Long-time area coach, hall-of-fame player, dies

Monday, June 15, 2015

Kenneth Marler, a member of the Southeast Missouri Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame who helped the Poplar Bluff American Legion team win its only state title and was a long-time area coach and teacher, died Saturday. He was 69.

Funeral arrangements are pending with White-Sanders Funeral Home in Fisk.

Marler, who was born with a smaller right hand, signed a contract with the Baltimore Orioles and was invited to spring training. Despite hitting .300, the left-handed hitting outfielder was cut by the Orioles who said it was too risky in keeping him. If he injured his left hand, they said, he would not be able to continue playing.

He kept playing with a semi-pro team in Kansas for five years before returning to Southeast Missouri to teach and coach.

"I played with and against a lot of people that didn't even know that I supposedly had a bad hand," Marler said in 2004 when he was inducted to the Southeast Missouri Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame. "Some may look at it as being a handicap, but it was the only hand I had so I had to make the best with it I could. I don't consider myself handicap, it's always just been a challenge to work harder."

Marler coached Twin Rivers High School to its only state final four appearance in baseball when the Royals tied for third in 1995. The postseason run featured consecutive 1-run wins against Clearwater and South Pemiscot before a 9-4 win over East Prairie in the quarterfinal. Twin Rivers lost 4-0 to Fatima, which finished second, and rain postponed the third-place game against Hermann.

In 26 years at Twin Rivers he coached high school baseball and junior high basketball while teaching physical and driver's education. He was also an elementary principal and administrative assistant. Marler also worked two years in the Neelyville school system and was an assistant principal at Poplar Bluff High School for two years.

"I'm just pleased that I had the opportunity to work with as many kids as I have in 30 years," Marler said in 2004. "There's nothing like trying to lead them in the right direction and give them guidance."

Marler, who graduated from Fisk-Rombauer High School, said he hit bottle caps and rocks growing up in Broseley with his cousins.

He played for the Poplar Bluff Legion Post 153 team that won a state championship in 1964 by beating a team from Kansas City that was 45-1.

After being cut by the Orioles, Marler ended up in Liberal, Kansas playing for the Bee Jays and also tried out for the Kansas City Royals.

Had the designated hitter been in place, Major League teams might have given Marler a chance.

"I thought at the time I had what it took," Marler said in 2004. "I think the biggest disappointment was I didn't get an opportunity to play a year or at least part of a year to find out if I really had the talent or not."

Instead, he shined in Liberal, helping the Bee Jays win their first NBC World Series in 1968. Marler drove in both runs in the championship game, including a solo home run in the top of the ninth. In the bottom of the ninth, he made a diving catch with two runners on base for the final out.

Liberal was also the runner-up at the NBC World Series in Marler's first season and in 1968. He played two more years there before starting his career in education with a master's degree from Mississippi State University and a specialists degree from Southern Mississippi University.

Information for this story was obtained from the archives of the Daily American Republic.

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