Friday, May 17, 2019

#45 Gus Zernial - Kansas City Athletics

Gus Edward Zernial
Kansas City Athletics

Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  6'2"  Weight:  210
Born:  June 27, 1923, Beaumont, TX
Drafted:  Drafted by the Cleveland Indians from Atlanta (Southern Association) in the 1946 rule 5 draft
Major League Teams:  Chicago White Sox 1949-1951; Philadelphia Atheltics 1951-1954; Kansas City Athletics 1955-1957; Detroit Tigers 1958-1959
Died:  January 20, 2011, Fresno, CA (age 87)

The last great slugger for the Philadelphia Athletics before their move to Kansas City, Gus Zernial played 11 big league seasons and tallied 237 home runs and 776 RBIs.  He owned a lifetime batting average of .265 and was an All-Star with the A's in 1953.  He singled off the Phillies' Robin Roberts (#180) in that game, and struck out against Warren Spahn (#10).

He was consistently one of the American League's top home run threats in the early to mid-1950s, hitting more home runs (177, tied with Al Rosen - #35) than any other junior circuit player.  Only Mickey Mantle (#135) and Yogi Berra (#110) would finish the decade of the 1950s with more home runs (280 and 256 respectively) than Zernial who hit 232.  He led the league in home runs (33) and RBIs (129) in 1951 and hit a career-high 42 home runs in 1953.

As told in his SABR biography, linked below, Zernial is credited with connecting Joe DiMaggio with Marilyn Monroe following a photo shoot with Zernial and Monroe during spring training 1951.

Building the Set
December 6, 1998 in Raleigh, NC - Card #172
I bought two cards from the Sports Card & Memorabilia Show in Raleigh in early December 1998 - this Zernial card for $5 and the Rosen card for $8.  I inadvertently went with an American League sluggers of the 1950s theme that day.

The Card
For once, the play at the plate doesn't feature a Berra cameo.  Looking at the American League rosters in 1955 along with the uniform numbers of their catchers, the catcher could be #18 Hal Naragon of the Indians (#311), #12 Les Moss of the White Sox, #10 Red Wilson of the Tigers (#92), or #11 Clint Courtney of the Senators (#159).  Only after doing that research did I realize Zernial is wearing #19, a uniform number he hadn't worn since 1954 when the A's were still in Philadelphia.  When the team made the move to Kansas City, Zernial switched to #30.  The identity of the catcher remains a mystery.

The first panel on the back notes Zernial's nickname, "Ozark Ike," after a popular comic-strip character from the time.  Zernial is one of four players in the set whose last name begins with the letter Z.  The others are Norm Zauchin (#89), Don Zimmer (#99) and George Zuverink (#276).

1956 Season
Zernial played just 109 games in 1956 for the A's, splitting time in left field with Lou Skizas.  The A's finished in the basement of the American League under manager Lou Boudreau, with a record of 52-102.  Zernial finished third on the team with 16 home runs, behind Harry Simpson (#239) and Hector Lopez (#16), who hit 21 and 18 respectively.  Zernial hit .224 and had 44 RBIs.

1950 Bowman #4
1951 Topps Red Backs #36
1952 Topps #31
1959 Topps #409
Other Notable Baseball Cards
First Mainstream Card:  1950 Bowman #4
First Topps Card:  1951 Topps Red Backs #36
Last Topps Card:  1959 Topps #409
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  2008 Topps Heritage Real One Autographs #ROA-GEZ

70 - Zernial non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 3/16/19.

Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
The Trading Card Database

In some cases, the first and last cards listed above are subjective and chosen by me if multiple cards were released within the same year.  Most recent mainstream card may also be subjective and does not include extremely low serial numbered cards, buybacks or cut autograph cards.


  1. I remember reading about Monroe and DiMaggio when I was researching Zernial's 52T card. Impressed with your detective work.
    Hope you're able to solve the catcher mystery one day.

  2. I think it is Mickey Grasso of the Senators, and the picture was taken in 1951-53, when Zernial wore #19 for the A's and Grasso wore #11 for the Senators. The field looks a lot like Griffith Stadium, which had a lot of dirt in front of the plate like this picture does. Also, look at the 1953 Topps card #148 of Grasso--it looks just like this picture, especially the nose.

    Of the above, I am fairly certain. Here's where I will take an educated guess--it was April 21, 1953 ( In the 7th inning, Zernial scored from second on a single to 3B. How does that happen? The runner likely beat the throw out at first and Zernial kept going home. There almost certainly would have been a play at the plate, with the ball coming from first. The ball on the card looks like it is coming from the catcher's right. It looks like Zernial could have knocked it out with his slide, if Grasso ever had it. Also, the shadows are coming directly from home to the mound, but with a high grandstand behind home, that must be from the field lights, so it would have been a night game, which April 21, 1953 was. And for a night game in April in DC, the players would most likely be wearing long sleeves under their jerseys, which they are. Finally, Topps would likely have had photographers out earlier in the year taking pictures for the later series, so I would guess it is more likely a spring game than a September game. Back then, Topps regularly used photos that were more than a year old, so no surprise there.

  3. Update--after reading my comment above, my brother told me that the shadow in a night game would be more diffuse from the multiple lights shining down and that the shadow on the card looks like a fairly high sun caused the shadow instead.

    Well, two days later, April 23, 1953 ( the Athletics and Senators played a day game and Zernial scored from 2B, also in the 7th inning, on a single to LF that seems to have had a play at the plate, because after he scored the catcher threw to the shortstop who threw to the third baseman (a rundown?) to retire Pete Suder, running behind Zernial, at 3B. This card could well show the play at home on Zernial. Maybe the ball got away from the catcher, leading Suder to try to come home as well, resulting in him being tagged out by the third baseman after a short rundown.

    Also, there are not many (if any) nighttime shots on baseball cards in the 1950s, probably because they couldn't get good pictures, so I think it is likely this was taken at a day game and not the night game I proposed above.

    I didn't check the other games Zernial played at Griffith Stadium in 1951-53, so it could also be a different game entirely.

  4. Fantastic detective work and thanks for adding this here! I'm going with 4/23/53 and Mickey Grasso as the now identified catcher.