Not every athlete gets to enjoy even one special, career-defining moment.
Dennis Slagle was not just any athlete at Beth-Center High.
Moment after moment, that fact became crystal clear.
Slagle, a 1969 graduate of the school, shined in three sports for the Bulldogs – football, basketball and baseball.
It was baseball where he stood out.
Slagle, 69, threw what is believed to be the lone no-hitter in the history of Beth-Center, April 21, 1969, a 6-0 shutout of Charleroi.
He also struck out a record 25 batters in an 11-inning performance over Waynesburg in mid-May 1969.
He led the Bulldogs in scoring during his basketball career, and in football he helped Beth-Center stun heavily favored and highly touted Donora in an early season, 13-13 tie, in September 1967. Donora was led by Ken Griffey and quarterback Bernie Galiffa. The tie ruined the Dragons’ hopes of playing for the WPIAL championship.
“They still talk about that ruining their season,” Slagle said.
Slagle passed for 1,509 yards and 12 TDs in his three-year football career and led the Bulldogs to a three-year record of 15-5-6, including a 5-0-4 record in 1967.
In basketball, Slagle scored 589 points, helping the Bulldogs to records of 12-9 in 1966-67 and 13-8 in 1967-68. B-C slipped to 5-16 in 1968-69.
Add all of that to the day he was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 43rd round of the 1969 amateur draft and that’s a crowded basket of memorable and special performances.
“I was actually going to attend California (University),” Slagle said. “I was going to play football and baseball. Jesse Smith, who scouted for the Pirates, said he thought I would be on the team’s draft list. I was drafted and I went to Forbes Field to meet and negotiate with (general manager) Joe Brown and (farm system director) Harding Peterson. They were in old-time offices.
“They told me, ‘You see where you are (on the draft list) and there’s not much room to negotiate.’ They said they’d pay for two years of college at Manatee Junior College in Bradenton. They pretty much said it was ‘take it or leave it.’ I decided the two years wasn’t enough. It didn’t help me I was so far down the list. I told them no. So, I had to go back to Forbes Field and pitch for Peterson, who was a catcher in his playing days.”
The Pirates doubled their offer, paying for two more years of schooling, which Slagle decided would be West Virginia University. After he checked that credits from Manatee Junior College would transfer, he signed to play for the Pirates.
He was a professional athlete.
“Dennis’ fastball was live as could be,” said Frank Pryor, a teammate of Slagle’s at Beth-Center and former Bulldogs baseball coach. “That fastball would just rise. He’d wake a batter up.
“He was a hell of an athlete at Beth-Center, a really good quarterback and basketball player as well. He had some great performances in all three sports. Dennis was blessed.”
Slagle, who teamed with Dick Swinchock as the Bulldogs’ pitching aces in 1969, had a flair for the dramatic.
He and Swinchock were a formidable combination. Slagle, a righty, and Swinchock, a lefty, pitched Beth-Center to the Section 16 championship. In 1969, there was only one classification in WPIAL baseball.
Slagle’s fastball, curveball and control made him difficult to hit. He played first base when Swinchock pitched.
They weren’t the only good players, however. The 1969 team also featured Jerry Micsky, Fred Pagac and John Chiera, among others.
“Dennis was a good pitcher,” Swinchock said. “We didn’t need too many runs. Dennis and I met in seventh grade. He had a good fastball and a good curveball. We also had a group of good kids in our age group. We had a good, athletic team.”
Slagle was clearly the catalyst that season with the no-hitter, 25-strikeout performance and being a top hitter on the team.
“We had a good core my senior (baseball) season,” Slagle said. “I don’t remember much about the no-hitter. I remember the score, but it was just one of those games.”
In Slagle’s no-hitter, Charleroi, by old newspaper accounts, didn’t hit a ball out of the infield.
Slagle struck out 14.
The Bulldogs struck quick against Cougars ace Larry McCloy, scoring twice in the first inning.
Beth-Center added to its lead in the second inning. Consecutive singles by Micsky – who went on to play baseball at Penn State – and Slagle, drove in the third run. After John Venick singled, and an error, Andy Medved delivered the big blow with a bases-loaded, two-run single.
Slagle’s only trouble came in the first, when with one out he walked two of three batters. He retired his mound opponent on a groundout to end the inning. Charleroi had only two baserunners (on walks) the rest of the game.
Slagle’s 25-strikeout performance was crucial in the Bulldogs’ run to the section title, a 2-1 victory. The Raiders were defending section champions. The game was a duel between Slagle and Waynesburg pitcher Steve King. Slagle kept Beth-Center going, allowing just three hits. King struck out six and yielded eight hits in pitching a complete game.
Micsky and Don Sweany delivered hits and the victory in the bottom of the 11th.
Waynesburg scored first in the top of the fourth, but the Bulldogs answered in the bottom of the inning.
“Dennis was a hell of a player, an excellent player” said Pagac, who caught Slagle and later went on to play football at Ohio State. “He had good speed on his fastball and a good curveball. Dennis was a good competitor.
“Very few had his talent. He also had good placement on his pitches. All of that is why he played professional baseball.”
When Chuck Pryor was a senior, he caught Slagle at Beth-Center. He also caught him many times as both were members of the highly successful Marianna American Legion team in those times.
Chuck Pryor pointed to Slagle’s athleticism in all three sports he played and to other special qualities.
“Dennis was a very good, all-around athlete,” Pryor said. “I’m not sure baseball was even his best sport. How do you split hairs, though? He was a really good technical pitcher with good stuff. We weren’t privy back then to all the (pitching) sophistication.
“Dennis was a great teammate. He had a sense of humor. He was fun to be around. Dennis wasn’t boisterous, just very competitive. I couldn’t say enough good things about him. Not a lot of (athletes) get the opportunity he got.”
Ironically, Slagle took the loss in his final start at Beth-Center.
The Bulldogs made five errors – three in the second inning – allowing Norwin to build a 7-1 lead. Slagle allowed just six hits, but Beth-Center managed only one more run and lost, 7-2 in the WPIAL quarterfinals.
Making the cut
Once he agreed to sign his Pirates contract, Slagle headed to Bradenton, Florida, to begin his professional career.
He’d spend four hours in the morning going to college and another eight hours practicing or playing baseball.
The 6-2 Slagle posted solid numbers for the Pirates.
In his first season in the Gulf Coast League, he went 7-1 with a 2.60 ERA and a 1.192 WHIP. Slagle also pitched in the Florida Instructional League in 1969.
The next season, he pitched for three different teams in three different leagues, again in the rookie GCL, the Western Carolinas League for Gastonia, North Carolina, in Class A, and for Niagara Falls in the New York-Penn League.
He went 6-6 combined with a 4.27 ERA.
In 1971, Slagle pitched exclusively for Niagara Falls and had a 4-1 record with a 4.21 ERA.
Slagle was invited to the Pirates’ major-league camp in 1970, the year the Pirates began their three-season run of National League East Division championships.
“I did get invited to the big-league camp my second year,” Slagle said. “Maz (Bill Mazeroski) would come in and we’d pitch batting practice to him. Then he’d go with a trainer to the Gulf and run through the water. That was his daily workout. He was older then.”
Slagle got in three innings of spring training ball. He pitched to Phillies slugger Richie Allen.
“He hit a major league pop fly,” Slagle said. “He was intimidating. I did OK. I gave up a few hits. It was kind of scattered. There were a lot of good players, Freddie Patek, Richie Hebner. Bruce Kison and Kent Tekulve were really good guys.
“They never told us when we were going to pitch. You had to be ready.”
Slagle resides in Fredericktown with his wife, Lynn. The couple, who have been married 44 years, have two children, daughter Samantha, and son Davis.
He is the owner and operator of BeeGraphix in Fredericktown and formerly owned Slagle’s Business Machines in Washington before moving into the office furniture business in Carnegie. Slagle earned an education degree and teaching certificate from WVU but never worked as a teacher.
Hurricane Ivan damaged the business in 2004 and Slagle and his partners decided to close it. It wasn’t the first difficult reality he’d faced, however.
Slagle found out how unkind professional baseball can be in the spring of 1972. As he prepared to play for the Pirates Class AA affiliate in Waterbury, Conn., the tough part of sports reared its head. The Pirates ended up using Sherbrooke, Quebec, as its Class AA affiliate in 1972.
One day before breaking spring training, Slagle was pulled aside and told he was being released.
“Murray Cook, who was assistant director of minor league operations, pulled me aside and told me they didn’t have any room for me,” Slagle said. “I was shocked.”
At 20 years old, Slagle considered trying to catch on with the Kansas City Royals, who were also developing players while sending them to college.
Slagle attended a tryout sponsored by the Royals at Washington Park’s Pony Field.
“I remember the scout there telling me, at your age, I’m not sure we’re going to be able to help you.
“I never heard back. That was kind of the end of it.”
Said Chuck Pryor: “In addition to his pitching talent, Dennis was a pretty good infielder and a better than average hitter. You couldn’t have a better player on your team or be around a better guy than Dennis.
“When he left the American Legion team to go play for the Pirates, everyone was behind him – not one bit of animosity. Maybe the best part of all is that with Dennis, you knew as a teammate, you were going to get his 100 percent effort every game.”