Julio Urias has Erv Palica next on his list

erv_palica_autograph

With eight more strikeouts Julio Urias is moving up the all-time Dodger strikeout leader-board for pitchers 20 and under. Julio already has the most strikeouts in LAD history for a 19 year old, so I thought I’d mosey over into all time Dodger territory. An area I rarely tread onto but I go where the stories are and Erv Palica is a great story.

I’d never heard of Erv Palica but sabreorg/bioproj has and the story is interesting enough that I thought I’d drop a line about him. Erv had 75 strikeouts through age 20, and Julio has 70 after today.

Only six Dodgers have struck out more than 60 hitters through the completion of the age 20 season using baseball-reference baseball age, and the list is a complete who’s who of Dodger baseball.

Except Erv Palica.

You have Drysdale, Fernando, Branca, Kershaw, Podres, Palica, Urias, and Koufax.

So who was he?

Just like Julio Urias, Erv Palica was signed at the tender age of 16, still a junior at Harbor High school.

I thought Erv had joined the team the same year as Jackie Robinson in 1947 because that is what Baseball Reference showed on his pitching page. But no, Erv actually joined the team at the age of 17 as a pinch runner because at the time Branch Rickey thought he was going to be shortstop.  Erv would get into two games as a pinch runner in 1945 and then was sent back to the minor leagues. His being a SS never took and he would pitch for the Dodgers from 1947 – 1954 with some major happenings. Those teams lost to the Yankees four times in the World Series. He then had the misfortune of being traded before 1955 and thus missed out on getting his World Series ring with the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers after having had to deal with losing four World Series.

Palica had his best season in 1950 when he was finally inserted into the rotation full time in the second half and responded by leading the team in strikeouts even though he logged sixty innings less than Don Newcombe.  He was instrumental in the late run by the Dodgers that just fell short of catching the famous 1950 Whiz Kids. Heck he even hit a grand slam that year.

But all was not great for Palica. His new manager in 1951 was Charlie Dressen, and Dressen was not a fan. Dressen had two problems with Palica. The first was that he felt that Palica’s best pitch was his fastball but he rarely used it, and thus Dressen felt Palica was a coward. If that wasn’t bad enough he also thought Palica was a hypochondriac and it came to a head one day after a tough loss on July 19th:

When asked to comment on Palica, he grabbed his throat in a choking gesture and ordered reporters to put it in print. He then launched into a tirade: “He’s got more alibis than Carter’s has liver pills! If it isn’t his fanny it’s his arm! If it’s not that, it’s his groin! If it’s not that, he’s worried about his wife! If it’s not that, he can’t run with his high blood pressure! If it’s not that, the Army is going to get him!”

“The guy is a joke around the team,” Dressen continued. “The players laugh at him. One day when he said he was ready, they gave him a big hand of applause in the clubhouse.”

After that outburst by his manager, Palica was only used four more times by Dressen. Could be the case of someone cutting off his nose to spite his face. The Dodgers/Giants of course ended 1951 in a tie, and the Dodgers would lose the playoff series. One can imagine a scenario where the manager instead of breaking his ballplayer did the opposite and got the most out of him and thus might have won 1951 instead of losing it.

Palica was in military service for 1952/1953 but was available to the team from time to time though rarely used by Dressen. By 1954 Dressen had moved on but Palica could never regain his 1950 form and the Dodgers traded him in the winter of 1954.

The “hypochondriac” died at the young age of 54 to a heart attack after a 15 plus year as a longshoreman in Southern California. I guess the high blood pressure really existed.  Even though he lived in Southern California he was never invited to any LAD activities, which could be one reason why I’m just reading about him now.

As I read the different stories I’m now sure I’d read about Palica before because I can’t imagine not reading the Boys of Summer, or the books about those Brooklyn Dodgers without his name coming up, but right now I was blank about him until I read about him today.

Bob Uecker was a fan according to the Baseball Almanac:

“Erv Palica had so many pitches, the catcher had to take off his mitt to give the sign.” – Joe Becker in Baseball’s Greatest Quotes (1982)

 

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