Former Kansas City Royals pitching coach Johnny Cumberland is pictured with the team’s former manager Tony Pena. Courtesy photo

WESTBROOK — A rookie southpaw from Westbrook stood up to a baseball manager in a locker room at spring training 53 years ago and ended up with a free steak dinner and a team assignment.

That experience and others are featured in former Major League pitcher Johnny Cumberland’s new book, “The Four C’s,” about his 38-year career in professional baseball as a player and coach.

Cumberland’s baseball card when he pitched for the San Francisco Giants.

The book was written with retired Westbrook High School teacher, historian and baseball coach Paul St. Cyr. St. Cyr will speak about Cumberland and the book from 6-7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19, at Walker Memorial Library.

In a telephone interview from his home in Florida, Cumberland identified the four “C’s” as confidence, concentration, command and control.

Cumberland, now 72, pitched in the majors for the New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants, facing hitters Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Johnny Bench and Pete Rose.

More than just a book about baseball, “The Four C’s”  describes Cumberland’s personal successes, disappointments and grief. “It’s also about life,” Cumberland said. “If I can help one person, it makes my day.”

Cumberland grew up on Arlington Avenue in Westbrook, a son of Ken and Elsie Cumberland, and attended Saccarappa School.  He was a Little League All-Star with his hometown buddy, Ricky Swan.  Swan was the city’s best athlete, Cumberland said. Both signed professional baseball contracts and they have remained friends.

Cumberland graduated Westbrook High School in 1965, and also pitched for the city’s American Legion Post 62 team, which won a state championship. His legion mentor was Luther Small.

“He could put his arm around you or kick you in the ass,” Cumberland said.

At 18, Cumberland signed a contract with the St. Louis Cardinals and went to spring training in 1966 with the Cardinals’  instructional league. That’s where he had the run-in with a manager destined for World Series fame, the late Sparky Anderson. After ejecting Cumberland from the dugout, he stuck a finger in Cumberland’s chest. Cumberland warned Anderson not to put his hand on him again.

Cumberland, expecting to be shipped home, packed and left the clubhouse. But that night to his surprise, Anderson’s wife invited him over for a steak dinner and Anderson wound up assigning Cumberland to a farm team.

At 21, he was pitching for the Yankees and manager Ralph Houk. He was a teammate of Mickey Mantle. Later, traded to the San Francisco Giants, Cumberland played with Willie Mays.

A Westbrook pal, Paul Belanger, told the American Journal that Cumberland’s parents would often go to the Belangers’ home to listen to games on the radio when their son was pitching. Belanger, the best man at Cumberland’s wedding, said he now regrets that he never saw Cumberland pitch professionally.

Stories in the book illustrate hurling the four C’s when facing life’s struggles.

When pitching for the Giants against the Cincinnati Reds, Rose hit an eighth-inning homer, spoiling Cumberland’s bid for a no-hitter. There were other disappointments, such as when he was sent down to the minors.

He got through that, he says in the book, by remembering his mantra: “It’s never going to be easy. It’s what you put into it.”

After his playing days, he found success in business but struggled after his father’s suicide in 1976.

He writes in the book: “It devastated me for several years. I lost my desire to succeed. That had never happened to me in my life and I let the business go downhill for quite some time.”

Again, his mantra came to his rescue and that along with support from his wife and three sons helped him heal and get back on track.

In 1982, Cumberland returned to baseball as a pitching coach for several minor and big league teams.

“I coached the best that ever played the game,” he said.

He had a hitch coaching the Boston Red Sox pitching staff that included Roger Clemens and was later sent to the Red Sox Triple A team as a scout and pitching coach. He returned to Fenway Park as Red Sox bullpen coach under a new manager, Jimy Williams. Pedro Martinez was the pitching headliner.

Cumberland cultivated 18 tomato plants in the Sox bullpen. He recalled returning to Boston at 3 a.m. from a road trip. He and Williams would water the tomatoes, talk baseball and chat about their families. The tomatoes became a hit around the league and players from visiting teams would check out Cumberland’s garden.

He retired from the game in 2005 but he still receives about 100 requests a month for autographs, including a recent one from Japan.

“I’ve never refused an autograph to anybody. It’s a pleasurable chore,” Cumberland said.

Today, he and his wife of 50 years, Patricia, are living in the Tampa, Florida, area. He’s caring for his wife, who he said is ill.

The book is dedicated to the Cumberland family and baseball fans. “I don’t care if I make a dime,” Cumberland said about book sales. “I’m not doing this for money.”

St. Cyr, who now lives in Sebago, will have books available for $15 at the reading next week at the library, 800 Main St.

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