MLB infielder "Lucky" Lohrke dies at 85
Jack Lohrke, a major league infielder in the 1940s and 1950s who drew the nickname "Lucky" after several early brushes with death, died Wednesday. He was 85.
Lohrke died at a hospital in San Jose, Calif., two days after having a stroke at home, said his son, John.
Lohrke batted .242 with 22 home runs and 96 RBIs in 354 games with the New York Giants and Philadelphia Phillies from 1947-53. He hit a record-breaking homer for the Giants as a rookie, and was loosening up at the Polo Grounds when Bobby Thomson launched his famous 1951 shot that won the NL pennant.
Yet what happened in Lohrke's time before baseball gave him his lifelong moniker.
"He didn't really like that nickname," his son said. "It reminded him of too many things."
Lohrke served in the Army during World War II and fought in the D-Day invasion at Normandy and later in the Battle of the Bulge. He recounted how four soldiers two on each side of him were killed in combat.
In 1945, Lohrke was leaving the service when he prepared to board a military transport for the trip home to California. Shortly before takeoff, he was bumped from the flight by a higher-ranking officer. The plane crashed, and all passengers were killed.
In 1946, Lohrke and his minor league teammates on the Spokane Indians boarded a bus for a ride across the state of Washington. During a lunch stop, Lohrke got word that he'd been promoted to Triple-A San Diego, took his gear and hitchhiked home.
That night, the bus careened off a rain-slicked pass through the Cascades mountain range and plummeted into a valley, killing nine players. It remains the most deadly crash involving an American pro baseball team.
By the time he reached the majors, Lohrke was "Lucky."
John Lohrke said his father didn't spend much time revisiting his baseball days or what occurred before them.
"My dad wasn't a talker or a boaster or a storyteller," he said.
In the early 1970s, one of Lohrke's old Giants teammates, Whitey Lockman, became manager of the Chicago Cubs. John Lohrke recalled going to Candlestick Park in San Francisco, where his father would take him into the Cubs' clubhouse to see Lockman and old pals.
"I remember sometimes it would get real cold and around the sixth or seventh inning, my dad would jump into the bullpen and go watch the rest of the game from the Cubs' locker room," he said.
Lohrke kept few souvenirs from his playing days.
He had a bat signed by the Giants from the 1951 World Series, during which he went 0 for 2 as a pinch-hitter in the six-game loss to the Yankees. The bat got stolen about 10 years ago, said his wife, Marie.
Lohrke did not get into the three-game playoff against Brooklyn for the pennant that year. Right before Thomson's bottom-of-the-ninth homer, Giants third baseman Don Mueller broke his ankle on a slide into third base.
Manager Leo Durocher sent Lohrke to the bullpen in deep right-center field, and he was warming up and ready to take over for Mueller if the game went into extra innings, according to the 2006 book "The Echoing Green."
Lohrke hit .240 with career highs in home runs (11) and RBIs (35) in 1947. On Sept. 1, he hit the Giants' 183rd homer of the season, breaking the team record of 182 set by the 1936 Yankees. He connected in the first game of a doubleheader, then homered in the second game, too.
"It remained for youthful Jack Lohrke to deliver the first blow," The New York Times wrote that day.
The teams gave Lohrke and other Giants gold rings with a green baseball diamond, inscribed with "1947 HR Record" and the number 221 their overall home run total. Lohrke kept that prize at his home.
Lohrke spent two years with the Phillies and played several more seasons in the Pacific Coast League. After retiring, he worked in security for the Lockheed Missile and Space Co. in California.