August 23 – Happy Birthday Sherm Lollar
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant’s career initially suffered from poor timing. He started out as a catcher in the Cleveland organization right about the time the Indians’ Jim Hegan was just beginning to establish himself as one of the best defensive receivers ever. When he was brought up to the parent club in 1946, he begged management to send him back down instead of letting him rot on the bench. Instead, that December, the Cleveland front office traded the right-hand hitting Lollar to the Yankees.
Poor timing again. The Yankee organization and big league roster were both loaded with promising catchers. In 1947, they included Aaron Robinson, Ralph Houk, Ken Sylvestri and a young left-handed receiver named Yogi Berra. Lollar was sent to New York’s Newark farm team and he had a solid year with the Bears. The Yankees decided to give him a look-see late that season and ended up keeping him on their postseason roster. When Lollar got into two World Series games that year against Brooklyn and went 3-for-4 at the plate, his standing in the organization went up dramatically.
But the following year, the Yankees added the right-hand hitting Gus Niarhos to their big league roster and skipper Bucky Harris began platooning him and Berra behind the plate while Lollar again sat the pine. He got into just 22 games that season while Berra, who played the outfield when he wasn’t catching, had a breakout season at the plate, hitting .305 and driving in 98 runs. That’s when the timing in Lollar’s career went from bad to good. That October, the Yankees replaced Harris as Yankee manager with Casey Stengel. Though the Ol’ Perfessor would establish a legacy as the master of platooning, he would soon ignore that strategy when it came to Berra, and Yogi would go on to catch close to 1,700 games as a Yankee. Two months after Stengel got his pinstripes, Lollar lost his when he was traded to the Browns. In St. Louis, he finally got a chance to play regularly and quickly began to realize his potential. But after just three years there, Lollar was again traded, this time to the Chicago White Sox. It would be in the Windy City where this native of Durham, Arkansas would establish his legacy as one of baseball’s best catchers. He played a dozen seasons for the White Sox, and during the first nine of them, the team never finished below third in the AL Pennant race. Lollar’s career year was 1959, when his 22 home runs and 84 RBIs led Chicago to that year’s World Series, which they lost to the Dodgers.
Lollar would continue playing for Chicago until 1963, when he retired with 155 career home runs and a .264 lifetime batting average. He died suddenly from a heart attack in 1977, when he was just 56-years-old. In his NY Times obituary, the White Sox GM who traded for Lollar, the legendary Frank Lane was quoted as saying that trade was the best one he ever made. As Lane went on to explain, “Sherm turned out to be one of the best catchers in the American League behind only Yogi Berra and maybe Jim Hegan.” Some things never change.
Lollar shares his August 23rd birthday with this MLB’s first-ever DH.