Regardless of what happens with Auburn High School’s run in this year’s state playoffs, in which the Tigers have advanced to the Class 7A state semi-finals, in my eyes the AHS baseball program is a big winner this spring for honoring the program’s most successful baseball alumnus, pitcher Joe Beckwith.
In a very well done ceremony prior to a regular season game against Central High of Phenix City, the opponent Auburn is facing in the playoff semi-finals, Mayor Ron Anders was there to say good things about the former Major Leaguer and declare it “Joe Beckwith Day” for the city of Auburn.
The mayor listed some of the former Auburn University star’s accomplishments as a high school player, college player and a Major Leaguer pitcher as well as the civic good deeds Joe has done in his hometown over the years.
In addition to the ceremony, the pitcher will be remembered with a plaque at the AHS ball park recognizing the only Auburn High player to make the Major Leagues.
The pitcher, who is fighting a very tough battle vs. cancer, gave a short but impressive and moving speech. My baseball teammate from our teen-age years, Joe had to convince his doctor to let him leave the hospital to be there for what he said was the “biggest day of my life.”
He closed his remarks by mentioning that he is in a tough fight, but said he won’t give up and used a metaphor to describe his state of mind. Joe said he is going to give it everything he has like a pitcher trying to protect a one-run lead in the ninth inning.
In addition to playing for the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers (1981) and the World Series champion Kansas City Royals (1985), he is a member of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
He set Auburn University records for wins, innings pitched and strikeouts and still holds the Auburn University record for career earned run average (1.92). The same week he was honored by AHS he was recognized for his accomplishments in a pre-game ceremony at AU’s Plainsman Park where he was a key player on the 1976 College World Series team. The right-hander made his Major League debut in July of 1979.
It looked like his baseball playing days would end prematurely after suffering a detached retina in a freak injury avoiding a baseball hit at him while pitching in a spring training game in 1981, but after two surgeries to fix the problem he returned to the Dodgers to pitch in 1982 and was able to continue to play the game he loved into the 1986 season after returning to the Dodgers from Kansas City.
Joe is a wonderful example of having a great attitude and great work ethic. When he was a young player there is no way that I would have suspected he would become the city of Auburn’s first Major Leaguer, but he chased that dream, had a growth spurt in high school and developed a 90+ mph fastball, which was his ticket to The Show. Hopefully, another humble and hard-working Auburn High player like Joe will follow in his footsteps and become the second Major Leaguer from AHS.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter.