Coming from the relatively small town of Pittsburg in the 1960s, Bill Russell just played baseball to play baseball.

Coming from the relatively small town of Pittsburg in the 1960s, Bill Russell just played baseball to play baseball.
However, upon his graduation in 1966 from Pittsburg High School, Russell found himself thrust on the national stage when he was drafted from essentially playing American Legion baseball by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Twenty years later, Russell had earned a World Series ring, three All-Star selections and was the longest playing Dodger since their move to Los Angeles.
All that from a kid who just loved playing baseball in Pittsburg.
“It was a time to play baseball and we played baseball,” Russell said. “We even played baseball just in the neighborhood.”
His time playing baseball on 15th Street [Deramus Park] in Pittsburg as well as his playing American Legion baseball at JayCee Ballpark earned him a call, in 1966, from a pair of scouts with the Dodgers and draft pick that same year.
“I really didn’t know what to expect [after being drafted],” Russell said. “I was only 17 and they were talking about Spring Training in Florida and that really didn’t mean much to me at the time.”
But, off to Kansas City via train from Pittsburg went Russell. From there, he took his first ever airplane ride to Salt Lake City and a bus to Ogden, Utah.
“The scout knew [that it was his first airplane trip] and wanted to make sure that I was where I was supposed to be,” Russell said.
It was a trip that Russell did not even expect to be making. In fact, his plans were to play basketball at Pittsburg State for legendary head coach Bob Johnson.
But, when the Dodgers called, it was too much to resist.
“They just offered me more money than Bob did,” Russell joked.
That amount was $14,000 to sign, and at 17, that was a significant amount. In fact, in the mid-60s, it was a significant amount to just about anyone.
Russell spent three years in the Minor Leagues with stops in Dubuque, Iowa and Bakersfield, Calif. before getting his shot in 1969 as an outfielder with the Dodgers.
“They probably should have sent me down [to the minors],” Russell said about his first season in the Majors. “I really wasn’t ready, but who would turn that down?”
In 1970, Russell spent the first half of the season with AAA Spokane, Wash., before getting called up.
Then, in 1972, Russell went from being an outfielder to replacing Maury Wills at shortstop, after spending some time in Arizona at Instructional League to learn the position.
“There was no doubt that I struggled, but it was a learning process,” Russell said.
He played with the Dodgers until Oct. 1, 1986 — winning the 1981 World Series against the Yankees and being named to the All Star team three times (1973, 1976 and 1980) — tallying a grand total of 2,181 games.
“It’s luck,” Russell said. “I didn’t get hurt that much and I got to play a lot.”
After leaving the field, Russell spent time as a bench coach and manager for the Dodgers as well as bench coach for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2001.
Now, Russell gets to view the other side of the game as he works for Major League Baseball evaluating umpires at Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim games.
“You really get to see just how tough a job they have out there,” Russell said. “It is something you come to appreciate.”
After a long, storied career in baseball, Russell said that his only regret was not beating the rival Yankees in the 1977 and 1978 World Series’.
All of that for a kid who just loved to play baseball on the streets of Pittsburg as a kid.
“I had a good run and I have two World Series’ rings and it doesn’t get any better than that,” Russell said. “Who could know that it would turn out like that.”

Matthew Clark can be reached at or at 620-231-2600, Ext. 140. Follow Morning Sun sports at