|JEFF TERPKO (PART III): THREE YEARS AFTER PITCHING IN AAA, A TROUBLED TERPKO WALKS AWAY FROM BASEBALL (2017-08-12)
By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
SAYRE — In the summer of 1967, Jeff Terpko, now 15, played semi-pro baseball for the Elmira-based VOA Chiefs. During that summer he would meet a Major League scout named Jocko Collins, who would later play a major role in one of the biggest days of Terpko’s young life.
After his sophomore year at Sayre, Jeff Terpko was approached by Charlie Hall, who was a well-known basketball official and baseball umpire in Elmira, to play semi-pro baseball with the VOA Chiefs of Elmira in the AABA, which had a minimum age requirement of 18.
“Charlie Hall comes down from Elmira and talks to my father about playing with the Chiefs,” said Terpko. “We never had a car growing up, so my father asks him how I’m suppose to get to practices and games. Charlie says if I play, he’ll drive me back-and-forth personally.
“The other problem was, you had to be 18 to play in the AABA, and I was only 15 at the time” he noted. “Long story short, they forged my birth certificate so I could play.”
Terpko smiles as he talks when he speaks of his memories of playing with the Chiefs.
“We were playing Calkins Motors, a semi-pro team out of Troy, and they had a lot of ex-Elmira Pioneer players. It was the first night game I had ever played in and it was at the Troy Fairgrounds. There were 6,000 people there and here I am 15 years old.”
Terpko pitched a shutout to lead the Chiefs to win.
“Another time, we went to Altoona to play in a tournament,” said Terpko. “I walked behind the back stop at one point, and this scout from the (San Francisco) Giants — and I loved the Giants back then — named Jocko Collins stopped me.
“He asks me what college I go to,” noted Terpko. “I didn’t know any better, and I tell him I’m still in high school.
“About this time, Charlie Hall spots us talking and sprints over to break it up,” added Terpko. “He tell Collins I’m pitching and he shouldn’t be bothering me.”
Terpko said his days with the Chiefs were invaluable to him.
“We played against a team from Michigan that had Steve Garvey on it, and a team from New York with Joe Pepitone and his brother. There were some quality players, a lot like what you see these days with the high school showcases, but not nearly as organized.
“It was a big benefit to me, but I took my lumps,” said Terpko. “I was 15 playing against college kids, but it was a lot of fun.”
Terpko graduated from Sayre in May of 1968. Less than a month later, his life changed forever.
On the afternoon of June 5, Terpko was selected in the fifth round of the MLB Amateur Draft, with the 92nd overall selection, by the Washington Senators.
Terpko was selected one pick ahead of Wayne Garland, who won 55 games in the Big Leagues, and seven picks behind Burt Hooton, while won 151 games in the Majors.
The Mets selected Tim Foli with the first pick that June. He played 1,696 career games over parts of 16 season, and ended his career with a .251 batting average and 25 home runs.
The A’s selected Pete Broberg with the second pick. He finished his eight-year big league career with a 41-71 record and a 4.56 ERA.
The Astros selected Martin Cott with the third pick, and he never made it to the Majors.
Other notable selections in the first round in 1968 were Thurman Munson (4th pick to the Yankees), Bobby Valentine (5th pick to the Dodgers), Greg Luzinski (11th pick to the Phillies), and Gary Matthews (17th pick to the Giants).
“When I got drafted, Jocko Collins, who was with the Washington Senators at the time, is the one who called me and told me the Senators were going to draft me with the next pick in the fifth round,” said Terpko. “Apparently, he kept his eye on me.
“Later, they had someone come to my parents’ house and I signed a contract for $9,000. That was big money, living on the East Side,” laughed Terpko. “I signed that big bonus and packed my bags.
“They told me I was going to Geneva (N.Y.) in the New York-Penn League,” he added. “The scout picked me up and dropped me off, and I had to figure out everything from there.”
Terpko said he had a tough time getting in a game at first.
“There were 25-man rosters in those days, but there were 40 kids on the team,” he said. “There were so many kids, there was no place to sit on the bench.
“Half the season went by and I hadn’t even pitched,” added Terpko. “One day, they told me to warm up and I got into a game. The rest is history.”
Terpko pitched in 13 games at Geneva, including 12 starts, and posted a 6-5 record with a 3.81 ERA. He threw five complete games, including a pair of shutouts, and struck out 103 batters in 78 innings.
The 1969 season would bring bigger and better things for Terpko.
“My big break really came the following spring, which was my first spring training,” explains Terpko.
“I walked into the clubhouse and saw my name on the AAA line-up and I thought it must be some kind of mistake,” he said. “Why they had me pitching in a AAA spring training game I had no idea.
“I asked the coach if it was a mistake, and he said, ‘no, they want to see you throw.’ So Jim Mason, a shortstop from Mobile, Ala., and I are both 18 and both in the AAA line-up.
“From there on it was history,” added Terpko. “I had a great spring and so did Jim (Mason). We both made the AAA team and went to Buffalo.”
Terpko pitched in 22 games at Buffalo, including 19 starts, and posted a 7-7 record with a 4.73 ERA for a last-place team.
Terpko now had his sights set on the Major Leagues, but “real life” would deal him a cruel blow after the 1969 season.
“I didn’t get to go home after the season,” said Terpko. “Vietnam was in full swing, and I got drafted into the service.”
Fortunately for Terpko, he was able to get into the National Guard, and stayed States-side in Corning.
His six-month active-duty hitch forced him to miss spring training, and also resulted in him being sent back to AA.
“It was a bad break,” said Terpko. “I had a good chance to go to the big league camp and possibly win a major league job.
“I missed spring training and when I was finished with active duty, the Rangers sent me to AA,” he added. “I didn’t have a very good year.”
In 1970, Terpko was 6-10 with a 4.45 ERA at Pittsfield. He started in 19 of the 22 games he appeared in, and struck out 78 batters in 97 innings.
After that, things began to spiral downward for Terpko in all aspects of his life. He was sent back to A ball at the end of the 1971 and spent all of 1972 in A ball.
“Things got a bit complicated after the 1970 season,” said Terpko. “My mother was diagnosed with cancer and that threw me for a loop.
“In 1971 and ’72, I was kind of aimless,” he noted. “In 1972 especially, I hit the skids and had some attitude problems. My mother was sick and I was back in A ball. I also had a manager that I didn’t get along with — we were like oil and water.
“We were playing the Carolina League in the championship game in ’72, and I had beaten the team we were playing all year long. All my teammates figured he was going to start me, but he didn’t,” explains Terpko. “I’m in the bullpen and it’s the seventh inning and we’re getting beat.
“Now, (the manager) is panicking and wants me to warm up,” he said. “I didn’t do it, I wasn’t going to pitch. I had a bad attitude at that point.
“After the game, he’s very cordial and says, ‘I’ll see you next year.” I said, ’no you won’t.’ I just needed a break.”
With that, Terpko walked away from his dream to play in the Major Leagues.
In Part IV: “Mother Knows Best.”