SABR

Randy Gumpert

This article was written by Steve Ferenchick.

Randy Gumpert was feeling flush with confidence in the spring of 1947. After being out of the Major Leagues between the ages of twenty and twenty-eight, the six-feet-three, 185-pound right-hander had returned in 1946 with an excellent season. He had an 11-3 record for the third-place Yankees, with a 2.31 earned run average and a nearly two-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Gumpert started well again in 1947, allowing no runs in 2 1/3 innings in his first three outings against the Philadelphia Athletics, the Washington Senators, and the St. Louis Browns. On June 15, manager Bucky Harris gave him his first start of the season in the second game of a doubleheader against the Browns. Gumpert came through with a complete-game 2–1 victory, scattering six hits and five walks. In his next start, however, he gave up three runs and lasted only two-thirds of an inning against the Detroit Tigers. Gumpert won his next two starts, both against the Athletics, but suffered an 8–0 loss to the Tigers on July 18, a loss that ended the Yankees’ 19-game winning streak.

The purchase of Bobo Newsom from Washington, and the recall of Vic Raschi from the minors, added depth to the Yankees pitching staff and resulted in Gumpert making only one more start the rest of the season. In all, he made six starts and eighteen relief appearances in 1947. He finished 4-1, with just 56 1/3 innings pitched, a 5.43 earned run average, and more walks than strikeouts.

His performance was affected by an elbow injury that continued to worsen during the season. “They didn’t do anything like they do now,” he told author Victor Debs in 1998. “Ed Foley, the trainer, just put hot packs on my elbow. That didn’t amount to anything. So I pitched with a bad arm the next five seasons. It used to take me twenty minutes into the game before my arm was warmed up and my elbow wasn’t clicking.”1

Gumpert was on the Yankees’ World Series roster, and though he did not play, he did get a World Series ring and a $5,830 winner’s share. As he told an interviewer late in his life, “Back then you could buy a few things for $5,200 [sic].”2

Randall Pennington Gumpert was born on January 23, 1918, to Abram Gumpert and Emma (Nolte) Gumpert on their family’s seven-acre farm in Monocacy, Pennsylvania, a small town about fifty miles northwest of Philadelphia. Randy, who had an older brother Albert and an older sister Winifred, attended Birdsboro High School, where he gained a reputation for his pitching. In 1934 his father wrote a letter to Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack suggesting the Athletics give his sixteen-year-old son a tryout. Mack liked what he saw and offered Randy a low-paying job throwing batting practice, which he did that year and the next after school had let out.

In 1936, two weeks after his high school graduation, Gumpert signed a $300-a-month contract with the Athletics and made his Major League debut on June 13. He pitched a perfect 1-2-3 eighth inning in a 19–1 loss to the Cleveland Indians. Gumpert made his first professional start at home against the Chicago White Sox on August 27, tossing a complete-game two-hitter for his first Major League win. “I never won another game until ten years later,” he recalled many years later. “That’s kind of a long gap, isn’t it?”3

Gumpert made twenty-two appearances in that 1936 season, nineteen of them in relief, ending the season with a 1-2 record and a 4.76 ERA. On September 13 he faced Cleveland’s Bob Feller in a much-hyped matchup between two teenagers literally just off the farm. (Feller would go back to the farm a couple weeks later, as he needed to return for his senior year of high school.) The teams shuffled their starting rotations specifically to get the matchup. The Indians topped the Athletics, 5–2; it would have been closer but for a throwing error by shortstop Rusty Peters of Philadelphia that let in two unearned runs. Feller set an American League record and tied the Major League record in the game by striking out his age in batters, seventeen.

In 1937 the Athletics tried to change Gumpert’s pitching style from a three-quarters delivery to overhand but he injured his arm in the process. He spent most of 1937 and 1938 recuperating in the minors. He made just fourteen big-league appearances in those two seasons, pitching a combined 24 1/3 innings.

Gumpert went 13-10 for the 1938 Williamsport (Pennsylvania) Grays, earning an “honorable mention” all-star selection for the Eastern League. He began the 1939 season with the Class B Norfolk (Virginia) Tars, pitched well enough to jump up to the Class Double-A Baltimore Orioles, was then sent back down to Williamsport, and in July was sent to the Yankees system. The Yankees kept him in the Eastern League, assigning him to the Binghamton (New York) Triplets. He spent nearly all of 1940 in Binghamton, ending with a 15-8 record and a 3.24 ERA, before moving up to the Newark Bears for one game.

Gumpert continued to bounce around the Minor Leagues in 1941 and 1942, pitching for Newark, the Little Rock (Arkansas) Travelers, and the Kansas City Blues. But the war was on, and Gumpert enlisted in the Coast Guard. He was based in New London, Connecticut, during much of his enlistment and played baseball there along with other professional players to entertain his fellow Coast Guard members.

After the war ended Gumpert wrote to George Weiss, the director of the Yankees farm system, to let him know he had kept up his strength during the war and gotten in some pitching. Weiss called to invite him to spring training. “[T]he Yankees had two camps—one in St. Petersburg and another in Bradenton,” Gumpert recalled in 1998. “Luckily I was placed in the St. Petersburg camp under [manager Joe] McCarthy while the coaches were running things in Bradenton. Evidently McCarthy took a liking to me.”4

He had a strong spring training in 1946 and returned with the Yankees to New York to play a three-game exhibition series against Brooklyn. In one of the games Gumpert shut out the Dodgers for seven innings. He later remarked, “. . . if you asked me what my biggest thrill was, it wasn’t on the field. It was in the manager’s office at Ebbets Field after that game with Brooklyn when McCarthy called me in and said, ‘Here’s your contract.’ It was the minimum salary—$4,000. They weren’t taking any chances.”5

After his disappointing 1947 season, made worse by the elbow injury, Gumpert went to training camp in 1948 with diminished expectations. He made the team and pitched well—a 2.88 ERA and a 1-0 record in fifteen relief appearances—but although he was big and strong, “he didn’t have it,” according to Harris.6 On July 25, 1948, Gumpert was sold to the White Sox, where he was inserted into their starting rotation. He went just 2-6 for the eighth-place White Sox, with a 3.79 ERA.

The White Sox were counting on Gumpert in 1949, and he came through with a solid 3.81 ERA and career highs in wins (13), complete games (18), shutouts (3), innings (234), and strikeouts (78). He also lost sixteen games and led the league with twenty-two home runs allowed. He attributed his comeback to his ability to throw his screwball to left-handed hitters, something he had not done before.

Unfortunately, for Gumpert and the White Sox, he could not build on that solid season. Used more as a reliever than a starter in 1950, he added nearly a run to his previous year’s ERA, and could manage no better than a 5-12 record. The 1951 season brought the then thirty-three-year-old Gumpert’s greatest individual honor and his greatest claim to fame, although the latter would reveal itself only as the years went by.

First, the individual honor: on the strength of his 7-2 record and 3.36 ERA at the midway point, Gumpert made the All-Star team for the only time in his career. He also had thrown five complete games, including a three-hit shutout. As with the 1947 World Series, however, he did not get into the game. “They were telling me something, I think,” he joked years later.7

What happened on May 1, 1951, in Comiskey Park, linked Gumpert to all-time great Mickey Mantle, and for the rest of his life, when signing autographs, he would be happy to add when requested the notation “Surrendered Mantle’s 1st HR.” As he said four decades later, “I threw Mantle a screwball. Evidently it didn’t screw very well. . .”8 Mantle, swinging from the left side, launched the ball 440 feet into the Yankees bullpen, just below the center field grandstand.

In November 1951, the White Sox traded Gumpert to the Boston Red Sox. He appeared in only ten games for the Red Sox before being traded, on June 10, 1952, to the Senators. On August 24 Gumpert pitched two-hit, shutout ball for the last 7 2/3 innings of a 16-inning Senators victory over the Indians. He made his final start on September 3, shutting down the Red Sox on seven hits, two walks, and two runs, both unearned, while striking out six and winning his fifty-first and final game.

His combined record for 1952 was 5-9 with a 4.22 ERA in thirteen starts (all but one with the Senators) and seventeen relief appearances. Appropriately, Gumpert’s last appearance was at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park, where he pitched two innings in relief against the Athletics, now managed by Jimmy Dykes rather than Connie Mack.

The Senators did not re-sign Gumpert for the 1953 season, so he headed west, playing two seasons for the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. His pitching career ended in 1955 with the Charleston (West Virginia) Senators of the American Association, with whom he posted a 1-1 record and a 5.19 ERA in twenty relief appearances.

At the age of thirty-eight, with his playing career behind him, Gumpert became a Minor League manager. He split the 1956 season between the Bradford (Pennsylvania) Yankees of the Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League and the Kearney (Nebraska) Yankees of the newly formed Nebraska State League. He managed at Kearney again in 1957 and 1958 and served as a part-time manager for the St. Petersburg Saints of the Florida State League in 1960.

Gumpert had returned briefly to the Yankees in 1957 filling in for Coach Bill Dickey, who had to leave the club for health reasons. And in 1959 and other years, Casey Stengel invited Gumpert to be part of a pre-spring training “instructional school” for the Yankees’ top Minor League prospects. In 1961 he became a full-time scout for the Yankees.

One of his notable signings was George “Doc” Medich, who was drafted by the Yankees in 1970. Medich had planned a career in medicine and told Gumpert so. Gumpert put him in touch with Dr. Bobby Brown, the former Yankee infielder who became a cardiologist after baseball. Brown convinced Medich he could have both careers, and Medich went on to an 11-year Major League career and a long medical career as well. Around 1974, Gumpert joined the newly-formed Major League Scouting Bureau, a central scouting organization run by the Major League teams. He remained a member of the bureau until he retired in 1993.

Gumpert had married school teacher Ann Louise Boyer in 1952. The couple had three children, twin sons, Michael and Jeffrey born in 1954, and a daughter Cynthia born in 1955. He enjoyed his retirement years and was honored in many local “halls of fame,” including the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, the Berks County Sports Hall of Fame, the Reading Phillies Hall of Fame, the Daniel Boone (successor to Birdsboro High) Hall of Fame, and the Major League Scouting Hall of Fame.

He and Ann lived in the farmhouse where he had grown up (and which he bought from his parents) and until his late eighties could be seen gardening, farming, and performing work around the house.

Gumpert regularly answered the autograph requests he received over the years and made appearances at banquets, charity events, and wherever else his presence was requested. Shortly after his ninetieth birthday, Gumpert moved from his Monocacy home to an assisted living center, where he died ten months later, on November 25, 2008.

 

This biography is included in the book "Bridging Two Dynasties: The 1947 New York Yankees" (University of Nebraska Press, 2013), edited by Lyle Spatz. For more information, or to purchase the book from University of Nebraska Press, click here.

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