Lou Novikoff: The Mad Russian.

His family name earned him “The Mad Russian” moniker, but he may as well have been called “Cowboy” for his October 12, 1915 birthday in Glendale, Arizona, when that place was still a small western town further out on the desert from Phoenix. The place is now just another sun-tea melting suburb of the Arizona capital city, coming complete with its own fancy high-tech load as a National Football League stadium.Like a lot of other places in America, then and now are two different worlds in the history of Glendale, Arizona. Coming of age in the 1930s, the bats and throws right rookie outfielder that was young Lou Novikoff was all baseball. At 5’10” and 185 lbs,

Lou Novikoff

Lou had better than average hitting ability that included greater success with fast balls than it ever did with big league curve balls and other pitches of stealth and surprise. His abilities and World War II were enough to buy him a short career in the major playing for two of the worst franchises from that era. By the time the 1945 Cubs had rallied enough to take the National League pennant, Novikoff was back in the minors, hitting .310 for the Los Angeles Angels of the AAA Pacific Coast League.

Novikoff had several light-out batting years in the minors. He batted .351 in his 1937 rookie season with Ponca City. He followed that whacker of a debut by hitting .367 for Moline in 1938 and .376 for Tulsa, Los Angeles, and Milwaukee in 1939. A .363 mark for Milwaukee in 1940 and a .370 BA for Los Angeles in 1940 were then enough to earn Lou his big time shot. With stats in the stratosphere, it’s hard to conceive that he did not raise a few hopes in Chicago that they might be getting the next Joe DiMaggio or right-handed Ted Williams.

It wasn’t to be, but that’s an all too familiar career-capper, isn’t it?

By the time I ever saw Lou Novikoff during his short time with the 1949 Houston Buffs, he was pretty much traveling on the comical recitation in the newspapers of his “Mad Russian” sobriquet. His reputations as a fun-loving goofball did not disappoint in reality, even though he batted only .230 with but a single homer for the horrendously bad ’49 Buffs. It wasn’t hard to hide mediocrity that season. Lou was surrounded by it in the Buffs dugout.

There was an occasion, in a game against Beaumont, as I remember, when Lou Novikoff seized upon an opportunity to do something on a baseball field that I had never seen before or since. During a late inning pitching change by Buffs manager Del Wilber, Novikoff left his position in left field to take a quick rest room break in the Buffs clubhouse on the other side of the Knothole Gang stands down the far left field line.

Unaware of his departure, Wilber made his change on the mound and the home plate umpire gave the signal for the game to resume … with no one in left field for the Buffs!

Meanwhile, we Knothole Gangers are yelling back at the Buffs clubhouse: ‘HURRY UP, LOU! THEY’RE GETTING READY TO START THE GAME AGAIN WITHOUT YOU!”

All of a sudden, we see Lou Novikoff running out of the clubhouse, trying to fix and button his baseball pants as he runs back to the field. He’s saying something loud, something like, ‘OHHH BOY! OHHH BOY!”

Unfortunately, Lou didn’t make it. Before he could get back on the field, a Beaumont batter had banged a dunk liner into left field. By the time the Buff center fielder had rushed over to pick it up, the very surprised Beaumont hitter had turned it into a two-run triple that would ultimately drive the nail into the Buffs’ coffin for the night.

By the time Lou Novikoff had resumed his position in left after the fatal play, Buffs manager Del Wilber was racing down the line in red-faced

Lou Novikoff as a Chicago Cub

awe, yelling, “WHERE IN THE *&$#** WERE YOU?” As I recall, Wilber pulled Novikoff on the spot and put somebody else in, but that part of the memory blurs. He may have left him in there. The nineteen player roster limits that existed in the Texas League back in that era didn’t allow for a lot of managerial object lesson opportunity. I do recall that Novikoff was soon released after the potty-run incident.

When asked about his decision to leave the field during a game, the Mad Russian had a very simple explanation for the press. “When you gotta go, you gotta go!” Lou exclaimed.

Lou Novikoff passed away in South Gate, California on September 30, 1970, less than a month shy of his 55th birthday. Like it or not, he will be remembered forever by his catchy nickname.

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7 Responses to “Lou Novikoff: The Mad Russian.”

  1. Bud Says:

    Bill, I remember seeing the Mad Russian at Sportsmans Park putting on an act in left field, pretending he was battling a flock of birds. My Street & Smith Mag for spring 1942 has picture of him running on the field with another rookie, Lou Stringer. Both expected to help the Cubbies. Maybe it was ’43.

  2. Delinda (daughter of Anita Kay Novikoff) Says:

    I have read newpaper articles about my grandpa, lou novikoff, saying what a great player/pitcher he was. he was on the cover of magzines, front page of sports section, but when i look up on internet, all i find is stories making it sound like he was wasn’t all that. Does anyone have positive stories available? Unfortunately, my mother has lost most of the newspaper and magazines.
    My mother even received an invitation to the white house from President Reagan due to him announcing some of the ball games way back when…

  3. matt lidyoff Says:

    lou was a great minor league hitter.so so in the pros. over the years i have found and purchased pictures and stuff from ebay about him.

  4. Darla Rumelhart Says:

    Hello out there All Ball Fans,this is Darla the second daughter of Anita k. Novikoff. Adding to My Grand-Father’s Story. We know he played for the Cubs, Phil-lies, L.A. Angels and was at one time a Rainier, in Seattle Wash.He was also friends with the Babe. When he passed at such a young age,we his grandchildren were just little,myself 8 yrs. Due to the distance from Oregon to Cal, and Esther(Grandmother) His wife passing just before him, many items were taken, I have been in search for his Card from the forties’ with no success. lots of Lou’s Memorabilia too was taken. Oh, how we Long to have some of these things so we can know him as he wanted us to.We know as well Baseball has its ups and downs but he knew how to Bat the Ball. He was a Great Grandfather from what I remember, always smiling,and Loved to go to the park near his home to play w/us grandchildren. I know I was young but really long to have some of his Ball items due to my Love for the Game and time passing by. Yes my mother can tell stories and many of his things should be in the Ball Museum. He was the first man in the Hall of Fame for Softball. And he did like to tease the umps w/ his humor, all in Fun. I however play Softball myself due to him, My Grandfather who passed before his time.

  5. Darla Rumelhart Says:

    Hello out there All Ball Fans, this is Darla the second daughter of Anita k. Novikoff. adding to My Grand-Father’s Story. We know he played for the Cubs, Phil-lies, L.A. Angels and was at one time a Rainier, in Seattle Wash.He was also friends with the Babe. When he passed at such a young age,we his grandchildren were just little,myself 8 yrs. Due to the distance from Oregon to Cal, and Esther(Grandmother) His wife passing just before him, many items were taken, I have been in search for his Card from the forties’ with no success. lots of Lou’s,grandpas Memorabilia too was taken. Oh, how we Long to have some of these things so we can know him as he wanted us to. We know as well Baseball has its ups and downs but he our grandpa knew how to Bat the Ball. He was a Great Grandfather from what I remember, always smiling,and Loved to go to the park near his home to play w/us grandchildren. I know I was young but really long to have some of his Ball items due to my Love for the Game and time passing by. Yes my mother can tell stories and many of his things should be in the Ball Museum. He was the first man in the Hall of Fame for Softball. And he did like to tease the umps w/ his humor, all in Fun. I however play Softball myself due to him, My Grandfather who passed before his time.

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