Not everybody named for an all-time great ballplayer makes it to the major leagues. For every Willie Mays Aikens there are probably a dozen Carl Yastrzemski Johnsons. One thing is for certain, though: Nobody got to the majors quicker after being named for a ballplayer than did Rogers Hornsby McKee, seen here in a wartime postcard.
McKee was born on September 16, 1926, just a few weeks before Rogers Hornsby led the Cardinals to a victory over the Yankees in the World Series as player-manager. Just 16 years, 11 months and 2 days later, he found himself on the mound at Shibe Park, wearing a Phillies uniform and facing Stan Musial of those same Cardinals who were, once again, World Champions. McKee got through his major league debut fairly unscathed, allowing just one run in three innings. He got roughed up the next time out, though, surrendering five runs while recording just one out in a 20-6 loss to the Reds. He made his next appearance a month later, pitching a scoreless inning against the heart of the Cardinals' order.
Finally, manager Freddie Fitzsimmons put the ball in his locker for the last game of the season, the nightcap of a Forbes Field doubleheader against the Pirates on October 3. McKee responded by becoming the youngest pitcher to win a major league game since Willie McGill of the fittingly named Cleveland Infants of the Players League in 1890. McGill was 16 years, 5 months and 28 days old, while McKee was 17 years and 17 days.
It was a tight 3-3 affair until the seventh when the Phillies scored four times and added two more in both the eighth and ninth innings. McKee helped his cause with an RBI single and scattered five hits while walking five and striking out just one.
Because it was wartime, it's natural to question the quality of the lineup McKee was facing. The Pirates went 80-74, good for fourth place, 16 games ahead of the Phillies. What follows is the lineup McKee faced that day with an emphasis on how much they played after the bulk of the ballplayers came back from Europe and the Pacific:
Tony Ordenana (SS): This was his only major league game. He had an 11-year minor league career in which he displayed an astonishing lack of power. For instance, Ordenana slugged .255 with Toronto in 1944.
Jim Russell (1B): Rookie. He had a 102 OPS+ in 1943 and upped it to 137 in 1944. He got a decent amount of postwar playing time.
Tommy O'Brien (RF): A rookie with a 127 OPS+. The bulk of his major league career was in wartime, although he played 61 games in 1949-50.
Vince DiMaggio (CF): He was 30 in 1943 with most of his career behind him. He led the league in strikeouts that year for the fourth of six times in his career; this in direct contrast to his most famous brother, Joe. Fittingly, he was the only strikeout victim of McKee's career. DiMaggio had an OPS+ of 108 in '43, which was also his career average.
Bob Elliott (3B): A genuine star, Elliott had made the All-Star team in both 1941 and 1942 and would make it four more times in his career, including 1947 in which he was also the National League MVP. With a career WAR of 47.1, he's a member in good standing in the Hall of the Very Good.
Johnny Barrett (LF): A 27-year old in his second big league season, Barrett posted an OPS+ of just 76, but would lead the league in triples and stolen bases the following season and improve to an OPS+ of 116. He only played 56 postwar games.
Frankie Gustine (2B): A 10-year starter in the middle of his career in 1943. His OPS+ of 98 that year was the second-best on his resume.
Hank Camelli (Catcher): At 28, this was his first major league game. He would play in 158 more big league games.
Cookie Cuccurullo (Starting Pitcher): This was his major league debut after having spent the season at Albany of the Eastern League where he went 20-8 with a 2.54 ERA. In this game, he put up a line of 7 10 7 5 3 3. Cuccurullo would appear in 32 games in '44 and 29 more in '45, marking the end of his time in the majors.
Pete Coscarat (Pinch Hitter): Normally a starter, he was on the bench for this, the second game of a doubleheader. He had a 74 OPS+ in 1943, which was just below his career average. Although Coscarat played 333 games before the war, he only played in 3 after it.
Bill Brandt (Relief Pitcher): He closed out a solid season (4-1, ERA+ of 111) with a rough outing in this game. Brandt left for the service the next season and only played one more year of professional ball, toiling in the minors in 1946.
McKee pitched in one more major league game. It came a year later against the Cubs. He threw two innings and allowed one run. After the war, McKee gave up pitching and spent the next decade-plus bouncing around the minors. He hit over 100 career home runs in his travels, including 33 at Baton Rouge in the Class C Evangeline League in 1954.
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