Sunday, February 23, 2020

Introducing Mel Kerr

Photo credit: Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame
One of the things that I found most interesting while researching George Gibson was his encounters with other Canadians. George formed a battery with Dooney Hardy in Buffalo, he was behind the plate when Bill O'Hara took his first ever at bat with the St. Louis Cardinals, and he squared off crossed paths with Larry McLean numerous times in the majors. Stumbling on those encounters was cool, because I immediately recognized the names.

Finding out about Mel Kerr, however, was, in some ways, more interesting, but his name was new to me entirely. Mel Kerr was born in  Souris, Manitoba on May 22, 1903. By the early 1920s, he was living in Saskatchewan, and tearing up the sports scene. In both 1922 and 1923, Kerr was Saskatchewan's individual track and field champion, and Saskatoon's singles tennis champion. He was also very active in the local basketball scene, and in 1924, he teamed up with Madge Clark and added a mixed doubles tennis title to his resume. Following a dominant baseball season in the Saskatoon City League, Kerr joined the cities senior rugby team.

On January 6, 1925, Bill Veeck announced that Mel Kerr had been signed to play with the Chicago Cubs. Kerr was promoted as a seven-star athlete, and his sheer athleticism drew comparisons to Jim Thorpe. Mel joined the Cubs at the Catalina Islands for spring training and showed up well. His speed on the base paths caught the attention of Manager Bill Killefer, and Kerr made the club out of Spring Training. After about a week with the Cubs, Mel was optioned to Saginaw of the Michigan-Ontario League.

Mel played well enough there, to earn a fall call-up to the Cubs in September. By then, Bill Killefer had been relieved of his duties, Rabbit Marranville, who took his place, had resigned the position, leaving George Gibson -- originally hired by Killefer to be a bench coach -- had assumed the role. With the season well out of reach, Gibson was given orders to try out some of the new talent.

On September 16th, the Cubs were hosting the Boston Braves for a double header. Down 8-1 in the seventh inning of the second game, Gibson sent Tommy Griffith to pinch-hit when the pitcher, George Milstead, was due up. Griffith managed a single, and was lifted for pinch-runner Mel Kerr. Kerr eventually came around to score, bringing the score to 8-3. Kerr did not take the field following his baserunning, and the Cubs went on to lose the game, 8-6.

That single run scored, accounts for Kerr's entire major league career. And just like that, what began with comparisons to Jim Thorpe, ended with more similarity to Moonlight Graham.

Following the 1925 season, Kerr remained active in baseball, playing for various minor league teams until a shoulder injury forced his retirement in 1933. Mel Kerr was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 1977 as a multi-sport athlete.

Mel Kerr passed away on August 9, 1980 in Vero Beach, Florida.

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