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How a 40-year-old journeyman pitcher took his minor league team to their best regular season in history

By Chuck Miller

Originally published in Albany-Colonie Yankees Yearbook, 1993

Orie Edgar Arntzen was a 6'1" 39-year old righthander from Beverly, Illinois, a veteran of eighteen years of professional baseball. His only major league experience was half a season with the war-depleted Philadelphia A's, pitching a 4-13 record in 1943 before Connie Mack released him. The Southern Association, the Three-I League, the International League, he had seen it all. By 1947, after three years with the Albany Senators, the righthander people called "Old Folks" considered retirement. Only the encouragement of the team's manager, Pinky May, convinced Orie Arntzen to remain. "He was a more experienced pitcher," May remembers today. "Had good control, not overpowering stuff, but he had a sense of knowing how to pitch. And he had good control with what he had. In fact, he was the main cog in our pitching staff."

5,301 fans crammed into Hawkins Stadium on April 27, 1949. Many brought their lunches, thousands of brown bags full of sandwiches and fruit. Even Mike O'Neil, the New York Central railroad worker who became Albany's unofficial cheerleader, took his place in the third base grandstand, ready to march up and down the stands, clapping his hands, when the home team needed fan support. Opening Day in Hawkins Stadium, Albany against the Hartford Chiefs. And Old Folks Arntzen, the oldest Senator on the team, was on the mound.

The Albany faithful saw Arntzen scatter two hits through his first six innings, mostly on fastball pitches. As his arm got tired, he switched to a mixture of curve balls and high heat. Arntzen struck out three en route to a 4-1 victory. "I didn't throw many curves until the late innings," Arntzen told Charley Young in the April 28, 1949 Knickerbocker News. "When I was getting 'em out in rotation I was throwing different speeds. Sure, it was a thrill for me to win the opener, but don't forget [catcher] Rollie Leveille caught a real good ball game and the club played good ball behind me. Didn't have a boot, did they?"

Arntzen knew his teammates were exceptional. The 1949 Senators had a sterling double play combination of Frankie Staucet at shortstop and Fred Lanifero at second. Their right fielder, Gus Bell, would later have a long career in the major leagues with the Pirates and Mets. Their left fielder, Don Manno, produced clutch hits almost on demand. And Arntzen wasn't the only pitcher on the team - the rotation consisted of Cohoes native Eddie "Bobo" Kalski, gentlemanly Inman Chambers, young Jimmy Mims and hardworking Preston Elkins.

An early May series with the Binghamton Triplets shows how dominating the Senator hurlers were and their part in keeping Albany in first place in the Eastern League. On May 1, Arntzen pitched the second half of a doubleheader, striking out five in seven innings and hitting a triple for the go-ahead run. 7,374 fans gave Arntzen a standing ovation as he beat the Binghamton Triplets, 6-2. On the next day, Eddie Kalski shut Binghamton out on four hits, 5-0. Pres Elkins followed Kalski, pitching Albany to a 7-1 win over Binghamton for his second win of the year. After only 20 games, the Senators possessed a 13-7 record, and Arntzen, Kalski and Elkins were a combined 11-0.

The three-pitcher winning streak lasted for a month. Eddie Kalski posted his first loss on May 18, a 4-2 loss to Wilkes-Barre. Nine days later, Pres Elkins lost his first game, a 2-1 defeat in Williamsport on May 27.

But Arntzen kept on winning. Old Folks often pitched on three days' rest, with one start in the middle of the week and another on a Sunday doubleheader. He even pitched in relief, usually in the closing innings of a tight game. For example, on May 15 Orie went to the mound in the eighth inning with Albany in a 7-7 tie against Scranton. The Senators won it in the 13th, 9-8, when Herschel Held knocked in a two-out RBI single. In relief, Arntzen picked up his fifth straight win.

"Arntzen Hurls 11th Win, 6-4" read the June 18, 1949 Times-Union. The Senators jumped all over Scranton pitcher Hal Hisner, as Len Kensecke and Rollie Leveille each scored two RBIs. Old Folks pitched like a master, striking out four and walking only one hitter. The Miners did get 11 hits in the affair, but stranded nine baserunners in the process.

Old Folks was also a terror at the plate in 1949. Down 1-0 in the third inning against Wilkes-Barre, Arntzen bounced a triple into right field. Frank Staucet, the next batter, singled Arntzen home, and the Senators continued the rally for three more runs. Arntzen's rally helped Albany beat the Barons, 5-4. Arntzen earned his 12th win.

The bleacher bums remembered Arntzen in 1944, when he won his first six before being reassigned to Toronto. But no matter how well Arntzen pitched in 1949, there would be no call up for him. Unlike many of his teammates, who were property of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Arntzen signed his contract directly with the Albany Senators, and he would finish the season with them. And maybe even set a record with them.

June 26, 1949. In the nightcap of a doubleheader, the Senators gave Arntzen a 10 run cushion. Arntzen pitched as if he was protecting a 1-0 lead, striking out four and allowing only two hits, one of them a solo homer by the Grays' Don Warren. The scores - Albany 10, Williamsport 1. Arntzen, 13 wins, no losses.

Two days later, Bobo Kalski started against Elmira in the nightcap of a doubleheader. The score was tied 3-3 into the 10th, when Albany scored four runs. Elmira came back in their half of the inning, scoring four runs off of Kalski, his replacement Luther Knerr, and his replacement Stan Milankovich.

Pinky May called in Arntzen to start the 11th inning. Pitching on only two days' rest, Orie struck out four, allowed one hit, and permitted no walks. He also drove in Eddie Heinrich and Len Kensecke on a bases-loaded single. Albany won the nightcap, 11-7 in 13 innings, and Arntzen picked up his 14th win.

More than 4,000 people were on hand at Hawkins Stadium when Arntzen faced the Hartford Chiefs. In the 8th inning, Arntzen stepped up to the plate, with Albany ahead 5-0. One of pitcher Glenn Thompson's breaking balls broke too far inside, hitting Arntzen on his left elbow. Arntzen trotted to first, then went into the clubhouse for treatment while Bob Masters went in as a "courtesy runner." But Orie returned to the mound in the 9th inning, completing his 11th game and winning his 15th. Arntzen now held the record for most consecutive wins from Opening Day. The record for most Eastern League wins in a row was 17, set by Scranton's Tommy Fine in 1946. And the Albany faithful wanted Arntzen to break the record.

July 8, 1949. Arntzen's next start was in Binghamton, facing the Triplets' ace, Ed "Whitey" Ford. Ford and Arntzen matched zeroes for five innings. Arntzen took a 1-0 lead into the eighth inning, grounding Ford for the first out in the eighth.

Then the floodgates opened.

After Ford grounded out, left fielder Bob Marquis singled, then second baseman Loren Babe tripled to the right field wall. Tie game, 1-1. After Orie intentionally walked Norm Jaeger, Art Schult singled to left. Babe scored, and Binghamton led 2-1. Schult was forced off second, but Jimmy Greengrass whacked a double into center field, scoring Babe. Binghamton now led 3-1.

The Senators rallied in their last inning. Herschel Held pounded a single into center field. Clark Henry hit a grounder that forced Held off second, but Henry beat the throw to first. Ford then discharged a wild pitch to Don Manno, and Henry sprinted to second. Ford later walked Manno. May sent in Rollie Leveille to pinch-hit for Kensecke, and Leveille knocked in a single, scoring Henry and sending Manno to third. Binghamton now led 3-2, and Ford was pulled for another pitcher, Arnie Landeck. May then sent in another pinchhitter, Eddie Heinrich.

Landeck threw only one pitch.

Heinrich slammed a high fastball into short left field. Bob Marquis ran at full speed towards the foul line, and caught the ball in the tip of his glove. "If he didn't have the glove on his right hand," remembered Frank Staucet, "he probably wouldn't have caught it."

Pinky May, who was coaching third, gave Manno the go-ahead signal. Manno tagged third and lumbered home. Marquis rifled the ball towards home plate. Pinky May recalls what happened next. "I can remember that I'd do it over again. I had the runner tag up and score -- and dammed if he didn't make a perfect throw to home plate to get him."

Even though he was beaten by the throw, Manno charged into home plate at full speed, knocking Bob O'Neal for a loop. But O'Neal held onto the ball - and the umpire called Manno out.

End of the game, on a 7-2 double play. Binghamton 3, Albany 2.

And Orie Arntzen missed the record. Two wins away from tying Tommy Fine's 17 wins, and he lost a heartbreaker to the Binghamton Triplets. Arntzen, who was the next scheduled batter when Heinrich hit into the double play, was so furious he threw his bat down and headed for the visitors' locker room door. He furiously kicked it open, knocking it off its hinges.

And when the Senators returned home, there was a surprise package waiting for them - boxes of dolls and teddy bears, postmarked from Binghamton. The dolls were gifts from the Binghamton fans, who made sure the "babies" had enough toys to keep them entertained.

Two weeks after the Binghamton loss, Albany faced the Scranton Miners in Pennsylvania. Arntzen, blessed with another 10-0 lead, didn't allow the Miners a hit until the sixth inning. Eight different Senators got at least a hit and an RBI in a 16-4 triumph. That win, combined with a doubleheader loss by Wilkes-Barre, extended Albany's lead in the Eastern League to a season-high 14 games. And Arntzen won his 17th game.

Arntzen's 18th win went into extra innings. With the score tied 1-1 against Utica, Rocky Tedesco knocked an Arntzen fastball over the left field fence. Albany tied it in the bottom of the tenth, when Eddie Heinrich punched a triple into right, scoring pinchrunner Inman Chambers. In the top of the 11th, with runners at first and second, Utica pinchhitter Carl Kolosna stepped to the plate. The runner on second tried to steal third, but was gunned down by a miracle pickoff by catcher Clyde McAllister. The Utica rally was dead. In the bottom of the 11th, with Staucet on first and one out, Gus Bell ripped a double into center field, scoring Staucet and giving Arntzen his 18th victory.

Arntzen could thank Number 19 for his 19th victory - Don Manno. In the fifth inning of a scoreless contest, Manno threw out Carl Kolosna, who tried to score on a single. And in the tenth inning, with two men out, Manno clouted his tenth homer of the season, a missile clearing the fence at McConnell Field, giving Arntzen a 1-0 victory.

But in his 20th victory of the season, a 2-1 victory over the Binghamton Triplets, Arntzen showed both sides of his control. He gave up 13 hits, the most in any start all season, but thanks to clutch pitching and some fantastic infield stops by Frank Staucet and Herschel Held, only one Binghamton baserunner made it all the way home. "I have been lucky, very lucky, this season," a humble Arntzen told the Knickerbocker News on August 5, 1949. "Don't overlook the fact that I am pitching for a great bunch of players. They have supported me brilliantly in every game I have been in this year. All have had an important part in my victories."

On August 14, the Elmira Pioneers tried a new strategy to get on base against the Eastern League's leading pitcher. In the second inning, Owen Friend laid down a bunt, but Arntzen grabbed it and threw to first for the out. In the third inning, Sal Madrid tried to bunt, but Arntzen caught it on the fly. In the fourth, Bob Caffrey tried to bunt, but Rollie Leveille caught it in foul territory. After three failed bunts, Elmira just gave up and let Arntzen beat them, 9-2.

Four days later, the Senators were on the road in Williamsport. Albany led 4-2 in the third inning, but the Grays had runners on second and third. Pres Elkins was on the mound, facing Dale Long. Elkins worked Long to a 2-2 count, but tore a tendon in his pitching elbow and was removed from the game. Enter Orie Arntzen. Old Folks got Long to ground out, then got left fielder Russ Sullivan to end the rally. Arntzen pitched the rest of the game, and was credited with a 9-5 victory.

On August 23, 5,448 fans packed Hawkins Stadium for "Orie Arntzen Night." Before the game, Mayor Erastus Corning presented Old Folks with gifts from merchants, fans and teammates. The pitcher received everything from an $800 savings bond to a canister of weed killer. After thanking the mayor, the management and the crowds, he went out to the mound and promptly won his 23rd game, a 6-3 pounding of the Elmira Pioneers. After the game, Old Folks told the Knickerbocker News that August 23, 1949 was "my greatest day in baseball."

Arntzen won his 23rd game for the fans. He won his 24th game for the pennant. On August 28, 1949, Arntzen faced Utica's shortstop Johnny Berdella in the top of the final inning. Number 22 only allowed six hits all night, and was one out away from a 6-1 victory and Albany's first Eastern League pennant since 1942. Berdella knocked a lazy pop fly towards second base, where Fred Lanifero caught it effortlessly. The Senators won the pennant. As the game ended, catcher Clyde McAllister hopped a motor scooter, drove towards the outfield and picked up Don Manno, Clark Henry and Gus Bell and drove all three of them to the clubhouse. Inside the clubhouse, the celebration was in full swing. Some of the players grabbed Pinky May and clubhouse man Joe Bell and tossed them, fully clothed, into the showers. Then the whole team posed, motor scooter, soaked manager and all, for the Knickerbocker News cameras.

Orie Arntzen lost two games all season. One was a heartbreaker to Binghamton last July. The other was to Hartford, a few days after clinching the pennant. Arntzen was rocked for three runs in the first inning. In the fifth, Old Folks gave up a gopher ball to the Chiefs' Hank Ertman, Ertman's 22nd homer of the year.

Four days later, Arntzen got revenge against the pesky Chiefs. He gave up a double to third baseman Jackie Daniels, who later scored on an error, but after that Orie was unstoppable. From the second inning on, not one baserunner got past second base, and Arntzen earned his 25th victory.

When the season ended, the Eastern League champion Albany Senators were 93-47, the best professional showing by any Albany-based team since 1879. Their closest competition, the Scranton Miners, were 14 games behind. Three of Albany's pitchers won games from every club - Arntzen, Pres Elkins and Jimmy Mims. And Old Folks Arntzen beat every team in the league at least twice. His 25 wins are an Albany record that still stands to this day. And since 1949, not one Eastern League pitcher has won 25 games in a single season.

All of this made the 1949 playoffs anticlimactic.

Albany faced the Wilkes-Barre Barons in the semi-finals of the Governor's Cup playoffs. Arntzen started the first game against the Eastern League's only other 20-game winner, Roy Weimaker. 3,854 fans were ready for a classic pitching duel.

Arntzen pitched a solid game, but the Barons were hitting everything he threw. In the second inning, Arntzen walked center fielder Harry Simpson, then gave up a single to left fielder Ed Mutryn. George Devito whacked a pitch to deep right field, where Gus Bell reigned it in. Simpson tagged up and scored. Catcher Milt Stockhausen singled, putting runners at first and third.

Then Arntzen made some really bad pitches.

Stockhausen took a big lead off first. Arntzen threw to first - but his foot was still on the rubber. Balk.

Now runners were at second and third. Weimaker laid down a bunt along third. Arntzen grabbed the ball and fired it to first, but Weimaker beat the throw. Meanwhile, Mutryn scored on the play. Arntzen then fired a breaking ball that broke past the catcher, and Stockhausen scored on the wild pitch.

Arntzen was later removed in the sixth inning for a pinchrunner. Stan Ferek stepped in for relief, but took the loss when Wilkes-Barre scored five runs in the 10th inning, and won the first game of the series, 9-4.

Game 2 of the playoffs also went into extra innings. Pres Elkins started, but was hit on his pitching hand by a Milt Stockhausen line drive. Bob Masters took over, pitching the Senators into extra innings. But in the 11th, after giving up two runs, Pinky May looked down the bench for a replacement for Masters. Sitting there, with no days' rest, was Old Folks Arntzen.

May told him to warm up and replace Masters.

Old Folks did as was told. He went to the mound and retired third baseman Al Smith on a grounder, ending the inning. Albany tied it up in the bottom of the 11th on a two-run double by Rollie Leveille.

In the 12th inning, Arntzen faced Barons shortstop George D'Addario. Arntzen threw a fastball. D'Addario caught every piece of that fastball and sent it to the deepest part of right field. The ball headed for the foul pole, but cleared the fence six inches into fair territory. The go-ahead home run. Arntzen's next pitch was a response to that home run - he bounced a breaking ball off Ed Mutryn's head. Mutryn made it to first, but was removed for a pinchrunner, who stayed on first as Arntzen got the final two outs.

Wilkes-Barre's Herb Benzel then set down the Senators in order to finish the game.

After pitching six innings in Game 1 without a decision, Arntzen pitched less than two innings in Game 2 and took the loss. He did not pitch again in the series, and Wilkes-Barre won the next two games, sweeping Albany four games to none. It was the first time a team swept Albany in a series all year. A bitter end to a sweet season.

Arntzen pitched only one more year in organized baseball, but could only muster an 8-5 record and a 6.64 ERA before finally hanging up the glove and uniform. His last pitching appearance was in 1959, ten years after his 25-2 season, when he drove all the way from his home in Cedar Rapids and hurled in an old timer's game at Hawkins Stadium. On January 28, 1970, Old Folks Arntzen passed away in his Cedar Rapids home. He was 60 years old.

There is no bronze profile of Orie Arntzen in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame, although his nemesis in Binghamton, Whitey Ford, is comfortably stationed there. But on the third floor of the Hall of Fame, just past the displays of baseball cards and sheet music, there is an exhibit devoted to the minor leagues. And Old Folks Arntzen's name is in this exhibit, as the 1949 Minor League Player of the Year.

It's a small marker in comparison to the majesty of the Hall of Fame, but for the hundreds of fans who remembered baseball at Hawkins Stadium in 1949, Arntzen's pitching made it a sweet summer indeed.



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