Costen Shockley played in 51 big-league baseball games. The hard-hitting Georgetown native likely would have appeared in more if he hadn’t felt a demotion to the minor leagues was unjust.
But Shockley’s greatest baseball satisfaction came from being one of the coaches of the Georgetown team that won the 1981 Senior Little League World Series championship in Gary, Indiana.
Shockley, who died at age 80 Monday after battling cancer and other health problems, was the father of two sons, Curt and Jeff, with Jeff having been part of that 14- and 15-year-old World Series team.
To win the title, Georgetown twice defeated a team from San Ramone, California, that had twice beaten 9-time defending champion Taiwan.
“What this team accomplished last summer has given me more self-satisfaction than anything I’ve achieved,” Shockley said after the Georgetown team earned the Delaware Sportswriters & Broadcasters Association John J. Brady state Athlete of the Year award in January of 1982, decades before the DSBA began giving out an actual state team of the year award.
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Son Jeff said that 1981 World Series title made for a magical memory, calling it “a summer that no one could ever forget.” Having his dad coaching the team along with manager Russ Elliott made the experience even more profound.
“It was just an amazing time to be on a ball team for Georgetown,” Jeff Shockley said. “I heard my dad say many times that that was, by far, the highlight of his life, especially his baseball life, coaching that ’81 team.”
Guy Wilkins, the 1983 Sussex Central High grad who was the winning pitcher in the championship-clinching 15-4 victory, said Shockley was an influential figure in youth baseball and became aa lifelong friend.
“Costen was a very, very knowledgeable baseball coach,” said Wilkins, who coached Delaware Tech’s softball team to a 31-4 season and the NJCAA Division II Tournament this spring. “He knew the game in and out and he was the one who actually taught me how to pitch, especially throwing off-speed pitches and things like that. Cost was always a good friend of mine and we saw each other all the time.”
Though he was also a standout pitcher in high school, Shockley was signed by the Phillies for $50,000 out of Georgetown High (now Sussex Central) as a first baseman. He put up prolific offensive numbers, batting .313 with 77 homers, in four minor-league seasons.
Shockley didn’t have quite the same production in two stints with the Phillies in 1964, when he homered in his second game at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field, or with the Angels in 1965 after being traded for pitcher Bo Belinsky.
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“Tony Perez was a first baseman and now he’s in the Hall of Fame and my dad was putting up bigger numbers in the minors than Tony Perez was,” older son Curt said.
Shockley batted .360 with 23 homers and 108 RBI for Magic Valley (Idaho) in his first minor-league season in 1961 and was voted Pioneer League Rookie of the Year. He kept smacking the baseball as he climbed the Phillies organizational ladder, making the All-Stars at each level.
He batted .282 at Class A Williamsport in 1962, .335 at Double-A Chattanooga in 1963 and .281 with league bests of 36 homers and 112 RBI at Triple-A Little Rock, earning Pacific Coast League Rookie of the Year, despite playing 11 games with the Phillies in 1964.
After his trade to the Angels, Shockley made the team out of spring training and began the season in a first base platoon with right-handed-hitting Joe Adcock. But the left-handed-hitting Shockley, unable to get in a groove without regular playing time, batted just .187 and was sent down to Triple-A Seattle in June.
“Dad had always hit left-handed pitching with no problem,” son Curt said, recounting stories told by his dad. “They called him in and said ‘We want you to go back to Triple-A to get your stroke back.’ He said ‘Play me every day and I’ll get my stroke back.’ ”
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Wife Mary Lou and Curt, just six months old, were living with him in an apartment outside Los Angeles. Shockley refused to report to Seattle and the family returned home to Georgetown, where he spent the rest of his life.
“I have already played four years in minor-league ball and proved that I could hit there,” he told The Morning News, now The News Journal, that June. “What I want to prove is that I can also hit in the majors. But I have to be given a chance to do this.”
He later added: “Every time I went to the plate I felt different . . . wasn’t relaxed. That was from not playing steady.”
Shockley never played pro baseball again. He worked for more than 30 years for IA Construction, many as a superintendent for his roadwork crews.
“There was not an ounce of regret,” said his Curt. “He was a family man and I had just been born in December of 1964. I think the day they brought me home from the hospital I have a picture of him reading the newspaper saying ‘Shockley traded to Angels.’ ”
Shockley was inducted into the Delaware Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.
“He was a long-time Georgetown Little League coach,” said Curt Shockley, “and he loved working with the kids and sharing his knowledge of baseball. It was on a different level.”
Shockley was also a long-time high school basketball referee and just a prominent figure in the Georgetown community.
“His leadership, and he was just a super role model for us and everybody that knew him and was around him any time at all,” his Jeff said. “He was a great example to follow.”
Wife Mary Lou died in 1994. In addition to his two sons, Shockley is survived by wife Susan (Johnson), whom he married in 2001, three stepdaughters, six younger siblings, nine grand-children and one great-grandchild. Services will be private.
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