RIP to Johnny Hetki, who pitched in the majors for 8 seasons after serving his country in World War II. He died on January 10 at the age of 96. Prior to his death, he was the eighth-oldest living baseball player, per Baseball Almanac. Hetki pitched for the Cincinnati Reds (1945-48, 1950), St. Louis Browns (1952) and Pittsburgh Pirates (1953-54).
Johnny Hetki was born in Leavenworth, Kan. on May 12, 1922. He started his pro baseball career playing for Albuquerque in the independent Arizona-Texas League in 1941. He was sold to the Ogden Reds of the Pioneer League, and that’s where his pro ball statistics on Baseball Reference start. He pitched for the Reds and the Birmingham Barons, both Reds farm teams, in 1942. He was pretty outstanding, winning a total of 17 games with a 2.22 ERA, striking out 82 batters in 180 innings. “Hetki has an assortment [of pitches] that would make Heinz, the pickle man, jealous,” enthused the Odgen Standard-Examiner. In case you were wondering how baseball columnists phrased compliments in 1942.
Hetki’s rise to the majors was interrupted by World War II. He served in the Army for two years, returning to baseball after being discharged in 1945. He went back to Birmingham and won 16 games, earning a September call-up. He appeared in 5 games, with 2 starts, and had a 1-2 record with a 3.58 ERA. He completed both games he started.
He was a valuable swingman in 1946, appearing in 32 games as a starter and reliever. He started 11 games, finished 15 others, and had 4 complete games and a save, along with a 6-6 record and career-best 2.99 ERA. He struggled with an ERA near 6 in 1947 and spent almost all of 1948 in the minors, appearing in just 3 games with the Reds. After going 1-2 with a 5.09 ERA for the Reds in 22 games in 1950, the team sold his contract to the Browns.
The Browns kept Hetki in AAA Toronto for most of his time with the team. He did appear in 3 games for the Browns in 1952, taking the loss in his only start against the White Sox in April. The Pirates picked Hetki in the Rule V draft in the offseason and kept him on the team for two seasons. He made 112 appearances with the Bucs in that time and had a combined 7-10 record and 4.38 ERA. He led the NL in games finished in 1954 with 46. He finished his pro career with two seasons in Toronto, retiring from the game after the 1956 season.
In his 8 years in the major leagues, Hetki won 18 games and lost 26, with an ERA of 4.39. He appeared in 214 games, 23 as a starter. He completed 8 of those starts and had 12 saves as well. He fanned 175 batters.
Hetki relocated to Parma, Ohio, where he was a sandlot umpire and softball player. Baseball Reference states that he was a traffic foreman for Simpkins Industries in Cleveland. As recently as last year he attended the St. Louis Browns reunion lunch. There are now 10 surviving former members of the St. Louis Browns.