Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Nig" Grabowski's heroism went beyond baseball

Grabowski was given a "day" at Yankee Stadium
in 1927 in recognition of his role in filling in for
injured starting catcher Benny Bengough.
Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

            Having a major league career of any kind, especially in the pre-expansion days of 16 teams, should be notable enough as a lifetime achievement. Johnny Grabowski played seven seasons in the American League (White Sox 1924-26, Yankees 1927-29, Tigers 1931) as a backup catcher. But he’s better remembered – when he’s remembered at all – for his tragic death.

            Grabowski died as the result of a fire that destroyed his home in Guilderland, N.Y., May 19, 1946. He died a hero at the age of 46.
            The former major league player and minor league umpire died in an Albany hospital of burns suffered when he carried his wife from the blaze and was attempting to back his car out of the garage. His wife suffered burns to the face, neck, ears, back, hands and feet. She recovered.

            Grabowski, of Ware, Mass., turned pro at the age of 21, playing in 1921 with Minneapolis and Saskatoon, with St. Joseph in 1922 and with Minneapolis in 1923-24.
            He was traded to the White Sox on July 6, 1924, then was traded to the Yankees in January, 1927.
            He played for New York through 1929. He was sent to St. Paul in 1930, returned to the American League with Detroit in 1931 and released to Montreal in 1932. He played there through the 1933 season.
            Grabowski retired as a player in 1934 and by midseason 1935 was umpiring in the Class AAA International League. He umpired in the Eastern League in 1938-40, then returned to the I.L. in 1941-42.
            After retiring from pro ball he worked as a toolmaker in Schenectady and was active in the semi-pro ball scene there.

Johnny Grabowski didn't appear on any career-contemporary
baseball cards. However, as a member of the 1927 Yankees,
he was included on several collectors' issues of the 1970s-
1990s such as the 1975 TCMA set (left) and the 1990
Conlon Collection (right).

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