SABR

Dick Gyselman

This article was written by John F. Green.

Dick Gyselman made it to the major leagues for 82 games with the Boston Braves in 1933-34, but his greatest achievement, arguably, is a mark he set in the lower circuits--his 2,500 games played at third base is the all-time minor league record. In a professional career that totaled nineteen seasons, the six-foot, two-inch Gyselman spent thirteen consecutive years in the Pacific Coast League (PCL). His name appears on three of the PCL's honor lists.

First, in a poll taken by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 1954, Dick was one of eleven players selected by the area's baseball fans in the initial vote for the Seattle Rainiers Hall of Fame. Secondly, he was chosen on the All-Century Pacific Coast League team (1903-1957). All of the honorees on that aggregation also logged playing time in the major leagues: Steve Bilko, 1B; Gene Mauch, 2B; Gyselman, 3B; Frankie Crosetti, SS; Buzz Arlett, LF; Joe DiMaggio, CF; Arnold (Jigger) Statz, RF; Ernie Lombardi, C; pitchers Dick Barrett, Doc Crandall, Tony Freitas, Sam Gibson, and Frank Shellenback; and Frank (Lefty) O'Doul, manager. And in 2003, Gyselman was inducted into the PCL Hall of Fame by the Pacific Coast League Historical Society.

The late Dick Dobbins authored The Grand Minor League, a history of the PCL, and in it wrote: "The old Pacific Coast League was 'major league' in so many ways; those of us who experienced it have indelible memories of its pleasures. We were very lucky."

The only child of Dutch immigrants Rudolph and Nellie Gyselman, Richard Renald Gyselman was born in San Francisco on April 6, 1908. His parents came to the United States in 1903, first settling in Holland, Michigan. After the devastating San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the couple moved to California, where Rudolph, a carpenter by trade, found steady employment in the rebuilding of "The City by the Bay." And young Richard grew along with his birthplace, eventually attending San Francisco Polytechnic High School, where he studied drafting and played on the baseball team.

After high school graduation, Dick was hired as a draftsman by the Standard Oil Company of California, and played sandlot baseball in the Bay Area. When the Great Depression of 1929 took its heavy toll on industrial America, Gyselman was laid off by Standard Oil, but a baseball opportunity came knocking on the family door early in 1931. A boyhood acquaintance, familiar with Dick's baseball skills, pleaded with his friend to sign up for a tryout with the San Francisco Missions of the Pacific Coast League. It was learned later that Dick's buddy had been promised a new suit of clothes by the Missions if he could line up at least ten players to attend the team's tryout camp.

The Mission club shared Recreation Park with the well-established San Francisco Seals, and with the exception of a PCL pennant in 1929, the Missions entry hadn't been very successful in creating a fan base. Following the 1925 season, the franchise was shifted from Vernon, a small town north of Los Angeles, and despite having Coast League hitting stars Ike Boone and Ox Eckhardt on the roster at various times, lacked the supporting cast to win consistently and attract fans through the turnstiles.

Gyselman made an impression at the tryout camp, and the Missions signed the homegrown ballplayer to a contract for the 1931 season. Dick was farmed out to Tucson in the Arizona-Texas League, where he played in 128 games and batted .303. When Tucson's season ended, he was recalled and played in five PCL games, and got a taste of the higher classification, batting .200 in ten plate appearances.

Dick was sent out again to the Class D Arizona-Texas circuit in 1932, but to a different city, Albuquerque. The Dons played their home games at spacious Tingley Field, and that location was the scene of a most unusual season opener on April 6, 1932. The day was cold and windy, and the weather created havoc for pitchers and fielders. The Dons took full advantage of the gusting 60-mile per hour winds, whipping their visitors from El Paso by the lopsided score of 43-15. Albuquerque banged out 31 hits, and was aided by 14 bases on balls, three hit batsmen, and eight El Paso errors. Eleven of the Dons' hits went for three bases. There was only one home run.

The Arizona-Texas League became a victim of financial woes, however, and the loop folded on July 24. The Dons played 99 games and recorded 57 wins to lead the league. The 24-year-old Gyselman had a phenomenal season, topping the circuit in batting (.392), hits (165), runs (104), and triples (12). After the league's demise, Dick was recalled by the Missions to play out the rest of the year, and he responded with a batting average of .319 in 58 games.

The Boston Braves were on the lookout for a third baseman, and in December 1932 acquired Gyselman and another Missions infielder, Al Wright, for $60,000 cash and young third baseman William Walters. Wright played in only four games for Boston, and Walters, later to become known as "Bucky," returned to the majors as a pitcher and became a three-time 20-game winner for the Cincinnati Reds.

Boston had a revolving door going at third base for several years under skipper Bill McKechnie, and at the start of the 1933 campaign a hot corner battle was being waged between Gyselman and the incumbent, Fritz Knothe, who had been acquired from Seattle's Pacific Coast League club in 1931. The Braves were a fifth place club in 1932 with a .500 record (77-77); Knothe played in 89 games and batted .238, with a lone homer and 36 runs batted in.

Knothe was given the starting nod when the 1933 season opened, but Gyselman took over at the hot corner on April 20, and on the 23rd he hit a triple and scored a run in a 2-1 Boston victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers. Two days later, he garnered another hit, but the Dodgers topped the Braves, 5-1. And on May 9, Gysleman was at the top of the batting order, going two-for-five in a 7-0 triumph over the Pirates. In a doubleheader split with the Cubs on June 25, Dick was hitless in the opener, a 12-3 loss, but collected a pair of singles in the nightcap, including the walk-off blow in the 4-3 Boston triumph. On June 27 Dick went hitless, but batted in the lone run in a 1-0 win over the Cardinals.

Boston was powerless at third base with the Knothe and Gyselman duo, and on June 17 the club pulled off a trade with the Phillies, sending Knothe, outfielder Wes Schulmerich and cash to Philadelphia for outfielder Hal Lee and infielder Pinky Whitney. The veteran Whitney had put up some good years with the Phils, batting over .300 in three consecutive seasons (1928-30), and in 1932 smacked 13 home runs and drove in 124 tallies, his career highs. Whitney started out at thrd base in the Braves' lineup, but soon moved in at third; Gyselman went to the bench, and his playing time was limited for the remainder of the year. Dick made a rare start on August 22 against Pittsburgh, banged out two hits and had a career-high three RBI as the Braves squeaked by the Pirates in 14 innings, 5-4. Whitney averaged only .250 overall in 1933, with 11 round-trippers and 68 RBI, while Gyselman batted .239 in 58 games, with no home runs and only 12 runs driven in. For the season, Gyselman and his teammates were rewarded with fourth place money for their first division finish. The Braves recorded 83 wins and 71 losses to trail the pennant-winning New York Giants by nine games.

Appearing sporadically with Boston in 1934, Gyselman played in 24 games, with 36 at bats and a batting average of .167, before being optioned on July 26 to Buffalo of the International League. With the minor league club Dick batted .252 in 45 games, and on November 24, was traded by the Braves to Seattle of the Pacific Coast League, along with pitchers (Kewpie) Dick Barrett and Clarence Pickrel, in exchange for another young third base candidate, Joe Coscarart. It would be twelve years, however, before the Braves acquired a third baseman with the big bat they were searching for. In 1946 Bob Elliott was obtained from Pittsburgh, and was instrumental in Boston's 1948 World Series appearance. Eddie Mathews came aboard in 1952 to play third, and proceeded to hit 493 of his lifetime homers with the Braves. During his 15 seasons with the club, the franchise was shifted from Boston to Milwaukee and eventually to Atlanta.

Gyselman found his niche in Seattle, quickly becoming a fan favorite. Dick's initial season in 1935 produced a .303 batting average, with nine home runs and 100 runs batted in. In ten successive seasons (1935-44) as Seattle's third sacker, Gyselman played in 1,649, games, amassing 1,762 hits, 300 doubles, and 134 stolen bases. His lean frame made it easy for the media and fans to label him with a pair of nicknames: "The Needle" and "The Thin Man."

When Gyselman came to Seattle, the club was known as the "Indians." When brewing magnate Emil Sick bought the team in late 1937, the moniker was changed to "Rainiers." The reason was twofold: the picturesque Mount Rainier landmark close to Seattle, and Sick's popular beverage, "Rainier Beer." The franchise hadn't been overly successful before Sick took the reins, but that was remedied in short order. First, he used his wealth to build a beautiful ball park, appropriately named Sick's Stadium, and then opened his checkbook to sign ballplayers, including a pair of local youngsters: Fred Hutchinson and Edo Vanni.

Along with Gyselman, holdovers from Seattle teams prior to Sick coming aboard included speedy center fielder Bill Lawrence, slugging outfielder Mike Hunt, shortstop Alan Strange, and pitchers Dick Barrett and Hal Turpin. Hutchinson, only eighteen years old, was the catalyst for the team's rise to contention in 1938. The youngster turned in a sensational year on the mound, winning 25 games and losing seven, with 29 complete games and a 2.48 ERA. His work resulted in his being named Minor League Player of the Year by The Sporting News. Vanni, the other local boy, batted .301. Gyselman finished at .305, with a league-leading 53 two-baggers. Not to be overlooked was the acquisition of Jack Lelivelt as manager; the veteran skipper had been successful with the Los Angeles Angels for several years, and guided the Rainiers to second place in 1938. Seattle lost in the first round of the President's Cup Playoffs, but the team was on the rise.

Hutchinson was sought after by several big league clubs after the 1938 season, and the Detroit Tigers won out in the bidding, surrendering $50,000 cash and four players for the righthander. Two of the players obtained were keys to the Rainiers' run to the PCL title in 1939: first baseman George Archie and outfielder Joyner (Jo-Jo) White. Archie batted .330 and knocked in 88 runs, while White averaged .287 and led the PCL with 47 stolen bases. Gyselman batted .296, Lawrence, .295, and Vanni, .325. Shortstop Strange batted a career-best .335, with 90 RBI, and was drafted after the season by the St. Louis Browns. Turpin and Barrett buoyed the pitching staff, with 23 and 22 wins, respectively. The pennant winners won 101 games, but were beaten in the playoffs by Los Angeles, four games to two.

The Rainiers hit the jackpot in 1940, copping the flag by nine and one-half games over Los Angeles, and thrashing the Angels in the President's Cup finals, four games to one. Barrett (24-5) and Turpin (23-11) again were big winners, while Archie and Vanni topped .300 in hitting. The club notched 112 wins, an all-time high for the Rainiers.

Prior to the 1941 season, manager Jack Lelivelt suffered a fatal heart attack in January at a Harlem Globetrotters basketball game in Seattle. A replacement, Bill Skiff, was quickly selected, and reaped the benefits of the club that had been assembled by Lelivelt and Sick. He piloted the Rainiers to 104 wins to capture the flag, and his charges beat Sacramento, four games to three, for the President's Cup. Archie had gone back to the majors in 1941, and the rest of the lineup tapered off with the bat, but still managed to hit enough to win. Both Barrett and Turpin again won 20 games.

In 1942 Seattle dropped to third place, having lost several players to military service. White and Gyselman, along with superb pitching, held the team together. Barrett had a banner year, notching 27 wins against 13 losses, and compiling a 1.72 ERA, and Turpin logged a 23-9 won-lost record. Seattle surprised their opponents in the President's Cup, beating pennant-winning Sacramento in the first round, then second place Los Angeles in the championship round.

Seattle languished after 1942; roster changes continued with military call-ups and retirements of veteran players. The club was third again in 1943, and eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, and dropped to fifth place in 1944. Gyselman batted .305 that year, but after 10 straight seasons in Seattle, the Rainiers traded him to San Diego for another veteran, first baseman George McDonald.

Gyselman had a good season with the Padres in 1945, batting .321. Under manager Pepper Martin, who favored the running game, Dick set a career high in stolen bases with 27. The Padres were a distant sixth in the final standings, however, and duplicated that finish in 1946. After a .281 season in 1946, Dick began the next year as a Padre, but Seattle reacquired his services in mid-season, and the veteran completed his Coast League career in a Rainier uniform.

Dick's baseball career took a new direction in 1948, when he was selected to manage the Rainiers' farm club at Great Falls, Montana in the Class C Pioneer League. As player-manager he batted .332, but the team finished in the basement. In 1949 Gyselman went to Sweetwater, Texas to skipper that club in the Class 'D' Longhorn League. After 97 games as player-manager, he was hitting at a .380 clip when a former adversary called: Robert (Buck) Fausett. Buck and his brother, H.G., had bought the Albuquerque Dukes of the West Texas-New Mexico League (WT-NM). The league had resumed operation as a Class C loop in 1946, and in 1948 the Dukes were fighting for a pennant. Buck Fausett, also a third sacker, had played in the PCL with Gyselman, and needed a second baseman for the stretch run. With pennant and playoff money on the line, Gyselman accepted the offer, and played at the keystone sack for the final 32 games of the season, hitting. .386. In his final professional action, it was déjà vu for Dick; he had won the league batting title at Albuquerque in 1932 (.392), and here he was, 16 years later in the same town, hitting .386. With Gyselman's help, the Dukes went on to win the WT-NM 1948 pennant.

Retiring from the professional game, Dick hung on to play some semi-pro ball in western Washington, and after working in sporting goods for several years, was hired by the King County Recreation Department in 1952. He worked in various capacities with the department, and by the time he retired in 1973 at the age of sixty- five, he was the department supervisor in the Greater Puget Sound area.

In 1937 Dick had married Ellen Heinig, a native of Seattle, and they were blessed with two children: James and Jill. Jim played baseball and golf in high school, and lives in the Seattle area. Jim's son, Jeffrey, was a catcher at Portland State University, and in 1993 was drafted and signed by the Phillies. Jeff played four seasons in the Philadelphia farm system before calling it a career, and now is a golf course designer, based in Idaho.

After his retirement from King County, Dick stayed busy working with his church; he served as a deacon and sang in the choir. He also enjoyed golf and travel. Richard Renald Gyselman died of bone cancer in Seattle on September 20, 1990; he was eighty-two years old. And in baseball heaven, Bill Sweeney, a former major league first baseman who spent 18 seasons in the Pacific Coast League as a player and manager, has paid tribute to the old third baseman. Los Angeles Times columnist Braven Dyer quoted Sweeney in a January 22, 1952 edition as follows; "Dick Gyselman would be my third baseman. He was just the best third baseman I ever saw, anywhere. His fielding class was almost perfection, and he was a timely hitter, too." Amen, brother.

Afterword

I was fortunate enough to see Dick Gyselman play for many years, especially the two seasons he spent with my hometown San Diego Padres. In 1945 I came under his tutelage while playing Junior American Legion ball. Our playground director and coach was Gene Brucker, whose uncle, Earle Brucker, had been a player and coach with the Philadelphia Athletics. Gene arranged with the Padres to have Gyselman come out to the playground for an afternoon of instruction on baseball fundamentals, including infield play and the sacrifice bunt.

Hoping to make my high school team, I followed Gyselman's bunting lesson closely, and used it to advantage later as a two-year starter in high school. I wasn't much of a hitter, but my skills with the sacrifice kept me in the lineup before I was replaced by a more talented athlete. Over the years I've watched present and former major leaguers fail to execute the sacrifice bunt, and often think of Gyselman, bat in hand, showing a bunch of kids the proper technique.

Before I attended the SABR-Seattle in June 2006, I was planning on contributing a BioProject piece on Gyselman. My presence at the convention was rewarded with the viewing of the splendid Dave Eskenazi exhibit of Northwest baseball and the reading of the fine publication edited by Mark Armour: Rain Check, Baseball in the Pacific Northwest. Gyselman's stature in the region was well documented in these presentations, and I was given an added bonus when I met Jim Gyselman, Dick's son, at the convention. He has been most helpful in providing family information.


Sources

ProQuest Historical Newspapers

Raymond J. Nemec

Armour, Mark, ed. Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest. Cleveland: Society for American Baseball Research, 2006.

Dobbins, Dick. The Grand Minor League: An Oral History of the Old Pacific Coast League. Emeryville, California: Woodford Press: Kansas City, Missouri. Distributed to the trade by Andrews McMeel Universal, 1999.

O'Neal, Bill. The Pacific Coast League (1903-1988). Austin, Texas: Eakin Press, 1990.

Zingg, Paul J., and Mark D. Medeiros. Runs, Hits and an Era; the PCL, 1903-1958. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

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