|Subject: Ed Mierkowicz: Last living member of the Detroit Tigers’ 1945 World Series championship team
Dead at 93
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Date Posted: Friday, May 19, 07:03:09pm
(Editor’s note: Ed Mierkowicz, a Downriver native and a Major League Baseball outfielder who played with the Detroit Tigers, died Friday, May 19. This is the eulogy that will be delivered at his funeral. Arrangements were incomplete by press time, but will be handled by the Trenton Chapel, Martenson Family of Funeral Homes. )
It is quite an honor for me to be asked to speak at this service as we celebrate the life of my good friend, Ed Mierkowicz. That is especially so since I have known Ed for only two years, while I’m sure many of you have known him for many, many years. So with all that being said, I will give you nothing less than my very best effort. It was a terrific feeling to be able to bring a few smiles to his face and a few tears of happiness during the last two years of his life. This is my story, chronologically to the best of my memory.
A friendship begins
At Christmastime in the year of 2014, my friend, Linda Harmon, gave me a framed photo of a few people crossing the Golden Gate Bridge as a Christmas present. I later asked her for the significance of that photo. She told me it belonged to a man who had moved from his condo a couple of years ago. She also mentioned that he was an ex-Detroit Tigers baseball player. Now, that perked my interest. I have been a Detroit Tigers’ fan since way back in the 1949. Linda did not know his name. Another friend, Jane Emmerich, not only knew his name but the correct spelling of it and his phone number. I called that number and, bingo, Ed answered. I found out he was a member of that World Series championship team of 1945. He was in fact the only member still alive that played in that World Series.
I told him I remembered so well many of the names of the players from 1949 and rattled off a few names: Hoot Evers, Johnny Groth, Vic Wertz – and he not only remembered them, but he told a story about each of them. I continued: Dizzy Trout, Hal Newhouser, Aaron Robinson – and he talked about all of them. That phone call was as much of a thrill to him as it was to me.
The very next day, Ed fell and broke his hip. He had surgery and a couple of days later was sent to a rehab facility in Troy. My good friend, the late John Conroy, drove me to that nursing center and that is when I met Ed and his daughters, Brenda and Lisa, for the first time.
High school home runs
Prior to going, I did some research. Ed was born and raised in Wyandotte, as was his best friend, Bob Kuzava. Bob was a pitcher for the New York Yankees back in those championship years of the ‘50s. In 1942, Ed was a senior at Roosevelt High School in Wyandotte. He was also a three sport star. He was an all-state tight end for the football team – but let’s stick to baseball. Fordson High School in Dearborn had an all-state pitcher who hadn’t lost a game in three years. Roosevelt was matched up with them in a championship game. A very well-known Detroit Tiger scout by the name of Wish Egan came to Wyandotte to watch and meet this pitcher from Fordson. Ed soon made Wish Egan’s trip to Wyandotte well worth it. He hit two of the longest home runs ever hit by a high school player. Both of them well over 400 feet and both of them off that all-star pitcher.
Ed was called into the Army upon graduation. It wasn’t long before he developed rheumatic fever and was discharged. A few months later, Wish Egan signed Ed to a professional contract. His career began in Hagerstown, Md. The next year he advanced to the Tigers top farm team, the Buffalo Bisons. Ed was branded with the nick name “Autch,” as in sneezing. Most all the players had nicknames in those days.
The 1945 World Series
The Tigers were in a very tight pennant race in 1945. In September when the rosters were expanded, “Autch” Mierkowicz was called up to the parent team. Hank Greenberg, arguably the greatest first baseman to ever play the game, hit a grand slam home run to defeat the defending champion St. Louis Browns and put the Tigers into the World Series against the Chicago Cubs. Greenberg played left field during that series so the Tigers could get the bat of Rudy York into their lineup. The teams split the first six games. Throughout the series, 21-year-old Ed Mierkowicz and 19-year-old fellow rookie Billy Pierce (who went on to a hall of fame career with the Chicago White Sox) cheered the Tigers on and were just itching to get into a game.
In the ninth inning of the seventh game, with the Tigers leading 9-3, Hank Greenberg told the manager he had some kind of an injury and couldn’t finish the game. Now listen to this: Hank Greenberg returned to the Tigers at midseason after being discharged from the Army and played every inning of every game through the rest of the season. He also played every inning of every game during the World Series. Instead of arguing with Hank, the manager sent Ed into left field for the final three outs. Ed Mierkowicz not only went into left field, he also went into the box score of that game and thus received his piece of the pie, which included the World Series ring that he wore as he squeezed my hand 70 years later in that nursing center. The way that story went left me no doubt that Hank Greenberg was showing the humanistic side of him by faking an injury so Ed could get into that game.
A lifetime later
Now back to the present. Brenda called me and said Ed had fallen again and broke the same hip a second time, and a few days later, he was sent to a nursing center in West Bloomfield. In articles I wrote about him, I asked people to send get well cards. This time I asked them to send a word of thanks for the memories in addition. Why, you might ask, should we thank Ed? All he did was play a half of one inning and a couple of unremarkable years with the Tigers. Most of his baseball career was in the minor leagues.
I’m going to ask you to do something I did and I will guarantee it will bring tears of joy to your eyes. Guaranteed. I was too young to remember that wonderful year of 1945, but I closed my eyes and put my thoughts on how it must have been. The war was over, the Tigers won the pennant and the World Series. I thought about my mother and my grandmother. They were both ardent Tiger fans. I could see the wide smiles on their faces. What a wonderful sight it was. Now I had the opportunity to send a note of thanks to someone who had a part, regardless how small, of creating those smiles. There was no one else to thank. Ed Mierkowicz was the only member still living that played in that World Series.
When that story was published, Ed began receiving cards of thanks from several people. He even had a visit from a man he played baseball with at Roosevelt in 1942. The word spread throughout the nursing center and he became a very popular person once again.
I told my friend, Pamela Frucci, that I believe this story needs as wider audience. Without hesitation, she handed me a phone number she just happened to have. It was that of Tom Gage, the Hall of Fame sportswriter for The Detroit News. I called the number, Tom answered. I told him the story and the next morning he was knocking on my door. We set up an interview for the following Friday. Brenda was excited to hear of the upcoming interview. She prayed to God he wouldn’t be too confused to respond to questions. That Thursday evening, she told me his facial color was changing and he was very depressed and unresponsive. She was afraid she would lose him that very evening.
A ‘remarkable’ recovery
The next day, my wife, Janet, and I arrived a little early and I immediately began talking baseball with Ed and he seemed to come out of that shell. When Tom arrived, he joined me and the more questions we had, the livelier Ed became. That story not only made the front page of The Detroit News, but the Chicago Tribune as well.
When that interview ended, Janet and I went back to say goodbye to Ed. I then received the greatest compliment that made all my efforts past or future well worth it. He reached his hand to mine, the one that bore that 70-year-old World Series ring. He squeezed my hand, and with uncontrollable tears he said: “Thank you, thank you. Who are you and why are you doing all this? You make me so happy. Most people are forgotten when they are in their 90s.”
I quickly thought to myself: How do I respond to this man? Just a month ago, I didn’t even know he existed. The deep welling in my eyes kept me from answering him. The next day, Brenda told me her dad had made a remarkable recovery. She said they even got him out of bed and on his feet, and for the first time since he was hospitalized he started walking. Then I thought if just talking baseball can make that much of a change in a man then “God bless baseball.”
A week later, I was told that Guy Gordon from Channel 4 was going to interview Ed. In the meantime, I had purchased a package for Janet and I to attend spring training. Sure enough, that interview took place while we were in Florida, but I do have it taped. That spring training package included having dinner with the players. I was able to read my Ed Mierkowicz story to the players, and Jim Price and Bryan Holiday joined Janet and me for dinner.
One year later, John Conroy asked me to join him in the Senior Olympics. I told John, “You know there is no way I could compete in any sport with this Parkinson’s disease.” I begged out of that invitation until I heard the opening ceremonies would be held at Roosevelt High School in Wyandotte. I did sign up and attended the opening ceremonies with my friend, Jack Frucci. While there, Jack and I roamed throughout the lobby of the high school. We looked at all the photos of the people that excelled in sports or other things.
I told Jack I didn’t see Ed Mierkowicz’s photo, even though there were a couple of others from as far back as 1942. Within earshot of my words was Joe Palamara, the Wayne County Commissioner who was running for re-election. He said to me, “Do you mean “Autch” Merkiewicz.” I said yes and he went on to tell me that his father was Ed’s best friend and he had seen him just two weeks ago. The next day, Joe came to my house and I gave him copies of all the stories I had written about Ed for his father.
Still more connections
Even though I didn’t compete in the activities during the week, I did have tickets to the banquet. I tried to get Ed to go with me to that banquet, but he was contented in staying right where he was and refused to go anywhere. I asked Brenda if she would like to go and she said she would love to. That Friday morning, Brenda arrived at my house. She drove us over to Crystal Gardens. We were escorted to our seats. We were seated with about eight others. I soon heard someone mention baseball. I then asked, “Has anyone ever heard of Ed Mierkowicz?” Dan Valascho jumped up and said: “I sure do remember Ed. He owned the Blossom Bar in Wyandotte and sponsored our baseball team over 30 years ago.”
A few months later, I had an urge or a wanting to go and see Ed again. I called Dan and asked him if he would like to go with John and me. “Would I ever,” he replied. I purchased a birthday cake and off we went. Dan said he doubted Ed would remember him since it was over 30 years ago. He wore his Blossom Bar shirt. When we arrived, I introduced Dan to Ed. Ed not only remembered Dan, he remembered the street he lived on. Brenda talked about how much she loved that Blossom Bar. Dan took off his shirt and gave it to Brenda, who, in turn gave Dan one of Ed’s baseball shirts. To this day, I do not know who got the best of that trade.
Just a few days ago following the service for John Conroy, I was approached by a woman who told me the next time I visited Ed Mierkowicz she would like to go. When she told me her name was Stephanie, I remembered her being a very good friend of Ed’s. I told her I would call Dan next week and ask him to drive us to visit Ed. That was my intention. My plans were interrupted by an email I received from Brenda. That email began with these words: “Hi, David, I’m sorry to inform you that my Dad is dying.”
That, my friends, is what brought me here today.
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