Pitcher Johnny “Bear Tracks” Schmitz Dies

Never a flashy autograph, always a legible one!
My signed letter was a close match to this
card from a half-century prior.

Pitcher Johnny “Bear Tracks” Schmitz has left life’s game at age 90.

I appreciated the obituary from his hometown paper in Wausua, Wisconsin. People there noticed him not just as a former major leaguer. They paid attention to him being a barber shop regular. He remained a part of the community after his baseball days ended.

He had signed 182 out of 190 requests, according to http://www.sportscollectors.net/. Collectors state that he’d send extra cards or photos in his own envelope, with his own postage, to reward the best letter writers.

Schmitz wrote me a great reply, which I shared in this 2010 feature.

If there are any 80-somethings on your hobby radar, take aim now. So many from that generation still have an unimaginable appreciation for today’s fans. Write to them while you can.

Coming Tuesday: Yankees teammate Roland Sheldon remembers Roger Maris.

Johnny “Bear Tracks” Schmitz is 89


Pitcher Johnny Schmitz recorded a decade of solid left-handed success. A two-time All-Star, he was the National League’s strikeout leader in 1946.

All this may pale in comparison to owning one of the greatest nicknames of his day.

Source after source claims that the moniker “Bear Tracks” refers to Schmitz’s gait to the mound.

Everyone except Schmitz.

“Bear tracks: I got that name in spring training in 1938 with Milwaukee of the American Association,” he writes. “In Hot Springs, Arkansas, they took a picture of me putting on my shoes sitting in the stands. They saw I had big feet.

“I like that name.”

Schmitz seemed modest about his quick return to the majors in 1946, following his World War II military service.

“We (the Cubs) had a good ball club when I came out of the service,” he remembers. “We finished in third place. I was 11 and 11. We didn’t get many runs.”

Upon sharing the tribute from Dodger hurler Rex Barney that Schmitz could drop his curve into a coffee cup (full interview from a 1996 Baseball Digest), the veteran lefty’s smile seemed to leap off the page.

“Rex Barney was right,” Schmitz notes. I beat him 1 to 0. You know, there was only one left-hand hitter in their lineup. I always got the best (opposing) pitchers when I pitched. They (Dodgers) had the best club in the league.”

Schmitz concludes with…

“I am now 89 years old, going on 90 Nov. 27.

Thank you.”

It’s my pleasure, Mr. Schmitz.

Johnny "Bear Tracks" Schmitz is 89


Pitcher Johnny Schmitz recorded a decade of solid left-handed success. A two-time All-Star, he was the National League’s strikeout leader in 1946.

All this may pale in comparison to owning one of the greatest nicknames of his day.

Source after source claims that the moniker “Bear Tracks” refers to Schmitz’s gait to the mound.

Everyone except Schmitz.

“Bear tracks: I got that name in spring training in 1938 with Milwaukee of the American Association,” he writes. “In Hot Springs, Arkansas, they took a picture of me putting on my shoes sitting in the stands. They saw I had big feet.

“I like that name.”

Schmitz seemed modest about his quick return to the majors in 1946, following his World War II military service.

“We (the Cubs) had a good ball club when I came out of the service,” he remembers. “We finished in third place. I was 11 and 11. We didn’t get many runs.”

Upon sharing the tribute from Dodger hurler Rex Barney that Schmitz could drop his curve into a coffee cup (full interview from a 1996 Baseball Digest), the veteran lefty’s smile seemed to leap off the page.

“Rex Barney was right,” Schmitz notes. I beat him 1 to 0. You know, there was only one left-hand hitter in their lineup. I always got the best (opposing) pitchers when I pitched. They (Dodgers) had the best club in the league.”

Schmitz concludes with…

“I am now 89 years old, going on 90 Nov. 27.

Thank you.”

It’s my pleasure, Mr. Schmitz.

Bob Usher-ing In Home Run Memories


World War II veteran Bob Usher claimed 18 career homers over a decade of major league service (1946-57). The majority of his playing time came in a Reds uniform.

He swung for the fences in some classic ballparks, but had to play the outfield in one maze known as Cincinnati’s Crosley Field. Between the defensive challenges, did he remember details of any favorite round-trippers?

Usher wrote:

“Tom —

Playing left field with the sloping turf was a REAL chore.

Three (home runs) come to mind:

a) My First home run. Hit it off left-hander Woody Abernathy July 28, 1946 in the N.Y. Polo Grounds.

b) Hitting a home run in Yankee Stadium off Bobby Shantz in 1957.

c) Hitting a game-winning 12th-inning home run on Opening Day 1950 off Johnny Schmitz of the Cubs.

All the Best,
Bob Usher”

The order of details can be telling. Who, where or when? What facts would you deem most important from your baseball milestones?

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