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Baseball great Lenny Butler to be inducted into Cherry Hill East Hall of Fame

Dave Martin was in his early 20s, a year or two removed from a standout career as a pitcher at Southern Illinois University.

Dave Martin was in his early 20s, a year or two removed from a standout career as a pitcher at Southern Illinois University.

He was a grown man with a live arm and lots of moxie, competing in a highly competitive adult league in South Jersey.

No high school kid was going to hit him.

Except Lenny Butler.

"I used to pitch batting practice and I couldn't get him out," said Martin, the former baseball coach at Cherry Hill East High School. "I mean, I used to get upset. He would hit nothing but ropes off me."

Martin can laugh about that now, looking back more than 40 years to his first days at Cherry Hill East and the player who defined that era in the sport at the school.

Butler, a 1974 graduate, will be inducted into the Cherry Hill East Athletic Hall of Fame on Nov. 26 in a ceremony at the Indian Spring County Club in Marlton.

The occasion will serve as a reminder of Butler's remarkable high school career on the baseball field. He was a four-year starter and three-time all-South Jersey selection.

And he might have been a better football player, at least until a knee injury robbed him of some of his explosiveness.

"I thought I was better in football until then," Butler said. "When I hurt my knee, I focused more on baseball."

Former Cherry Hill East football coach Dick Curl remembers watching Butler play youth-league football.

"He was far and above everybody else on the field," Curl said. "Lenny was a special, special athlete."

Butler was the youngest of eight children, with six older brothers.

So competing in baseball and football against kids his own age was nothing special compared with battles in the backyard or fields around the corner from the family home off Kresson Road.

"They were tough on me," Butler said of his older brothers. "They made me what I was in those days."

Butler's four oldest brothers - Neil, Robert, Leon and Eddie - went to Cherry Hill West, although the school on Chapel Avenue was called Delaware Township High School and then Cherry Hill High School in those days.

Cherry Hill East opened in 1967. Butler's brothers James and Donald preceded him to the new school.

"I'm an East guy forever," Butler said. "Even though we're [winless], I'm thinking we're going to beat West [in football] on Thanksgiving."

Curl coached James and Donald Butler as well as Lenny Butler. He said the brothers' support for one another was something special.

"They were always there at each other's games, even at practices," Curl said. "That was a great family."

Butler said his brothers encouraged and challenged him, something that hasn't changed much over the years.

"I'm 62 years old and they still call me 'baby boy,'" Butler said with a laugh.

Martin said Butler was "one of those rare five-tool players" who excelled at every aspect of the game.

"He could run," Martin said. "He could steal bases, take the extra base. Doubles became triples for Lenny.

"He could catch the ball, played a great third base. He had a great arm. And he could hit for power."

For most of Butler's career, Cherry Hill East played its home games at Johnson School on Kresson Road.

"The field didn't have a fence," Martin said. "If Lenny hit one in the gap, forget it. He was off to the races."

There was a downside to that field, though.

"I can't tell you how many times Lenny would hit bombs that would be out of any field and they played him so deep they would be able to catch it," Martin said.

Butler said he learned the game from his brothers and also while playing Babe Ruth baseball for another former coach, Tom Trotman.

"We used to travel all over the place with that Babe Ruth team," Butler said.

Martin said Butler, who had a .460 career batting average, played the game with great flair.

"Lenny was a live wire," Martin said. "Just the way he dressed, the way he walked, the way he talked. He had a presence about him.

"Lenny was one of those guys that was so much fun to watch. He would step in the batter's box and he just never believed any pitcher could get him out."

Most times, he was right.

Martin knew that from experience.