Last part of 2001 Dick Strub, one-time sportswriter for the Union City Messenger when he was in high school, sent me a group of addresses that he thought might be old Greyhounds or Dodgers. He suggested I write these people and see if in fact they were former players and if so did they have memories of Union City and the Kitty League. I fought the idea and wondered why Dick didnít do it if it was such a great idea. Frankly I thought it a real shot in the dark...after all we're talking 50 years. Finally I mailed about 30 letters. Since then I have heard from lots of former Greyhounds/Dodgers. Also several family members of the players, many of them sons and daughters who were born after their fatherís baseball career had ended. Oh yeah, thanks Dick!
The first guy heard from was Jerry Majercik, the Mighty Mite All-Star second baseman from the 1947 team. Actually my wife heard from him first because he called from Miami and I wasn't home. We finally connected a couple of days later and had a great time remembering. Jerry was in business in the Chicago area for many years and he and his wife always took vacations to the south Florida area. A few years ago he sold the business and moved to Miami permanently. He has fond memories of Union City. He remembered the Moss brothers Cecil (club Vice President) and H. P. (Business Manager) and H. P.'s son Bruce, who is about the same age as Jerry. He especially asked about Leonard, the batboy/groundskeeper. Leonard has passed away, but those who remember the Kitty League and Turner Field would all remember Leonard. He is worthy of a column of his own.
There was an "appreciation night" held for Jerry that year and he recalled along about the fifth inning Manager Steve Bysco telling Jerry to "sit this one out. I'm pinch-hitting for you." That was pretty unusual since Jerry hit near the .400 mark all year. When he turned there was Leonard coming out of the dugout, swinging a bat. The fans rolled with laughter and perhaps Leonard had the last laugh when he hit a grounder to the infield. That one scene typifies the times and spirit of the game then.
Jerry remembers that he boarded with the Burdine family. Oddly as we talked I could see the Burdine house from my kitchen window. He recalled the good breakfasts available at Dungan's Dinnette on the corner of Washington and First and the occasional steak at The Grill (when the owner got tired of seeing the players order a bowl of chicken soup and then fill up on crackers). Salary was $125 a month back then. And Jerry thinks the best college teams of today couldn't stay on the field with a mediocre class D team of those years.
Jerry went to Spartanburg in 1948 and then to Burlington before being drafted and spending two years in the army during Korea. He remained under contract to Cleveland and was a favorite of General Manager and Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. A contract back then was for life and a player didn't have to play where the parent team told them to go, but they couldn't play anywhere else without being traded or getting a release. Cleveland seemed to lose interest after Jerry returned from military service.
He told me in a meeting with Greenberg, he asked the great one, "Mr. Greenberg, if you arenít going to let me play, why donít you trade me?"
He said Greenberg responded, "Majercik just who the hell you think wants you?"
Still they did not grant a release until 1955 when to many good years had gone by. It was great talking to one of my boyhood heroes and to find out he was just as human today and he was 55 years ago.