Paul St. Cyr remembers playing baseball with John Cumberland at Westbrook High School in 1963. He also remembers talking with him decades later, after a career in Major League Baseball as a pitcher and then a long-time coach had wound down.
Not much had changed. The teenager with the love for the game hadn’t lost it in the years that followed.
“He was dedicated. He wanted to be at the ball field, he was always at the ball field way, way ahead of time,” St. Cyr said. “He wanted to be good. He wanted to be the best he could be.”
It was a long baseball road for Cumberland, the Westbrook native who died of cancer at 74 on April 5. There were the six years spent as a pitcher in Major League Baseball, followed by 23 years spent as a coach in both the major and minor leagues.
For Cumberland, it was a life spent in the game, and it extended beyond the field as he worked with St. Cyr to write a book about his experiences and approach to baseball entitled “Four Cs,” which was published in 2019.
“What he did as a coach and a player in the major leagues was phenomenal,” St. Cyr said. “The one thing that I really found from John … was he had a great determination. He was determined that he was going to be a player in the major leagues, and he worked hard at it.”
After starring for Westbrook alongside future minor leaguers Michael Mazerall and Ricky Swan, Cumberland pitched for the Yankees, Giants, Cardinals and Angels from 1968-74, and then embarked on a coaching career from 1982-2004 that included stops as the pitching coach with the Red Sox in 1995 and 1999-2001, and with the Royals from 2002-04.
“He became one of my best friends,” said Bucky Dent, who managed the Royals’ Triple-A affiliate in Omaha in 2002 and had Cumberland as his pitching coach. “He was a man’s man, he was a loyal guy, he was a fun guy.”
Dent spoke at Cumberland’s celebration of life. He said Cumberland’s death “broke my heart.”
“He loved teaching, he loved baseball,” he said. “He was demanding in that he wanted guys to learn the game, and play the game the right way.”
Cumberland graduated from Westbrook High in 1965 and was pitching for the Yankees three years later. He went 15-16 with a 3.82 ERA while pitching as both a starter and a reliever, and then went to work helping other pitchers with their craft.
Dent said Cumberland had a strong sense for the game and for his pitchers.
“He was very calm, and very into what he was doing,” he said. “Sometimes I’d walk over and go ‘What do you think?’ He’d go ‘No. Let him stay, he needs to fight through this, he needs to learn how to pitch out of trouble.’ Or he’d say ‘Yeah, you’ve got to go get him.’ He was very into the game.”
After leaving the dugout, Cumberland wasn’t content to leave the game behind as well. After becoming reacquainted with St. Cyr, a Civil War novelist, in the early 1990s, he teamed with him to write his book on baseball, with a central theme of the dedication required to reach the top of the sport.
The four Cs in the book title stood for command, confidence, concentration and control.
“He wanted to give something back to baseball, and explain to people that it ain’t that easy. You’ve got to work at it,” St. Cyr said. “That’s the way he was. He was determined, and he didn’t let too many things get in his way.”