Happy Birthday, Al Piechota!

Al Piechota was the son of Polish immigrants whose strong fastball earned him a ticket to the major leagues, but his throwing arm’s inability to stay healthy sent him, instead, on a nomadic run through the minor leagues all over the United States.

Aloysius Edward Piechota was born on 19 January 1914, the son of Mike and Eleanor (Jarek) Piechota, both Polish immigrants who arrived shortly after the turn of the century and married not long after meeting in 1904. Mike worked as a molder in an iron foundry while Eleanor was busy with a large family. They had eight kids, with Aloysius Edward landing at #5 when he was born. Both parents spoke Polish and had elementary school educations.

al piechota and davenport blue sox 1933

You can find Al at the top right next to the team president.  This is the 1933 Davenport Blue Sox, who were pennant winners of the Mississippi Valley League.

Learning the game in the parks and streets of Chicago, Al got his start pitching for the Davenport Blue Sox in the Mississippi Valley League in 1933 where he went 19 – 4, fanned 120 and walked 142 in 184 innings. At first he and another player were sold to Chattanooga in the Southern Association. He worked in a few exhibitions for the Look Outs during spring training, including a win over Cincinnati’s backups and once pitched the last three innings of a game against the New York Yankees, where he got hit a lot (and beaned Lou Gehrig). After spring training, he was returned to Davenport.

“Piechota was brought to Davenport from the sandlots of Chicago three years ago. He has been a consistent winner since joining the local club.” – Waterloo Courier, 01 August 1935, Page 14.

Piechota stayed in Davenport for two more seasons, improving his control each season (going 49 – 21 over three years).  The 1934 season was one of good weeks and weeks with a sore arm.  He was completely healthy, though, in the third season.  At the midpoint of the 1935 season, Piechota first received attention from major league scouts. In one game, he fanned ten and walked one while allowing just four hits in an eleven-inning win over Council Bluffs. It raised his record to 12 – 4 on the season, and he added a hit to his .328 batting average. (When he wasn’t pitching, he pinch it, played right field, and first base.) And, it was rumored that he was about to be sold to Washington for $2,000. However, the Senators would be outbid. The New York Yankees offered $3,000, had Newark make the offer on their behalf, and expected him to report to Newark in the spring of 1936.

“Al Piechota is getting a lot of favorable mention in Newark… The lad has the mechanism to be a great pitcher but a good manager, one who understands Al, is needed before he attains greatness… Will Al get that kind of help at Newark?”

Kerndt, Neuman. “Few Rookies are Making Good; Lamanski Going Great on Coast; Debate Rages About Joe Cronin” Quad City Times, 19 April 1936, Page 34.

Piechota pitched pretty well for a very good Newark team in 1936, and while Newark was even better (loaded, really) a slow start in 1937 led to his being traded to the Oakland Oaks along with Merrill May for Lewis Nathan Blair and Marvin Howard (Floppy) Breuer.  Piechota pitched great there – Oakland was on the way toward the top of the PCL. However, the Yankees purchased Kansas City in the American Association and, since they still held Piechota’s rights, moved him there, angering Oakland fans.

al piechota with yankees in 1939Despite a middling 10 – 10 record, Piechota had a pretty good season with Kansas City in 1938 and was invited to spring training with the Yankees in 1939.  He didn’t make the parent club, but was a solid pitcher for Blues in 1939 (16 – 7, 3.33).  The Yankees trusted their current pennant winning pitching staff and made Piechota available to other teams.  The Boston Bees, looking to get a younger pitching staff, traded for a bunch of young arms and acquired Piechota for Casey Stengel’s staff.

After several good to solid minor league seasons, Piechota never really succeeded with the Bees.  He made a few starts, a couple of them only an inning in length. Had some success out of the bullpen, but after one appearance in 1941, he was sold to the Hollywood Stars of the PCL.

“Piechota was purchased by the Braves for $20,000 from the Yanks chain last year and then shipped to Hollywood when he developed a sore arm. The Hollywood climate didn’t improve his whip. He lost three, won one out here and the (San Francisco) Seals refused to take him after Hollywood turned him back to the Braves.  Piechota won five out of six decisions during the late season with Hartford and (Charley) Graham has been advised that the righthander’s arm is now strong.”

McGee, Jim. “Seals’ Deal Fill Over Half of Needs for ’42”, The Sporting News, 18 December 1941, Page 12.

Piechota didn’t report to the Seals in 1942 expecting to be drafted into the Army, so he stayed home in Chicago. The Seals returned his rights to Boston.  According to records, he officially enlisted in the US Army in October, 1943 and served until the end of World War II.  Prior to his call up, he pitched on army teams briefly, then, when war was over, was on a National Baseball Congress champion semi-pro team out of St. Joseph, Michigan for 1946.

Piechota landed in Little Rock for the next three years – battling more arm trouble. The Sporting News noted “Al Piechota, Little Rock right hander who feared a recurrence of bone chips in his elbow after recent tightness in his arm, learned August 18 that there was nothing seriously wrong with his wing and that he would be able to return to action on a few days…”  Despite three straight solid seasons – the last as the ace of the Little Rock staff – Piechota bounced around three more cities the next two seasons and returned to Chicago where he played in a few semi-pro teams.

Piechota passed to the next league on 13 June 1996. His obituary listed no wife or children, but all of his siblings and a crowd of nieces and nephews.

Sources:

Retrosheet.Org
Baseball-Reference.com

US Veteran Affairs BIRLS Death File
1920, 1930 US Census

“Mississippi Valley League Averages”, Davenport Daily Times, 09 November 1933, Page 15.

“Davenport, Rock Island to Become Members of Newly Organized Three-I League”, Quad City Times, 17 December 1933, Page 17.

“Yankees Larrup Lookouts, 14 – 3, To End Streak”, New York Daily News, 11 April 1934, Pages 48-49.

Kautz, Leo. “Sport Shots”, Davenport Daily Times, 19 April 1934, Page 16.

“Piechota Hurls Great Ball As Davenport Wins 11-inning Game by 2 – 1”, Quad City Times, 29 July 1935, Page 8.

“Davenport Makes Deals on Pair of Leading Pitchers”, Waterloo Courier, 01 August 1935, Page 14.

Kerndt, Neuman. “Few Rookies are Making Good; Lamanski Going Great on Coast; Debate Rages About Joe Cronin” Quad City Times, 19 April 1936, Page 34.

“Bears Hug First Place, But Vitt Remains Wary”, The Sporting News, 03 June 1937, Page 2.

Byrne, Emmons. “Oaks Sway As Yankees Remove Pitching Prop”, The Sporting News, 19 August 1937, Page 1.

Stevens, Howell. “Ol’ Casey Relying on Youth to Get Rise Out of Bees; Honeycombed Staff Sweetened Up With Newcomers”, The Sporting News, 22 February 1940, Page 5.

McGee, Jim. “Seals’ Deal Fill Over Half of Needs for ’42”, The Sporting News, 18 December 1941, Page 12.

McGee, Jim. “Seals Not As Slick as O’Doul Expects”, The Sporting News, 26 March 1942, Page 8.

“Farmer Stuns Favorites in Wichita Meet”, The Sporting News, 04 September 1946, Page 13.

“Rocks Catch Up With Bobo”, The Sporting News, 31 August 1949, Page 36.

Obituary, Chicago Tribune, 16 June 1996, Section 4, Page 7.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s