To say Harry Demorest’s (Jefferson, 1959) school days in Portland were pretty good is an understatement.
Demorest was the all-state first baseman on a powerhouse state championship baseball team at Jefferson High that also featured future Heisman Trophy winner Terry Baker.
He was part of a 1959 Democrats class that fueled a 1958-59 year in which Jeff dominated the PIL in boys sports and had a legendary state championship football team to go with its baseball state champs. “We won every city championship,” he recalls.
Demorest led the PIL in batting (.448) as a senior.
And when he says “I was a better student than I was a baseball player,” the evidence backs him up. He garnered straight-As, took advanced placement classes and earned full academic scholarship offers from MIT, Cal Tech and Stanford.
Demorest (PIL Hall of Fame Class of 2016) had his mind made up to go to Stanford until Gary Baker, Terry’s older brother and a baseball player at Oregon State, began pitching the Beavers to Demorest. Terry Baker, a three-sport star, was being recruited by basically every college in the country and had yet to declare for Oregon State. One day, Demorest received a letter from the baseball coach at Stanford. “Nobody was offering baseball scholarships,” he says, “but the coach wrote, ‘I understand you’re a good friend of Terry Baker. If there’s anything you can do to get him to Stanford, I would appreciate it.”
That was basically the moment Demorest decided to go to Oregon State.
He would join the Bakers on the baseball team in Corvallis, and more than acquit himself wearing orange and black. He started three years (freshmen couldn’t play in those days) and helped the Beavers nearly reach the College World Series; they lost the final game of a three-game regional series against USC by one run.
When it came to sports, baseball was always it for Demorest. His father, Ed, was a standout pitcher at Jefferson, joining forces with the Grayson boys and Joe Gordon, who caught for the Democrats and went on to reach the baseball Hall of Fame after playing 11 major league seasons, mostly with the New York Yankees. Gordon won five World Series as the Yanks’ second baseman, and he earned nine All-Star honors.
Harry Demorest’s earliest memories include playing catch with his dad at the family home, which was six blocks from Jefferson. Harry, an only child, spent his first eight years of Ockley Green. Little League was just starting in the area, as he remembers it, and he played in a league that competed at Essex Park in Southeast Portland. His coach was Don McLeod, who for many years was a sports editor and writer for The Oregonian.
Then came Babe Ruth baseball, where Ed Demorest coached young Harry on a team that included pitcher Mickey Lolich, a future Lincoln High and MLB star. That team went to the Babe Ruth World Series in Austin, Texas.
Later, Ed was Harry’s coach in Connie Mack ball, and that team made it to the World Series in St. Joseph, Missouri.
Harry was a big Yankees fan, idolizing Mickey Mantle and first baseball Bill “Moose” Skowron, among others on those New York teams. Harry spent a lot of time at Alberta Park playing over-the-line on the baseball diamond, and at Peninsula Park, playing football and basketball.
“I was lucky. I grew up in the golden era,” Demorest says of his youth, of baseball in that era, and of Jefferson athletics.
Harry was a strong hitter with some pop. He batted and threw right-handed, and kept things simple at the plate. His only thought was usually to “swing hard,” and he’d change his stance, from open to closed, by feel.
The one thing he hated about baseball was the take sign. Once he overrode the third-base coaching box signal from Jefferson coach Andy Pienovi and swung at a pitch in extra innings. Demorest drove in the winning run. The next time the team got together, Pienovi deflated Harry’s sustained excitement by immediately ordering him to start running for “missing” the sign.
The two were able to laugh about that for years later, and for the rest of Pienovi’s life they remained very close.
Demorest also says he was blessed to have as his assistant coach at Jefferson another PIL legend in Vince Pesky.
“Two of the greatest guys ever,” Demorest says.
Demorest chuckles when thinking about his perhaps good fortune at Jefferson in one other respect. One of the Democrats’ other huge stars was the great Mel Renfro, one of the nation’s best prep football players.
“Mel would have been my backup at first base if he’d come out for baseball,” Demorest says, “but when he decided he’d rather run track and field, I said, ‘Good.’ Because he might have beaten me out..”
At Oregon State, Demorest also applied himself in the classroom.
“I didn’t think I was good enough to keep playing baseball after college,” he says, and the thought of toiling for little pay and a lot of travel in the minors wasn’t overly appealing. Also, there was the little matter of the Vietnam War. Demorest was in the ROTC program and went into the Army after college. “But I was lucky and didn’t end up going” to the war in Southeast Asia.
After serving, Demorest returned to Portland, where he has stayed to this day. He work at Arthur Andersen & Co., an accounting firm – for 27 years, 10 as managing partner, then moved to Columbia Forest Products, staying there for 15 years as CEO and until his retirement in 2007.
“Had two jobs in my lifetime,” he says.
His community service, meanwhile, was extensive. He was chairman of the Portland Development Commission, the Oregon Investment Council and the OSU Business Advisory Council, and chairman of the board of OMSI. He received the 1st Citizen of Portland Award. He is a member of the OSU Engineering Hall of Fame, and has served on the boards of the Oregon Symphony, City Club of Portland, Oregon Steel Mills, Inc., Portland Mayor’s Baseball Commission and the Governor’s Greater Portland Trust in Higher Education Board.