Brooklyn Boro

Cal Abrams: He fought fate to a draw

April 4, 2023 William A. Gralnick
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March birthdays, there are a plenty. Several are flashes in the pan, though interesting both as ball players and people. Yet one player must be chosen for reasons that are special to me. His name? Cal (Abie) Abrams was born March 2, 1924 and left this world on Feb. 25, 1997.

First of all, he was Jewish. So am I. It was a time, the ‘40’s when there were few Jewish ball players, and they had a rough time of it. Koufax had not yet come on the scene. Here’s a quote from Abrams. I’ll add to it.

“I always had the feeling that Charley Dressen only played me enough to give me rope to hang myself. I remember one game, I hadn’t been playing, and it was the ninth inning, bases loaded, two outs. Dressen puts me in to pinch hit. I popped up. Meanwhile, there was an opportunity in the sixth and the seventh for a left-handed batter, and the fans were yelling, ‘We want Abrams,’ and he wouldn’t put me in. He waited until the ninth. Then there was the time Pee Wee Reese had two strikes on him and Dressen sent me in to pinch hit. I don’t recall in the history of baseball where any major leaguer ever had the same situation. Two strikes and to go up and pinch hit? Never in a million years. I could understand it if it was a rookie, but [Hall of Fame shortstop] Pee Wee Reese was up there. And two strikes? I popped out.” – Cal Abrams in An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers (Peter Golenbeck, 1984, pg. 267)

Dressen by the way didn’t play Abrams on Cal Abrams Day at Ebbets Field. Putt’em together, and what have you got? Anti-Semitism.

While no Mickey Mantle or Duke Snider, Abrams was a good, steady ballplayer who put up some good numbers. The Baseball Almanac shows him having 1611 at-bats that produced 433 hits with 32 homers. He knocked in 138 RBIs and stole 12 bases. His career average was a respectable .269. His on-base percentage was also a respectable .368.

There was more to my hero worship. While born in the hated Philadelphia, his family moved and raised Abrams in Brooklyn. He graduated from James Madison High School, went into the service, saw action in the artillery and joined the Dodgers organization immediately after that.

Comes 1949, and history turns its back on the person one writer called “the nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn.” The Dodgers were playing the Phillies for Pennant. There were two men on. One of them was Abrams. Snider was up, and pandemonium reigned in Ebbets Field. Snider laced one to center. The third base coach frantically waved the fleet-footed Abrams round third to the plate to challenge the player with the weakest arm of all center fielders in the national league, Richie Ashburn.

Unfortunately, the pickoff play was on at 2nd, but Phillies’ ace Robin Roberts missed it. Ashburn had been inching in to protect against a wild throw, so when Snider laced one to center, Ashburn was way closer to home plate than he normally would have been. He caught it on one bounce and fired a strike to catcher Stan Lopata. Ebbets went silent; Abrams was hung with the tag of goat. Goat despite neither Furillo nor Hodges being able to drive in the run. The Phillies won it in the 10th on a Dick Sisler home run. The writing of Abrams’ ticket to Cincinnati and then Pittsburgh had begun. Abrams’s endearment to the Jewish community continued.

In Pittsburgh,he changed his uniform number to 18. When asked why, he said that it was an important number, meaning life in Hebrew.

There was life after baseball as outlined by Wikipedia.In the late ’50s and early ’60s, Abrams owned The Blossom Lounge in Garden City, Long Island, near Adelphi College, later University. In the ‘60s, Abrams was also associated with Camp Iroquois in Peterborough. New Hampshire. Following the devastating ninth-inning loss by his forme r Dodgers team, again to the Giants in the final game of a three-game playoff for the National League pennant in 1962, he was asked by an Adelphi student what he thought of the just concluded game. “Who was playing?” Abrams asked in all sincerity. In the 1990s, he was working for the Norwegian Cruise Line, giving talks and signing photographs while emphasizing his two outstanding on-base percentage seasons.

Abrams died in 1997 after a heart attack in Fort Lauderdale, Fl. He was buried in his Brooklyn Dodgers uniform in the Garden of Moses section of the Star of David Cemetery in North Lauderdale.

Did anti-Semitism play a part in the team’s decision? Dodgers publicist Irving Rudd said of the organization, “They were tolerant, but it helped to be Irish.” I have to believe, though, had Cal scored in that last game of the 1950 season, they would have given him more of a chance. In any case, that play did help Cal be remembered forever as a Dodger. And he became philosophical about it. “. . . as it turned out, all these years I go out and make speeches and meet with people, and they remember the play so vividly, and I’m thankful they do. Had I reached home, I don’t think they would have remembered it as well.”

Life events tied me to Abrams. Not only a Brooklyn boy, but raised in “my” Flatbush. A man who never hid from his Jewishness. He died the day before my birthday, February 25, not 20 miles from where I am writing this. He was a guy who loved Brooklyn so much that he was buried in his Dodgers uniform in a Jewish cemetery in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. where tens of thousands of our Flatbushites (Flatbushim?) are buried and scores more tens of thousands still live.

Brooklyn forever, Cal!

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