Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Living Former St. Louis Browns

September 27, 1953: The St. Louis Browns play their final game, at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis. They lose to the Chicago White Sox, 2-1.

April 13, 1954: The Browns play their 1st game as the Baltimore Orioles. They play the Detroit Tigers at Briggs Stadium (which was renamed Tiger Stadium in 1961). The Tigers win, 3-0. The losing pitcher for the Orioles: Don Larsen, who would go 3-21 that season. The Orioles got their 1st win the next day, 3-2, then came home to a parade and a sellout, 2 things they rarely had in St. Louis.

April 15, 1954: The Orioles play their 1st game in Baltimore. Again playing the White Sox, they win, 3-1 at Memorial Stadium. Bob Turley, future Yankee Cy Young Award winner and World Series hero (both in 1958), outpitched Virgil Trucks. In 1991, for the Orioles' last Opening Day at Memorial Stadium before moving into Camden Yards, they again played the White Sox, and Turley and Trucks, wearing replicas of their 1954 jerseys, threw out the ceremonial first balls. (This time, the White Sox won.)

There are 20 living St. Louis Browns, the youngest of whom is 83 years old:

* Tom Jordan, 96, from Lawton, Oklahoma. A catcher, he played 39 major league games, all in the 1940s, the last his only appearance for the Browns, in 1948.

* Chuck Stevens, 97, born in Van Houten, New Mexico, and grew up outside Los Angeles in Long Beach, California. A 1st baseman, he debuted with the Browns as a September callup in 1941, then enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force, and was in combat at Tinian, Guam and Okinawa.

He returned to the majors in 1946, and was the Browns' starting 1st baseman. On July 9, 1948, in a game against the Indians in Cleveland, he became the 1st player to get a major league hit off the legendary Negro League star Satchel Paige. That was Stevens' last season in the majors, but he helped the Hollywood Stars win 3 Pacific Coast League Pennants.

* Al Naples, 89, from Staten Island. A shortstop, played for the Browns on June 25 and 26, 1949, getting a double in 7 trips to the plate, and that was his entire major league career.

* George Elder, 95, from Lebanon, Kentucky. A left fielder, the extent of his major league experience was 41 games for the 1949 Browns.

* Johnny Hetki, 93, from Leavenworth, Kansas. A pitcher, he made 3 appearances for them in 1950. In 1954, pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he led the National League in games finished, but that was the end of his big-league career.

* Billy DeMars, 90, from Brooklyn. A shortstop, appeared in 61 games for the Browns in 1950 and 1 in 1951. He is also a surviving member of the Philadelphia Athletics, playing 18 games for them in 1948. He remained in the Browns/Orioles organization after 1951. He won the 1964 Midwest League Pennant, managing the Fox Cities Foxes. He was a coach on the 1980 World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.

* Dick Starr, 95, from Kittanning, Pennsylvania. A pitcher, he debuted with the Yankees in 1947, making 4 appearances and not getting a ring, and 1 more in 1948. He pitched for the Browns in 1949, '50 and '51, before closing his career in '51 with another team that no longer exists, the Washington Senators.

* Frank Saucier (Saw-SHAY), about to turn 90, from the St. Louis suburb of Leslie, Missouri. An outfielder, he served in both World War II and the Korean War, in which he was in the U.S. Navy and rose to the rank of Lieutenant. He was named The Sporting News' Minor League Player of the Year in 1950, with the San Antonio Missions, winning the Texas League batting title.

But his entire big-league career was 1 hit and 3 walks in 17 plate appearances for the '51 Browns. He's best known for a plate appearance he didn't make: On August 19, 1951, he was penciled in as the Browns' leadoff hitter in a game against the Tigers at Sportsman's Park, but he was immediately replaced by a pinch-hitter: Eddie Gaedel, team owner Bill Veeck's 3-foot-7 midget.

He graduated from Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, the school where Winston Churchill delivered his "Iron Curtain Speech" in 1946. His degree is in physics, so he was no dumb jock. Their baseball facility is named Frank Saucier Field. But his real name is Francis Field Saucier.

* Hal Hudson, about to turn 89, from the Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe, Michigan. A pitcher, he made 3 appearances for the Browns in 1952, then 2 for the White Sox that year and 1 for them the next.

* Tom Wright, 92, from Shelby, North Carolina. An outfielder, he was a member of the ill-fated Boston Red Sox of 1948 and '49, played 29 games with the 1952 Browns, and wrapped up his career with the Senators.

If it seems like a lot of players were good enough for the Browns and the Senators, and nobody else, well, there were a few who also played for the Browns and the Philadelphia Athletics, or for the Senators and the A's, so make whatever you want out of that.

* Manuel Joseph "Jim" Rivera, 94, from Manhattan. Nicknamed "Jungle Jim" after the comic strip character, and capable of playing all 3 outfield positions, he debuted in the major leagues with the 1952 Browns, but was traded to the White Sox in midseason, remaining with them until 1961, when he closed his career with the A's. He was the starting right fielder on the 1959 AL Champion "Go-Go White Sox."

* Jay Porter, 83, from Shawnee, Oklahoma. A catcher, he played for both St. Louis teams, one at each end of his career: The Browns in 1952 and the Cardinals in 1959.

* Joe DeMaestri, 87, from San Francisco. A shortstop, and like DeMars a surviving former Philadelphia Athletic, "Froggy" played 81 games for the Browns in 1952, before playing for the A's from 1953 through 1959, including the move to Kansas City in 1954-55. He was an All-Star in 1957.

He was a throw-in in the trade that brought Roger Maris to the Yankees. He was sent in to replace Tony Kubek after his injury in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, and his last major league appearance was on the next year's Series, winning a 1961 World Series ring.

* Ned Garver, 90, from the Toledo area. A pitcher, he debuted with the Browns in 1948, and remained with them through 1952. In 1951, he went 20-12 despite the Browns losing over 100 games, and was the starting pitcher for the American League in the All-Star Game. He even batted .305 and hit a home run that season.

He remained in the majors until 1961, becoming an original Los Angeles Angel, and finished with a career record of 129-157. That record could have been reversed, or even better, had he pitched for mainly good teams.

* Neil Berry, 94, from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Not the best shortstop to grow up in that town (that would be Derek Jeter), but he did play 7 seasons in the majors, including 57 games with the Browns in 1953. Claimed off waivers by the Chicago White Sox toward the end of that season, they traded him back in the off-season, allowing him to become an original 1954 Oriole.

* Johnny Groth, 89, from Chicago. A center fielder, he was with the Browns only in their last season, 1953, although he was their starter that year. He later played for 2 other teams that no longer exist in their form from that time, the Washington Senators and the Kansas City Athletics.

* Ed Mickelson, 89, from Ottawa, Illinois, and grew up in the St. Louis suburb of University City. A 1st baseman, he played briefly for both St. Louis teams: 5 games for the Cardinals in 1950, and 7 for the Browns in the final season. He drove in the last run in Browns history on September 27, 1953, singling home Groth against Billy Pierce of the White Sox. It was his last major league hit: He didn't return to the majors until an 0-for-12 stint with the 1957 Cubs.

* Billy Hunter, 88, born in Groundhog town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Jimmy Stewart's nearby hometown of Indiana, Pennsylvania. The Browns' starting shortstop in their last season, it made him an All-Star as a rookie, their last All-Star. He made the move to Baltimore, and then was part of the 18-player Yanks/O's trade after the 1954 season. He played on the 1955 Pennant winners and the 1956 World Champions, although he didn't get a World Series ring.

He returned to the Oriole organization, and is best remembered as the longtime 3rd base coach for the great Oriole teams of the 1960s and early '70s. He managed the Texas Rangers in 1977 and '78.

* Roy Sievers, 89, the only man on this list actually born and raised in St. Louis -- and the man in the photo at the top of the page. A 1st baseman, he debuted with the Browns in 1949, and was the American League's Rookie of the Year. He remained with them until the end in 1953, but was traded to the Washington Senators.

He appeared in 5 All-Star Games, and led the AL in home runs and RBIs in 1957, despite playing his home games in Griffith Stadium, which had a small capacity but faraway fences. His 42 home runs in that season and his 180 homers overall were Senators records.

He was a member of the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies, but was traded before their September collapse. Hmmmm, maybe trading him was a bad idea.) He played in the majors until 1965, and had a lifetime batting average of .267 with 318 home runs. He probably would have had a lot more if he weren't a righthanded hitter in Sportsman's Park (much friendlier to lefthanded hitters) or hitting in Griffith Stadium.

He had the distinction of playing for 3 teams that no longer exist in their current form: The Browns (Orioles), the original Washington Senators who moved after 1960 (the Minnesota Twins), and the replacement Senators who moved after 1971 (the Texas Rangers). He was 1 of 9 players to play for the Old Senators and the new Senators. The others were Don Mincher, Camilo Pascual, Pedro Ramos, Johnny Schaive, Zoilo Versalles, Hal Woodeshick, Rudy Hernandez and Hector Maestri. Sievers, Pascual, Ramos and Hernandez are still alive.

Roy Sievers still lives in St. Louis, and still attends the annual St. Louis Browns Alumni dinner.
* Don Larsen, 86, from the Chicago suburb of Michigan City, Indiana. A pitcher, he debuted with the Browns in their final season, made the move, and started and lost the Orioles' 1st regular-season game. Part of the 18-player Yanks/O's trade after the 1954 season.

Just 2 years after going 3-21 with the '54 Orioles, he put on the greatest pitching performance in baseball history, throwing a perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series. With the death last year of Yogi Berra, Larsen is now the last survivor among the players from that game, on either side.
Larsen with the man who caught his perfect game,
the late Yogi Berra. Because he was from St. Louis,
the Browns gave Yogi a day in his rookie year, 1947.
He told the crowd at Sportsman's Park,
"I want to thank everybody for making this day necessary."

He won Pennants with the Yankees in 1955, '56, '57 and '58, and World Series rings in '56 and '58. He started and lost Game 7 of the '57 Series. The Yankees included him in the trade that brought Roger Maris from the Kansas City Athletics in the 1959-60 off-season. He pitched against the Yankees for the San Francisco Giants in the 1962 World Series, his 5th Pennant.

He was with the Houston Colt .45's when they became the Astros and moved into the Astrodome in 1965, returned to the Orioles in '65 but was no longer with the big club when they won the Series in '66, and closed his career with the Chicago Cubs in 1967.

Despite his World Series heroics, he was just 81-91 for his career -- but 78-70 without that 1 awful season. He turned out to be the last active player who had played for the St. Louis Browns, and still returns to Yankee Stadium for Old-Timers' Day.

*

UPDATE: Three of these men died in 2016: Hal Hudson on July 8, Neil Berry on August 24, and Joe DeMaestri on August 26. Dick Starr died on January 18, 2017. Ned Garver died on February 26, 2017.

This leaves 15 living former St. Louis Browns.

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