SABR

Sid Gordon

This article was written by Ralph Berger.

Sid Gordon was a solid ballplayer with the New York Giants, the Boston and Milwaukee Braves, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. A powerfully built man, he came to play every day no matter whether the manager played him in the outfield or third base or where he inserted him in the lineup. An amiable and well-liked ballplayer from Brooklyn, he was honored by the citizens of Brooklyn at Ebbets Field even though he was playing for the Giants. Sid Gordon was a ballplayer who although not a super star was a solid performer for every team he played for. Harold Ribalow in his book The Jew in American Sports referred to Sid Gordon as the "Solid Man."

Sidney Gordon was born in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn on August 13, 1917. His parents were Morris and Rose (nee Meyerson) Gordon (1). Morris emigrated from Russia and became a plumber and a coal dealer in the United States. When Sid was old enough, he would drive one of his father's coal trucks in order to make deliveries. Sid went to Samuel Tilden High School, where he was a star baseball player.

In 1936, his high school coach, Joe Solomon, arranged for Sid to work out for Casey Stengel, then manager of the Dodgers. Stengel liked what he saw but had no place for him. Casey said he would keep Gordon in mind, but soon the Dodgers fired Stengel. Sid kept playing in sandlot baseball, where he was noticed by scout George Mack of the Giants. The Giants sent Gordon to Milford, Delaware in the Class-D Eastern Shore League. But Sid almost did not go. His father died suddenly, and Sid felt it was his duty to carry on his father's business. However, his mother told him to follow his dream, that she would run the family business. Rose made sure he got on the train for Milford and shoved 32 dollars in his pocket for expenses.

At Milford, Sid was put at third base, an unfamiliar position, but he responded with a .352 average, slugged 25 homers, and played every game. Sid led the league in hits (145), total bases (256), and triples (9). When the season was over, he was back to work driving a coal truck.

In 1939 Sid was in the Class-B Three-I League with Clinton. Continuing his solid hitting, he batted .327 and hit 24 triples. During the course of the season he was sent to Jersey City to get a feel for the Double-A level. He played in only three games. However, given full- time duties in Jersey City in 1940 and 1941, he showed his talent as a hitter. At the end of the 1941 season the Giants brought him up. On September 11, 1941, he appeared in his first major league game. When his mother heard that he would be playing that day, she rushed to the ballpark to see her son play.

Ten days later, the Giants put four Jewish players on the field: Gordon and Morrie Arnovich in the outfield, Harry Feldman on the mound, and Harry Danning behind the plate.  Sid appeared in nine games and batted .258. Wanting to get Gordon more experience as an outfielder, manager Bill Terry sent Sid to Jersey City in 1942, where he hit .300. Sid's first full year in the majors came in 1943; he hit only .251 but with 32 strikeouts and 43 walks showed some discipline at the plate.

With World War II raging, Sid spent 1944 and 1945 in the Coast Guard.

Returning to baseball after the war, Sid was now a fully matured individual. Red Kress, a coach with the Giants, took Gordon aside. Kress had noted Gordon's powerful build and helped Sid become more of a pull hitter. Gordon had never hit more than 13 homers in a season in the majors, but after Kress turned him into a pull hitter, he began to hit with more power. In 1948 Sid belted 30 homers for his best output of round trippers.

After his breakout season, Gordon held out in the spring of 1949. He signed for $2,500 less than he wanted; ironically, that number would come up again.

He became a better outfielder and twice was voted onto the All-Star team, in 1948 and 1949. In 1949 he homered twice in one inning and in 1950 belted out four grand slams, tying what was then the major league record. In three different years he homered at least once in every park he played in.

In 1947 Giant manager Mel Ott put together a one-dimensional ball club built around a lot of sluggers with little speed. Leo Durocher famously observed that Ott was too nice a guy and his team would finish last. Durocher also listed a number of players whom he thought were nice guys, Sid Gordon among them.

After Durocher took over in 1948, he longed for more speed and a good double play combination. On December 14, 1949, he traded Willard Marshall and nice guy Sid Gordon to the Boston Braves for shortstop Alvin Dark and pesky second baseman Eddie Stanky. The deal having been consummated, Giants owner Horace Stoneham sent Gordon a check for $2,500 as a token of his respect for the popular slugger.

Baseball in the 1950's was pretty much a one-dimensional game-get men on base and bring them in with a homer. Every team had someone like Gordon (Ralph Kiner, Gus Zernial, Luke Easter, Roy Sievers, and Hank Sauer were typical) who would deliver the occasional homer and command a large salary. Sid, although not fast, was a pretty good outfielder, making him a bit more valuable than most of his contemporaries.

A well-liked person wherever he traveled, Sid was nevertheless involved in a purported case of anti-Semitism. One day in St. Louis the Cardinals bench was all over Gordon. Anti-Semitic remarks were hurled at Gordon. However, Cards manager Eddie Dyer said, "Sid is a friend of mine" and that Gordon had been attacked not because he was Jewish but because he was a good player and "the good ones receive the attention of bench jockeys." Gordon for his part took the high road, ignoring the alleged anti-Semitic remarks and forcing the bigots to admire him.

Gordon had a fine year in 1950, batting .304 and hitting 27 homers. Playing for Boston in 1951 and 1952, he moved with them to Milwaukee in 1953 and was then traded to Pittburgh in 1954, where he hit .306. In 1955 he was back with the Giants, where he ended his major league career. He played 13 years in the majors, batting .283, hitting 202 home runs, and batting in 805 runs; equally impressive is that he drew 731 walks against only 356 strikeouts.

Though Sid Gordon was not considered a major star, he was highly regarded. When the Dodgers were desperately looking for a Jewish player and found Sandy Koufax, Walter O'Malley told reporter Dave Anderson that he hoped Koufax would be as good as Hank Greenberg or Sid Gordon.

In his personal life Sid Gordon married Mary Goldberg in 1940. They had two sons, Michael and Richard. Michael was a catcher in the minors from 1964 to 1966. A solid man in baseball, he was a good family man in his retirement. His children received a Jewish education, and Sid helped various Jewish groups by lending his name to their projects.

Sid was playing softball in Central Park in New York on June 17, 1975, when he had a heart attack. Taken to Lenox Hill Hospital, he died several hours later. He was only 57 years old. His wife Mary and two sons Michael and Richard survived him.

Sid Gordon came out of the International League around the same time as players like Virgil Trucks, Hank Borowy, Tommy Byrne, Hank Majeski, and Tommy Holmes. They didn't create many headlines; they were just solid ballplayers and men who would contribute wins to the teams that were fortunate enough to have them.

An agreeable man who was willing to give up a budding baseball career in order to carry on his father's business, Gordon showed early on his eagerness to do what he felt best for his family. This quality carried over into baseball, not only on the field but also in the clubhouse and in his life away from baseball.


(1)"Gordon" seems surprising as a Jewish name. It is usually and properly assumed to be Scottish, Norman English, or Irish as a place name meaning "spacious fort." It also has a French connection as a nickname for a fat man. However, according to Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges, in consultation with David L. Gold, the name is also "Jewish, (E[astern] Ashkenazic): probably a habituation name from the Belarus.city of Grodno (Lithuanian Gardinas), whence the E[astern] Ashkenazic surnames Gardin(ski). It goes back at least to 1657. It was widespread among Jews in Poland by the end of the 17th cent., when two naturalized Polish noblemen, Henry and George Gordon, obtained legislation to prevent its continued adoption by Jews. . . . Others claim descent from earlier Scottish converts, but the Jewish surname existed long before any non-Jew named Gordon converted to Judaism."


Sources

Coffin, Tristram Potter. The Old Ball Game: Baseball in Folklore and Fiction. New York: Herder and Herder, 1971.

Hanks, Patrick, and Flavia Hodges. Special consultant for Jewish names: David L. Gold. A Dictionary of Surnames. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Horvitz, Peter S., and Joachim Horvitz. The Big Book of Jewish Baseball. New York: SPI Books, 2001.

Hynd, Noel. The Giants of the Polo Grounds: The Glorious Times of Baseball's New York Giants. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1988.

James, Bill. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. New York: The Free Press, 2001.

Leavy, Jane. Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy. New York: Harper and Collins, 2002.

Ribalow, Harold U. The Jew in American Sports. New York: Bloch, 1948.

Sid Gordon files from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York.




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