|Born: January 15, 1920
|Died: March 12, 2002
Clinton Charter Township, Michigan
|August 18, 1941, for the Cleveland Indians|
|Last MLB appearance|
|July 25, 1957, for the Detroit Tigers|
|Earned run average||3.41|
|Career highlights and awards|
Stephen Joseph Gromek (January 15, 1920 – March 12, 2002) was an American right-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball who played for 17 seasons in the American League with the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers. In 447 career games, Gromek pitched 2,064⅔ innings and posted a win–loss record of 123–108 with 92 complete games, 17 shutouts, and a 3.41 earned run average (ERA).
Gromek was the winning pitcher in game four of the 1948 World Series with the Cleveland Indians. His career is best remembered for a post game celebratory photo taken of him hugging Larry Doby, the first black player in the American League, whose third inning home run provided the margin of victory. The photo became a symbol for integration in baseball.
Early life and career
Gromek was born Hamtramck, Michigan to Polish immigrant parents. His father worked in Hamtramck as a laborer. While attended St. Ladislaus High School in Hamtramck, Gromek considered becoming a priest, but decided on a career in baseball instead. Shortly after graduating, Gromek signed with the Cleveland Indians as an infielder. In his first professional season, Gromek batted .283 with two home runs as a second baseman for the Mansfield Braves and Logan Indians. He moved over to shortstop in 1940 with the Michigan State League's Flint Gems. After suffering an injury in his left shoulder that hampered his swing, he decided to become an outfielder. His ability to throw strikes to the plate on throws from the outfield inspired manager Jack Knight, who was a former pitcher, to try him on the mound. Gromek pitched four games, and won all four with a 1.61 ERA. A year later, Gromek went 14-2 with a 2.90 ERA for the newly renamed Flint Arrows. In July, Gromek and the Arrows faced the Indians in an exhibition game, which they won, 3-2; the victory led the Indians to promote him to the major league club a month later. He lost his major league debut to the Washington Senators, and earned his first major league win in his only other start of the season against the Philadelphia Athletics. He spent the rest of the season as a relief pitcher, and finished the season with a 1–1 record and a 4.24 ERA in nine appearances.
New Cleveland manager Lou Boudreau used Gromek as a relief pitcher in 1942. On July 12, facing the Washington Senators at Griffith Stadium, Gromek entered the game in the fifth inning behind 6-5 with two outs and a runner on third. He struck out Al Evans to end the inning without further damage, and earned the win in extra innings, but walked three consecutive batters in the seventh, the third of which forced in a run. Shortly after the game, he was demoted to the double A Baltimore Orioles for the rest of the season, the result of an agreement the Indians and Orioles had made before the season began where the Indians would allow use of certain players during the season if requested. He finished the season with a 2–0 record and a 3.65 ERA in 14 appearances with the Indians, and a 4–6 record with a 5.14 ERA in 20 games with the Orioles. He spent the entire 1943 season with Baltimore, going 16–13 with a 3.34 ERA, with the exception of September, when he received a call up to the major leagues. There, he made three appearances, totaling four innings of work.
Earning a starting job
Gromek started the 1944 season in Cleveland's bullpen. On May 16, he entered a game against the Senators in the first inning after starter Allie Reynolds had already allowed three runs. From there, Gromek held the Senators scoreless on just two hits, bringing his ERA for the season down to 0.57 (1 earned run in 15.2 innings). Though the Indians still lost the game, it convinced Boudreau to try Gromek as a starter.
On May 21, Gromek made his first start of the season in the second game of a doubleheader with the A's. Through the first six innings, Gromek held the A's scoreless on four hits. Meanwhile, back-to-back home runs by Roy Cullenbine and Pat Seerey in the fourth inning gave Cleveland a 2-0 lead. A seventh-inning error by third baseman Ken Keltner allowed two unearned runs to tie the score. George Kell lead off the Philadelphia half of the eighth inning with a single. A bunt and sacrifice fly later, he was on third base. Gromek then uncorked a wild pitch that allowed the winning run to score.
He had similarly bad luck in his next start, also against Philadelphia. Gromek was lifted in the fifth inning behind 2-1, having allowed just one earned run. The final score was 4-3, lowering Gromek's record to 0-2 despite a 0.96 ERA.
Undoubtedly, the unluckiest game of the season came on July 31 against the Red Sox. Gromek pitched a no-hitter into the eighth inning, but Boston pitcher Mike Ryba also held the Indians scoreless. Gromek ended up losing the game on an unearned run in the ninth. Gromek had also taken a no-hitter into the eighth inning on July 2 against the Senators.
His most impressive performance of the season came on July 14 against the St. Louis Browns. He pitched fourteen innings to earn the complete game victory over Bob Muncrief, who also pitched all fourteen innings for St. Louis. Eleven days later, he earned his first career shutout against the New York Yankees. For the season, Gromek went 10-9, with a 2.56 ERA. He also had a league leading 7.1 hits per nine innings.
The bad luck that haunted Gromek in 1944 did not follow him into the 1945 season. On June 8, Gromek defeated the Browns, 2-1, to improve to 7-1 with a 1.62 ERA. On July 4, the Indians accomplished one of the more bizarre firsts in baseball history with Gromek on the mound. In his complete game victory over the Yankees, Gromek struck out four. Fifteen outs came via fly balls to the outfield; another four pop-ups were handled by the infielders. Catcher Frankie Hayes caught two foul balls, and the only ground ball outs recorded were handled by first baseman Mickey Rocco unassisted. It was the first time in major league history that a team went nine innings without recording a putout.
Gromek went 19-9, with a career best 2.55 ERA in 1945. There was no All-Star Game in 1945 due to World War II wartime travel restrictions, however, the Associated Press created hypothetical National League & American League teams for the 1945 season after requesting nominations from each of the team's managers. Gromek was named to the A.L. squad.
With the return of Bob Feller & Red Embree from the war, Gromek moved from the top of the rotation to the bottom in 1946. In need of pitching, the Yankees inquired about Grobek's availability, but were rebuked by the Tribe. The new role did not suit Grobek. His record fell to 5-15 in 1946.
1948 World Series
His role became more limited in 1947 & 1948. Over both seasons, Gromek made just sixteen starts, and pitched just 214.1 innings. Thus, he was a surprise choice to start game four of the 1948 World Series. The Boston Braves countered with Johnny Sain, who had shut out the Indians in game one of the series.
Boudreau got the Indians on the board first with a first inning double that scored Dale Mitchell. The Indians took a 2-0 lead in the third when Larry Doby homered with two outs. Gromek, meanwhile, held the Braves scoreless through six on four hits. Boston's Marv Rickert hit a solo home run in the seventh, but that would be it for the Braves, as the Indians won by a final score of 2-1. Following the game, The Plain Dealer of Cleveland snapped a photograph of the game's two joyous heroes celebrating in the lockerroom. The two are shown embracing with their cheeks pressed against each other's.
Doby had just broken the color barrier in the American League a season earlier, and resistance to integration in baseball was still intense. This spontaneous moment of post game celebration became a symbol of acceptance. In his Hall of Fame acceptance speech, Doby fondly remembered that picture:
|“||That was a feeling from within, the human side of two people, one black and one white. That made up for everything I went through. I would always relate back to that whenever I was insulted or rejected from hotels. I'd always think about that picture. It would take away all the negatives.||”|
Gromek went 4-6 with a 3.33 ERA in 92 innings pitched in 1949. The Indians offered Gromek a salary cut for 1950, to which, Gromek objected. In voicing his objection, Gromek offered that he would welcome being dealt to his hometown Detroit Tigers.
He remained with the Indians three more seasons, but his wish was granted early in the 1953 season. On the June 15 trade deadline, he, Al Aber, Ray Boone & Dick Weik were traded to the Tigers for Owen Friend, Joe Ginsberg, Art Houtteman & Bill Wight.
In his first appearance upon joining his new club, Gromek allowed nine earned runs in one inning in a 23-3 blowout loss to the Boston Red Sox. Even so, manager Fred Hutchinson decided that the veteran Gromek's best fit would be as a starter with his staff of young pitchers. His confidence paid off, as Gromek shut out Philadelphia in his next appearance. In his first season in Detroit, Gromek went 6-8 with a 3.93 ERA as a starter for a team that narrowly avoided 100 losses.
Hutchinson tabbed Gromek as his opening day starter for the 1954 season against the former St. Louis Browns in their first game as the Baltimore Orioles. He shut them out on seven hits. Gromek soon established himself as the team's ace. On May 9, his complete game eleven inning victory over the Chicago White Sox improved Gromek's record to 5-0 with a 1.72 ERA. For the season, he led his team in wins (18), ERA (2.74), complete games (17) & innings pitched (252.2).
Gromek also led the American league with twelve hit batsmen in 1954. On August 29, he hit hit Bill Wilson in the fourth inning of a 14-3 romping of the Philadelphia A's. In the ninth inning, A's pitcher Marion Fricano, who had a reputation as a head hunter himself (On August 27, he ended the Chicago White Sox's Cass Michaels' career with a beanball), retaliated. Gromek charged the mound, causing both dugouts and bullpens to empty. Both players were ejected from the game, and fined by the league.
He remained a starter with the Tigers through the 1956 season. He was pulled in the third inning in his first start of 1957, and spent the rest of his tenure with the Tigers in the bulpen. He was released on August 16 without having appeared in a game in three weeks.
Gromek earned a reputation as a "Yankee killer" during his career. Against the Yankees, Gromek was 19-14 with a 4.23 ERA and two shutouts.
Post playing career
Gromek was immediately hired by the Tigers after his playing career ended to manage the Erie Sailors of the New York–Penn League. After managing in the minors for one season, he worked as a car insurance sales representative. In 1981, Gromek became a member of the National Polish-American Hall of Fame. He died on March 12, 2002 of complications from diabetes, a stroke and pneumonia. He and his wife, Jeanette, had three sons, Carl, Greg and Brian.Brian, the youngest brother died tragically suffering from an anurism while running track at Brother Rice high school circa 1968 .
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