October 10, 1960
Scouts from nine baseball organizations descended upon tiny Meridian, Idaho, in the spring of 1948 to make their pitch for 18-year-old Vernon Law. While many of the suitors entered the Law home brazenly puffing cigars—a glaring breach of etiquette in a Mormon household—the respectful representatives of the Pittsburgh Pirates showed up with a dozen roses, a box of chocolates and a special recruiter in reserve. "I remember the phone rang halfway through the meeting," recalls Law, 70. "You can only imagine the impact getting a call from Bing Crosby had on my mother."
Bada-Bing! Thanks to sweet crooning from Crosby, a part-owner of the Pirates, the Bucs landed their man. Only years later did Law learn that the Pirates' representatives weren't as wholesome as they had pretended to be: "What you didn't know," Crosby told Law, "was that [ Pirates scout] Babe Herman bought a box of cigars and passed out stogies to the other scouts before they entered your house."
That smoky subterfuge would lead to victory cigars in 1960, the year Law, a righthander with a sneaky fastball and the accuracy of an Olympic archer, had a 20-9 record, earned the Cy Young Award and won twice in the World Series as Pittsburgh beat the New York Yankees in seven games.
Nicknamed the Deacon for his status as a church elder, Law carried a red spiral notebook throughout his career and filled it with hundreds of inspirational aphorisms. When he felt pain in his pitching arm in 1961, for example, he wrote, "Difficulty can be the means of opening up a new opportunity." Law entitled his notebook Words to Live By. His faith was tested when the arm pain lingered for three seasons. He retired in August 1963 but returned to Pittsburgh the next year and won 12 games. In '65 Law finished 17-9 with a 2.15 ERA and was named the Comeback Player of the Year. Two years later he retired a second time, with 162 victories amassed over 16 seasons. Law spent two decades as a coach for a number of organizations before switching to corporate sales, and he still puts in 10 hours a week as a salesman for a golf company near his home in Provo, Utah.
Vernon and his wife of 50 years, VaNita, raised a daughter and five sons, including Vance, an 11-year major leaguer who currently is the head baseball coach at BYU. Vernon's and VaNita's youngest son, Varlin, is especially close to their hearts today. Two years ago, when Varlin was found to have leukemia, he received a bone marrow transplant from his sister, VaLynda. "Varlin's been to hell and back, but he's a fighter," says Vernon. "He keeps improving, so we're hopeful."
Words, no doubt, to live by.