After attending a banquet in Stockton in July of 1966, Kansas City Athletics' owner Charles O. Finley went to Modesto to see his California League Modesto Reds team play. After the game, he went to the team's clubhouse and congratulated the players for winning the league's first-half title.
Finley also talked with The Modesto Bee's sports editor, Darell Phillips, who is his July 30, 1966, column wrote that Finley was "especially interested in several players on the roster of the Modesto Reds, and the first player he asked about was catcher Dave Duncan." Finley was interested in the 20-year-old power-hitting catcher, whose home run hitting was threatening both the Reds' and the Cal League's records for home runs in a season.
Signed by the Kansas City A's in 1963, 17-year-old Duncan was in the majors the next year but had only a meager .170 batting average. Returning to the minors in 1965, the next year saw him in Modesto. The Reds that year featured future major-leaguers Skip Lockwood, Tony LaRussa and the local-born Joe Rudi, along with future Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson and a cleanshaven starting pitcher named Rolland (Bo) Fingers, who would later be more well known as Rollie Fingers.
At the end of April, the team was off to a good start and a complete game by Fingers, who struck out 15 batters, was helped by a home run by Duncan, his fourth of the year. In May, Duncan went on a home- run rampage, knocking out 14 and being named California League player of the month. Any hope Duncan had of breaking the Cal League record of 51 set by Harry "Bud" Heslet for the Visalia Cubs in 1956 was dealt a serious blow when Duncan broke his hand in June and missed three weeks. Returning July 2 against the Reno Silver Sox, Duncan came to the plate with the bases loaded. A Reds fan, according to the next day's Bee, yelled, "A home run would go good now."
Duncan answered, "I'll try to get one." On a 2-2 pitch, he hit a grand slam and also hit a two-run triple for six RBIs in the game. The second half of the season was dominated by the Reds, who won the title by 10 games. Duncan set the Reds' team record for home runs in a season with 46 he also drove in 121 RBIs.
Returning to the majors in 1967, he hit only .173 over the next three years. In 1972, he was a member of the World Series- winning Oakland A's but was traded after that season to Cleveland, where he spent two years. He spent two more in Baltimore before his career ended at the age of 30.
After serving as a pitching coach in Cleveland in 1978, Duncan also worked for the Seattle Mariners before becoming pitching coach for the Chicago White Sox in 1983. There, he worked for former Modesto Reds teammate Tony LaRussa, who took Duncan to Oakland, where he revived the careers of Dave Stewart and Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley. Oakland won three straight pennants and one World Series during his time there.
Moving on to St. Louis with LaRussa, Duncan won two more titles before taking a leave of absence this year. Along with his success as a pitching coach, another achievement of his is that almost a half-century later, his Modesto home run record still stands.
Sources: The Modesto Bee, May 1, 1966; June 14, 1966; July 3, 1966; July 20, 1966; Aug. 10, 1986; and Oct 22, 2011.
James McAndrews Jr. is a docent and board member of the Great Valley Museum. Send comments or questions to email@example.com.