Nothing succeeds like success. So goes the familiar aphorism. Mel Deutsch turned that on its head, said Louisville sportswriter Tommy Fitzgerald. The “big, slow-moving, easy-going” right-handed pitcher was called up from the Colonels for spring 1946 delivery to the Boston Red Sox, and Fitzgerald marveled at how he’d built some of his reputation on pitching well in adversity. Referring to his 1944 year with Louisville, Fitzgerald noted that Deutsch had a better earned-run average in the 11 games he’d lost than in the 14 games he’d won. Combining the scores of six of his 11 losses, the Colonels scored a total of only two runs – four shutouts and two one-run games. The impression that counted most was that Deutsch’s ERA was the best on Boston’s Triple-A club. The league was well aware of his work; he received more votes for the American Association All-Star team than any other pitcher.
It wasn’t an easy year to make any big-league team. Large numbers of accomplished veteran ballplayers were coming back to baseball after military service during the Second World War. Deutsch himself had served in 1944 (after the season) and 1945 in the US Army Medical Corps. But Private First Class Deutsch was now ready to serve them up for the Red Sox.
He wasn’t any youngster. He’d been born in Caldwell, Texas, on July 26, 1915, and was of self-described German, Czech, and Irish descent. His father, Fred, was a salesman at a drugstore in Burleson, Texas, in 1920. Ten years later the 1930 census shows him as a salesman in a garage. Fred was a native Texan, too, but his father had been born in Berlin and his mother was Moravian. Both German and Bohemian were spoken in the household. Fred and his wife, Belle, (both of whose parents were also Texans by birth) had two children, Melvin Elliott Deutsch and Wilson Deutsch, two years younger than Mel.
Mel went through the Caldwell public schools for 12 years, and then attended the University of Texas at Austin for four years, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in physical education. He said that if he hadn’t played professional baseball, he’d have been a physical education teacher at a junior college.
Three years playing for legendary coach Billy Disch at Texas helped launch Deutsch’s pro career, as did three years of semipro ball. Mel first played professionally in the Piedmont League for the Greensboro Red Sox. The Sox had signed him out of college (Disch also worked as a Red Sox scout) and Deutsch began with Greensboro after graduation in 1941. He got in a fair amount of work, and finished 11-4 with a 2.23 ERA after 129 innings of work in 20 games. Advancing from Class B ball to Double A with Louisville in 1942, Deutsch was used primarily in relief by Colonels manager Bill Burwell, starting in only seven of the 34 games in which he appeared. His record was 3-2 in 103 innings, with a 2.88 ERA.
During the war years of 1943 and 1944, Deutsch reverted to starter status with the Colonels and put up won-lost totals of 12-11 and 14-11, with ERAs of 2.74 and 2.47, respectively. He was a second-team American Assocation All-Star in 1943. In ’44, Nemo Leibold took over the reins in midseason from Burwell, and the Colonels won the playoffs, sweeping St. Paul in the finals. Mel led the league in ERA. He also led his team in sheer physical stature. At 6-feet-4, he was the tallest man on the club. He weighed in at 215 pounds. He was dubbed the team’s “hard-luck ace” by The Sporting News at one point during the season. In the first round of the playoffs against Milwaukee, Mel not only won the deciding game, but drove in the two ninth-inning runs that broke a 1-1 deadlock and gave Louisville the victory. Deutsch hit .223 in the minors; he was 0-for-2 in the two plate appearances he had in his brief time in the majors. Even as late as November, the Red Sox were looking to their two farm-team aces (Deutsch and Jim Wilson) for major contributions in 1945. The Sporting News’s Howell Stevens characterized Deutsch as a “control pitcher [who...] fields his position smartly and owns a baffling curve.” Louisville won the playoffs again in 1945, once more beating St. Paul.
In 1946 Mel Deutsch made the big-league team out of spring training. The 1946 Red Sox won 21 of their first 24 games, and never looked back. They started with four in a row, but Boo Ferriss was battered for seven Philadelphia runs in the first three innings of the first game of an April 21 doubleheader. Deutsch came in to get out of the third and took it through the seventh, lifted for a pinch-hitter. In 4 1/3 innings, he breezed until he was hit in the seventh for three runs, two of them on Sam Chapman’s home run. Boston had scored five in the sixth, closing the gap. In the bottom of the ninth, the Red Sox unloaded for six runs and tied the game, winning it 12-11 in the 10th when Ted Williams hit a bases-loaded single.
The rookie’s second role was on April 23 in relief of war hero Earl Johnson against the Senators; Deutsch was brought in when Johnson got in trouble in the eighth. Mel recorded two outs, with no hits, but Washington scored six runs off Clem Dreisewerd, Mike Ryba, and Jim Wilson in the top of the 11th.
His third game was also an extra-inning affair, on May 7. Once again, he was gone well before the final resolution. In Boston, St. Louis scored four early runs off Tex Hughson. Deutsch came in to help his fellow Texan in the third, and pitched the fourth inning, too, allowing two more runs. The Red Sox bats tied it, though, and it was 6-6 after nine. And after 13 innings, too. In the bottom of the 14th, Rudy York walked, Dom DiMaggio singled, and Hal Wagner was intentionally passed. Leon Culberson hit the first pitch he saw for a grand slam. It was the Red Sox’ 12th win in row. Deutsch had appeared in three major-league games, all of which went into extras, and all of which were wins for Boston.
The next day, the Red Sox trimmed the roster, sending Deutsch, Jim Wilson, and outfielder Andy Gilbert to Louisville. The expansion of farm systems in the postwar era resulted in the Colonels being upgraded to Triple-A status. Deutsch was a tough-luck loser in a 2-1 game his first game back, but started 17 games and appeared in four others, recording stats of 5-8 and 3.42. One bizarre start is worthy of brief note: In the May 28 game in Toledo, the Mud Hens scored four runs on his first six pitches. He was swiftly removed. The Colonels tied the game but lost it in the 10th, 5-4. Louisville swept the postseason playoffs, though Deutsch never appeared.
In 1947 Deutsch pitched just five innings for the Triple-A Toronto Maple Leafs before the Red Sox dealt him to the Chicago Cubs. The Tulsa Oilers were Chicago’s Double-A Texas League club and Deutsch was 3-1, four decisions despite just seven innings of work. We wonder if there might have been an injury. He didn’t play much in 1947 and was not active at all in 1948. In 1949 Deutsch played briefly for the Bryan Bombers in the Class C East Texas League. He was 4-3 in nine games; his 5.60 ERA offered little promise for the future. Mel and his wife of eight years, Lydia Marie Fritcher, had a daughter born in 1947. With a family to feed, Deutsch retired from baseball and became a building contractor with his own company, Deutsch Construction.
A couple of other marriages followed. In late 1978, he divorced his second wife, Genevieve (they’d been married six years), and three months later married Justine M. Supak. Deutsch died in Austin on November 18, 2001.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed his player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the online SABR Encyclopedia, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball.