Ed Mierkowicz

This article was written by Jerry Nechal

Ed MierkowiczMany baseball greats have ended long careers without either playing in a World Series or earning a coveted championship ring. In contrast, Ed Mierkowicz, who appeared in only 35 major-league games, achieved both feats. As a 21-year-old rookie he was a late-inning defensive replacement for Hank Greenberg in the seventh game of the 1945 World Series. He then won a new automobile in a raffle for members of the championship team.

In spite of this providence, Mierkowicz would look back at his big-league career as a “cup of coffee, but no cream.”1 Punctuated by brief stints with the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals in four seasons, Mierkowicz played a total of 13 seasons in the minor leagues. In his day he was a large physical presence at 6-feet-4 and 205 pounds. However, he was more of a line-drive hitter with few home runs. During his minor-league years he had multiple .300-plus seasons with high on-base percentages, while playing on various championship clubs.

Edward Frank Mierkowicz was born on March 6, 1924, in Wyandotte, Michigan, near Detroit, to Ignatius and Helen Mierkowicz. Ignatius worked in a factory making gaskets. He and Helen raised two other children, Joe and Clara. Ed was a three-sport star (baseball, basketball, and football) at Roosevelt High School. As a junior he was named to the all-state football team while playing end and kicker on an undefeated team. In the summer Mierkowicz played sandlot baseball for local legend King Boring, who coached several future major leaguers.

As a high-school senior, Mierkowicz helped launch his future baseball career by making the most of someone else’s opportunity. Professional scouts attended one of his games to observe the opposing pitcher, who had not lost a game in four years. Mierkowicz turned the tables and drove in five runs with two long home runs and a double in a 5-2 victory. That caught the attention of Tiger scout Wish Egan. In Mierkowicz’s own words, “A star was born.”2

Mierkowicz had multiple college scholarship offers. Nevertheless, both Ed and the pitcher from that game had to postpone their baseball careers in order to enter the military during World War II. They met far different fates; Mierkowicz contracted rheumatic fever and was discharged in eight months. The pitcher went on active duty and was killed on Iwo Jima.

After returning home in 1944, Mierkowicz was contacted by Wish Egan and signed with the Tigers. He was assigned to Hagerstown in the Class-B Interstate League. There he found immediate success, finishing the 1944 season with a .331 average and 5 home runs in 139 games. In the spring of 1945 Mierkowicz was one of the last preseason cuts by the Tigers. They assigned him to the Buffalo Bisons of the Double-A International League. Mierkowicz started strong and led the league in batting at .374 in late May after going 8-for-10 in a Memorial Day doubleheader with three homers, three doubles, and eight RBIs. His pace eventually slowed; he finished with 21 home runs and 94 RBIs while batting .303.3

At the end of August the Tigers called up Mierkowicz and three of his Buffalo teammates. Detroit was in a heated pennant race, and the call-ups played sparingly. After going hitless in his first seven plate appearances, Mierkowicz got his first big-league hit, a game winner. On September 10 in the second game of a doubleheader against the Boston Red Sox, his ninth-inning double off Emmett O’Neill broke a 1-1 deadlock. The win allowed the Tigers to retain a one-game lead over the second-place Washington Senators. Mierkowicz had one more hit that season and finished with a .133 average, going 2-for-16. More importantly, the Tigers clinched the AL pennant on the last day of the season on a ninth-inning grand slam by Hank Greenberg.

The 1945 World Series between the Tigers and Chicago Cubs went a full seven games. In the decisive Game Seven, Detroit led 9-3 going into the bottom of the ninth at Wrigley Field. Mierkowicz was inserted into left field as a defensive replacement for Greenberg. Nearly 70 years later he recalled thinking, “What the hell am I doing here? My knees are shaking.”4 The ball instantly found Mierkowicz. The first Cubs hitter singled to left and he fielded the ball cleanly. The next three hitters were retired in order by pitcher Hal Newhouser. The celebration began. Unlike today, there was no champagne in the clubhouse. “Are you kidding?” said Mierkowicz. “The Tigers didn't have that kind of money back then. We sprayed each other with plain water. … Thank God, I had the ability to play for that team.”5

Days later at a celebratory banquet, Mierkowicz’s fortunes continued to shine. He won an automobile in a raffle for the players. Some of the veterans resented his winning the car, but Greenberg defended him. Greenberg “talked me up … ‘Hey he’s a rookie and he can use it more than we can. Don’t begrudge the kid his good luck.’ Greenberg was hard not to like. He was so polite and so courteous. …”6

In next few postwar years, competition was stiff for major-league roster spots with only 16 tram clubs and a talented pool of returning veterans. Mierkowicz said that “Triple-A ball in ’46 was better than major-league ball had been in 1945.”7 In the spring of 1946 there was discussion of grooming him as “Detroit’s answer to a replacement for Hank at first base.”8 Management seemed impressed with his power potential and size. However, his teammates nicknamed him “Mouse” and Mierkowicz described himself as a line-drive hitter. “My home run was a line drive,” he told a writer in 2015.9 After 1945 he never again topped 20 home runs in a season. He spent the entire 1946 season in the minors, splitting his time between two Triple-A teams, Buffalo and Milwaukee, with a combined .263 average and 11 home runs.

In 1947 Mierkowicz was with the Tigers at the end of spring training. He injured his elbow in a fall in the Louisville clubhouse as the team headed north, and did not appear in a game until he pinch-hit on May 25. Mierkowicz remained with the Tigers, but played sparingly for the rest of the season: 21 games. “I’d get a couple of hits, and figured I was going to play. Then I would sit on the bench for a month,” he told a writer.10 On August 10 in a rare start, Mierkowicz hit what would be his only major-league home run, off pitcher Eddie Lopat while going 2-for-4 against the Chicago White Sox at Briggs Stadium. He remembered it as “a curveball at my knees” and said, “It was well hit.”11 The Tigers finished the year a distant second to the Yankees, 12 games back. His final average was .190 with 8 hits in 42 at bats.

At the beginning of the 1948 season, Mierkowicz again went north with the Tigers. However, in the first month of the season he played in just three games, going 1-for-5 with two walks. On May 18 Detroit released him and he ended up with a Tiger-affiliated Seattle team of the Pacific Coast League. Undiscouraged, a week later Mierkowicz “made one of the most spectacular debuts in Coast league history,”12 according to The Sporting News. In five at-bats he had three hits and two walks, one of the hits being a grand slam. Despite this impressive entrance, Mierkowicz did not fare well in his new home. The PCL at the time took pride in its high level of talent, even proposing to become the third major league. After playing in only 40 games, with only the one homer and batting .220, he was sold in July to another Tigers affiliate, Little Rock of the Double-A Southern Association. There he had better success, finishing with five home runs and a .291 average.

In November of 1948, Mierkowicz’s career received a new lease on life. The St. Louis Cardinals selected him in the minor-league draft. Playing for the Rochester Red Wings of the Triple-A International League in 1949, he had an impressive season with .293 batting average with 88 RBIs and 15 home runs in 128 games, 77 walks and an on-base-percentage of .402. This earned him a trip back to the big leagues in the spring of 1950. His stay with the Cardinals was short-lived. On April 19 he struck out in a pinch-hitting role in the second game of the season. This was Mierkowicz’s last big-league appearance. The Cardinals sent him back to Rochester, where he again batted .293 with an OBP of .382. One consolation for Mierkowicz was that he played on another championship team. The Red Wings took first place in the International League regular season with a record of 92-59.

Intent on returning to the majors with the Cardinals, Mierkowicz began 1951 playing winter ball in Cuba. But 1951 became a setback year. He experienced both a life-threatening and possibly career-ending injury. Playing again for Rochester, in late June Mierkowicz hit three home runs in three successive games as his team rattled off seven straight victories. Then on July 4 he was hit on the head by a fastball. He was taken to the hospital with a severe fracture with partial paralysis and an inability to speak coherently. Emergency surgery relieved the pressure and saved his life, but the long-term prognosis was uncertain. He was certainly finished for the season. In spite of this setback, Mierkowicz experienced one of the most memorable nights of his career. On August 27, the Rochester club held Mierkowicz Night. Local fans raised $3,000 and his home town of Wyandotte contributed $400 more. His teammates presented him with a movie camera. Appearing with his wife, Katheryn, and six-month-old daughter, Linda, Mierkowicz told the crowd of 8,500: “It’s almost worth it to get hit on the head to discover you have so many friends.”13

In early 1952 Mierkowicz received a clean bill of health, enabling him to return to baseball. However, the Cardinals demoted him to Double-A Houston, where he finished with a .271 average and 11 home runs. In 1953 St. Louis promoted him back to Triple-A Rochester, where he continued his quest to return to the majors. At age 29 his time was running out, but Mierkowicz responded with a strong season, batting .303. One of his season highlights was going 9-for-15 in a July series against Buffalo, where in one game he slammed home runs in consecutive innings.14 In August his team posted a 19-game winning streak and went on to capture the International League pennant.

Despite his resilience, the Cardinals were no longer interested in Mierkowicz. In 1954 he was picked up by the Philadelphia Phillies. Over the next four seasons he played for eight different teams, none of them in the majors. Looking back on these years, he later stated, “I’d known for a long time that I’d never make it back to the majors. I was playing simply because I love playing.”15

In spite of it all, Mierkowicz did have a few memorable moments. While with the Syracuse Chiefs he played on the losing team in what was then called the Junior World Series. Earlier that same season, he set a club record with 75 RBIs with the Richmond Virginians before they traded him to Syracuse. In his final season, 1957, before a crowd of 22,098 in an Opening Day Mexican League game, Mierkowicz emphatically announced his presence. Playing for the Nuevo Laredo Owls, he had a single, double, and triple in a 9-5 victory. His stay in the Mexican League was short-lived. He spent the majority of his last season with San Antonio of the Texas League, where he batted .262 with 12 homers.

Mierkowicz ended his minor-league career with a respectable batting average of .284. In five seasons he had an on-base percentage of .370 or higher. However, he played in a period when teams looked for more power from outfielders. He hit only 129 homers in 13 minor-league seasons. Playing before the era of free agency, Mierkowicz was limited in his ability to move between teams. During his brief stints in the big leagues, he never received consistent playing time. Mierkowicz told a reporter in 2015, “I was so close, yet so far away. It’s something that you make it to the big leagues, and then it stops right there. I felt like I was a little better. … And I didn’t have the chance.”16 Still, he was grateful for the opportunity to play professional baseball: “God gave me the ability to play ball. Made a pretty good living. We didn't make a lot of money, but it was a lot of fun.”17

After retiring Mierkowicz worked 24 years as a mechanic in a public waste-treatment plant. He also worked at a local bar and refereed youth sports. He and Katheryn raised two daughters, Linda and Brenda. After Katheryn died, Ed married his second wife, Janette, and they raised her daughter, Lisa. Mierkowicz had several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Mierkowicz was inducted into Wyandotte’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1986. Late in life, while living in a senior care facility, he suddenly began receiving notoriety as the last living player from the 1945 World Series. Mierkowicz was interviewed by local newspaper and TV stations. A flurry of stories appeared. At age 91, he was grateful for all the attention. “I should be dead, and here I'm getting interviewed,” he said. “It makes me cry.”18 Mierkowicz died on May 19, 2017, at the age of 93.

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Bill Nowlin and Len Levin, and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Detroitathletic.com, and the following:

Manzullo, Brian. “Wyandotte's Ed Mierkowicz, 91, Fondly Reminisces About His Tigers Beating the Cubs 71 Years Ago,” Detroit Free Press, February 24, 2016.

Dyer, David. “Eulogy for Ed Mierkowicz,” Memorial Service, June 1, 2017.

 

Notes

1 Noah Trister, “Cubs Fan – Now,” New York Post, November 3, 2016: 76.

2 Constance York, “Best of the Best: Wyandotte Man Is Last Survivor of Detroit Tigers 1945 World Series Team,” News-Herald Newspapers (Southgate, Michigan), May 12, 2014.

3 “Mierkowicz Sets IL Pace,” Detroit Free Press, June 30, 1948: Part Four, 2.

4 Tom Gage, “Tigers 1945 World Series: One play, One Ring,” Detroit News, February 17, 2015.

5 Ibid.

6 Bruce Cameron Smith, The 1945 Tigers (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc., 2010), 257.

7 Richard Bak, Cobb Would Have Caught It (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991), 327.

8 “Mierkowicz Dallas-Bound,” The Sporting News, March 19, 1946: 14.

9 Gage.

10 Bak, 328.

11 Gage.

12 “Mierkowicz, Ex-Tiger, Bats In 7 Runs in Seattle Bow,” The Sporting News, June 9, 1948: 20.

13 Al C. Weber, “Beaned Wing Given a Night, $3,400 Purse,” The Sporting News, September 5, 1951: 23.

14 “International League,“ The Sporting News, July 29, 1953: 32.

15 Bak, 330.

16 Patrick M. O’Connell, “A Tiger’s Tale: Sole Survivor of Cubs' Last Series, 71 years Ago,” Chicago Tribune, February 24, 2016.

17 Noah Trister (Associated Press), “Last Living Player from 1945 World Series Shares Memories,” November 2, 2016.

18 Gage.