Stan Musial had such respect for the arm of Andy Pafko that he included the National League veteran as part of the best-throwing outfield he’d ever seen.
This blog item is a tribute to Pafko, a 17-year big-league player who died Oct. 8, 2013, at 92 in Stevensville, Mich.
Pafko was the starting center fielder for the 1945 NL champion Cubs. Pafko, 24, had 24 doubles, 12 triples, 12 home runs and 110 RBI for Chicago, which won the 1945 pennant by three games over the runner-up Cardinals.
Four years later, Pafko was in center field for a Saturday afternoon game, April 30, 1949, against the Cardinals at Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
Behind the pitching of starter Bob Rush, the Cubs entered the ninth inning with a 3-1 lead.
With Enos Slaughter on second base and two outs, Rush was on the verge of a victory until Eddie Kazak singled, scoring Slaughter and narrowing the Cubs lead to 3-2. Chuck Diering ran for Kazak and Rocky Nelson, a rookie first baseman, stepped to the plate for St. Louis.
The Associated Press described what happened next:
“Nelson then lined the ball to left-center and Pafko made a somersault dive and came up with the ball.”
Umpire Al Barlick hesitated a moment in making a call, then ruled Pafko had trapped the ball.
Diering and Nelson raced around the basepaths.
Wrote The Sporting News: “Instead of throwing in the ball with his superb arm, Pafko, the ball still lodged in the webbing of his glove, came running in to second base to join the swarm of Cubs who were rushing toward Barlick.”
As Pafko held the ball, Diering scored the tying run and Nelson steamed toward the plate.
“Pafko, unwilling to believe the no-catch ruling, did not throw the ball until Nelson was crossing the plate with the winning run,” the Associated Press reported.
Stunned, the Cubs were retired in order by closer Ted Wilks in the bottom of the ninth and the Cardinals won, 4-3. Boxscore
The Sporting News summed up the game as probably the first in the history of big-league baseball “decided by what they describe not as an inside-the-park homer but as an in-the-glove homer.”
Two years later, June 1951, Pafko was dealt to the Dodgers, giving Brooklyn an outfield of Pafko in left, Duke Snider in center and Carl Furillo in right.
In his book “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story,” the Cardinals standout wrote that with Pafko, Snider and Furillo “the Dodgers had the best-throwing outfield I ever saw.”
Musial added, “Andy was a strong hitter, a strong-armed fielder and good defensively. He was steady, gave you a good day’s work. I think he hated to leave the Cubs so much that he never was the same ballplayer.”
Playing for the Cubs, Dodgers and Braves from 1943-59, Pafko batted .285 with 213 home runs and 1,796 hits. In 258 games against the Cardinals, Pafko hit .273 with 22 homers and 120 RBI.
Previously: Duke Snider, Stan Musial put on big show