The gratitude Papa holds for the Orioles, who gave him what amounted to an economic start in life, is something that comes through in conversation, although he reluctantly adds, "I just wish I could have done more and accomplished something for Baltimore." Now, at age 56, he lives in Shelton, Conn., is chairman of the parks and recreation commission and has twice been elected as a Republican alderman by the voters.
His wife of 33 years, Jane, teaches in the school system. The Papas have four children, all college-educated. Son John graduated from Xavier University with a degree in finance; David, an alumnus of Providence College, is a CPA with the Olin Corp.; daughter Lisa graduated from Southern Connecticut with a degree in psychology and is studying for a master's, and the youngest, Karin, 22, has an English degree from St. Anselm and is to work as a volunteer for the next year in London, under the auspices of the Catholic diocese, to assist the blind and underprivileged.
"Our children have brought us a lot of pleasure," Papa said. "As parents we are deeply proud of them. They never caused us any trouble and always accepted responsibility. We have a grandson, John, which means there have been four boys in four generations of our family carrying the name John. My father lived long enough to see him, which makes me happy to realize that."
After leaving baseball, Papa went to work for Remington Arms, then General Electric and, for the last 20 years as sales manager in New England for Guard-All Chemical. He also spent eight years going to the University of New Haven at night for a degree in business administration. "And I owe it all to the Orioles," he said. "None of that would have been possible if they wouldn't have signed me and given me the bonus money."
In moments of nostalgia, he wonders what's happened to some of his former teammates, specifically mentioning Joe Pulliam of Baltimore, "a center fielder who before he broke his leg was the fastest man I ever saw on two feet." He likes to reflect on Ardmore and actually living at the ballpark. "I was with Pete Ward and Frank Zupo. A couple of us slept in hammocks, under the stars at night, and showered and shaved in the dressing room."
Ah, yes, the memories. But for John Papa, conservative and considerate, he was a bonus-boy pitcher who didn't throw his money away. He went on to establish himself as a citizen, businessman, office holder, husband and father of, shall it be said, Hall of Fame proportions.