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OBITUARIES / Billy Consolo, 1934 - 2008

Dorsey baseball player went to majors at 18

March 29, 2008|Claire Noland | Times Staff Writer

Billy Consolo, a standout baseball player at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles in the early 1950s who went straight to the Boston Red Sox and later served as a coach with childhood friend and Detroit Tigers Manager Sparky Anderson, has died. He was 73.

Consolo died of an apparent heart attack Thursday at his home in Westlake Village, said Dan Ewald, a longtime Tigers public relations director who is now retired.

An infielder who made his major league debut at age 18, Consolo played with six teams in 10 years, including a brief stop with the old Los Angeles Angels in 1962. He retired after that season with a lifetime batting average of .221, nine home runs and 83 runs batted in over 603 games.

When Anderson was hired to manage the Tigers in 1979, he took along his old playground buddy Consolo, who was a coach until 1992 then returned briefly in 1995.

William Angelo Consolo was born Aug. 18, 1934, in Cleveland and moved with his family to Los Angeles as a child. He played baseball and ran track at Dorsey and was named city player of the year in 1951 and 1952. Anderson and Bill Lachemann (older brother of future major leaguers Rene and Marcel Lachemann) were his teammates at Dorsey and with the Crenshaw Post 715 American Legion team that won the national title in 1951.

After graduating from Dorsey in February 1953, Consolo became one of baseball's first "bonus baby" free agents signed under a rule that required a team to keep the player on its major league roster for two years if it paid a bonus of more than $4,000. Consolo's bonus was reported at the time to be $60,000 to $65,000. (Other bonus babies who had far more success were Dodger pitcher Sandy Koufax, Detroit outfielder Al Kaline and Minnesota first baseman Harmon Killebrew. The rule was rescinded in 1957.)

Because he couldn't hone his skills in the minor leagues, Consolo mostly rode the bench while occasionally playing second base, third base and shortstop in Boston, then bounced to the Washington Senators, Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies, the Angels and finally the Kansas City A's.

After leaving baseball in 1962, Consolo returned to Los Angeles and followed in his father's footsteps as a barber at the old Statler Hilton Hotel downtown.

He was later was a sports instructor at Pierce College in Woodland Hills.

"I stayed in baseball as long as I did because I love the game," he told Times sports columnist John Hall in 1969. "I'd have given back all the money if I could have played every day."

Survivors include his brothers, Horace and Bobby Consolo.

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claire.noland@latimes.com

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