My first exposure to Denny Doyle was through a piece of cardboard.
Like any red-blooded middle school boy who hadn’t yet discovered girls, I was obsessed with baseball cards and the arcane information they contained.
Doyle’s card caught my attention because it told me the Philadelphia Phillies infielder was from Kentucky and played at Morehead State University. If only he had played for my beloved Cincinnati Reds, I might have held on to that card.
Instead, it was tossed aside like one of the bats that betrayed me by failing to hit the ball.
Doyle wasn’t on my radar – and his card wasn’t included in my prized collection – until a few years later. As a freshman at the same Morehead State that Doyle attended, I couldn’t help but notice the guy who was now playing second base for the Boston Red Sox.
Doyle, a slick gloveman who struggled with the bat for most of his career, suddenly turned into Ty Cobb. He put together a 22-game hitting streak, batted .310 in 89 games for the Red Sox, and was a big reason why Boston won the American League pennant.
It was nearly enough to make me jump on the Doyle bandwagon and cheer for the Bosox. Nearly.
Doyle was good that summer of 1975, but he had the misfortune of playing in the World Series against the team from Cincinnati. Me, switch my loyalty from the Big Red Machine of Pete Rose & Co.?
Don’t bet on it.
My Reds, of course, went on to beat Doyle’s Red Sox in a seven-game World Series that is arguably the best Fall Classic ever. Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and the rest of that powerful roster won another World Series the following year, and Doyle was again relegated to my “commons” pile.
Sorry, Denny. If I had known your back story, I would have treated you and that piece of cardboard with a little more respect.
Doyle, as I discovered much later, was part of one of the most amazing stories in Kentucky high school sports. He and a group of talented athletes from tiny Caverna High School, in the spring of 1961, broke the big-school stranglehold on championships and upset Louisville Waggener 1-0 for the state title.
Doyle was the winning pitcher, throwing a one-hitter, and he scored the lone run to win a championship for the Horse Cave school with 43 students in its senior class.
Interestingly, Doyle was not the only member of that Colonel team to make a Major League roster. Joe Campbell, who shared pitching duties with Doyle during the season and hit a triple that scored Doyle in the championship game, actually beat Doyle to the big leagues.
Campbell and Doyle both played baseball at Morehead, with Campbell being picked by the Mets in the Major League Baseball draft while Doyle wasn’t selected.
Doyle eventually earned his way into professional baseball when he tried out for the Phillies and was signed to a contract. He worked his way through the minor leagues to the Phillies in 1970, three years after Campbell broke into the Chicago Cubs lineup as an outfielder.
Campbell, the founder of Bowling Green’s Campbell Chevrolet, played only one game for the Cubs.
“I ran into the fence in right field,” Campbell recalls. “It messed up my throwing shoulder. That was back before they could do the operations they have now. Basically, that cut my career short. I couldn’t play after that.”
But both Campbell and Doyle have vivid memories of that magical 1961 season. Campbell still likes to tell the story of how the championship game ended – with a triple play.
It wasn’t the last hurrah for the Colonel baseball program. Caverna won the state championship again in 1972, with Denny’s brothers Brian and Blake starring on a team coached by Coy Meadows, who had played for Warren County High School against Caverna in 1961.
Denny Doyle is still involved in baseball through the Florida-based Doyle Baseball Academy he started after his playing career ended. He and his brothers have tutored many players who have gone on to professional careers, and Blake worked for three years as the Colorado Rockies hitting coach. Brian had a brief Major League career that included a starring role for the New York Yankees in the 1978 World Series.
No doubt, the Doyles put little Caverna (which couldn’t find enough players to field a baseball team this year) on the Kentucky high school baseball map.
Makes me wish I still had that card.
Sergent is the sports editor of the Glasgow Daily Times.