Erv Dusak (THE TOPPS COMPANY)

Erv Dusak

This article was written by Eric Vickrey

Erv Dusak (THE TOPPS COMPANY)Erv Dusak, whose prodigious power in the minor leagues earned him the nickname “Four Sack,” came up in the St. Louis Cardinals organization in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Some considered him a better prospect than his minor league teammate, Stan Musial. Like many of his contemporaries, Dusak missed three seasons in the prime of his career while serving in World War II. He was a member of the Cardinals’ World Series championship club of 1946 as a combination infielder-outfielder and came up with multiple key game-winning hits during the pennant chase. He later made a conversion to pitching and for a time was a true two-way player, one of a small number of players in history to serve in this role. His big league career, which spanned parts of nine seasons, ended in 1952 as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Ervin “Erv” Frank Dusak was born on July 29, 1920, in Chicago, Illinois. Of Czech descent, he was the son of John and Marie (née Kucera) and had two brothers, John and Henry. Erv attended Farragut High School in Chicago’s South Lawndale neighborhood, where he was a star baseball and basketball player before graduating in 1938. He received an offer from the Chicago Bruins to play professional basketball but turned down the offer to try his hand at baseball.1

A right-handed thrower and hitter, Dusak signed as a 17-year-old outfielder with the St. Louis Cardinals, joining Branch Rickey’s robust minor league system which had helped propel the Cardinals to World Series titles in 1931 and 1934. Assigned to the Monett (Missouri) Redbirds of the Class D Arkansas-Missouri League, the first-year pro hit .351 with a whopping 18 home runs in just 67 games. He spent 1939 and 1940 honing his skills with the Albany (Georgia) Cardinals in the Class D Georgia-Florida League, hitting .309 and .335 in the two seasons, respectively, and batted cleanup in the league’s 1940 All-Star Game.2 Although he only hit seven home runs during those two years, he demonstrated an excellent throwing arm, leading the league with 27 outfield assists in 1939 and pitching 17 innings with a 2-1 record in 1940.

Dusak began the 1941 campaign with the Houston Buffalos, a Class A1 outfit, and appeared in just four games before being optioned to the Mobile Shippers of the Class B Southeastern League. He went 4-for-5 in his first game with the Shippers and hit .336 with 18 round-trippers in 81 games,3 acquiring the nickname “Four Sack” for his home-run hitting prowess. On July 21, the Class AA Rochester (New York) Red Wings purchased Dusak’s contract. The Mobile fans chipped in and gave a $100 farewell gift to the departing slugger.4 Dusak joined a Rochester lineup that included Musial and Whitey Kurowski. He continued his excellent hitting despite the stiffer competition, batting .304 in 51 games. Rochester manager Tony Kaufman recommended both Musial and Dusak for September promotions to the Cardinals but said at the time, “Dusak is much better equipped to make good in the majors.”5

The Cardinals were in the thick of the National League pennant race, trailing the Brooklyn Dodgers by two games, when Dusak joined the team on September 16. The 21-year-old made his major league debut on September 18 versus the Boston Braves. Pinch-hitting for Creepy Crespi in the ninth inning, Dusak faced Braves hurler Manny Salvo and struck out. He made his first start on September 20 against the Chicago Cubs in St. Louis. Hitting fifth in the order, he was 0-for-4 but picked up an RBI on a fielder’s choice and made two defensive gems in the outfield.6 With the Cardinals eliminated from pennant contention, Dusak started in center field and batted leadoff in the final two games of the season at Wrigley Field. Playing just 12 miles from where he had grown up, he picked up his first big league hit off Cubs’ reliever Vallie Eaves. Dusak finished his first taste of the majors with a 2-for-14 showing. Musial made his debut the day before Dusak and hit .426 (20-for-47).

Dusak, 6-foot-2 and a slender 185 pounds, kept in shape during the off-season by roller skating, an exercise which he found was “great for keeping leg muscles fit.”7 His athleticism, described by one reporter as “the speed of a gazelle and the sock of a Joe Louis,” was on display at the Cardinals’ 1942 spring training camp in St. Petersburg, Florida.8 By April 4, he was 12-for-41 for a batting average of .293 in Grapefruit League play.9 An outfielder by trade, he saw time at third base. “Dusak has looked very good down here this spring,” remarked Cardinals’ manager Billy Southworth. “He not only has been hitting well, but he has shown he can do a good defensive job, either in the outfield or at third base.”10 With the United States embroiled in World War II, the possibility of losing players to the draft loomed for the Cardinals. Among the likely subtractions was Dusak, who was unmarried and had no dependents.

Dusak’s excellent spring earned him a spot on the Opening Day roster for 1942. He saw limited action and hit just .118 (2-for-17) before being sent back to Rochester on May 7. Southworth had requested that the youngster be given a chance to play shortstop. In 37 games, he committed 15 errors at the position but demonstrated “a good pair of hands” and could “throw runners out from short left field with his slingshot arm,” according to a local sportswriter.11 The experiment ended when the Red Wings acquired Buddy Blattner to play short, but Dusak was nonetheless named to the International League All-Star team as a utility infielder.12 In 122 games with Rochester, he hit .296, led the team with 16 home runs, and drove in 57.

When Dusak was recalled by the Cards on September 1, Branch Rickey said he “has extra-base hits galore” and called him “one of the most sought-after players in the minor league clubs.”13 Once again, St. Louis and Brooklyn were in a battle for the NL pennant. In his first game back in the majors, he hit a bases-loaded double off Carl Hubbell to drive in three runs and help the Cards defeat the New York Giants. His next start did not come until the season’s final game after the Cardinals had clenched the pennant. The Cardinals defeated the Yankees in the World Series, though Dusak was not on the roster.

In December, Dusak tried to enlist in the United States Navy. He was rejected due to an undisclosed minor physical defect, but he had surgery at his own expense to correct the problem and then enlisted in the Army in late January 1943.14 He was stationed at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, located north of Chicago on Lake Michigan, where he was part of an anti-aircraft unit and member of the basketball and baseball teams. In the summer, Private Dusak joined fellow big leaguers Al Flair, Ken Silvestri, and Hugh Mulcahy on the Second Army team based in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1944, he played for the Army’s Fourth Ferrying Group ball club. On March 26, the squad traveled from Memphis to Cairo, Illinois, for an exhibition game with the Cardinals, who were training there, as opposed to Florida, due to war-time travel restrictions. Dusak played shortstop and went 1-for-3 versus his old mates as the Cards won, 10-3.15 In 1943, he married Geraldine Kozel, a fellow Chicago native and roller-skating aficionado.

By the fall of 1944, Dusak, now promoted to staff sergeant, was playing ball to entertain troops and boost morale in the South Pacific.16 Troops built a ballfield in the Philippines by uprooting coconut trees, leveling the ground, and laying turf. The Eighth Army team, managed by Mulcahy and nicknamed the “Chicks,” played and won 16 games.17 On May 4, 1945, an Associated Press report described a game in which Dusak went 2-for-4 for the victorious Eighth Army team in front of 6,000 American troops.18 Red Cross Field Director Paul Tanner, who had seen him play in his Rochester days, was in the Philippines and reported his observations of the former Red Wing: “Still looks the same. His uniform was an army fatigue cap, fatigue pants rolled halfway to his knees, a white skivvy shirt at the bottom—but he had his baseball shoes.”19 Dusak and his Eighth Army teammates went on to serve in Japan on occupation duty and were reported to have been undefeated in 46 contests.20

Relieved of his military duties, Dusak reported to the Cardinals spring training camp in February 1946. His physical condition impressed manager Eddie Dyer: “I’d say that service life has added weight to these boys, matured them and toughened them up. They should be better athletes than when they left.”21 Dusak played third base throughout the spring and made the Opening Day roster as a reserve infielder-outfielder. He had just 10 plate appearances in his team’s first 50 games. On June 15, the Giants built an early 11-0 lead on the Cards, and Dusak entered the game in the fifth inning as a pinch hitter. He hit a home run off Monty Kennedy for his first career four-bagger. Two days later, he started both games of a doubleheader, going 3-for-8. With Terry Moore battling a leg injury and Buster Adams and Harry Walker under-performing, Dusak claimed the starting left field job. On July 6, he went 2-for-5 with a home run and five RBIs in a blowout victory over the Pirates.

Dusak was a key contributor on multiple occasions during the Cardinals’ chase for the NL pennant. On July 16, the Redbirds hosted the Dodgers at Sportsman’s Park and trailed, 4-2, heading into the ninth. Brooklyn starter Joe Hatten hit Marty Marion and allowed a single to Clyde Kluttz to begin the inning. Dusak pinch hit for Howie Pollet and attempted unsuccessfully to bunt the runners over, falling behind, 0-2. After watching two balls to even the count, he drilled a high fastball into the left field bleachers for a walk-off three-run home run.22 On September 24, St. Louis held a narrow half-game lead over the Dodgers and faced Johnny Vander Meer and the Cincinnati Reds at Sportsman’s Park. The game was a pitchers’ duel and went into extra innings with the score tied, 1-1. In the 10th inning, Dusak clobbered a Vander Meer pitch off the Sportsman’s Park scoreboard for another walk-off win.23 St. Louis maintained its lead over Brooklyn and captured the pennant, then took on the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. Dusak started in left field in Games Two and Six, both Redbird victories, and was a late-inning pinch hitter and defensive replacement in two other contests. He was 1-for-4 with a double and two walks in the series as the Cardinals captured the title in seven games.

Dusak was utilized as a pinch hitter (seven plate appearances) and spot starter (six games) during his team’s first 30 games of the 1947 season. He began to play regularly on May 23. As of June 17, he was hitting just .200 (13-for-65) without a home run and only three RBIs. Meanwhile, the defending champion Cardinals were below .500 as late as June 26 (30-31). Following back-to-back three-hit games on June 29 and July 1, including a game-winning ninth inning home run versus Pittsburgh, Dusak started to see more regular action. He had been out of the lineup in 23 of his team’s first 63 games. Thereafter, he appeared in 71 of the Cardinals’ last 93 games, sharing playing time with left-handed outfielder Ron Northey, acquired earlier in the year for Walker, and occasionally filled in for starters Moore and Enos Slaughter.

From August 1 to 11, a stretch during which St. Louis won 11 of 12 games, Dusak hit .358 with seven multi-hit games. During a five-game hitting streak from August 31 to September 6, he hit .611 (11-for-18) while drawing five walks. The Cardinals rebounded from their slow start to finish with a record of 89-65, but fell five games short of the Dodgers in the NL standings.

In the first seven games of the 1948 season, Dusak was the Cardinals’ starting center fielder but hit only .115 (3-for-26). He missed time due to a sore shoulder, then hit in eight straight games from May 19 through May 26 to raise his average to .269. Following more struggles at the plate, he fell back into a reserve outfield role. When second baseman Red Schoendienst injured his throwing arm in late July. Dusak started 24 consecutive games from July 30 through August 22 in place of the infielder, hitting .219 with four home runs. After Schoendienst returned, the versatile Dusak resumed a utility role. With his subpar offensive showing (.209 average, 6 home runs, and 19 RBIs for the 1948 season), the Cardinals sought to utilize his excellent throwing arm by converting him to a pitcher. “He likes to pitch,” said Dyer, “and I am hoping he will turn out to be another Bob Lemon, who failed as an outfielder with Cleveland and came fast once given a chance on the mound.”24 Dusak took the mound in the final game of the season, throwing a scoreless inning of relief against the Cubs. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that he “threw a good fast ball, a curve, and mixed in a half-crossfire with an overhand pitch.”25

In the off-season, Dusak threw strikes of a different kind, bowling a high score of 179 in a match between NL and AL players at Terry Moore’s new bowling alley.26 He signed with the Cardinals for 1949 as an outfielder-pitcher and reported early to spring training in February “ready to play anywhere.”27 He played shortstop, third, and outfield at the start of Grapefruit League play. However, he failed to find his stroke at the plate and fell behind Eddie Sauer and Tommy Glaviano in the competition for utility roles. On March 30, Dusak took the mound against the Boston Braves and allowed six runs in two innings.28 He subsequently had two outings against the Reds; he pitched well in the first but was shelled in the second. He made the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster but appeared in only one game as a pinch runner before being sent to Rochester on May 7. “As I told him,” said Dyer, “he had to go to Rochester because I couldn’t use him ahead of pitchers whose work in Triple-A ball had earned them a chance,”29

With Rochester, Dusak received regular work as a pitcher. In a May 15 start, the 28-year-old novice was wild, allowing seven walks and scattering seven hits. However, he picked up the win after departing with an 8-5 lead in the seventh inning.30 In 25 games (21 of them starts) Dusak compiled an 11-8 record and 4.57 ERA. Reflecting on his first season as a pitcher, he said, “Control was my chief problem. I wasn’t getting the ball where I wanted it even when I hit the strike zone and, of course, that’s bad. But I was a little lucky in a couple of early games. Then I got going and won six straight. I got so I could throw my curve where I wanted it and finally go where my curve was my best pitch.”31

Dusak worked on a sinker in spring training of 1950 and pitched in five games, allowing 14 runs in 14 innings during Grapefruit League action.32 He made the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster and had two pinch running appearances early on. He did not take the mound until the Redbirds’ 16th game of the season, when he held the Phillies scoreless in two innings of relief. Dusak saw infrequent work, but he was effective in his first four outings, pitching 5 hitless innings, walking four, and striking out three. In between, he appeared twice as a defensive replacement in center field, and twice as a pinch runner. He appeared in mop-up duty on July 19, allowing three earned runs in two innings. By September, the Cardinals were out of the pennant race, and Dusak received two starting pitching assignments. In the first, facing the Chicago Cubs, he went eight innings, allowing just two earned runs while walking five and striking out three, but got a no-decision. He took a loss in his second start, against the Pirates, allowing three runs in 4⅓ and finished with an 0-2 record in 14 games, carrying a 3.72 ERA in 36⅓ innings with 27 walks and 16 punchouts.

Dusak pitched out of the St. Louis bullpen to start the 1951 season. In five outings, he threw 10 1/3 innings, allowing 14 hits, seven walks, and eight earned runs for a 6.97 ERA. All but one of the earned runs came in a single appearance versus the Giants. On May 17, the Cardinals traded him and first baseman Glenn “Rocky” Nelson to the Pirates for infielder Stan Rojek. On May 20, Dusak’s first day in a Pirates’ uniform, he started the nightcap of a twin bill versus Philadelphia. The Phillies knocked him out in the fourth inning, and he took the loss.

Dusak pitched an inning of relief two days later versus the Dodgers and allowed five runs, including a grand slam off the bat of Gil Hodges, in a blowout defeat. Following his third appearance on June 3 in which he spun two scoreless innings against the Phillies, the Pirates re-turned him to a position player. His bat showed no signs of rust as he hit .324 in 17 games, including a sixth-inning home run off Robin Roberts to break up a no-hitter on July 13 and a game-winning 12th inning single against the Giants at the Polo Grounds two days later. His season ended abruptly in the second inning on July 20 when he suffered a separated left shoulder while attempting a diving catch off the bat of Boston’s Ebba St. Claire.

Erv and Geraldine welcomed their first child, a daughter named Debbie Jo, on June 21, 1951. Tragically, she died on January 31, 1952, at just seven months of age. Dusak spent the off-season working at a mattress factory in Chicago before making the long drive to the Pirates’ spring training site in San Bernardino, California.33 He earned a job as a reserve outfielder but made his last major league appearance on June 15. On July 3, Dusak was released outright by the Pirates to the Hollywood Stars, their affiliate in the Pacific Coast League.34

After an ineffective start in 1953, Dusak was sold by Hollywood to the New Orleans Pelicans in the AA Southern Association.35 In his first six weeks with the Pelicans, the jack-of-all-trades hit .355 and played every position except catcher.36 In 81 games, he hit .302 with a .409 OBP, five home runs, and 44 RBIs. He pitched in three games, going 0-1 with a 3.27 ERA in 11 innings. Dusak returned to New Orleans in 1954 and filled in for manager Danny Murtaugh during an early-season absence. In 1955, his last year in pro ball, the 35-year-old added coaching to his duties as a utility player and occasional pitcher.

Dusak retired with a .243 batting average, 24 home runs and 106 RBIs, and OPS of .688 in parts of nine major league seasons. In 23 games as a pitcher, he was 0-3 with a 5.33 ERA in 54 innings. Following his baseball career, he went to work as an insurance agent with Metropolitan Life and worked in the industry for 21 years. He and Geraldine raised two sons: David and Ervin Jr. For a time, Dusak worked as a scout for the Chicago Cubs, and his name showed up in Chicago-area rec league box scores and bowling tournaments. After retiring from the insurance business, he spent ten years working at a bowling alley. Erv Dusak died on November 6, 1994, in Glendale Heights, Illinois, at the age of 74. He is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois.

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Gregory H. Wolf and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Evan Katz.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author relied on Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

1 Don Unferth, “Looking ‘Em Over,” Daily Tribune (Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin), January 22, 1943: 5.

2 “Leitz will Use Regular Lineup Against Stars,” Tallahassee Democrat, July 12, 1940: 5.

3 Frank Pericola, “Sports Slant,” Pensacola News Journal, May 2, 1941: 8.

4 Frank Pericola, “Sports Slant,” Pensacola News Journal, July 23, 1941: 2.

5 Paul Pinckney, “In the Pink,” Democrat and Chronicle, May 20, 1955: 37.

6 Robert Burnes, “Cards Sign Southworth for 1942,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, September 21, 1941: 37.

7 “Ervin Frank Dusak…Roller-Skating Outfielder,” Tampa Bay Times, April 2, 1942: 13.

8 “Cards Bringing Host of Star Rookies to St. Petersburg Training Camp,” Tampa Bay Times, February 1, 1942: 19.

9 “Cardinals’ Averages,” Tampa Bay Times, April 4, 1942: 14.

10 Stan Witwer, “Rookies Pace Cardinals at Bat,” Tampa Bay Times, April 1, 1942: 15.

11 Elliot Cushing, “It’s ‘in the Cards’ for Dusak to Land Shortstop’s Job with Billy,” Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), May 30, 1942: 16.

12 “Red Wings Land Three North All-Star Berths,” Democrat and Chronicle, July 2, 1942: 24.

13 “Morton Cooper to Face Braves Tonight; Birds Recall Ervin Dusak,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 1, 1942: 15.

14 “Birds’ Ace Trying to Get in the Air Corps,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 29, 1942: 10.

15 J. Roy Stockton, “Bergamo, Verban in Star Roles,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 27, 1944: 8.

16 Bill Harvey, “Around the Sport Cycle,” Morning Call (Paterson, New Jersey), November 8, 1944: 14.

17 “Hughie Mulcahy Out of Army: Wants to Try Pitching Again,” Standard-Speaker (Hazleton, Pennsylvania), August 6, 1945: 7.

18 “6,000 GI’s Watch First Baseball Game on Leyte,” Tampa Tribune, May 5, 1945: 9.

19 Elliot Cushing, “Sports Eye View,” Democrat and Chronicle, June 28, 1945: 16.

20 “Eighth Army Team to Lose Eleven Players,” St. Louis Star and Times, October 8, 1945: 18.

21 Bob Broeg, “Pollet is Heavier, Stronger,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 25, 1946: 16.

22 Robert Morrison, “Cards Cut Lead of Dazed Bums to a Half Game on Dusak’s Pinch Homer,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 17, 1946: 18.

23 Sid Keener, “Sauer Edging Dusak Out of Job with Birds,” St. Louis Star and Times, March 18, 1949: 29.

24 Dick Farrington, “Pitcher Dusak Shows Stuff as Cards Back Into Second; Homer Totals: Musial 39, Off Dickinson 39,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 4, 1948: 21.

25 Farrington.

26 “National League Beats American! At Tenpin at Terry Moore Lanes,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 16, 1949: 57.

27 “Dusak will Try Bob Lemon this Year with the Cardinals,” St. Joseph Gazette (St. Joseph, Missouri), February 24, 1949: 8.

28 J. Roy Stockton, “Dusak Fails in Pitching Test as Braves Score Six Times in Two Innings,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 30, 1949: 28.

29 Bob Broeg, “Cardinals Defeated by Hartung, 9-1,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 8, 1949: 59.

30 “Dusak Loses Early Zip; Hurlers to get Workout,” Democrat and Chronicle, May 16, 1949: 30.

31 J. Roy Stockton, “Pitching a Real Fine Art, as the Record Indicates,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 12, 1950: 57.

32 Martin J. Daley, “Cards Pitching Tells Story of Sorry Florida Sojourn,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 8, 1950: 17.

33 Les Biederman, “The Scoreboard,” Pittsburgh Press, March 6, 1952: 44.

34 “Hollywood Gets Muir and Dusak,” Pittsburgh Press, July 2, 1952: 20.

35 Al Wolf, “Stars Host Seals in Opener Tonight,” Los Angeles Times, May 5, 1953: 65.

36 “Pels’ Dusak Causes Talk of First Division,” Daily World (Opelousas, Louisiana), July 23, 1953: 29.

Full Name

Ervin Frank Dusak

Born

July 29, 1920 at Chicago, IL (USA)

Died

November 6, 1994 at Glendale Heights, IL (USA)

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