MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

February 8, 2013

Muskogee native looks ahead to NSU induction

By Doug Quinn
Courtesy Broken Arrow Ledger

— When Eddie Shafer is inducted into the Northeastern State University Athletic Hall of Fame, he’ll be remembered for owning the school’s strikeout record for 41 years.

“This is quite an honor and I am thrilled,” said the Broken Arrow resident, who graduated from then Northeastern State College in 1966.

Soon to be 71, Shafer doesn’t feel solely responsible for his pitching achievement for the Redmen.

“That record is something I shared for all those years,” Shafer said, referring to John Leafer, his catcher. “I might have to throw the pitch, but John caught all those third strikes. He deserves a part of this.”

Shafer, raised in Muskogee, will be inducted Saturday during NSU basketball's contests with Truman State along with Broken Arrow’s Kelli Thomson Collins (tennis), John Dull (basketball), and Joe Green (football, basketball, track).

Shafer was part of NSC, winning two Oklahoma Collegiate Conference championships under coach Gerald Benn.

“Eddie could throw hard,” said Benn, who nominated the right-hander for the NSU hall of fame. “Not only did he have velocity, Eddie knew how to pitch.”

As a senior for the Redmen, Shafer fanned 85 batters with just 11 walks and a 1.15 earned run average.

He learned how to pitch as a youngster from his father, Ed Shafer.

“We had a large backyard,” Eddie Shafer said. “Dad brought in a load of dirt and built a pitcher’s mound. It was 15 inches, the height the pros used back then. It even had a pitcher’s rubber, a real one.”

The elder Shafer measured off 60 feet, six inches tall which “was the exact distance to home plate. Then, Dad put down a real homeplate. There was black trim all the way around and Dad just call it ‘The black.’”

An old mattress “with a big red X”  hung behind the plate and young Shafer spent countless hours pitching to the “red X” and make-believer batters.

“I had a bucket of old baseballs and I don’t know how many times I would fill it back up and do it all over again,” Shafer said.

His father refined Shafer’s pitching techniques.

“Dad taught me to ‘hit the black,’” Shafer said. “He didn’t like the ones I threw over the middle of the plate.”

In 1966, Shafer signed a minor league contract with the Kansas City Athletics and was shipped to Daytona Beach, Fla. Little did he realize he’d rub elbows with some of baseball’s future greats.

Whitey Herzog, who later managed the Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals and  St. Louis Cardinals signed Shafer to the professional deal. Also in that spring camp was Rollie Fingers, later became one of baseball’s all-time hurlers.

“We,” Shafer said, referring to Fingers, “were roommates in Florida.”

After two years in the minors, Shafer followed a dream – teaching and coaching baseball, beginning in McAlester. It didn’t take long for reality to slap Shafer in the face for him to enter the sales world.

“Hey, we were having fun,” he said, laughing. “But, I’d run out of money after three weeks. I knew this had to stop.”