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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

April 30, 2009 at 2:22 PM

Lucky Lohrke, and links

Another link to the old Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League is gone. Jack Lohrke, who came by his nickname “Lucky” honestly, died Wednesday at age 85, two days after suffering a stroke.

As I do whenever I need information on old Seattle ballplayers, I called local baseball historian — and local treasure — Dave Eskenazi (who will be throwing out the first pitch at Saturday’s Mariners’ game, by the way, as the Mariners turn back the clock to 1939 to honor the Rainiers.)

Without looking it up, Eskenazi knew that Lohrke played for the 1956 and ’57 Rainiers — the latter managed by former major league star Lefty O’Doul. He was at the tail end of his career and played in just 49 and 47 games, hitting .272 and .143 (numbers I found on the great minor league website put together by SABR — the Society for American Baseball Research — and operated through Baseball Reference.

Lohrke, an infielder with the New York Giants and Philadelphia Phillies from 1946-53, is best known for his narrow escape from the terrible Snoqualmie Pass bus crash in 1946 that killed nine of the 15 member of the Spokane Indians that were on board. Lohrke was on the bus, which was en route to Bremerton, until the players stopped for lunch in Ellensburg. Lohrke got word from members of the Washington State patrol that he had been called up by the San Diego Padres of the PCL. Indians’ management had asked the patrol to track down the bus to deliver the news. Lohrke decided to hitch a ride back to Spokane, and thus wasn’t on it when it careened off the mountain pass after the driver swerved to avoid an oncoming car. The bus plunged over the enbankment and down 500 feet. Remarkably, six players surivived, as did the bus driver.

As a 1990 story in the Los Angeles Times pointed out, surviving that incident wasn’t the only reason that Lohrke was called “Lucky.” From Bob Wolf’s article:

  • In 1944, as a member of the 35th Infantry Division during World War II, Lohrke participated in the Normandy Invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. On four occasions, soldiers on both sides of him were called, yet he never got a scratch.

  • In 1945, he was scheduled to fly from Fort Dix, N.J., to Los Angeles to be discharged but was bumped from the flight — “for some big shot,” as he put it — just before takeoff. The plane crashed 45 minutes later, and everyone aboard was killed.

    Lohrke told the Times his war experirences conditioned him to the Spokane disaster.

    “At that age, having been in combat, what’s going to shock you? I’m a fatalist. I believe the old song, that whatever will be will be.”

    He went on to play through the 1959 season, when he was with Tri-Cities of the Northwest League. After his baseball career, he worked in security for Lockheed Missile and Space Co., in Sunnyvale, Calif.

    A couple of other links:

  • It looks like A-Rod has more revelations to worry about. The new Serena Roberts books, due out in early May, will apparently allege that A-Rod’s steroids use began in his teens and extended to his Yankee days.

  • J.J. Putz blew the lead in the Mets’ loss yesterday. The Mets are struggling, and seem to be a team in turmoil. J.J. must feel right at home.

  • Manny Ramirez compares Tim Lincecum to a young Dwight Gooden.

  • Jayson Stark of ESPN discovers that attendance is holding steady compared to last year.

  • I talked today to Mariners’ scouting director Tom McNamara, and I’ll be writing a column for Sunday’s paper detailing his frenetic schedule as the draft approaches. He didn’t tip his hand on the No. 2 pick but expressed confidence they will get a very, very good player. He indicated they have narrowed their focus to “four or five” players.

    Beyond Strasburg, I’d have to think CF/1B Dustin Ackley (UNC) and SS Grant Green (USC) would certainly be among those, along with UNC pitcher Alex White, and Missouri pitcher Kyle Gibson. But no inside info there at the moment. An interesting wild card is Aaron Crow, who was picked by Washington last year but didn’t sign, and is now with the independent Fort Worth Stars.

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