Earl Torgeson, Major League And Former County Commissioner

Former major-league baseball player Earl Torgeson kept his sense of humor to the end.

His friend and boss, Snohomish County Executive Willis Tucker, said Mr. Torgeson was very ill when Tucker recently paid him a visit.

Tucker, who hired Mr. Torgeson as Snohomish County's director of emergency management, complimented Mr. Torgeson on getting a baseball field named after him. Mr.Torgeson retorted: ``If you play your cards right, we'll name a flood after you.''

The 6-foot-3 first baseman, known as the ``second Earl of Snohomish,'' or ``Torgey,'' died Thursday of leukemia at his Everett home. He didn't realize he was ill until six weeks ago, said his wife, Molly. He was 66.

Mr. Torgeson tried chemotherapy, she said, but when that didn't show any promise he returned home.

``That's what he wanted and that's what we did,'' she said.

Mr. Torgeson was one of three Snohomish residents named Earl who had successful major-league baseball careers. The first was Howard Earl Averill, a Hall of Fame outfielder for the Cleveland Indians. Mr. Torgeson and Averill's son, Earl Douglas Averill, were the others.

In his 15-year major-league career, the left-handed Mr. Torgeson played on three World Series teams - with the Boston Braves in 1948, the Chicago White Sox in 1959 and the New York Yankees in 1961.

He had a lifetime batting average of .265, 149 home runs and 740 runs batted in. While playing for the Boston Braves in 1950, he led the National League with 120 runs scored.

Tucker said Mr. Torgeson was so big that a golf club ``looked like a licorice stick in his hand.''

Tucker and various sportwriters described Mr. Torgeson as a soft-spoken man with a gentle wit. Tucker said he never talked about his baseball days unless asked.

One sportwriter joked in 1961 that Mr. Torgeson was the only ballpayer ever required by city ordinance to be a ballplayer.

The town council of Snohomish, Mr. Torgeson's home town, apparently wanted him to concentrate on baseball while he was in high school, so they ruled the football coach couldn't keep the star athlete on his team. The Snohomish School District recently named a ball field after him, Tucker said.

Mr. Torgeson started his professional baseball career in Wenatchee in the early 1940s, then moved to the Seattle Rainiers. After World War II, he played for the Boston Braves for six years. He also played for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies, in addition to the White Sox and Yankees.

Molly Torgeson said she recently accompanied her husband to Atlanta to a reunion of the 1961 Yankee team also attended by Hall of Fame players Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. With Mr. Torgeson's sudden illness and death, Molly Torgeson said she's now especially glad they made that trip.

The couple married after Mr. Torgeson's major-league playing career had ended in 1961, but Molly Torgeson remembers enjoying the traveling they did in 1969, when her husband worked for the Seattle Pilots, which played one season in Seattle before moving to Milwaukee.

Mr. Torgeson was elected a Snohomish county commissioner in 1972 and served four years. Tucker said Mr. Torgeson tried twice for re-election, but his political career never recovered from a felony charge of defrauding the county, even though he was found innocent.

Tucker said Mr. Torgeson founded the county's Emergency Management Department while he was a commissioner. Tucker hired Mr. Torgeson to head that department eight years ago.

In addition to his wife, Molly, Mr. Torgeson's survivors include a daughter Christine Shaw of Anna Maria, Fla.; son Andrew Torgeson of Longboat Key, Fla.; daughters Holly Taylor and Tina Torgeson, and son Bradley Torgeson, all of Everett; and three grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Everett.

The family asks that memorials be sent to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle or a favorite charity.