By George Vrechek
Previously, I proposed a baseball game to be played by the oldest living former major league baseball players. I went to Wikipedia for a list of the 100 oldest surviving players, finding they ranged in age from 88 to 101, and that 46 of them had appeared on at least one baseball card. I divided the players depicted on cards between the two leagues and made up teams including batting orders and positions. I hoped that some enterprising promoter might want to run with my idea and get the players together to play a game like in the movie Field of Dreams.
In the previous issue, I covered the fantasy National League squad of my Super-Senior Baseball Card All-Stars. In this issue, part two of two, we look at the American League squad.
While my National League squad can boast of Hall of Famers Monte Irvin, Red Schoendienst, Ralph Kiner and Stan Musial (at least at the time of the initial printing – Musial passed away Jan. 19), the American League squad is long on experience. The American League team has the oldest HOFer, 94 year-old Bobby Doerr, as well as the most experienced pitcher and No. 1 man on the list of 100, Connie Marrero, age 101.
Let’s meet the A.L. All-Stars.
Jungle Jim Rivera, batting first and playing center field
- 90 years old, born 7-22-22
- Played 1952-61 with Browns, White Sox and Athletics
- Batting average .256
- Appeared on many cards 1953-61
- An exciting belly-sliding runner
- Real name is Manual Joseph Rivera
- Spent 1945-49 in prison, but then stayed out of trouble thereafter – mostly
- Kept playing in the minors until he was 41
- Plays golf, should still be able to run.
Sam (Sabath) Mele, batting second, playing first base
- 91 years old, born 1-21-22
- Played 1947-1956 for the Red Sox, White Sox, Senators, Orioles, Indians and Reds
- Batting average .267
- Appeared on many cards as a player and manager 1949-67
- Scouted for the Red Sox for 25 years until 1993
- Lives in Quincy, Mass., and sounded pretty good in an interview with the Twins in 2009, but may have lost a step following surgeries on his back, both knees and one hip
- Mentioned he still signs cards for free through the mail.
Bobby Doerr, batting third, playing second base
- 94 years old, born 4-7-18
- Played 1937-51 all with the Red Sox
- Batting average .288 with 223 homers, oldest living HOFer
- Appeared on cards from 1938-51, has two cards in the 1938 Goudey Heads-Up set
- Scouted and coached until 1981
- Attended the Fenway Park 100th anniversary celebration in 2012.
Al Rosen, cleanup hitter, playing third base
- 89 years old, born 2-29-24
- Played 1947-56 all with the Indians
- Batting average .285, All-Star appearances from 1952-55
- Appeared on cards 1950-61
- 1978-92 President of Yanks, Astros, and Giants
- In the National and International Jewish Sports HOFs
- With his baseball business experience, Al may run this entire fantasy operation for me.
Eddie Robinson, batting fifth, playing first base
- 92 years old, born 12-15-20
- Played for seven different A.L. teams 1942-57
- Batting average .268
- Appeared on cards 1949-60
- Kept coaching, scouting and working as a baseball executive into the 1980s.
Gil Coan, batting sixth, playing left field
- 90 years old, born 5-18-22
- Played for Senators, Orioles, White Sox, Giants 1946-56
- Batting average .254, set a record for his .500 average (in 42 at-bats) in 1947
- Appeared on cards 1949-55
- Purchased an insurance agency in Brevard, N.C., when he retired and turned the agency over to his son Gil Coan Jr., and grandson, a Padre draftee
- He had just come back from feeding the cattle on his farm when I talked to him recently. Look for a future article on my conversation with Gil Coan.
Neil Berry, batting seventh, playing shortstop
- 91 years old, born 1-11-22
- Played in only 172 games for White Sox, Tigers, Browns and Orioles 1948-54
- Batting average .244
- Appeared only on Bowmans 1949-52
- Mostly a utility infielder and not much known about his post-baseball career, but the A.L. is a little short on shortstops and we need him. Now, we just have to find him.
Ed Fitz Gerald, batting eighth, catching
- 88 years old, born 5-21-24
- Played for Pirates, Senators and Indians 1948-59
- Batting average .260
- Appeared on cards 1949-60
- Coached 1960-64, played at St. Mary’s College of California.
- 101 years old, born 4-25-11
- Played for Senators 1950-54
- Pitched in rural Cuba until finally becoming the ace (20-plus wins per year, ERA under 2.00) of the Havana Cubans of the International League 1947-49, returned to the Havana team for 1955-57
- Won 39 and lost 40 for the Senators
- Appeared on cards 1951-54, his 1951 Bowman has his birthdate as 5-1-17, his 1953 Topps has 5-1-15
- 39 years old when he finally got to the majors, pitched professionally until he was 46
- Connie was born when Ty Cobb, Joe Jackson, Walter Johnson, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Eddie Plank were setting records; T206s were just out; there were only 46 states
- Lives very modestly in Cuba, finally got a $10,000 per year pension from MLB in 2012
- Connie recently gave up cigars, can’t hear, is blind and can’t walk. However, he is the most experienced pitcher in the world, and I’m designating him as my starter. Connie recently told an interviewer, “I’m ready to pitch again, but I don’t have a catcher.” Well, we have youngster Ed Fitz Gerald catching for Connie.
Just in case Marrero has an off day, I have 95-year-old Virgil Trucks ready to be the first out of the pen. Virgil went 177-135 between 1941-58. He played for five A.L. teams and has plenty of baseball cards. He has outlived four wives and is the last surviving member of the 1945 Detroit Tigers World Champions. He looks good on paper, however, Virgil fell last year and injured his leg and head so we may have to have some of the other boys warmed up as well.
Bob is 89 and pitched in both leagues for eight teams between 1946-57. He went 49-44 and saved the seventh games of both the 1951 and 1952 World Series for the Yankees. He is in the Hall of Fame (the Polish-American HOF) and still lives in Wyandotte, Mich. If both Connie and Virgil can’t go, Bob gets the nod.
Also in the pen will be Bob Savage, Dave Ferriss, George Zuverink and Lou Brissie. All these boys are between 88 and 91, so they should still have lively arms. To help warm up the pitchers, I have catchers galore – Matt Batts (what a great name, 91), Joe Astroth (90) and Charlie Silvera (88).
Second baseman Jerry Coleman (88) had an eight-year career, hitting .263 in the Yankee heyday, but has to sit with Bobby Doerr on the team. However, Coleman is still a baseball analyst for the Padres and has been in broadcasting since 1960. I’m going to ask him to do the play-by-play with youngster Vin Scully (85) in the broadcast booth until he’s needed to come into the game.
I have four outfielders available – Babe Martin (92), Don Lenhardt (90), Michigan football player Don Lund (89) and Tom Wright (89.). First baseman Chuck Stevens (92) played in 211 games for the Browns in the ’40s, and fortunately, I found him on a 1953 Mother’s Cookie PCL card to just qualify for the team based on our strict rules regarding appearing on a regular card.
I am going to bend the rules and add an infielder who didn’t appear on a baseball card. Ace Parker (100) got into only 94 games for the Athletics back in 1937 and 1938. His lifetime average was .179 with two homers. Parker is the last living player to have played in a game with Roger Hornsby. He and Bobby Doerr are the last to have played in a game with Lou Gehrig.
What did he do otherwise? He played a little football between 1937-46. Despite missing three years for WWII, he played enough to earn induction into the National Football Hall of Fame in 1972 based on quarterbacking the old NFL Brooklyn Dodgers and the AAFC New York Yankees. He also rushed, punted, kicked extra points and played defense. His career passing yards are about the same as today’s records – for a single season. Born 5-17-12, he is the second oldest living professional baseball player and the oldest living professional football player. He also played basketball at Duke University.
After his playing career, he managed baseball teams for the Durham Bulls and Duke University until 1966. Parker is also a good golfer and played near his home in Portsmouth, Va., until a few years ago when his health deteriorated. He never made it onto a regular baseball card, but he is featured (No. 84) in the 1955 Topps All-American football set – close enough to qualify for my team.
I’m going to bring in a future super-senior prospect to manage this squad, Earl Weaver (who passed away Jan. 19, after this was written). While Earl is only 82, I think he has enough experience already to be able to handle this club. Weaver never made it to the majors as a player but made the Hall of Fame based on his managerial record (1,480-1,060) with the Orioles from 1968-86. He was on many baseball cards starting in 1969. If Earl gets himself thrown out of this game, former manager Sam Mele will take over. We’ll forget about coaches.
Players without cards
If you didn’t have a bubble gum card, you didn’t make it onto my team. The “non-carded” group of American Leaguers includes outfielder Eddie Carnett (96 years-old), who played in 158 games for the White Sox and Indians between 1941-45. The rest of the American Leaguers have names only their relatives might know – Mike Palagyi (95) pitched in one game for the Senators on Aug. 18, 1939. Lou Lucier (94), Fred Caligiuri (94), Carl Miles (94) and Steve Nagy (93) are among the others.
Super-senior teams need to look to the future for potential players. While no one can be guaranteed of getting into the Top 100 oldsters, among notables who can make a future squad are the following: Yogi Berra (87), Minnie Minoso (87), Billie Pierce (85), Whitey Ford (84), Jim Bunning (81), Whitey Herzog (81), Louie Aparacio (78) and Al Kaline (78).
A game of this importance should have someone significant to throw out the first pitch. Jiroemon Kimura is my first choice. Mr. Kimura lives in Japan and is 115 years old. He is the oldest living person at the moment. Maybe it would be safer if he rolled out the first pitch.
Hall of Famer Doug Harvey (82) is the oldest umpire I can find. The game must be tougher on the umps than the players. We’ll have to go with just one ump.
Gil Coan told me the last time he played in an old-timers game several years ago, he tore his rotator cuff trying to throw from center field. We may need to modify the rules for this game and have medical personnel available, just in case.
Baseball card producers did a good job of including players on cards, if they were in the majors for at least a season. When I look back at the baseball cards from the 1950s and earlier, I now see a few cards come to even more life. Bobby Doerr (94) was on two cards in the 1938 Goudey Heads Up set and is still going strong. Red Schoendienst (90) plans to be at spring training in 2013, following in the footsteps of Jimmie Reese (one of Babe Ruth’s roommates), who hit fungos for the Angels until he died at age 93. Ralph Kiner (90) and Jerry Coleman (88) plan to be in the broadcast booth this year. Connie Marrero (101) hopes to keep munching on unlit cigars. We wish them good health for the coming season.
Information for this article has been obtained from many sources. While believed to be accurate, the information may not be as solid as what you would find on the backs of their baseball cards.
George Vrechek is a freelance contributor to SCD and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.