Friday, May 14, 2010

Gene Hermanski turns 90, the former Brooklyn Dodger recalls his time with the Bushwicks

Former Brooklyn Dodger outfielder Gene Hermanski, now residing in Homosassa, Florida, celebrated his 90th birthday this past week. A WWII veteran, Hermanski made his debut with Brooklyn in 1943, after receiving two months of leave from the Coast Guard. He would continue to serve with the Coast Guard after a failed stint in the Navy until 1945.

While in the Coast Guard, Hermanski had the opportunity to play for another famous Brooklyn ballclub, the semipro Brooklyn Bushwicks. During a 2009 interview, Hermanski recalled that he used an assumed name to avoid being shipped out to combat in Europe.

"I played a few years with the Bushwicks," he said. "I was in the service then, stationed at Fort Bennett Field with the Coast Guard. I played under the name of Gene Walsh. I had to change it [my name]. It was the smartest thing I ever did in my life. If my commanding officer ever found out that I was playing ball in some ball park, he'd ship me overseas."

Gene Hermanski (2nd from left front row) with Brooklyn Bushwicks / Author's Collection

At the time he was playing for the Bushwicks, Hermanski encountered some of the greats of the Negro Leagues prior to playing with Jackie Robinson.

"We used to play teams like the Black Yankees, Philadelphia Stars, Kansas City Monarchs, and Homestead Grays," he recalled. "I played against Josh Gibson, as well as Satchel Paige. I got a hit or two off of Paige. I may have faced him seven or eight times and got two hits. He wasn't easy to hit, but it just so happened that I swung the bat and something happened and it was a base hit.

"We played all the black teams and we were all white," he said. "We were the home team from Brooklyn at Dexter Park, and the fans would root for the black [visiting] teams! Listen to this, we used to draw 10,000 on a Sunday for a doubleheader. It was inexpensive. They charged a buck to get in. ... We had a good reputation and we won. We played about .700 ball."

As we discussed his experiences playing against the likes of the famed Gibson and Paige, the conversation turned to Robinson. Hermanski was in the lineup the day that Robinson made his debut for the Dodgers. While Hermanski was a supporter of Robinson, having once proclaimed that the whole team wear number 42 after Robinson began to receive death threats, he recalled that there were dissenters in the Dodger clubhouse.

"Most of the ballplayers took to liking him," he said. "There were a few guys, the rednecks, who didn't care for blacks. It was only natural though the more I thought about it. These kids from the South were brought up to dislike the blacks, so they continued to do so. Some of them asked to be traded, Dixie Walker, Kirby Higbe and Hugh Casey."

After helping the Dodgers to two National League pennants in 1947 and 1949, Hermanski was traded to the Cubs during the 1951 season. He would also play with the Pittsburgh Pirates before finishing his career in 1954 with the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League where he was reunited with Charlie Dressen.

"Buzzie Bavasi fixed me up with Oakland," he said. "I called him and he said, 'I could get you a job with Oakland, but the big leagues, forget it!' It was in Spring Training, so I said, 'I'll take it'. When he told me Charlie was the manager, I decided to go out there."

After his playing career was over, he worked as a sales representative for Tose Incorporated. At the age of 90, he still receives about ten autograph requests per week from fans across the country and enjoys the contact with those that still remember him. At the end of the interview when he inquired about my age, he felt that recalling his memories of playing with the Bushwicks for a short time allowed him to feel as young as the person interviewing him. It seems no matter what our age is, baseball is the true fountain of youth.

0 comments:

Post a Comment