Native of L.B. played in majors, coached, was in Army.
By David Felton
Whether it was on the football fields and baseball diamonds of Long Beach as a youth, in major league club houses as a seven-year big league catcher or in a Las Vegas care facility following a 1993 stroke, Lou Berberet spent his life making friends.
"Especially here in Long Beach, everyone knew him," Tom Berberet said of his father, who passed away Tuesday morning in Las Vegas after six months of heart trouble at the age of 74. "He never went any place where people didn't know him.
"He lived in Las Vegas for 26 or 27 years, but even now, people (in Long Beach) ask about him."
Berberet and Lila Faye, his wife of 25 years, lived in Las Vegas, where they enjoyed playing golf and traveling. He is survived by a sister and brother, Ethel Taylor and Bob Berberet, son Tom Berberet, daughters Deborah Berberet Starmer, Lori Berberet and Mary Kato and step daughters Brit Rodriguez and Erika Heaton. He is also survived by eight grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday at St. Anthony Church, 600 Olive, Long Beach. The burial will be private. Donations to a St. Anthony scholarship in Berberet's name can be sent to Tom Berberet, 5311 Rosecrest Drive, Huntington Beach, Ca., 92649.
Lou Berberet was born in Long Beach Nov. 20, 1929, and attended St. Anthony School from kindergarten through high school, where he was a three-sport varsity athlete all four years. As a senior in 1947, he was selected Long Beach Athlete of the Year and earned a football scholarship to Santa Clara University. In 1988, Berberet was elected to the St. Anthony Hall of Fame.
After two seasons at Santa Clara, where he played football and baseball, Berberet signed his first professional baseball contract in 1950 for the then-whopping total of $21,000 with the mighty New York Yankees.
He played a year with Binghampton (N.Y.) of the Eastern League before a two-year stint serving his country in the Army, where he was a teammate of Hall of Famer Ernie Banks at Fort Bliss, Texas.
In 1954, Berberet finally got the call from the big club. He played five games for the Yankees that season, getting two hits in five at-bats. Berberet played in two more games in 1955, again going 2 for 5. He often joked he was a career .400 hitter with the Yankees.
"It's right there (in the record books),' his son laughed. "It's undisputed.'
In 1956, he was traded to the Washington Senators. He also played for Boston and Detroit. He retired after the 1960 season with 31 home runs, a career batting average of .230 and an incredible fielding percentage of .992, including three seasons (1954, 55, 57) in which he made no errors.
In a sign of how things have changed, Berberet retired from baseball because he could make more money as a salesman for a beverage company. He returned to Long Beach and helped coach youth teams, including the 1963 Peterson Post team that won the American Legion World Series. He was active in the Boys and Girls Clubs of Long Beach and Las Vegas.
And he never lost the friends he made while in professional baseball. Tom Berberet recalls Sunday dinners with Whitey Herzog, Lou's teammate with Washington, while Herzog managed the Angels and a ticket taker at Tiger Stadium, who noticed Berberet's unique last name and asked if his dad was the old Tigers catcher, nearly 40 years after he last played.
"He was just a fun guy with an unmistakable laugh,' Tom Berberet said.
Harry Minor, a long-time major league scout, played against Berberet as a pitcher at Wilson High and with him at Birmingham, Ala., in the Yankees' farm system. He was also a 60-year friend of Berberet.
"We always had a sincere friendship,' Minor said. "He was one of a kind and I already miss him.'
Minor and another long-time friend, Ewing Turner, spoke with Berberet the day before he passed.
"I can't tell you how glad I am I had a chance to talk to him before he died,' Minor said.
After moving to Las Vegas, Berberet officiated football and baseball and served as an evaluator of officials for the Big West Conference after retiring.
His health began to deteriorate in 1993 when he had a stroke. But instead of complaining about it, he worked hard to rehabilitate and was playing golf again within two years. He also took the opportunity to make a new batch of friends.
"As the years went on, he had a softer and kinder and gentler heart,' his son said.