I was thinking about how many players have played for the Dodgers over the years who are now forgotten. The stars you always remember, but the fringe guys, the players who come up for a short time and are gone or the player who spends a few years with the team, but never has a starting role.
Sometimes you will think back and say, wow, I forgot that guy ever played for the Dodgers. Some of us do not remember the Brooklyn teams that well. But since I read a lot of the team’s history, I will look a guy up just to see what kind of impact he might have made.
One name that popped up to me the other day because I was thinking about the 1959 team, was Chuck Churn. Churn was signed by the Pirates in 1949. By most standards, he was a baseball nomad. But he made it to the majors in 1957 with the Pirates and got into 5 games. He had no record and a 4.32 ERA. Must have felt really good to finally get there after 8 seasons in the minors.
The Red Sox took him in the Rule 5 draft and then sent him to the Indians. He got into 6 games for the Tribe, again having no decisions and his ERA was 6.23.
He was on the move again in the spring of 1958 when the Reds bought him from Cleveland. He did not appear in a game for the Reds. Then in May of 1959, the Reds traded him to the Dodgers for pitcher Dick Hanlon.
Churn was assigned to the Dodgers AAA team at Spokane. He got into 29 games, all as a reliever and he was called up to LA in August. He pitched in 5 games in August and did fairly well.
Then in September, on the 2nd, he got his first big league win with 4 2/3 innings of relief as the Dodgers beat the Cardinals. On the 11th of the month, he won his second as he came in to relieve Sandy Koufax with the Dodgers down 4-2 to the Pirates. LA scored their third run in the 8th, and then scored 2 in the bottom of the 9th to win, 5-4. The loss was the only one of the season for Pirates ace Roy Face who went 18-1.
He would win one more and lose two the rest of the way, he also had his only major league save. His wins were crucial as the Dodgers were locked in a tight pennant race with the Braves and Giants.
He pitched in the second playoff game, coming in to relieve Johnny Podres with the Dodgers down 4-2. He would give up a run, and the Braves led 5-2. But the Dodgers scored 3 in the 9th, and won the game on a Furillo single in the bottom of the 12th.
Churn pitched in game one of the 59 series and gave up 6 runs, 2 were earned. It was his last game ever in the majors. He pitched at Spokane for the Dodgers in 1960 with a 13-7 record. He would pitch until 1967. Churn died in 2017.
Cal Abrams was signed by the Dodgers out of high school in 1942. He went to the minors where he spent several seasons before he made his big league debut in April of 1949.
He played in 8 games that year and got 2 hits in 24 at bats. He broke in wearing #32. The next season he switched to #18. 18 means a lot, he said. The number 18 stands for the Hebrew word for life. He wore 18 a majority of his career.
Abrams was strictly a substitute, he often pinch ran for the slower guys. On October 1st, 1950, the Dodgers, trailing by one game for the NL lead with the Phillies, were at Ebbets Field, playing the last game of the year. If they won, there would be a playoff.
The game was tied, 1-1 in the bottom of the 9th inning. Both team’s aces were locked in this duel. Roberts for the Phillies and Don Newcombe for the Dodgers.
Newcombe, hitting for himself, made an out. Abrams walked and went to second on an infield out by Pee Wee Reese, who had 3 hits off of Roberts including a homer for the only run.
Duke Snider came to the plate and laced a single to center field. Third base coach Milt Stock waved him home and he was gunned down at the plate on a perfect throw by CF Richie Ashburn who caught the ball on one hop. Inning over. Jackie Robinson was on deck. It was probably Abrams defining moment as a Dodger.
In the bottom of the inning, Dick Sisler, yep, George’s boy, hit a three-run homer to win the pennant for the Phillies. They weren’t called the Whiz kids for nothing.
Abrams had a .419 OBP in 1951. He hit .280 for the year in 67 games. Charlie Dressen, the Dodger manager at the time, who was known to be cruel sometimes, did not play him when the fans had a Cal Abrams Day at Ebbets Field. The next season he was traded in June to the Reds for Rudy Rufer. After the season, he was part of the package the Red Sent to Pittsburgh for Gus Bell.
Cal would be in the majors until 1956. He played for Baltimore and the White Sox too. He passed away in 1997 at 72 years old.
The last guy I would like to profile is Dick Gray. Gray. When he was 18, Gray attended a tryout camp for the Dodgers at Vero Beach. He was signed and played two years in the system before his career was interrupted by military service for the Korean War.
He did not go to Korea. He contracted Pneumonia and spent his entire time at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. He played on the ball team there. One of his teammates was Whitey Herzog.
Upon his discharge, Gray joined Fort Worth of the Texas League for two years. In 1957 he went to St Paul of the American Association and posted career bests with a .297 average, 16 homers and 111 RBIs.
The Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to LA over the winter. Gray went to spring training with the team and made the roster out of spring training.
The now Los Angeles Dodgers opened the season in San Francisco at Seals Stadium against the newly transplanted Giants.
Batting 6th, and playing third was Dick Gray, a rookie nestled among the famous Boys of Summer. Snider, Reese, Hodges, and Furillo were in the lineup along with Campy’s back up, Rube Walker.
The Giants pounded the Dodgers 8-0 behind Ruben Gomez. But Gray had 2 hits in 4 at bats. A nice start to his career.
The next day, the Dodgers would return the favor. In the second inning, Gray hit the first home run in Los Angeles Dodgers history off of Ramon Monzant. And the rout was on. LA won 13-1. Gray had three hits and drove in 3. Duke Snider hit the second Dodger homer later in the game, and Podres cruised to the win.
The Dodgers lost the third game of the series, and the teams headed south to the Coliseum to play the Dodgers first home game on the 18th of April.
Brooklyn legend, Carl Erskine was the Dodger starter against Al Worthington of the Giants. 78,682 fans were in attendance to watch their new baseball team play its first game.
The Giants scored single runs in the 3rd, 4th, 6th, 8th and 9th innings. The Dodgers scored 2 in the 3rd and 3 in the 5th. They were up 5-3 when Gray came to bat in the 7th.
There was one out and a 3-0 count on Gray when Johnny Antonelli missed with a pitch and Gray drove it over the fence to left-center field for the first LA Dodger homer at the coliseum. It did not go over the screen in left, but the chain link fence just to the left of the screen. LA won the game, 6-5. Clem Labine got the save, and Erskine the win.
Erskine would win only 3 more the rest of the year. His arm was in bad shape, and he would retire after the 59 season. For the Dodgers, 58 was not a very good year.
For Gray, he would end up playing only 58 games. He finished with a .249 average and 9 homers. The next season, he played 21 games and then was sent to the Cardinals for Lloyd Merritt and outfielder Chuck Essegian. The trade would make an impact on the Dodgers championship run as Essegian would be Alston’s go to pinch-hitter. And he would hit two pinch-hit homers in the World Series.
As for Gray, he played parts of two seasons with the Cardinals. He then played two years with the Pirates organization at AAA Columbus, then retired.
After his retirement, Gray lived in Anaheim with his wife and three daughters. He worked for the Buena Park School District maintenance department for many years retiring in 1993. He would attend card shows signing autographs. He passed away in 2013 3 days before his 82nd birthday.
Three players, all who had a hand in some historical moments in Dodger history, and mostly forgotten by the fans of the team.
I included a photo of the model I built of my dad’s ship, the USS Nevada. He was on her when the attack on Pearl Harbor took place.