This was entertainment amid the wide-ranging shutdown for several months early in the pandemic: Run across a name of a sports figure from the past and take a long climb through the internet’s rabbit hole.
Now, it’s a habit. Last week there was a mention that three Minnesota natives — Fred Bruckbauer, Doc Hamann and Gordie Sundin — were among 16 big-league pitchers with ERAs listed as infinity (no outs recorded, runs allowed).
Freddie’s one appearance came for the Twins, and I’d heard of Doc Hamann’s plight. I didn’t know Sundin shared the distinction.
Gordie was an all-time great athlete at Minneapolis Washburn, honored as all-state in football, basketball and baseball. The Millers won both the state basketball and baseball titles in 1955, then he signed in July with the Baltimore Orioles.
The righthander had an overwhelming fastball and developed arm problems. He hadn’t pitched in the minors in 1956 but was with the Orioles at season’s end.
On Sept. 19, 1956, with the Orioles down 8-1 in the eighth at Detroit, an 18-year-old Sundin entered, walked two batters and was replaced. A runner scored, and Sundin didn’t pitch again in the majors. ERA: infinity.
Sundin’s Wikipedia page added this: Tom Gastall caught Sundin, and then died the next afternoon in a plane crash into Chesapeake Bay.
Turns out, Gastall was from Fall River, Mass., and also a tremendous three-sport prep athlete. He started at quarterback at Boston University and was BU’s star baseball player.
Gastall signed with the Orioles for $40,000 in June 1955, making him a “bonus baby” required to be in the majors for two seasons. He was a free spirit, buying a worn Ercoupe plane for $2,000 and taking up flying without informing the Orioles.
On a windy Sept. 20, Gastall left from an off-day workout, went to Harbor Field, jumped in his plane and flew across the bay. He sent a mayday call 10 minutes into the return and only an oil slick and plane’s seat cushions were ever found. The 24-year-old’s body was recovered floating near a beach five days later.
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• Sundin had a steel company here and became a successful real estate developer in Florida. He died in Naples, Fla., in 2016 at age 78.
• Asked by the Baltimore Sun about the infinite ERA, Sundin said: “Nothing I can do. … I might well as grin and bear it.’’
• Billy Gardner, the former Twins manager and also oldest living Twins player at 93, was Gastall’s roommate in 1956. “A good guy dying young … it’s the saddest story there is,’’ Gardner said in 2006.