Contributed by Richard Cuicchi
Mel Didier’s passing on September 11 is a reminder that few baseball families have had as big an impact on a specific area of the country as his family did in South Louisiana.
Didier, whose professional baseball career spanned nearly fifty years, made his mark in baseball as a well-regarded scout and front office executive for several major-league clubs. Named after Mel Ott, he was involved in administrative posts at the start-up of three expansion franchises: 1969 Montreal Expos, 1977 Seattle Mariners, and 1997 Arizona Diamondbacks. Up until the time of his death, he was a special assistant with the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
Mel’s father, Irby Didier, was the patriarch of the sports family, which included six sons (Pearce, Clyde, Robert, Mel, Raymond, and Gerald) who played, coached, managed, and scouted at various levels of high school, collegiate, and professional baseball. Irby played semi-professionally (for Marksville), as did Pearce (an outfielder with Thibodaux and manager of the Homer Louisiana Oilers) and Clyde (a catcher for the Baton Rouge Red Sticks).
Robert Irby Didier Jr., was a minor-league catcher in 1940 with Greenville in the Cotton States League before going into military service during World War II. He sustained wounds during his service that prevented him from continuing a pro baseball career, although he was later able to participate in semi-pro leagues in the Baton Rouge area.
Gerald Didier, was a second baseman in the Brooklyn Dodgers organization from 1952 to 1954, and then played a season in the Mexican League in 1955. After a season in the South Atlantic League in 1956, he concluded his pro career with Baton Rouge in the Evangeline League in 1957, when he batted a career-high .327.
Raymond Didier played pro baseball with Port Arthur of the Evangeline League in 1940 before becoming the head baseball and football coach at Southwestern Louisiana Institute (now University of Louisiana Lafayette) in the 1950s. From 1957 to 1963, he was the head baseball coach at LSU, claiming an SEC baseball championship in 1961. Raymond was an assistant coach for the football team during that time period as well. He then served as the head baseball coach and athletic director at Nicholls State University from 1963 to 1978. The baseball field at Nicholls State is named in his honor.
Mel’s son, Bob “Hiya” Didier, was a major-league catcher from 1969 to 1974 for the Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, and Detroit Tigers. He was selected by the Braves in the fourth round of the 1967 MLB Draft out of Glenn Oaks (LA) High School and reached the majors with the Braves at age 20. After his playing career ended in 1976, he got he first job as a minor-league manager in the Braves organization at age 28. Over his career, he managed in the minors for 15 seasons, including stints at the Triple-A level in the Astros and Blue Jays organizations. Bob served on the big-league coaching staffs of the Oakland A’s (1984-1986) and Seattle Mariners (1989-1990), as well as scouted in the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs organizations.
Beau Didier, son of Bob Didier and the family’s fourth-generation ballplayer, was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 40th round of the 2008 MLB Draft, out of Bellarmine High School in Tacoma, Washington. However, the catcher/infielder committed to LSU, where he lettered in three seasons (2010-2012).
Mel earned letters in football (1944-1945) and baseball (1947) at LSU before beginning his professional baseball career as a player in 1948 and 1949. However, he soon turned to coaching at the high school level, where his 1953 Baton Rouge Catholic High team captured their first state championship baseball title. That team, which Didier dubbed “one of the greatest high school teams in American history,” featured four players who went on to sign pro contracts and seven who accepted college scholarships to play baseball.
He served as a scout in the Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Braves, Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, and Baltimore Orioles organizations. He was involved in player development roles for the Montreal Expos, Seattle Mariners, and Arizona Diamondbacks organizations, as these franchises were getting off the ground. Some of the major-league players whose careers he influenced included Hall of Famers Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, Mike Piazza, and Eddie Murray.
At the college level, Didier was the LSU freshman team football coach in 1967 and 1968, head baseball coach at the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now ULL) in 1981-1982, and athletic director at USL in 1982.
Mel received the “Legends in Scouting” Award in 2009, presented by the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation. He authored “Podnuh, Let Me Tell You a Story,” a book about his baseball life.
Mel died at age 90 in Phoenix, Arizona.