Monday, May 2, 2011

The story and career of George (SNUFFY) Stirnweiss - Update

March 18, 2011

TO:        Children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, Yankee teammates, fans, et al of George Stirnweiss

RE:  The story and career of George (SNUFFY) Stirnweiss

         In the pantheon of major league baseball greats a number of them played for the New York Yankees: Babe Ruth, Lou Gerhig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, et al.  These players were memorialized in the old Yankee Stadium and their careers are again remembered in the new stadium’s Memorial Park.  These players are also in baseball’s Hall of Fame and have had books written about them and movies made of their careers.

            There was another Yankee great, George, Henry, (SNUFFY) Stirnweiss whose story and career, in many ways, rivals the players mentioned above. But his story and career have been mostly forgotten both by the Yankees and major league baseball in general.  Very much like one of his Yankee predecessors, Lou Gerhig, Snuffy’s life had a tragic ending when he died in 1958 at the age of 39 when a New Jersey Central Railroad commuter train on which he was riding ran through an open bridge into Newark, NJ Bay.  A total of 40 people died in that wreck. Possibly by few other players in the history of major league baseball.  Here is a summary of what Snuffy accomplished that season: he led the league in these offensive categories:

Batting average, on base %, slugging %, at bats, runs scored, hits, total bases, triples, extra base hits, times on base, runs created, stolen bases (12 offensive categories). There are some detractors who note that 1945 was a war year therefore the categories in which Stirnweiss led the league in 1945 should be marked with the infamous *.  But it should also noted that while it is true that 1945 was a war year, it should also be noted that in 1945 there were close to 1,000 players in the American League but only Snuffy was able to accomplish what he did.  And in addition to these offensive leaderships, and he and teammate Frankie Crosetti led the league in double plays. In one of his years with the Yankees, 1945, he had a season which is unmatched by any other Yankee and

 One would have to go back to the 1911 season to find a comparable record when the immortal Ty Cobb batted .420 and led the league in most everything; he was the terror that pitfchers feared and shortstops and second-basemen feared when he was about to come sliding into 2nd base.  But, baseball in 1911 and 1945 were entirely different games. 

In 1946, George was voted the Sid Mercer Memorial award as player of the year by the New York Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association.  Some previous award recipients were: Dixie walker, Ted Williams, Joe Di Maggio, Bob Feller, Hank Greenberg, and Lou Gehrig.

            In 1948 with only five errors tallied against him in 141 games, he set a major league fielding record with a .903 average

.  In that same year, George was named major league baseball’s Father of the Year.  George often said he was more proud of that award than any other he had ever received.

            Again in 1948 with only five errors tallied against him in 141 games, he set a major league fielding record with a .903 average.

            This is quite a record for a player who never was even placed in nomination for the Baseball Hall of Fame, much less elected.

            Snuffy’s life had one major tragedy, the train wreck in which he was killed, and a few minor mishaps which destroyed his professional reputation.

            The Central Railroad (CRR) of New Jersey on which Snuffy and 39 other people died in the wreck on September 15, 1958 was in serious financial difficulty.  For just the first six months of that year the railroad was facing an operating deficit of close to two million dollars. For the entire year of 1957 it had only $140,000 operating profit from its passenger services and freight.  Drastic measures had to be taken to keep the company out of bankruptcy. Among the cost cutting actions taken was to eliminate the very large expenses that were needed on various safety features.  One of these features, the so-called ‘dead man’s switch’ which was the subject of much discussion at the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) hearing after the wreck. The switch is a device which shuts off power to the engine if the engineer becomes disabled.   In its testimony at the ICC hearing the railroad claimed it didn’t need this switch since it always had a second man (a fireman) in the engineer’s cabin.  But when the cabin was recovered from Newark Bay, only the body of Mr. Wilburn, the engineer, was found; The assigned fireman, Peter Anderson’s, body was found in another part of the train.  The railroad could offer no reason why Anderson was not where he was assigned to be.

            One of the minor mishaps in 1945 over which he also had no control was the decision by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA).  This organization which consists mainly of the newspaper writers in the cities where major league baseball is played.  Each season they select the player to be given the “Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.  Along with the CyYoung award given to pitchers the MVP is a prestigious honor which players hold in great regard.  In 1945 the BBWAA awarded the MVP to the Detroit pitcher Hal Newhouser.  Newhouser had won 27 games that year and led his team to the American League championship and winning the World Series.  There is little, if any, conflict with this choice.  But the BBWAA also gave 2nd place in the award to another Detroit player, Eddie Mayo who led the league in absolutely no category even giving him 7 votes for 1st place.  In contrast, Snuffy Stirnweiss was assigned to 3rd place.

                                                                                                                                                            And then to heap insult on to injury in another dishonor placed on Snuffy by the BBWAA was in regard to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Election to the Hall is accomplished in two steps: (1) after having been out of baseball for five years, a player may then be placed on the ballot for election. He shall remain on the ballot for five years or until he receives a minimum of 75% of the voters.  Unless the player is elected during one of his five years of eligibility, his name shall be removed from subsequent ballots.

            Snuffy first became eligible for election to the Hall in 1957, but then died in 1958.  The election rules allow a player who was previously eligible for election but then died before he become ineligible shall be eligible for being placed on the annual ballot for his full five years

             It may be interesting to look at the names of a few of the players who were nominated for election by being placed on the ballot during the years when Snuffy was also eligible for such placement; each one received at least one vote for election.  BUT Snuffy could never make to the list to join such notable players as:  Kiki Cuyler, Eppa Risney, Nick Altrock, and Art Nehf.  Just another example of the BBWAA in action. 

The BBWAA action in the 1945 MVP voting along with their record in the Baseball Hall of Fame, could easily raise the possibility of some bias and/or prejudice by these writers in regard to Snuffy Stirnweiss.  At least I believe it could be so..

It’s quite likely that I’ve gone on much too long with this diatribe in which I’ve likely exhibited MY bias and prejudice towards Snuffy.  I hope I’ve built a case for my feelings.

It is likely that I’ve lost a number of readers by this point; yet I do have to offer one more bit.  It is quite apparent that there might be two Snuffy’s: My Snuffy and the one seen by the BBWAA members.

So, let me provide this statement, which I hope, tells the story of:


Who was the real Snuffy Stirnweiss?  There was the Snuffy that

Had so many friends at Fordham Prep and The University of North Carolina.  There was the Snuffy Stirnweiss that millions of Yankee fans worshiped as their baseball hero.  The best way to learn about him is to listen to his many friends talk about him.
            There was Fr. Matty O’Rourke.  He and George were virtually inseparable friends during all of their days at Fordham Prep.  There wasn’t anything they didn’t do together.  When Snuffy needed help with his studies, which was quite often, Matty was there to lend a helping hand when Calculus became too much of a chore during the middle of football season.  Although it had been sixty years or more, others spoke just as lovingly of their memories of Rabbit, as he was known during his Prep days.

            One has only to listen to UNC President Erskine Bowles in several letters he wrote about how George is remembered at the university.  He is still in the university sports hero status at the level of Charlie Justice
            The statement made by George Steinbrenner: iii regarding Snuffy’s career: “Stirnweiss never received the accolades his performance demanded.  iwhich George deserved, Hopefully, your book will change that, and he will rightly receive his due. Of course there is some percentage of the millions of fans who saw him play who would remember him as do I..

          But it is the Snuffy who is remembered by his teammates in basketball, baseball, and football, who after all these years have gone by, can still remember him at the end of every game running as fast as he ever did on the football field to get to the opposition teammates.  Regardless of whether he was on the winning or losing team, everyone he could get to was given a warm, congratulatory handshake and a slap on the back (hugs weren’t the thing in those days).  And he had words for them too.  Probably some thought this was just grandstanding or showing off, but those who thought this didn’t know the real Snuffy.

          He couldn’t have been more sincere when he said to a player who may have been the “enemy” just a few minutes earlier, “Great game.  You have a wonderful team”.  George had only love and admiration for those on the other side of the field.  It wasn’t in his nature to behave in any other way.  And he felt exactly the same way about his fellow teammates; and he told them often.  And, those who knew the real Rabbit Stirnweiss knew his every word was sincere, earnest, and heartfelt.

          It is probably best summed by again by Fr.Matty O’Rourke who was devastated when he heard of his friend’s death, especially since he wasn’t able to be at his funeral.  It may have been close to sixty years since Snuffy’s death, but when Matty said to me: “I still miss George.  He IS my best friend.”.  He couldn’t have been more in earnest.  There were tears in his voice.

            It has been an effort of over three years to get the story of George Stirnweiss told.  My research began with visiting with members of his family in New Jersey, followed by visits to Fordham Prep in New York, and the University of North Carolina.  Of course I’ve spent countless hours searching the internet for what ever I could find.  I have an e-mail file with close to 200 contacts with anyone who could tell me more about Snuffy.  And every bit of these tasks was a true labor of love.  I do not regret one minute spent in this work, even though I’m not much closer to getting his biography published, despite having sent the document to Acquisition Editors at close to 100 publishers.  I came  ”close” with only two (no point in telling that story).  But, now age and health are bringing me close to the end of my being able to continue without some help (I’m starting my 84th year and inflicted with Parkinson’s Disease, and several of the usual afflictions of an octogenarian: high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, hearing loss, macular degeneration in one eye (I’m a virtual Cyclops), et al.  But I always tell myself, as I do others complaining about “old age”, that growing old might not be much fun, but it’s infinitely better than the alternative.

            At one point, for about a year, I was working with an agent who made considerable effort to find a willing publisher.  I know she was highly motivated because her getting paid was dependent on getting the book published.  Although she was not successful in her efforts, when she quit, she did leave me with one piece of advice: “find a friend inside a book publisher” the chance of getting a submissions editor to read a unsolicited document for a biography about a relatively unknown baseball player are slim.  But, working from the inside at the start will greatly improve your chances (**)

            I most definitely am not seeking help with any of the aforementioned ailments since I’m already seeing too many physicians and taking 31 prescription medications daily.  Thank GOD for the help I get from the VA and Medicare with the costs of all this medical assistance.

            The help I urgently need is with making some effective contacts inside the world of book publishing. ** My hope is that there is a Snuffy friend who has a friend or a friend who has a friend inside some book publisher.  Most publishers specialize in what they print: cookbooks, fiction, self- help books, etc.  I am asking to publish the book as a paperback, gift-book that is a somewhat6 easier category to crack.

            If you can help, please contact me via my e-mail: 

            Even when I use my VA hearing aids, I don’t function very well on the phone, but I can manipulate an e-mail message to enable me to read it.




  1. I am George's Grandson and would like to just say thanks for keeping his memory alive. I never had the chance to meet him but, I hope I have the chance to be half the man he was.

    1. My Grandfather was George's cousin. George used to give my father tickets to come to the games.

  2. Thank you so much for your work and effort in putting this story together to remember the life of George Stirnweiss. I never met the man, but have become a fan of his simply through history, stories and tales that I have read about him. His friends seem to have nothing but kind words to speak of him, which speaks volumes for the man he must have been. While I am a loyal UNC football fan and supporter, I have been familiar with the name George Stirnweiss for some time. However, it was not until I recently acquired and 1939 UNC team autographed football, with his autograph on it, that really sparked my interest in Mr. Stirnweiss and his career. The more research that I have compiled, I have been amazed at the career that this man put together. Thanks to a person like yourself, thanks for taking the time to keep his memory alive and tell his story in preserving his legend. Thank you for affording others, such as myself, the opportunity to both learn and appreciate the great career and life of George Stirnweiss.

  3. I was the New York Yankees spring training batboy. Snuffy was by far the nicest player on that team. Others were nice as well, that is doing nice things or saying nice words to this nearly 13-year-old in St. Petersburg FL, but I perceived him as a person who is defined by a loving and generous nature. It's a gift to me that at this long remove that others experienced him much the same way. It was in thinking of him that I came across your writing. The Yankees brought their own batboy from New York in subsequent years, and I was "purchased" by the St. Louis Cardinals as their lead spring training batboy.

  4. There is a fantastic book called through my eyes a sports writers 58 year journey by Jerry Izenberg. The book dedicates many pages to Mr ( and Mrs ) Stirnweiss. Sound like they were great people. God rest their souls!!

  5. Thanks for sharing!!! All the best.....Take care....Brad