A .300 batting average, 500 home runs or 300 career victories are usually the magic numbers that earn a baseball player a spot in the Hall of Fame.

For Twain Harte resident and long-time Summerville High School baseball coach Claude Christie, it was 2,527,906.

As in patent No. 2,527,906 the number ascribed by the U.S. Patents Office to Christie's 1948 invention of the batting tee.

Christie, who died Monday at 76, spent four years as a light-hitting catcher for the Seattle Rainiers in the Pacific Coast League in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

While struggling with his hitting in 1948, the 21-year-old Christie designed and built his first batting tee to work out the kinks in his swing.

"The first tee I made was a metal flywheel with a metal pipe welded in the center and a hose on top," Christie told The Union Democrat in a November, 1991 interview. "But it had a weakness because you couldn't practice on pitches in different locations, so I needed to build something more versatile, one that could move."

After revamping the design and being awarded the patent for a "Baseball Practice Apparatus" on Oct. 31, 1950, Christie immediately sold the rights to Voit Sporting Goods.

"I saw pictures of it in sports magazine advertisements, but I never actually saw anybody ever using it," Christie said. "But somebody must have been buying the thing because Voit would send me a quarterly royalty check."

All but forgetting about his invention, Christie spent 30-plus years in the insurance business in the Bay Area before retiring to Twain Harte with his wife, Joan, in the early-1980s.

Then, out of the blue, the Baseball Hall of Fame contacted Christie in 1987, told him the museum was adding an exhibit on the evolution of baseball equipment, and asked him to donate his first batting tee. Four years later, Christie traveled to Cooperstown, N.Y., and took part in the ceremonial opening of the new wing.

The Union Democrat
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