Gus Suhr (TRADING CARD DB)

Gus Suhr

This article was written by Bob Trostler

Gus Suhr (TRADING CARD DB)First baseman Gus Suhr is best known for playing in a then-record 822 consecutive National League games (1931-37). Yet he also achieved recognition for his extensive offensive and defensive contributions in a commendable big-league career of 11 years, 10 of which were spent with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

August Richard Suhr was born on January 3, 1906, in San Francisco, California. He was the youngest of four boys of August Richard Suhr and Elise (Nobmann) Suhr.1 Both parents had emigrated to the United States from Hannover, Germany, while in their teens. His father worked as a stable man in a livery and later as a stevedore on the waterfront.

All three older Suhr brothers played semiprofessional baseball. In 1924, young Gus left San Francisco’s Polytechnic High School, where he played third base, to join the Eureka town team in the independent semipro Humboldt County League.2 He was slim (six feet even, 180 pounds) and fast.

After a 1925 spring training tryout with the San Francisco Seals of the Double-A PCL, Suhr was sent to the Quincy (Illinois) Red Birds of the Class B Illinois-Iowa-Indiana (Three-Eye) League.3 He played in 132 games, hit .282 in 451 at-bats, and stole 14 bases.

Impressive in his first minor-league campaign, Suhr was recalled by the Seals for 1926. With manager Bert Ellison playing first base, Gus — who batted left but threw right — opened the season at short.4 After an error-filled 40 games, he was moved to second for the rest of the season, alternating with Pete Kilduff, a former major-leaguer.5 Suhr ended up hitting .282 with 14 homers and 71 RBIs in 611 at-bats.

The personable infielder played four seasons for the Seals and improved in each one. Suhr remained at second base in 1927, batting leadoff and showing his durability by playing in a league-leading 195 of 196 games.6 He also batted .293 in 679 trips to the plate with 27 homers and 118 RBIs, ranking fifth in the league in homers and tied for fourth with nine triples.

Suhr finally played 27 games at first base in 1928, sharing time with Jerry Donovan, Solly Mishkin, and Hollis Thurston, a pitcher.7 The future National Leaguer, who also played 164 games at second, helped spark the Seals to the PCL title by scoring 156 runs in 191 games and hitting .314 in 741 at-bats.8

Becoming the Seals’ regular first baseman in 1929, Suhr had a breakout season that year before entering the National League in 1930.9 He ripped PCL pitching at a .381 pace with a league runner-up 51 home runs and 177 RBIs in 202 games. While hitting .380 through May, Suhr almost became a Detroit Tiger. He attracted the attention of Walt McCredie, a Detroit scout who eagerly wanted to sign the blossoming first baseman even though the Tigers already had Dale Alexander, a rookie, playing there.10 McCredie’s request to sign Suhr was denied, and Alexander finished his first major-league season with 25 homers and a .343 average. The Pirates then purchased Suhr from the Seals that winter for $50,000 and first baseman Earl Sheely.11

“Gus Suhr, our new first baseman, is a real ballplayer, and I believe Pittsburg fans will go wild about him in a short time,” predicted Pie Traynor, the veteran third baseman and team captain, before the 1930 season. “He is a great hitter. I believe he socks a ball harder than Paul Waner and that is paying him quite a compliment.”12

With much expected from him, Suhr performed to mixed reviews in his rookie season. In the season opener against Cincinnati April 15, the first baseman debuted with a 2-for-5 effort in the Pirates’ 7-6 victory at Redland Field. He also experienced the biggest thrill of his blossoming major-league career, belting a Burleigh Grimes spitball for a bases-loaded triple against the Braves in Boston’s first 1930 visit to Forbes Field. 13

Later that season, the first sacker had difficulty hitting left-handed pitching; dodged frequent beanballs, an apparent rookie initiation of the time; and went into a prolonged slump.14 Despite these handicaps, Suhr played in 151 games and batted .286 with a career-high 17 homers and 107 RBIs in 542 at-bats. He also scored 93 runs as the Pirates finished fifth with an 80-74 record.

Suhr’s 1931 season got off to a rocky start. Injuries suffered in an early-season collision at first base with pitcher Erv Brame, a Pirate teammate, sidelined the first baseman for a month.15 Outfielder Paul Waner and George Grantham, usually a second baseman, divided playing time at first in Suhr’s absence.

Upon his return, Suhr never found his batting eye, encountering the sophomore jinx by hitting only .211 in 270 at-bats and playing in just 87 games. However, he did begin his amazing consecutive-game playing streak on September 11 against the Giants.16 Pittsburgh finished fifth again, this time at 75-79.17

Suhr was determined to bounce back in 1932 from his injury-plagued year. Manager George Gibson suggested a change in his stance, which helped Suhr hit safely in 17 of Pittsburgh’s first 19 games (including eight in a row).18 Despite Suhr’s fast start, the Pirates occupied the cellar on May 5. However, they rebounded and finished second, four games behind the Cubs with an 86-68 record.19 The first baseman improved to .263 with five homers and 81 RBIs in 581 at-bats and smashed 16 triples to place second in the National League behind Babe Herman (19). However, Suhr uncharacteristically led all league first sackers with 18 errors.

Although Suhr had fewer hits at the start of the 1933 season, many were timely and went for extra bases.20 The soft-spoken performer hit .267 with 10 home runs and 75 RBIs. He, Traynor, and Paul Waner were the only Pirates to perform in all 154 games The Bucs finished 87-67 and in second place again, five games behind the World Series champion Giants.

A Sporting News correspondent summed up Suhr nicely: “Some players are not equipped with ability to put frills and fancy trimmings on their work. They can’t show themselves off in such fashion as to steam up the imagination of the fans. Gus Suhr is one these—a stolid everyday workman, who goes about his business of playing first base for the Pittsburgh Pirates without display or artificiality. But he gets there just the same and is an important part of (manager) George Gibson’s first-division machine.”21

Through June 4 of 1934, Suhr hit .311 and trailed only Bill Terry in fans’ voting for the NL starting spot at first base in the All-Star Game.22 However, despite upping his average to a sizzling .324 through June 28, Suhr also fell behind Sam Leslie of the Dodgers and St. Louis’ Rip Collins in the voting and was not chosen to participate in the second annual classic.23

The Sporting News correspondent Ralph Davis said Suhr had become one of the best first basemen in the big leagues and that his batting had steadily improved.24 Another correspondent, Tommy Holmes, added that Suhr was the National League’s top defensive first baseman that season.25

One of the first baseman’s season highlights came on September 9, when his solo shot in the ninth lifted the Pirates to a 1-0 win over the Giants at the Polo Grounds.26 Another highlight was being named as the first baseman on the 1918-34 San Francisco Seals All-Star team in a poll conducted by the San Francisco Chronicle. Suhr joined teammate Paul Waner on the squad as well as fellow major-leaguers Earl Averill, Lefty O’Doul, Willie Kamm, and Lefty Gomez.27

Suhr blossomed as an offensive threat in 1934, leading the Bucs with 103 RBIs and finishing second, one homer behind team-leader Paul Waner’s 14. Suhr ended up hitting .283 in 573 at-bats (in 650 plate appearances). Despite Suhr’s solid season, Pittsburgh slumped to fifth place with a 74-76 record.

Suhr became Pirates team captain before the 1935 season, though he joined that year’s spring training late because of a brief holdout. He then split the nail on his right thumb in a game May 18 but pinch-hit in the next two contests to keep his consecutive-game playing streak alive.28 When Suhr performed in his 619th straight game in 1935, he eclipsed the league record for consecutive games played held by Eddie Brown, former Braves and Dodgers outfielder, who participated in 618 consecutive contests from 1924 to 1928.29 Suhr batted .272 in 529 at-bats with 10 homers and 81 RBIs. Pittsburgh (86-67) finished fourth, 13½ games behind the Cubs, who won 21 straight games in September to capture the pennant.

In February 1936, for the first of 11 consecutive years, Suhr played on a major-league all-star team against the Folsom Prison all-stars at Folsom Prison in Represa, California.30

That spring, Suhr survived the bids of rookie hopefuls Earl Browne and Bernard Cobb to remain the Pirates’ starting first baseman. He began what was to become his greatest season in 1936 against the defending champion Cubs April 20 at Forbes Field.31 The Pirates fan base had a subset of Suhr critics who gave him cat calls and raspberries because of his perceived weakness against southpaw pitching. He was also facing Roy Henshaw, a left-hander who had held him to three singles in 24 at-bats and had beaten Pittsburgh in seven out of eight tries the previous season, Yet Suhr turned the jeers to cheers, stroking a dramatic walk-off three-run homer in the last of the ninth to lift the Bucs to a most improbable 9-8 victory.32

“A moment before, the fans had been ribbing (Suhr) and roasting (manager) Pie Traynor for allowing Gus to bat,” Ralph Davis recalled. “And then came that Herculean wallop, so suddenly, that for what seemed like a minute after the winning run had scored the Cubs did not stir from their field positions, apparently unable to realize that the contest was over, and Henshaw had lost.”33

Although Suhr hit .339 through the first 31 games and ranked second on the team to Pep Young in RBI, he tended to be undervalued by Pittsburgh’s fickle fans who failed to appreciate his overall contributions.34 Through 53 contests, Suhr continued to excel, boosting his team-leading average to .354 and driving in almost twice as many runners as any teammate. He also went 55 straight games without an error.35

Chosen to his only All-Star team, Suhr did not participate in the Nationals’ 4-3 victory at Braves Field in Boston. It was the NL’s first triumph after losing the first three games of the annual exhibition matchup. Charlie Grimm, manager of the victorious squad, explained that Suhr sat out for two reasons. The American League started Lefty Grove, a southpaw, on the mound; later, the score was too close for him to make a change.36

Suhr amassed a team-leading 11 homers, 12 triples, and 118 RBIs, and achieved career bests in average (.312), runs (111), and RBIs. The Pirates placed fourth for the second successive year, winding up 84-70 and 14 games behind the first-place Giants.

As in 1935, the first baseman held out in 1937, joining Paul Waner, Bill Brubaker, and Floyd Young as dissatisfied with their contract offers.37 Suhr eventually reported to spring training on time with blisters on his feet from playing golf.38

Suhr’s consecutive-game playing streak came to an abrupt end on June 4, when he stayed out for the lineup for three days to attend his mother’s funeral. She died in San Francisco.39 Gus had performed in an NL-record 822 consecutive contests beginning September 11, 1931. His mark was broken by Stan Musial on June 12, 1957 and is now held by Steve Garvey with 1,207.

Suhr hit .278 with five homers, 14 triples, and a team-high 97 RBIs in 575 at-bats. With an 86-68 record, Pittsburgh finished third, 10 games behind the defending-champion Giants.

The dependable veteran, who’d angered Pirate brass the following year by brooding over his contract offer to the press before contacting team officials, held out again before spring training, joined by brothers Paul and Lloyd Waner.40 Little did he know, however, that the 1938 season would be the closest he would ever come to playing in a World Series.

One of the league’s top-hitting teams, Pittsburgh began September in first place with what seemed like a safe seven-game advantage over the Cubs and Reds. In fact, Pirates management was so sure the Bucs would go on and win the pennant that it ordered the Forbes Field home-to-third base rooftop boxes moved to create a new press box area in anticipation of overflow World Series coverage.41 Cincinnati quickly fell out of contention, but by the time the Bucs faced Chicago September 27 in the first game of a crucial three-game series at Wrigley Field, the Cubs had closed to within 1½ games of Pittsburgh.

Chicago won the first game, 2-1, and the second contest was tied, 5-5, with two out in the last of the ninth. With darkness rapidly enveloping a park unequipped with lights, Cubs player-manager Gabby Hartnett smacked an 0-2 pitch into the bleachers for the famous “Homer in the Gloamin’” to give Chicago a dramatic 6-5 win and the league lead.

The Cubs won the next day’s series finale, 10-1, to sweep the series. They took charge of the race and clinched the flag when Pittsburgh lost three of its last four games. The Pirates ended up two games out at 86-64, including 13-16 in September and 0-2 in October. Suhr’s average improved to .294, but his power numbers declined to three homers and 64 RBIs in 530 at-bats. In the field, he set a league mark for first basemen by participating in 150 double plays in 145 games.42 The record was broken the following season by the Reds’ Frank McCormick, who helped turn 153 twin killings in 156 games.43

In 1939, for the third time in five years, Suhr returned an unsigned contract to the Pirates. After the team’s 10th loss in 12 games, an embarrassing 11-2 setback to the last-place Phillies on June 17, Suhr was replaced in the lineup by Elbie Fletcher, a highly regarded prospect. Manager Traynor said Suhr was past his peak. On July 28, he was traded to Philadelphia with cash for Max Butcher, a veteran hurler with a 2-13 record.44 Suhr played in 123 games that season (63 as a Pirate) and hit well for average at .303, with a mild four homers and 55 RBIs.

Batting just .160 (four-for-25) on May 14 the following year, Suhr was released by the Phillies. He never again played in the majors.45 He finished the season with the Montreal Royals, Brooklyn’s Double-A affiliate, and hit .264 in 387 at-bats.

Suhr appeared in 27 games for the Milwaukee Brewers, the Cubs’ Double-A farm club, in 1941, hitting .234 in 77 at-bats.

Returning to Folsom Prison on February 8, 1942, to play in the annual exhibition against the inmates, Suhr and his teammates were told to stop play while leading 24-5 after seven innings when two prisoners, who had been watching from the stands, escaped. The convicts were nabbed three hours later, but play was not resumed.46

The Phillies organization, which had apparently reacquired Suhr, wanted to send him to Toronto of the Double-A International League that spring. Instead, the ex-major leaguer retired. He then worked in the San Francisco shipyards before rejoining the Seals from 1943-45 when the team was short of players because of the war.47 Suhr, batting under .200 through May, ended up hitting .247 in 527 at-bats in 1943 as San Francisco won the first of three consecutive PCL playoff championships.48

In 1944, the 38-year-old first baseman played in 164 of 169 games and hit .279 with no homers and 75 RBIs. A baseball veteran, Suhr sometimes created his own amusement so as not to get bored on the many train trips going from town to town. For example, traveling from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1945, he started at the rear of the train and began walking quickly down the aisle yelling, “Cigars, chewing gum and cigarettes, 15 cents!” He caused quite a stir as riders fell out of their seats trying to find him, but they never discovered he was the culprit!49

In his final full season as a player, Suhr was reduced to 138 games and 399 at-bats but put up a .311 average and 56 RBIs.

After leaving the game, Suhr owned a liquor store in Millbrae, California until retiring in the late 1950s.50 His wife, Helen, died at age 39 on January 31, 1946, in a Burlingame, California hospital after suddenly becoming ill at their Millbrae Highlands home.51 He later got married for a second time to a woman named Marion. From his first marriage, Suhr had a daughter, Barbara Jean, and a son, Gus Suhr II.52

Suhr returned to baseball in 1948 when he became the player-manager of the Pittsburg (California) Diamonds, the Giants’ Class-D affiliate in the Far West League. He collected six hits in 15 at-bats and resigned on July 9 with the team in seventh place.53

The younger Gus Suhr also became a pro ballplayer, starting in 1954. Like his father, he was a first baseman. That June 26, he hit two homers in one inning for Modesto against Visalia in the Class-C California League.54 He got as high as Class A in a career that lasted through 1957.

In 1990, the elder Suhr moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, to be near relatives. He could be seen frequently walking to spring training games from his home.55

The former mainstay was honored with 16 other Pirate all-stars before a Cubs-Pirates game in September of 2002 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. At the age of 96, Suhr dutifully signed autographs at the festivity. He died in Scottsdale on January 15, 2004, of natural causes and was interred at Olivet Memorial Park, Colma, California.56

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Bill Nowlin and Rory Costello and checked for accuracy by SABR’s fact-checking team.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the notes, the author relied on information from baseball-reference.com, Baseball Almanac, statscrew.com, Spalding’s Official Baseball Guide (1926-28), 1929 Reach Official American League Baseball Guide, and 2019 California League Record Book & Media Guide.

 

Notes

1 David L. Porter, Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Q-Z (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000), 1499.

2 “Leaves From A Fan’s Scrapbook, August Richard (Gus) Suhr,” The Sporting News, January 7, 1937: 8.

3 “Leaves From A Fan’s Scrapbook, August Richard (Gus) Suhr.”

4 “Leaves From A Fan’s Scrapbook, August Richard (Gus) Suhr.”

5 Ed R. Hughes, “Still Seals, But You’d Hardly Recognize ‘Em,” The Sporting News, September 2, 1926: 3.

6 “Pacific Coast League,” The Sporting News, April 14, 1927: 6. See also “Leaves From A Fan’s Scrapbook, August Richard (Gus) Suhr.”

7 “Leaves From A Fan’s Scrapbook, August Richard (Gus) Suhr.”

8 “Leaves From A Fan’s Scrapbook, August Richard (Gus) Suhr.”

9 “Leaves From A Fan’s Scrapbook, August Richard (Gus) Suhr.”

10 Ed R. Hughes, “Killefer Brings ‘Em Up To Be Major Leaguers,” The Sporting News, June 13, 1929: 1.

11 “Leaves From A Fan’s Scrapbook, August Richard (Gus) Suhr.”

12 Ralph S. Davis, “Old Man Jinx Still Trailing Pittsburg,” The Sporting News, April 10, 1930: 3.

13 “Leaves From A Fan’s Scrapbook, August Richard (Gus) Suhr.”

14 Ralph S. Davis, “Ens To Concentrate On His Batterymen,” The Sporting News, February 19, 1931: 5; Ralph S. Davis, “Overlook No Detail To Make Bucs Ready,” The Sporting News, January 29, 1931: 5.

15 “Leaves From A Fan’s Scrapbook, August Richard (Gus) Suhr.”

16 Milan Simonich, “Obituary: Gus Suhr: Iron man as Pirate first baseman in ’30s,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 17, 2004.

17 “Leaves From A Fan’s Scrapbook, August Richard (Gus) Suhr.”

18 Ralph Davis, “L. Waner To Remain Bucs’ Lead-Off Man,” The Sporting News, March 9, 1933: 2; Ardee, “Lack Of Poise In Infield Drawback To Corsairs,” The Sporting News, May 12, 1932: 3.

19 “National League,” The Sporting News, May 12, 1932: 8.

20 Ralph Davis, “Bucs To Be Best By July, Says Gibson,” The Sporting News, May 25, 1933: 2.

21 “A Pirate Reliable,” The Sporting News, August 31, 1933: 1.

22 “Veterans Take Lead In Poll Of Fans For All-Star Squads,” The Sporting News, June 14, 1934: 2.

23 “N.L. Pitching VS. A.L. Hitting In All-Star Game,” The Sporting News, July 5: 1, 3.

24 Ralph Davis, “Thoughts Of 1935 Pay Stir Idlers In Buc Crew,” The Sporting News, September 13, 1934: 2.

25 Tommy Holmes, “Stengel To Use Leslie As Bait When He Fishes For Pitchers,” The Sporting News, September 20, 1934: 1.

26 Ralph Davis, “French Mentioned In Buc Trade Gossip,” The Sporting News, September 20, 1934: 3.

27 “Caught On The Fly, Kamm Leads in ‘Frisco Vote,” The Sporting News, April 5, 1934: 7.

28 Ralph Davis, “Two Resolutions In Traynor’s 1935 Log,” The Sporting News, January 3, 1935: 5; Ralph Davis, “Hidden Infield Gem Uncovered By Bucs,” The Sporting News, May 30, 1935: 3.

29 “Leaves From A Fan’s Scrapbook, August Richard (Gus) Suhr.”

30 “Folsom Game February 3,” The Sporting News, January 31, 1946: 17.

31 Bill Dooly, “How They Look –Pittsburgh Pirates,” The Sporting News, April 16, 1936: 3; Ralph Davis, “Suhr’s Bat Answers Critics,” The Sporting News, April 30, 1936: 1, 6.

32 Davis, “Suhr’s Bat Answers Critics.”

33 Davis, “Suhr’s Bat Answers Critics.”

34 Ralph Davis, “Hoyt Surgery Cuts Deeply Into Pirates,” The Sporting News, May 28, 1936: 2.

35 Ralph Davis, “Pirates’ June Tune Strikes Flag Tempo,” The Sporting News, June 18, 1936: 5; Ralph Davis, “Pirate Prexy Calls Misplays On Umps,” The Sporting News, June 25, 1936: 1.

36 Ralph Davis, “Pie On West Coast As Envoy And Scout,” The Sporting News, February 18, 1937: 1.

37 Davis, “Pie On West Coast As Envoy And Scout,”

38 “Training Camp Notes,” The Sporting News, March 18, 1937: 2.

39 “Suhr’s String Ends At 822,” The Sporting News, June 10, 1937: 1.

40 Charles J. Doyle, “Bucs’ Musical Boss Still Hears Discord,” The Sporting News, February 3, 1938: 5; Charles J. Doyle, “Contracts Filling Buc Valentine Box,” The Sporting News, February 10, 1938: 1.

41 “Forbes Field: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,” This Great Game, The Ballparks, https://thisgreatgame.com/ballparks-forbes-field/. Accessed July 6, 2021.

42 “McCormick Sets Mark for N.L. First Sackers With 153 Double Plays,” The Sporting News, January 4, 1940: 9.

43 “McCormick Sets Mark for N.L. First Sackers With 153 Double Plays.”

44 Charles J. Doyle, “Leaking Pirate Craft Again Listing Badly,” The Sporting News, June 22, 1939: 20; Charles J. Doyle, “Bucs Aiming To Cut In On 2nd-Place Cut,” The Sporting News, August 3, 1939: 2.

45 “Highlights Of The Week,” The Sporting News, May 23, 1940: 14.

46 “On This Day In Sports, February 8, 1942: Baseball and a Breakout at Folsom Prison,” February 8, 2014. http://onthisdayinsports.blogspot.com/2014/02/february-8-1942-baseball-and-breakout.html. Also, “A Game and An Escape at Folsom Prison 1942,” Monday, February 8, 2016. http://baseballnuggets.blogspot.com/2016/02/a-game-and-escape-at-folsom-prison-1942.html.

47 Milan Simonich, “Obituary: Gus Suhr: Iron man as Pirate first baseman in ’30s,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 17, 2004; “Caught On The Fly,” The Sporting News, February 25, 1943: 8.

48 Jim McGee, “Seals Keep Pace, Stay In Race On Close Wins,” The Sporting News, June 3, 1943: 5.

49 “Nothing Like Train Ride, Says Suhr After 20 Years,” The Sporting News, April 25, 1945: 19.

50 Simonich, “Obituary: Gus Suhr: Iron man as Pirate first baseman in ’30s.”

51 “Necrology, Mrs. Gus Suhr,” The Sporting News, February 14, 1946: 18.

52 Simonich, “Obituary: Gus Suhr: Iron man as Pirate first baseman in ‘30s.” Helen Suhr’s obituary notes that she was survived by two children.

53 “League and Club Officials, Far West League (D),” The Sporting News, April 21, 1948: 21; “Class D Highlights,” The Sporting News, July 21, 1948: 36.

54 “Modesto Hits Five Homers in Inning; Suhr Raps Pair,” The Sporting News, July 7, 1954: 38.

55 Simonich, “Obituary: Gus Suhr: Iron man as Pirate first baseman in ’30s.”

56 Simonich, Obituary: Gus Suhr: Iron man as Pirate first baseman in ’30s.”

Full Name

August Richard Suhr

Born

January 3, 1906 at San Francisco, CA (USA)

Died

January 15, 2004 at Scottsdale, AZ (USA)

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