Gordon Sundin Jr. was an outstanding three-sport athlete at Minneapolis Washburn in the mid-1950s. So good that he helped the Millers to a state first — winning state titles in baseball and basketball in the same school year.
The three-year letter-winner in baseball, basketball and football for Washburn signed a professional baseball contract with the Baltimore Orioles in July of 1955, one month after leading Washburn to the state baseball championship. He was three months shy of his 18th birthday.
Sundin, who spent six years in professional baseball, died on May 2 in Naples, Fla. He was 78.
“Gordie was one of the best all-around athletes to ever come out of Minneapolis,” Star Tribune columnist Sid Hartman said.
During that period, photos and stories of Sundin and his Millers teammates frequented the sports pages of the two Minneapolis daily newspapers — the morning Tribune and the afternoon Star.
“He could do it all,” Hartman said. “He was all-state in basketball. He was 6-foot-4 and could throw hard. He could have played college football. He was recruited by the Gophers, Notre Dame and Wisconsin.”
After pitching in just five minor league games for the York (Pa.) White Roses in 1955 — one of his teammates was future Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson — and missing nearly the entire 1956 season because of arm problems, Sundin made his major league debut with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
On Sept. 19, 1956, Sundin entered a game in the eighth inning in Detroit with the Orioles trailing, 8-1. After facing two batters and walking them both, he was relieved. One of those two baserunners eventually scored. It would turn out to be his only major league appearance.
Sundin, who reached Triple-A (the highest classification of minor league baseball) three times, never returned to the big leagues. He was hampered by arm problems throughout his career before retiring in 1961.
Sundin’s brief appearance makes his career one of baseball’s statistical oddities. His career earned run average (ERA) is “infinity.” Sundin is one of just three major league pitchers since 1950 to allow a run without getting at least one out in their only big-league appearance. (Another in the trio is Minnesota native and former Gopher Fred Bruckbauer, who made one appearance for the Twins in 1961).
“There’s nothing I can do about it,” Sundin told the Baltimore Sun in 2006. “I might as well grin and bear it.”
When he was healthy, Sundin was considered one of the hardest throwers in professional baseball.
“It was between me and Herb Score [of the Cleveland Indians] on who threw the hardest,” Sundin said in the 2006 interview.
“They didn’t have all the [radar] guns they have now, but Score was approaching 100 mph and I was approaching Score. So you can take it from there.”
After retiring, Sundin returned to Minnesota and went into business. He started his own steel company before enjoying a long, successful career in real estate development in Minnesota and Florida.
Sundin was one of the inaugural inductees into Minneapolis Washburn’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007. He also helped the football team to two city conference championships.
Sundin is survived by his wife of 59 years, Mary Ann, and daughters Cindy, Terri and Cori, eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Services were held in Florida on May 7.