Mickey Grasso

From BR Bullpen

Mickey Grasso.jpg

Newton Michael Grasso

BR page

Biographical Information[edit]

Mickey Grasso caught for seven years in the major leagues, but was also famous for the three years he spent in a German prisoner-of-war camp during World War II. Before he went into the service, he played at Trenton in 1941. He was nicknamed Mickey because he resembled Mickey Cochrane.

Grasso enlisted in the army on January 20, 1942 and reported to Fort Dix, NJ. He was assigned as a sergeant to North Africa with the 34th Infantry Division. His unit was encircled by an overwhelming German force on February 17, 1943 and surrendered. He was taken prisoner and flown first to Italy, then to a German POW camp near Furstenberg, Germany. He tried to escape three times and was caught each time, then was subjected to beatings upon recapture. Finally, with German resistance collapsing, he escaped successfully with nine comrades on April 20, 1945, and managed to cross the Elbe river by boat, where he met an American GI unit. He had lost 60 pounds while imprisoned, and while the prisoners were afforded some sporting goods by the Red Cross and were able to play a little baseball, he had not faced real competition for four years when he returned to the United States.

In 1946, he was assigned to the Jersey City Giants and hit .228, while getting a brief look with the major league New York Giants. He improved in 1947, batting .268 with Jersey City, and was then sold to the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League for $20,000, a huge sum for an unproven player at the time. However, he justified the large transfer price by becoming a star on the West Coast. He had a large fan club, due to his engaging personality, hit .261 with 5 home runs in 1948, and was the league's outstanding defensive backstop. In 1949, he hit .251 with 7 homers. Over the two years, he had 81 and 74 assists, league-leading totals both years. He was also ejected 23 times, because, as well as he got along with the fans, he just could not abide umpires, who reportedly reminded him of German prison camp guards, and he would constantly pick losing arguments with them. He once described umpires as "thick-headed and thin-skinned".

After his two solid years in Seattle, he was selected by the Washington Senators in the 1949 Rule V draft. He hit .287 in 75 games in 1950. In 1951, he hit a home run in the first American League home Opening Day game played at night, but otherwise had a poor season, hitting only .206 in 52 games.

He became the Senators' regular catcher in 1952, on a team which had quite a few well-known players, in spite of finishing only 5th in the league. Mickey Vernon played first, Eddie Yost played third, Pete Runnels was at short, Jackie Jensen was in the outfield. The Cuban star Connie Marrero at age 40 won 11 games for the team, and had been the winning pitcher of the 1951 Opening Day night game in which Grasso hit the home run. Grasso played well behind the plate, but hit only .216 in 115 games. In 1953, he hit .209 in 61 games. One of his problems was that he insisted on taking a huge swing, aiming for power, but this was a losing strategy in cavernous Griffith Stadium, where homers were few and far between.

Grasso was traded to the Cleveland Indians before the 1954 season, but broke his ankle in spring training and appeared in only 4 games during the regular season with the great team that won 111 games. He did play in one game in the 1954 World Series. After being taken in the 1954 Rule V Draft, he played eight games with his original team, the New York Giants, in 1955, but was sent down to the minors, where he played until 1958. He hit .226 in 322 major league games over seven seasons.

After baseball, Mickey Grasso settled in Florida and ran several restaurants and worked at a racetrack. He died in Miami, FL in 1975.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Cort Vitty: "Mickey Grasso: the Catcher Was a POW", in Bob Brown, ed.: Monumental Baseball: The National Pastime in the National Capital Region, The National Pastime, SABR, Number 39, 2009, pp. 81-83.

Related Sites[edit]