Butka was the name that caught my eye today – a backup first baseman with the Washington Senators during the war years.
Butka was born in Canonsburg, PA on January 7, 1916 and from what I gather, spent pretty much his whole life there – except for his days playing professional baseball. He must have gone to college or played semi-pro baseball for a while – but none of the few references I have available to me today explain what he did until 1940, when he is listed as having played D level ball for Newport in the Appalachian League at the age of 24. From 1940 to 1943, Butka played for Newport, Salisbury, Orlando, Utica, and Springfield. In his second season at Springfield, he caught the eye of Senator scouts who were hurting for help at first base – the war having taken a lot of talent away from the game.
For some reason (I haven’t found out why), Butka was listed as 4F by his draft board – which is either physically, mentally, or morally unfit for combat. And yet he was playing baseball… He got three games with the Senators in 1944, getting three hits in nine at bats, but was sent back to Buffalo anyway. He was basically optioned – meaning he could get recalled at any time by the Senators – and every now and then, when someone got hurt, Butka would appear in a few games.
The only game in which Butka is specifically mentioned by The Sporting News, he actually didn’t play. Browns pitcher Nels Potter got frustrated when he gave up a seventh inning rally and took it out on George Case. Case didn’t take kindly to getting plunked, so he yelled out to Potter – who met Case halfway to first base. At that point, Case landed a quality right hand and both benches cleared. Case and Potter were both ejected, as was our man Ed Butka – who was tossed for indiscriminately joining into the fray, suggesting that the best contact Butka made in 1945 was with a Browns player. Case, for what it’s worth, injured his shoulder and missed a week of games. (Povich, Shirly. “Griff Spending to Duck Cellar”, TSN, 8/31/1944 – pg. 6.)
As a player, Butka looks like he was a contact hitter and didn’t have much power. Baseball-Reference.com doesn’t list a season where he had more than seven homers and his batting average ranged from the mid .250s to the low .300s, with a decent enough eye at the plate. The only recorded nickname I see is “Babe”, which must have referred to his youthful smile or maybe a playful attitude. He was a big dude – 6′ 4″, but that belied his penchant for hitting line drives rather than fly balls.
Butka’s hitting in the majors wasn’t top notch, and he was out of baseball for a short while. He came back to play a season at New London, and then New Brunswick in 1947 and 1948 – in 1947, he was a player/manager for a team that finished 50 – 67.
At this point, Butka came home. Returning to Canonsburg, he became a dispatcher for the borough, played semi-pro baseball locally, and lived the suburban life. He had married Helen Mae Meeks after the 1944 season – now they came home and had five kids. Evenings and weekends, Butka coached community baseball teams, or worked the garden and played golf. In 2001, he was inducted into the Washington/Greene County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame. Less than two months after the death of his wife, Helen, Butka met his demise on April 21, 2005 and was laid to rest in the grounds of his hometown.