“Little Joe” Presko: The Vertically Variable Buff!

Joe Presko 001 “Little Joe” Presko didn’t have much trouble with his height while he was toiling in vain as a righhanded starting pitcher for the hapless 1950 Houston Buffs. The Buffs made it all the way to the Texas League cellar that year in spite of people like “Little Joe” and his 16-16 record with the 3.14 ERA. Joe also hit with some authority for the ’50 Buffs, slamming 3 HR on the season, a rare feat for any Houston pitcher back in the day. All the while he was here, however, Presko’s reported height and weight  stood firm at a constantly reported 5’9″ and 165 lbs.  Iconic Buffs radio announcer Loel Passe even called him “Little Joe” – and that description sure worked for me. At age 12 during the 1950 season, I noticed that Presko was one of the few Buffs who stood barely taller than me. I only reached 5’11” at full growth, eventually, but I achieved most of that height very early.

By the time Joe Presko reached the big leagues in 1951, we started reading these occasional reports from national and St. Louis sources that he was six feet tall. I had to wonder a little in private amusement over these reports if major league baseball really did bring about that kind of three-inch growth spurt in a man who was due to turn 23 on October 7, 1951? I don’t know. Baseball Almanac continues to report 6’0″ as Joe Presko’s height while other Internet sites list him variably at 5’9″ or 5’10”.

Regardless of the height mystery, the true baseball measurement of Joe Presko was about his ability as a cool and steady little pitcher who handled game pressure with an ability to pitch smart with finesse. Over the course of six years and 390.2 innings pitched in the big leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals (1951-54)  and Detroit Tigers ((1957-58), Presko only struck out 202 batters, but he also only walked 188.

Signed by the Cardinals at age 19 out of his Kansas City, Missouri home town, Presko complied a 16-8, 2.70 ERA record for Class C St. Joseph in 1948. He followed that good work with a 14-9, 3.18 ERA mark with the 1949 Class A Omaha team. That background brought Joe Presko to Class AA Houston for the 1950 season.

Joe Presko 004Presko enjoyed his best season in the big leagues in his rookie 1951 year. He won 7, lost 4, and posted a 3.45 ERA over 12 starts and 3 relief jobs. In his four seasons with the Cardinals, he won 24 and lost 36. His two seasons with Detroit would later add only one win and one loss to his career MLB record.

Joe Presko 003 Joe Presko pitched one more minor league season following his last year as a major leaguer with the 1958 Tigers. He pitched for two AAA clubs in that 1959 season. He was 4-5 at Charleston and 0-3 at Toronto.

After baseball, Joe Presko returned to Kansas City. He stayed close to baseball for years there as a coach in the American Legion baseball program. Future big league pitching star David Cone was one of the kids that Joe Presko coached in Legion ball.

Litte Joe Presko will be 81 in less than a month. As an old fan from his 1950 Houston season, I just want to say this much: “Joe, the real long and short of it is this. – Your abilities were good enough to buy you six years in the big leagues. That’s more major league time than most aspiring ballplayers ever see. I also want to add this thought from the still vivid  memory of your once 12-year old fan. – Thanks for making the 1950 Buff season a little less painful. Whenever you took the mound at Buff Stadium, we Buff fans, at least, knew that we had a chance to win. Hope you are well – and Godspeed to you and yours!”

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One Response to ““Little Joe” Presko: The Vertically Variable Buff!”

  1. bphughes66 Says:

    This is a WONDERFUL article! I might be a little bias, this is my dad! Thanks for sharing your experiences in seeing him play in HOUSTON. I was not yet born, but my older brother Joe Jr. was
    born in 1950 in Houston when my dad played ball there.

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