Showing posts with label 1945 World Series. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1945 World Series. Show all posts

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Lennie Merullo made an unlikely pairing with the great Dizzy Dean

Lennie Merullo, a longtime baseball scout and the last living player from the Chicago Cubs World Series team from 1945, passed away at the age of 98 on May 30, 2015. Career baseball men of his ilk who stormed the back roads of the United States looking for a diamond in the rough without the aid of the Internet and advanced statistics are a vanishing breed. They have been replaced in great number by personnel who no longer have to endure hours of travel across state lines to check out a kid whose exploits are fully available online.

Not only are these seasoned scouts being replaced, or in Merullo’s case passing on, so are the volumes of stories they have accumulated through their years of travel across the bush leagues as players and scouts. During his 65-year career, there was nary a star that hadn’t crossed Merullo’s path, and even rarer was the one for whom he didn’t have a special story to tell.

Lennie Merullo /
One tale he was gracious enough to share was from his second year in professional baseball with the Tulsa Oilers in 1940. This yarn wasn’t about how he played all 162 games that season in the sweltering heat, taking off his shoes and socks in between innings to find relief from the hot fields, or how his teammate Eddie Watikus (The Natural) didn’t sit out a single play the entire season. A few feet farther down the bench resided an unlikely colleague in a 30-year-old pitcher named Dizzy Dean.

Dean was in the twilight of his career when he played with Merullo in Tulsa. It was just nine years earlier that Dean was MVP of the same league, en route to one of the briefest Hall of Fame careers in Major League Baseball. After suffering a broken toe during the 1937 All-Star Game, he struggled to regain the form that garnered him 30 victories and a World Series championship with the St. Louis Cardinals. Ol’ Diz was trying to hang on with the Cubs and was a far cry from his former self.

“When he was traded from the Cardinals to the Cubs, he was traded with an arm that was giving him trouble,” Merullo said from his home in Reading, Massachusetts in 2009. “They [the Cubs] thought the hot weather would be good for his arm.”

Despite not having his best stuff, Dean was still an attraction everywhere he went. His star performance from only a few years earlier in the 1934 World Series endeared him to fans across the Texas League. Not only did they fill up the ballpark to see him play, they came bearing gifts.

“The fans came out [from] everywhere to see Dizzy pitch,” he said. “They would come out with baskets of fried chicken and they would be at the train station and everything that goes with it. Limburger cheese to stink out the train! … The fans were great!”

Dean wasn’t the only beneficiary of the adulation; Merullo also had his day in the sun thanks to his famous teammate. It involved an off-day and a trip to a car dealership that only the great Dizzy Dean could negotiate.

“Dizzy came by one time and he had a station wagon,” Merullo recalled. “The dealer was Jerry Frey Motors in Dallas. He came by and picked up Hank Wise who was sitting in the wicker chairs outside of the hotel. He asked us if we wanted to take a ride. He took us to his home and to the dealer. We spent the day with Dizzy. He was getting his radio checked out.”

The 23-year-old Merullo was mesmerized by what he saw on the lot, pristine top of the line models worth than what the young rookie could dream up at the time. One car stood out amongst the entire stock.

“There was a brand new Ford Club Coupe with the jump seats in the back,” he said. “There I was sitting there in the front seat, in the driver seat, holding on to the steering wheel of that car. I envisioned myself driving back home to Boston in this new 1940 Ford Coupe.”

Apparently Dean noticed Merullo’s immediate attachment to the car. In a veteran sort of way, Dean gently planted a seed in Merullo’s head. That’s all Dizzy Dean needed to work his magic.

“Dizzy walked by and must have saw the look on my face. He just said, ‘I think I can get you a good buy on this, you thinking of buying the car?’ I got out of the car quick. All I could see was dollar signs. It was about $1,000. Just the thought of it, I couldn't afford it.

“He said, ‘I can get you a good buy on this car.’ He came back with the figures; he got it like $200 off of that. I drove that car home with Eddie Watikus and Barney Olson! I wouldn’t let Olson drive because he drank beer and Watikus didn't have a license. I drove that car 1,400 miles from Tulsa to Boston; the three of us cramped in the front seat of that Ford Club Coupe. A couple nights on that road and we were home. I remember him [Dean] saying [to the dealer], ‘Change those figures around and that car is yours.’... He was something special.”

Friday, October 11, 2013

Andy Pafko, Brooklyn Dodger left fielder in Shot Heard 'Round the World dies at 92

Andy Pafko showered with confetti after Bobby Thomson's home run
"Handy" Andy Pafko, who was immortalized as he looked up helplessly at Bobby Thomson's home run off of Ralph Branca at the Polo Grounds on October 3, 1951, passed away on October 8, 2013, in Stevensville, Michigan. He was 92.

His 1952 Topps baseball card remains one of the most collected baseball cards in history, as it was the first card in Topps' inaugural set, and was often damaged by rubber bands that held children's card collections together.

He was also prominently featured in Roger Kahn's classic, "The Boys of Summer," yet the four-time All-Star was hesitant to put himself in the same echelon as his fellow outfielders Carl Furillo and Duke Snider.

"I wasn't in Brooklyn long enough," he said. "I don't rate being with Snider and Furillo. I wasn't in that class."

Pafko more than held his own, playing 17 seasons from 1943-1959, blasting 213 home runs and compiling a lifetime .285 batting average for the Chicago Cubs, Brooklyn Dodgers, and Milwaukee Braves.

In his later years, he gained notoriety as one of the last two living players as a member of the 1945 Chicago Cubs, the last team in franchise history to make the World Series.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Les Mueller, 93, played with Detroit Tigers in 1945 World Series

Les Mueller, one of the last remaining players from the Detroit Tigers 1945 World Series championship team, died Thursday in Belleville, Ill. He was 93.

Mueller signed with the Tigers in 1937, and made his major league debut in 1941, pitching in four games before enlisting in the Army midway through the 1942 season. He went to the Jefferson Barracks Reception Center in St. Louis where his baseball skills kept him stateside.

Les Mueller
“I was 23 years old when I went into the service" Mueller said in a 2008 interview via telephone from his home. "I was in St. Louis and I stayed there. I was very fortunate. The first year I played quite a bit. We had several major leaguers and played about 70 games that summer."

Muller continued to keep his skills sharp during his service, playing semi-pro ball during his breaks. Just as he was preparing to go overseas in 1944, doctors found a hernia during a physical and gave him a medical discharge.

He joined the Tigers in 1945 eager to prove himself to the Detroit brass. He took whatever role the club needed, winning six games as both a starter and reliever, with two shutouts and a save. During that season, he set a major league record by pitching 19 2/3 innings against the Philadelphia Athletics on July 21st. Amazingly, he received a no-decision when the game ended in a tie after being called after 24 innings due to darkness.

"I always kept hoping we'd get a run, and I'd get a win, but it didn't work out that way," he said to SABR member Jim Sargent.

The Tigers won the American League pennant in 1945 to advance to the World Series. They faced the Chicago Cubs in an epic seven-game battle of the Great Lakes. Mueller was provided an immediate opportunity to contribute when was summoned in the eighth inning of the first game of the series by manager Steve O'Neill to stop the onslaught of the Chicago lineup.

"It was the first game of the series that Hal Newhouser started," Mueller recalled. "He really got clobbered that day by the Cubs. I remember one or two other pitchers got in that game. I was the only pitcher that day that shut them out. I pitched the 8th and 9th innings. I walked a man and had a strikeout, but I didn't give up any hits; I felt pretty good about that."

Mueller's clean slate in Game 1 was his only appearance during the series. The experience of being on the mound in that atmosphere is something he held close over 60 years later.

"It was an experience I will never forget," he said. "It was a boyhood dream come true, getting to pitch in the World Series and getting a ring."

Riding high off of his performance in the World Series, Mueller was confident that he would return with the Tigers in 1946. Right before the season opener, he pitched four innings of shutout ball in an exhibition game against the Boston Braves. Feeling good about his showing, he went north with the team to Detroit, eager to suit up for the season opener; however, in a cruel twist of fate, Mueller was called into the manager's office prior to the start of the National Anthem. He was completely unaware about the devastating news he was about to receive.

"I go up there and George Trautman, who was the general manager at the time, said, 'We're going to send you to Buffalo.' … It was a shocker," he recalled.

After a few days of contemplating his decision, he went to Buffalo where he developed a sore arm. Despite receiving expert medical care for his arm, his career was finished by 1948. He returned to Belleville and took over the family business Mueller Furniture from his dad, managing it until his retirement in 1984.

Despite his relatively quick exit from baseball after his World War II service, Mueller never lost his love for the game.

"I've been a continued fan," he said. "I've had season tickets to the St. Louis Cardinals since 1968."

As someone who started his professional career over 70 years earlier, Mueller had his musings on the major changes he's seen in the sport. 

"The hitters dig in a lot more, and if they almost get hit, everybody blows up and the umpire runs outs and warns the clubs," Mueller lamented. "That's been kind of exaggerated and takes something away from the pitchers. The biggest thing that has made the home run so prevalent is the thin handle bat. Hank Greenberg's and Rudy York's bats were like wagon tongues. Now they get more bat speed with these bats. I picked up some of the bats the guys they used in our days, [and they] were heavy and big. I don't think a lot of guys who hit home runs now could swing those bats."