Friday, January 2, 2015

The Late Light-Hitting Center Fielder from South Jamaica, Queens

Even I do not understand my obsession with New York State governors. But having written six posts about former New York State Governor David Paterson, I thought, "Why not one about Mario Cuomo?" (Just one, I promise.) The 52nd governor of New York State (1983-1994) died at his home yesterday, just hours after his son Andrew was sworn into his second term as governor.

In its lengthy, front page obituary of Mario Cuomo, the New York Times notes Cuomo played one season with the Brunswick (Ga.) Pirates of the Georgia-Florida League. With 254 plate appearances, Cuomo hit .244. His 10 doubles, two triples and one home run bumped his slugging percentage up to .311.

Albany Archives altered a card from a set issued by
 Upper Deck and broadcast it through its twitter feed.

According to the Times,
"A strapping six feet tall, 190 pounds at age 19, he signed a contract to play center field for the Class D Brunswick Pirates in Georgia in 1952, reportedly receiving a $2,000 signing bonus, sizable for that time. Mr. Cuomo 'plays hard' and 'will run over you if you get in his way,' a Pirates scout wrote. 
"His baseball career was short-lived. Knocked in the head with a 3-and-2 fastball that summer, he was left blind for a week and forced to give up the game...."
The scouting report apparently comes from the back of an Upper Deck card, part of a set called "The American Epic" that was issued in 1994. The set reportedly derives from the Ken Burn's Baseball documentary that broadcast the same year. The Pirate scout also wrote, "not an easy chap to get close to but is very well liked by those who succeed in penetrating the exterior shell."

Brunswick is on the Georgia coast, about halfway between Savannah and Jacksonville. The town hosted a Georgia-Florida League team from 1951 to 1958 and again in '62 and '63. The Pirates won back-to-back league titles in '54 and '55 but finished seventh in the eight-team field when Cuomo played in 1952.

The only player on the '52 Brunswick squad to see time in the major leagues was Fred Green, who pitched 142.1 innings of relief in 88 games during the 1959-1962 and 1964 seasons. Green pitched in 149 games for four Triple-A clubs during the same period. It's a long road from rural Georgia to the major leagues.

The Class D league played mostly in small Georgia towns of 10,000-20,000 people; Cordele, Dublin, Fitzgerald, Moultrie, Thomasville, Tifton, Valdosta, Waycross. None have teams now, nor do the larger venues of Dothan, Alabama, and Panama City and Tallahassee, Florida. Whoo-hee! It must have been hard to make curfew when they played in Tallahassee!

After Cuomo's one year in professional ball, he returned to St. John's University, where he had previously played on the freshman baseball team. He earned his undergraduate and law degrees there and made a name for himself mediating eminent domain conflicts. Elected as lieutenant governor in 1975, he lost a bid to become mayor of the City of New York before being elected governor for three terms. Poised for years to take the national stage, as a presidential candidate or later a supreme court judge, Cuomo never took the leap.

Mario Cuomo, 1923-2015

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