This article was written by Fred Schuld
Ted Williams selected Pat Seerey to be included in his 1994 card company’s “Swingin’ for the Fences” set. Questioned by several people why he chose Seerey for inclusion, Williams replied “Seerey did something that I never did. He hit four home runs in one game.”
James Patrick “Pat” Seerey, the People’s Choice, played outfield for Cleveland and Chicago in the American League from 1943-1949. Although he was in only 561 games, had a lifetime batting average of .224 and hit but 86 home runs, Seerey had in Gordon Cobbledick’s opinion “the same eye-compelling quality that made Babe Ruth an idol.”
Only an average major league player, he had two of the greatest slugging games in baseball history. With Governor Thomas E. Dewey and his family among the 10,282 fans at Yankee Stadium on July 13, 1945, Seerey hit three home runs and a triple at Yankee Stadium in a 16-4 win over the New Yorkers. Pat was only in the lineup because the regular player Paul O’Dea had injured his back the day before. After tripling in the first inning, the rotund batter hit a solo home run in the third, finishing Yankee starter Atley Donald. In the fourth inning, a grand slam home run off Walt Dubiel featured a seven-run Tribe inning. Steve Roser was the slugger’s victim in the seventh as Pat’s third home run went into the left field stands. In the ninth inning, with Roser still pitching and two runners on base, Seerey hit a looping liner to third baseman Oscar Grimes, ending his quest for baseball immortality.
After being traded to Chicago in 1948, on July 18 Seerey pounded out four home runs in an 11- inning game at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park, two against Carl Scheib, one against Bob Savage, and the game-winning home run facing Lou Brissie. Pat received a $500 bonus from a Philadelphia scorecard advertiser who had offered $300 for any player who hit three home runs in one game. The advertiser called the ballpark and promised Seerey $500 if he hit his fourth. Pat did it and collected his prize. At that time, he was the fifth player in history to hit four home runs in a game. The powerful Seerey and Willie Mays were rare players who totaled 31 bases in two games.
Seerey was born in Wilburton, Oklahoma, on St. Patrick’s Day March 17, 1923, the son of Marie and James Seerey, a railroad baggage handler. The family, which included Pat and one brother, moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, and Seerey graduated from the Catholic High School there. He had a legendary football career as a bruising scholastic fullback.
After Seerey’s high school graduation in 1941, Indians scout Harold Irelan signed the 5’9″ tall, 220-pound American Legion baseball player to a contract. Sent to Appleton in the Wisconsin State League, Seerey batted .330, hit 31 home runs and drove in 125 runs in 104 games. The Indians brought the young slugger to spring training in 1942, where he was soon compared for his enormous appetite and size to Bob “Fats” Fothergill, who played at 6’1″ and 240 pounds. At Cedar Rapids in the Three I League, the 19-year-old Seerey had a .305 batting average, swatted 33 homers and batted in 92 runs.
After Seerey’s draft board classified him 4-F (physically unable to serve) several times, he was assigned in 1943 to Tony Lazzeri‘s Wilkes-Barre team in the Eastern League. Hitting .246 with five home runs, on June 8, Seerey was called to the major league when the Indians Hank Edwards broke his collarbone. Lou Boudreau, the young player-manager, had a veteran outfield and had no intention of playing Seerey. The rookie was to be used in case of emergency, play a game or two if a tough lefthander was pitching, or if a pinch hitter was needed. He played in five games, including three pinch-hit appearances, and hit a home run off Chicago’s Orval Grove in the first month and a half he was with the Indians.
Seerey was a rare player who became well known at the major league level before he did anything important on the field. Bob Yonkers, baseball writer of the Press, was the first to call Seerey “The People’s Choice.” After making two spectacular catches at League Park on June 14, Yonkers concluded “Pat was the people’s choice after those two catches.” On June 24, 1943, Press cartoonist Jim Herron drew a lively cartoon labeled “The People’s Choice.” Earlier in a June 15th column, the bard of the Plain Dealer, James E. Doyle, hung the nickname of “Fat Pat” on Seerey. Doyle wrote, “Who is this Seerey anyway? I ain’t got the complete dope on him yet, but we’ve all got to admit that he looks like one of the world Seereys right now.” Why was Seerey so popular with the fans? At 5’9″ and 220-plus pounds, he resembled many of them. “The People’s Choice” looked like a beer-drinking weekend softball bopper. In the world of baseball fantasy, the fans could visualize themselves playing major league baseball and hitting tape measure home runs. Whitey Lewis wrote a story about one of his blasts: “The afternoon in Philadelphia when Seerey stepped into a pitch by Bill Dietrich and hit it over the double-decked pavilion in deep left center, the ball was rising all the time and finally skipped off the top of the pavilion and startled some good neighbors a few blocks down the street.”
Bob Feller related to Plain Dealer writer Bob Dolgan in 1986: “Seerey never choked up or cut down his swing with two strikes on him. He had a blind spot high and inside, but he was a dead lowball hitter.” Dolgan wrote that Seerey had a picture-perfect swing but lacked the hand-eye coordination to make contact regularly.
There was a pattern to the five complete seasons, 1944 to 1948, that Seerey spent in the major leagues with Cleveland and Chicago. Slimming down as best he could, the young player would be a spring training sensation. Harry Jones of the Plain Dealer, writing from Topeka, Kansas April 14, 1948: “Pat Seerey hit a home run today that sailed high over the left field fence, cleared a fair sized elm tree, bounced on top of a garage and landed in a parking lot half a block from the ball park.” Inserted into the lineup on opening day, Seerey would often hit tape measure home runs. Bob Feller remembered Seerey and a 1947 game Feller pitched against Detroit ace Hal Newhouser: “See that exit from the end of the stands up there?” Feller said, squinting into the Stadium’s upper deck in left field, a distance of perhaps 475 feet. “I saw Seerey hit one right through there off Newhouser for a three run homer.” Soon, though, he would fail to hit, striking out on a regular basis, and the fans would boo him. Four times he led the league in strikeouts. He averaged one strikeout for every four times at bat. Seerey never had more than 414 plate appearances in a season. Boudreau’s impatience would send him to the bench for a time. It didn’t help, either, that Boudreau most often played Seerey in left field where he frequently had problems, even though he had come up to the majors as a center fielder. Mel Harder, Cleveland coach, considered him a better than average fielder. All these factors, his weight, his lack of discipline and his playing out of position combined to keep Seerey from stardom.
Not all American League managers had a poor opinion of Seerey’s playing abilities. In 1944 Steve O’Neill, manager of the Tigers, wanted Pat in Detroit: “Let him strike out. All free swingers strike out, but he’ll hit plenty of home runs for you. I’d take him in a minute if Cleveland would deal him.” Whitey Lewis of the Press concluded: “Seerey required special handling. He never got it from Lou Boudreau whose University of Illinois theories were nothing more than positive confusion to Pat.”
Seerey’s best year with Cleveland was 1946 when in 117 games and 404 at bats, he hit 26 home runs (at the time tied with Ken Keltner for the team record for right handed hitters) and drove in 62 runs.
Boudreau would have sent Seerey to the minors by the middle of 1946 but Bill Veeck had purchased the club, looked at Seerey, and thought he had another Hack Wilson. In the fall of 1947 Veeck said, “This fellow has so much potential ability that I hate to quit. I have known only about five ball players who had Seerey’s ‘color’ and possibilities.” In addition to hiring Hall of Famers Rogers Hornsby, Tris Speaker and Hank Greenberg as Pat’s batting coaches, Veeck had Seerey and catcher Jim Hegan at his Arizona ranch in the winter of 1947-48 for a program of conditioning and batting drills with Greenberg. Pat admitted being difficult to coach: “I’m sort of a rockhead. When somebody tells me something and I’m not sure it’s right, I get stubborn and won’t do it.”
Boudreau thought of playing the slugger at catcher, where he could have held his weight down at a more demanding position. Even though Seerey arrived at spring training in 1948 at 195 pounds and hit well enough for Boudreau to promise writers that Seerey would start, taking called third strikes against the Giants relegated Pat to the bench. The People’s Choice had become too often in Whitey Lewis’ words the People’s Voice (Boo). Veeck tried to send Seerey to the minors, but four American League clubs claimed him, so on June 2, 1948, Cleveland traded Pat and Al Gettel to the last place White Sox for Bob Kennedy.
Seerey never made more than $12,000 in one season, but people in other American League cities also recognized something goose-bumpy in the stout player. Gordon Cobbledick, sports editor of the Plain Dealer, recalled: “In Philadelphia the fans in the double decked left field pavilion adopted a ritual years ago by way of indicating their opinion that Pat was no ordinary ball player. When he stooped to pick up his glove as he took his position in left field, the fans would rise as one man, extend their arms above their heads and bow in a sweeping salaam. You had to see it to appreciate the impressive nature of the rite when performed by several thousand persons.”
After the White Sox sent him to the minors in 1949, the 26-year-old slugger spent time that season in Los Angeles, Kansas City, Newark, and San Antonio. After playing 14 games at Memphis in 1950, Seerey was sent to a lower league team at Colorado Springs of the Western Association, where he had a monster year. Fans lined up to get in the park in hopes of seeing Seerey hit a drive over the centerfield fence. With 44 homers and 117 RBIs, the odds would have been good. On just 112 hits, he scored 113 runs and was walked an amazing 135 times. He received essentially the same kind of respect Barry Bonds has accomplished since 2000. Seerey’s last full season in professional baseball came in 1951 with Memphis, Colorado Springs, and Tampa. With a growing family in St. Louis and little chance of returning to the major leagues, he left professional baseball after a tryout with Guelph, Ontario, in 1952.
Seerey married Jeanne Dillinger of St. Louis on February 2, 1946, and the couple lived in North St. Louis. After baseball, Seerey was employed by the St. Louis Board of Education as a custodian. Pat and Jeanne had two older daughters, Patsy and Jeannine, and two sons, Mike and Dennis. All four of their children eventually married and lived close to their parents in the St. Louis area.
Pat enjoyed fishing and playing golf with his sons who were astounded at his ability to drive a golf ball great distances. The boys were outstanding soccer players at perennial power St. Louis University. Mike was an All-American and was chosen for the 1980 Olympic team that wasn’t allowed to compete in Moscow.
Suffering from lung cancer, Pat Seerey died at his home in Jennings, Missouri, on April 28, 1986. He was buried in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis.
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Angell, Roger. “Homeric Tales.” The New Yorker (May 27, 1991), pp. 68-84.
The Sporting News, various issues, 1944-48.
Akron Beacon Journal, July 1948.
Chicago Daily Tribune, July 19, 1948.
Cleveland News, April-September each year 1943-48.
Cleveland Plain Dealer, March-April 1942, March-September each year 1943-48.
Cleveland Press, April-September each year 1943-48.
The New York Times, July 14, 1945.
Telephone interviews with Jeanne Dillinger Seerey of St. Louis in 1992 and August 2004.