While our country was celebrating the merits of our military veterans this Friday, the baseball family was mourning the loss of World War II era pitcher Nick Strincevich. He passed away November 11th in Valparaiso, Ind. At 96, he was the third oldest living major leaguer at the time of his death.
The first player to make the majors from Gary, Ind., his path started on the local sandlots. In 1934, “Jumbo” caught the attention of a local bird-dog scout in Indiana while playing semi-pro ball that led to him pitching batting practice for the New York Yankees in Chicago against the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. By the time he arrived home from his big day at the park, he received a telegram notifying him that he was now property of the Yankees.
Entering their organization in 1935, Strincevich advanced quickly through the Yankees minor league rank, closely following his manager Johnny Neun as they climbed their way to the major leagues. Strincevich was part of the dominant 1938 Newark Bears team that had almost exclusively a future major leaguer roster including Hall of Famer Joe Gordon. Despite his 11-4 record, the Yankees did not bring him up. With their pitching rich farm system, they saw Strincevich as expendable and sold him to the Sacramento Solons of the Pacific Coast League the following season. He pitched sparingly and was purchased by the Boston Bees at the end of the 1939 season.
Strincevich found a home in Boston under manager Casey Stengel, figuring prominently in their starting rotation, pitching in 32 games during his rookie season in the National League. “Casey liked me. He used to kid me up all the time,” said Strincevich in 2003 to Craig Allen Cleve’s Hardball on the Home Front.
Even though he finished the season 4-8, he showed promise for the next season, going 3-1 in his last four decisions. This anticipation for an improved 1941; however, was quickly cut short when early in the season, Strincevich was hit in the face by a thrown ball during practice. He suffered headaches that would plague him the next two seasons.
Fortunately, during the aftermath of this injury, there was a silver lining for Strincevich. It came in the form of a trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sent to the Pirates for Hall of Famer Lloyd Waner, his move to Pittsburgh would earn him 40 wins from 1944-46.
So popular was Strincevich in his hometown of Gary, that he was given a day in his honor in 1947 at Wrigley Field. It would be one of the last bright spots of his career. He would only earn one more victory in the majors and was back to the minors for good the following season. He walked away from baseball in 1950 with a record of 46-49 for Boston (NL), Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. He worked as a union steward in an auto parts factory for 30 years before his 1980 retirement.