Paul Pettit came to professional baseball at a time when teams who signed players to bonuses over $4,000 were required to keep that player on the active roster for the next two years or forfeit the player. This rule was in place in some form from 1947 until 1965, when it was finally abolished in part to make room for the amateur draft.
Out of high school, Pettit, a left-handed pitcher was such a phenom that he was signed to an 85,000 contract by movie producer Frederick Stephani who wanted to make a movie about Pettit’s rise to the Major Leagues. Pettit was viewed as a can’t-miss prospect, throwing six no-hitters as an amateur, including three in a row at one point. Stephani hoped to get into making sports films and wanted to do one on a baseball star, but did not have the resources to attract an established player. He decided that a prospect would be his next best option and settled on Pettit, regarded as the premiere high school player at the time.
Stephani later sold Pettit’s contract to the Pittsburgh Pirates for $100,000 (but keeping move rights to Pettit), making him the first six-figure “Bonus Baby.” Pettit experienced arm problems early in his career and ended up with a 1-2 career record with a 7.34 ERA in 12 games with the Pirates, played in 1951 and 1953. He also won 31 games in the minor leagues, including 15 with Hollywood in 1953, but by 1954 his injured arm prevented him from pitching full time again. He turned to playing first base and outfield, reaching moderate success in the minor leagues with a .272 career average. He even had a milestone season in 1957 by batting .284 with 20 home runs and 102 RBI with Hollywood. Unfortunately he never reached the Major Leagues again and by 1962 retired from playing.
Recently, Mr. Pettit took the time to answer some questions I posed to him about his time in the game and his influences…
Who was your favorite player growing up?: Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Stan Musial.
What was it like being the big “Bonus Baby” in baseball to start your career?: Put a lot of pressure on me. I wish I could have started like others, with little fanfare. It would have changed my approach completely.
What veterans took you under their wing when you first played in the Major Leagues?: Murray Dickson and Howie Pollet.
What was your favorite city to play in as a visiting player?: In San Francisco- I had a lot of success there.
Who was the toughest hitter you ever faced?: Ted Kluszewski.
What was your favorite moment as a player?: When I drove in RBIs and went 4 for 5 with 2 home runs against Seattle in the Pacific Coast League in 1957.
Who was your favorite coach or manager?: George Genovese was my best supporter and with whom I had my best years and also won a pennant with.
What was Honus Wagner like as a coach?: He was strictly an “honorary coach” and just sat on the bench in his street clothes and didn’t say much.
Did playing in Hollywood give you much exposure to the movie world?: No; other than seeing the likes of Ron Reagan, Burt Lancaster, George Raft, Michael O’Shea, Virginia Mayo, Jane Wyman, and others- attending the games.
What is your favorite hobby?: Playing golf, reading, and family.