If there's anything about this blog that I regret, it's that I sometimes don't take the time to learn more about an Orioles player from the early years of the franchise until after they've passed away. Such is the case with Al Pilarcik, who passed away three weeks ago at age 80.
Born in Whiting, IN, Al was yet another talented player who was a casualty of the far-reaching and overstocked Yankee farm system. He was a speedy outfielder with a cannon for an arm, but he was also a victim of bad timing. After hitting .305 with 25 doubles and 12 triples at AA Beaumont in 1952, he was called away to military service. Thus the youngster lost his age 22 and 23 seasons, and was sent back to AA when he returned in 1955. The following year a trade to the bedraggled Kansas City Athletics (themselves a glorified Yankee farm club) afforded him the opportunity to play in the majors, some eight years after he signed his first pro contract. He hit .251 in 69 games and was traded to the Orioles, where he'd make his mark.
Pilarcik's finest year was 1957, his first in Baltimore. Playing in a career-high 142 games, he batted .278, reached based at a .359 clip, and had 9 home runs, 49 RBI, and 14 steals (leading the team in swipes). He was one of the toughest batters in the league to strike out, whiffing only 28 times that year (and 150 times in 1860 career plate appearances). He also showed off his arm by throwing out 15 runners on the bases (second-best in the A.L.). For the next three seasons, he ranked among the best defensive outfielders in the league in terms of fielding percentage and range factor.
In all, Al spent four seasons in an Oriole uniform before finishing his career with a season split between Kansas City and the White Sox. He was a career .256 hitter with 22 homers and 143 RBI. He earned a degree in physical education from Valparaiso University, attending classes in the offseason. After receiving his master's from Purdue, he taught high school health in St. John, IN for 34 years while coaching baseball, basketball, and football. In 1987, he was inducted into the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame.
So long, Al. Sorry I didn't make your acquaintance sooner.