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Waterloo manager literally sunk his teeth into baseball

Posted by Pat Kinney on Friday, August 28, 2020

I've been going to baseball games at Waterloo's Municipal/Riverfront Stadium since I was a kid in the late '60s. There were a lot of great players and a lot of characters who graced Waterloo's "friendly confines" over those years. Among the characters, none, perhaps, was more colorful than Billy Scripture.

Scripture managed for the Class A Waterloo Royals, a farm team of the major league Kansas City Royals, in the early '70s. He was one tough dude. The man would eat covers off baseballs to relieve stress. He also stood in front of pitching machines and took pitches in the chest to get his players to lose their fear of being hit by a pitch when they stood in at bat and crowded the plate.

His unusual diet is shown in the photo accompanying this Associated Press article which appeared in the June 22, 1975 Waterloo Courier. I'd recalled the story and photo and Grout historian Bob Neymeyer recovered it. Scripture was managing a Class AA team in Jacksonville, Fla. at the time this photo was taken. In his experience gnawing off baseball covers, he noted, "I've only lost one molar, and that's a lot less expensive than an ulcer operation."

Billy was a star college player at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., where he was a two-time All-American, leading the team to conference championships and batted .337 for the Demon Deacons lifetime. He played in the Baltimore Orioles and New York Mets farm systems. The 1975 AP article notes, "When he was playing in the International League, rumor has it managers put up a $50 pool for the first pitcher who could hit Scripture with a pitch hard enough to make him rub the spot. No one ever collected." Appropriately he led the league once in being hit by pitches.

But Scripture never quite made it up to the majors so he turned to managing. Turns out his best year as a manager was with the 1973 Waterloo Royals, when he led them to a 64-56 record. 

Scripture is the stuff of baseball folklore. In a May 1987 Sports Illustrated column, John Garrity notes Scripture reportedly once charged out of the dugout with a loaded gun and shot a seven-foot rattlesnake on the field in Sarasota, Fla. On another occasion, he was reported to have climbed a stadium light tower and did chin ups on the light rack atop the tower.  

Scripture became a training coordinator in the Royals system under Hall of Fame baseball executive John Schuerholz, cultivating many players who later became part of the Kansas City Royals' teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s, which won several division championships, two American League pennants and a World Series. Some of those players, including Willie Wilson, Clint Hurdle and pitcher Dan Quisenberry, played in Waterloo.

After baseball, Scripture managed a prosperous Florida gun club, being an avid trapshooter.

Billy Scripture died Nov. 11, 2018 at the age of 76. He is in Wake Forest's Athletics Hall of Fame.

Asked by SI writer Garrity in 1987 whether he'd ever consider managing again, Scripture said. "I probably couldn't manage in baseball today, because I'm probably the most hard-nosed s.o.b. in the world...I love shooting, because this is a no-excuse environment. You either hit that sucker or you don't." 

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