Growing up in the small California town of Clovis, near Fresno, where he was born on August 2, 1924, Lloyd Merriman could only dream of playing big-time sports. As a boy in Clovis, he and his friends loved to play baseball in the streets.
But Merriman, after serving in World War II, starring in baseball and football at Stanford University, and playing one season of minor league ball, played five seasons in the major leagues—three before and two after he spent much 1953 piloting a Panther Jet on more than 80 combat missions in the Korean conflict.
A speedy left-handed batter who threw left, Merriman stood six foot tall and weighed 180 pounds. He averaged .242 lifetime in 455 major league games. Hitting with occasional power, he connected for 64 doubles, 12 triples, and 12 home runs, scored 140 runs, and batted in 117. Enjoying a career-best .268 mark in 1954, Lloyd played four years for the Reds and spent his finale, the 1955 season, in Chicago—playing one game for the White Sox and the rest with the Cubs.
Reflecting on his boyhood in a 2003 interview, Merriman, a quiet and likeable gentleman, recollected, “We didn’t have organized Little League ball, or anything like that. Clovis wasn’t a very big town, so we made up our own games.
“We would play ‘street ball.’ That’s where we would get four or maybe six boys and play in the street. We’d slow-pitch the ball, and you had to hit it on one half of the field. If you hit a grounder past the line, say, between second and third and someone fielded it, you were out. Or if you hit a fly past that line, you were out. But if you hit it in the air over the line, you could get a single. That’s the kind of games we used to play.”
Lloyd played baseball and football at Clovis High, where he graduated in June of 1942. By that time World War II had engulfed the globe, and Americans could read in daily newspapers and see on movie newsreels the fighting and the suffering going on in the European Theater as well as in the Pacific.
That summer the 18-year-old enrolled at Stanford University. He went to Palo Alto because his father recommended it. The elder Merriman had watched a track meet at Stanford, and he liked the campus and facilities. Lloyd completed his freshman year in 1942-43, and he made the football team that fall as a walk-on.
“I started in the summer of 1942,” Lloyd recalled. “I knew I wouldn’t be there very long, because World War II was going on. After my freshman year, I joined the service. But I was just a walk-on. I wasn’t even thinking about athletics.
“That summer a bunch of us got to playing touch football out on the lawn outside the dorm. A lot of these guys were going to go out for football, so I thought, ‘Shoot, I might as well go along with them.’ So I did.
“I had played halfback at Clovis High, so I went out for football in the fall of 1942. Today you can hardly be a walk-on. But at that time they had no restrictions. The football coaches were very nice to me. They let me play fullback. They had a whole list of guys from all around the country who came to Stanford to play football.
“I went into the service in 1943, and I played a couple years of football in the service. What I did was enlist in the Marine Corps in November of 1942, and they let me finish the school year. In the meantime, I put in for what they used to call V-5, the Naval Flight Program. I got accepted into that.
“In June of 1943 I got called in. Then I had to resign from the Marine Corps and go into the Navy. So I got my training in the Navy for about two years. I graduated from flight training at Corpus Christi, Texas, and I went back into the Marine Corps in July 1945.”
Like many young men with athletic ability, Merriman played ball in the service:
“In 1944 I was in Pre-Flight Training and played football at Norman, Oklahoma. We had a fun team. We had old chiefs and young enlisted guys, some of them in flight training. One fella was only eighteen years old, Emil Sitko. He was a halfback. Later, he became an All-American for two years at Notre Dame, and he played two or three seasons of pro football. Another fella who played for us was Len Eshmont. After the war, he played for the Forty-Niners, and they have that Eshmont Award named after him.
“In 1945 I ended up near Miami at a base called Opa-Locka. By then the war was over, and I was in the Marine Corps. The Naval Training Station there had a football schedule. That team disbanded. So we went over and picked up their uniforms and played out their schedule. We had a lot of fun. We just grabbed whoever wanted to play and made a team out of it. We had Marines and a mixture of servicemen on that team, and we played other service teams.
“I got out of the service in December of ‘45. I went back to Stanford for the winter quarter. I played baseball for Stanford in the spring of 1946 and football that fall.
“During the football season, I hurt my leg in the groin area. I aggravated a nerve in that pelvis area. So I was having trouble lifting my leg that fall. The leg would kind of drag when I ran. I was really getting killed in football. I was playing fullback, and I couldn’t run as well as before. In the spring of ‘47, my leg was still sore, but I played baseball.”
But Merriman was a star fullback. A United Press story dated October 23, 1946, about the upcoming Stanford-Southern California game, commented that Stanford's line had been opening holes for “the finest fullback in the West. His name is Lloyd Merriman and he can do just about anything expected of a halfback, including skirt the ends, kick, and pass. He goes into the USC game with a record of averaging better than five yards carrying.”
Although Merriman chose not to play pro football, the Chicago Bears of the National Football League and the Los Angeles Dons of the All-American Football Conference drafted the hard-running Stanford back.
“I signed a contract with the Reds after we finished Stanford's baseball season, so I never played football after that. They gave me a bonus of $12,000. I started playing minor league ball in 1948, but I would go back to Stanford in the offseason. I would take classes in the winter quarter, and that’s how I graduated in 1949.”
In 1948 the Reds sent Merriman to Columbia of the seven-team class A South Atlantic League. With sixth place Columbia, Merriman hit .298 and led the league in runs scored with 120, triples with 18, and stolen bases with 44. Local fans nicknamed him “Citation” because of his speed. He also made the league’s All-Star team as an outfielder.
“We did a lot of bus riding in the Sally League. It was enjoyable and fun. The only thing was the weather. I had a tough time getting used to the hot weather in Columbia. Out here in California we end up with some cool nights. At least you can get to sleep after a while.
“Down there it was the same temperature all the time. It was more than 90 degrees night and day. I lost about 15 pounds right off the bat. I weighed about 195 when I was playing football. But I lost the weight in Columbia, and I stayed around 180 for the rest of my baseball career.
“I finally got it going with Columbia. I was hitting about .200 for the first month and a half. I got a phone call from George Halas, the coach of the Chicago Bears. He says, ‘Why don’t you come up here and play with us? We’re just getting started.’
“I said, ‘No, I think I’ll stay here with baseball.’
“The Bears drafted me, but I had to turn Mr. Halas down. Pretty soon I got to where I felt a little more at home at the plate, and I started hitting the ball better in the Sally League.”
In 1949 Lloyd went to spring training with the Reds for the second year, and this time he made the big club. For the season he averaged .230 in 103 games, including 12 doubles, five triples, four homers, and 26 RBI. Although he didn’t play much in the first half of the season, the speedster ended up as the Red’s center fielder.
Cincinnati finished seventh in the National League in 1949, but the Reds had a solid lineup. Big Ted Kluszewski, in his second full season at first base, led the club with a .309 average and produced 68 RBI, veteran catcher Walker Cooper hit. 280 and topped the Reds in homers with 16, and third baseman Grady Hatton hit .263 with 11 homers and a team-high 69 RBI.
Reflecting on Kluszewski, Merriman, ever modest about his own considerable talent, recounted, “One day as a rookie I was sitting there on the bench and ‘ol Ted came to me and said, ‘Watch my swing and see if you can tell what’s different. I’m not feeling right up there.’
“It’s funny he would come to me to watch him. For Gosh sakes, I’m a rookie! But Ted and I got to be good friends.
“One time in Brooklyn Kluszewski hits a home run, and I’m following him up to bat. So I know I’m probably going to get ‘knocked down,’ which I do. So I get up, ready to hit, and the next one, I almost ate. Boy, that ball came right at me! I just barely got out of the way.
“On the next pitch I hit a little dribbler down to first. The pitcher had to cover first base, and I just ran right up his back! Anyway, he never threw at me again. I used to have a picture of the two of us, flying in the air! But that’s the way they played the game in those years.”
Cincinnati’s outfield included Danny Litwhiler, a right-handed batter who hit. 291 with 11 homers and 48 RBI while playing mostly against left-handed pitchers; left fielder Johnny Wyrostek, who averaged .249 with nine homers and 46 RBI; right fielder Peanuts Lowrey, who batted .275 with two homers and 25 RBI; and Harry Walker, who hit .318 with one round-tripper and 23 RBI.
“Harry Walker, the old Cardinal, was quite a case,” Lloyd recollected. “He was the greatest ‘short-legger’ going. Now a short-legger is a guy who pretends he’s going after the ball but doesn’t get there, and he let’s you chase it down. Old Harry, he'd make his little effort after the ball. But I was playing center field, so I was backing up everybody. I knew the ball would go through Harry, because he wasn’t about to put out too much effort in the field.
“But Harry could really handle the bat. One day he fouled off about 11 pitches against the Cardinals, almost on purpose, and he finally got his base on balls.”
The big slugger for the Reds—he clouted 35 homers in 1948—was left fielder Hank Sauer, who averaged .275 with 31 home runs and 99 RBI overall in 1949. But Cincy traded Hank to the Cubs after he averaged .237 with only four homers and 16 RBI in 42 games. After Sauer's trade, the other outfielders played more, including Merriman.
But Lloyd recalled, “I shouldn’t have been there in the major leagues in 1949. I’d have been better off if I played three years or so in the minors. But that’s just the way it worked out.”
He added, “The leg aggravation held me back quite a bit. But I got to where I was trying to steal some bases in the Sally League. I never got to where I could do enough of it in the major leagues.
“In the majors it was all signs, ‘Okay, go now.’ Well, you can’t go if you don’t get a good jump. When the manager is giving you signs to go or stay and he won’t let you run on your own, it’s hard to steal bases and be successful at it.
“When I got a hit, I used to run them out. I ended up with some triples that would have been doubles, because I stretched them.”
In fact, Litwhiler remembered Merriman as the fastest man on the Red’s club in 1949.
Regarding the 1949 season, Merriman reflected, “What really got me, and it was pretty disheartening, is that I would sit around for what seemed like a long time before I got into a ball game. Finally, I got in a game. They started me at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh.”
In the first game of a double-header on April 24, Merriman batted leadoff and faced veteran right-hander Elmer Riddle, pitching in his final season of a 10-year career. Lloyd tripled to center off Riddle. After making an out in the middle innings, the Stanford star homered off another right-handed veteran, Hugh Casey, hurling the last of his nine big league seasons. The Reds won, 3-2 in 10 innings “My first at-bat I was really nervous,” Lloyd reminisced. “I was so nervous that I couldn’t swing the bat. I just stood there and took two strikes. I thought, ‘It’s strike two. I gotta start swinging.’
“The next pitch I took a whack at, and by God, if I don’t hit it! My hit ends up being a triple. Later on in the ball game, I dinked one down the right field line, which was about 300 feet right down the foul line to the foul pole. I hit one just by the foul pole, and that goes for a home run!
“I end up getting two-for-three and we win the ball game, 3-2. So I really had a lot to do with winning a ball game. But then I don’t play again for about two or three weeks. Here I thought I’d done so well, and nothing happens for about three weeks.
“That’s how my .230 average came about. You’d get in now and then. Things didn’t go in such a way to give you the incentive to do well. But I tried. I did everything I could to help the ball club. I’d pitch batting practice, I’d run in the outfield, I’d shag ball. But I was, you know, kind of ‘hanging out.’”
In fact, the Reds beat the Pirates, 3-2 in 10 innings. But four days later in Chicago, Merriman sprained his right thumb trying to pick up a grounder to center, so he missed several games.
Danny Litwhiler, who made the big leagues in 1940, befriended the California rookie:
“When I first made it with the Reds, it was kind of a dog-eat-dog life. Danny really helped me out. He was showing me the ropes, what to do, and how to take care of business. He was good at everything.
“He even showed me where to buy my suitcase. You had to have something, you know, to travel with. Danny took me to this place in St. Louis where they made trunks and suitcases.
“When we’d go on the road, Danny would show me the best restaurants. One time in New York he took me to Mama Leoni's. We sat there, and Danny knew all the waiters. Every time they’d come by, they’d give us a little bit of everything they were serving to the other people. I never ate so much in my life!
“Danny would come out with me early, or stay late with me, and we’d take batting practice, just the two of us. In other words, he was trying to help me.
“Baseball is really not that way. It wasn’t that way at all in the late 1940s. You know, you don’t help somebody. They’re going to take your job.
“Danny and I really got along well. I know one year my wife Dilys was with me down in Florida in spring training. We came north, and we stayed with Danny and his wife Dot until we could find a place in Cincinnati.
“There was really no end to what Danny Litwhiler would do to help me. He helped me break into the big leagues, and I have always appreciated that. We’re still good friends.”
In late April 1949, Lloyd told scribe Tom Swope, writing for The Sporting News, “Now that I look back, I fully realize that hitting a triple with my first major league swing gave me the biggest thrill I ever got out of any form of athletics. I never expect to experience another to match it. The homer off Hugh Casey was a big thrill, of course, but not so much as that triple off Elmer Riddle.”
Merriman kept improving, and he played more in center field in 1949. In 1950 he came back to hit .258 with two round-trippers and 31 RBI. He played fewer games, 92 compared to 103 in 1949. But he got up to bat a few more times, 298 trips compared to 287 in 1949.
In 1950 the Reds climbed from seventh to sixth place in the NL, going 66-87 under new manager Luke Sewell. Big Klu came through with a big season, leading the club in hitting with a .307 mark while slugging 25 homers and driving in 111 runners. Right fielder Johnny Wyrostek hit .285 with eight homers and 76 RBI. Left fielder Bob Usher, back with the Reds after two seasons in the minors, batted .259 with six homers and 35 RBI.
Cincinnati had two other outfielders. Rookie Joe Adcock averaged .293 with eight homers and 55 RBI, but he lacked the speed to play center field. Peanuts Lowrey, a right-handed hitter, averaged only .227 before the Reds traded him to the Cardinals in mid-season.
“You know, it’s so hard to get an assist from center field,” Lloyd explained. “It’s tough to throw somebody out at home from center field, because the mound is in the way. The mound usually makes the throw bounce away from the catcher. You have to be like Willie Mays and throw that ball on the fly. I don’t think Willie ever hit a cut-off man. But he had a good arm, and he’d throw it all the way on the fly, so he was able to get some runners at home.”
In 1951 Cincinnati ranked sixth in the NL, and Merriman produced his best all-around year. His average slipped to .242, but the sure-fielding lefty set personal highs in games with 114, games played in the outfield with 102, at-bats with 359, doubles with 23, homers with five, RBI with 36, walks with 31, and stolen bases with eight. Lloyd fielded .997 (he made just one error), made a career-best 308 putouts, contributed five assists, and took part in two double plays.
He also enjoyed two memorable highlights within one week in 1951. On September 7, in an 18-inning game in which the Reds beat the Cubs, 7-6, Lloyd tied a National League mark by making 12 putouts in center field. Five days later, he led the Reds to a 6-3 win over the Dodgers by hammering a bases-loaded triple off Carl Erskine in the seventh inning.
In the meantime, the Korean conflict had erupted in June 1950. The armed forces were calling to the colors thousands of men, including dozens of major leaguers.
“When I got out of the Marines in 1946, you could either get out in the reserves, or you could stay in and go to China. I didn't want to go to China. I was a first lieutenant, but I hadn’t done anything with the reserves. Then along comes Korea, and the Marines like to be able to call up their troops all of a sudden.
“The Marines called me up in May 1952. I hadn’t been near an airplane in five years. I had 10 hours in on what they called an SNJ, a practice plane. They sent us to the Marine base in El Toro, California, and told us to learn how to fly a jet.
“Flying a jet was quite a thrill. The jets were single-seated. You weren’t riding with anybody. You get the groundwork, and you go to takeoff. The funny thing is how you hear all this sound going down the runway, but about 300 feet after takeoff, all the sound goes away! You think maybe that jet has quit on you, but what happens is that you’ve left the sound behind you.
“I met Ted Williams at El Toro, and John Glenn was in our group too. Ted and John both flew jets in Korea. We trained there, and then we trained near Honolulu in Hawaii. We returned and left from the States for Korea around January 1953.”
Merriman was modest about his achievements:
“I spent about eight months in Korea in the First Marine Air Wing, so I got in on the tail end of the war. I flew 87 combat missions in an F9F Panther Jet. I saw quite a bit of Jerry Coleman, the Yankee second baseman. Jerry was a Marine pilot who flew a Corsair.”
After being mustered out of the Marines in September 1953, Merriman played winter ball in Havana, Cuba:
“Cuba was a good deal for playing ball. They had only one ballpark, so you didn’t have to travel. They had two ball games every night. I played for Cien Fugas. They probably had six or eight teams in the Cuban League. Each team could have a few ballplayers from the States, usually major leaguers. That was a fun side trip.
“I played about the same in Cuban ball as I had for the Reds in 1950 and 1951.”
But baseball remains a young person’s game, and Merriman's service in the Marine Corps had cost him all of the 1952 and 1953 seasons. While he enjoyed a good training camp in the spring of 1954, the Reds had acquired several good young outfielders.
Lloyd remembered competing against Gus Bell and Wally Post, both of whom could slug the ball. While Kluszewski led the majors with 49 homers in 1954, Cincy outfielder Jim Greengrass hit .280 with 27 homers and 95 RBI, Bell hit .299 with 17 homers and 101 RBI, and Post averaged .255 with 18 four-baggers and 83 RBI.
“Bob Borkowski and I went back and forth for playing time. I was the left-hander and he was the right-hander. We platooned, depending on whether the other team pitched a right-hander or a left-hander.
“I did a lot of pinch-hitting in 1954. It was disappointing, because I played well. I hit six home runs on the way north and I hit over .300 in the spring. But the Reds had too much young, good competition. In those years, when you reached 30, you were old. It seemed like I was getting up there.”
Borkowski in turn recollected about Merriman: “We’d go back to the room after dinner, you know, and Lloyd would get to telling me ‘war stories’ about being a pilot in Korea. He really enjoyed flying that jet. Lloyd was a real good guy, real friendly and down-to-earth. He was a good ballplayer, and he really liked telling me about the war.”
Never a slugger, Merriman got into 73 games in 1954, but he played only 25 in the outfield. While averaging a career-best .268, Lloyd got up to the plate a career-worst 112 times. The southpaw did average a solid .289 off the bench, going 11 for 38 as a pinch-hitter.
Having a set outfield going into spring training for 1955, Cincinnati sold Merriman to the Chicago White Sox on February 10. Lloyd went to spring camp with the White Sox. Later, they played an inter-city exhibition with the Cubs just before the regular season opened. As a result, Cubs purchased his contract from the White Sox on April 16, 1955.
Shortly afterward, Lloyd remembered seeing an item which appeared in The Sporting News. The trivia question was: Who is the player associated with three Chicago teams, the White Sox, Cubs, and Bears? The former Stanford ace chuckled and said he was that player, since the Bears had drafted him.
“I started to play pretty regular for the Cubs at first,” Lloyd recalled. “But then I jammed my left thumb, or sprained it, so I was out with it for quite a while. It’s still kind of crooked. In the meanwhile, Eddie Miksis replaced me. It’s tough to get back in when someone beats you out.”
Merriman played in 72 games for the Cubs in 1955 (plus one for the White Sox), 49 as an outfielder. Seeing mostly spot duty, he batted only .212. The following season the Cubs optioned the California native to Los Angeles of the Pacific Coast League. LA in turn sold him to Portland, an independent club in the PCL. There he ended his professional career by hitting .242 with two homers and 18 RBI.
“After that,”Lloyd quipped, “I decided to quit the kid’s games and start earning a living.”
Starting in 1956, Merriman opened his own insurance agency. He built the agency up and worked with insurance for 15 years. He started raising, training, and showing horses in California ring horse shows. During the last 10 of his 20 years working with horses, he created a horse vitamin supplement that sold well. Reaching age 65 in 1989, Lloyd retired.
His wife Dilys, whom he had married in 1948, passed away in 1989. The couple had three children: a son, Robin (named after Robin Roberts), and two daughters, Daryl Ann and Lynn.
Lloyd married Suzanne in 1991. “I’m very fortunate to have been married to two very, very lovely ladies,” he observed recently.
In 1993 Clovis High recognized Lloyd's achievements by renaming the school’s varsity diamond “Lloyd Merriman Field.” The organizers brought in several of the former player’s friends, made a nice presentation, and Lloyd threw out the first pitch for an evening game.
The former outfielder still hears from fans a couple of times a week. You can reach Lloyd (remember to enclose an SASE) at: 645 East Champlain, #104, Fresno, CA 93720.
Thinking back on his experiences, Merriman said he enjoyed a lot of good times, especially in baseball. His career may not be unique, but it was unusual. Few players served in the armed forces in both World War II and Korea, but no other athlete who served in both wars had already proven himself a standout on the gridiron and the diamond.
A first class athlete who rose to stardom as a fullback in football and an outfielder in baseball, Merriman—a member of Stanford's Athletic Hall of Fame for baseball—proved his versatility again by leaving a successful baseball career to serve his country as a Marine jet pilot in Korea. Lloyd Merriman was the kind of unsung hero who helps make teams into winners.