Rock-ribbed, gutsy, playing in pain, he hustled in every game. He was a no-nonsense ball player, yet his voice betrayed his fierce visage and short but Atlas-like body. His voice was soft and mellow, and he had a smile so broad that everyone who gazed upon it was captivated. Nevertheless, one afternoon in 1950 this hard-nosed player wiped out almost the entire infield of Leo Durocher's New York Giants. Andy Seminick was his name. He's not in the Hall of Fame or a household word, but to Philadelphia fans of the late 1940s and early 1950s he was the most popular player. Seminick was the ultimate blue-collar guy in the blue-collar town of Philadelphia.
Andy Wasal Seminick should have added another middle name to himself, perseverance. Rejected many times in his initial efforts to make a professional baseball career, he nevertheless kept pursuing that dream until he fulfilled it.
Andy Seminick was born in Pierce, West Virginia, on September 12, 1920. His father Wasal and mother Mary were born in southern Russia. They did not meet and marry until they were in America. His mother and father came to America at the turn of the 20th century and settled in Pennsylvania. They married in 1906. Seminick's father had grown up on his father's farm in Russia and did farm work after arriving in America. Eventually he became a coal miner. In 1912 the family moved to West Virginia when Seminick's father took a job with a company that specialized in sinking mine shafts. Andy was the youngest of ten children, five boys and five girls. Two years after Andy was born the family moved to Muse, Pennsylvania, a drab company town about twenty miles southwest of Pittsburgh where his father took a job as a miner. Life was not pleasant for the Seminicks, but they managed to keep afloat by growing their own vegetables during the Depression. Andy followed his father into the mines but injured his back when he stepped on a chunk of coal and decided not to go into the mines anymore.
Instead, he went to a baseball tryout camp in Pittsburgh where he signed a contract and was sent to a Class D ballclub. Seminick struggled in his first try at professional baseball and was released. The next spring he paid his own way to a minor league training camp in Tallahassee, Florida, where Knoxville was training. Freddie Lindstrom was the manager, and Seminick was signed to a $75-a-month contract to play for Elizabethton, Tennessee. Andy had a solid year there, hitting .263 with 16 homers. It was at Elizabethon that Seminick met his wife, Augusta (Gussie) Irene Anderson, and they were wed in 1941. In 1942 Seminick was still at Elizabethon. He got a ten-dollar-a-month raise, batted .325, and stroked 20 homers. In September of 1943, the Phillies purchased his contract. He batted just .181, and felt he would be back in the baseball unemployment world again. But it was World War II, the pickings were lean, and the Phillies decided to stick with Seminick. In 1944, he managed to get into 22 games with the Phillies, hitting .222. In 1945, Seminick was an all-round guy playing third base, the outfield and catching. Still, his hitting left something to be desired, and he did not get to the .240 mark.
Ben Chapman was named manager of the Phils in 1945. Seminick was Chapman's whipping boy. Game after game Chapman would verbally abuse Andy, whose fellow mates could not understand how he could absorb all that abuse and carry on. In 1949, Eddie Sawyer became manager of the Phillies, and the situation changed for the Phils and for Seminick. Sawyer was a more of a fatherly figure than the bullying Chapman.
Resigning themselves that Seminick was not going to be much of an offensive threat, the Phillies decided to keep him as a catcher. As a catcher he struggled, dropping many pop-ups and throwing many attempts to get a base stealer into center field. In 1946, he hit 12 homers, and followed with 13 in both 1947 and 1948. Slowly Seminick was improving as a catcher, and his ability to handle pitchers was increasing. Those early years the fans were on Seminick, and it appeared he would be run out of town by the boo-birds. He went through torture catching Dutch Leonard's knuckleball. Some of course got away from Andy and the fans really let him have it. But he caught most of those dancing knucklers and withstood all the fan abuse. In 1949, a great year, Seminick responded with 24 homers and 68 RBI to silence his critics. In a game against Cincinnati on June 2, 1949, the Phillies hit five homers in the eighth inning with Seminick getting two of those. Del Ennis, Puddinhead Jones, and pitcher Schoolboy Rowe had the other three. Seminick hit three homers during that game. The five homers hit by the Phillies that night was only the second time in major league history that a team had achieved that feat. (The first time occurred on June 6, 1939, when Giants Harry Danning, Frank Demaree, Burgess Whitehead, Manuel Salvo, and Joe Moore did it against the Reds.) Totally forgotten with the entire hullabaloo about the five homers was that it was "Gentlemen's Night" at Shibe Park. Andy was the starting catcher for the National League in the All-Star game that year. The fans that had been booing him were now becoming enchanted with this hard-nosed ballplayer.
Affectionately called "Grandpa Whiz" by the younger players on the Phillies, Andy would either cut meat or operate a bulldozer during the off-season to shore up his earnings. He would also sing folk ballads on team bus rides.
In 1949, the young Phillies team had improved steadily and going into the 1950 season showed promise of competing for the pennant. The Phils had a young pitching staff of Robin Roberts, Curt Simmons, Bubba Church and Bob Miller. Seminick, who had been through the wars, was the perfect man to handle these young guys. His stern visage with a soft calming voice, not to mention his ability to handle pitchers young or veteran, made him an asset that would be coveted by any team. On many occasions he would stride to the mound his jaw jutting with determination and with his soothing voice get veteran or youngster straightened out. Robin Roberts was quoted as saying, "If you had to pick a guy in the clubhouse who was our leader that year, it would be Andy Seminick. He always played hard and that was his best year by far."
In mid-August of 1950, Andy Seminick single-handedly almost wrecked the Giants infield. It all started the night before when that eternal and infernal pest Eddie Stanky started jumping up and down and waving his arms when Seminick came to bat. Seminick stepped out of the batter's box and turned to the umpire and asked, "What in the world is he doing?" The umpire replied that he could do nothing about it. The next day the same thing occurred with Stanky waving his arms and jumping up and down when Seminick was at bat. This time Seminick was really annoyed and let fly his bat at Stanky. Andy then reached first base and on a hit raced toward third in full throttle where he ran right through Hank Thompson, who was standing in the basepath awaiting the throw from the outfield. Seminick leveled Thompson on his way to home plate. Thompson was knocked cold and had to be carried off the field. Same thing the next time Seminick came to bat: Stanky was waving his arms. Finally the umpires had enough of Stanky and ejected him. Two Giant infielders gone. Andy reached base again and on his way to second base slid hard into Billy Rigney, the Giants shortstop. Both came up swinging, the benches emptied, and a full-scale brawl was on. Rigney was the third Giant infielder to exit as he was thrown out of the game along with Seminick. The Phillies went on to win the game, and the Giants made a hurry-up call to their Triple-A farm club to shore up their infield.
The Giants and Durocher got even in late September. Durocher felt that Seminick was blocking the plate long before the throws were arriving. When the game went into extra innings, he told Monte Irvin that if he got on base and had a chance to score to bang into Seminick as hard as he could on his attempt to score. Irvin got that chance and slid into Seminick so hard that Seminick went into the air about four feet. Seminick lay on the ground, his ankle broken.
Barely able to walk, Seminick caught a doubleheader the next day. He played out the season by taking novocaine shots in his ankle. Andy also played in the World Series against the Yankees on his broken ankle and did not fare well at bat. The Yankees swept the Series. The Phillies were in every ballgame and lost the first three by one run and the fourth by three runs. After the Series Seminick was in a cast for eight weeks.
In 1951, Seminick was severely beaned by a Max Lanier fastball, curtailing his ability to play. He was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, playing there from 1951 until the early part of the 1955 season. He returned to the Phils where he played a couple of years and ended his playing career. Andy ended with a career .243 batting average and 164 homers.
In all, Seminick played 11 years with the Phillies and three more (with a few games in a fourth) with Cincinnati. In a fifteen-year career he batted .243 with 164 homers. An "Andy Seminick Night" was held in Philadelphia in 1956 between games of a twi-light doubleheader between the Phils and Reds. A grateful Seminick, once again a Phillie, added that is was really special because his team took two games. After retiring as an active player Seminick coached with the Phillies in 1957 and 1958. Seminick managed 11 minor-league teams in the Phillies system from 1959 through 1973. He made his greatest contribution to the Phils as a minor league manager. Ninety of Andy's former minor league players reached the majors, including Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski and Bob Boone, key players in the greatest era for the Phils in the 1970s and early 1980s. There was no magic formula with Seminick-just go all-out for him. Bill Montgomery said of Seminick, "As big and tough as he was as a player, Andy was as nice a person you ever wanted to know." John Vukovich said. "Andy probably had more impact on more guys coming through the system than anyone at any time."
After retiring from professional baseball Seminick was the baseball coach of Florida Tech in Melbourne, where he resided. Florida Tech was founded in 1958. Seminick coached the Panthers from 1961 through 1977 and he posted 276 wins. He also served as assistant athletic director and was heavily involved in fund raising for the institution. In 1999 a new baseball field for Florida Tech was constructed and was named for Seminick and Andy Hall, also a baseball coach of note at Florida Tech. Andy in 1994 was elected into the Sunshine State Conference Hall of Fame.
From humble Russian roots and near poverty the "Mad Russian," as many called him, became a solid ballplayer who went on to teach a younger generation not only how to play the game but how to act in life in general. He wasn't a superstar on the ballfield, but as a man he was a super-nova all by himself.
Andy Seminick died in Melbourne, Florida, at the age of 83, on February 22, 2004. Surviving him was a son Andrew Jr.; sisters Helen Moscher of Detroit and Mary Torsky of Cedarville, Michigan; and granddaughter Andi. Augusta had died in 1991.
Tough, hard as nails, an all-out ballplayer with an engaging smile and a soft voice that endeared him to many people-that was Andy Seminick. Andy knew rejection and losing but persevered and endeared himself to Philadelphia and anyone lucky enough to come in contact with him. His broad smile will be missed.
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