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They're Left to Wonder What Might Have Been : Baseball: Friends, family of Arcadia's Seinsoth recall the talent that seemed destined for glory in Dodger blue.

January 07, 1991|STEVEN K. WAGNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Steven K. Wagner is a free-lance writer-photographer in Glendora

Pressed against the backstop, I stared through the sagging mesh toward home plate as the figure in USC colors drilled pitch after pitch over the right field fence and onto Duarte Road.

"Who is that? " I asked, nudging a classmate. Crack! A ball landed 450 feet away and bounced toward the Arcadia Public Library.

"Bill Seinsoth."

Seinsoth. Everyone knew Bill Seinsoth, I thought. Or at least knew of him. California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section 3-A player of the year in 1965 as a hard-throwing left-handed pitcher for Arcadia High. College World Series most valuable player in 1968 as a slugging first baseman on USC's national championship team. Drafted by the Dodgers, Houston Astros, Baltimore Orioles and Washington Senators. Heir-apparent to Wes Parker as first baseman for the Dodgers.

He was one of the finest prospects to come out of California.

"He was definitely a professional prospect," said former Dodger Tommy Hutton, a cousin of Seinsoth. "He had all the tools."

Since he first humbled the Arcadia National Little League in 1956, headlines and box scores in the Arcadia Tribune had promised a bright future for Seinsoth. That spring day in 1969 I saw what headlines and box scores could only intimate: Bill Seinsoth, whose visit that day to his high school alma mater would be his last, was for real.

Four months later, on a lonely stretch of Interstate 15 21 miles east of Barstow, the green Volkswagen Seinsoth was driving overturned near the desert ghost town of Calico. Seinsoth, 22, who was thrown from the vehicle when his seat belt broke, died of massive head injuries the next day at Harbor General Hospital in Torrance. Authorities speculated that he had fallen asleep at the wheel.

A memorial service, followed by a 250-car cemetery procession, was held a week later at Arcadia Presbyterian Church, where Seinsoth had been a member.

Today, more than 25 years after he left Arcadia High with a can't-miss professional baseball career on the horizon, many still remember the most celebrated graduate in the class of '65 as larger than life. And death.

Jane Seinsoth said her son had been driving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles to attend the pro football debut of his friend, Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson. That night, Sept. 6, 1969, while Simpson and the Buffalo Bills were losing to the Rams in the Coliseum, Seinsoth was losing his life.

William Robert Seinsoth was born in Los Angeles on April 4, 1947. He died Sept. 7, 1969. In his 22 years, Seinsoth left an impressive legacy of athletic accomplishment, despite unusual and debilitating personal tragedies.

At birth, Seinsoth was big--nearly 10 pounds. He was so big and so good in Little League that the parents of several players demanded that the Seinsoths pull their son out of the league.

"I remember one occasion when the opposing team just flat out asked him not to pitch," said Chris Arnold, a teammate of Seinsoth in Little League who later played six seasons with the San Francisco Giants. "They were terrified of batting against him."

Some players went even further.

"Our mailbox was blown up four times," his mother said. "We know who did it, but it doesn't really matter."

Alan (Lani) Exton, who coached Arcadia to its only Southern Section baseball title, in 1965, said such adversity in Seinsoth's early years might have helped him mature faster than others.

While Seinsoth was still in Little League, former Dodger Rod Dedeaux, then the baseball coach at USC, began paying close attention to the hard-hitting, hard-throwing, likable 12-year-old whom he had met when the boy was 5.

A man who by then had led dozens of players into the major leagues, Dedeaux--a longtime friend of Seinsoth's father--recognized young Bill as a find. Meanwhile, Bill Sr. continued to encourage his young son, whom the local papers had dubbed "No-hit" Seinsoth. But he never pushed him. He didn't have to.

"There's nothing I'd rather do (than play baseball)," Seinsoth said in 1969. "I feel lost, anxious, when I'm not playing it."

Several years after Dedeaux began taking notice, Dick Conger, a former major league pitcher who lived in Arcadia and served as a part-time scout for the Dodgers, also began showing interest. Conger reported the 17-year-old Seinsoth and his baseball exploits to the Dodgers' Ben Wade, who lived in nearby Pasadena.

When he entered Arcadia High in 1962, the only question was which sport Seinsoth would dominate more, baseball or basketball. He excelled at both and received a scholarship offer to play both at Arizona State.

Despite his basketball prowess, baseball remained his love.

"Even in those days, he was the consummate professional," Arnold said. "When it got down to baseball, he was all business."

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