MSBL Pioneer: Bart Zeller, from St. Louis Cardinals to Chicago TSP Fire, and Beyond
By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications
81-year-old Bart Zeller is an ex-professional catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals and has also taken his far-ranging teaching abilities to the Independent League circuit to show the younger generation how to ‘do it right.’ Just as importantly, Bart became an MSBL member and elder statesman in the Chicago North MSBL back in 1988. His career has since expanded to include being one of Steve Sigler’s early MSBL Board members, being inducted into the MSBL National Hall of Fame in 1997, and also becoming a member of the MSBL World Series Hall of Fame in 2001.
“I was living in Deerfield, Illinois in 1988 and heard about some guys playing baseball and also heard about a tryout in April,” explained Zeller. “It was a cold and nasty day and it was snowing. I’m standing in the outfield mumbling to myself ‘what the hell am I doing after spending ten years in professional baseball?’ But then something came over me; I was having fun!”
Bart was indeed drafted in Chicago by then-league president Mike Pinto and their relationship has remained solid after all these years. Mike now manages independent league baseball teams throughout the Midwest and frequently calls Bart and asks for his on-field assistance. Their partnership has taken them to Sioux Falls and the Canaries, Central Illinois for the Miners, and even a stint in Wisconsin to assist with the Milkmen.
Bart now lives full-time in Arizona and just this year decided to call it quits in the Arizona MSBL. Bart’s impressive resume also includes an amazing track record at the MSBL World Series, where he is also contemplating ending that part of his life after this year, though not quite official. There is always something Bart can do to help a ball club that is seeking guidance.
“I get calls to help with teams and maybe I can do that from the dugout. But I have hit that time in my life when things don’t quite move as quickly or as accurately as they should. The white lines don’t lie. I take my hat off to age and move over. Age always wins. At this stage of my life and career, I don’t want to take anybody’s bat away from them. I don’t want to get in their way. I want to see the other guys succeed. That’s where my satisfaction comes from now.”
Bart will be a part of the Chicago TSP Fire in the 70s division of this year’s World Series, as well as the Grays in the 73-over division. He may or may not get many at-bats, or even desire them, but he is still in the game. Bart’s voice from the dugout is certainly recognizable, as is his prowling back and forth, something I am personally fortunate enough to have experienced as a member of Bart’s teams for many years. Speaking of World Series experience, with apologies to Harry, Holy Cow!
“My first year in Arizona and the World Series was in 1990 and we lost in the semi-finals. I only played and didn’t manage but we vowed that we were going to win it the following year. In 1991 we went back as the Chicago North Cubs and I took over. We won it and then again in 1993.”
I won’t get specific on teams, but here is a listing of the years of Bart’s World Series championship teams: 1991, 1993, 2001, 2003 (2), 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2020 (2).
‘A lot of people have won more than I have,” said the humble Zeller.
Bart’s association with MSBL Founder and President Steve Sigler throughout the years has been very special to Bart and he is hopeful that it has helped create some impactful inner workings within MSBL.
“We used to have board meetings in different cities early on, typically for two or three days. Steve put out his master plan and we would discuss it. We had attorneys, accountants, baseball minds, and business people. This wasn’t simply a bunch of guys sitting around talking baseball. His vision was so great and he kept talking about expansion and finding qualified people to run it on a professional level.
I was involved from 2000 to possibly 2008. We had maybe 10 or 12 guys typically. Steve preached that we always make sure we are giving something back to the players. Be sure to play on good facilities, have them experience a sort of fantasy camp atmosphere, and always make sure it is first class. Steve Sigler is why we are still at it 35 years later.”
I asked Bart what some of the craziest things he has witnessed throughout his World Series years, of which he has only missed two, by the way.
“This is sort of funny but wasn’t too funny at the time. Val Lewis and Steve first initiated the Father/Son division for the World Series, so we put a team together. The mission statement for Father/Son was to promote players and their families playing together, having fun, and exhibiting true sportsmanship while enjoying the game we love as one big family.
So, we were playing a Sacramento team and a hard slide was involved and both benches cleared! I had to laugh. But it goes to prove that baseball is a very emotional game and you just react, especially with all of the different ages involved in the Father/Son concept.”
While playing in the MSBL for over 30 years, what is your biggest takeaway?
“To me, the biggest positive from MSBL for me and my life, and my wife, is the camaraderie and friendships that have been developed. We’ve played in Puerto Rico with the Siglers, for example, and feel lucky to have been a part of it. Today that friendship still exists.
Some of my ex-professional friends, such as Rich Nye, Jose Cardenal, and Ken Rudolph, have played alongside me in many MSBL tournaments. The best pitcher I have ever seen in clutch situations is Sandy Weissent from the Chicago teams. He was a real pro and nothing rattled him. All these guys helped teach the other ones how to play the game right, which is something I have preached every since finding anyone to listen.”
What will you miss when you decide to call it a day?
“The competetiveness of it is what I’ll be missing. I always take pride in asking the guys to play the game the right way. Bunt, hit and run, know your part in the game. That’s the part I will miss. Teaching the game properly so that it can progress in the right direction.”
Is there a fondest memory?
“Winning that first ring in 1991. We had never won and we were really focused on winning. Seeing the joy of the players was something I truly loved. It was a total team victory.
My biggest regret, however, was putting gas into a radiator while working as a gas station attendant during the off-season when I was only making $1,100 a month!”
Editor’s note: For more information about Bart, HERE is a link from the website ‘Catcher’s Home’ and an interview with Bart from May of this year.