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Billy Jurges

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William Frederick Jurges

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[edit] Biographical Information

Billy Jurges spent five years in the minor leagues starting in 1927 with the New England League Manchester Blue Sox and by 1931 had made it to the major leagues with the Chicago Cubs. He was the starting Cubs shortstop for most of the 1930s, serving on three pennant winners, the 1932, 1935 and 1938 clubs.

Jurges anchored an infield of Stan Hack, Billy Herman and Charlie Grimm or Phil Cavarretta from 1931-1938, after which he was traded to the New York Giants along with Frank Demaree and Ken O'Dea, for Dick Bartell, Hank Leiber, and Gus Mancuso. He came back to the Cubs in 1946, retiring in 1947. Jurges led the National League in fielding percentage for shortstops four times, and once hit nine consecutive hits, one shy of the then NL record. The light hitting Jurges played 1,072 games with the Cubs, hitting .254 in over 3,600 at bats. Jurges was an All-Star three times, in 1935 with the Cubs, and in 1939 and 1940 with the Giants. Jurges played in three World Series with the Cubs, hitting .275 in 40 AB.

In 1932, Jurges played a central part in two seemingly unrelated acts. On July 6, his former girlfriend, lounge singer Violet Valli, called Jurges on the telephone, then entered his hotel room with a gun to attempt suicide. Jurges intervened and took a bullet in the hand and another through the ribs. There was a similar episode seventeen years later, also in Chicago, involving Eddie Waitkus (who, ironically, also played for the Cubs, but was then a Phillie), by Ruth Ann Steinhagen, a young woman obsessed with him. It's possible that the Jurges incident, rather than the Waitkus shooting, is the real inspiration for the novel and film The Natural.

Jurges only missed three weeks, but the contending Cubs signed ex-Yankee shortstop Mark Koenig as insurance. Koenig, who went on to hit .353 the rest of the way, was voted a half-World Series share. The New York Yankees reacted strongly to this perceived "slight" and rode the Cubs unmercifully during the World Series, culminating in Babe Ruth's "called shot" off of Charlie Root in Game 3.

After leaving the Cubs in 1947, Jurges managed briefly in the farm systems of the Cleveland Indians and Milwaukee Braves, before returning to the coaching ranks with the original Washington Senators in 1956. In July 1959, still a Washington coach, he was named the surprise manager of the Boston Red Sox, who had fired Pinky Higgins. Jurges was able to rally Boston in '59: the Bosox won 44 of 80 games under him - improving from eighth to fifth place - and finally broke the color line with the promotion of Pumpsie Green from AAA. But the 1960 Red Sox were a team in turmoil, facing the end of Ted Williams' career, and Jurges apparently couldn't handle it; he left the team citing "nervous exhaustion" and was fired on June 10. It was his last managerial job, although he spent many years scouting for the Houston Astros, the second Washington Senators club and the Texas Rangers.

Jurges died in Clearwater, FL on March 3, 1997, aged 88.

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • 3-time NL All-Star (1937, 1939 & 1940)

Preceded by
Pinky Higgins
Boston Red Sox Manager
Succeeded by
Del Baker

[edit] Sources

The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball: Third Edition
SABR Minor League Database

[edit] Further Reading

  • Paul Geisler: "Billy Jurges", in Mark Armour and Bill Nowlin, eds.: Red Sox Baseball in the Days of Ike and Elvis: The Red Sox of the 1950s, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2012, pp. 348-357. ISBN 978-1933599243
  • Tony Salin: Baseball's Forgotten Heroes, Masters Press, Chicago, 1999, pp. 159-168.

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