SABR Salute: Al Kermisch
Editor’s note: The SABR Salute, first bestowed upon writer Fred Lieb in 1976, was designed as a manner of recognizing the contributions of some of the older members of the Society. Subsequent SABR Salutes appeared in the SABR Membership Directory and honored members who had made great contributions to baseball historical research. Al Kermisch (1914-2002) received the SABR Salute in 1982; the following biographical sketch appeared in that year’s membership directory.
Al Kermisch, now living in retirement in Arlington, Va., submitted his first article to Baseball Magazine in late 1938. It was about the great 1938 season at Newark of Charlie Keller and Buddy Rosar and their potential for greatness with the parent Yankees. The editor of Baseball Magazine, located in New York City, sent the article around to the Office of Ernie Lanigan, Information Director of the International League, for review. He glanced at it and when he saw the name of the author, said: “If Al Kermisch did it, it’s OK.” It was published in January 1939.
That wasn’t the first time that Lanigan gave Kermisch, then a struggling young sports reporter, an assist and we’ll get to that shortly. Born and raised in Baltimore, Al had to leave high school after his first year because of a serious case of rheumatic fever, and when he recovered 12 years later he had to go to work. The early Depression years were tough but Al was a sports nut and played either baseball or basketball the year-round; in fact, he established quite a reputation in the Baltimore area in both sports. However, he gave up the prospect of play-for-pay in 1935 when the Daily Sports Bulletin gave him an opportunity to cover the Baltimore International League games at Old Oriole Park. He made $2.00 per game, not bad for those years. This stimulated his appetite for baseball research and soon he was dividing his leisure time between YMCA sports and the public library across the street. The librarians were reluctant to provide him ready access to research sources, but a letter from Ernie Lanigan on impressive International League letterhead stationery literally opened doors for him. Al had a good working relationship with Ernie, and continued to exchange research material with him during his years as historian of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
World War II curtailed Al’s reporting and research activities. He went into the Army in late 1940, but still had time to play baseball on service teams. Pat Mullin and Bobby Rhawn were two major leaguers who played on the team he managed and pitched for at the Army Reception Center in New Cumberland, Pa. He went to officer’s candidate school in 1942 and later went to the European Theater as an ordnance officer. From there he went to the Pacific Theater. He stayed in the military after WWII and later took part in the war in Korea. In 1953 Al coached the Eighth Army Headquarters baseball team. Stationed at the Pentagon in Washington in early 1954, he shortly resumed his baseball research at the Library of Congress. Once again his name appeared on articles in The Sporting News.
Baseball research became almost a full-time activity once Al retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel in 1963. In February 1966 he met with George Selkirk, GM of the Senators, and worked out a deal where Al would provide research notes for the club in return for free access to the press box. This arrangement continued until the Senators left town after the 1971 season. By then Al was considered the club historian and had a close acquaintance with Bucky Harris and other former stars. He also was spending time as a panelist on a WWDC radio sports show conducted by broadcaster Shelby Whitfield.
Al joined SABR shortly after it was formed in 1971 and is the senior member in Virginia in point of service. He has published articles in all ten Research Journals and his “Notes From A Researcher’s Notebook” have set the standard for the Society’s efforts in publishing original baseball research. He has read more sports pages on microfilm than any buff in the country and his familiarity with little-known facts from 1876 to 1920 has made him a prime source of clues on forgotten ball players for the members of the Biographical Research Committee. Al has been in ill health for the last several years. He has been in Walter Reed Medical Center for treatment — including installation of two artificial hips — more times than he can recall. He made it to Florida for Spring Training for the 31st time this year, but he didn’t stay long. And his trips to the Library of Congress are not as frequent as before. But he still gets a kick out of digging up new information — and we enjoy reading the results. So let’s click our heels and give this former military man our snappiest salute!
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