Rewind sixty years to 1953.
Television was considered kosher by most and featured the likes of Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, George Burns, Red Buttons, Perry Como, Arthur Godfrey, Clayton Moore as The Lone Ranger, Dinah Shore, Red Skelton, Danny Thomas, Jack Webb as Joe Friday on “Dragnet” and many others who provided great memories.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, who as a general had liberated Buchenwald, kept his inauguration promise when he ended the Korean War within six months of taking office as the 34th president of the United States.
Egypt’s leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who helped engineer the Egyptian revolution of 1952, welcomed many prominent Nazis who were living undercover in Europe. Nasser’s Egypt would absorb and employ over a thousand Germans who worked at producing anti-Israel propaganda and translating anti-Jewish articles and publications into Arabic.
On this side of the ocean, Herb Gorman became the biggest tragedy in Jewish baseball history. After serving in the military during World War II, Gorman began a successful minor league career as an outfielder and first baseman, starring in the Pacific Coast League for the Hollywood Stars.
Enjoying enormous popularity among Jewish fans (the Stars played at Gilmore Field, near the intersection of Beverly and Fairfax, within walking distance of many Jews). Gorman, who led the league in batting one year, was always among the league leaders while playing one step below the major leagues.
In 1952, the 27-year-old Gorman married Rosalie Bloom of Los Angeles at the Beverly Hills Hotel before spring training and made the big leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals. On April 15, 1952, Gorman made his major league debut in the seventh inning at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Gorman batted for the pitcher and grounded out as the Cubs went on to thrash the Cardinals by a score of 8-1.
It would be his only major league appearance as he was sold to San Diego of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League at the end of April and played there the rest of the year.
In the first game of a doubleheader against Hollywood during the first week of the 1953 season, Gorman rapped two doubles in two at-bats. He trotted out to his left field position in the sixth inning, his wife watching proudly from the stands. Within minutes, Gorman called time out and slumped to the ground.
Teammates helped Gorman to the dugout where he walked unaided to the dressing room. The team trainer applied oxygen and sent for a doctor who quickly called for an ambulance. Gorman, unconscious at the time, was rushed to a hospital while still wearing his baseball uniform.
Upon arrival at the hospital, the 28-year-old Gorman was pronounced dead. A massive blood clot that had traveled to his heart was ruled the cause of death.
Teammates learned of Gorman’s death in the ninth inning while losing 4-2. When the game ended with the same score, the nearly 4,000 fans in attendance were informed of Gorman’s passing and told that the second game would be cancelled.
Heartbroken teammates were fond of Gorman, who had a quiet, friendly demeanor and was known for his integrity and concern for others.
San Diego coach Jimmie Reese, who was born Hyman Solomon and enjoyed a baseball career that included stints with the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals, called Gorman a professional player and likable man.
It was Reese who told Gorman that manager Lefty O’Doul was giving him his first start of the season that day. “That’s fine,” Gorman replied. “I’m ready.”
Manager Lefty O’Doul, a .349 career hitter in 11 major league seasons, said of Gorman: “He never complained, never caused trouble – he just wanted to play. I wanted to see how some rookies would do, so that’s why he was making his first start. But I quickly saw that Gorman should play. A quiet fellow who just minded his own business. It’s a terrible loss for his family and our team.”
At the funeral, while looking at Gorman’s grieving wife and parents, Rabbi Morton J. Kohn of San Diego’s Temple Beth Israel said, “Herb Gorman had learned to play the game of life equally as well as he had learned to play the game of his profession.”
The owner of the San Diego ball club and Gorman had a special relationship. Like Gorman, William “Chick” Starr was Jewish and had played in the minor leagues for several years while enjoying a short major league career as a catcher for the Washington Senators in the mid-1930s. Starr went on to play for San Diego in the minor leagues until a leg injury ended his career in 1939. Five years later he headed a group that bought the ballclub. Starr continued his entrepreneurial activities in the commercial property field and resided in the plush San Diego suburb of La Jolla.
The 1953 season was a frustrating one for a player named Alan Richter. His short big league career came to an end with one at-bat with the Boston Red Sox. Two years earlier Richter had been brought up from the minors late in the season and saw some action at shortstop. Richter totaled 11 major league at-bats and managed one hit, for an .091 average.
Richter spent 1952 playing in the minor leagues for San Diego where he was a teammate and good friend of Herb Gorman’s. By the way, Gorman’s two hits in two at-bats on the last day of his life gave him a perfect .1000 batting average for the season.
To order Irwin Cohen’s informative book on Jewish History & Baseball’s Jews, send a check for $24.95 (includes shipping), payable to Irwin Cohen, and mail to: 25921 Stratford Place, Oak Park, Michigan, 48237-1027.
About the Author: Author, columnist, and public speaker Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years and worked for a major league team, becoming the first Orthodox Jew to earn a World Series ring. His column appears the second week of each month. He can be reached in his suburban Detroit area dugout at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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