Johnny Grodzicki: Another Buffs Might-Have-Been!

For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ''It might have been.'' - John Greenleaf Whittier.

At 6’2″ and 200 pounds, Johnny Grodicki (BR/TR) was another of those young Houston Buff arms from the 1930s who might have been something had fate broken a little differently. It just wasn’t to be.

Grodzicki arrived in Houston late in 1936 at age 19 after registering a 16-12 record for New Iberia of the Evangeline League, a place that saw the start of many future great Cardinal pitchers. Howie Pollet and ed Munger both got their starts there.

Grodzicki got into three games for ten innings of work with the Buffs in 1936, picking up a single loss as his only Texas League mark in that first year, but hopes were high in St. Louis for his success at Houston in 1937.

Grodzicki’s fastball had good heat and his curve was decent enough. As often happened, his problem was control. In 244 innings of work for the 1937 Buffs, Grodzicki walked 174 batters. He still finished the season with a great record of 18 wins against only 11 losses and he complied an attention-getting earned run average of only 2.88 for a Houston club that finished in 7th place with a 67-91 record.

Young Grodzicki also starred in the 1937 Texas League All Star Game at Buff Stadium. In only the second game of its kind in league history, an overlow crowd of over 8,000 Houston fans showed up that day to watch the North and South All Stars square off against each other. Grodzicki came into the game in the fourth inning, bringing form and focus with him. He proceeded to imitate the earlier accomplishments of major league great Carl Hubbell by striking out six of the best hitters in the North lineup as his first item of business. The hitters, all of whom carrying .300+ batting averages with them into the game, included Homer Peel, Red Harvel, Joe Bilgere, Lou Brower, Norman McKaskill, and Ed “Bear Tracks” Greer.

1938 saw Grodzicki post a 12-21 record for a 5th place Houston Buffs (74-84) club. His innings of work increased to 269 and his walks dropped to 169, but his ERA ballooned to 4,25.

1939-1940 saw Grodzicki moving up the Cardinal chain for two seasons at Rochester where he compiled a total record for two seasons of 11 wins and 10 losses. In 1941, “Grod” moved over to Columbus for a record of 19-5, 2.58 ERA and his best season record in professional baseball. His success at Columbus earned Grodzicki a late season call-up to the parent St. Louis Cardinals where he posted a 2-1 record and a drop-dead gorgeous ERA of only 1.35 in 13.1 innings of work.

Then came World War II and a hiatus from the game that finished the future of Johnny Grodzicki. In his first season back, 1946, “Grod” worked only four innings, recording no record, but posting a 9.00 ERA for the Cardinals. In 1947, Johnny worked only 23.1 innings for the Cards, posting a record of 0-1 with an ERA of 5.40. Aging, injury, and ineffectiveness, plus four years of war rust wouldn’t go away. They were collectively the end of Johnny  Grodicki’s stock as a prospect. After 1947, he would never again darken the doorway of an MLB clubhouse.

Twelve years after his first arrival, Johnny Grodzicki returned to the Houston Buffs in 1948 as a an old 31-year old minor league veteran. “Grod” did OK in limited action as a 6-5, 2.05 ERA starter/reliever in 88 innings. Coming off their 1947 Dixie Series championship year, the ’48 Buffs under manager Johnny Keane were only an 82-71 3rd place club. “Grod” was starting to be a fit for mediocrity.

1949 saw Grodzicki go 4-5 for the Buffs before moving up to Rochester again for a 2-1 mediocre finish. Johnny Grodzicki continued to plod his way through the minors for three extra seasons of unremarkable achievement before hanging it all up after 1952 at the age of 36. He finished with a career minor league record of 108 wins, 83 losses and an ERA of 3.65

Johnny Grodzicki passed away in retirement at the age of 83 on May 2, 1998 in Daytona Beach, Florida. As a faded away former minor league prospect, he was the living embodiment of “what might have been.” With a little more control, a tad bit more of good luck contact with the right mentor who never showed up in reality, and with a lot less wear and tear from World War II, who knows what might otherwise have become of Johnny Grodzicki?

Johnny, we hardly knew you.

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