In Memoriam

The Honorable Backup

Let us here praise scrubs.

By 11.28.12

Word has just reached me of the death earlier this month of Myron Nathan "Joe" Ginsberg at 86. Ginsberg's main claim to attention outside of his own family was that he was a catcher for seven Major League Baseball teams (Tigers, Indians, Athletics, Orioles, both Sox, and Mets) between 1948 and 1962.

There were few on-field highlights in the Ginsberg career, all of which was spent as a backup. His best day in the bigs was catching one of Virgil Trucks' two no-hitters for the 1952 Tigers. His final MLB game was the home opener for the disastrously inept 1962 Mets (the team that inspired a book entitled Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?).

Though Ginsberg played all or part of 13 big league seasons, he had fewer than 2,000 at bats in his career, hit just 20 home runs (I bet he could remember every one of them), and batted .241 between the Truman and JFK administrations.

Ginsberg was one of those guys -- like Wayne Terwilliger, Rocky Bridges, et al. -- who used their minimal baseball talent (minimal in relation to the stars -- just making the bigs implies considerable athletic skill) to avoid legitimate work for more than a decade by playing baseball in the big leagues -- a major league dugout presumed to have more quotidian charm than a mine or factory or foundry.

Outfits like Topps and Bowman made the names and likenesses of guys like these familiar to legions of young American boys by putting them on bubblegum baseball cards. I was a keen collector of these during the early years of Ginsberg's career. Many a time and oft I peeled the wrapper off of a new card in hopes of a likeness of Yogi Berra, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, or Duke Snider, only to find yet another iteration of, you guessed it, Myron "Joe" Ginsberg (or Wayne Terwilliger, or Charlie Silvera, or Rocky Bridges, or Hobie Landrith, or…).

OK, I'm over the disappointment now. And in fairness it should be said that any lad who wished a complete set of cards had to have Ginsberg's as well as those of the stars. None of the short pieces I've read about Ginsberg's passing said anything about what he did in life during the half century between that final April game with the dismal Mets and his death this month. Though one mentioned that before he began his baseball career Ginsberg served the final year of WWII with the U.S. Army in the Philippines.

I hope it was a happy life. Ginsberg may well have been successful at something after baseball. You have to be both smart and tough to be a catcher at the big league level, even a backup. And he was always reliable when his number was called. Whatever happened post-baseball, he surely was able to enjoy that American distinction so few can claim, of being an ex-big-leaguer.

RIP Myron "Joe" Ginsberg. And God bless all those who played the Grand Old Game in the Ginsberg/Terwilliger/Bridges division. They too served.

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.