Le Roy Pfund
Legendary and beloved coach at Wheaton College
From the Wheaton College Athletic Department: Wheaton College Remembers Former Coach and Administrator Le Roy (Lee) Pfund ’49 (1919-2016
Former Wheaton College coach, professor and administrator Le Roy (Lee) Pfund '49 died Thursday, June 2. He was 96. He served as professor of physical education, baseball coach, men's basketball coach and executive director of the Alumni Association in nearly 39 years of service at Wheaton College.
Prior to his time at Wheaton, Pfund spent eight seasons in Major League Baseball and made his major league debut as a pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 21, 1945. In his time in the Dodgers' organization his teammates included Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese. He appeared in 15 games for the Dodgers in 1945 however his major league career was cut short due to a knee injury.
Pfund earned his bachelor's degree from Wheaton in 1949 and later attained a Master of Arts degree from Northwestern University. He began his coaching career at Wheaton in 1949.
"As Wheaton's head basketball and baseball coach, Lee Pfund is a revered figure from my childhood," says Wheaton College President Dr. Philip Graham Ryken '88. "When my father and I ducked into the gymnasium to watch a few minutes of basketball practice, or when I walked over to Lawson Field to watch a baseball game, Coach Pfund was always there: teaching, encouraging, strategizing, and occasionally arguing with the umpires and referees. His exceptional spirit of competition and sportsmanship produced generations of Christian leaders. We will miss his presence courtside and on the sidelines immensely."
Pfund is the winningest coach in Wheaton history for both men's basketball and baseball. He won 362 games on the basketball court and guided the Crusaders to 249 victories on the diamond.
He served as head men's basketball coach from 1951-75, guiding Wheaton to the first-ever NCAA College Division Men's Basketball Championship in 1957 as his squad garnered a 28-1 record. Overall, he mentored the Crusaders to five College Conference of Illinois (CCI) championships; and from 1955-59 his teams won a conference record 58 consecutive CCI contests.
"Coach Pfund is the Wheaton men's basketball program," states current men's basketball coach Mike Schauer. "I have always said that the challenge of following in coach Pfund's footsteps has never been about trying to win as many games as he did, but to influence has many lives as he has. The number of men I meet who have been impacted in one way or another by their relationship with Coach Pfund is almost impossible to calculate - it is virtually every person that has come through this program in some way, shape or form."
Pfund led Wheaton's baseball program from 1948-59 and 1961-74. His 1951 team is the only Wheaton baseball team in school history to win a CCI or CCIW championship.
"Coach was always interested in how things were going in the baseball program and how the team was doing and was always encouraging," current Wheaton baseball coach Matt Husted says. "We would talk a lot about our personal lives, our families, his life in professional baseball and many other topics." He adds, "Coach is so revered by his former players. They look at him as more than a coach, almost like a second father. I have been amazed by people that only played one season for him, or maybe didn't even play for him, but they would share in how he would care for them and take an interest in them." Husted concludes, "His relationship with God was in his fabric and is who he was. It was a part of everything he did."
Pfund served 12 years as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Alumni Association until his retirement in 1987.
"Lee Pfund was one of the great old school alumni directors — beloved coach, networker extraordinaire, Wheaton's chief cheerleader," recalls Cindra Stackhouse Taetzsch '82, Executive Director of the Wheaton College Alumni Association. "When I began in this role in 2006, Lee shared these simple words, 'Cindra, alumni don't care what you know until they know that you care.' Alumni from many decades loved and admired Lee, in great part because they knew he cared."
In 1977, Pfund received the Distinguished Service to Alma Mater award from the Wheaton College Alumni Association. In 1985 he was inducted into the Wheaton Athletics Department's Hall of Honor.
Through the years, Wheaton Athletics facilities and events have been named in honor of Coach Pfund as a reminder of his service to the College and its students.
- The Wheaton men's basketball program has hosted the Lee Pfund Classic basketball tournament every year since 1996 in the opening weeks of each season.
- In 2000 Pfund Gymnasium opened as a practice and recreation space in the Sports and Recreation Complex on the Wheaton campus.
- In April 2012, Lee Pfund Stadium debuted in Carol Stream, and is the home of the Wheaton baseball program – complete with lights, new dugouts, a new backstop and artificial turf.
- On April 30, 2016, Coach Pfund's jersey number 17 - the number he wore as skipper of the baseball team at Wheaton was retired.
Pfund was preceded in death by his beloved wife Mabel (Mibs). His survivors include his three sons: John Pfund '65, Kerry '71 (Carol '73), and Randy '74.
From the Chicago Tribune: Lee Pfund, longtime coach at Wheaton College, dies at 96
Lee Pfund pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers for one season during World War II before going on to coach baseball and basketball for decades at Wheaton College.
The west suburban native led Wheaton's men's basketball program to 362 victories, five conference championships, four straight seasons without a league loss and one national title. And during his time as Wheaton's head baseball coach, he rallied the team to win 249 games and its only conference title.
"Lee attracted good players that played well together with an up-tempo style," said former Wheaton College head men's basketball coach Dick Helm, who also played for Pfund as a student at Wheaton. "I think that made him effective."
From the Daily Herald: Legendary Wheaton College coach remembered for sportsmanship, faith
A longtime member of the College Church in Wheaton, Pfund was also a man of great faith, Wheaton College baseball coach Matt Husted said in a statement.
"His relationship with God was in his fabric and is who he is," he said. "It was a part of everything he did."
WHAT HE LEARNED FROM JACKIE ROBINSON
From social media:
Rick Havens, '69:
Richard Concklin, '64:
John (Jack) Troy, '68
Marilyn Wright Ziemer, '58:
John K. DeVries, '66:
"1939 - 1941 -- Signed by the St. Louis Cardinal and sent to the Columbus, Ohio and Mobile, Alabama farm teams. Played in the minor leagues for three seasons while teaching junior high and coaching during the off season.
1941 -- Broke into professional baseball in the Georgia/Florida League
1942-1943 -- During off season taught math at Longfellow Junior High School and coached grade school baseball teams
On November 1, 1944 he was drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers from the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1944 rule 5 draft, and played for the Dodgers in 1945.
Pfund made his debut against the New York Giants. Playing for Leo Durocher he had a very successful first season. While with the Dodgers, Lee chose not to play on Sundays, citing religious convictions. As a pitcher, it was easy for the team to adjust the rotation to comply with this request.
1945 Rather than play in Baseball All-Star game, Lee played in a Red Cross charity game.
Pfund compiled a 3-2 record with 2 complete games in 10 starts over 621/3 innings pitched. Returning to the minors in 1946, the right-hander never returned to the big leagues and his pro career ended in 1950. A knee injury ended his career."
Lewiston Daily Sun, July 11, 1945 (about his injury)
From the book Brooklyn Dodgers in Cuba:
There were some less rowdy ballplayers around, fortunately. Le Roy Pfund had a stipulation in his contract (handwritten by Branch Rickey) about his Christian beliefs. "Not playing on Sundays was a conviction I had," he says, "since I became a Christian at an early age."
Lee’s father took him to the first All-Star Game, played at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in 1933, and Lee was hooked on baseball. He played baseball at the University of Illinois for a couple of years before breaking into professional baseball in 1941 with the Albany (Georgia) Cardinals, a St. Louis affiliate in the Class-D GeorgiaFlorida League.
A stipulation in the deeply religious Pfund’s contract allowed him not to play on Sundays. On the other six days he pitched 157 innings in 27 games and finished with a 10-10 record, 186 hits given up, and a 5.16 ERA.
He and Mabel Lillian “Mibs” Tillman were married in August in a double wedding with Mabel’s sister. (Pfund’s manager, Joe Cusick, adjusted the pitching rotation so Pfund had a week off.)
Pfund spent spring training with Albany in 1942 and did well. He would have played in Albany that season, but his wife was pregnant and the doctor warned that the pregnancy would be a difficult one, so Pfund asked to play closer to home. Branch Rickey, the Cardinals’ general manager, told Pfund: “We have several teams that want you as a result of your spring training. Where do you want to play?” Pfund chose the Decatur (Illinois) Commodores of the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa (Three-I) League. Pfund pitched in 28 games for Decatur, winning 6 and losing 10. He lowered his ERA to 4.86 and gave up 176 hits in 163 innings, but walked more batters than he struck out.
Pfund stayed out of professional baseball for the entire 1943 season. His wife was expecting again and her health during her pregnancy delayed his draft examination until late summer, when he was rejected for military service because of a floating bone chip in his left knee. He played with a semipro club in Alton, Illinois. That fall, Pfund accepted a teaching position in a school in Wheaton, Illinois, where he and his wife eventually settled.5 (Mabel died in 2006 at the age of 88.)
In 1944 Pfund went to spring training with the Columbus Red Birds of the American Association. Weak from a cold, he was hit hard in his first outing. His next appearance was against the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, a team managed by Mickey Cochrane and consisting of top major leaguers, including Johnny Mize, Bob Feller, Ken Keltner, Dick Wakefield, Schoolboy Rowe, Virgil Trucks, and Billy Herman. Pfund entered the game as a reliever and after retiring the first man he faced on a fly ball he stuck out Billy Herman with a side-arm curveball, his “out” pitch. He wouldn’t throw it until he had two strikes on a batter. Pfund earned a start from this performance and pitched five innings against the Kansas City Royals. He drove in all of the Red Birds runs with a double and a triple to earn the win.6
Pfund was 4-4 in 19 games with Columbus before being sent to the Mobile Bears of the Southern Association in August. Mentored by former journeyman catcher Bill “Buddy” Lewis, who told him, “I’ll send you to the big leagues,”7 Pfund pitched in 10 games for Mobile and finished with a 6-2 record and a 3.06 ERA.
In the fall of 1944 Branch Rickey came into Pfund’s life again. Rickey had become president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers in November of 1942. Pfund was subject to the minor-league draft, and the Dodgers, impressed with his performance in Mobile, the Dodgers drafted him.8
Pfund made the pitching-poor Dodgers’ squad in 1945. Rickey intended for him to be a starter.9 In his first game as a Dodger, on April 21 against the New York Giants, Pfund relieved starter Ben Chapman in the seventh inning. He hit the first batter he faced, Steve Filipowicz, who then was erased in a double play. Pfund finished the game, giving up no hits and no runs in two innings pitched.10 On April 27 he pitched in relief against the Giants again, giving up a run and two hits in two innings.
On May 14 manager Leo Durocher gave Pfund his first start, against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Ebbets Field.11 The Pirates scored a run in the third to take the lead, but the Dodgers tied it in the fourth and took the lead for good with two runs in the seventh. With two out in the eighth inning, Pfund walked two Pirates on eight pitches. Manager Durocher visited the mound but then left Pfund in the game and he retired the next batter. Pfund completed the game and the Dodgers won 4-1, his first majorleague win.
In his next start, four days later against the Chicago Cubs, Pfund was knocked out in the second inning. He was saved from picking up the loss by Brooklyn coming back to win, 15-12. On May 26 Pfund pitched a complete-game victory over the Cardinals.
Shortly after, Pfund mentioned to Branch Rickey that he was having trouble making ends meet. A few days later his regular paycheck was accompanied by a $700 bonus check, enough to get him through to the end of the season.12
As the season went on, Pfund pitched either really well or really poorly. After giving up five runs to the Cubs in four innings on June 28 and four runs to the Pirates on the 30th, he was sent to the bullpen.
Because of travel restrictions the major leagues did not hold an All-Star Game in 1945. Instead, there were benefit games against, typically, a geographical matchup. The Cubs played the White Sox, the two Boston teams played each other, as did the two Philadelphia teams. The Dodgers played the Senators in Washington.13 Pfund was going to start that game, but before the game a downpour soaked the field. The game began anyway. In the second inning, Washington’s Jose Zardon topped a sinker and the swinging bunt died on the wet turf as it rolled towards third. Pfund ran over to the ball and bent to pick it up. He twisted his knee and it swelled up like a football. He might have been able to return later in the season, but Rickey ordered him sidelined for the rest of the season; he didn’t want Pfund to come back too soon and risk reinjuring the knee.14 Pfund finished his only major-league season with a 3-2 record and a 5.20 ERA.
Pfund began the 1946 season in Mobile. He pitched better than he had with the Dodgers in ’45, but poor hitting support cost him some victories. Late in the season a Dodger scout came to see Pfund pitch and told him that wanted to bring him up, but bring him up on a win. Pfund tried extra hard that night, ended up hurting his shoulder, and missed the next three weeks. He finished the year with 7 victories and 16 defeats, and after the season the Dodgers sold his contract to their Montreal farm team.15
Pfund went to spring training in Havana with Brooklyn in 1947. He and Jackie Robinson were close and talked often about faith and the Bible.16
Pfund split the 1947 season between Montreal (1-0) and St. Paul (5-7). He fought pain in his shoulder and knee the entire season. After two more seasons in the Dodgers farm system, he retired as a player in 1950.
Legion Statium was renamed Pfund Stadium in 2012