John Asbell was a Macon baseball phenom back in the 1970s. Considered big for his age, Asbell was 6-foot-1 and weighed about 190 pounds as a sophomore in high school at Southwest in 1976 and was an imposing figure on the pitcher’s mound.
While pitching for the Patriots, his fastball reportedly was clocked by a pro scout at 101 mph, and he seemed to hover around the century mark with every pitch. That kind of speed will get you noticed by Major League Baseball teams, and he got plenty of attention. It was not unusual to see at least a dozen scouts at his high school games when he pitched.
His high school coach, Billy Kilgore, who played at Mark Smith and later at Georgia, calls Asbell the best pitcher he ever coached. Kilgore moved Asbell up to the varsity as a freshman, and he made an immediate impact.
In a doubleheader at Valdosta, he was called on in relief both games and struck out the side in a Game 1 loss and then pitched two scoreless innings in a win in Game 2. That Valdosta team featured Buck Belue, who was a highly recruited baseball player, as well as a football player. Scouts were on hand to evaluate several of the Valdosta players and quickly added Asbell to their watch list, even though he had three more years of high school to play.
From then on, Asbell was on professional baseball’s radar screen.
Asbell, who also played split end for the Southwest football team, had a 41-8 career pitching record for the Patriots, including a 9-2 mark in his final year. He led his team to the Class AAA playoffs as a senior and started both quarterfinal-round losses to Kendrick, but he lasted only one inning in the opener and just three innings in the second game after experiencing tightness in his shoulder.
He did not figure in the decision in Game 1 after leaving with the teams scoreless, but he was charged with the loss in the second game after giving up three runs in the third. Kilgore said his penchant for playing foosball contributed to his shoulder problems. He was named The Telegraph’s Middle Georgia Baseball Player of the Year in 1978.
High school was not the only place Asbell excelled. He also was a standout pitcher in the South Macon boys baseball league and led his team to a spot in the finals of the National Colt League tournament in Louisville, Kentucky as a 15 year old.
South Macon lost 8-1 in the finals to a team from Louisville. Asbell pitched five games in four days in that tournament. During the National Colt League regular season, playing for the White Sox, he had one game when he pitched a no-hitter and struck out 17 of the 21 hitters he faced.
Asbell was chosen in fifth fifth round of the 1978 Major League Baseball draft as the 114th overall pick by the Cleveland Indians. That’s the year the Atlanta Braves made Bob Horner of Arizona State the No. 1 overall pick. Two Hall of Famers, Cal Ripken (second round/48th pick) and Ryne Sandberg (20th round/511th pick) also came out of that draft.
Asbell spent four seasons in the Cleveland organization, alternating between Single-A teams Batavia in the New York Pennsylvania League and Waterloo in the Midwest League. He was released by Cleveland during baseball strike-shortened 1982 season when teams were shedding payroll even though he had a 2.33 ERA as a starter and long reliever for Batavia.
When he hung up his spikes, he had a 10-19 minor league record with 144 strikeouts, never reaching the promise he showed in high school.
Asbell’s life was cut short as a result of a motorcycle accident almost three decades ago. On Nov. 9, 1987, the Harley Davidson Sportster he was riding collided with a car driven by an 84-year-old woman who pulled out in front of him on Rocky Creek Road. He died at the scene at age 28. At the time of his death, he was working for a construction company in Macon.
Contact Bobby Pope at email@example.com