March 5 – Happy Birthday Elmer Valo

I believe it was my dear departed friend Nick Fusella, who first told me about Elmer Valo. We were probably sitting at our favorite bar drinking draft beer and watching a Yankee game during which one outfielder or another crashed into an outfield wall while trying to make a catch. Some other old-timer sitting at the bar shouted out Pete Reiser’s name, the one-time Brooklyn Dodger phee-nom who made crashing into outfield walls an art form in the early forties. That’s probably when my seventy-something-old-at-the-time buddy Nick “educated” me about Valo. The story stuck with me because of the player’s name, “Elmer Valo.” Its one of those monikers that’s almost impossible for a baseball history buff like myself to forget. Valo was born in Czechoslovakia on today’s date in 1921. Six years later, his family migrated to a town in northeastern Pennsylvania called Palmerton. Elmer got involved in sports and developed into an outstanding high school athlete. He was signed to a minor league contract by the old Philadelphia A’s in 1939 while he was still in high school and only a year later, he played in his first big league game for Philadelphia when he was just ninteen-years-old.

From everything I’ve read about this guy, he was one of the hardest working players in baseball during his era. He didn’t have a lot of natural ability but he could run really fast and had a never-quit work ethic. After returning from military service in 1945, Valo became a fixture in the A’s outfield for the next decade. In the first six of those years, he topped the .300 average mark four times and with efficient applications of his great speed and hustle, became a great defensive outfielder. Unfortunately, he was a star player for one of baseball’s worst teams so pretty much the only people paying attention to Valo’s all-around game was the A’s rather tiny fan base.

The Philadelphia sports pages from back in Valo’s playing days were loaded with written accounts of the outfielder’s great catches and his frequent jarring outfield wall collisions. During one game against the Yankees in 1948, he made three home-run saving catches and on the final one, he knocked himself unconscious when he jumped into the stands managing to hold onto the ball anyway. Simply put, he did not know how to stop trying to make a catch. He’d be running at top speed, knowing he was inches away from hitting immovable brick barriers and just keep on running or leaping toward the baseball he happened to be pursuing at the moment. After colliding with one to many walls, Valo’s baseball skills began declining. After averaging close to .300 during the first half of his big league career, he became a struggling, oft-injured part-time player during the second-half. His last great season was 1954, when the A’s relocated to Kansas City. Valo was healthy enough to appear in 112 games that season and hit .364. By the following May, however the A’s had released him and he returned to Philly to play with the Phillies. He would then play for eight different teams during the next eight seasons including the Yankees for a short eight-game stretch in 1960.

Other Yankees who celebrate birthdays on March 5th include this former relief pitcher and this WWII era third baseman.

1960 NYY 8 7 5 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 1 .000 .286 .000 .286
20 Yrs 1806 6091 5029 768 1420 228 73 58 601 110 942 284 .282 .398 .391 .790
KCA (15 yrs) 1361 5229 4308 691 1229 196 68 47 491 103 820 222 .285 .403 .395 .798
MIN (2 yrs) 109 121 96 6 23 5 0 0 20 0 20 7 .240 .372 .292 .664
LAD (2 yrs) 146 304 262 23 69 12 2 5 40 0 37 27 .263 .352 .382 .734
PHI (2 yrs) 148 397 334 44 92 15 3 6 45 7 56 27 .275 .384 .392 .776
CLE (1 yr) 34 33 24 3 7 0 0 0 5 0 7 0 .292 .424 .292 .716
NYY (1 yr) 8 7 5 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 1 .000 .286 .000 .286
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 3/31/2014.


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