Arnold Thesenga was an historical footnote in a summer baseball story at the time Yohan Pino joined the Minnesota Twins and made his first start. Pino would set a record of sorts, becoming the oldest player to make his first start for the Twins or Washington Senators in the 114-year history of the franchise. Pino, at 30 years and 175 days old, topped the record held by Thesenga who was about 50 days younger when he faced the Yankees on September 2, 1944.
Who the heck is Arnold Thesenga?
Arnold “Jug” Thesenga was a replacement player – someone who got a gig with a major league team during World War II because so many other players were off to war.
Thesenga was born on April 27, 1914 in Jefferson, South Dakota. A good athlete, the high school letterman would go to Southern Normal School in Springfield (later known as The University of South Dakota at Springfield) where he played football and baseball. Upon graduation, he signed to pitch for Sioux City in the Western League, an A level league where he showed a little promise. Thesenga was then recruited to the Philadelphia A’s by Connie Mack where he got to pitch batting practice for a few weeks. Mack decided Thesenga needed more seasoning, so he was sent back to the Western League. However, Thesenga bounced around for a couple of years and after the 1939 season decided he was done with the bush leagues. He became a tool and die worker, settling in Wichita where he could work in the defense industry and play semi-pro baseball on the side.
Thesenga’s teams were good enough to play in the National Baseball Congress championships in Wichita on several occasions – he was so good during the early 1940s that he won more games at NBC tournaments than any other player in its history, and appeared in nine different tournaments. He is a member of the Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame and a 1995 inductee to the National Baseball Congress Hall of Fame. There is a sculpture recognizing his accomplishments at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in Wichita.
It was while pitching in the 1944 NBC World Series that a baseball scout signed Thesenga to a $2500 contract to finish the season for the Senators. Put on a plane immediately, Thesenga said he was sick to his stomach for the duration of the flight, he flew to New York and faced the Yankees. Allowing five hits and eight walks, the Senator defense held steady enough to hold the Yankees to just two earned runs. The Yankees pulled ahead later, but Washington rallied to win the game. Thesenga didn’t get a decision.
Thesenga appeared in four more outings, all in relief, before the season came to an end – and Thesenga’s career. He returned to Wichita, didn’t take up Washington’s invitation to spring training, and instead stayed involved in local semi-pro baseball programs for the rest of his life. Thesenga passed to the next stadium on December 3, 2002.
Rives, Bob. “Baseball in Wichita”. 2004, Arcadia Publishing.
Cleve, Craig Allen. “Baseball on the Home Front: Major League Replacement Players of World War II”, 2004. McFarland Publishing, Pages 171, 172.
Berardino, Mike. “Yohan Pino will be oldest Twins starter to make major league debut”, Pioneer Press. 6/18/2014
Baseball Reference (Website)
National Baseball Congress (Website)