Andy Pafko, a four-time All-Star who played on the last Chicago Cubs team to reach the World Series and was the famously forlorn outfielder who watched Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” sail over the left-field wall during the 1951 National League playoff, has died. He was 92.
Pafko, who had Alzheimer’s disease, died on Tuesday at a nursing home in Stevensville, Michigan, said his nephew, Michael Nedoba.
A fan favourite known for his dogged play and diving catches, Pafko played with Jackie Robinson for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951, and with Hank Aaron as a Milwaukee Brave from 1954-59. But he is perhaps best remembered as being part of one of the most famous games in baseball history, when Thomson’s three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth gave the New York Giants the win in the decisive Game 3 of their NL playoff against the Dodgers at the Polo Grounds.
“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” shouted broadcaster Russ Hodges, one of the signature moments in major league history.
The Giants went to the World Series. The Dodgers went home.
“Everybody remembers who was the pitcher, but nobody remembers I was the outfielder who watched it go over the fence,” Pafko said in a 1999 interview. “That was the biggest disappointment of my whole career. I wanted to go to the World Series.”
Thomson later became Pafko’s teammate and roommate with the Braves - and “Bobby never wanted to talk about that homer after that,” said Pafko, whose death was first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Pafko was born in the northwestern Wisconsin city of Boyceville, and he started his baseball career in Chicago’s farm club. Manager Charlie Grimm gave him the nickname “Pruschka” when he joined the Cubs in 1943, and he was later known also as “Handy Andy”.
Pafko became a starter the next season at the age of 19. He hit .298 with 110 RBIs in 1945, helping the Cubs to the pennant. In the World Series loss to Detroit, Pafko had six hits, including two doubles, but batted only .214.
He was an All-Star from 1947 until 1950. His best seasons during that stretch were 1950 with .304 average, 36 homers and 92 RBIs and 1948 with a .312 average, 26 homers and 101 RBIs. He was traded to Brooklyn in 1950 and to Milwaukee in 1953. He had declining production numbers and saw limited duty in the last few years before retiring in 1959.
Pafko’s other three World Series appearances were all against the Yankees - 1952 with Brooklyn, and 1957 and 1958 with Milwaukee. The Braves won the series in 1957.
Pafko once described a run-in with Robinson in 1948, when the Dodger great hit a triple and bowled him over at third base. The Cubs dugout emptied.
“I thought there was going to be a big fight. But we backed off and it all quieted down,” Pafko said in a 1997 interview. “Later, when I joined the Dodgers and he was my teammate, Jackie came over to me and asked me if I remembered that incident at third base. Both of us laughed about it.”
Pafko used to love telling of hitting a home run for the Cubs that went over the fence and landed on the coal car of a passing train. The train continued through several states, and Pafko used to joke that no one ever hit a ball that traveled further, Nedoba said.
“Baseball was everything to him,” Nedoba said. “He’d tell his wife, ‘I love this game so much I would have played for nothing.’ And his wife would say, ‘Compared to today’s standards, honey, you did play for nothing.”‘
Pafko, who played his entire 17-year career in the National League, was a sought-after figure by baseball card collectors. One of them - a Topps card from 1952 in excellent condition - sold for nearly US$84,000 in 1998, marking what at the time was the second-highest price at the Mastro Rine Sports auction in Washington. The only higher bid was US$108,000 for a jersey that Lou Gehrig wore in 1927. A 1933 Babe Ruth card went for US$32,485.
After retiring as a player in 1959, Pafko was a major-league coach and minor-league manager for the Braves, then scouted for the Montreal Expos in the late 1960s. Back in the Chicago area around 1970, he settled in Mount Prospect and was a part-time starter at a local golf course for several years. He retired for good in the late 1970s.
“I’m in good health, still playing golf,” Pafko said in 1999. “People say I should be playing now. But I had a good career - four World Series, four All-Star games. Except for the money today, I have no regrets.”