Kokomo — Kokomo has lost one of its favorite sons.
Tom Underwood, who pitched in the major leagues in 1974-84, died around midnight on Monday in West Palm Beach, Fla., following an 18-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 56.
Underwood’s older brother, Mark, said a memorial service is planned in Florida. The family is considering plans for a local service at a later date.
Underwood was the first local player to reach the majors and with 86 career wins, he set the standard for those who have followed. He was selected by the Tribune as Howard County’s greatest athlete of the 20th century.
In a 1999 interview, Underwood said he had no disappointments about his baseball career.
“For 10 years I saw the entire U.S. for free and had five months vacation. I just wish I could have played the game longer,” he said.
Underwood noted in the same interview that he owed, in part, his success to his neighborhood, family and the city as a whole.
“The competition in Kokomo during that time was incredible,” he said. “Just in our neighborhood we must have had 20 or 30 kids to play football, basketball and baseball against and with an older brother and younger brother [Pat], we had a wide range of kids. I think I learned to be competitive at a very early age.
“I had good coaching, too,” he added. “Andy Fernung and Bill Cooper were a big help at UCT [Little League] and I remember Bob Dyer helping me work on a pickoff move in Babe Ruth. Dick Mugg and Carl McNulty worked with me in high school and of course, Bob Ronk and Jim Heathcoat were great in Legion ball. I owe a lot to my dad [John], too. My brothers and I always had a glove on his hand to play catch the moment he walked in the door after work. He never said ‘no.’ I was very lucky.”