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Gus Zernial

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Gus Edward Zernial
(Ozark Ike)

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[edit] Biographical Information

Big Gus Zernial, nicknamed "Ozark Ike" by a sportscaster, was a slugger-supreme of the early 1950s. During his first five full seasons, he was one of the most feared power hitters in baseball - averaging 33 homers and well over 100 RBI. In seven seasons with the sad-sack Philadelphia and Kansas City Athletics, Zernial averaged 27 homers per year.

Zernial began his pro career in 1942, after being a three-sport star at Beaumont High School in his native Beaumont, TX. He then missed the 1943-1945 seasons while serving in the military. He returned in 1946 to lead the Carolina League with 41 home runs.

Coming up to the majors originally with the Chicago White Sox in 1949, he hit .318 in 73 games. He would have played more games had he not broken his collarbone in May. The next year, 1950, playing almost every day, he hit 29 home runs, and it looked like the White Sox would have a slugger for the rest of the decade. He went deep 3 times on the last day of the season; no one had ever done so before and only one other player (Richie Allen) would do it in the next 50 years.

However, in April 1951, the White Sox peddled him in a three-way trade that brought Minnie Minoso to the White Sox, where Minnie played for many years. Zernial went to the Philadelphia Athletics, managed by Jimmie Dykes in his first year after Connie Mack had retired after managing them for 50 years.

That year, Zernial hit 33 home runs with 129 RBI, leading the league in home runs and RBI. In spite of that, he was only 20th in the MVP voting. He continued to be among the league leaders in home runs and RBI in 1952 and 1953, with a peak of 42 home runs in 1953, behind only Al Rosen of Cleveland. He was named to the All Star team in 1953.

In 1954, he was having an off season when he duplicated his 1949 injury by again breaking his collarbone, this time in July. The following year, 1955, though, he bounced back quickly, as the Athletics moved to Kansas City, hitting 30 home runs.

In 1956, he was less than spectacular, hitting only .224. After the 1957 season, when he hit 27 home runs but with only a .236 average, he was traded to the Detroit Tigers.

He finished out his career with Detroit, hitting .323 in 66 games in 1958, and .227 in 60 games in 1959.

He hit 237 home runs and had 776 RBI. His at-bats-per-home-run put him # 52 on the all time list in that category.

In later life, he lived in California and was Director of Community Development of the Fresno Grizzlies. He had earlier worked as sports director of radio station KFRE in Fresno, CA, where he settled in 1960, and worked as a broadcaster for Fresno State University basketball, football and baseball games. He later worked for the Fresno Chamber of Comemrce and in that capacity pushed for a minor league baseball team to move to the area by working tirelessly to facilitate the construction of a ballpark in downtown Fresno. He was also a broadcaster for the Grizzlies after the team began play in 1998. He retired in 2004, but was hired again three years later as a special ambassador for the team. He died in Fresno of congestive heart failure in 2011, aged 87.

An article in Baseball Digest in 2001 looked at major league career leaders by alphabetical last name. Zernial was one of the leaders in most categories, along with other long-time ballplayers who names started with Z: Heinie Zimmerman, Chief Zimmer, Todd Zeile, and Richie Zisk.

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • AL All-Star (1953)
  • AL Home Runs Leader (1951)
  • AL RBI Leader (1951)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 6 (1950-1953, 1955 & 1957)
  • 30 Home Run Seasons: 3 (1951, 1953 & 1955)
  • 40-Home Run Seasons: 1 (1953)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 3 (1951-1953)

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