Friday, May 25, 2012

Paul Lehner was baseball Gulliver in '51

Uncommon commons. Based on contemporary accounts from The Sporting News; tidbits that as a collector of baseball and football cards I found interesting because they help 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.

It wasn't unprecedented, but it was unusual enough for The Sporting News to take note in 1951 that Paul Lehner had played for major league teams that season.

Specifically, TSN noted that Lehner had appeared in the Yankee Stadium visitors' clubhouse in the uniforms of the Philadelphia A's (twice), Chicago White Sox (once), St. Louis Browns (twice) and Cleveland Indians (twice).

Lehner was an undersized (5'9", 165 lbs.) outfielder of only average defensive ability and below-average batting numbers.

After serving in the Navy in World War II, Lehner was signed by the St. Louis Browns for their Class AAA Toledo team in 1946. He hit .319 with 10 home runs for the Mud Hens and after the close of the American Association season, debuted in the American League. 

With the Browns in September, Lehner hit an underwhelming .222, but the team so hard-up in those years, he was able to stick around through the 1949 season, after which he was traded to the Philadelphia A's.

In 1950 Lehner hit .309 -- 80 points above his 1949 mark. That was enough to convince the Chicago White Sox to insist on Lehner as a throw-in in a six-player three-team trade on April 30, 1951, even though he was batting only .143 at the time.

Lehner lasted little more than a month with the White Sox, and was batting just .208 when he was traded back to the Browns on June 4.

His hitting fell off even further, and after less than seven weeks in which he batted only .134, Lehner became a victim of new owner Bill Veeck's housecleaning and Lehner was put on waivers.

He was claimed by the Cleveland Indians on July 19, but appeared in only a dozen games for them through the rest of the year. Despite that limited service with Cleveland, the team voted him a 1/3 share -- $407.82 -- of the team's cut of World Series proceeds; the Indians had finished in second place in the American League. 

His final 1951 batting numbers were a .172 average with a single home run and seven RBI in 65 games.

It was probably about that time, after having played for half of the American League's teams in a single season, that Lehner acquired the nickname "Gulliver."

That became even more appropriate the following season, when Lehner played for five different teams, although only one of them was in the majors.

He opened the 1952 season with the Indianapolis Indians, moved on to the Toronto Maple Leafs after a month, then went to Oakland in the Pacific Coast League. He got his final major league opportunity in late June, when the Boston Red Sox picked him up on waivers. He lasted only a week with Boston, but was hitting .667 when they returned him to the PCL, to play for Seattle. 

Lehner ended his pro career the next season with Memphis, a Class AA White Sox farm club. 

As a major leaguer over seven seasons and 540 games, Lehner hit .257 with 22 home runs and 197 RBI.

He died in 1967 at the age of only 47.

For all his travels, the Bowman baseball card people were able to pin Lehner down long enough to issue a 1949 card as a Brown, and 1950 and 1951 cards in the uniform of the A's. 

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