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Boss! Pitcher identified from Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Glory Days’

David Brown
Big League Stew

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Trying to choose a favorite Bruce Springsteen song might be like trying to pick a favorite child. The internal dialogue could go on for decades.

Picking the best Springsteen video, however, takes no time at all. For me, it's "Glory Days" and it's not even close. The video not only includes footage of the Boss acting as a laboring, pile-driving husband, but it also shows BOTH lead guitarists from the E-Street Band (Nils Lofgren and Little Steven Van Zandt).

And it has REAL baseball footage from the 1984 or 1985 major league seasons. Dwight Gooden, back when the New York Mets were cool, striking out two Cincinnati Reds!

The tune obviously is catchy — practically instantly memorizable. It begins:

I had a friend was a big baseball player back in high school
He could throw that speedball by you
Make you look like a fool boy
Saw him the other night at this roadside bar
I was walking in, he was walking out
We went back inside sat down had a few drinks
but all he kept talking about was ...

One prominent question about "Glory Days" has remained, even 26 years after its release: Was the "speedball pitcher" the Boss sang about a real person?

Thanks to a story in the New York Times written by Kevin Coyne —  who, like the Boss, grew up in Freehold, N.J. — we know the pitcher was a real fellow indeed. {YSP:MORE}

I finally found out at a reunion we held recently for our Little League's 60th anniversary — not from Springsteen, who did not come, but from Dick Enderly, once a fine schoolboy pitcher, who had put the question to Springsteen at their 30th high school reunion in 1997, and received the answer.

"Joe DePugh," Enderly told me. "I got it straight from the horse's mouth."

DePugh, the oldest of six brothers, was a star Little League pitcher and a teammate of Springsteen's in the Babe Ruth League. A joint assessment of their comparative baseball skills led to DePugh's affectionate nickname for Springsteen, a right fielder: Saddie.

Coyne's neat tale opens with Springsteen and DePugh bumping into each other outside of a bar in New Jersey years after they had lost touch as childhood friends — just like in "Glory Days." The chance meeting came more than a decade before the song hit the airwaves and MTV.

So, how did DePugh react to becoming immortal on vinyl once the song came out?

He and Springsteen had lost touch again after their brief reunion in '73. At first, DePugh didn't believe it when a friend named Scott Wright told him about a song he heard on the radio.

"He told me, 'Springsteen has a new album out, and there's a song on there about you,' " DePugh said. " 'It's exactly the story you told me.' "

DePugh was skeptical, so Wright called a radio station in Montpelier, Vt., and requested the song.

"My wife starts bawling," DePugh said. "That's how I knew exactly that it was me."

The story spread slowly among his friends in Vermont and, when DePugh was 50, he was recruited to join a baseball league for older men.

"When I showed up for the first practice that summer," he said, "these guys would come up to me and feel the sleeve of my shirt, and say: 'Oh, you're real. We thought you were a legend.' I pitched the whole season that year and ended up with a 0.00 earned run average."

Ah, it all comes back to baseball.

The song and video aren't about baseball per sé, but "Glory Days" does use the sport as a metaphor and a vehicle for the wistful regret of days gone by, innocence lost, wonder about paths taken and not taken, etc. It can be an exhilarating listen, but also kind of depressing if you let it be.

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Gooden's appearance — awesome for a baseball fan in 1985 — is a little arresting, so to speak, years later. (Now, if only Wezen-Ball would identify which specific game the Mets-Reds footage is from. Oh, well.)

Springsteen's video didn't limit the MLB references to his hometown-ish team. At the end, he and a kid wearing a Detroit Tigers cap talk about Graig Nettles (then of the Padres) taking Springsteen deep. In Bruce's dreams.

Ah, the glory days. It's good to know that DePugh didn't wind up some washed-up lush, hoping to catch a glimpse of rock stars on their way out of local bars. His life has had its ups and downs, though.

• He got a tryout with the Dodgers, but didn't make the cut.

• He earned an English degree from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., but his parents had died by the time he graduated so he needed to become legal guardian for his two youngest brothers.

• He couldn't find permanent work as a teacher, so he became a self-employed contractor and moved to Vermont.

• He and Springsteen have seen each other twice in the past few years, at emotional restaurant gatherings in New Jersey.

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As for Springsteen ... Hey, whatever happened to that guy?

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