If you were asked who is the oldest living Dodger, who would you guess? It is easy to guess Tommy Lasorda, Don Newcombe and Carl Erskine for us oldtimers and probably Tommy and Newk for the younger set. It turns out there are 18 players living who put on a Brooklyn Dodger uniform so most of us would be stumped in trying to pinpoint the oldest living Dodger.
I decided it might be fitting to acknowledge them regardless of how many games they played as a Dodger. Each one of these men had a dream similar to the dreams of the young high school and college players today. That was, to play professional baseball at the MLB level.
It might be said that their path as a professional baseball player was as difficult or even more difficult than the path of present day youngsters. They had to play through World War II, try to gain a roster spot on one of only 16 MLB teams in the pre-1961 expansion days, secure other employment during the off season to supplement their low pay and play through injuries or with injuries that shortened careers in the pre-sports medicine days. How long could left-hander Karl Spooner have played if he had been the beneficiary of the medical treatment afforded to today’s athletes? How long could Sandy Koufax have played?
As mentioned, I am referring to players who put on a Brooklyn Dodger uniform even if it was only for a few at bats or innings pitched. They naturally would be the oldest Dodgers. However, just for information’s sake, 94-year-old former Yankee Irv Noren is the oldest living player of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was signed as a free agent on June 7, 1960 after being released by the Chicago Cubs. Noren played 26 games with the Dodgers hitting .200 while being used primarily as a pinch hitter.
The group of 18 doesn’t quite give us a starting lineup. It is strong in the infield and especially on the mound but doesn’t feature any full time outfielders. On the mound we have Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine, Tommy Lasorda, Sandy Koufax, Roger Craig, Chris Haughey, Fred Kipp, Tommy Brown and Glenn Mickens.
Their catchers are Joe Pignatano and Tim Thompson. The infield contingent is Randy Jackson (INF), Wayne Terwilliger (2B), Bobby Morgan (3B), Eddie Basinski (2B), Jim Gentile (1B), Don Demeter (1B), and Bob Aspromonte (3B).
The ages of this all-star group are at the end of the article. Eddie Basinski is the oldest living Dodger and is a worthy representative of the group. He ranks tenth oldest among all living MLB players and at 96 is now the only living major leaguer mentioned in the Dave Frishberg song Van Lingle Mungo.
Eddie Basinski was born on November 4, 1922 in Buffalo, NY. He wore uniform #3 for the Dodgers, a number later worn by third baseman Billy Cox, second baseman Steve Sax and outfielder Willie Davis among others, with the latest being Dodger infielder/outfielder Chris Taylor.
He grew up in a Polish family, a good family, but his father could not see much success coming for him as a baseball player. He was a skinny kid who had very poor eyesight most likely as a result of surviving scarlet fever when he was four.
He did try out for his high school baseball team, with his father’s permission, but was not really given a fair shot as his coach simply could not see a skinny, bespectacled kid like Eddie playing ball. Not one to give up, he began playing sandlot baseball which was not unusual at the time. He played in Buffalo with a strong core of players, including Warren Spahn who was one of his best friends. Spahn, in the HOF, won the most games as a left-hander in baseball history.
Basinski had a dream to play ball and worked hard when practicing with his teammates and harder when practicing alone – running, sliding, throwing. He knew with his abilities, not apparent to all, that baseball was his way out of Kaiser town in Buffalo.
“We lived in a rough Polish neighborhood in Buffalo and I took up baseball as self-defense.”
He did not get to play high school baseball and following graduation he enrolled at the University of Buffalo which had a strong engineering program but did not have a baseball team. He did graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering and continued to play what baseball he could.
He played for one season in Buffalo’s semipro league and after a game in which he had two three-run home runs and a two-run triple, he was signed by Dodger president Branch Rickey. Basinski reported to the Dodgers in the spring of 1944 to decide where he should be posted. That is, at which level in the minor league system.
Dodger manager, Leo Durocher, liked what he saw and on May 20, 1944 Eddie Basinski debuted as a shortstop with the Dodgers. He had a hot start to his season but finally settled out at .257 and followed up with a .262 batting average in 1945. Pee Wee Reese returned from military duty for the 1946 campaign and Eddie Basinski was assigned to St. Paul of the American Association. He MLB career ended following the 1947 season in which he hit .199 with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 56 games.
Basinski, then 24, was acquired by the New York Yankees and sent to the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League. He had an opportunity to return to the Yankees but worked out a plan to stay in Portland where he played for ten years. He perhaps later regretted not taking the opportunity with the Yankees who were knocking off World Championships but he had fallen in love with Portland.
During his PCL career, Basinski compiled 1,544 hits, 109 homers, and 634 RBIs, all while batting .260. He led the PCL in games played in 1950 and in at-bats in 1951. At one point he played 558 consecutive games, interrupted only because of an errant slide by Walt Dropo that gashed open his shin.
Among his awards are the induction into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1987, the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Fame in 1996, and the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame in 2006. In 1984, he was named to the all-time PCL All-Star team.
Eddie Basinski earned a number of nicknames during his brief MLB career. One was “The Professor,” because he wore glasses, the first major-league infielder ever to do so. Another was “Bazooka”, given to him by Leo Durocher because of his arm strength and quick reflexes throwing runners out by several feet. A third was “Fiddler”, as he was a classical violinist who occupied a chair in the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra at a young age.
Another first for Eddie Basinski is that he was – and still is – the only player in history to go directly from sandlot ball to the major leagues without any high school, college or minor-league experience.
Basinski had moments in MLB that he would never forget. That is, encounters with major League players with Hall of Fame credentials such as Stan Musial. He recalled a time when Durocher was “on my butt.”
During batting practice Eddie’s baseball hero, Stan Musial, came up to him and said:
“You’re doing a fantastic job for his ballclub. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Keep up the good work.” Basinski was thrilled. “I thought that was superb.”
Brooklyn Dodgers Only Living Players:
Eddie Basinski (96): November 4, 1922
Tim Thompson (94): March 1, 1924
Wayne Terwilliger (93): June 27, 1925
Chris Haughey (93): October 3, 1925
Randy Jackson (92): February 10, 1926
Don Newcombe (92): June 14, 1926
Bobby Morgan (92) June 29, 1926
Carl Erskine (92):December 13, 1926
Tommy Lasorda (91): September 22, 1927
Tommy Brown (91): December 6, 1927
Joe Pignatano (89): August 4, 1929
Roger Craig (88): February 17, 1930
Glenn Mickens (88): July 26, 1930
Fred Kipp (87): October 1, 1931
Jim Gentile (84): June 3, 1934
Don Demeter (83): June 25, 1935
Sandy Koufax (83): December 30, 1935
Bob Aspromonte (80): June 19, 1938