Baseball’s Forgotten Stars: Ossie Bluege, “The Brooks Robinson of the 1920s and ‘30s!”

Baseball’s Forgotten Stars: Ossie Bluege, “The Brooks Robinson of the 1920s and ‘30s!”

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Another Edition of Baseball’s Forgotten Stars: Ossie Bluege, “The Brooks Robinson of the 1920s and ‘30s!”

…Or as his family likes to say: “Brooks Robinson was the 1960s and ‘70s version of Ossie Bluege!”

I’ve mentioned many times we always enjoy it when we’re contacted by descendants of former ball players. It doesn’t matter to us if he was a star or a sub. Anyone who makes it to the Big Show is special; and we’re always glad to shine the spotlight for a brief moment. Today, I’m featuring one of the best defensive third basemen the game has ever seen, Ossie Bluege.

Many of our readers who are avid students of baseball history will recognize the name. Most will remember he was a fine ball player from a by-gone era. But few, including myself, are aware of what a great player he actually was.

Recently I was contacted by daughters Wilor Bluege and Lynn Bluege-Rust. They’re rightly proud of their dad who has been largely overlooked with the passage of time. Like many fine ball players from baseball’s Golden Age, he’s been overshadowed by the likes of Ruth, Gehrig, Hornsby, DiMaggio, and Foxx. To help give him a little deserved recognition, they’re writing a book about him. They kindly asked me to review the manuscript prior to publishing. I told them it would be an honor.

The book is very well written and it didn’t need much input from me. As I was reading it, I was stunned to discover what an outstanding player their father actually was; and, what’s more important, that he was an even better human being. I found it very refreshing to read a biography of a ball player possessing such high personal qualities as Ossie Bluege.

Ossie spent 50 years in baseball, all with the Senators franchise, as a player (1922-1939), manager (1943-’47), farm director, and later as comptroller directly involved with the team’s move to Minnesota. Signed off the Peoria Tractors in 1920, the 5’ 10 ½” 152 pound Chicago native hit .272 over his career, with 43 home runs, 848 RBIs, 140 stolen bases, and a .353 on-base percentage. A 1935 All-Star, he was a member of Washington’s three pennant winners (1924, ’25, ’33), and the franchise’s only World Series championship in 1924. The 1925 infield of Ossie Bluege, Roger Peckinpaugh, Bucky Harris, and Joe Judge is considered one of the best of all time. As manager, his club had two second place finishes and he was the Sporting News Manager of the Year for 1945.

While his offensive numbers might seem modest, he had a well-deserved reputation as a dangerous clutch hitter. As farm director, he was responsible for signing some of the biggest names in Senators’ history, including Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison, Zoilo Versailes, Jim Kaat, and Tony Oliva. At his retirement party in 1971, owner Calvin Griffith had tears in his eyes as he reflected on how much Ossie had meant to him, saying “Ossie had become like a father to me” after the death of owner Clarke Griffith.

But Ossie left his mark on the game primarily as one of the best fielding third basemen the game has ever seen, known for making even the most difficult plays look easy. The comparison to Brooks Robinson is not an exaggeration. Babe Ruth once selected Ossie as the third baseman on his All-Star team. I was stunned to read contemporary comments about Ossie from his peers and from sportswriters. Here’s a small sampling:

  • “I consider Ossie one of the best, if not the best fielding third-basemen in the majors. -Sportswriter Shirley Povich, 193
  • “Bluege is fast on his feet and can go a long way in either direction. He has a fine pair of hands and no hit is too difficult for him to try to handle. He has a wonderful arm.” -HOFer Billy Evans
  • “ I can tell you the two greatest infielders who ever played in my time. And there he is [pointing to Bluege] over there hitting fungoes. That’s him, and I mean the two greatest infielders. Bluege played third base and shortstop at the same time on those Washington teams. That’s how much ground he covered. I know. I played against him for 15 years…” –Luke Sewell
  • “…If you’re looking for the best fielding third baseman who ever played, his name is Ossie Bluege.” –Pie Traynor (Non-verbatim quote witnessed by Lynn Bluege)
  • “Nobody will get Bluege from us. He has a job for life. I got him for $3,500.Today I wouldn’t take $75,000!” – Clarke Griffith, owner Washington Senators
  •  “Why do you think Washington always had great shortstops like Peckinpaugh and Cronin? It’s because Bluege was playing along side ‘em and covering half of the regular shortstop territory, as well as third base.” -Washington sportswriter
  • “Ballplayers who see him every day know that he is a great artist and that many of the changes he handles with such grace and ease would bowl over many others. We think he is the best third baseman in either league.” -Senators teammate
  • “Neither of them was the equal of Ossie Bluege,”- Calvin Griffith, speaking of the comparison of Pie Traynor and Brooks Robinson to Ossie Bluege
  • “If you hadn’t been playing 3rd base, I’d have hit over .400!”- Hank Greenberg, speaking to Ossie Bluege

So let’s all take a moment to remember Ossie Bluege, a fine ball player from a by-gone era, and give him the recognition he deserves from all of us who love baseball history!

 Gary Livacari

Photo Credits: All from Google search

Information: Excerpts edited from the Ossie Bluege Wikipedia page; and Bluege family manuscript

Check out my new book, now available on Amazon in paperback: “Memorable World Series Moments!” https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077L85D7C?

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I'm a baseball historian who also loves to write. My forte is identifying ballplayers in old photos, and my specail interest is the Dead Ball Era.

2 Comments

  1. Wilor Bluege · December 31, 2017 Reply

    Hi, Gary,
    Thanks, Gary, for this wonderful post! Not to be too picky here, but I did find one little yet significant error (because it misses the ironic thrust of Luke Sewell’s actual comment — and Luke had a great sense of irony and humor!

    Luke did not say ‘one of the greatest infielders’ but this: “… I can tell you the two greatest infielders who ever played in my time. And there he is [pointing to Bluege] over there hitting fungoes.” And, Sewell continued: “That’s him, and I mean the two greatest infielders. Bluege played third base and shortstop at the same time on those Washington teams. That’s how much ground he covered. I know. I played against him for 15 years…” (Quoted directly from an article written by Shirley Povich that appeared in The Sporting News, October 22, 1942. See p.30 of “A Life in Baseball: Ossie Bluege, Gripped by the Game” by Wilor Bluege and Lynn Bluege-Rust. The book can be found on Amazon.)

    • Gary Livacari · December 31, 2017 Reply

      Yeah…I paraphrased it a bit because I thought it might be confusing in the original. But I’ll go back and put in as spoken.

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