he was a hard worker who learned mental toughness at Lehigh. He earned a $4,000 bonus after being drafted by the California Angels in June 1975.
In 1976, Hartzell was pitching for the Angels, earning the major league minimum of $19,000. At 23 and a year out of college, he went from pitching at Lehigh’s Taylor Stadium in front of 30 people, to starting against the Detroit Tigers in front of 51,000 spectators.
Because of injuries, Hartzell spent only six seasons in the major leagues with a combined 27-39 record as starter and reliever. The first of three Angels seasons in 1976 was his best. He logged a 7-4 record and 2.77 ERA, seventh-best in the American League, featuring seven complete games in 15 he started.
He parlayed everything he learned along the way and a willingness to work and shift direction into a successful and lengthy business career that continues to this day.
On April 20, Hartzell was informed that he had been selected as No. 91 on the top-100 list of all-time Angel players.
“My inclusion in the top-100 Angel players of all time was a big surprise,” said Hartzell, as proud of that accolade as anything he has done. The list is compiled by halosheaven.com on Vox Media’s SB Nation sports blogging network.
“One of the reasons to go to college and play sports is to create connections that last a lifetime,” said Hartzell. And he has done just that.
Zoom calls and mentoring
Hartzell, board member and longtime supporter of the Killebrew-Thompson Memorial golf tournament in Sun Valley, has been spending the shelter-in-place spring taking daily walks and bike rides with wife Andrei around The Valley Club.
He swims. He lifts weights. He spends lots of time online.
Last year, Hartzell was an assistant coach for Dave Slotten’s Wood River High School baseball program.
Through the winter he has overseen a workout program for Boone Scherer, one of Wood River’s best pitching prospects. “He did everything I asked him, and more,” said Hartzell.
Hartzell was helping Wood River again this spring before the pandemic put an end to organized sports for the season.
As someone who keeps his connections active, Hartzell is cognizant of challenges facing high school and college athletes in this time of COVID-19 uncertainty and season cancelations.
“Coaches are working really hard to keep their teams together in this time,” he said.
There are virtual workouts, online team meetings and self-training to keep skills sharp.
Devoted to athlete development after 36 years being out of the big leagues, Hartzell is passionate about Vin McCaffrey’s Game Plan software.
Game Plan helps athletic organizations deliver online educational mentorship and career services to support athletes in meeting each step of the developmental process.
Last week, Hartzell joined another weekly Zoom meeting with the Vassar College baseball team that came from yet another long-time connection. The Vassar third-year head coach is Matthew Righter, pitching coach for Bob Babb at Johns Hopkins from 2009-14.
“There were 50 boys on a call that went on for one-and-a-half hours. I had invited Bobby Grich to join, and he really helped the kids think about the game and their future,” he said.
Grich, 71, was a four-time Golden Glove-winning second baseman for Baltimore Orioles and California Angels from 1970-86. He was the first player inducted into the Angels Hall of Fame, in 1988. Grich and Hartzell were California Angels teammates in 1977-78.
On Feb. 6, Hartzell and his good friend Grich gave a two-hour pre-season clinic for Wood River High School players through the auspices of the Killebrew-Thompson Memorial fund-raising golf tournament.
Hartzell recalled Grich’s talk to the eager Vasser players.
“Bobby put it this way: If you’re in the major leagues, you may get 500 at-bats every season. If you do and get 150 hits, you hit .300. But if you get 125 hits, you hit .250. So the difference between hitting .250 and hitting .300 is just 25 hits.
“If that’s the case, he told them that you can’t afford to not concentrate on every at-bat.
“I know that was bred into me—the ability to bring intensity every day to the game. You can’t control everything, but every day you can show up to practice and to play, and you should be able to commit 100%.
“I never went out there unprepared. Baseball players are professionals. They never want anyone to think otherwise.”
Hartzell still reads voraciously on the evolution of pitching and is taking an eight-week online course on player development. He conveyed some of the pitching lessons to Wood River’s Scherer this winter.
“One of this book’s conclusions is that young people don’t throw enough today. I wore out rubber balls. My brother and I played catch every day. You learn the feeling of pitches. I learned the slider. You experiment. You try one grip and then you try another,” he said.
“Another conclusion is you’ve got to like the game and be willing to practice by yourself or with one other person.
“If you’re a hitter, you can throw something up in the air—little pieces of rice are one thing—and then you can practice weight shifting, balance and keeping your eye on it.
“You’re developing a mental approach. You’re developing muscle memory. All these things you can simulate. When you do, it’s like graduation day. Remember, baseball is a game where if you get three hits out of 10 at-bats, you’re a success.”
Hartzell added, “What’s really important, I say to parents, is to keep on playing. You never know what’s going to happen as you grow. Base paths and pitching distances get longer. You get bigger. Parents should encourage kids to keep playing. Don’t give up on the game.”
Hartzell relishes time he has spent with Wood River baseball teams and their players.
“We went to a pre-season jamboree in Twin Falls. Nobody kept score, we played to a time limit and the kids got to try stuff. I rode the bus. It’s the most fun I’ve had with young kids in 20 years,” he said.
Nothing can replace games.
He said, “I was 22 years old and 11 months out of college when I got to the majors. The most games I had played in a summer were maybe 100.
“Now, you’re in the big leagues and you’re playing 200 games including spring. The season is doubled. The level of competition is the best in the world. I just can’t tell you how much fun it is to compete against the best in the world.”
Baseball’s extended family
Hartzell has been married for 43 years to Andrei Clement Hartzell.
He proposed to the New Jersey-born Rutgers graduate in Sun Valley during the winter of 1975-76 after driving with her 3,000 miles to Idaho for a ski holiday with friends.
They were married in Sept. 1976 at Laguna Beach, Ca. on an off-day during Hartzell’s first season with the Angels. Among those attending were Angels Nolan Ryan, Jerry Remy and best man Bruce Bochte.
The Hartzells have two daughters.
Brook Elizabeth Hartzell, 41, of Pleasanton, Ca. is married and works as Director of Mergers and Acquisitions for the software company Work Day. She graduated in 2000 from Washington & Lee Univ. where she was an All-American tennis player.
Blair Schwartz, 36, married to Hollywood film editor Jonathan Schwartz, lives in southern California and keeps busy with the couple’s two-and-a-half year old daughter Margot. Blair was born in 1983 while her father was working as a stockbroker in Newport Beach.
Hartzell’s extended family has been involved in baseball.
In December, Hartzell attended major league baseball’s busiest off-season gathering, the Winter Meetings in San Diego. Walking through the convention center, surrounded by a small entourage, was the brand-new Los Angeles Angels field manager, Joe Maddon.
Maddon, 66, was raised in West Hazleton, Pa. near Bloomsburg and played American Legion baseball against Hartzell when they were 16.
Like Hartzell, Maddon was a two-sport athlete (baseball, football) at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. Maddon was the opposing catcher with Hartzell pitching during a Lehigh-Lafayette game when both were still playing college baseball.
Maddon’s first minor league managing job was for the Idaho Falls Angels in 1981. He was assistant coach for the big league Angels from 1994-2005.
He helped manager Mike Sciosia as bench coach from 2000-05 including the only Angels’ World Series title championship of 2002. The franchise began in 1961 as one of two of the first MLB expansion clubs.
“Joe saw me, said ‘Paul Hartzell’ out loud, and introduced me to the five others he was with—like I was special,” said Hartzell with a smile.
Maddon famously managed the Tampa Bay Rays from 2006-14 and Chicago Cubs from 2015-19, in 2016 guiding the Cubs to the beleaguered team’s first World Series title since 1908.
He might have a tougher task with the Angels if the 2020 season ever resumes in the big leagues. “I get my scouting reports on the Angels from Bobby Grich,” said Hartzell about the prospects for Los Angeles.
“He tells me the Angels might score seven to nine runs every night. Problem is, we might give up 11 runs. The Angels will be very good defensively and outstanding offensively adding Anthony Rendon, but the pitching is unproven.”
Yet to be determined is what form major league baseball will take after the abrupt end of 2020 spring training due to the worldwide pandemic crisis.
Hartzell said he has spoken with two seasoned ex-general managers. They seem to think there will be baseball. MLB will aim for a 140-game season starting in June, all the way through October followed by playoffs. A mandatory three weeks of training precedes a June start.
All games will occur at neutral sites in Arizona and Florida, possibly Texas. Restrictions will be placed on any of those present to watch the games.
Fans will welcome baseball.
As former President Barack Obama said in the Ken Burns documentary on Jackie Robinson, “Sports are powerful. On the one hand it’s a game. On the other hand, it’s a unifying part of our culture.”