UPSTATE N.Y. SPORTS LORE: Brian Mee … Great players make great coaches
In the 1950s, one of the most prolific athletes to come out of Johnstown High School was Brian Mee. As an academic and 3-sport athletic standout (football-basketball-baseball), Mee was the MVP of their 1954 football team. From the quarterback position, he led Johnstown to two Eastern Conference Championships and an undefeated season (8-0-0) in 1954, with 14 touchdowns (7 running and 7 passing).
While he was great at every sport he participated in, he really shined on the baseball diamond. He was so proficient at baseball that local semi-pro teams recruited him to play for them on the weekends.
According to Mee, “playing semi-pro as a high schooler was forbidden and I would often get a talking to by Coach (John) Siedlecki on Monday mornings at school. He was constantly reminding me that I was in violation of the amateur rules after participating in weekend games. But I loved the game so much, that I could not resist suiting up whenever I was asked.”
After graduating from Johnstown High School at the age of 16 in the spring of 1955, Mee was recruited to play for the Division III Ithaca College Bombers baseball program and study to become a teacher. During summer breaks, Mee returned to Johnstown to play for Hank Cerrone who managed the local Fulton County Glovers semi-professional team. For three consecutive years (1955-57) Mee and the Glovers won the New York State Championships of non-professional baseball and would go on to compete in the National Tournament in Wichita Kansas. The New York State Championships and Nationals were well attended by Major League scouts, who collectively voted Mee to the 1957 New York State All-Star Team.
After four-years at Ithaca College and graduating with a teaching degree, Mee was drafted by the Chicago Cubs as a catcher in the spring of 1960. He opted to put his teaching career on hold and signed a professional contract with the Cubs just days after graduating from college.
His first assignment was to report to the Cubs Class C affiliate St. Cloud Rox in St. Cloud Minnesota. This Rox participated in the Northern League, which required long bus rides to play teams across Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and Winnipeg Manitoba Canada. That season he got to test his skills against many future Major League greats who at the time were also rookies trying to make a name for themselves in professional baseball. These future greats included Willie Stargell (Pittsburgh Pirates Grand Forks Chiefs/Grand Forks WI), Joe Torre (Milwaukee Brewers Eau Clair Braves/Eau Clair WI), and Gene Michael (also with the Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate Grand Forks Chiefs). Mee recalls the first game he faced future Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Stargell and how big he was. “In our first game against Grand Forks, Stargell chased down a fly ball and proceeded to run through the outfield wall. He was that strong!”. He also had a few epic battles against future Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Joe Torre. Torre was just 19-years old and a catching prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers system. Torre and Mee faced each other for the first time on July 4, 1960, when they caught both ends of a doubleheader in which the temperature was over 100 degrees.
Two months later, Torre would be called up to the Major Leagues to begin a 60-year career in professional baseball as a player, manager and executive in the Commissioner of Baseball’s front office. Mee also faced Gene Michael, who was a short stop prospect. It was Michael’s second season in a 57-year career in professional baseball as a player, manager, scout and general manager. He is credited with having drafted or signed the New York Yankees core-four of Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte.
Mee returned to the St. Cloud Rox for the 1961 season where he was a teammate of future Major League Hall of Famer Lou Brock. Brock, would spend his only season in the minors that year, winning the Northern League batting title with a .361 average.
In the very first game in which Mee’s parents (Emmett and Genevieve) saw him play professionally, Mee hit two home runs and Brock batted in five runs. In early September of that season, an announcement would be made on the team bus informing Brock that he was being called up to the Chicago Cubs. This would mark the beginning of a Major League career that would last through 1979 with the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals. Brock would connect for 3,023 hits and become the most prolific base stealer in the history of the game with 938 stolen bases, eclipsing the all-time mark that had been held by Ty Cobb.
Mee took the 1962 season off and remained in Upstate New York to help care for his parents. He stayed in baseball shape by playing for the Amsterdam Rugmakers of the Schenectady Twilight League. After the Rugmakers season ended that fall, Mee suited up to quarterback the newly formed Glove Cities Colonials in their very first semi-professional game on Sept. 19, 1962 against the Amsterdam Zephyrs. The game took place in front of 1,500 fans at Knox Field and Mee led the Colonials to a 33-0 victory and ran for a touchdown on a quarterback sneak.
Mee returned to professional baseball 1963 where he split time between the Northwest League (Class A) and the Texas League (Class AA). In the Northwest League he played for the Wenatchee Chiefs out of Washington state, and once again faced long bus rides that sent him through Washington, Oregon and Idaho. In the Texas League, Mee played for the Amarillo Gold Sox out of Amarillo Texas and played teams throughout Texas and New Mexico. The Texas League also featured future Major League players/managers Bobby Cox, Jeff Torborg, Sandy Alomar, and Walt Hriniak. While Hriniak never managed in the big leagues, he would become one of the most prominent batting coaches in the Major Leagues in the 1980s and 1990s.
Not wanting to continue to play a few thousand miles away from his aging parents, Mee left professional baseball after the 1963 season to begin his teaching career with the Duanesburg School District as a physical education instructor. Recognizing that he had the knowledge of the game of baseball to shape future generations of young athletes, Duanesburg recruited Mee to coach their baseball team for the 1964 season. In 1965, he was hired by the Broadalbin School District to teach physical education. In addition to once again coaching baseball, he also started their football program and served as their very first head coach. He would run both programs through 1967.
Mee then went to the Amsterdam School District in 1968, where he would spend the next 50 years with the district in the capacities of physical education instructor, athletic director, driver’s education instructor, football coach/head coach and head baseball coach.
As their head football coach from 1972 through 1978, he led the Rugged Rams to 3 Class A titles. He would also lead the Rams as the head of their baseball program from 1968 through 1995 compiling a 413-259 record. From 1973 through 1975, the baseball team won 53 straight games, two sectional titles and three Class A titles. The 53-game streak is still a New York State public high school record and his 413 wins ranks him ninth on the all-time Section II record board. Mee also holds the distinction of having never missed a game, and was never ejected from a game in which he coached.
While Mee left professional baseball before making it to the Major Leagues, he would make a difference on the game through the hundreds of young athletes he coached. His instruction would lead to dozens of his players being recruited to play at the college level. In addition, two of his Amsterdam players would be drafted into the professional ranks including Buddy Flesh and Gary Tuck. Flesh played for four seasons in the Baltimore Orioles organization, while Tuck would be signed by the Montreal Expos. Tuck would continue Mee’s teaching impact on the game as a minor league manager and then as a bullpen coach and catching instructor at the Major League level with the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Florida Marlins.
Today, Mee is retired from both coaching and teaching and resides in Johnstown with his wife Sandy. Combined, they have five children and 10 grandchildren. Mee was inducted into the Amsterdam Baseball Hall of Fame (2008), the New York State and Capital District Baseball Hall of Fame (2012), and the Amsterdam School District Hall of Fame (2015).
Mee has also been nominated for induction into Fulton County Baseball and Sports Hall of Fame. His induction ceremony is set for June 22 as part of the annual Vintage Baseball Game to be played at Parkhurst Field in Gloversville. Mee, along with former Johnstown resident Fred Webb will be inducted between innings of the game. The event will be open to the public. For more information about the inductions and event, visit www.parkhurstfield.org.
Mike Hauser is the founder of the Fulton County Baseball & Sports Hall of Fame in Gloversville. If you have story ideas, old articles/photos or would like to nominate someone for the HOF, he can be reached through the organization’s website at www.fchof.com, email; email@example.com or call (518) 725-5565.