Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Highs and the Lows

There's something bittersweet about seeing the names of former major leaguers on the rosters of Western International League clubs over the years. It was great for fans in those pre-TV days; how else would they see anyone who had a major league uniform? Probably the most famous one was Bill Bevens, who will be forever known as the guy who came within an out of pitching a no-hitter in the World Series. His arm went bad and he eventually landed in his home town of Salem. Pitcher Joe Orrell was another. And Vancouver outfielder Charlie Mead was another. Their best days were behind them. But there was one whose best days were yet to come. Well, and some bad ones, too.

He was Steve Gerkin. He was the ace of the Lancaster Red Roses, which won the Class 'B' Inter-State League championship in 1943, ended up in the military, and then was signed by the Philadelphia A's. In 1945, Gerkin lost 12 games. He didn't win any, although he came close a few times. He was sent back to Lancaster in August and that ended his major league career. A deal was announced at the minor league meeting:

COLUMBUS, O., Dec. 5 —(AP)—The Philadelphia Phillies gave up Pitcher Steven Gerkin and Outfielder Mayo Smith to Portland of the Pacific Coast League for Pitcher Wendell Mosser.

But Portland assigned him to the farm in Salem in the spring and then he was released in July, only to be picked up hours later by the Tacoma Tigers.
However, it was evident he had talent. And he was on the move up:

Millers Sign Up Athletic Hurler
MINNEAPOLIS, Jan. 15 [1947]—Bill Ryan, general manager of the Minneapolis American association baseball team said today the club had signed Steve Gerkin, a right hand pitcher formerly with the Philadelphia Athletics.
Gerkin, a free agent, was signed for an undisclosed bonus. Ryan said. Gerkin won 19 games and lost 16 for Salem, Ore., in the Western International league last season.
He pitched 20 games for the A's in 1945, finishing with a 3.42 earned run average before he went into the service.

A man solely assigned to relief pitching was a fairly new concept in those days; newspapers insisted on spelling the title "reliefer" for a good 20 years. That's what Steve became and he had a huge season:

Millers' Relief Star Chalks Up 75th Game
MINNEAPOLIS, Aug. 21 — UP — Slim Steve Gerkin, whose heart is considerably stouter than his pitching arm, may never find himself in baseball's hall of fame, but it appeared today his relief twirling record may stand for many a year.
The 29-year-old right hander has appeared in 75 games for the Minneapolis club in the American Association, a mark no modern moundsman has even approached. Most of the reliefers, barely have hit the 60-game circle.
Gerkin, a lanky Baltimore product, spends his off-season as a garage mechanic. Sometimes he hurls only an inning or two, but his record of 10 victories and only two losses is tops on the faltering Miller mound staff. He has started only one game all year, but he has pitched 159 innings.
“I'll probably pitch in seven or eight more games,” he said. “Maybe more if we get in the playoffs.”
Gerkin's best ball is a sinker, but he also is well fortified with slow balls, curves and knucklers.
“I don't mind the pressure,” he said. “In fact I like it. It's sort of a challenge, and I always feel a lot better after I've met it.”

Gerkin Chosen Most Valuable In Association
COLUMBUS, Sept. 5—(INS)—Steve Gerkin, rubber-armed pitcher of the Minneapolis Millers, was proclaimed the American Association's most valuable player today by the league's baseball writers chapter.
Gerkin, who has shattered all records for number of pitcher-appearances in a season, pitched in his 82nd game of the season Wednesday.
The competition for this year's most valuable title was the keenest in years. Close behind the lanky ex - Philadelphia Athletic hurler wore Don Lang, Columbus third sacker, and Cliff Mapes, outfielder for the league leading Kansas City Blues.
Until Gerkin started working overtime in the association, Johnny Podgajny of the Boston Braves, Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles and other points held the record for greatest number of appearances. Podgajny appeared in 66 contests for the Orioles in 1945.
Gerkin, a skinny 30-year-old right - hander known as “The Sliver” — has a record of 10 victories and two defeats as a relief hurler.
He spent part of 1945 with the Athletics, then played with Salem and Tacoma of the Western International League. Last year, the Baltimore, Md. native appeared in 52 games for a new league record.
Other American Association stars who finished high in the balloting included Heinz Becker and Alvin Dark of Milwaukee, Mike Natisin and Ira Hutchinson of Columbus.
Ed Stewart of Kansas City, Phil Haugstad of St. Paul and Andy Gilbert of Minneapolis.

And he got in some Winter Ball in 1947 as well:

Noted Ball Player Here
Mr. and Mrs. Steve Gerkin and their three year old daughter, Judy, are visiting his sister and brother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Rudolph Miller of 824 Chester avenue, Eastport.
The Gerkin family flew up from Havana, Cuba, to attend the funeral services of Mrs. N.J. Miller. Mr. Gerkin is a professional baseball player and has been in Havana since Oct. 4. He played for Minneapolis, of the American Association during the season and set an all time high record by taking part in 83 games. He was voted the most valuable player in the American Association by sports writers and also won Sporting News Award for being the most valuable player.
He pitched for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1945 and was in the Coast League in 1946.
Before he started playing professional ball he pitched for the Eastport team against Annapolis in the 1937 series.
The Gerkins will return to Havana by airplane.

[Evening Capital, Annapolis, Md., Dec. 4, 1947]

You'd think a major league team - even one as dismal as the Philadelphia A's - would sign the ace reliever. But they didn't. Instead, Steve kicked around in Triple-A in 1948...

COLUMBIS, O., June 24 - (INS)—Pitcher Steve Gerkin, who set an organized baseball record last year by appearing in 83 games for Minneapolis, has been sold outright by Columbus of the American Association to Rochester of the International League.

...and the following year was hurling for a semi-pro club, and did something really dumb.

Steals Cash From Police
ESTHERVILLE, July 27 (AP) — A former Minneapolis baseball pitcher was fined $100 in justice of peace court here Wednesday after he pled guilty to a charge of petty larceny.
Steve Gerkin, with the Minneapolis American Association team, admitted taking $19 from a metal cash box at police headquarters. The money was from parking meters.
Gerkin said he had stopped at police headquarters about 3 a.m. Wednesday to see Chief of Police Gene Morris, who manages the local baseball team for which Gerkin pitches. No one was in the office, so Gerkin said he called Morris and told him: “Say, there's no one here. I could walk away with a typewriter.”
Morris advised him to go home, but Gerkin said he found the cash box key and took $19 first.

It wasn't viewed as a big deal and the "string bean hurler of the Ewell Blackwell type" was back with the team the next season. However, like many minor leaguers, he kept his suitcase handy.

Royals Ink 2 Pitchers for '52 S-M Campaign
Two more pitchers have been signed by the Rochester Royals for the 1952 Southern Minnesota league baseball campaign.
Contracts were returned by Dick Fischer, the hard-luck pitcher with the Royals last season, and Steve Gerkin, former star with the Minneapolis Millers a few years back.
Gerkin is a familiar name to most Minnesota baseball fans. The 36-year-old righthander was the sensation of the American Association with the Minneapolis Millers in 1947 as a relief specialist. He appeared in 83 games and had a 10-2 record that season.
He played with Columbus and with Rochester of the International league in 1948. With Rochester he posted a 4-4 record and had an earned run average of 3.35.
Last year, the former professional had a 15-6 record for Lake Dennison, Iowa.
Gerkin will probably be used exclusively as a relief pitcher, according to present plans of manager Clint Dahlberg.
[Austin Daily Herald, Austin, Minn., Jan. 30, 1952]

He was one of only four pitchers on the staff to start the season(one was not Fischer).

Steve had another crack at pro ball:

Gerkin Named ...
VETERAN STEVE GERKIN, a member of the Rochester pitching staff last season, has been named manager of the St. Petersburg, Fla., entry in the Class B Florida-Internationa1 Baseball League. Gerkin will leave Rochester Sunday. He says he plans to do some relief pitching “whenever my young pitchers get in trouble”.. Gerkin has played in this section of the country since leaving professional baseball. In 1947, with Minneapolis, Gerkin set a record by appearing in 88 games as a relief pitcher. . . St. Petersburg offers a challenge to the "thin, man". For the Florida city is considered as being a “manager's graveyard” with its rapid turnover of pilots. . . Gerkin is well along in years and once hurled in the major leagues for Connie Mack's then hapless Philadelphia Athletics. Last season he had an 0-1 record in the Southern Minny and was released shortly before the season ended. . .
[Evening Tribune, Albert Lea, Minn., February 27, 1953]

But we find him later that year as a relief pitcher for the Duluth Dukes in the Class 'C' Northern League. He finished the year back in semi-pro. The only references I can spot after that are to his fine season with Minneapolis and his less-than-fine career with Philadelphia.

Steve's grandson supplied the picture of the scorecard you see above.

No comments: