#CardCorner: 1970 Topps Bill Melton
But Melton never played high school baseball, concentrating instead on football and basketball.
Within five years of his high school graduation, however, Melton found himself in the big leagues. And he would soon be recognized as one of the leading power hitters in baseball.
Born July 7, 1945, in Gulfport, Miss., Melton moved with his family – his father was in the Navy – to Southern California while still an infant. After graduation from Duarte High School, he enrolled at Citrus College in Glendora, Calif., and decided to try his hand at baseball. He had not played on the diamond since Little League.
“Not playing (youth baseball) has hampered me,” Melton told the Progress Bulletin in Pomona, Calif., in 1971 when he became the first White Sox player in history to lead the AL in home runs. “I feel I could have made the major leagues sooner with more experience. Even in the minors, I felt I didn’t know anything about the game. It made it a lot tougher.”
At Citrus College, Melton hit .300 with nine home runs in his only season before signing as an amateur free agent with the White Sox in 1964.
“I was tired of working (after high school) and Galen Bowman (Citrus College’s baseball coach) gave me the chance even though he didn’t know where to play me,” Melton told the Progress Bulletin. “My big hope was to earn a college scholarship. San Diego State was interested in me.”
But after Melton impressed White Sox’s scouts with some long home runs, he was on his way to Chicago. After some time in rookie ball in 1964, Melton spent the 1965 season with Sarasota of the Florida State League, hitting .196 with just six home runs in 129 games – mostly in the outfield. The White Sox sent him to the Florida Winter Instructional League after the season, and there – surrounded by other top prospects – Melton began to grasp the intricacies of the game.
Melton battled with Boog Powell for the Indians first base job in Spring Training of 1977, and Melton – who scorched Cactus League pitching that spring – secured a roster spot when Powell was released on March 30.
“My mental attitude is good this spring,” Melton told the Progress Bulletin. “You’ve got to start off thinking nothing but positive things. You’re wasting your time for six months if you come out here and think negative.”
But injuries and ineffectiveness hampered Melton’s 1977 season, and he appeared in just 50 games while hitting .241 with no home runs. He became a free agent after the season and retired soon after.
Melton later worked on Cubs and White Sox television broadcasts. Though his tenure in Chicago was at times rocky, he retired as the White Sox’s all-time leading home run hitter with 154 – a title he held until Harold Baines passed him in 1987.
“I have good memories of my eight years (in Chicago), except for that last one,” Melton told the Journal Times of Racine, Wisc., in 1977. “I have a lot of good memories, like 1971. In the eight years I was there, that’s something we had always strived for: To generate some excitement.”
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum