Friday, May 18, 1951, Wrigley Field, bottom of the 4th inning, and the Cubs’ rookie shortstop Jack Cusick barrels into home as Phillies’ catcher Andy Seminick awaits the late throw, and teammate Andy Pafko, who just scored, gives Cusick the slide sign. Cusick would slide in safely to complete a thrilling inside-the-park grand slam home run (only the 2nd HR of his career) to put Chicago up 15-7, in a slugfest on the North Side.
Stories like this are why I started this blog – to spotlight exciting plays and situations that were nicely captured by photographers, perhaps considered of interest for a day or so, but more often than not, never reprinted, not seen in the newspapers, and without a major star involved, quickly forgotten. In fact, Jack Cusick’s home run above would not only be the single greatest feat in his short career, but would ultimately result in Cusick being unique in MLB history, a footnote that is virtually unknown today.
It was a circuitous route for Jack Cusick to reach the big leagues. From Weehawken, NJ, he was drafted out of high school by the Phillies in 1946, and toiled in their minor league system until drafted by the Cardinals in 1948, chosen off waivers by the Yankees in 1950, then Rule 5 drafted by the Cubs later that year. Hovering around .270-290 in his minor league career, the Cubs elected to give him a shot with the big club for 1951, as their backup shortstop.
Making his debut against the Pirates at Wrigley on April 24 as a replacement for starting SS Roy Smalley after a rain delay, he popped to short in his only at bat, but after Smalley twisted his ankle in a game on April 28, Cusick would get his first hit, an RBI double, after replacing him, then take over the starting job on April 29th. His starting debut, however (at Wrigley against the Cardinals), was inauspicious, going 0-4 with 2 strikeouts.
The Cubs would then embark on a 13-game road trip, where Cusick would get 10 hits, but only 1 RBI, which would come courtesy of his first career (solo) HR on the final game of the trip, on May 13th at Forbes Field in the second game of a doubleheader. He’d return to Wrigley with his .229 average for a 10-game homestand that would include dates with Andy Seminick’s Phillies, above.
Andy Seminick was not a force to be reckoned with behind the plate. With both parents immigrants from southern Russia, and growing up in mining towns in PA and WV, he honed his skills in the Appalachian leagues, traveling far and wide for tryouts, being signed by the Pirates in 1940, moving to the Dodgers organization and finally the Phillies in 1943, earning a late season callup. While his toughness made him ideal for a catcher, his defensive skills were subpar and he made more of a name for himself with his bat. Despite hitting only .181 in late 1943, however, he still came north with the club in 1944 (with probably some help from the depleted rosters due to WWII), but after continuing to struggle, was sent back to the minors for the rest of the summer, where he finally found his offensive groove.
In 1945, he was on the big club for good, putting up respectable offense numbers – but still struggling badly behind the plate, absorbing the derision of his manager and local fans alike. However, despite leading the NL in errors in 1946, 1948 and 1949, his grittiness and timely hitting caused the tide to turn for fans, who voted him to the 1949 All-Star team (his only nod) and becoming a key member of the 1950 Phillies’ “Whiz Kids”, hitting a career-high .288, matching his power stats of 1949 (24 HRs, 68 RBI’s) and going so far as to continue playing on a broken ankle suffered late in September (the team thought it was a bad sprain, but Seminick needed a cast for 2 months after the season), as the Phils would take the 1950 NL pennant.
Seminick, however, had just experienced the peak of his career; flying high at a .313 clip early in 1951, he was beaned by the Cards’ Max Lanier at a night game at Shibe Park on May 3, having to be carried off the field on a stretcher and to a hospital. He played again May 5 but collapsed the next day, returning to the hospital and missing 10 more days. The May 18th contest above was his 4th game back, but his average continued to slip throughout the season (many attributing it to the injury), as he finished the year at .227 with the Phillies tumbling to 5th place. Traded to the Reds for 1952, he had 3 respectable seasons with Cincinnati before being traded back to Philadelphia in 1955 to close out his career as primarily a part time player. After his career, Seminick remained in the Phillies’ organization for the rest of his life, either as a coach, manager, or roving instructor. And, despite their early catcalls, in a late 1960’s poll, Philadelphia fans selected Andy Seminick as their all-time favorite Phillies catcher.
If Andy Pafko tells you to slide, he’s probably right. He would split his successful 17-year career primarily between the Cubs and Milwaukee Braves, with a mid-career stopover in Brooklyn. A 5-time All-Star (all with the Cubs), he is among the few players to earn All-Star honors in both infield (3rd base) and outfield positions. A native of Wisconsin and a popular player in Chicago throughout his tenure (1943-1950), he participated in the 1945 World Series but wasn’t enough to reverse the Cubs’ misfortunes years afterward, and despite public outcry was traded to the Dodgers in mid-1951. He had a strong second half for Brooklyn, but his wish for a second shot at a World Series title ended abruptly when Bobby Thompson’s Shot Heard ‘Round The World sailed over his head as he looked helplessly from his place in left field, resulting in one of the most iconic photos of the classic baseball era.
Pafko would get his chance elsewhere; he was traded to the Boston Braves at the beginning of 1953, who, by the time the games started, became the Milwaukee Braves. Wisconsin-ite Pafko would be a popular player for Milwaukee, starting in RF their first two seasons, but was supplanted in 1955 by a young player by the name of Henry Aaron. Although a part-timer, he contributed to the Braves pennant-winning drives of 1957 and 1958, finally earning himself a World Series ring with the Milwaukee Braves’ only championship, in 1957.
So what was ultimately so special about Jack Cusick’s home run on May 18, 1951? Well, Cusick’s first career round-tripper, at Forbes Field, noted above, happened to be an inside-the-park home run. His second, the featured photo of this post, was also an inside-the-parker (and a grand slam no less). As luck would have it, those would be the only two home runs of his MLB career. So, while there is at least one MLB player whose only career HR was an inside-the-parker (NY Giants OF Pete Milne is known to have hit one for his only career HR in 1949, also a grand slam), to the best of my research Jack Cusick is likely the only major leaguer to have more than one career HR, with each of them being inside-the-park.
Jack’s feat on May 18 contributed to an 18-9 clubbing of the Phillies, helping the Cubs stay only one game behind the front-running Dodgers in the early season. But, perhaps like Seminick and Pafko at about the same time, Cusick had (quickly) “peaked”; his average steadily declined in the weeks ahead, and with the return of Roy Smalley off the injured list at the beginning of July 1951, coupled with Jack’s paltry .172 average, he returned to his utility role for the remainder of the season, as the Cubs finished in the NL cellar. He would be traded to the Boston Braves for 1952, who again gave him a chance to start, but after sinking to .161 on May 17th, was back on the bench, and would only start one more game in his career, which would end after the 1952 campaign.
Cusick would be “celebrated” once in his brief career – as the only MLB player born in Weehawken (before or since), the local Elks Club organized a Jack Cusick Day at the Polo Grounds during a doubleheader on August 26, 1951, coinciding with the Cubs visiting the Giants (above is a handout with the 1951 home game schedules for all three NYC area teams to advertise the special day). In the midst of their historic 16-game winning streak and NL pennant win, the Giants faithful (and press) likely took little notice, and it is not reported if there were even any “official” festivities at all. As for Cusick, who was in effect Chicago’s 3rd-string catcher at this point, he would be a defensive replacement for 2 innings in Game 1, and not appear at all in Game 2, so the Weehawken fans had little chance to cheer on their hero, but they certainly deserve their own applause for the effort.
After the 1952 season, Jack Cusick would return to New Jersey, eventually becoming a state trooper – his unique feat all but forgotten – and died at 61 in 1989. But now, dear reader, you and I can join his hometown NJ friends in remembering Mr. Cusick (or Inside-the-park Jack?), for one more moment in time.
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