Find a League In Your Area
"The White Fox”
by David Krival
(This article appeared in the Summer 1993 issue of HardBall Magazine)
Bart Zeller and wife Barbara at MSBL World Series Banquet in 1992.
His players call him "Uncle Bart,” "Skip,” and "The White Fox.” He trains as hard as anyone in organized baseball and devotes countless hours to the Chicago North MSBL. He managed the 40+ American Division team at the 1991 MSBL World Series. He played eight seasons in the minor leagues and had a cup of coffee with St. Louis in 1970, his final season in pro ball. In the MSBL, Bart Zeller is having the time of his life.
Bart Zeller at bat against Omaha in the 1992 MSBL World Series.
Bart joined the Chicago North MSBL in 1988, the year Mike Pinto, its founder, affiliated the league with the new national organization. In 1991, when Pinto moved his business to the West Coast, Bart became Commissioner of the Chicago league. "Pinto told me, ‘I hope you know what you're getting into. It's like taking on a second full-time job,'” he recalls. "Well, it does take a lot of time and effort to manage a league, but I've never regretted it.”
Bart knows football: High School center in 1959
In high school, Zeller starred in three sports in the late fifties: football, baseball and synchronized swimming.* At Eastern Illinois University, Bart was an all-conference center in football (at 185 lbs.) and an NAIA All-American catcher in baseball. After graduation in 1963, he signed with the St. Louis organization for a $1,500 bonus. He was such a hot prospect that later that year, when Bart moved up from Brunswick in the Georgia-Florida League to Winnipeg in the Northern, St. Louis released Elrod Hendricks.
But a big-league career was not in the cards. For eight years, Bart says he was "…owned, lock, stock and barrel by the Cardinals. In those days, once a club signed you, they owned you. Many clubs expressed interest, but St. Louis kept me as an insurance policy.
Whatever his personal feelings, Bart was always an asset to the Cardinal organization. After sitting out 1967, Zeller went down the ladder to Lewiston, Idaho in the Rookie League in 1968 as a player-coach. At Spring Training in 1969, he came within an eyelash of making the big club, but they sent him down again, this time to Little Rock, where he had perhaps his best minor league season.
In 1970, luck smiled on Bart in the form of a minor injury to Joe Torre. He made the club as an extra catcher. "Fifty-two thousand in the stands on opening day and me in the pen, warming up Gibson. It was all worth it.” Bart caught one inning—the ninth—that season, but never batted. He was in the on-deck circle with one out, but the left fielder made a shoestring catch and doubled the runner off second. "It wasn't meant to be,” he says, without bitterness.
Bart says unabashedly that the MSBL changed his whole life. "It gives me a reason to stay in shape year-round. I feel great. I'm happy. My family is glad to see me doing something so healthy and satisfying.”
"Bart is deathly afraid that the day he hangs up his spikes, he'll lose his drive to stay so amazingly fit,” says teammate and friend Mike Wolf. "He's a motivating force to us all, playing at his age (52), after all those years in the minors, with such vigor and enthusiasm.”
"Zeller is an exceptional athlete,” echoes Jim Weisman. "It's not that he's a good 50-year-old ballplayer; he's a good ballplayer period. He is prepared physically and mentally to play the game of baseball,” says Weisman, who trains with Zeller in the off-season.
Along with close friends Weisman and Wolf, Frank DiMaria played on the 1991 40+ American Championship team. "Bart was the unquestioned leader,” states DiMaria. "No dissension. Everybody on that team contributed. It was the best sports experience in my life.”
Wolf agrees. "Bart whipped us into shape to win in Arizona. That team kept no individual stats. We ate right, got enough sleep. Everybody knew his role. We'll take some of the feelings from that Series to our graves.”
At the 1991 MSBL World Series, Bart managed the Chicago North Cubs, who won that year's 40-and-over championship.
Bart plays to win, but he is also dedicated to the principles of the MSBL. "The MSBL is supposed to be a lot of fun. When recruiting for our league, we measure a prospect's interest level first, then his skill level.”
"He devotes countless hours to the Chicago North MSBL,” says Wolf. "I marvel at his dedication to baseball and the MSBL. His primary concern is to ensure that all of us, regardless of age or ability, have a place to play.” To that end, the Chicago North MSBL hopes to launch a 40-and-over division soon.
Under Zeller's leadership, the league has become highly organized. "It's like a business. Committees, meetings, accounting procedures....Nor we're forming a not-for-profit corporation and a Board. It's more formal than I'd really like, but it's the way it has to be.”
"Bart has gotten a lot of good people involved in the administration of the league,” says Weisman. "We try to be proactive, and always to act in the best interest of our players.” The Chicago North MSBL paid $1,200 in 1993 for supplemental insurance when an injury during the 1992 season cost a player $7,000 in medical bills.
Bart lives in Deerfield, Illinois with Barbara, his second wife. Both Bart and Barbara are vice presidents of marking with their firms: Barbara for the Reliable Corporation, and Bart for Market, USA. Daughter Kathryn (28) is Training Director for Select Care in Detroit. Karen (25) is a supervisor with General Binding Corp., and Bart Jr. (23) just graduated from Gov. State U.
Bart's life is a full one, but there's nothing about it he would change. "Sometimes people ask me why I do this, why I play baseball at my age. I tell them: because I still can.”