Ed Winceniak was a quick and agile defensive shortstop who lost three years of his prime to the Korean War, and, as a middle infielder in the Cubs chain in the 1950s, was destined to watch as Ernie Banks and Gene Baker got all the playing time.
Born on 16 April 1929, Winceniak, like many a good man of Polish descent, grew up in Chicago and graduated from Bowen High School. The Cubs signed him in 1948 and dispatched him to the low minors – teams like Hutchinson/Springfield, Visalia, and Rock Hill. There, Winceniak showed good range, was quick on the double play, but wasn’t necessarily a top notch hitter. He did hob-nob with some decent coaches and ball players. His manager at Visalia was Claude Passeau, former Cubs pitcher, and he moved through the farm system with future major leaguers Dusty Rhodes and Jim Fanning, among others. In addition to his fielding skills, Winceniak was known for his dependability. In both Visalia and Rock Hill, he played every inning of every game.
In 1950, however, the United States was getting involved in another war – this one in Korea – and Winceniak joined the military, missing three years. When he returned after the 1953 season, the Cubs gave him a second chance and dispatched Winceniak to Des Moines in the Western League for 1954. Something clicked there, Wenceniak continued to play good defense, especially turning two, and for three months his batting average hovered around the .330 mark (good for a top five batting average) before falling back to .280 when the season ended.
Still, it was a fine season. Winceniak was voted by the managers of the Western League to a spot on the all-star team, and on the night he was notified of his award, he showed he earned the spot. Per a blurb in The Sporting News, “Shortstop Ed Winceniak of the Bruins backed the judgment of his supporters that evening when, with his team trailing, 2 to 1, he blasted a two-run homer in the ninth inning to defeat Omaha, 3 to 2. The blow enabled Hy Cohen, who was also named to the star team, to notch his fifteenth victory.” When the season was done, Winceniak was voted Most Valuable Player by his teammates, earning 16 of the 21 votes cast.
Winceniak was invited to spring training in 1955 but was sent to Los Angeles of the Pacific Coast League instead, showing the same fielding skills – adept at the double play – and a little power, if not a high batting average. Winceniak earned another spring training invitation and made the Cubs out of camp as a backup infielder.
Wearing number 12, Winceniak got in a few contests in 1956, but was dispatched to Havana briefly at the roster cutting deadline. The Cubs actually were planning to keep Winceniak around a little longer, but found out that Owen Friend needed another ten days of major league service to qualify for a pension. So, the Cubs sent Winceniak to Cuba until Friend had enough days on the roster. Then they swapped Friend for Winceniak thirteen days later.
His days with the Cubs wouldn’t last much longer, though – he was sent to St. Paul in the American Association where he had a fine season, hitting .273 with a little pop. Once again, Winceniak earned a trip to spring training and stayed with the Cubs in April and early May while Ernie Banks nursed a small injury. Playing in a doubleheader on May 12th, Winceniak hit his first major league homer off of Hal Jeffcoat, then singled in the nightcap – giving him three hits in six trips for the two games.
They were his last two games of his major league career.
Instead, the Cubs got Banks back and gave the next shot to other younger infielders. Winceniak was dispatched to Portland for the remainder of the season. Winceniak kept playing in the PCL, staying in Portland in 1958, then being bought by Denver for the 1959 season. Half-way through that season, Winceniak found himself in Seattle. When the 1959 season ended, so did Winceniak’s baseball career.
According to the book “Baseball Players of the 1950s”, which has biographical sketches of every player who played during that decade, Winceniak returned home with his wife and took a position with the Republic Steel Corporation for the next 25 years. In his summers, he would scout some for the Atlanta Braves and Montreal Expos. After a stint with Dekker Electric company, he retired in 1993 and still lives in Chicago today.
The Sporting News:
Hoffman, John C. “Bruin Bosses Have Fall Preview of Spring-Daisy Chain Prospects.” The Sporting News, September 29, 1954, Page 24.
Western League Notes – The Sporting News, September 15, 1954, Page 37.
Hoffman, John C. “Bring-’Em-Up Wid Giving Cubs Different Look for Next Season.” The Sporting News, October 20, 1954, Page 16.
“A Friend-ly Gesture.” The Sporting News, June 6, 1956, Page 17.
Books Containing Biographical Information include:
1949 California League Gold Book
Baseball Players of the 1950s
Baseball Digest Scouting Reports:
March, 1956, Page 34
March, 1957, Page 33