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During 56th season, Terwilliger still going strong

Scott Clipp USA Today

Wayne Terwilliger has earned a living in baseball for more than a half century, but the old coach says he isn’t sure when he will retire.

Terwilliger – also known as “Twig” – is the oldest active manager in baseball. He will turn 80 this month and has led the Fort Worth (Texas) Cats to first place in the independent Central League, which has teams in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.

In his 56th season of professional baseball, Terwilliger is far removed from his playing days of the late 1940s and ‘50s. Instead the former second baseman, who played behind Jackie Robinson as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, leads a team of ballplayers more suited to be his grandsons.

“They probably think about it more than I do,” Terwilliger says. “But I don’t think about it. The game is the same from when I first started to now. The game hasn’t changed.”

As a player, Terwilliger spent nine seasons with five teams in the majors.

His career numbers weren’t gaudy – a .240 lifetime batting average in 666 games – but Terwilliger has played with and against some of baseball’s most decorated players.

Terwilliger homered off Whitey Ford, singled off Satchel Paige, coached under Ted Williams and won a pair of World Series titles as a first base coach with the Minnesota Twins. He was in the dugout when Bobby Thomson connected off Ralph Branca for “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.”

Terwilliger and Connie Mack are the only coaches in baseball history to manage into their 80s. Mack didn’t retire until he was 90.

“I still chuckle when people compare me to Connie Mack,” Terwilliger says. “The way he hung on there was amazing, so it’s an honor to be considered with him.”

Terwilliger has been in uniform for more than 5,000 games as a player, coach and manager. He is writing a book, highlighting some of the memorable moments of his baseball career and tales from his service in World War II.

Terwilliger fought in Saipan and Iwo Jima.

He scoffs at the idea of returning to the majors and says he is content as a Central League skipper. But even without the glitz of the big leagues, Terwilliger says he still loves his daily trip to the ballpark.

“Even though it’s a lower rung, it’s still professional baseball,” he says. “And I’ve enjoyed every year I’ve been in baseball.”

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