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In fast-pitch softball, he was one of the best

Published March 20, 2007


Herbert Dudley, a record-setting strikeout king who made the Clearwater Bombers one of the biggest names in fast-pitch softball, died Friday (March 16, 2007) in Lynchburg, Va. He was 88.

"He really put Clearwater on the map," said teammate Junie Trombly, who played with Mr. Dudley from 1946 to 1951.

"We had no TV back then. The whole town would turn out for the games."

There, fans cheered on a team that made the Guinness Book of World Records for winning 10 national men's fast-pitch softball championships between 1950 and 1973.

Mr. Dudley "is considered one of the 10 greatest pitchers in the history of men's fast-pitch softball," said Bill Plummer III, manager of the American Softball Association Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. "Some may even consider him the greatest because he played in an era that was highly competitive."

But Mr. Dudley, a member of Calvary Baptist Church, put his faith before sports.

During a World Softball Tournament in the mid 1950s, he refused to pitch two Bomber games scheduled on a Sunday. His team lost the morning game but won in the afternoon.

"I can play softball every other day of the week," he said at the time. "I don't need to play on Sunday."

He was a "very Christian man," Trombly said. "No foolishness in the clubhouse. No cursing, swearing. But he was fair."

Herbert Leslie Dudley was born in Youngstown and came here in the early 1930s. He got his start in fast-pitch softball in 1935 at the age of 16 while still at Clearwater High School.

He pitched for the Clearwater Bombers, originally named the Blackburn Bombers, from 1940 through 1958 and brought Clearwater its first state championship in 1946, and runnerup honors in the 1948 men's national tournament.

Mr. Dudley struck out 55 hitters in a 21-inning game against Oklahoma in the 1949 World Tournament in Little Rock, Ark., to establish a single-game pitching record considered unbeatable.

He was named Most Valuable Player in three national tournaments and pitched in a record 17 tournaments since his start in 1949.

A modest man, Mr. Dudley once said, "Getting Herb Dudley to talk about himself is like eating soup with a fork."

He was named a first-team All-American six times, including his 1981 appearance in the national tournament, when he earned two saves as a relief pitcher at age 61.

"The man has to have the biggest heart in the world," Bomber shortstop Leon Wood said afterward. "He just goes out there brimming with confidence. ...For 61, he's amazing."

Mr. Dudley, at the time, said: "I still like going out there. I keep in pretty good shape and I don't feel no 61. I run about a mile or so most of the time, and I do 250 toe-raises, knee bends and toe-touches every morning. I'm thankful for that, so I take care of myself. The Lord has been good to me."

He received a master's degree and the equivalent of a doctorate from the University of Florida and Stetson University in DeLand. He went on to teach history and physical education for 30 years at Clearwater High School.

Mr. Dudley also spent 20 summers on the road taking advantage of offers to pitch for different teams.

"Teachers don't get paid nothing during the summer, so I had to work," he once said.

He took his wife, Lucille, and children along with him to many cities across the country.

"It was a good way for my family to learn geography without a textbook," he said. "And it was also a chance for all of us to stay together all the time."

During the 1980s, he was the most sought-after pitching instructor in the country, holding more than 1,000 clinics at schools throughout the United States and Canada.

Mr. Dudley was inducted into the Stetson University Sports Hall of Fame in 1981 and into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame in Winter Haven three years later.

After retiring from teaching in 1982, Mr. Dudley spent time on his pet project. He wanted to see girls fast-pitch softball allowed in Florida high schools. Fast-pitch was allowed in 1988, and by 1994, fast-pitch programs were the norm.

Mr. Dudley is survived by his wife, Lucille; two sons, David Dudley of Prattsville, Ala., and Tom Dudley of Old Town; three daughters, Rebecca Deas of Lynchburg, Susanelizabeth Turner of Melbourne, and Sharon Jenkins of Clearwater; a sister, Agnes D. Melvin of Phenix City, Ala.; 15 grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Friday in Sylvan Abbey Funeral Home, 2853 Sunset Point Road, Clearwater, with the Rev. Bruce Turner officiating. Interment will follow in Sylvan Abbey Memorial Park.

The family will receive friends at the funeral home Friday from 12:30 p.m. until service time.

[Last modified March 20, 2007, 00:35:08]

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