Virgil Jester, one of Denver’s prodigal baseball figures has passed away. The former pitcher for the Boston and Milwaukee Braves died due to complications from pneumonia on February 15, 2016 according to a report from the Denver Post. He was 88.
Jester was a standout athlete at Denver’s North High School, where he played both infield and pitched. So renowned for his accomplishments on field, Jester was selected for the 1944 Esquire All-American Boys Baseball Game at the Polo Grounds in New York City. Jester was the starting pitcher for the West Squad that was managed by Mel Ott. Other notables who played in that game were Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn, as well as future major leaguers Erv Palica and Billy Pierce.
After attending Colorado State Teacher’s College, Jester was signed by the Braves in 1947 for the princely sum of $2,500. In a 2012 interview with the Denver Post, Jester wished his bonus arrived a half-century later.
“If you look at the salaries today, I was born 55 years too soon,” Jester said.
The Braves initially placed Jester not as a pitcher, but as an infielder, an experiment that was quickly abandoned after he hit .169 during his first season with Class C Leavenworth. It was a move that paid dividends for both the Braves and Jester, as he posted winning records each of the next five seasons in the minor leagues, including a 10-5 record at Triple A Milwaukee in 1952 that led to his arrival in the big leagues.
“I won 10 straight games real quick, after that they called me up,” he said during a 2008 interview from his home in Colorado.
Jester pitched his way to a 3-5 record in 19 games for the Braves for 1952, with his third victory coming against the Brooklyn Dodgers on September 27, 1952. It was the final victory of the season for the Braves, as their last game of the 1952 campaign ended in a 12-inning tie against the Dodgers. Unbeknownst to him, it was also the final victory for the Boston baseball franchise, as owner Lou Perini moved the team to Milwaukee the following year.
“I pitched in the last game and beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the last game of 1952,” he said. “None of the ballplayers knew anything [about the move].”
Jester accompanied the team to Milwaukee and made the 1953 club out of spring training. He pitched sparingly in relief during April and was sent down to the minor leagues when rosters were trimmed at the end of the month. His demotion signaled the end of his career as a major leaguer.
He left the Braves organization after an arm injury in 1954 and remained out of baseball until 1959 when he was called by an old friend to help bolster the Denver Bears pitching staff. He gladly accepted.
“I left after the 1954 season and I never did ever hear from the Braves,” he said. “After that I rejoined the Denver Braves in 1959. I just kept myself in good shape working out with them in Bears Stadium. … They were having trouble with their young pitchers they were expecting a lot of. Bob Howsam called me in and asked me if I wanted to join the ballclub and I told them, ‘Sure!’ That’s how I got back with the 1959 club.”
Jester kept himself involved in athletics working as a college football and basketball referee, as well as a baseball umpire for over 25 years. He attributed his success as an umpire to his former teammate and long-time major league manager Gene Mauch.
“I played with Gene Mauch and he was one of the men that I really followed because he knew the rule book inside out,” he said. “I think he was the only manager / ballplayer that I ever knew that knew more about the rule book than the umpires did. I felt like that was the best thing to learn what to do was to sit down with the rule book and read it. I umpired with a lot of men that knew the rule book real well, but they didn’t have the guts to really apply it on the field.”