R.I.P. to Paul Schramka, who had the briefest of major league careers — 2 appearances with the 1953 Chicago Cubs. He went on to a long career serving as a funeral director in the Milwaukee area. He died on July 8 at the age of 91.
Paul Schramka was born in Milwaukee on March 22, 1928. He attended Messmer High School in Milwaukee and college at Notre Dame and the University of San Francisco. Always athletic, he’s a member of the Messmer High School Athletic Hall of Fame and the University of San Francisco Athletic Hall of Fame, as well as the Wisconsin Baseball Hall of Fame. As early as 1946, his baseball skills were garnering him recognition. He was part of the Hearst Diamond Pennant Series, where a group of aspiring teenagers from across the country played a group of New York All-Star teens. Schramka, representing Milwaukee, was the lead-off hitter and center fielder in the finale as part of Team USA, managed by Ray Schalk.
When he wasn’t playing amateur All-Star games at the Polo Grounds, Schramka was playing for the USF Dons. He had some power and once slammed a home run in an exhibition game against the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. The Cubs signed him in August of 1948, outbidding a few other MLB clubs were interested in the left-handed slugger. He was said to have signed a 3-year deal worth $18,000.
Schramka debuted with the Des Moines Bruins in 1949 and spent two seasons there. He hit .260 with 11 home runs in 1949. His average dropped to .246, but his 20 homers led the team. He had great power but also a tendency to swing at anything near the strike zone. Bruins manager Stan Hack encouraged him to wait for the good pitches, but Schramka was threatening the Western League record for strikeouts at one point.
“Oh, no, don’t tell me I’m gonna set a record for that,” he said. “I want to set a record for something — but not for strikeouts.”
He was a free-swinger and had an unconventional batting stance that one early article compared to a John L. Sullivan boxing pose, but the power was undeniable. His baseball journey was unexpectedly delayed, because he was drafted into the Army in late 1950. He missed a couple of seasons and returned to pro baseball with the Cubs in 1953.
Schramka was considered a long-shot to make it out of Spring Training with the big-league team, considering his layoff from organized baseball. However, a couple of pinch-hit homers swayed manager Phil Cavaretta, and he broke camp with the Cubs in April of 1953, wearing #14. He was supposed to get some playing time when outfielder Hank Sauer injured a finger. However, Schramka appeared in just 2 games and never registered an at-bat. He pinch ran for catcher Clyde McCollough in the 7th inning on April 12 and was erased on a force out two batters later. He also played left field in the final inning of a loss to the Cardinals on April 16. It doesn’t appear that a ball was hit his way. Sauer’s finger healed, and the Cubs sent Schramka to Springfield of the International League on April 24. He never returned to the majors.
Schramka played in the Cubs organization until 1954. His lifetime totals in his 4-season career include a .259 batting average, .428 slugging percentage and 65 home runs. His #14, incidentally, was next worn by Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, who made his debut with the Cubs in September 1953.
In a 2016 article in the Chicago Tribune, Schramka, then 88, said that he retired from baseball because his father needed him in the family’s mortuary business. He didn’t give up on baseball completely, though, as he played semipro ball until he was 40.
“I loved it all,” he told Tribune columnist Ted Gregory. “You have a great amount of friendships. I think I’d suffer through it again.”
Though he had worked for Schramka Funeral Home, which has four locations in Milwaukee, his entire life, he still had a soft spot for the Cubs. At the time of the above interview, he was hopeful that the Cubs could finally win the World Series. “I’m really interested, and I’m so happy for the fans because they’ve given their hearts to the Cubs.”
Schramka said that he got to meet Banks at a golf tournament in Milwaukee in the 1990s. They visited for a few holes, and Banks was amused that the man who wore his Number 14 uniform before he did was an undertaker.
Schramka was known for his sense of humor. In his obituary, his family stated that they would honor his request for a seven-handle casket. “The seventh handle is on the inside so he can hang on!”