About Andy Pafko, from one fan

We often speak of “baseball immortals,” but of course they aren’t. Former major league players are mortal, just like the rest of us. When we read that one has died, we may say to ourselves, “Oh, I remember him,” perhaps picturing a baseball card we had as a kid.

Sometimes, for some reason, we identify more strongly.

On the desk next to me at this moment is a baseball glove, which I moved this morning from a shelf otherwise occupied by baseball books. It measures just over seven inches, top of the middle finger to the bottom, just slightly bigger than my hand. It lies flat, as unlike today’s snap-jaw gloves as a wood-shafted mashie is to what Tiger Woods swings.

The glove was a gift, some years ago. When I hold it angled just right under the light, I can see the name Andy Pafko etched in neat cursive along the side.

Andy Pafko died this week, at 92. For me, that news fell into the category of “identify strongly.”

My first heartbreak as a Cubs fan (count ’em) involved Pafko. I swear to you that I didn’t have to look this up: In June of 1951, the Cubs traded him, along with Wayne Terwilliger, Johnny Schmitz and Rube Walker, to the Dodgers for Gene Hermanski, Eddie Miksis, Joe Hatten and Bruce Edwards. Not Brock for Broglio, but in the ballpark.

They’d peddled Handy Andy, the slugger who’d finished second in the league in homers (to Ralph Kiner) the year before. The Boy from Boyceville (in nearby Wisconsin), a member of the Cubs’ then-and-now last World Series team, was gone as the Cubs rebuilt. Ha!

That’s just half the memory.

Sharing that bookshelf with the glove is a slim novella describing a radio broadcast I listened to four months later. From the book:

Russ says, “There’s a long drive.”

His voice has a burst in it, a change of expectation.

He says “It’s gonna be.”

There’s a pause all around him. Pafko racing toward the left-field corner.

He says, “I believe.”

Pafko at the wall. Then he’s looking up….

On the front of the book’s dust jacket is a photo of Pafko indeed looking up, standing next to a sign that says “315 FT,” dwarfed by a wall whose top is unseen. On the back we see Bobby Thomson‘s swing, the ball, and a dotted line showing where it will go.

Pafko at the Wall
became the prologue to Dom DeLillo’s wonderful novel, Underworld. Andy Pafko will live long in those pages.

May I Have Your Autograph, Please?
The payoff of being polite.

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Joe Distelheim is a retired newspaper editor whose career included stints as sports editor of The Charlotte Observer and Detroit Free Press. He co-authored Cubs: From Tinker to Banks to Sandberg to Today.

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3 Comments on "About Andy Pafko, from one fan"

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Richard Wu
Richard Wu
I too identified strongly with the death of Andy Pafko.  As a kid growing up in Chicago and going to my first baseball game at Wrigley after the War, I too, was broken hearted when Andy was traded to Brooklyn.  But I became a Brooklyn Dodger fan and had heart break again when Bobby Thompsen “robbed” them of the change to go to the World Series.  As luck would have it, Andy was trade to the Boston Braves who moved to Milwaukee.  I could listen to the games on WTMJ radio in those days and I cheered Andy and the… Read more »
There’s a nice Biography on Pafko on the SABR web site.  I believe you have to be a member of SABR to read it, but not sure.  Baseball Reference has a link to it which might get you in if you are not a member. I remember Pafko as a member of the Braves in 1957-1958.  I was a Brooklyn fan like you guys until they moved west and then I had to find another team (the reason is not politically correct for this forum), so picked Hank Aaron and the Braves.  Pafko was an integral member of those teams,… Read more »
Bruce Markusen
Bruce Markusen

Well done, Joe. Pafko was a fine player, much better than I first realized. He had a real impact on three franchises: the Dodgers, Braves, and Cubs. For most players, having an impact on one team would be a reasonable goal.