Dick Brodowski's career was interrupted by the Korean War at what was perhaps a crucial point in his development as a right-handed pitcher for the Boston Red Sox.
He was born in Bayonne, New Jersey, on July 26, 1932. His father, Andrew Brodowski, had emigrated to the United States from Poland at about age 10 or 12, and worked as a lead burner in an oil refinery. His mother, Anna, came from Poland when she was around five. "I remember them talking about how they used to bring the family from Europe to the United States," Dick recalled in a 2016 interview. Did they speak Polish in the home at Bayonne? "Just a little. Just when they wanted to get stuff by the kids."1 Dick had two older brothers, John and Henry. At the time of the 1940 census, John was 19 and employed as a welder in an iron works. Dick grew up in the city and graduated from Sweeney Senior High School, playing baseball – initially shortstop – in CYO ball and high school. At least four teams scouted him. He was signed by Boston Red Sox scout Bill McCarren.
He'd been on his way to Holy Cross, he told Boston Globe reporter Roger Birtwell, but the college wanted him to go to prep school for a year beforehand, better to prepare for college. "I couldn't see that," he said. "I'd been through high school already. I also knew Army duty would soon be coming. So I tried out for third base with the Yankees."2 He went to a tryout camp at Plattsburgh, New York, and was made an offer, but not one he deemed good enough. Three months later, McCarren made him a better offer, a reported $7,500 bonus.3 Was Holy Cross really a possibility? "I didn't want anything to do with school," he said. "As soon as I had a chance out of high school to play ball, I went away to play ball."4 The bonus was actually even higher, he said in 2016, because of payments that were made along the way as he achieved different thresholds. “Altogether it was $15,000. My parents had me just do the contract. They didn't understand what was going on or anything. I got something like $2,000, $2,000, $2,000, $2,500, and the best one was for making the big leagues, a $5,000 one. I reported to Chicago, where the Red Sox were at the time. Tom Dowd was the traveling secretary. He came up to me with a $5,000 check. It was really exciting. That was a very good day."5
Brodowski was 6-foot-1 and listed at 182 pounds. His first professional season was a very impressive one – even though he started as a third baseman, he became a 21-game winner for the 1951 Marion (Ohio) Red Sox of the Class-D Ohio-Indiana League. He posted a record of 21-5 and an earned run average of 2.60. He struck out 212 in 204 innings and walked 72. His first 21 games for Marion were actually at third base but manager Elmer Yoter asked him to pitch in one game, and he won, 11-1, allowing just seven hits. Thus a pitching career was born.6
Brodowski made the leap from Class D all the way to Triple A in 1952, and had equivalent success with the American Association's Louisville Colonels. In 10 starts, he was 7-1 with a 3.40 ERA and seven complete games.
In mid-June, he was promoted again – "recalled" on June 12 to the major leagues. Brodowski joined the Boston Red Sox, managed by Lou Boudreau. He was still just 19 years old for his first several weeks with the team.
His first game was on June 15 in the first game of a doubleheader against the White Sox in Chicago. With the score 6-2, the bases loaded, and no outs in the bottom of the fifth, Brodowski came into the game, induced a groundball for a 1-2-3 double play, and then a flyball to center field. He pitched four full innings, allowing one run. Two days later, he lost a game against the Browns in relief.
On June 25, Brodowski was given his first starting assignment. He pitched a complete game and won, 10-3. Five days later, he won another complete game, a four-hitter to beat the Yankees, 4-3. He appeared in 20 games in 1952, 12 of them starts, and ended the season 5-5 with a 4.40 ERA.
All along, he'd been waiting for a call from Uncle Sam. On August 18 he was called for a physical in Boston. On November 15 he was notified that he was going to be called to duty in December. He was assigned to Fort Dix and missed the entire 1953 and 1954 seasons. He played for baseball teams on the base, and was 12-4 for Fort Dix as the team won the First Army championship in both 1953 and 1954.7 "I always called it the "Battle of Fort Dix.' It was during the Korean War, and I was lucky to stay there, playing baseball with the division."8
There was an investigation launched in early 1954 of several baseball players who it was felt may have received lighter treatment while in military service (among them Willie Mays and Whitey Ford). Brodowski had been assigned duty as a light vehicle driver and utility repairman, supposedly relieved of his duty at noon and excused from K.P. and guard duties.9 "It was called 'coddling,' He laughed. “That was a big farce, a big show.”10 On May 5, the Army "acknowledged today some commanders may have violated standing policy against giving preferential treatment to name athletes and other celebrities."11
In September 1954, Brodowski joined Dick Groat, Harry Chiti, and a couple of other major leaguers in the All-Army baseball championship at Colorado Springs. The month before, he'd been seen playing for the Trenton Old Stock Brewers semipro team in the Mercer County Baseball League. It was later written that he “somehow managed to get passes at playoff time.”12
After serving two years, including Army work as a machine-gun instructor, Brodowski signed with the Red Sox again in February 1955. Manager Mike Higgins was impressed during spring training at Sarasota. "Now he's grown up and looks like a pitcher," Higgins told Red Smith.13 There was some concern, though, that he'd picked up a fault while in the service, even though he'd played a fair amount. He'd lost some of his control. "He got sloppy, careless," Higgins said. "We found he'd been losing sight of his target. He'd drop his head. But he never had a history of wildness so there's no reason for him being wild now."14 Brodowski said of his time in the Army, "I didn't realize how important it was to stay in shape. I weighed about 175 pounds when I went into the Army and I let myself get fat."15 Because he had just come out of the military service, the Red Sox were able to carry him as an extra player on their roster.
Had the time in the Army, coming when it did in his career, hurt his development? "The two years in the Army didn't help. I didn't feel like it hurt me," he said, but the Army didn't take advantage of his background as a pitcher, and by no means was he given work on the mound in anything like the way a pitcher would be used today. In fact, he was turned into a second baseman. "I was a decent hitter and if they needed an infielder or a second baseman, I would go. Like the Army tournament, I went to Texas for a few games and the fella thanked me for willing to play second base and not wanting to pitch. I don't know why they never had me pitch. But I was a good enough hitter, and I played second base a lot for two years.
"Fortunately, I also played a lot of local pro ball in New Jersey. I used to be able to go and pitch for them occasionally. Fort Dix was only an hour and a half from home…I didn't have a problem. I had it made."16
In 1955 he was only used in relief, and only appeared in 16 games scattered throughout the season; he finished stronger, though, with his last five performances being the best, allowing just one run over the span. His one decision was a win against Kansas City on August 7, in which he worked five innings and was able to benefit from a 16-12 battle that saw him the pitcher of record at the right time. He was 3-for-4 as a batter in the game (lifetime he was .242 in the majors). He had a season ERA of 5.63.
He did start once, in an exhibition game against the Braves at Cooperstown.
On November 8, Brodowski was part of a large nine-player trade with the Washington Senators. The Red Sox acquired Bob Porterfield, Johnny Schmitz, Tommy Umphlett, and Mickey Vernon, giving up Neil Chrisley, Tex Clevenger, Karl Olson, and a minor league – plus Brodowski. The Red Sox were trading younger players (average age 23 ½) for more in the way of established ones (average age 33).17 And yet the addition of Porterfield and Vernon made the Red Sox "a possible serious contender," in the words of Yankees GM George Weiss.18 Naturally, being traded hurt. "Yes, it hurt. It was very bothersome because you're not part of the organization that you were so hot about. I went to the Washington Senators and they were never successful when I was around."19
At the time of the trade, Brodowski was pitching for Ponce, in the Puerto Rico Winter League and was off to a rough start, 0-4. It was a rough winter. He acknowledged to Bob Addie of the Washington Post that he'd been a Dodgers fan growing up, but hadn't considered himself as sentimental until he learned the Red Sox had traded him. "It was my first big league team," he said, "so maybe you can't blame me.” But he found himself pressing in Puerto Rico. He was 0-6 with Ponce. "Then I was sent to the San Juan club and started with an 0-8 record." He thought to himself, "I wonder what they think of me in Washington now." He pulled it together, won seven of his next nine games, and finished the season 7-10 for San Juan.20
On February 11, 1956, he married Miss Catherine Lewandowski in Chelsea, Massachusetts. They had four children, all girls.
Brodowski started the season as a question mark for the Senators. He relieved in one game, then threw a complete game against the Orioles, but lost, 3-2. On May 6, given another start, he lasted only one-third of an inning, hammered for five runs by Kansas City. He was optioned to Louisville, now a Washington farm club, only to be recalled in September and lose a third game, making him 0-3 (9.17) for the Senators. With Louisville, he'd been – frankly – nothing special, going 11-12 with a 4.55 ERA.
He began the 1957 season with Washington and lost another game, in relief. He appeared in six games in April and early May, with an unfortunate earned run average of 11.12. On May 15, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians, with left fielder Dick Tettelbach, for center fielder Bob Usher. Technically, Tettlebach and Brodowski were sold to the San Diego Padres, a Cleveland farm club at the time. Brodowski pitched for the Padres for the rest of 1957, and had a good year – a 2.93 ERA and a won/loss record of 13-6. By late July, he had been rated as the best pitcher in the Pacific Coast League, but a Senators official sniffed that he had no regret: "Brodowski is where he belongs."21 Brodowski himself later said, "I was glad to get away from the Washington organization. Even if I did have to go back to the minors."22
Incoming Cleveland manager Bobby Bragan, however, was enthusiastic about Brodowski. Managing the Almendares team in Havana during Cuban winter ball, Bragan said he was impressed and would be disappointed if Brodowski didn't become a big part of the pitching staff in Cleveland in 1958.23 He won 13 games in Cuban Winter League ball.
Brodowski did not impress anyone in spring training and before the 1958 season began, he acknowledged that he was not the pitcher he had been, attracting a newspaper headline: "Brodowski Lacks Self-Confidence."24 The team went with Jim "Mudcat" Grant instead and shipped Brodwoski to San Diego on March 31. He spent most of the season with the Padres, but he did not get off to the best of starts. He was AWOL for two weeks, taking 15 days to report. When asked about it, he was diffident: "I went home to Boston to see my wife. She's expecting a baby. I wasn't in any hurry."25
With the Padres, he started 0-6 and then was made a reliever. By the time he was called up to Cleveland on August 29, he was 10-10 with a 3.30 ERA. He led the team with 100 strikeouts. He’d won six games in a row in relief.
Brodowski was undefeated with the 1958 Indians (1-0), working a total of 10 innings in five games, all in September, without giving up a run. After the season he returned to his offseason job as the “supervisor of slips and panties at the main branch of Filene’s, one of the largest department stories in Boston.”26 He thought that perhaps his struggles may have been due to overwork, so he elected not to play winter ball.
In 1959 he reported 30 pounds overweight, but made the team and opened the season with the Cleveland Indians, and in his first three appearances had two saves and a win. Even when he lost his first game, it was due to three errors behind him and he finished April 2-1 with a 0.00 earned run average. He was glad for the opportunity to relieve. “I enjoy relief work,” he said. “A starter may have real good stuff and still not last nine innings because of bad breaks or some little thing that might happen. But in relief you just go in there and do your best for an inning or two.”27
He had a very good half-year pitching through the Fourth of July (which turned out to be his last game in the major leagues), with a 2-2 record in 30 innings and an excellent 1.80 ERA. What proved to be his final appearance may have been particularly frustrating. He pitched to one batter in the 10th inning and walked him. No harm was done, and the Indians won the game, but it wasn't really a ringing way to go out. He had developed a sore arm, and on July 8 it was announced he would be dropped from the roster because of wildness and sold to the minor-league Toronto Blue Jays.
In the second half, he worked in 25 games for Toronto, 3-5 (4.50).
In 1960 he only worked four innings without a decision for the Single-A Eastern League Reading Indians.
After baseball, "I spent 10 years with Metropolitan Life Insurance, being an insurance man. Then I took a call from a friend of mine, Jack Britt, who was working in Boston for Stone and Webster. He's passed away. He got me a position in security at Stone and Webster, stuff around the building. They had their own building in Boston, about eight floors. I spent the next 10 or 15 years there."28 Stone and Webster, wrote Steve Bailey in the Boston Globe, "was once a part of the bedrock of corporate Boston, a proud engineering company that built everything from the MIT campus to many of the nation's nuclear plants."29 Brodowski retired from Stone and Webster.
He was in good shape financially, given the additional income from his baseball pension. "The Army didn’t hurt me when it came to the pension," he said. "I was lucky to be brought up in '52 in the middle of the season and go into the Army out of the Red Sox so those two years counted toward my pension. There was another year they kept me on the roster. Foolishly, I used to ask about being sent back to Louisville so I could pitch. It would have been the stupidest thing I ever did. It all worked out terrific. I had three years' time from the Army and about a year and a half from what little up and down I did in the big leagues."30
He still hears from the Red Sox at times, but old age causes him to send regrets. "They're very gracious, calling up to see if I want to go to certain ballgames."31
Last revised: September 8, 2016
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Brodowski's player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, Rod Nelson of SABR's Scouts Committee, Gordon Edes of the Boston Red Sox, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.
1 Author interview with Dick Brodowski on August 8, 2016.
2 Roger Birtwell, "Sox Rookie Brodowski Expects Draft Call," Boston Globe, July 1, 1952: 1.
3 "Dick Brodowski Reached Red Sox the Hard Way," Hartford Courant, July 20, 1952: E2.
4 Author interview with Dick Brodowski (hereafter "Brodowski interview.")
5 Brodowski interview.
7 Edwin Rumill, "Brodowski Shows Youth Class on Hurling Mound; Stared Early," Christian Science Monitor, March 17, 1955: 13.
8 Brodowski interview.
9 "G.I. Featherbed Probers Name Sox' Brodowski," Boston Globe, May 3, 1954: 6.
10 Brodowski interview.
11 Associated Press, "Army Admits Some Coddling of Star Athletes," Boston Globe, May 6, 1954: 30.
12 Gary Schnorbus, “This Semi-Pro Team Always Kept Talent in Stock,” Trenton Evening Times, July 5, 1981: 54.
13 Red Smith, "Views of Sport," Seattle Daily Times, March 21, 1955: 24.
14 Mike Gillooly, "Brodowski Makes It," Boston Record American, March 25, 1955: 71.
15 Harry Jones, "Brodowski Lacks Self-Confidence," Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 16, 1958: 47.
16 Brodowski interview.
17 Arthur Daley, "Nine-Player Deal," New York Times, November 10, 1955: 49.
18 Associated Press, "Weiss Says Bosox Got Best of Nats," Washington Post, November 27, 1955: C5.
19 Brodowski interview.
20 Bob Addie, ""Profles of New Nats," Washington Post, February 28, 1956: 20.
21 Burton Hawkins. The Baseball Beat," Evening Star (Washington DC), July 30, 1957: 17.
22 Harry Jones.
23 Gordon Cobbledick, "Plain Dealing," Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 19, 1957: 29.
24 Harry Jones.
25 Jack Murphy, “Late-Arriving Brodowski Must Earn Position with Padres,” San Diego Union, August 15, 1958: 17.
26 “Brodowski Aims To Prove Answer to Indians’ Quest For Relief Ace,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 16, 1959: 27.
28 Brodowski interview.
29 Steve Bailey, "'The Bribe Memo' and collapse of Stone & Webster," Boston Globe, March 15, 2006. As the title of Bailey's article indicates, in later years, the company collapsed by allegedly becoming involved with bribery in trying to win a very large contract in Indonesia.
30 Brodowski interview.