The Times West Virginian

Mickey Furfari

August 27, 2013

FURFARI COLUMN- Popovich played 11 years in Major Leagues

MORGANTOWN — Paul Popovich, who excelled as an athlete in both baseball and basketball for two years at West Virginia University from 1958-60, played 11 years in the Major Leagues.

A native of Flemington, he has been a resident of North Brook, Ill., since retiring from professional baseball in August 1975.

Popovich will be inducted into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday, Sept. 14, when the Mountaineers play a football game against Georgia State at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium.

“I am very honored to have been selected,” Popovich said in a telephone interview. “It is something which gives me considerable pride.”

His fame dates back to his years at Flemington High, where he earned Class “B” All-State first team honors at least two years in both sports. In addition, Popovich was named the Mountain State’s High School Basketball Player of the Year in 1957.

His scoring average of 41.0 points per game may still stand as a state record.

Mike Fragale, WVU assistant athletic director for communications, and Popovich have been close friends for many years. Both grew up in that tiny town of Flemington.

Because of prevailing NCAA requirements, Popovich had to play a year on freshman teams in both basketball and baseball. He then lettered in each sport.

He was the leading scorer on Quintin Barnette’s freshman basketball club with 18 points per game. Fred Schaus coached him in 1959-60.

Steve Harrick coached Popovich in baseball both seasons. He batted .429 for his varsity year.

Asked how he liked his two years at WVU, he replied: “Oh, my goodness, I have a lot of really good memories about my time there. Playing both sports, I thought the university was a very good place for me.

“Morgantown and WVU will always be special places to me.”

Popovich signed a professional baseball contract with the Chicago Cubs for $40,000 in June 1960.

With a part of his signing bonus, Paul bought a house for his parents in Morgantown. His father was ill and that located him closer to the WVU hospital.

“I was happy I had the opportunity to help my parents,” Popovich said.

After about five years playing second base and shortstop in the minor leagues, Popovich played six years in two separate stints with the Cubs. In between, he spent about two seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers and finally a couple of years with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In all, he played 11 years in the Major Leagues. He retired in the fall of 1975 after the Pirates put him on waivers.

Probably his biggest highlight of his outstanding career came in being a major contributor to Hall of Famer Don Drysdale’s Major League records of pitching 58 2/3 scoreless innings for the Dodgers.

In speaking about that rare feat publicly, Drysdale mentioned only Popovich as a key contributor.

“I did come up with some big defensive plays during that stretch,” Popovich admitted. “An eyelash made the difference in one of the biggest third-outs.”

Paul and wife Susan have two grown sons and three grandchildren.

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Mickey Furfari
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