There are a number of former catchers in baseball's Hall of Fame - Gabby
Hartnett, Mickey Cochrane, Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Ray Schalk and Roger
Bresnahan, to name a few.
One more belongs with that select group, but he has never been included.
He's Ernie Lombardi, the former Cincinnati catcher who won two batting
championships and had a 17-year batting average of .306.
Lombardi currently is not eligible to be installed in baseball's shrine
because he generally was ignored by
Baseball Writers Association voters during the 20 years of balloting
after he retired. But he rates as well as, if not better than, several
of the Hall of Fame backstops.
Schalk, for instance, had only a .253 career batting average. Bresnahan,
the first catcher to wear
shin guards, in 1907, was only a .280 lifetime hitter.
Lombardi's contemporaries were Cochrane, Dickey and Hartnett. Lombardi's
career statistics stack up favorably against these catchers. Yet he's
been ignored while his three contemporaries have been in the Hall of
Fame for years.
Ernie Lombardi was a cartoonist's dream. He was called "The
Schnozz" because of his unusually large nose.
"He brought to baseball," wrote baseball historian Lee Allen in
nose so lavish in its geography that the more famous schnozzola of Jimmy
Durante's seems picayunish in comparison."
Lombardi, son of Italian immigrants, grew up and first played baseball in Oakland, a hotbed of baseball for years. He
was originally signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1931, but the following
year he was traded to the Reds as part of a six-player exchange. The
Reds shipped Clyde Sukeforth, Tom Cuccinello and Joe Stripp to the
Dodgers for Lombardi, Wally Gelbert and Babe Herman. It was one of the
best trades the Reds ever made.
Lombardi blossomed into an
outstanding hitter. In his 10 seasons in Cincinnati, Lombardi batted
over .300 in seven of them. In' one four-year stretch he batted .343,
.333, .334, and .342. The .342 average in 1938 was good enough to' win
the National League batting championship. When he won the title, he
became only the second catcher in modern history to win a batting title
- Bubbles Hargrave of
the Reds was the other in 1926.
Lombardi's biggest knock was his speed. He might have been the slowest
man ever to play major league baseball. Infielders would play so deep on
him that it almost appeared there were seven outfielders. On more than
one occasion he was thrown out at first base by an outfielder who pegged
perfect throw to first as Ernie slowly trudged down the base path,
looking as if a piano were strapped to his backside.
Lombardi long will be remembered for a play in the ninth inning of Game
No. 4 of the 1939 World Series with the New York Yankees. The Reds, down
three games to none, were attempting a comeback and led, 4-2, in the
ninth inning of the fourth contest. But the Reds muffed a double-play
ball and the Yankees finally tied the score to send the game into extra
That set the stage for one of the
strangest plays ever in World Series competition.