At the barber shop the other day I was third in line so I grabbed a magazine to kill the time waiting. It was a Sports Illustrated from May 2009. I thought only Doctors’ offices were famous for having ancient magazines in their waiting rooms!
In the Obituary Section there was a short article on the death of an obscure former Major League baseball player that totally blew my mind. As soon as I got home I Googled the player’s name, and although I couldn’t raise the Sports Illustrated article I was able to find the following from the Los Angeles Times.
Believe me, I am grateful I never came into that gentleman’s presence!
Jack Lohrke dies at 85; major league infielder known for cheating death
Lohrke, nicknamed ‘Lucky,’ played for the Giants and Phillies in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Lohrke died Wednesday at a San Jose hospital two days after having a stroke at his home, said his son John.
Discovered as a teenager in the early 1940s on the semipro fields of Los Angeles, Lohrke spent seven seasons with the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies after serving in World War II.
By the time he was 22, he appeared to have escaped death at least six times. When he debuted in the majors, in 1947, he was known as Lucky Lohrke.
Throughout his life, Lohrke insisted that his near-misses were no big deal, but history told another tale.
As a member of the 35th Infantry Division, he fought in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. On four occasions, solders on both sides of him were killed in combat yet he emerged unscathed.
On his way home from the war in 1945, he was bumped from a military transport plane in Ohio to make room “for some big-shot,” Lohrke told The Times in 1990.
The plane crashed 45 minutes later, killing all on board.
In 1946, he was traveling with his minor-league teammates, the Spokane Indians, when he received orders during a restaurant stop to report immediately to the San Diego Padres, then a minor-league club.
Soon afterward, the bus careened off a cliff in the Cascade Mountains, killing nine of the 15 players aboard.
“When the bus took off . . . I bummed a ride back to Spokane,” Lohrke said in the 1990 interview. “When I got there I found out both of my roommates had been killed.”
Although he was accustomed to being lucky, Lohrke said, war had conditioned him to deal with disaster.
“Having been in combat, what’s going to shock you?” Lohrke said in 1990. “I’m a fatalist. I believe the old song, that whatever will be will be.”
From 1947 through 1951, he played for the Giants, first as a third baseman and then in a utility role. His lifetime batting average was .242. His best season was 1949 when he hit .267.
His career high of 11 home runs was reached as a Giant rookie. Two were memorable — he hit the Giants’ 182nd home run of the season, which tied the Yankees’ record, then hit the 183rd.
He spent 1952 and 1953 with the Phillies and returned to the minors, eventually playing for the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League.