"John Beradino always wanted to be an actor," says Bill Veeck. "I remember when he played for me on the 1948 Indians and we won the World Series over the Braves. The team was returning from Boston by train and took over a dining car to celebrate. Most of the players were drinking or talking about baseball, but John was standing on a table in the middle of the car emoting Shakespeare. That wasn't too unusual, I guess. What was unusual was that John stood there and did Shakespeare for three hours. I also can trace something back to John that is huge in sports today. He was the first player I ever dealt with through an agent."
Unless you are a baseball fan of long standing or watch a lot of daytime TV, Beradino's name probably means nothing. He enjoyed a very good major league career as an infielder from 1939 to 1952, hitting .249 lifetime for the Browns, Indians and Pirates. Today he is one of the most esteemed and prosperous actors on television, having played the part of Dr. Hardy on ABC's highly rated soap opera General Hospital for the last 13 years. (General Hospital is not the only soap with baseball in its background. In Mary Hart man, Mary Hartman, the male lead is Greg Mullavey, the son of a former Dodger first-base coach. Mullavey played for Hobart College and on the program wears a two-tone cap reminiscent of those worn by the Milwaukee Braves.)
Few actors have kept a television role as long as Beradino has. And he has played his part so convincingly that children often tell their mothers that they will have their tonsils removed only if Dr. Hardy performs the operation. "It frightens me a bit at times," Beradino says. "People walk up to me and say, 'Doctor, I'm not feeling very good. What do you prescribe?' I tell them to take a couple of aspirin. What else can I say?"
Last week Beradino, who for the third straight year had been nominated for an Emmy as the best actor on an afternoon drama series, lost again, this time to Larry Haines of Search for Tomorrow. But he took the news equably. Beradino realizes that being nominated three times in a row is a distinction in itself. After all, anyone who played for the Browns really knows what losing is all about.
"Maybe I'd have been a better player if I'd been on a better team," he says. "That is something no one will ever know. Playing for the Browns was not easy. There were all those losing streaks—it seemed as if every time we broke a 16-game streak, we'd turn right around and lose 12 more. But I still love baseball. I read the box scores more avidly now than I did when I was growing up or playing. I'm a Dodger fan and listen to Vin Scully broadcast their games whenever I can. About the only change I've made is that I watch the highest-paid players more carefully. I want to see if they are worth all that money."
When Beradino was a low-paid player, Veeck once insured his face for $1 million as a publicity stunt. "My face wasn't worth it then, but in the long run Bill turned out to be right," Beradino says. "At the end of the 1947 season I decided that I wanted to get out of baseball and try acting. The Browns were going to trade me to Washington and I wanted no part of that. All it meant was swapping eighth place for seventh. By that time Veeck had taken over the Indians. He needed a utility infielder and flew out to California to see me. He said he would double my salary from $10,000 to $20,000. I thought he was crazy, so I asked—through my agent—that an attendance clause be put in the contract that would give me a $1,000 bonus for every 100,000 people over two million that the Indians drew. Veeck didn't think he was going to get over two million, and I guess I really didn't either. But the Indians drew 2,620,627, and I picked up $6,000 extra."
Beradino, who now earns about $200,000 a year on General Hospital, always wanted to act. "When I was a kid we lived in Los Angeles and my father invested $10,000 in a movie so I could become a child star," he says. "That movie got about halfway through production and was scrapped."
But Beradino did not scrap his film career, soon joining the cast of the Our Gang movies. Later when he played baseball, he would return to Los Angeles at the end of each season and hustle for acting jobs.
After retiring from baseball, Beradino was seen regularly on The New Breed and in I Led Three Lives and also made guest appearances on The Untouchables, Cheyenne and Laramie. Obviously he had makeup and would travel, but when the opportunity to play Dr. Hardy came in 1963, he had reservations. "Back then, ABC could never seem to do anything right with soap operas," he says. "I thought General Hospital probably would run for about six months, but it became a tremendous hit. Now CBS is trying to knock it out of the box by putting reruns of All in the Family up against it.
"Some people look down on actors who do soap operas. But there is an old line among soap performers that goes, 'Anyone can play Macbeth.' "
Of course, that is an exaggeration, particularly when applied to the current horde of athletes-turned-actors. "Television and the movies want athletes now, because they are already familiar to large portions of the viewing and ticket-buying public," says Beradino. "They get parts they can't play, and they don't work at the craft of acting. There are dues that must be paid."
Beradino paid his a long time ago.