Saturday, May 19, 2012

Zoldak's only HR washed out

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.

Lots of major leaguers have gone their entire careers without hitting a home run. Since 1900 there have been more than a dozen players (more than half were shortstops!) who went to bat more than 1,000 times without ever hitting a home run. 

Pitcher Sam Zoldak is unusual, perhaps even unique, among players in that he did hit a home run -- but it was washed away in a rainout.

Zoldak was a left-handed pitcher who got his chance in the big leagues when manpower was scarce due to World War II. He compiled a major league record of 43-53

He had made a tentative start in professional baseball in 1938, with Palatka in the Class D Florida State League. After he lost both  of the two games he started, he was released. 

He then played at Fordham University, and in 1941 was signed by Connie Mack's Philadelphia A's. Zoldak pitched for three seasons for the A's in the Class A Eastern League, and after he won 20 games in 1943, was called up to the big club. As a hitter, Zoldak had about 175 minor league at-bats without a home run.

Before he could actually pitch for the A's, he was traded to the St. Louis Browns. Though he had a 23-27 record with the Browns through mid-1948, Cleveland owner Bill Veeck paid $100,000 and pitcher Bill Kennedy to acquire Zoldak for the pennant race. Early in 1951 he was part of a big three-team, six-player trade (that included such stars as Gus Zernial and Minnie Minoso) that sent him to the Philadelphia A's, where he ended his major league days in 1952.

Though he played on the American League Champion St. Louis Browns in 1944, and the World Champion Cleveland Indians in 1948, Zoldak did not appear in either World Series.

Zoldak had only 286 major league at-bats over 250 games, being used as a relief pitcher and occasional spot-starter. His lifetime batting average was .175.

His big day at the plate came on July 27, 1949, when the Indians were visiting Yankee Stadium. In the third inning of the game, Zoldak homered off Ed Lopat. Then the rains came and the game was called. Zoldak's lone professional home run was among the statistics wiped out.

Zoldak was among the major league "extras" who appeared in the 1949 movie, The Kid from Cleveland."

He died of cancer in 1966 at the age of 47.

Zoldak's nickname was "Sad Sam," but on the few photos I've seen, and on his 1949 Bowman baseball card and Indians team-issued photo, he's got a smile on his face. Zoldak appeared on Bowman cards 1949-51, in the 1952 Topps set, and on several 1970s TCMA collectors' issues.

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