Catching up with former Phillies coach DeMars

Catching up with former Phillies coach DeMars

There is only one thing Billy DeMars loves more than baseball, and that is Katie -- his wife of 70 years. And that is no small statement, seeing how he has two World Series rings to his credit.

Billy (now 91) and Katie have lived on Island Estates (Clearwater, FL) since 1990. The celebrated their 70th Wedding Anniversary on June 7th. They were married in 1946. He was 21. She was two years older.

Phillies alumni

Billy DeMars was from Brooklyn. Like all kids his age he played baseball and stick ball in the streets of the city. He was on his high school baseball team.

He started playing professional baseball at the age of 17, after he graduated from high school. He was drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943. Then, after only two months of baseball he joined the Navy (November 1943).

Billy was shipped off to Jacksonville, FL, to the Naval Air Station. He was an aviation radioman. It was there that he met Katie, a machinist mate.

Billy and Katies started dating. Billy bought a 1936 Ford 'with a rumble seat' in the back for $150. When he double-dated, the other couple had to ride in the extra seat. "Dating back then was mostly riding around town and going to area restaurants. Eating the Navy chow was hard to do seven days a week."

After the war, Billy went back to baseball. He took Katie with him. They were married by a justice of the peace in Wadsworth, OH, in June of 1946.

Billy played first for the Philadelphia Athletics (1948), the Ashville Tourists, then the St. Louis Browns (1950-51) then the Toronto Maple Leafs (1952-1955).

In May of 1958 Billy began an 11-year managerial career with the Baltimore Orioles farm system. He managed in the Baltimore organization until 1968. Billy was an average hitter in the pros, never hitting even one home run. But he was known as a great hitting coach.

He began a 19-year coaching career in the majors with the Philadelphia Phillies (1969). He was a member of the Phillies for 13 seasons. They won the East Division in 1976, '77 and '78. They won the World Series in 1980.

Billy left the Phillies in 1981 and coached for the Montreal Expos (1982-84) and with the Cincinnati Reds (1985-87) when they won the World Series. He was a friend and key advisor to Pete Rose.

He coached with Cincinnati when Pete Rose was a 'player-coach'. He coached there when Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb's hitting record of 3052 hits. When Pete hit the tying hit, he gave the ball to Billy. Then when he broke the record later that same game game, he gave Billy the bat that hit the ball. They were that close. Rose once said, "DeMars was the best hitting coach in all of baseball."

"I was the third base coach when Pete broke Ty Cobb's record. It was a big deal. Everyone ran out on the field. I saw Pete cry. Pete was a really great guy!" Rose went on to set the all-time hits record at 4,256.

When Pete Rose resigned from the Cincinnati Reds, so did Billy. DeMars then returned to the Philadelphia Phillies as a roving minor league batting instructor during the '90s.

Billy DeMars first bought a house in north Clearwater Beach when he coached for the Phillies (in the '80s). Then in 1981, the owner of the Phillies sold the team-and everyone was fired. "I went to Montreal. We kept the house in North Beach."

In 1990, we bought a condo on Island Estates. "It is amazing how this little island has grown." Billy and Katie have lived on Island Estates for 26 years. They have been involved in the Civic Association and Katie says she used to be in the Woman's Club.

"This is such a nice place to live," adds Billy. "You have your own Publix, gas station, local bar and Island Way Grill. We love all the restaurants in the area, especially those on the beach. Our favorite restaurant has to be Bob Heilman's Beachcomber. We knew Bob Heilman Sr. He was a very nice guy. His daughter, Nancy, used to be the greeter at the front door."

"I met Jim Campbell, the General Manager of the Detroit Tigers there one night. I told him this was the best restaurant in Clearwater. He said it was the best restaurant in the United States."

Altogether, Billy has been in baseball 58 years; 13 years with the Phillies, 3 with Montreal, and 3 with Cincinnati.

"I loved baseball," says Katie today. "I went to almost all the games."

"I used to tell my players, 'playing baseball (and coaching) is an everyday job'," Billy added.

Billy bought a cake at Publix to celebrate their 70th Wedding Anniversary. It had a photo of him and Katie on the top. "That's better than any Championship ring," Billy added.