BY David Eskenazi 08:30AM 07/03/2012

Wayback Machine: Dick (The Needle) Gyselman

Few trades in Seattle’s professional baseball history turned out as well as a 1934 deal that netted the Indians third baseman Dick Gyselman and pitcher Kewpie Dick Barrett.

Bill Schuster, right, sizes up Dick Gyselman for a Rainiers jersey in 1954, the year Gyselman, Schuster and nine others were named to the franchise's Roll of Honor. / David Eskenazi Collection

By David Eskenazi and Steve Rudman

In mid-July 2003, as part of its 100th anniversary celebration, the Pacific Coast League selected not one, but two All-Century teams. The first included elite players who tramped the circuit between 1903-57, the second the best who performed after the Brooklyn Dodgers (Los Angeles) and New York Giants (San Francisco) relocated to the West Coast in 1958.

The franchise that represented Seattle after 1958 – Rainiers (1958-64) and Angels (1964-68) – landed one player on the “second” All-Century team, noted knuckleballer Wilbur Wood, who went 20-10 for the 1963-64 Rainiers when they were affiliated with the Boston Red Sox after their purchase from Emil Sick (Wood later had a long major league career, primarily with the Chicago White Sox).

This is Gyselman early in his Pacific Coast League career with the 1932 Mission Reds. He went on to set a record for most games played in the minor leagues: 2,520. / David Eskenazi Collection

Two Seattle players made the first All-Century team (1903-57), selected by the PCL’s Blue Ribbon Centennial Committee: Pitcher “Kewpie” Dick Barrett and third baseman Dick (“The Darning Needle” or “The Thin Man”) Gyselman, ironically both acquired by the Seattle Indians in the same trade, which certainly ranks as one of the most astute swaps in the city’s long association with professional baseball.

Barrett and Gyselman performed in a Pacific Coast League called the “Grand Minor League” or the “Third Major League,” virtually from its inception. In its early years, and up until 1930, the league’s clubs played as many as 200 to 220 games per season (the 1905 San Francisco club even played 230, its season lasting, almost absurdly, from March 30 through Dec. 3).

Through the 1950s, teams still played upwards of 185, which were divided into a weekly seven-game series for each team that ran from Wednesday through Sunday, always doubleheader day.

The “Coast League,” as newspapers of the day liked to describe it, employed many players, including Barrett and Gyselman, who spent virtually their entire careers in it, and numerous others who went on to Hall of Fame, or near-Hall of Fame, careers in the majors after their service in the PCL.

The first PCL All-Century team included Tony Lazzeri (Salt Lake City), Ted Williams (San Diego Padres), Joe DiMaggio (San Francisco Seals) and future managers Casey Stengel (Oakland Oaks) and Gene Mauch (played for the Los Angeles Angels), while the second showcased the likes of  Tony Gwynn (Hawaii Islanders), Mark McGwire (Tacoma Tigers), Barry Bonds (Hawaii Islanders), and future manager Lou Piniella (Portland Beavers).

NFL and Olympic icon Jim Thorpe played for the Portland Beavers in 1922 (hit .308 in 35 games), and television star Chuck Connors starred for the Los Angeles Angels in 1951-52 before becoming “The Rifleman” in 1958.

Famous for his 56-game hitting streak with the Yankees in 1941, DiMaggio also hit in 61 consecutive games for San Francisco in 1933 when he was 18 years old.

Gyselman, as a member of the Seattle Indians, is shown here at Civic Field, where the club played before moving into Sicks' Stadium in 1938. / David Eskenazi Collection

Notable about the PCL’s first All-Century team is who didn’t make it. That list includes Earl Averill (San Francisco) Lloyd and Paul Waner (San Francisco), Bobby Doerr (Hollywood) and Dom DiMaggio (San Francisco). {see Wayback Machine: The Earl (and Pearl Of Snohomish}

While this collection of mostly Hall of Famers didn’t spend much time in the PCL, given that they were on fast tracks to the big leagues (Paul Waner played from 1923-25 and hit .401 his last year), neither did the aforementioned Wilbur Wood, who made the second All-Century team despite playing in only 36 PCL contests.

Given the talent that filtered through the “Grand Minor League” over the years, especially between 1903-57, the league’s heyday, it not only ranks as a major achievement for a player to have made the All-Century team, but remarkable that Seattle landed both of its 1903-57 representatives on the same day in a transaction Seattle’s newspapers largely ignored.

No swap executed in Seattle’s pre-major league days has been written about more extensively than the Dec. 12, 1938 deal in which the Rainiers sold 19-year-old Sporting News Minor League Pitcher of the Year Fred Hutchinson (see Wayback Machine: Hutch — A Man And An Award) to the Detroit Tigers for $50,000 and a nucleus of players, including Jo Jo White and George Archie, a future PCL MVP, that would help the franchise capture PCL crowns in 1939, 1940 and 1941.

But there probably would not have been a trio of titles without Seattle’s trade for Barrett and Gyselman, who came to Seattle with pitcher Clarence Pickrel at the cost of “Coffee Joe” Charles Coscarart.

Barrett pitched – and won – more games (seven 20-win seasons) for the Indians/Rainiers than anyone else. Gyselman played more games – 1,649 – for the Indians/Rainiers than anyone else (as many as Ken Griffey Jr. played for the Mariners).

Barrett and Gyselman both made numerous PCL All-Star teams, but when the Rainiers released Barrett (at his request) in 1949, he received a full-fledged, front-page newspaper story. When the Rainiers swapped Gyselman to San Diego after the 1944 season, his departure rated three, below-the-fold paragraphs.

This is Gyselman in May of 1935 at Civic Field, a ballpark not exactly noted for its great ambience. / David Eskenazi Collection

Barrett, of course, had not only been a great pitcher, but a personality and character of the first order, Gyselman not so much. In fact, in its three-graph adieu to Gyselman, The Seattle Times acknowledged that Gyselman had been “sure handed” and “a real team player,” but used the word “unexciting” twice in describing him and his style of play.

Born April 6, 1908, in San Francisco, the only child of Dutch immigrants Rudolph and Nellie Gyselman, Richard Renald Gyselman might have grown up in Michigan if a massive earthquake hadn’t devastated San Francisco in 1906.

A carpenter, Rudolph Gyselman settled in Michigan after arriving in America from The Netherlands, but when the quake struck the Bay, he moved his family there to take advantage of the numerous employment opportunities available in the reconstruction of the city.

Dick Gyselman grew up tall and lanky and graduated from San Francisco’s Polytechnic High School, where he developed two primary interests, the study of drafting and the pleasure of baseball. From available records, Gyselman seemed headed toward a career as a draftsman, especially after Standard Oil hired him a year after he left Polytechnic High.

But the Great Depression wiped out Gyselman’s drafting job in 1929, and he went looking for work, without success, elsewhere. Fortunately for the young Gyselman, he’d spent a couple of years playing for a sandlot team sponsored by Standard Oil, and the San Francisco Missions were on the lookout for players. From today’s perspective, the Missions had a novel way of finding them.

They recruited several young men and promised each a new suit of clothes if they could line up at least 10 players to attend one of the team’s tryout camps. A boyhood friend of Gyselman’s, familiar with his skills, cajoled Gyselman into attending.

“My dad’s buddy told him that he’d get a new suit if my dad went to the camp,” said Gyselman’s son, Jim, long a resident of Lake Forest Park. “Out of all the players who attended, just two made the team and my dad was one of them. It’s amazing how you can get into the game.”

That was 1931, and the Missions assigned Gyselman first to Tucson of the Class D Arizona-Texas League. In 128 games, he batted .303 with 163 hits.

Gyselman played more than 1,600 games at third base for the Indians and Rainiers and set a record for most games played in the minor leagues. / David Eskenazi Collection

Despite those numbers, the Missions didn’t promote Gyselman in 1932, sending him instead to the Albuquerque Dons, also of the Class D Arizona-Texas League. When Gyselman hit .392 with 165 hits in just 99 games, winning the league batting title, the Missions beckoned. In 58 games at the AA level, Gyselman put up a .319 average.

Even with those gaudy stats, the Missions might not have summoned Gyselman if the Arizona-Texas League, always in financial peril, hadn’t folded July 24.

Gyselman’s great year, split between Albuquerque and Mission, drew interest from the Boston Braves, on the prowl for a third baseman, and, after weeks of negotiations, the Braves paid the Missions $60,000 for Gyselman, infielder Al Wright and third baseman William Walters, who later wore the handle, “Bucky.”

Gyselman, 24 years old, thought he would be given a fair shot to play third base for the Braves, but when the 1933 season opened, Boston manager Bill McKechnie installed incumbent Fritz Knothe at the position.

When Knothe struggled early (he batted .238 for the year with one home run), Gyselman got his first chance to start April 23, and tripled and scored in a 2-1 win over a Brooklyn Dodgers club that included Lefty O’Doul (the manager on the PCL’s first All-Century team) and Hack Wilson.

Boston never gave Gyselman much of a chance, just 24 games. On April 25, he went 2-for-3, also against the Dodgers. On May 9, hitting at the top of the Braves order, he went 2-for-3 against Pittsburgh, and on June 25, he whacked a walk-off double against the Chicago Cubs, giving the Braves a 4-3 victory.

Gyselman is shown here during a game with the San Francisco Seals in 1936. The Seals player is Ernie Raimondi, who entered the military service with the U.S. Army in June 1944. Within six months he was in France with the 44th Infantry Division and was killed in action in January, 1945. / David Eskenazi Collection

Gyselman never developed into much of a long-ball hitter – he hit a career-high 12 home runs for the Rainiers in 1938 – and the combination of his lack of clout, plus Knothe’s, forced the Braves to seek a power solution at third base. On June 25, they traded Knothe and outfielder Wes Schulmerich to Philadelphia for outfielder Hal Lee and infielder Pinky Whitney.

Originally a second baseman, Whitney took over third and Gyselman went to the bench, there to remain for the balance of the 1933 season.

Gyselman made a few spot starts, such as the one Aug. 22, when he had two hits and produced a career-high three RBIs against the Pirates, but he finished the season with an average of just .239, no homers and 12 RBIs.

Gyselman told The Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 1943 that he’d hoped to build on his baptismal season in 1934, but it didn’t happen. Hitting .167 July 26, the Braves optioned him to Buffalo of the AA International League.

Gyselman spiked at .252 in 45 games and, on Nov. 25, the Bisons packaged Gyselman with Barrett, a pitcher for the Albany Senators (another Boston farm club in the International League) and Pickrel (yet a third Red Sox entry in the IL) and dispatched them to the Seattle Indians for Coscarart, who hit .241 in two seasons in Boston.

Indians owner William Klepper engineered the trade and didn’t say a word about it to Seattle newspapers for more than a week. No wonder: Klepper had just acquired a .252 hitter (Gyselman), a pitcher who had gone 6-4 (Barrett), and another (Pickrel) who had gone 9-11, 5.03 ERA). Not much to crow about there.

Gyselman, George Archie, Alice Brougham, Bill Lawrence and Levi McCormack, left to right, at Rainiers spring training in 1939. Alice Brougham was the daughter of Post-Intelligencer sports columnist Royal Brougham. / David Eskenazi Collection

When news of the trio’s acquisitions were finally reported by The Times, they weren’t featured, but rather included in a list of off-season signings made by Klepper. The Post-Intelligencer, on the other hand, greeted the new players this way:

“Too often, the professional sports promoter, comparing costs against gate receipts, doesn’t give Joe Fan all he has coming. But weekend activities would indicate that Seattle will have winners, whatever the cost.

“Bill Klepper, business manager of the Seattle Indians, started it when he closed a couple of deals in the East that just about bought Seattle a new baseball team for next year.

This is Gyselman's 1943 Centennial Flour baseball card. Gyselman hit .297 with 154 hits in 149 games that season. / David Eskenazi Collection

“He has free agent George Grantham, major league star for years, coming in to play first base; Dick Gyselman, a star with the Missions two years ago, coming in to replace Joe Coscarart, sold to the Boston Braves; Eddie Taylor coming in from Atlanta as insurance on the shortstop post, awarded to young Chet Smith.

“Jerry Donovan, who was obtained in a trade with Sacramento for Chick Ellsworth, is coming in to aid the outfield, and a flock of pitchers has been added to the roster, including Bruce Cunningham from Baltimore and Hobo Carson and Lefty Thompson from Kansas City. Those men, plus more still sought, should make the Seattle Indians a real threat next year.”

Gyselman might have succeeded at the major league level if he’d received consistent at-bats. But he didn’t, and his flawless play at third base couldn’t compensate for the lack of power the Braves sought. But Gyselman found his niche in Seattle, as did Barrett, two players born for the Pacific Coast League.

While Barrett won 20 or more games seven times over the next decade, Gyselman played 10 consecutive seasons as the Indians/Rainiers third baseman. He became a fan favorite, but not in the way that Hutchinson, Barrett, White, Edo Vanni and Bill Lawrence did.

This is the back of Gyselman's 1943 Centennial Flour baseball card. / David Eskenazi Collection

“He was so consistent every day that fans took him for granted,” wrote the Post-Intelligencer in 1944. “He was always overshadowed on his own team even though he was one of the most reliable players on the team.”

Gyselman batted .303 in his first year with the Indians in 1935, hit nine home runs and drove in 100 runs. But Barrett, with 22 wins, and Mike Hunt, with a .330 average and 25 home runs, got the ink (see Wayback Machine: Mike Hunt, ‘Old Baggy Pants).

Gyselman produced 185 hits in 172 games in 1936, great work, but Hunt and Freddie Muller tied for the PCL lead with 30 home runs apiece (first pair to hit 30 homers in the same season for Seattle), while Lou Koupal (23) and Barrett (22) became 20-game winners.

Gyselman had 198 hits, including 11 home runs and 12 triples in 1937, but Hunt banged a PCL-high 39 home runs and the Indians trotted out a pair of 20-game winners – Barrett (20) and Paul Gregory (20) – for the second year in a row.

The Rainiers sent this letter to team trainer Lew "Doc" Richards in 1943 when he departed the ball club. Gyselman's signature is in the left-hand column, fifth from the top. / David Eskenazi Collection

Hutchinson, the 19-year-old rookie, dominated the local headlines (as well as the PCL) in 1938, when the Indians morphed into the Rainiers, winning 25 and losing only seven while posting a 2.48 ERA. Compared to that, Gyselman’s career-high 214 hits almost got lost.

After Hutchinson went to the Tigers in 1939, two of the players obtained in the sale became keys to first of three PCL pennants. Archie hit .330 and drove in 88 runs while Joyner hit .287 and led the league with 47 stolen bases. Shortstop Alan Strange also had a big year, batting .335 with 90 RBIs that made Gyselman’s .296 pale by comparison.

Gyselman figured prominently in the second championship, primarily with steady production, but Barrett (24-5) and Hal Turpin (23-11) led the Rainiers to a franchise-record 112 victories. Barrett and Turpin also became the main storylines in 1941.

Gyselman had a number of marquee games, such as July 28, 1939, when his grand slam gave Turpin a 5-0 win over Sacramento. But with the Rainiers, Gyselman always seemed to be overshadowed by a bigger bat, a bigger personality, a star on the rise (Hutchinson), or a newcomer that excited (White) the fans.

But in the three seasons the Rainiers won PCL titles, Gyselman produced 442 hits in 479 games – nearly a hit a game — and in 10 years played in 1,649, amassing 1,762 hits, 300 doubles, and 134 stolen bases. No Rainier put down a sacrifice bunt as adroitly as Gyselman, and then there was his glove.

“Gyselman has the fastest hands in baseball when it comes to putting the ball on the runner,” manager Bill Skiff said after the Rainier won their third championship in 1941.

This is Gyselman's 1944 autographed Centennial Flour card. Gyselman played his final year with the Rainiers that year and was the only member of the team named to the PCL All-Coast team (Associated Press). / David Eskenazi Collection

“Dick Gyselman would be my third baseman,” Bill Sweeney, a former major league first baseman who spent 18 seasons in the PCL, told The Los Angeles Times in 1952. “He was just the best third baseman I ever saw, anywhere. His fielding was almost perfection, and he was a timely hitter, too.”

Jim Gyselman, Dick’s son, describes himself as “the icing in the Oreo cookie.” Jim’s father obviously had a memorable career and Jim’s own son, Jeff, played in the Philadelphia Phillies organization after starring at Inglemoor High School and Portland State. Jim Gyselman, who didn’t play professionally (but did play at Franklin High, where he was a teammate of Ron Santo’s), was too young, born as he was in 1942, to have a clear memory of his father as a player.

“I saw him a bit while he was managing,” Jim said. “But that’s all I remember, being an eight or nine-year-old at that time. But from what I’ve been told, he was real cat-like at third, a vacuum cleaner.”

Jim, though, spoke to many who saw his dad play, and according to Jim, “He (Dick) was a solid hitter, had good speed, hit a lot of line drives, had good instincts, but not a lot of power, and he was pretty intense.

“He was fairly reserved, not gregarious like an Edo Vanni type of guy. As a player, he didn’t create a lot of wrinkles in the clubhouse. He wasn’t controversial, but he was just ready for every game, every at-bat. Call him a steady Eddie, dependable, reliable, consistent, whatever you want. That’s the feedback I’ve gotten.”

In Gyselman’s final year with Seattle, 1944, he had 185 hits, a .305 batting average, and was the only Rainier to make the Associated Press All Coast Team. But if Skiff had gotten his way, Gyselman would have spent that season in San Diego.

This is the reverse side of Gyselman's 1944 Centennial Flour card. / David Eskenazi Collection

During spring training, 1943, Skiff made several overtures to the Padres in an attempt to acquire 26-year-old George McDonald, then viewed as the best first baseman in the league, and then a holdout. But Major Charles Lott, president of the Padres, wouldn’t bite.

Once the season began, Skiff made another attempt to land McDonald, but Lott kept his neck bowed. But when the season ended, Lott accepted a package that included Gyselman. The trade, made Dec. 8, 1944: Gyselman and a pair of low-level pitchers to the Padres for McDonald and non-descript outfielder Jack Whipple. Effectively, the trade sent the league’s best first baseman to Seattle for the league’s best third baseman.

In spite of Gyselman’s long service to the Indians/Rainiers, The Times didn’t say much when he headed to San Diego, judging the trade this way:

“McDonald is only 26 years old and has his best baseball years ahead of him, while Gyselman at 34 can’t be expected to go on forever. Gyselman still has the mechanical ability to be the best third baseman in baseball, but Seattle fans have watched him so long that they’ve lost their appreciation for his marvelous hands, and his timely base hits, simply because he isn’t spectacular.”

Gyselman hit .321 for the Padres in 1945 and, under manager Pepper Martin, even stole a career-high 27 bases. After hitting .281 in 1946, Gyselman started 1947 with San Diego, but Seattle reacquired him at mid-season and Gyselmen finished his PCL career wearing a Rainiers uniform.

Gyselman spent 1948 working for the Rainiers as the player/manager of the Great Falls (MT.) Electrics, their Class C affiliate in the Pioneer League (hit .332 in 106 games) and had remarkable last year in professional baseball in 1949.

After a long tenure with the Indians/Rainiers (1934-44), Gyselman went to San Diego in 1945 and played for the Padres. /David Eskenazi Collection

He started it as the player/manager of the Sweetwater Swatters in the Class D Longhorn League. After 97 games (and a .380 batting average), a former PCL rival named Buck Fausett, who had played for the Hollywood Stars, persuaded Gyselman to join the Albuquerque Dukes of the Class C West Texas-New Mexico League – not as a manager, or even as a third baseman (Fausett’s position), but as a second baseman for the team’s pennant run. Gyselman hit .386 in 32 games, most of them on the same Tingley Field where he had won a batting title for the 1932 Albuquerque Dons.

After setting a still-standing minor league record for most career games played, 2,520, Gyselman still wasn’t through. He knocked around semipro leagues in Washington state for several years while he sold sporting goods.

In 1952, Gyselman went to work for the King County Department of Parks and Recreation and he stayed there until 1973, the last 15 years as recreation supervisor in the Greater Puget Sound region.

In retirement, Gyselman devoted many hours to golf and even more to his church, Brighton Presbyterian at 6721 51st Ave. S., busying himself in a variety of charitable endeavors and working with youth. He even served as a deacon and sang in the choir.

“He always told me he was very lucky,” Jim Gyselman said. “He said he always got the most out of what he had, and he thought he was one of the luckiest guys around to be able to play as long as he did. He was a heckuva guy. He was a pretty conservative guy and had a good religious base. I was fortunate to have him as a father.”

Bone cancer took 82-year-old Richard Renald Gyselman Sept. 20, 1990. He left behind a daughter, Jill, a son, Jim, and four grandchildren. The Times wrote eight paragraphs about his passing and buried the obit in the back of the sports section.

“He was a real team ballplayer,” Edo Vanni told The Post-Intelligencer just before Gyselman’s funeral at Brighton Presbyterian Chuch. “And maybe the perfect teammate.”

Rainiers owner Emil Sick, left, with Gyselman in 1948, when Gyselman managed the Great Falls Electrics of the Pioneer League. / David Eskenazi Collection

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Many of the historic images published on Sportspress Northwest are provided by resident Northwest sports history aficionado David Eskenazi. Check out David’s “ Wayback Machine Archive.” David can be reached at (206) 441-1900, or at  seattlesportshistory@gmail.com


YourThoughts

  • RadioGuy

    I used to work at a bank in downtown Seattle in the early 80′s (counting Joe Diamond’s parking lot money in the vault).  One day I came upstairs and talked to a teller, who said an old ballplayer had just been through her window.  “Really?” I asked, “What was his name?”  She replied, “His last name was Gyselman.”  Arrgghh  I missed him by five minutes (lucky for him).  A GREAT third baseman and timely hitter.

    FYI, tomorrow marks the 80th anniversary of Dugdale Park burning down, leading to the Indians having to play at hardpan Civic Field until 1938.  Dugdale Park sat 15,000 and was the first double-decked minor league ballpark in the west.  According to a 2005 story by Ron Richardson (http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=7566), it was built in five WEEKS in 1912…imagine that happening today. 

    • Steverudman

      THANKS FOR THE IMPUT. IN CASE YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT, CHECK OUT DAVE ESKENAZI’S WAYBACK “A FIRE THAT CHANGED OUR SPORTS.” ITS IN HIS ARCHIVE, OR YOU CAN GOOGLE “WAYBACK AND FIRE”

      • Steverudman

        Sorry, I meant input.

        • RadioGuy

          It’s cool, Steve, I figured it out…didn’t think you were laying a sniglet on me (and when’s the last time you heard a Rich Hall reference?).

          Yes, I read that archive piece a couple weeks ago.  However, yesterday I scrolled several months back though the archives for the first time and saw a LOT of stories I want to read.  The Wayback Machine is my favorite part of SPNW because I eat up sports history and you just can’t get this stuff anywhere else.  Kudos.

  • RadioGuy

    I used to work at a bank in downtown Seattle in the early 80′s (counting Joe Diamond’s parking lot money in the vault).  One day I came upstairs and talked to a teller, who said an old ballplayer had just been through her window.  “Really?” I asked, “What was his name?”  She replied, “His last name was Gyselman.”  Arrgghh  I missed him by five minutes (lucky for him).  A GREAT third baseman and timely hitter.

    FYI, tomorrow marks the 80th anniversary of Dugdale Park burning down, leading to the Indians having to play at hardpan Civic Field until 1938.  Dugdale Park sat 15,000 and was the first double-decked minor league ballpark in the west.  According to a 2005 story by Ron Richardson (http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=7566), it was built in five WEEKS in 1912…imagine that happening today. 

    • Steverudman

      THANKS FOR THE IMPUT. IN CASE YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT, CHECK OUT DAVE ESKENAZI’S WAYBACK “A FIRE THAT CHANGED OUR SPORTS.” ITS IN HIS ARCHIVE, OR YOU CAN GOOGLE “WAYBACK AND FIRE”

      • Steverudman

        Sorry, I meant input.

        • RadioGuy

          It’s cool, Steve, I figured it out…didn’t think you were laying a sniglet on me (and when’s the last time you heard a Rich Hall reference?).

          Yes, I read that archive piece a couple weeks ago.  However, yesterday I scrolled several months back though the archives for the first time and saw a LOT of stories I want to read.  The Wayback Machine is my favorite part of SPNW because I eat up sports history and you just can’t get this stuff anywhere else.  Kudos.