Saturday, October 15, 2011

Former Brooklyn Dodger Johnny Schmitz passes away at 90

Johnny Schmitz, nicknamed Bear Tracks for his big feet, pitched 13 seasons in the majors, spending parts of the 1951 and 1952 seasons in Brooklyn. He passed away on October 5, 2011 in Wisconsin. He was 90.

Johnny Schmitz / Topps
Born November 27, 1920, Schmitz entered pro ball in 1938 at the age of 17 with Class D Hopkinsville of the Cleveland Indians organization. Earning a reputation for his sharp curveball, which fellow Dodgers hurler Rex Barney noted, “He could drop it in a coffee cup,” Schmitz earned a call to the big leagues only three years later with the Chicago Cubs.

Schmitz’s career was interrupted by his Naval service in World War II from 1943-45. Returning for the 1946 season, Schmitz didn’t lose a step, making the All-Star team and leading the National League in strikeouts. This would be the first of Schmitz’s two All-Star appearances, the other coming in 1948.


Schmitz came to Brooklyn from Chicago in 1951 as part of a mid-season eight-player trade that also brought heavy-hitting outfielder Andy Pafko to the Dodgers. As much as the focus was on the acquisition of Pafko, Schmitz was the key to the deal. He had great success against the Dodgers, winning 18 games against the Dodgers in his seven years with the Cubs. Now wearing the Dodger blue, they rested safely knowing they didn’t have to face Schmitz during their playoff run.

Schmitz watched helplessly from the bullpen as Ralph Branca surrendered “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” to Bobby Thomson at the Polo Grounds during the final game of the season. With one swing of the bat, Schmitz’s World Series hopes were quickly extinguished.

“I thought, ‘There goes my World Series.’ To come so close, after being on teams on the bottom for so many years, and one pitch, there it went,” Schmitz said in a 1996 interview with Baseball Digest.

Schmitz had another chance for World Series glory the next season as he moved across town with the New York Yankees, but was traded to Cincinnati for Ewell Blackwell before the season ended. He pitched in the majors until 1956, also playing with the Senators, Red Sox, and Orioles.

After baseball, Schmitz became a greenskeeper on a local golf course until his retirement in 1990. He remained an avid fan of the game and was responsive to fan autograph requests up until the day of his passing, with members of the Sportscollectors.net website receiving signed fan mail from Schmitz only a few days before he died.

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