MILWAUKEE — Andy Pafko, a four-time All-Star who played on the last Chicago Cubs team to reach the World Series and was the famously forlorn outfielder who watched Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” sail over the left-field wall during the 1951 National League playoff, has died. He was 92.
Pafko died Tuesday of apparent natural causes at a nursing home in Stevensville, Mich., according to Kraig Pike, director of the Pike Funeral Home in Bridgman, Mich.
A fan favorite known for his dogged play and diving catches, Pafko played with Jackie Robinson for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1951 to 1952, and with Hank Aaron as a Milwaukee Brave from 1954-59. But he is perhaps best remembered as being part of one of the most famous games in baseball history, when Thomson’s three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth gave the New York Giants the win in the decisive Game 3 of their NL playoff against the Dodgers at the Polo Grounds.
“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” shouted broadcaster Russ Hodges, one of the signature moments in major league history.
The Giants went to the World Series. The Dodgers went home.
“Everybody remembers who was the pitcher, but nobody remembers I was the outfielder who watched it go over the fence,” Pafko said in a 1999 interview with The Associated Press. “That was the biggest disappointment of my whole career. I wanted to go to the World Series.”
Thomson later became Pafko’s teammate and roommate with the Braves — and “Bobby never wanted to talk about that homer after that,” Pafko said.
Pafko was born in the northwestern Wisconsin city of Boyceville, and he started his baseball career in Chicago’s farm club. Manager Charlie Grimm gave him the nickname “Pruschka” when he joined the Cubs in 1943, and he was later known also as “Handy Andy.”
Pafko became a starter the next season at the age of 19. He hit .298 with 110 RBI in 1945, helping the Cubs to the pennant. In the World Series loss to Detroit, Pafko had six hits, including two doubles, but batted just .214.
He was an All-Star from 1947 until 1950. His best seasons during that stretch were 1950 with .304 average, 36 homers and 92 RBI and 1948 with a .312 average, 26 homers and 101 RBI. He was traded to Brooklyn in 1950 and to Milwaukee in 1953. He had declining production numbers and saw limited duty in the last few years before retiring in 1959.
Pafko’s other three World Series appearances were all against the Yankees — 1952 with Brooklyn, and 1957 and 1958 with Milwaukee. The Braves won the series in 1957.
Pafko once described a run-in with Robinson in 1948, when the Dodger great hit a triple and bowled him over at third base. The Cubs dugout emptied.
“I thought there was going to be a big fight. But we backed off and it all quieted down,” Pafko said in a 1997 interview. “Later, when I joined the Dodgers and he was my teammate, Jackie came over to me and asked me if I remembered that incident at third base. Both of us laughed about it.”
Pafko, who played his entire 17-year career in the National League, was a sought-after figure by baseball card collectors. One of them — a Topps card from 1952 — sold for nearly $84,000 in 1998, marking what at the time was the second-highest price at the Mastro Rine Sports auction in Washington. The only higher bid was $108,000 for a jersey that Lou Gehrig wore in 1927. A 1933 Babe Ruth card went for $32,485.
Pafko said it was a shock. And it was doubly true when he recalled the “boxes of cards” he received from the Topps company in the 1950s but didn’t save.
“I just gave the cards to the kids in the neighborhood and they put them in their bicycle spokes. And there went the money — click, click, click,” Pafko said with a chuckle.
After retiring as a player in 1959, Pafko was a major-league coach and minor-league manager for the Braves, then scouted for the Montreal Expos. Back in the Chicago area around 1970, he settled in Mount Prospect and was a part-time starter at a local golf course for several years. He retired for good in the late 1970s.
“I’m in good health, still playing golf,” Pafko said in 1999. “People say I should be playing now. But I had a good career — four World Series, four All-Star games. Except for the money today, I have no regrets.”