By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Norm Sherry, who served as a coach with the Montreal Expos from November 1977 through the 1981 season, passed away on Monday at the age of 89.
His family confirmed his death on Wednesday. His son, Mike, told the Associated Press that Sherry died of natural causes at an assisted living facility in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
A former big league catcher, Sherry was hired by Expos manager Dick Williams on November 27, 1977 and assigned to work with Gary Carter to refine the then top prospect’s defensive skills.
“With Montreal, (manager Dick Williams) and general manager Charlie Fox called me and said, ‘We want you to come up here and be a coach. We’ve got this kid, and now he’s playing the outfield and catching some, but we want to make him just a catcher: Gary Carter.'” Sherry told the Jewish Baseball Museum in a Q&A in 2016. “That was my job. In spring training I was with Gary Carter all the time. I would tell him: ‘No, you don’t want your glove like that; you want it this way . . . No, move your feet.’ He must’ve gotten tired of me.”
Carter, who evolved into one of the greatest defensive catchers in major league history, did not. In fact, he was so grateful to Sherry that he thanked him in his Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech in 2001.
Born in New York City in 1931, Sherry was raised in Los Angeles and attended Fairfax High School. He turned down a full baseball scholarship to the University of Southern California to sign with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950.
He’d toil in the Dodgers’ organization for eight seasons before getting his first call up in 1959, joining his younger brother, Larry, a right-handed pitcher, in the big leagues. In a back-up role to John Roseboro in 1960, Sherry enjoyed his finest major league season, batting .283 with eight home runs in 47 games.
But Sherry is best known for the pep talk he delivered to a young and wild Sandy Koufax in a spring training game against the Minnesota Twins in 1961. Frustrated that Koufax, who had an electric arm, had walked three Twins batters, Sherry walked to the mound and told the future legend not to throw so hard and to focus on control. Koufax later credited that mini-sermon from Sherry as a turning point in his career.
Sherry would suit up for parts of two more seasons with the Dodgers, before finishing his big league career with 63 games with the New York Mets in 1963.
After hanging up his playing spikes, he embarked on a long coaching and managerial career. Over the next decade, he’d coach, manage and scout in the Dodgers, Yankees and Angels organizations before he was promoted to serve as the Angels’ third base coach on manager Dick Williams’ big league staff in 1976.
When Williams was fired that July, Sherry took over as manager and led the club to a 37-29 record and an eventual fourth-place finish. He returned as skipper in 1977 and he guided the club to a 39-42 record in the first half before he was fired.
By the fall of 1977, Williams had a season as Expos’ manager under his belt and, as noted earlier, he hired Sherry as a coach that November.
“Sherry will run the bullpen. He will spend a lot of time with Gary Carter, getting Carter’s catching mechanics going in the right direction,” Williams told the Montreal Gazette at the time. “We needed a catching coach in the worst way and Norm is a highly respected baseball man.”
And Sherry made an immediate impact on his catching charges. At spring training in 1978, veteran Jose Morales, who was a catcher in 10 minor league seasons but had been used primarily as a pinch hitter and first baseman with the Expos, felt optimistic that, with Sherry’s help, he might be able to earn more playing time behind the dish.
“I have never had any instruction about catching my whole career,” Morales told the Montreal Gazette that March. “This season we have Norm Sherry and he’s great at showing you things. I wish I had someone like him a few years ago.”
Sherry, who was initially pencilled in to be the bullpen coach, was switched to third base coach prior to the beginning of the season, but he continued to work with Carter and the club’s other catchers. And Carter improved significantly behind the dish in 1978.
Following that season, Sherry underwent open heart surgery and the Expos weren’t sure if he’d be healthy enough to return, but the resilient baseball lifer was back with the club in the spring and he began the season as the club’s bullpen/catching coach.
His work with Carter was starting to draw praise from managers of other big league clubs.
“Norm Sherry has done an outstanding job with Carter,” Padres manager Roger Craig told the Montreal Gazette for their May 9, 1979 edition. “Carter just may be the best all-around catcher in the league.”
Sherry’s stellar work with Carter also didn’t go unnoticed by his own manager.
“Gary’s big success – of course he has to actually do it himself – is mainly because of Norm Sherry,” Williams told the Montreal Gazette in August 1979. “That’s why he’s so far advanced this quickly. Sherry has done an outstanding job with him. He’s one of the best catching instructors in baseball.”
Sherry, who roomed with Williams in Montreal, continued to work with Carter and the club’s catchers over the next two seasons.
The veteran coach had a health scare in spring training in 1981 when he suffered a heart attack, but he eventually recovered and returned to the Expos.
Given his friendship with Williams, it was understandable that Sherry was unhappy when Williams was fired on September 7, 1981. And few were surprised when after Williams landed the San Diego Padres’ managerial job that fall, that he hired Sherry as his pitching and bullpen coach.
Williams and Sherry worked together with the Padres for three seasons and helped lead the club to their first National League pennant and World Series appearance in 1984.
Sherry was later employed as the pitching coach of the San Francisco Giants for six seasons, including on the franchise’s 1989 pennant-winning club.
In retirement, Sherry returned to the San Diego area and sometimes attended Padres games. He was present for the 30th anniversary celebration of the 1984 team at Petco Park in 2014.
Sherry is survived by his son, Mike and daughters Cyndi and Pam. He was predeceased by his second wife Linda.