Steady-hitting James Henry "Jim" Delsing, known as a fleet outfielder and a first-class person, lived his baseball dream through almost two decades, the turbulent Forties and the prosperous Fifties. During that time he adjusted to the many highs and lows of a 10-year major league career. A lefthanded batter who threw righthanded, Delsing experienced his best years from 1950 through 1955. He started in center field for the New York Yankees for most of the last month of their pennant-winning 1949 season. He also started, often in center, for the St. Louis Browns from 1950 to August 1952; and for the Detroit Tigers from late 1952 to 1955.
With Detroit in 1953, Delsing produced his best full season at the plate, hitting .288 with 11 home runs and 62 RBI. But he hit .350 in 12 games with the Yankees in September 1949. He came back and batted .400 in 12 games with New York in early 1950 before being traded to the Browns. By then Delsing had spent six seasons in the minor leagues battling to reach the big show. After two seasons as a pro, he served Uncle Sam for two years in World War II. During the late 1950s, he labored four years at the AAA level trying to prove he deserved another shot in the majors -- and he made it briefly with the Kansas City Athletics in late 1960.
For all of those seasons in the minors and the "big leagues," as he liked to call the majors, Delsing had countless good memories. Most of all, he cherished the camaraderie he enjoyed with so many good teammates on several teams. According to his wife, Roseanne, they used to receive several letters in each days mail, indicating many fans remembered Jim's big league career. Delsing replied to those requests, which often meant autographing what players of his era called "bubblegum" cards.
Delsing's baseball story began on his father's dairy farm near the small town of Rudolph, Wisconsin, where Jim was born November 13, 1925. Ben and Barbara Delsing raised two youngsters, Jim and Clairbel. In Rudolph the blue-eyed, brown-haired youth completed his public schooling while learning to play baseball. At Rudolph High in the early 1940s, Jim starred as a guard in basketball, which was the main sport in most Midwestern small towns. At a time when tall players seldom appeared, the speedy teenager, a good ball handler and dribbler, became a standout cager.
Spring sports in Wisconsin suffered from the often chilly weather and a short season. Rudolph, a school with about 100 students in grades nine through twelve, did not have enough boys for varsity baseball or football. "All we had was one main room, a few classrooms, and a gymnasium," Delsing recalled in a 1994 interview. "So basketball was our big sport. We did not have enough guys for baseball. We didn't even have football. Our conference had about a half-dozen schools from other towns. I played guard, because I could run."
At age 16 in 1942, Delsing got a chance at semipro baseball -- players earned meal money on trips -- for nearby Stevens Point. He began playing for the Moland Truckers of the Wisconsin Valley League. He recalled playing against several teenagers who later turned pro, including Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch of Wausau, who became a star for the Los Angeles Rams in the National Football League. Delsing impressed scout Eddie Kotel, who offered him a contract in 1942 with Green Bay of the Class D Wisconsin State League. After finishing his junior year, Jim played the second half of the season for Green Bay. His team finished a half-game out of first place, behind Sheboygan.
"I played shortstop in 1942 for Green Bay," Delsing recollected. "They thought I was a shortstop, because that's what I was playing in semipro. The only reason I played shortstop for Stevens Point was because nobody else could handle it. But I made a lot of errors. I either kicked the ball away, or I threw it away. I think I made more errors throwing than I did any other way, and it was a tough learning experience. I think I hit .249 and fielded about .249!"
Actually, Delsing made 28 miscues and fielded .867 in 49 games. But the 16-year-old did hit .249, rapping 43 hits in 173 at-bats. He also displayed power, slugging 12 doubles, four triples, and three home runs, while collecting 30 RBI.
In June 1943, after graduating from Rudolph High, Delsing was sent to Lockport, New York, in the Class D Pony League. The war years proved to be the low point of minor league baseball: only ten leagues were still operating in 1943, because America's armed services were draining the available manpower.
Delsing enjoyed a good season with Lockport, a farm team of the Double-A Milwaukee Brewers. At the time, minor league teams at the highest levels often had affiliate teams that would send players to a club like Milwaukee. Playing third base and the outfield for 86 games with Lockport, Jim batted .312, with 15 doubles, five triples, and eight homers, and drove home 69 runs. Still, his fielding remained erratic. Lacking the quick hands of an infielder, he made 17 errors, mostly at third, and fielded .984. Partway through the season, Delsing asked the manager to shift him to the outfield. Although he made only six errors in the outer gardens, the miscues left him last among league outfielders with a .922 mark. He never played the infield again, but he developed into an excellent defensive outfielder. Among those who played 50 or more games, Delsing's .312 average ranked tenth in the league. Lockport finished in first place with a 65-45 record, and teammate Ray Sowins tied for the RBI lead with 116.
Milwaukee bought Delsing's contract, and he went to spring training with the Brewers in 1944. He remembered making the club, but Uncle Sam called for his services. Delsing received his draft notice and joined the Army in April 1944. He was assigned to the 95th Evacuation Hospital of the Army Medical Corps. After serving more than a year in the European Theater, he returned home in late 1945, having added strength, speed, and maturity to his 5-foot-10, 175-pound frame.
In 1946 Delsing began spring training in Milwaukee with the Brewers. The club had so many outfielders that he got no playing time, so he asked to be farmed out. The Brewers sent him to Eau Claire of the Class C Northern League. With fourth-place Eau Claire, Delsing played 65 games, batted a sizzling .377, and produced 61 RBI. He trailed league batting leader Ken Staples of Grand Forks by only five points. It would be Delsing's best average in organized baseball. Also, his 95 hits included 11 doubles, 11 triples, and seven four-baggers. But the Rudolph native hit nearly as well when called up to now Triple-A Milwaukee, which finished fifth, 19.5 games behind first-place Louisville. In 40 games Delsing batted .318, with five doubles, two triples, and 20 RBI. His stellar play won him a place with the White Sox.
Delsing went to spring training with Chicago in 1947, and they optioned him to Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League, probably the strongest of all three Triple-A leagues. Jim enjoyed a good season in the PCL, batting .316. Again he showed power and speed, slugging 24 doubles, 12 triples, and five home runs, and he collected 53 RBI. In 1948 Delsing made Chicago's roster. But as he later said, "I didn't do much in the big league. I batted under .200. So the White Sox optioned me back to Hollywood, and I had another good season in [the] Coast League."
For the White Sox, who finished last in the American League with a 51-101 record, Delsing got into 20 games and hit only .190. Finding major league pitching tougher than PCL hurling, he came through with only 12 hits in 63 at-bats, none for extra bases. Delsing first appeared in a major league game April 21, 1948, when the Chisox lost, 4-3, to the Detroit Tigers. With the score tied at 3-3 in the seventh inning and Chicago's Aaron Robinson on second with a double, Delsing was sent up to pinch-hit for pitcher Orval Grove. But when Detroit removed starter Dizzy Trout, a righthander, in favor of southpaw Stubby Overmire, Chicago manager Ted Lyons pulled the lefty Delsing in favor of righthanded-batting Ralph Weigel. In his next two pinch-batting appearances, Delsing struck out. But on April 25, he started in left field for the second game of a Sunday doubleheader against St. Louis. He lined two singles and knocked in a run in four trips, but Chicago lost, 3-2. Within a month he was back in the Coast League.
Playing 122 games for Hollywood, Delsing enjoyed a banner season. He batted .333, which tied him with Louis Stringer for the club hitting lead. Delsing also slammed 30 doubles, six triples, and five home runs, while knocking in 56 runs. But on December 14, 1948, the White Sox traded him to the New York Yankees for outfielder Steve Souchock.
For spring training in 1949, the Yankees assigned Delsing to Kansas City in the Triple-A American Association, and he became the regular center fielder. Missing only two of KC's 153 games that year, the line-drive hitter led his team's regulars by averaging .317, including 24 doubles, five triples, and seven home runs. With the parent Yankee club fighting Boston for the pennant and center fielder Joe DiMaggio weakened by a virus, Delsing was called up in September. "I played the whole season for Kansas City," Delsing remembered, "until the Yankees called me up in September. I hit my first big league home run there in Yankee Stadium, and drove in two runs. I hit the homer in the last week of the season, against Joe Coleman of the Philadelphia A's. That's the season when, in the last week of September, Boston had a one-game lead on the Yankees. The Red Sox came to town for two games, and we beat them twice. Joe DiMaggio was hurt, but he came back to play both games."
Delsing played 12 games for New York and batted .350, banging out seven hits in 20 at-bats, including one double and his first major league home run, and he drove home three runners. His first appearance in Yankee pinstripes came Wednesday, September 14, in the nightcap of a doubleheader against the Browns. Delsing singled and doubled in two trips, and he scored twice. The next day Cleveland's Bob Lemon outlasted the Bronx Bombers, 10-6. Delsing singled (making him 3-for-3) in the ninth for pitcher Duane Pillette, but the rally fell short. Delsing's home run came September 28 and helped the Yankees win a big game over Philadelphia, 7-5. New York started the day trailing the Red Sox by one game, with three games to go in the regular season. In the sixth inning, with one runner on, the enthusiastic rookie homered into the right field seats to help boost New York's lead to 4-0. After the A's rallied for five runs in the seventh, the Yankees bounced back with three in their seventh, keyed by Phil Rizzuto's bunt single.
After a loss to Philadelphia the next day, New York beat Boston in the final two games at Yankee Stadium, clinching the pennant by one game. DiMaggio, although out of condition, returned to center field, so Delsing rode the bench. Asked about the World Series, Delsing replied, "I was ineligible, because I came up a couple of days too late. That means you can't work out, you can't sit on the bench, or anything. It means you can go to the ballpark, if you buy a ticket!" But Delsing had contributed to the pennant race, and the Yankees voted him a partial World Series share. He used the extra money -- the check arrived on his wedding day -- when he married Roseanne Brennan, an airline hostess, on November 19, 1949.
However, at spring training with New York in 1950, Delsing found himself drifting in a sea of outfielders. It was a classic case of being on the wrong team at the wrong time. Other Yankee flychasers included Johnny Lindell, Hank Bauer, Cliff Mapes, Gene Woodling, Tommy Henrich, Charlie "King Kong" Keller, Jackie Jensen, Dick Wakefield, and the aging DiMaggio. As a result, Delsing was dealt to the St. Louis Browns on the trading deadline, June 15, along with infielders George Stirnweiss and Don Johnson and righthander Duane Pillette. The Browns obtained relief pitchers Tom Ferrick and Sid Schacht, spot starter Joe Ostrowski, plus infielder Leo Thomas.
Delsing liked the trade: "I became a regular in St. Louis, and I ended up hitting .269 the first year. Of course, it was a good move for my career. I wanted to get out of New York because I knew I wouldn't get to play, but in St. Louis I started." For the Browns, the new center fielder played 69 games and hit .263 (and .269, including his time with the Yankees). He added five doubles and two triples, plus 15 RBI. But he did not hit a home run in Sportsman's Park. On the other hand, the Browns finished in seventh place, 40 games behind the pennant-winning Yankees.
In 1951, his only full season with St. Louis, Delsing batted .249, with 20 doubles, two triples, eight four-baggers, and 45 RBI. But that season was a low point for St. Louis. The Browns finished last in the American League with a 52-102 mark, 46 games behind the pennant-winning Yankees. The Brownies' highlight was right-handed pitcher Ned Garver's 20-12 mark, including a league-best 24 complete games. Garver made the All-Star team, and he remains the only AL pitcher to win 20 games for a club that lost 100.
In 1952 the speedy Delsing patrolled either center or left field for St Louis. He batted .260 overall .255 in 93 games with the Browns and .274 in 33 games for the Tigers. On August 14 he was traded to Detroit, along with Garver and two other pitchers, for flychaser Vic Wertz and three other players. In terms of power and numbers, Delsing endured an off-year in 1952. He hit only one home run and knocked in 34 runners for St. Louis, and for Detroit he hit three homers and produced 15 RBI. But the Browns wanted Vic Wertz, a popular slugger who batted .277 overall, connecting for 23 home runs and producing 70 RBI.
"I always preferred center field," Delsing observed in 1994. "My throwing arm was accurate, but I didn't have that overpowering arm which guys like Al Kaline had. And I could run. But our fan support was never that good. Just last night I went to a banquet for former Brownies, and there were seven, eight of us who used to play for the old Browns. Now we're getting more credit than we ever did back in the 1950s!"
Regarding his friends with the Browns, Delsing remembered all of the players being pretty close. They were roughly the same age, and they were all struggling to have a good career. "Sherm Lollar was probably my closest friend in St. Louis," Delsing said in 1994. "I roomed with him when I went to the White Sox in 1956. Then Hank Arft lives about 15 minutes away from me today. I was in Don Lenhardt's wedding. We were all close."
With Detroit in 1953, Delsing enjoyed his best overall year, batting .288 with 11 home runs (10 homers in 1955 was his second best output), 26 doubles (his career peak), six triples (seven three-baggers in 1952 was his best), and 62 RBI (two more than his next-best year, 1955).
Delsing, a carpenter in the offseason, explained, "I was never a power hitter. My power alleys' were to left-center and right-center. I was not a pull hitter. I was more of a line-drive hitter, just going for singles and doubles. In Detroit I got to know Boonie,' or Ike,' as some people called Ray Boone. I roomed with Bob Nieman in Detroit. Red Wilson was a good friend, and Steve Souchock and Johnny Pesky were others. In our day I think you would find four, five guys who bummed around together on road trips. We traveled mostly by train in those days. But toward the end of my years with Detroit we made a few airplane trips. That would be around 1955. The game I remember best with Detroit is where I hit two home runs off Bob Feller, and I drove in several runs. In one game I had a grand slam off Bob Porterfield. You tend to remember certain things, you know. I never had that many homers, so I remember all of them! I guess you can talk to almost any ballplayer, and he probably remembers almost every hit and every out he ever made."
Highlights of Delsing's 1953 season include:
- At Briggs Stadium on Friday, April 17: Delsing, playing center field, went 2-for-3 against Cleveland's Bob Feller, slugging a pair of two-run homers, and Detroit won in the ninth inning when Matt Batts, who tripled to score Johnny Pesky, scored on a sacrifice fly.
- On Saturday April 18, in Detroit, St. Louis won, 8-7, but Delsing went 4-for-6, with two doubles and one RBI.
- On Sunday, May 3, in Detroit, New York won, 8-7, but Delsing led the Tigers with a single, double, homer, and 2 RBI.
- On Friday, June 12, in Detroit, Detroit won against Washington, 2-1, thanks to Delsing, who scored both runs, belting a triple in the seventh inning and slugging a home run into the upper deck of right field in the ninth.
- The next day, June 13, Delsing paced the Tigers over the Senators, 7-6, going 3-for-4, including a third-inning grand slam, again into the upper deck
- On Friday, June 19, at Yankee Stadium, Delsing hit a pair of solo homers off right-hander Bob Kuzava to help the Tigers defeat the Yankees, 3-2.
- On Friday, June 26, at Griffith Stadium, Delsing's bases-loaded double (he went 3-for-5) keyed a five-run fifth as Detroit won, 7-3.
- On Thursday, July 23, in Detroit, the Tigers rose from the cellar for first time since April 19, beating the Yankees, 5-1, and Delsing rapped three singles, scored once, and batted in one.
- During a twi-nighter in Philadelphia, September 9, Delsing went 3-for-5 with a homer and 2 RBI as Tigers won the opener, 8-2, but Jim went hitless as Detroit dropped the nightcap, 7-1.
"I loved playing for Fred Hutchinson in Detroit," Delsing said in 1994. "I would describe him as very sincere, very frank, very loyal to the players, and very involved with the players. I think everybody really liked playing for him. Hutch was not rehired after the 1954 season, and the next year we played for Bucky Harris. Fred was always more involved with the players. I thought he was an excellent manager. The manager makes a lot of difference. I was not one of Bucky Harris' favorites, no question about it. Also, I got caught up in a youth movement. Detroit finished last in 1952, and they got into a youth movement. They signed Al Kaline in 1953.
"Also, Detroit always drew fans real well. They only had 14 night games when I went there in 1952, and those drew real well. The day games would start about 1:30, and we would usually beat the heavy traffic home after the game. We had about four guys who lived out in the same area, and we would drive together. At first we rented a house on Winthrop [Street] out in northwest [Detroit], and we lived on Evergreen [Road] one year. We never bought a house there. Home was in St. Louis for us. We bought our house in early 1952, and we moved from that house ten years ago. Now we live in West County, which has a mailing address in Chesterfield, a suburb west of St. Louis."
About half of a baseball player's life each year is spent on road trips. For their families in the 1950s, life involved three moves each year. Delsing said they would go to Florida for spring training, then he would move to Detroit. When school was out, Roseanne would bring the kids to Detroit from St. Louis. The family would then move back to St. Louis after the season.
Roseanne Delsing offered her perspective on being a baseball wife. As part of a 1994 interview with her husband, she said, "I didn't go to all of Jim's games, once we had the children. Before we had kids I would go every night. But Jim would leave for the ballpark about 3:00 or 3:30 for a night game. If we had another player living near, then the guys would ride together, and the wives would get together and come later. In those days, nobody had two cars. Given my druthers of being a baseball wife then or now, I loved the way it was in the 1950s. I think there are just so many memories that we both have of baseball, of rough times and good times. But those memories are very, very important to us, and we still cherish them. Would I do it again? Oh, absolutely. Patty Boone and I were real good friends in Detroit. Louise Kaline and I would throw our kids in the car and go to the park and spend a day. There was one time in Detroit when it was Patty Boone, Jeanette Gromek, four or five of us wives. The guys were going to be gone for three weeks -- the road trips, you know, were longer then. So we rented a place up on Saginaw Bay, and took all of our kids up there, and spent a couple of weeks on Lake Huron. It was just great! The camaraderie at that time was just unbelievable.
"A couple of years ago we went to a Tiger Alumni get-together. I was a little disappointed that we didn't get to see more of the people. We did see the Gromeks. We didn't see the Houttemans or the Grays. Jim did get to see a lot of the guys, but maybe some of the wives just didn't come. Yes, I would do it over again. I don't know if they have the camaraderie today that we did. But who knows? Times have changed. Everything is different now, life is different, and you don't want it to stay the way it used to be. But, for example, when [pro golfer son] Jay was playing in the Bob Hope Tournament in Palm Springs in February of this year, someone came up to him and introduced himself. And it was Jim McDaniel, a pitcher that Jim had played with in the Dominican Republic, forty-some years ago. He wanted to know how our oldest daughter Kim had injured her leg down there. She broke a femur and had a lot of problems. Jim McDaniel told Jay to tell us hi, and to ask how Kimmie's leg was. Well, Kimmie' is 42 now! Later that day, when Jay went to Mass, Jim and Mary Bunning came up to Jay and introduced themselves, and said to be sure and tell us hi. There are just so many good memories that go back 30 and 40 years ago, and I hope the modern-day players will be able to have the same recall, and the same good memories, and the good friends, and the pleasure in hearing from them."
Roseanne said they always liked Detroit: "I enjoyed knowing Van Patrick, the broadcaster, who used to have parties and invite us over after the games. "One of the main reasons I liked being in Detroit was that [Tigers executive] Spike Briggs was such a neat person. It was always funny, because he and his wife had four boys. While we were in Detroit, our second daughter was born. Spike would catch me, and say, Let's make a trade, I'll give you four boys for one girl!' They never had any daughters, and they really wanted a little girl. But the day games were so nice. Jim would leave home at 10:00 or so, and be home at 5:30 or 6:00. That was fun. It was different, after a full diet of night games and doubleheaders on Sunday. People don't remember that they played a lot of Sunday doubleheaders. But we were always the happiest in Detroit. I loved Michigan at that time. It was just wonderful."
As it happened, Delsing spent two more good years with Detroit, playing over 100 games in the outfield each year. But in 1954, although tops among AL left fielders with a .996 fielding percentage (one error in 227 chances), he started 108 games in the outfield, down from his 133 games of 1953. Also, Delsing's hitting dropped to .248 (in 371 at-bats), with six home runs and 38 RBI. Bill Tuttle, one of the Tigers' rookie "speed merchants," as Van Patrick used to call them, now played center field. Tuttle batted .266 with seven homers and 58 RBI. The speedster also led center fielders in putouts with 442.
In addition, Delsing suffered several injuries in 1954, which can happen at any time to any athlete. The injuries included tearing ligaments in one leg, twisting the knee of his other leg in a head-first slide, and being beaned by "Bullet Bob" Turley. Thanks to workouts in a neighborhood gym over the winter, Delsing was in good shape when he began spring training. In 1955, however, Delsing, now 29, became Detroit's veteran among outfielders. His playing time under new manager Harris declined to 101 games, mostly in left field, where, after mid-May, he shared time with newcomer Charlie Maxwell, obtained on waivers from the Baltimore Orioles. Delsing's average slipped to .239, but he still slugged 10 homers and contributed 60 RBI.
Bigger stars like Al Kaline and Ray Boone grabbed most of the Motor City's baseball headlines in 1955. Kaline, in his third season, enjoyed a career year, leading the league with a .340 batting average. In his third season after beginning as a "bonus" rookie in 1953, Kaline came through with 27 homers and 102 RBI. Boone, the former Indians shortstop who now played third base for Detroit, batted .284, connected for 20 homers, and tied with Boston's Jackie Jensen for the circuit's RBI lead at 116.
On May 15, 1956, after going hitless in 10 games, Delsing was traded, along with infielder Fred Hatfield, to the Chicago White Sox for three players, including infielder Jim Brideweser. But Delsing found his prospects worse in the Windy City. With Larry Doby (137 games), Minnie Minoso (148 games), and Jim Rivera (134 games) roaming the outer gardens, Delsing was used mainly as a late-inning defensive replacement or as a pinch-hitter (he went 3-for-21). In 55 games he batted only 41 times, picking up five hits, a .122 average for Chicago (and .094 for 1956).
About the '56 season, Delsing recalled, "Marty Marion, the manager, played Minoso, Doby, and Rivera for almost every game, no matter if they were 15 runs ahead, or behind. They just played. That was just a disastrous year. That winter they sold me to their [Triple-A] farm club in Indianapolis. After being a regular, that was frustrating."
But Delsing rebounded with a strong year in the American Association, batting .289 in 139 games. Jim's 132 hits included 20 doubles, three triples, eight home runs, and 70 RBI. Also, he learned later that he narrowly missed becoming part the pennant-winning Milwaukee Braves. "The amazing part about my 1957 season at Indianapolis," Delsing recalled, "is that the Milwaukee Braves were looking for another outfielder. Remember, that's the year Milwaukee won the pennant, and they sent their scout out to a game in Wichita to watch me. But the White Sox wouldn't sell me. So the Braves brought up Hurricane' Bob Hazle, and he went crazy! I will never know why that happened. A ballplayer at Milwaukee later told me that the Braves couldn't understand why White Sox refused to sell me."
That is the kind of question that fascinates baseball fans, writers, and trivia buffs. What happens to Delsing, the Braves, and Hazle if Milwaukee had purchased Delsing?
Instead, Indianapolis sold Delsing to Charleston, also of the American Association, for 1958. There he enjoyed another strong year, playing 154 games and batting .287, belting 35 doubles, three triples, seven home runs, and collecting 74 RBI. Delsing remembered, "After playing with Charleston in 1958, I went to play winter ball [in the Dominican Republic], and I had a clause in my contract saying that if I was sold back to the big leagues, I would get 25 percent of the sale. Washington said they would pick me up, but I would have to waive that 25 percent clause. I finally waived it.
"I went to spring training with Washington in 1959, but I hurt my back. Still, I never had a chance. I have no idea why they even drafted me. I didn't play a lick in spring training. Then Houston of the American Association, owned by Marty Marion, bought me." Ironically, Delsing appeared on a Topps card in the 1959 set, his last baseball card. But he did not play in the majors. At Houston he started 149 games and batted .233, including four homers and 40 RBI.
"It was different in Houston," Delsing said. "I probably hit the ball as well as I ever did. If you check the records, you will see that lefthanded hitters don't do much hitting down there, because of the wind. The outfielders give you the right field line, and bunch you up toward the alleys in right-center and left-center. Those power alleys are where most of my base hits used to be. I would hit a good line drive and be headed around first going to second with a double, I thought, and some outfielder would be scooping up the ball, and I would be out. They just knew how to play the ballpark and the wind conditions. It was like that in the whole league. I thought it was a righthand-hitting league."
Asked about salaries, Delsing indicated he earned his top salary in Detroit in 1954, around $19,000. In comparison, the salary for Triple-A ball late in the 1950s was, he said, "pretty awful."
"I played Triple-A ball because I felt that I could still play in the big leagues. When you sit on the bench all year, like I did in Chicago in 1956, there is nothing you can do. First of all, you're not in shape. That's my opinion: you can't stay in shape, mentally or physically, if you don't play regularly. It doesn't matter at what level you're playing, either. In 1956 I would go two or three weeks without getting in a ball game. That happened to me before, but not at St. Louis and Detroit -- at least not before 1955. You just can't stay in shape and be sharp and be ready to play, when you're not playing."
In 1960 Delsing, then 34, played for two teams: first with Charleston (37 games), then with Dallas-Fort Worth (82 games). He batted a combined .297, with seven homers and 37 RBI. Late in August, Kansas City, which owned Dallas-Fort Worth, brought Delsing back to the majors to be a reserve, because two or three outfielders had suffered injuries. He played in 16 games for the Athletics and batted .250.
After the season, Kansas City offered Delsing two choices: a job with the organization as a coach, or to play in Hawaii. He decided to retire.
The Wisconsin native became an advertising salesman for the St. Louis Review, the Catholic archdiocese's newspaper. He worked 30 years for the Review and retired, for the second time, in 1991. He was also active in several Catholic charities, including the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the St. Nicholas food pantry, and the Ascension Altar Society.
But one of his unusual baseball experiences -- one he was often asked about -- was pinch-running for the midget, Eddie Gaedel, in 1951. Jim recalled those events:
"Mr. Veeck owned St. Louis back in 1951, and he was always doing some promoting. This happened at a Sunday double-header on August 19, and between games they brought out a great big, huge cake. Out of the cake popped Eddie Gaedel, wearing a St. Louis Browns uniform, with 1/8 on the back. He gets out of the cake and walks over to the dugout. We knew nothing about it. We took a look at the lineup. I had a couple of hits in the first game, so I thought I would sure be playing." Detroit beat the Browns in the first game, 5-2, but Delsing was 3-for-4 and scored one run.
"I went up to Zack Taylor, who was manager, and he said, Cool it. You'll be all right.' Taylor had Frank Saucier leading off. When it came time for Saucier to bat, Taylor called him back, and told Gaedel to bat for Saucier. We all thought it was a joke, because Mr. Veeck used to do all kinds of promotions. Gaedel walked up to the plate, and the umpire said, You can't bat.' But Mr. Veeck had this all worked out. Gaedel reached in his pocket and pulled out a major league contract. So they had to let him hit. Bob Cain was the Tiger pitcher, and Bob Swift was the catcher. Gaedel had a strike zone that was about an inch and a half! He walked on four pitches, and Zack Taylor said to me, Now go run for Gaedel.' Then I knew what he was talking about, why I wasn't playing the second game."
St. Louis lost to Detroit, 6-2, but Delsing rapped a double in three trips. Also, the Browns drew 18,369, their largest crowd since 1947. "The funny part of it," Delsing continued, "was that in the old Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, Veeck used to sit in a box seat in the roof right behind home plate. He told Gaedel, I'm sitting in a box seat right up behind home plate, and I have a gun. If you swing at that ball, I'll shoot you!' Gaedel walked on four pitches. That is what people always ask me about. But at the time, it was just another day at the ballpark as far as the players were concerned. We didn't think that much about it."
Thus, Jim Delsing and his wife Roseanne had many good memories of baseball. They also raised a close-knit family of five. They had three daughters, Kim, born in 1951, Jamie, born in 1954, and Mari (or Moochie), born in 1956, and two sons, Jay, born in 1960, and Bart, born in 1963.
While Delsing raised a family and played 822 games in the major leagues from 1948 to 1960, he also played 1,227 contests in the minors. He played 561 of those at the Triple-A level after 1956, all to get what turned out to be a brief shot with Kansas City in 1960. A lefthanded line drive hitter with a good batting eye, Delsing usually walked more than he struck out, 495 walks to 476 whiffs in the majors, and 299 to 251 in the minors. A lifetime .255 hitter in the majors, he batted .301 lifetime in the minors, mostly at the highest level.
Equally important, Delsing was a first-class person, the kind of fellow who was caught up by the baseball dream--like most young guys his age during the years before 1960. But he also proved himself good enough to live the dream. Asked about his biggest thrill in baseball, the former Tiger hero replied that no single game, hit, or play really stood out. "I always say that for me, it was pulling on that big-league uniform every day," Delsing reflected, with a smile. "That was my biggest thrill, and I treasure it."
Jim Delsing passed away May 4, 2006.
Clippings from Delsing's file in the National Baseball Hall of Fame's library; game stories from ProQuest for the 1953 season; Baseball Encyclopedia, Macmillan Publishing, 1990 edition; Pat Doyle's Professional Baseball Player Database, version 5.0; interview with Jim and Roseanne Delsing, April 15, 1994; letters from Jim Delsing, September 15, 1993, June 6, 1994, October 14, 1994, February 25, 1997, May 11, 1999, and June 5, 1999; obituary from Catholic News Service, May 9, 2006.