A long-time minor league player from Minneapolis who just missed being a member of the early 1900s Chicago Cubs, John Francis (Jack) Zalusky played in seven games with the New York Highlanders at the end of their first season in the Big Apple. He got five hits in his sixteen at bats (and a walk) drove in a run, scored twice, and struck out five times.
Born 22 June 1879 to Frank and Barbara Zalusky (his father was a Minneapolis police officer), and one of seven baseball playing boys, Zalusky was a catcher at the University of Minnesota. Zalusky starred there, and was called “…the corner stone of the university team of 1900, which was probably the best team the ‘U’ ever had.”
After a stint playing semi-professional baseball in Rock Rapids, Iowa, he followed another Golden Gopher, Walter Wilmot, to the Louisville Night Riders of the Western Association for the 1901 season. This team was loaded with former National League players, including Germany Smith, Jouett Meekin, and Gus Weyhing. The team started in Louisville, but finished in Grand Rapids – and finished by winning the Western Association pennant. Zalusky’s fine season got him a contract with Chicago in the National League and he went to spring training where he showed considerable promise. However, the Remnants had a load of good young catchers (Johnny Kling and Frank Chance, for starters) so he was sold back to the Minneapolis Millers for 1902 – a team managed by Walter Wilmot.
Zalusky didn’t get off to a good start in Minneapolis. For starters, the Grand Rapids ownership claimed they still held the rights to Zalusky. That group moved their team to Columbus for 1902 and they started calling him Jumpalusky – and even got the fans and other owners and managers to give Zalusky a hard time no matter where he played. On top of that Zalusky very nearly beat out Johnny Kling for the last spot on the Cubs roster. He could have been a member of those future World Series teams had things broken the right way. The New York Highlanders tried to trade for him near the end of spring training. Jack had to be wondering why he wasn’t playing in the major leagues.
Unhappy with the Millers, he struggled for the first two months of the season and was released. He briefly played at Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Then, he was offered $200 per month to play with Tacoma in Washington – and their season continued into December, so it was a good opportunity to play and get paid. Considering he started spring training in February – that was a long season…
He was traded to Spokane before the start of the 1903 season where he became a popular player due to his hustle and toughness. The Pacific National League had financial problems, though, as August came to a close. Spokane sold Zalusky to the Highlanders, who had tried to acquire him the previous spring. After his brief tryout there, he was sent down to Toledo (exchanged for Red Kleinow) for the 1904 season but Zalusky jumped that team to head to Altoona, an independent team that apparently offered more per month ($250) than the $185 per month offered by Toledo management. That got him in trouble with the Association owners, who suspended him from professional league play – but he was reinstated and allowed to play for St. Paul in 1905 – only to be released and signed by Indianapolis, then returned because Indy refused to pay for him. Before long he was sold to the Denver Teddy Bears (yes, they were the Teddy Bears) – and despite complaining about being sold there, he actually stayed for four seasons. It was the only time Jack really settled down in one baseball city.
By then, as happens with all catchers, his back and knees ached and he was able to play more first base. Until 1909, that is. A wrenched knee led to being dispatched to a lower level league in Wilkes-Barre and finally La Crosse in the Minny League for 1910. The La Crosse Outcasts were kind enough to give him a contract that didn’t include a reserve clause – he could sign wherever he wanted when the season ended. What he wanted, after years of traveling, was to return to Minnesota, so Zalusky took on coaching a semi-pro team in Alexandria, Minnesota for a year before hanging up the gear as a paying job.
Though his professional career ended, he stayed in Minneapolis and remained involved in baseball. He played semi-pro baseball into his 40s, umpired in the Northwest Association and, with his brother Joe, was a charter member of the “Old Guards of the Diamond”, an organization of former ballplayers who lived in the Twin Cities. He was a later a guard at the First National Bank and apparently had an enviable stamp collection.
Later in his life, he turned into one of those “Back in my day…” types, claiming he once caught 174 games without missing an inning for Louisville in 1900… (Not true – it was more like 129 out of about 140 games, which was a LOT of work…) He did catch both ends of double headers, though, and he was tough and courageous as a good catcher should be. In 1903, the Spokane Press noted:
“The two days’ rest the team gets now is appreciated by none so much as Jack Zalusky, Spokane’s plucky backstop. Jack is big and bold and is always getting slammed against something or another. When he don’t run into a fence after a foul, the batter tips a foul to his wheels, and to make a real strong play of it, the fellow on the slab often passes Jack a gentle reminder of his service. Hardly a game has been played in which Zalusky didn’t get some kind of a sore spot for his hard work.”
He died on 11 August 1935 after heart disease had taken its toll over the previous seven months. He left behind a wife, Margaret, and a son, Thomas, plus three of the seven brothers (Joseph, Frank, and Anthony). Margaret, for what it’s worth, lived until 1983, passing away at the age of 97.
“Wilmot Nows Has Fourteen Men”, Louisville Courier-Journal, 13 April 1901, Page 10.
“Louisvillke Hopes for Good Start”, Indianapolis News, 24 April 1901, Page 8.
“Wilmot Wins The Pennant”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 24 September 1901, Page 5.
“Passed Balls”, Philadelphia Inquirer, 03 January 1902, Page 10.
“Youngsters Look Good to Selee”, Chicago Inter Ocean, 01 April 1902, Page 4.
Photo from Chicago Inter Ocean, 04 April 1902, Page 4.
Tinker is #3 in top row, Chance is center of Bottom Row, Zalusky is first in bottom row, and Fred Glade is at far right of front row.
“The Fans’ Day Off”, Minneapolis Journal, 23 April 1902, Page 13.
“Millers Lose Opening Game”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 24 April 1902, Page 5.
“Caught Off First”, Detroit Free Press, 09 May 1902, Page 9.
“Fans Go Wild With Delight”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 31 May 1902, Page 2.
“Zalusky Goes to Tacoma”, Minneapolis Journal, 27 August 1902, Page 15.
“Sporting Notes”, The Spokane Press, 02 June 1903, Page 4.
“Lefty Davis Has Returned”, Minneapolis Journal, 25 March 1904, Page 5.
“Millers Lose to the Illini”, Minneapolis Journal, 07 April 1904, Page 8.
“Badly Crippled.” Altoona Tribune, 26 August 1904, Page 3.
Philadelphia Inquirer, 25 June 1905, Page 14.
“Zalusky is Balking”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 30 March 1906, Page 3.
“Jack Zalusky With Denver”, Altoona Tribune, 04 March 1909, Page 10.
“Western League Gossip”, Wichita Beacon, 17 May 1909, Page 7.
Farrington, Dick. “Jack Zalusky Quits Baseball to Engage in Business Here”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 24 December 1912, Page 12.
“Old Time Ball Tossers Play Dinner Date”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 06 December 1927, Page 8.
“Players Babied Too Much Now, Says Jack Zalusky”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 26 March 1933, Page 5.
“Jack Zalusky, City Ball Figure, Dies”, 12 August 1935, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Page 10.
Margaret B. Zalusky Obit, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 16 October 1983, Page 1-M.
STRANGE BUT TRUE – SAYS HE PLAYED FOR WASHINGTON on 9/2/1903 – the “mini” box says he was in the battery for Washington against New York (Lee, Townsend and Zelusky; Chesbro and McCauley). They just got the data backwards in the wire feed…
“Diamond Glistenings”, Oregon Daily Journal, 03 September 1903, Page 5.