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April 27, 2010

You Can Blog It Up

Dead Player of the Day and Other Notes #17

by Steven Goldman

DEAD PLAYER OF THE DAY (Adam Comorosky Edition)

In which I open the encyclopedia to a page at random and riff on what I find.

In the hospital in which my father is slowly recuperating from a heart attack, there is a series of promotional photos on the wall of the main hallway. This is one of them:

I must have walked past it 20 times before I realized the kid had just won a game of Monopoly. I thought he was just excited to have survived his brain operation without needing a diaper.

Adam Comorosky OF 1926-1935 (1905-1951)

One of the great one-year wonders, Comorosky was born and died in Swoyersville, Pennsylvania, near Wilkes-Barre. It was a mining town, and beginning at age 12, Comorosky headed into the depths to make his living while playing baseball on the side. “He started as a breaker boy,” said The Sporting News, “following with ‘nipping,’ a specialized job that called for opening and closing doors so that dangerous gasses could be kept under control, and became an expert mule driver.” As with other ballplayers who were refugees from the Pennsylvania mines, like the future Hall of Famer Stan Coveleski, he was very grateful to get a job on, as he put it, the outside. If you get one, he said, “you value that job.” If you've ever worked in a mine or a cubicle, you know what he meant.

Comorosky had excelled all over the diamond as an amateur, with his best work coming on the mound. When he signed his first professional contract, with the Waynesboro Villagers of the Blue Ridge League in 1925, a decision had to be made as to whether the 5’10” right-hander should be developed as a pitcher or hitter. Waynesboro chose “hitter,” and though there’s no record of why they went the way they did, if I had to guess my answer would be “speed.” Despite being bowlegged (“They fed the animals I rode pretty well… I had to stretch some to get my legs around that generously built body of the mule”), Comorosky could run, hence his nickname, “The Polish Flier.”

After hitting .307 with 25 doubles, 26 triples and three home runs for Williamsport of the New York-Penn League, the 20-year-old got his first cup of coffee with the Pirates in September, 1926. The Pirates had two solid, young outfielders in Kiki Cuyler and Paul Waner, and a third future Hall of Famer, Max Carey, who was winding down his career, so there wasn’t much of an opening. The Pirates went through an infamous housecleaning that August after a squabble between the players and manager Bill McKechnie on one side and team executive Fred Clarke on the other, but even though Carey was let go, Lloyd Waner arrived to take his spot for ’27. Another opening would seem to have been created when new manager Donie Bush got into a rather pointless dispute with Cuyler, benching and subsequently trading him, but the best Comorosky could manage, despite hitting .398 with 33 doubles, 15 triples, and 11 home runs for Wichita of the Western League was another September call-up. The Pirates won the pennant that year, but Comorosky did not participate in their being swept by the Yankees in the World Series.

Moving up to the Indianapolis Indians in 1928, Comorosky had another good year, batting .357/.409/.544 with 14 doubles, 12 triples, and eight home runs in 89 games. The Pirates’ outfield was still booked, and he was up and down, getting into 51 games and hitting .295/.354/.398. The following spring, the Pittsburgh Press called him a disappointment and said that over-sensitivity to hazing by his teammates might have been the reason he had failed to stick. Bush instructed his veterans to leave the young man alone, and, perhaps not coincidentally, regular status finally arrived in May when Comorosky took over left field. He hit .321/.377/.461 with 26 doubles, 11 triples, six home runs, and 19 steals, decent but not great production in a league that hit .294/.357/.426. Nonetheless, he did join the Waner brothers in giving the Pirates an all-.300-hitting outfield. He also joined Paul in a little clubhouse band, contributing banjo and guitar work in support of Paul’s saxophone.

In 1930, Comorosky’s bat lifted off with the rabbit ball. He hit .313/.371/.529 with a ton of extra-base hits: 47 doubles, a league-leading 23 triples, and 12 home runs. No Pirates right-hander had more doubles until Freddy Sanchez in 2006. As for more triples, we’re still waiting (see below). Batting cleanup for the Buccos, he drove in 119 runs and scored 112. He was just 24 years old, and more great things were anticipated… But they didn’t happen. “Commy” never hit well again. He had some kind of illness at the start of the 1931 season—it might have been mumps—which would seem to be too transient a cause for a permanent slump, but in 99 games in 1931 he hit only .243/.310/.291 and fell into a platoon halfway through the season. He didn’t hit his first triple until his 30th game. In 1932 he hit only  .286/.337/.389. In all, over the final 457 games of his career, spanning five years, he hit only .263/.315/.334. He just wasn’t the same player.

By 1933, Comorosky was strictly reserve material, pushed to the bench when the Pirates acquired a disgruntled Freddie Lindstrom from the Giants. In November, 1933, the Pirates dealt him to Cincinnati with fellow Pennsylvania Pole Tony Piet for Red Lucas the “chunky pitching ace” of the Reds. It was Reds’ GM Larry MacPhail’s first major-league trade, and not a good one. The rebuilding Reds gave him 491 plate appearances but he hit just .258/.315/.312, good for a painful -2.1 WARP. He was gone from the majors after one more season in a part-time role. He worked his way back down through the majors over the next few years, never hitting enough to get another look.  

Comorosky’s biggest accomplishments on a major-league diamond:

  1. Those 23 triples in 1930. In all the years since, the total has twice been equaled (Dale Mitchell, 1949, and Curtis Granderson, 2007), but never surpassed. You still see Comorosky’s name is newspaper accounts, usually in a sentence that goes something like, “X had the most triples since Adam Comorosky in 1930…”
  2. He had two unassisted double plays in 1931, joining Tris Speaker  (1918) and Ralph Seybold (1907) as the only outfielders to do so twice in a single season. In both cases, a runner was on second base and a sinking liner was hit to center for a sure single. Comorosky grabbed the ball off of his shoe-tops, then kept running to second to double off the runner, who was already halfway home.
  3. In the Cincinnati’s 1934 season opener, the CubsLon Warneke pitched 8 1/3 no-hit innings against the Reds. The no-hitter was broken up by Comorosky. Warneke went on to complete the one-hitter, but history was denied.

He was only 46 when he died after a “long illness.” Random fact: Adam had an older sister named Eve.

Just Something I Felt Like Noting

The Pirates entered last night’s game having allowed 7.22 runs per game. Incredibly, that number went up as they allowed 17 runs to the Brewers. Now they’re at 7.74. This could be a special team.

Related Question

Which team will finish the season with the worse record, the Orioles or the Pirates?

With Gratitude

Once again, I’d like to thank everyone who posted a comment or emailed in support of my father. It has been a very scary seven days if you’re a fellow who loves his dad, and I fall into that category. As I said above, he’s still recovering, but it seems like he will get to continue enjoying his grandchildren for some time to come. I was greatly moved by your support, the same support I have always received from the community of readers here at BP and at YES, and I will always be grateful that I have a job that brings me into contact with such generous people.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

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