Wisconsin Slovak Historical Society

Baseball Legend Hitting Heavenly Home Runs by Marj Chepp (March 2014 issue)  Wisconsin native and four-time All-Star out­fielder and 3rd baseman Andy Pafko has passed away at the age of 92. Andy started his baseball career when he started playing for the Connorsville team in the amateur Dunn County League in 1939. He played for a few years in Wisconsin's small leagues and hit it big in 1941 when his contract was purchased by Bill Veeck-owner of the Minor League Milwaukee Brewers. His contract was sold to the Cubs farm club in Los Angeles and in 1943 he made his debut in the Major Leagues. In Chicago's farm club, Manager Charlie Grimm gave him the nickname "Pruschka" when he joined the Cubs in 1943, later he also earned the nickname "Handy Andy." Andy was a fan favorite known for his dogged play and diving catches. Pafko played with Jackie Robinson for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1943 to 1951, and with Hank Aaron as a Milwaukee Brave from 1953 through 1959 where he 
completed his playing career. After the Braves left Milwaukee, Andy managed their farm system teams for six years.
He also scouted for the Montreal Expos for 2 years in the Midwest area. In September of 1953, Milwaukee Braves fans voted for their favorite ballplayer in "Best of the Braves" balloting. The overwhelming choice was Andy Pafko. Andy earned a lifetime batting average of 285, with 213 home runs, and 926 Runs-Batted-In. Andy's biggest year was 1950 when he was listed as one of the best hitters and top home run hitters that year. Andy was in 4 World Series games: 1945 with Chicago, 1952 with Brooklyn and 1957 and 1958 with Milwaukee. He was inducted into the Chicago Sports Hall of Fame and the Chicago Cubs Walk of Fame where he earned the title, "Mr. Cub" among his fans and sportswriters. Andy was immortalized in the opening segment of the 1997 novel, Underworld by Don DeLillo. In the opening, DeLillo recounts the 1951 National League pennant game when Bobby Thomson hit a home run that went over Pafko's head and over the left field wall. There is a famous picture of Pafko at the wall known as "the shot heard round the world." The moment was "my biggest letdown ever," Pafko said. Thomson later became Pafko's teammate and roommate with the Braves – and "Bobby never wanted to talk about that homer after that," Pafko said. Sportswriter John Husar once wrote of Andy's personality in the Chicago Tribune, "During 19 years of road trips, modest, shy Andy Pafko spent time where few glory-hounds would see a major league ballplayer. He'd be deep within some Slovak neighborhood, in the custody of friends, wolfing down dilled beef, smoked sausage and gravy­-covered dumplings." Pafko was a sought-after figure by baseball card collectors. One of them - a Topps card from 1952 - sold for nearly $84,000 in 1998, marking what at the time was the second-highest price at the Mastro Rine Sports auction in Washington. The only higher bid was $108,000 for a jersey that Lou Gehrig wore in 1927. A 1933 Babe Ruth card went for $32,485. Pafko said it was a shock. Especially when he recalled the "boxes of cards" he received from the Topps company in the 1950s but didn't keep. "I just gave the cards to the kids in the neighborhood and they put them in their bicycle spokes. And there went the money - click, click, click," Pafko said with a chuckle in an Associated Press interview. Andy was born on February 25, 1921 in Boyceville, WI into a small settlement of Slovak immigrants. Andy was the son of Michal and Zuzanna who immigrated to the US from Vazec, Slovakia in 1920 and settled on a 120-acre farm. As a major-league rookie, Pafko recalled the days spent milking the 16 cows on the farm. He remembered himself and his brothers trying to find an excuse to go to the pasture and play baseball. Often they would not finish their chores until after dark and wouldn't get to play at all. But he credited milking cows with helping him develop the strong grip which made him a major league hitter.  Pafko never moved back to Wisconsin, but did make many visits home. Pafkos legend continues in his hometown of Boyceville where Andy Pafko Park was dedicated to him in 1986 and a memorial to him is located in the high school baseball field. Keep your eyes open as rumor has it that there is a man in Chippewa Falls that is writing a book about Andy that should be released sometime in the next year. The Milwaukee Braves Historical Association and the Wisconsin Old Time Ballplayers Association held a special memorial for Andy on October 24. Pafko's wife, Ellen, died in 2000. They had no children. His brothers Mike, John and Lud died before him. He is survived by his brothers Frank and Edward. Andy was a member of the Wisconsin Slovak Historical Society since 1981. In a 1981 Wisconsin Slovak, article Andy said, "I am very proud of my Slovak heritage. I thank God for all the blessings he has bestowed upon me ... for a wonderful wife and parents who saw to it that I was brought up in a Christian home and manner. All in all, I've had a wonderful life."  
Editor's Note: The Summer 1998 Wisconsin Slovak featured an article about Andy by John Hosmanek .    Marillyn Evaska, WSHS Social Event Organizer and wife of the late George Evaska, sent this note regarding information she sent to the author of Andy Pafko's book:  Andy Pafko was a member of the Slovak Lutheran Church (after many Slovaks no longer spoke the language, it merged with the Missouri Synod) on Hwy "K" between Boyceville and Connorsville, in Dunn County, Wisconsin.   He started playing baseball in the Connorsville League. George Evaska's Uncle Ludvig was Andy's first coach and also catcher. Lud's brother, John, (George's Dad) was also an avid baseball fan. They used to practice in Lipovsky's pasture. It was fairly level, but they had to pick up the cow pies before every practice.
 

 

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