Lester Moss was born on May 15, 1925, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, of “Irish and Indian” heritage. His formal education began with nine years attending the Longfellow School in Tulsa, and then three years of high school at Tulsa Central. He never played sports in high school, but both Les and brother, Perry were batboys with the Tulsa Oilers.
Moss was 16 years old when he signed by St. Louis Browns in October 1941, and when he was 17 he was placed with the Americus Pioneers, a Cubs affiliate in 1942. In 1943 he caught for the Class A Elmira Pioneers, the Eastern League team of the Philadelphia Athletics, but he was still signed to a Browns contract.
He missed the 1944 and 1945 seasons while serving in the Merchant Marine. He worked as an oiler on board ship, and served in both the Pacific and European theaters, including work in the Atlantic at the time of D-Day. After the war, in 1946, the Browns assigned him to their own farm team, the Toledo Mud Hens, in its first year of Triple-A status in the American Association.
Moss was hitting .297, but with sudden power (13 home runs in 121 games) he was called up to the big leagues in September. He had a nice start, appearing in 12 September games and finishing with a .371 average. He was back with the Browns in 1947, but his first full year saw his batting fall through the floor, as he hit for a dismal .157 average,
Les was more selective as a hitter in 1949, walking 49 times and striking out only 32. For whatever reason, it was the only season in which his bases on balls significantly out-numbered his strikeouts. The plate discipline helped him achieve a .291 batting average. Though he saw Sherm Lollar get more playing time, he still got into 97 games. His last full season with the Browns was 1950 where his average declined to .266.
After a slow start in 1951, batting just .170 by mid-May, Moss was traded to the Red Sox. They sent St. Louis four things: catcher Matt Batts, pitcher Jim Suchecki, a check for $100,000, and pitcher Jim McDonald. The Sox lacked a catcher they had confidence in, though they had several who were just as serviceable as Moss. The year wasn’t even over before Les was sent back to the Browns as the Sox traded him and Tom Wright to St. Louis for catcher Gus Niarhos and outfielder Ken Wood in November.
Moss played both of the next two seasons for the Browns as a backup backstop to Clint Courtney. The franchise moved to Baltimore to become the Orioles, and he hit .246 in 1954. He suffered stomach disorders in spring training, which he attributed to something he’d picked up while playing winter ball in Mexico. The 1955 campaign saw him working behind a new catcher, Hal Smith, mostly coming late into games or as a pinch hitter.
The White Sox felt they needed a third catcher so decided to take a chance on Moss, sending Harry Dorish to the Orioles on June. It was more of the same for the White Sox, occasional appearances and serving as backup again to his former Browns teammate Sherm Lollar. In 1958 and 1959, he didn’t get much work.
After both seasons he managed teammate Luis Aparicio’s Maracaibo Rapińos in the Venezuelan winter league. After 1,196 games as a professional, his playing career was complete.
He worked as a scout both in 1960 and 1961, and again in 1965. In between, in 1962 and 1963, he managed in the South Atlantic League. He was handed the reins of the Savannah White Sox and started the ’62 season there. In 1964 he returned to Indianapolis, this time to manage the Indians to a second-place finish.
In 1967 Moss started a new career, as a coach for the White Sox for four years, through 1970 and through several confused White Sox seasons which saw five managers in 1968 alone. He succeeded Eddie Stanky as interim manager for two games, then gave way to Al Lopez. But Lopez had an appendectomy and developed an infection, so he filled in for another 34 games before El Senor returned for his second stint..
Moss served as White Sox pitching coach in 1970, but resigned at the end of the season and left the employ of the White Sox after 16 years. In February 1971, Les was hired by the California Angels to manage their Shreveport club, the Captains, in the Double A Dixie Association. He stayed with the Angels two more years, both in the Pacific Coast League as skipper of the Salt Lake City Angels. In 1974, he scouted for the Angels and in September, the Detroit Tigers hired him to manage their Montgomery farm team in 1975.
Moss succeed Jim Leyland as manager of the Montgomery Rebels in 1975 and 1976. In 1977 and 1978, he managed the Evansville Triplets, also farm teams for Detroit. After the 1978 season, he was voted Manager of the Year in the American Association.
In late September 1978, Ralph Houk announced he’d be leaving the Tigers after the season. Les was hired as his replacement. He managed the first 53 games of the season for the Tigers (27-26), but management stunned everyone when they abruptly fired him in June and replaced him with Sparky Anderson, who received a secure five-year contract.
He got a new job in July as the Chicago Cubs’ minor-league pitching instructor for the rest of 1979 and 1980, also serving as manager of the Midlands Cubs in 1980. Moss was pitching coach for the Chicago Cubs in 1981. When he was replaced, he was offered another position with the team, but declined and took a job as minor league pitching instructor with the Houston Astros instead.
He served as a major-league coach for the Astros for the next eight years, from 1982 through 1989. During that stretch, he served under successive skippers Bill Virdon, Bob Lillis, Hal Lanier, and Art Howe. After one final season with Houston, again as minor-league pitching instructor, he went on to do work as pitching coordinator for the San Francisco Giants in 1991.
In 1995 he didn’t want to work anymore and finally retired after half a century in baseball.
In early 2010, the 84-year-old was bedridden, having suffered hip replacement surgery and a fall that had brought about bleeding on the brain. Les Moss died in Longwood, Florida, on August 29, 2012.