A friend who recently finished reading my book on the Nashua Dodgers was amused with an anecdote I had included about pitcher Billy Loes, an eccentric left-handed pitcher if ever there was one. Loes, a cocksure 18-year-old from Astoria, Queens, was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949 to a contract that included a $25,000 bonus — at the time, an obscene amount of money for anyone, let alone an arrogant, carefree teenager whose only skill was throwing a baseball.
Not long after his arrival in Nashua to pitch for the Class B New England League team, Loes decided to buy a car. He and several teammates walked downtown to a Pontiac dealership, where they were essentially regarded as nothing more than a nuisance until Loes whipped out a wad of cash in front of a giddy salesman. But as the keys were presented to him, Loes shrugged. “Don’t give me the keys. I don’t know how to drive.”
Loes eventually did begin to drive — without a license, of course. Teammates and fans recall him tearing through town, often with a car full of terrified passengers.
It was a classic story about Loes, who passed away nearly two years ago at the age of 80. But it was one of many.
While pitching for Brooklyn, Loes often hosted high-stakes card games with teammates at his home. One night the gathering was cancelled, which turned out to be a fortunate turn of events when a pair of shotgun-toting mobsters showed up anticipating an easy score. After holding Loes at gunpoint and ransacking his house — making off with his 1955 World Series ring, among other valuables — the thugs headed for the door, but not before getting an odd request.
“Do me a favor?” Loes asked. “Would you mind setting fire to the place on your way out so I can collect the insurance money?”
There seemingly was no end to Loes’ odd behavior. He claimed he was misquoted when reporters said he predicted the Yankees would beat his own Dodgers in six games in the 1952 World Series. “I never said that,” he professed. “What I said was they’d beat us in seven games.” They did.
He also claimed to have lost a ground ball in the sun during Game 2 of that World Series. He said he wouldn’t hesitate to give up his $16,000 yearly salary to work a 9-to-5 job in a grocery story for $75 a week.
And in 1962, when Loes was in the twilight of his career, he was approached by the general manager of the brand new New York Mets, surely sensing an opportunity to cash in on the left arm of a hometown hero. Loes, in his own unique way, let it be known that he was not interested and planned to stay retired.
“There’s no way I’m gonna play for your garbage can team.” he told GM George Weiss.
The Mets, of course, won only 40 of 161 games in their inaugural season.
No one ever said Loes wasn’t smart.