Mike Blyzka: One of the Last Old Browns.

Mike Blyzka lost his first 9 pitching decisions in 1947.

Mike Blyzka lived with a little noted, but no less important distinction in baseball history. As a right handed pitcher, Mike worked for both the last 1953 St. Louis Browns club and the first 1954 Baltimore Orioles team. All he did to attain that quiet “honor” was to have been on the roster at the time the decision was made to sell the Browns to Baltimore interests and then make it through the mild ripple of player transactions that followed as fanfare for the people of Baltimore that “the Orioles are coming home to their ancient big league roost! – even if they have to land in the lower branches of the big league tree with a bunch of ex-Browns flapping their wings and gasping for air.”

The news of the Browns move came down hard upon me in Houston. You see, as a 7th grader,  I had become a converted Browns fan in 1951 due to the incredible season that pitcher New Garver put up as a 20-game winner for a last place three-digit loss Browns club. Garver had gone 20-12 with a 3.73 for a last place Browns club that finished 8th with a record of  52-102. And I was always hooked on throwing my support to deserving underdogs. Garver stood out as such to me.

You may know the famous story that spawned on the heels of Garver’s incredible year. When Garver sought a substantial reserve clause era raise for his efforts in his new 1952 contract, Browns owner Bill Veeck turned him down, supposedly explaining that “we could’ve finished last without you.”

At any rate, Mike Blyzka arrived in time to go 2-6 for the 1953 Browns and then 1-5 for the 1954 Orioles in 70, mostly relief appearances. His 3-11, 5.58 ERA record for those two seasons turned out to be his major league career. As a seven-season minor leaguer (1947-50, 1955-57), Mike Blyzka posted a career sub-major league record of 63-60 with a 4.18 ERA.

I never really dug into Mike Blyzka’s record until years later, when I got to know him a little better as a person. Starting in 1996, and moving through 2003, I saw Mike Blyzka every year at the annual reunion dinners for the St. Louis Browns in St. Louis. Mike came religiously each spring as a former Brown. I came each season as a member of the St. Louis Browns Historical Society. It was through these laid-back conversations at breakfast and just sitting around the hotel lobby that I even learned a little of all that Mike Blyzka overcame to fulfill his dream of pitching in the big leagues.

By the time I met Mike, his health was bad and he lived alone in retirement in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He didn’t get around too well so I drove us places on a few eating and shopping expeditions away from the banquet hotel. Other old Browns like Red Hayworth often came with us. It was a joyful time to see old and new St. Louis through the eyes of men who had been such a big, but quiet part of the city’s baseball history.

In 2003, the Cardinals wanted to honor the history of the Browns by playing a uniform throwback game at old Busch Stadium II against the Baltimore Orioles playing as the 1944 Browns. They had a hard time talking the current Oriole players into going along with the plan, but that is not surprising. The Orioles have spent over a half century doing all in their power to forget the idea that their club ever played as the St. Louis Browns. Somehow they managed to overcome resistance and get it done, and they played the game on a Saturday in June that followed a Friday night game in which the last Browns club was honored.

It would have been a whole lot easier, it seems to me, if someone in the Cardinals organization had remembered that Mike Blyzka, Don Lenhardt, and a handful of others present that weekend had also played in 1954 as original new Orioles, but nobody mentioned the fact.

Oh well. Michael John Blyzka is our main subject here today. Born on Christmas Day in 1928 in Hamtramck, Michigan, Mike signed originally with the Chicago White Sox as an 18-year old (BR/TR) pitcher. He was assigned to pitch for Class D Lima, Ohio in 1947, where something happened that could have ended the career of a lesser man. – Mike lost his first nine decisions in professional baseball.  Assigned elsewhere in mid-season with an 0-9 record as baggage, Blyzka proceeded to finish at Class D Madisonville with a 2-6 mark, leaving him with a 2-15 start to his professional baseball career and a ticket over to the St. Louis Browns organization in 1948 via a minor trade.

Mike took those early lemons and brewed up some lemonade.

Pitching for the Browns club at Class D Belleville, 19-year old Mike Blyzka posted a 12-9 mark with a 3.37 ERA. He also led the Illinois State League with 192 strikeouts in 1948. After posting 28 total wins at Class C and A ball in 1949-50, Mike got swooped up for military service in Korea in 1951-52, but he was ready for his Browns debut when he returned to baseball in 1953. Such as it was, he will, or should be, remembered for his part in history.

Mike Blyzka and admirer. Mike was a true gentleman with a quiet sense of humor.

Mike Blyzka did nothing to call attention to himself, but he possessed a delightful sense of humor about aging and the inevitability it brings to the table. On that last time I saw Mike Blyzka in  St. Louis, one of the girls in the hotel restaurant decided to play with Mike about going out on the town when she got off work. Mike played along with the joke, even though he knew there was nothing to it, and always sticking to his story that he appreciated the invitation, but but that he couldn’t make it due to other commitments.

As we were leaving the restaurant after breakfast, Mike offered the following: “You know, Bill, I might have taken her up on the invitation, but I think I’d rather live to see the game tomorrow.”

Mike Blyzka passed away at his home in Cheyenne on October 13, 2004.

God rest your soul, Happy Mike. And long live the Browns.

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6 Responses to “Mike Blyzka: One of the Last Old Browns.”

  1. David Munger Says:

    Good Article.

    Military Service, you don’t see that on the back of todays’ Baseball Cards.

  2. Emmett McAuliffe Says:

    Didnt know Belleville had a team. The Belleville Stags, no doubt named after the brewery. Looks like they only played 1947-49. Bob Turley was on the team. Practically his home-town. Mike was a nice guy at the Browns dinners.

  3. Fred Davis Says:

    Good story. You may recall that I did a story on Mike that was included in my “Brownies and Other Cookies for the Baseball Appetite” that I passed out at the Brownie Roundup seveal years ago. Mike was one of my favorites, too.

  4. Fred Heger Says:

    Bill,
    I remember attending a Class D league game in Belleville, Ill. in 1949. A close friend of mine from high school pitched for Mattoon, Ill. in that league. He pitched against Belleville that night. I can’t remember if he won or lost but the next year he won 20 games for Mattoon before going into the service during the Korean War.
    Fred HEger

  5. Emmett McAuliffe Says:

    Fred H.

    Was that Dave Hill?
    Man he had a great minor league record. He was 14-6 twice after the war in the CHW organization. 43-20 career. Wonder why he never got higher than ‘C’ ball…

  6. Barry McMahon Says:

    Good story. I have a four page letter that Mike sent me in 1986. Former Browns players have always interested me and I got to be friends with Jim Dyck. I never had the opportunitiy to see Jim Dyck play in the big leagues but saw lots of his games when he was in the Pacific Coast League with Seattle and Vancouver. Incidently Jim was the final out for the Browns. He said he was facing the tough southpaw Billy Pierce and flied out to Bill Wilson in short center field.

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