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By Charles N. Billington
June 6, 2005
The Chicago Cubs were in the thick of the pennant race when the warm weather of the summer of 1945 finally arrived. Manager Charlie Grimm had his hands full. His home run hitter Bill Nicholson had yet to hit his stride. Two promising pitchers up from the Pacific Coast League, Ray Prim and Jorge Comellas, were contributing nothing on the mound.
Grimm also learned that reigning in the veterans Paul Derringer and Hy Vandenberg could be a full-time job in itself. And he was puzzled by a quiet, young second-year center fielder named Andy Pafko. "Hey Pafko, when are you going to give me something to worry about,” he said to him one day.
The answer, of course, would be never…or at least hardly ever. "I was an ice cream and Coke fellow," Andy Pafko recalled about his early days with the Cubs. He debuted with the North Siders as a minor-league call-up on September 24, 1943, fresh from winning the Pacific Coast League batting title.
"I lived a mile or so from Wrigley Field at the Sheridan Plaza Hotel, didn't smoke or drink, and walked both ways to and from the games." He also made a habit of arriving at the park an hour early, every day, to make sure he was the first one to report.
Andy's humble lifestyle and clean living paid off. During a 17-year career Pafko was one of the handful of players to appear in four World Series with three different teams, the 1945 Cubs, 1952 Brooklyn Dodgers, and the 1957 and ‘58 Milwaukee Braves.
A lifetime .285 hitter, with 213 home runs and 976 RBIs in 1852 games, Pafko led the pennant winning 1945 Cubs with 110 RBIs (third highest in the National League) and 12 triples (second best in the NL). His performance in Chicago in the following seasons secured his place as one of the most popular Cubs of all time.
Pafko hit over .300 for the North Siders in 1947, 1948 and 1950. He hit 36 homers in 1950, 11 in July alone, and hit three consecutively against the Giants at the Polo Grounds on August 2 that season.
"I hit some homers in my time but I was thought of as a line drive hitter," the modest Pafko says today. "Every now and then one of my liners would go high enough to clear the fence."
The "Kid from Boyceville" was traded to the Dodgers on June 15, 1951, the featured player in a blockbuster eight player swap engineered by Cubs general manager Wid Matthews. It was destined to become one of the worst trades in Chicago history.
Pafko, fellow Wisconsinite Johnny Schmitz, Rube Walker, and Wayne Terwilliger went to Brooklyn for Bruce Edwards, Joe Hatten, Eddie Miksis and Gene Hermanski. With Pafko, Carl Furillo and Duke Snider, Brooklyn had put together one of the strongest outfield in baseball, known as the "Brooklyn Rifles."
Andy's first year with the Dodgers ended on a sad note. That's him in left field, dwarfed by the huge wall at the Polo Grounds, looking up in vain at Bobby Thomson's pennant-winning home run off Ralph Branca. His luck changed in 1952, however, when he got into his second World Series, playing in all seven games for the Dodgers against the Yankees.
Andy retired as a player after 1959 and coached for the Braves from 1960 to 1962. He began his minor league managerial career the following year, and by 1968 he had skippered teams in New York, North Carolina, and Florida for the Braves organization. He did some scouting for the Braves for a few years after that, and then he and the Mrs. moved to a suburb northwest of Chicago.
The fondly remembered center fielder started to take it easy. He took a "hobby job" at the country club which borders his backyard, working as a starter, when he wasn't perfecting his own golf game.
Andy was honored as a member of the Cubs All Century Team several years ago, and a banner in his honor hangs in the lower concourse at Wrigley. His 1945 teammates similarly honored are Stan Hack, Phil Cavarretta, and Charlie Grimm.
Widowed in 2002, Pafko is active at charity events, golf outings, baseball appearances and banquets, and is the 2005 President of the Chicago Old Timers Baseball Association. He attends Cubs games frequently and shuns the spotlight, but is usually hounded by fans and media. He recently found time to write the foreword for “Wrigley Field's Last World Series: The Wartime Chicago Cubs and the Pennant of 1945,” published by Lake Claremont Press. His old manager Charlie Grimm didn’t give him the nickname "Handy Andy" for nothing.
Charles N. Billington is the author of “Wrigley Field's Last World Series: The Wartime Chicago Cubs and the Pennant of 1945,” from Lake Claremont Press.
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