Monday, November 11, 2013

August 10- Philadelphia Phillies

From May 10th to May 30th I cataloged and wrote about all of the 2012 Major League Baseball Stars and Stripes New Era caps I was able to get my hands on in honor of the men and women who served their country in the United States military and the ties they have to each team I wrote about. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find all 30 teams, but I did promise to continue on as I was able to track down each of the remaining teams. Lucky for me, a few of the teams were issued multiple caps which all corresponded with how many game caps each team used on the field. This would explain why I wrote two posts on the Oakland Athletics on May 21st and May 30th. Nonetheless, my original plan was to buy all of them because I loved the concept so much; however, with time being a years removed from when they were worn I’ll be lucky if I’m able to find the remaining teams. As it stands I have nine teams left to go: San Diego Padres, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels and the Chicago White Sox. There’s no telling when or if I’ll be able to find them, but the hunt and the stories that follow will be more than worth it.

You can go ahead and file this story under one of the more unusual, yet tragic stories that I have written about. Unusual in the sense that one man’s life path had so many close calls, but tragic because so many lives were lost along the way. Some of you may know this story, but I assure you I will do my best not to screw it up. I have my good friend Jason Cobb (@JasonMCobb) to thank for bringing it to my attention as my mind was really more focused on finding this Philadelphia Phillies cap as opposed to any good stories surrounding it. It was near the end of May when it was brought to my attention, right around the time when I was wrapping up on my Memorial Day posts. Jason had asked when teams I had upcoming as he is an avid reader of my blog. I rattled off the few caps I had and he asked if I had ever heard of Jack “Lucky” Lohrke. The name rung a bell, but I could put my finger on why. He then asked if I had a Phillies cap on order to which I said no. “That’s too bad,” he said. “If you get one you have to do a story on this guy,” he followed. I was intrigued. Jason has always been good about dropping some serious baseball knowledge on me and he would be the only person I’d humbly admit to knowing way more about the game than me. It was kind of a slow day at work so I was able to get a pretty thorough story before I went home and conducted my own investigation.

.190/0/1- Jack Wayne Lohrke was born Feb. 25, 1924, in Los Angeles, the second of three sons of John and Marguerite Lohrke. His father was employed by Fluor Corp, a global engineering and construction firm. Jack attended South Gate High School in LA where he dominated on the school’s baseball team. By the time he graduated (1942) he was playing semi-pro ball. His first minor league team was the Padres, but he played only seven games for them before joining a minor-league team in Twin Falls, Idaho, the Cowboys, a then-affiliate of the New York Yankees in the Pioneer Baseball League. He was named Twin Falls' most valuable player during his first year and met his future wife, Marie, who was the sister of another player. But, like a lot of his colleagues, when the time came to serve their country, Lohrke was not one to hesitate as he enlisted with the National Guard. Lohrke would soon find himself within the company of the 35th Infantry Division.

Lohrke was sent to train in San Luis Obispo, California. One day while riding on a train through California to ship off to war, the train Lohrke was on jumped off the tracks, killing three people around him while many more were severely burned by steaming water that rushed through the train car. Lohrke walked away without a scratch like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable. As a member of the 35th Infantry Division, he fought in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, one of the costliest of human lives. On four separate occasions solders on both sides of him were killed in combat, yet he emerged unscathed. In 1945 Lohrke had fulfilled his duties and he was sent back to the States. Lohrke's good fortune continued when he returned to the US. A colonel had bumped him at the last moment from the passenger list of a military transport plane that was scheduled to fly from Camp Kilmer, New Jersey to his home in Los Angeles. Less than an hour after the plane took off it crashed in Ohio, killing everyone on board.

After the war, and following his transition back to civilian life, Lohrke resumed his baseball career. The summer of 1946 found him playing for the Class B Spokane Indians of the Western International League. On June 24, 1946, Lohrke was a passenger on the team bus carrying the team as it traveled toward Bremerton, Washington, to begin a road trip. At the time, Lohrke was the team's third baseman and was batting .345 in 229 at bats. His performance had earned him a promotion to the AAA Pacific Coast League's San Diego Padres but the team was unable to contact him as he was in transit between cities. The Indians’ business manager contacted the police along the route and asked that they relay the message to Lohrke, which they did when the team stopped for dinner. Lohrke, under orders to report immediately to the Padres, removed his gear from the bus, said goodbye to his teammates, and hitched rides back to Spokane. Later that evening, the team bus broke through a guard rail on a mountain pass, plunged down a hill, and crashed. Of the 15 players on it, nine were killed, including player/manager Mel Cole. The six survivors were badly injured.

"When the bus took off . . . I bummed a ride back to Spokane," Lohrke said in a 1990 interview with the Los Angeles Times.. "When I got there I found out both of my roommates had been killed." Although he was accustomed to being lucky, Lohrke said, war had conditioned him to deal with disaster. "Having been in combat, what's going to shock you?" Lohrke said in 1990. "I'm a fatalist. I believe the old song, that whatever will be will be."

From the time he joined the Padres after the accident, Lohrke was called, for obvious reasons, "Lucky"-Lucky Lohrke, the ballplayer who got off the bus in the nick of time, the soldier bumped from the plane that crashed. The name stuck. Who else, after all, had more right to be called Lucky? He's in the Baseball Encyclopedia that way: Lucky Lohrke. An amiable man, he lived with the nickname, but he never liked it, never wanted to be reminded of how close he had come to riding that bus into oblivion. But what could he do about it? Sports Illustrated 1994

Lohrke played for seven years in the Majors, five of which came with the New York Giants from 1947-1951. From 1952-1953 he played in 37 games over two years with the Phillies, amassing a .190 average zero home runs and only one run batted-in. Lohrke’s time with the Giants was definitely more worthy of note (.244/22/95), but I already wrote about them.

After retiring from baseball in 1958, Lohrke worked in security for the Lockheed Missile and Space Co. in Sunnyvale, California and a few other companies all while living in San Jose. In April of 2009 Lohrke passed away, two days after suffering a stroke at the age of 85. Any bit of the legacy that he left behind is carried out in the few interviews he game to whomever came calling. Most notably, he lived and died by a quote he told Sports Illustrated in 1994 for a story headlined: "O Lucky Man" about the nickname he had bestowed upon him. He was known to have an aversion to storytelling or bragging about anything from his past. "My father didn't want heroes in our family." "When you're the age I was back then, you haven't got a worry in the world. You're playing ball because you want to play-and they're giving you money to do it. And then...well, sometimes those names spring back at me. I'll tell you this: Nobody outside of baseball calls me Lucky Lohrke these days. I may have been lucky, but the name is Jack. Jack Lohrke."

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