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Claysburg man once faced Kiner

Commentary

March 23, 2014
Jim Wentz (sports@altoonamirror.com) , The Altoona Mirror

Bob Gordon, 81, of Claysburg read my Mirror memoir about Ralph Kiner last month and had his own memory of actually pitching to Kiner.

It happened in 1953 in an exhibition game between Kiner's Pittsburgh Pirates and Gordon's Fort Meade team, a club made up of Army all-stars.

Gordon was in the Pirate farm system before being drafted. The Army assembled a team of professional baseball players and stationed them at Fort Meade.

How Gordon came to be on the mound against Kiner is a story in itself.

In 1951, one year out of Claysburg High School, the 19-year-old Gordon was playing in Duncansville and was approached by Tom Irwin Sr. of Altoona, who had managed a pro team in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada.

Irwin invited Gordon to join his team, an offer that was quickly accepted.

In St. Thomas, he pitched well enough to draw the interest of a Pirate scout. This turned into a tryout at Forbes Field on Sept. 1, 1951, when the Pirates were on the road, and the field was vacant.

"The only people there were me, my dad Ted, Pirate executive and Hall of Famer George Sisler, and bullpen catcher Lenny Levy," Gordon recalled recently.

After watching Gordon throw, Sisler and Levy conferred, and Sisler remarked to Gordon, "Levy says you have a major league fastball."

That resulted in a contract and a bonus of $3,000.

"I bought a new car and had a thousand left over," Gordon remembered.

Shortly thereafter, he received a telegram from the Pirates offering him a space at a special October training camp at Deland, Fla.

"I took a bus from Breezewood," Gordon said.

In Florida, he enjoyed the company of other professionals and Pittsburgh general manager Branch Rickey.

"Mr. Rickey was an interesting guy. He spoke to us every morning," Gordon said, adding he and Rickey played checkers.

"He trounced me."

Gordon recently saw the movie "42" about the life of Jackie Robinson, whose career was made possible by Rickey.

"The actor playing Branch had his voice and body language down pat," Gordon said.

Gordon spent the 1952 season at Waco, Texas, and Bartlesville, Okla., and his record was 16-5. Being drafted into the Army interrupted his Pirate experience. But the Army used his pitching skills on its base team. That's what lead to the game against the Pirates and Gordon facing Kiner.

The Bucs jumped off to a 6-0 lead during the first three innings.

"I pitched the fourth through sixth innings and didn't give up a run," Gordon said.

Kiner came to bat once during that time and flied out to left. Gordon's encounter with Kiner was a memory to last a lifetime.

After discharge from the Army, Gordon returned to the Pirate organization in 1955 with its farm team in Burlington, N.C.

"I had a record of 1-0 when my arm began bothering me to the point I had to give up my career," he said. "I returned to Claysburg, but surprisingly, the Pirates did not give me an official release until 1958."

Gordon worked for Veeder Root in Duncansville and became a senior manager of the facility.

He also resumed playing for Claysburg area teams in the Blair Twilight League and was an annual all-star.

Jim Wentz writes a monthly column for the Mirror and is an occasional contributor to the Voice of the Fan.

 
 

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