Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pitler's "night" benefited Brooklyn hospital

Uncommon commons. Contemporary accounts of tidbits that as a collector of baseball and football cards I found interesting because they helped bring to life the faces on the cards I collected. I figure that if I found these items of interest, so would other vintage card collectors.

Back in the 1950s, when ballplayers and fans had more in common in terms of team loyalty and life styles, it was not uncommon for popular players to be honored with a "day" or a "night" when they and their families were brought onto the field before the game or between games of a doubleheader, and presented -- often lavishly -- with gifts from fans, sponsors, etc.

Gifts often included new cars, sporting goods, home appliances, savings bonds, and the like. Wives usually received flowers and jewelry and the children got new bicycles. The "take" often totaled half a year's salary for the honored player.

On August 25, 1953, the Dodgers hosted a "night" for popular coach Jake Pitler. Pitler had been part of the Dodgers' family since 1939 as a minor league manager, and in 1947 joined the big club as first base coach.

As a minor league manager (winning back-to-back PONY League pennants in 1939-40), Pitler, over the years, was skipper to many future major leaguers, including such "Boys of Summer," as Cal Abrams, Carl Erskine, Ralph Branca, Clem Labine, and, in his first pro season, 17-year-old Duke Snider.

For his "night," in lieu of the traditional gifts, Pitler, an observant Jew who didn't coach on Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah, requested that all donations go to Beth-El Hospital in Brooklyn. The hospital benefited to the tune of $8,000, which was used to establish The Jake Pitler Pediatric Play Therapy Room. On his "night," Pitler received a plaque acknowledging his generosity.

Beth-El Hospital now operates as Brookdale Unit Hospital, but the Pitler playroom apparently no longer exists.

Pitler played only one full season in the major leagues. In 1917 he was Honus Wagner's doubleplay partner with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He still holds the major league record for putouts by a second baseman in a game: 15 in a 22-inning game on Aug. 22, 1917.

His only career-contemporary baseball card was in the 1952 Topps high-number series. His status as a Brooklyn Dodger and a Jewish major leaguer adds a modest premium beyond the card's scarcity.

Pitler remained as a Dodgers coach until the team left Brooklyn after the 1957 season. He then scouted for the team around New York. He died in 1968 at the age of 73. Pitler is a member of the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in Pittsburgh, Pa.

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