More on him via a Detroit News feature from a couple of years ago -
“Gifted, phenomenal, amazing.” Tom Paciorek, the longtime major league outfielder, kept using those words, but not about one of his numerous All-Star teammates in the major leagues. Paciorek, who started his career on the fields of Hamtramck, was talking about Art Deras.
Or, as many of that era knew him, “Pinky” Deras.
“He was just better than the rest of us, it’s that simple,” said Paciorek, who played on a national title-winning Hamtramck Pony League team with Deras in 1961. “I say this to everybody who listens to me, and I’m not the only one to think or say this: Pinky was the greatest 12-year-old ballplayer who ever lived.”
It was Deras who led Hamtramck to the 1959 Little League World Series title. It remains the only Michigan team to win.
“We were good, but Pinky just had that much more talent,” said Mark Modich, a teammate of Deras’ from age 9 through 18 on various Hamtramck teams.
“Artie was just a little bigger, taller, stronger. You’d look at us and we were like runts. He was a whole head bigger.
“He had a lot of talent for that age.”
Deras’ exploits are chronicled in the documentary, “The Legend of Pinky Deras: The Greatest Little-Leaguer There Ever Was,” which will premiere Monday night at the Hamtramck Community Center.
The 64-year-old Deras, however, isn’t comfortable talking about himself or his Little League exploits.
“It’s what our team, what we all accomplished,” said Deras, a retired Warren police officer who lives in Sterling Heights and happens to be a Little League father these days.
But the accomplishments of Deras can’t be overlooked.
Little League officials in South Williamsport recognize Deras as one of the best players in history in publications and records regarding the tournament. During that 1959 championship season, Deras had an 18-0 record with 16 shutouts and 10 no-hitters. He struck out 298 in 108 innings.
“You couldn’t see the ball,” said Paciorek, who played against Deras in Little League. “He had such a fastball — there was no such thing as a radar gun back then — but his fastball would be the equivalent to a 90 or 100 mph fastball, given the distance (to the plate), no doubt about it.”
And at the plate?
Deras hit .641 with 33 home runs and 112 RBIs
Deras figures he was about 6-foot in those days, solid and well-built, and says he played baseball in the summer from morning until the sun disappeared.
“In those days, everyone played,” Deras said. “It wasn’t like these days when you have the video games, the phones, and everything else these kids have. Back then, we didn’t have anything to take away our attention. It was just baseball.
“That’s all we would do. It kept us out of trouble.”
Only two cities have ever won both the Little League and Pony League World Series.
Marietta, Ga., is one. Hamtramck is the other.
“A lot of people are surprised to know that,” said Stan Nalepa, a teammate of Deras’ on the Pony League team. “We’re very proud of that fact. We had a close-knit group and we remain that today.”
Can you imagine the hype around such a player today? Sadly, it did not work out for Deras as a pro.