Cott family was hard to top in baseball, basketball

Orv Cott Sr. was in the major league camp of the talent-rich St. Louis Cardinals in the spring of 1940.

The roster included future Hall of Famers Johnny Mize, Enos Slaughter and Ducky Medwick, all-stars Pepper Martin, Mickey Owen, Marty Marion, Harry Walker, Mort Cooper and Walker Cooper, plus a 20-year-old prospect a year away from his big-league debut named Stan Musial.

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“He should have been in the major leagues but was with the Gashouse Gang with the Cardinals and couldn’t break into the lineup because everybody was a Hall of Famer,” said Cott’s son, Orv Jr.

“He’d tell a story that he went into talk to Branch Rickey that spring about being traded,” Cott said.

Rickey was the general manager of the Cardinals. He was three years away from taking over the Brooklyn Dodgers and five years away from breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson.

Said Orv Jr.: “Branch Rickey told him, ‘You’re too good to be traded. I’m not trading you to somebody else so you can beat us. You have to wait your turn.’ Then the war came along.”

Cott never made it to the majors. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1941 and served in World War II. After the war, he wound up playing professional basketball in the Syracuse Nationals’ system.

Cott was one of the greatest all-around athletes Western New York produced in the 1930s – maybe the finest. He has been a strong candidate for induction into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame for years.

But in considering his credentials, the hall’s selectors decided to look at the bigger picture. His three sons were pretty great, too.

Marty Cott was selected No. 3 overall by the Houston Astros in the 1968 major league entry draft. It’s the second highest any Western New Yorker ever has been drafted, behind only Buffalo sports hall of famer Rick Manning, who went No. 2 overall in the 1972 draft.

Orv Cott Jr. was a star baseball player for the University at Buffalo and also a starter on the UB basketball team. He coached varsity basketball teams in Buffalo for 26 years and was a referee for decades.

Ed Cott was an All-East catcher for Cornell University, was drafted by the Phillies, Reds and Senators and spent a year and a half in the minor leagues.

The Buffalo hall’s board of directors decided to put all four of them in as a family as part of the 2022 class, which will be inducted Nov. 9.

“Orv Sr.’s name came first in our discussions three or four years ago,” said Sean McCrosson, a GBSHOF vice president. “We’ve done it before with the Wolfley brothers in football, the Kilgours in lacrosse and the Williams brothers in basketball. While we have some strict parameters, we also want to have flexibility on our nominating committee and our board of directors to make a decision like this if it’s the right thing.

“To have a family of guys who grew up in the Lovejoy area of Buffalo who all went on to be great athletes, it’s a unique family,” McCrosson said.

The three Cott sons are unequivocal in their view of who was the family’s finest athlete.

“It’s a slam dunk,” Orv Jr. said. “My father was the best in so many ways, not only as a father but as an athlete. He was the best athlete in the family. He played two pro sports. Probably the most knowledgeable sportsman I’ve known in my life, and I played for some good people. And the knowledge he gave to us was invaluable.”

Orv Sr. was All-High in football, basketball and baseball at East High School and accepted a basketball scholarship in 1938 to play at Niagara for Taps Gallagher. He opted to sign a pro baseball contract instead. He played three years of minor-league ball in the Cardinals’ chain before joining the Army.

While in the service, he was captain of a talented Fort Niagara army team that won the Eastern service championship and played against barnstorming Negro League teams. Cott played third base in a 1942 game at Civic Stadium against a Kansas City Monarchs club that included Satchel Paige and Josh Brown. The Monarchs won, 2-1. Three weeks later, Cott helped Fort Niagara beat the Homestead Grays, 5-4, at Offerman Stadium. Josh Gibson homered for the Grays.

After the war, Cott resumed his pro baseball career at age 27 and played five more seasons in the Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York Class D League. He batted .310 overall in that second minor league stint. Meanwhile, he played semi-pro basketball in the late ’40s with a barnstorming group of Syracuse Nationals. Pro basketball didn’t coalesce into one league called the NBA until 1950.

Orv Cott Sr. died at age 85 in 2003.

The Cott sons recall a lot of backyard lessons at their Greene Street home.

“When we were kids he’d work us out all the time,” Orv Jr. said. “He’d throw batting practice for an hour and it’d be strike after strike. I’d pitch to him, he’d hit rope after rope after rope.”

The tutoring, along with good genes, helped.

Marty scored 30.4 points per game in basketball as a senior at Hutch-Tech and made All-Western New York. He had a scholarship offer for basketball at Canisius College. He led Hutch to two Cornell Cup baseball titles and batted .469 as a senior.

“He had tremendous power, and he was a great catcher,” Orv Jr. said of Marty. “He had 40 or 50 Division I basketball offers in ’68. One day I answered the phone and it was Dick Vitale of the University of Detroit. He told Marty, ‘We’ve got Spencer Haywood. You’re going to be our small forward.’”

Being a third-overall draft pick, however, it was impossible to turn down the Astros. It was a whirlwind. Immediately upon signing, Marty flew with Houston’s scouting chief, Pat Gillick (later the Blue Jays’ GM), to Triple-A Oklahoma City.

“They worked me out, and I was in the lineup that evening,” he said. “I faced Bo Belinsky; I don’t know if it was the first game or the second game.”

Belinsky threw the first no-hitter in Los Angeles Angels franchise history.  

Marty toiled in the low minors for 2½ seasons. He was in the major league camp in 1970 and hit .259 in the New York-Penn League that season. He was on the Oklahoma City roster for the spring of 1971 but a week prior to leaving for Florida he tore ligaments in his ankle playing basketball at the Butler Mitchell Boys Club. He missed the entire 1971 season, got picked up by the Yankees in 1972 and then was released.

“Things certainly didn’t go my way,” said Marty, 71. “The first summer I played, I played about two months from the time I signed with three different teams. I was a little homesick, and my mind wasn’t there.

“The next year I went to Williamsport a few days before the season started, and in an intrasquad game I tried to stretch a double into a triple,” he said. “I tore my hamstring badly. I limped all summer. I was in the training room every day.

“I had the opportunity to play with some great players,” Marty said. “I played with Cesar Cedeno, John Mayberry, J.R. Richard, Cesar Geronimo, Joe Morgan. I caught extra batting practice for Joe Morgan on occasion after workouts were over.”

Still, some of his best athletic memories are of the family.

“It was extremely competitive,” Marty said. “We competed pretty much on a daily basis. We’re each almost two years apart. I was younger. I aspired just to be as good as my brothers. They kept knocking me down, I kept getting up and I enjoyed every minute of it.”

Orv Jr., 73, helped UB baseball to an NCAA Tournament berth in 1971 and batted .427 as a senior in ’72. He coached Emerson to a Section VI basketball title in 1986. He was a college basketball referee for 25 years. He taught for 32 years in the Buffalo Public Schools.

Ed, 75, starred at Nichols then hit .320 as an All-East catcher for Cornell.

“I’d like to see my father get most of the attention,” said Ed. “As far as a coach, teacher or mentor, I had some good ones, but he was the best.”

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