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Andy Pafko

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Andrew Pafko
(Handy Andy or Pruschka)

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[edit] Biographical Information

Andy Pafko was a very popular player with the Chicago Cubs, Brooklyn Dodgers and Milwaukee Braves. All together, he had a long career of 17 years. A five-time All-Star, the outfielder/third baseman was in four World Series, and also hit over 30 homers twice.

[edit] Beginnings

Pafko grew up on a farm in Boyceville, WI, located in north-western Wisconsin, not far from Eau Claire, WI, one of six sons born to a Slovakian immigrant family. He was signed by the Eau Claire Bears of the Northern League at a try-out held in 1940, though he only hit .209 with no homers for Eau Claire. Pafko secured his place in professional baseball with a good year at Green Bay of the Wisconsin State League in 1941, batting .349, making the top three in average. The Chicago Cubs purchased his contract after the season. The next year, he played for the Macon Peaches and hit .300 with 85 RBI (sixth in the South Atlantic League). By the end of 1943, he was playing in the Major Leagues, thanks in part to the shortage of players caused by World War II but also to an outstanding season with the Los Angeles Angels which saw him earn the Pacific Coast League's MVP award. That season, he led the Pacific Coast League in batting average (.356), RBI (118), hits (215), slugging (.540) and total bases (326) and was second in runs (109, 8 behind Bill Schuster), triples (13, two less than Hank Steinbacher) and home runs (18, 3 less than Johnny Ostrowski), while striking out only 38 times in 664 plate appearances. His OBP was around .402, trailing only Johnny Dickshot and possibly Steinbacher.

[edit] A Star in Chicago

After a solid rookie year in 1944, when he hit .269 in 128 games for the Cubs, he was one of the team's best players in their last pennant season, 1945, when he hit .298 and slugged .455, hitting 48 extra base hits and driving in 110 runs. He played in all seven games of the 1945 World Series against the Detroit Tigers, going 6 for 28 with 5 runs scored and 2 RBI. He continued to star for the Cubs until the end of the decade, hitting 26 home runs in 1948, with 101 RBI and a .312 batting average as the team's regular third baseman, and then blasting a career-high 36 home runs in 1950 while posting a .304 batting average. That season, he only struck out 32 times, making him one of only a handful of players to ever collect more home runs than strikeouts in a season.

[edit] With the Boys of Summer

Andy Pafko was one the most popular athletes in Chicago when he was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers on June 15,1951 in a blockbuster deal involving eight major leaguers. He was the key to the deal for the league-leading Dodgers, who immediately inserted him into their lineup as the regular left fielder and saw him as "pennant insurance". He played fairly well for his new team, even though his .249 batting average was the lowest on the team, as he did hit 18 home runs in 277 at bats, bringing his season total to 30, and his OPS+ was a very respectable 120. However, that season was the year the Dodgers blew a 13-game late-season lead to the New York Giants, forcing a three-game playoff to decide the pennant. Pafko hit his thirtieth home run in the first game of the series, in a Dodger loss, and then in the 9th inning of the third and deciding game, stood helplessly in left field as Bobby Thomson hit the Shot Heard 'Round the World over his head at the Polo Grounds. That incident is the source of the title of Don DeLillo's novella, Pafko at the Wall, published in 1992. He returned to the World Series with the 1952 Dodgers, after posting a .287 average with 19 home runs and 85 RBI in the regular season. In the 2nd inning of Game 5 of the World Series, he made a fabulous catch of a Gene Woodling drive in right field at Yankee Stadium, robbing him of a home run that would have blown the game open (the Dodgers eventually won the game in eleven innings). However, he only went 4 for 21 at the plate during the Series, all of his hits being singles, as the Dodgers lost in seven games.

[edit] At home in Milwaukee

Pafko was traded to the Boston Braves after the 1952 World Series, in return for journeyman infielder Roy Hartsfield, a rather undignified exit for such a productive player. What he did not know at the time was that the Braves were slated to move to Milwaukee for the 1953 season, and Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley had made a sweet deal to provide the Braves with a local star. Pafko was a regular for two seasons with the Braves, hitting .297 and .286, then saw more limited playing time over the next four seasons as the Braves became one of the National League's powerhouses. He returned to the World Series twice more, in 1957, when he went 3 for 14 as the Braves became World Champions, and in 1958, when he went 3 for 9 in a losing cause. He retired after the 1959 season, having played 17 years in the majors with a .285/.350/.449 batting line (a 117 OPS+) and 213 home runs in 1,852 games.

[edit] Life after the Major Leagues

After his playing career ended, Pafko was a Braves coach from 1960 to 1962. He then managed in the minor leagues, first with the Binghamton Triplets of the New York-Penn League in 1964, and then with the West Palm Beach Braves of the Florida State League (1965 and 1968) and the Kinston Eagles of the Carolina League (1966-1967). In 1966, his Eagles won their division but got knocked out in the playoffs. In 1967 the Eagles had the worst record in the league, and, at the end of the season, the Braves dropped Kinston as an affiliate. He moved back to the Chicago area and was hired as a part-time scout for the expansion Montreal Expos, thanks to his friendship with Expos' executive John McHale who had spent many years in the Braves' front office. He, along with Lennie Merullo, was one of the last two surviving Cubs who played in the 1945 World Series when he died in October of 2013 at the age of 92.

Andy Pafko was pictured on card number 1 in the 1952 Topps set, the first modern-era baseball card set. Of course, that set is more famous for its Mickey Mantle card, which is one of the most valuable of all time.

[edit] Notable Achievements

[edit] Further Reading

  • Roger Kahn: "The Sandwich Man", in The Boys of Summer, Perennial Classics, Harper and Collins Publishers, New York, NY, 2000, pp. 262-270 (originally published in 1972).
  • Dale Voiss: "Andy Pafko", in Gregory H. Wolf, ed.: Thar's Joy in Braveland: The 1957 Milwaukee Braves, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2014, pp. 143-146. ISBN 978-1933599717

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