A Brief History
On April 1, 1939, Phil Niekro, Hall of Fame pitcher and winner of 318 major league games, was born. Together with his brother, Joe, these 2 Polish-American baseball players won more games than any other brother combination in major league history. Many other Polish-Americans have also gone on to greatness in major league baseball, and here we list some of the best or most well known (no disrespect to all the others).
12. Richie Zisk, 1971 – 1983.
A reliable 12-year player, Zisk once had 100 RBIs in a season and in another season had 30 home runs. With a .311 batting average, he was the 1981 American League “Comeback Player of the Year.” He is currently a scout for the Cubs.
11. Greg Luzinski, 1970 – 1984.
At an imposing 6’1” and 255 lbs, this slugger of over 300 home runs and over 1,100 RBIs played in 4 consecutive All Star Games. Luzinksi once led the league in RBIs and was an MVP runner up. He also hit grand slams in 2 consecutive games and 5 homers in a 5-game stretch. Upon retirement, he coached high school baseball and football.
10. Tony Kubek, 1957 – 1965.
Despite the relatively short career, Kubek made his mark by playing in 6 World Series. He was the 1957 Rookie of the Year and a 4 time All Star. Upon retirement, he became a famous television announcer.
9. Moose Skowron, 1954 – 1967.
As the first baseman for the New York Yankees until 1962, Skowron was on a high-profile team for 8 years and won the World Series with them 5 times. In his career, he earned 8 All Star nods. He had played college baseball for Purdue, hitting .500 his sophomore year, a Big 10 record that lasted for 10 years.
8. Stan Coveleski, 1912 – 1928.
This Hall of Fame spitball pitcher won 215 games and pitched 224 complete games. His career ERA of 2.89 is sterling, and he won 3 games for the Cleveland Indians during the 1920 World Series. Coveleski was 1 of 17 pitchers who was allowed to keep throwing spitballs when that pitch was outlawed in 1920. He twice led the American League in ERA and once in strikeouts.
7. Ted Kluszewski, 1947 – 1961.
This 4-time All Star was a big, strong guy for his era, standing at 6’2” and weighing 240 lbs of solid muscle. In the 1970s, Kluszewski also had great success as a hitting coach for the powerful Cincinnati Reds in the 1970s. Oddly enough, he was the first major leaguer to play in a game with his name misspelled on his jersey.
6. A.J. Pierzinski, 1998 – .
Known as a colorful character, Pierzinksi has snagged a Silver Slugger title as well as made 2 All Star appearances. As a catcher, he has caught both a no-hitter and a perfect game and played for the White Sox when they won the 2005 World Series.
5. Bill Mazeroski, 1956 – 1972.
This Hall of Famer is often considered the best fielding second baseman in major league history, but it is his game-winning homerun during the 1960 World Series that most people remember. That homer is the only World Series game 7 winning homer in history. Mazeroski has 10 All Star Games and 8 Gold Gloves to his name. (My first baseball glove was a Bill Mazeroski model.)
4. Ryan Klesko, 1992 – 2007.
An All Star in 2001 and World Series Champion in 1995, Klesko had a banner year in 2001 with 30 home runs, 113 RBIs and 105 runs scored. He hit 21 or more homers in 8 of his 13 seasons. During the 1995 World Series, he became the first major leaguer to hit a home run in 3 consecutive road games.
3. Phil and Joe Niekro, 1964 – 1988.
As described above, these two are the greatest pitching brothers duo of all time. Phil, in particular, was a record breaker, whose records included: the most wins by a knuckleball pitcher; being the oldest man to pitch a shutout (since beat); and being the oldest regular playing player in history (until Julio Franco passed him). Joe hit the majors in 1967 and retired 1 year after Phil.
2. Carl Yastrzemski, 1961 – 1983.
Not only a superb fielder (7 Gold Gloves) with a rifle arm, “Yaz” was a terrific batter, winning the coveted Triple Crown in 1967 after leading the league in batting average, home runs and RBIs. He also won the MVP award that year, was an 18-time All Star, played 23 years for the same team (the Red Sox) and is #8 on the all-time hits list. He has also been honored at Coopertown (Baseball Hall of Fame).
1. Stan “The Man” Musial, 1941 – 1963.
This Hall of Famer played his entire career for the St. Louis Cardinals (22 years), and when he retired, he had more batting records, including a career .331 batting average with 7 batting titles, than any player in history besides Babe Ruth. (Many of his records were later passed by Hank Aaron and Pete Rose.) Musial was of such character that after his playing days, he was voted the most trusted athlete/spokesman. His 24 All Star Games are tied for 1st of all time. He was also the model of reliability, having the longest continuous playing streak without a day off besides Lou Gehrig. Musial’s stint with the U.S. Navy during World War II cost him even more baseball achievements.
Question for students (and subscribers): Who else would you have included in the list? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Bukowczyk, John.J. A History of the Polish Americans. Routledge, 2017.
Jennison, Christopher and Ray Robinson. Greats of the Game: The Players, Games, Teams, and Managers That Made Baseball History. Harry N. Abrams, 2005.