Obituary: Jim Greengrass (1927-2019)

RIP to Jim Greengrass, who had a brief, homer-filled career as a National League outfielder. According to a Facebook post by his granddaughter, he died on September 9 at 7:32 in the morning in Georgia, where he lived for most of his life. He was 91 years old. Greengrass played for the Cincinnati Reds (1952-55) and Philadelphia Phillies (1955-56).

Jim Greengrass was born on October 24, 1927 in Addison, N.Y. He attended Addison High School and played basketball and baseball there, up to the point that he signed a contract with the New York Yankees organization in 1944. His obituary notes that he hadn’t technically graduated from high school at the time he signed, but he did go back and finish his education, fulfilling a promise he made to his mother.

The 17-year-old stayed in the New York area for a couple years, playing for the Class-D Wellsville Yankees of the Pony League and the Class-A Binghamton Triplets of the Eastern League. Though he was much younger than the rest of the players, he demolished Class-D pitching, hitting .349 for Wellsville in 1945.

Greengrass entered the armed forces in 1946 and spent at least part of his time in Fort McPherson in East Point, just south of Atlanta. Greengrass married his wife of 65 years, Catherine, in Atlanta and moved there to live in the offseason. He spent those winter months working in a cotton mill.

Jim Greengrass fine-tunes his bat before a game. Source: The Cincinnati Enquirer, April 3, 1955.

Greengrass, now 20, returned to professional baseball in 1948 and went back to Binghamton. The Yankees shuttled him around the minor leagues through 1952, playing him at every level. He first displayed his power stroke in 1951, when he hit .379 for the Muskegon Reds of the Central League and hit 18 home runs, 4 of which were grand slams. He then hit 22 in 1952 for the Beaumont Roughnecks of the Texas League, which was tied for 3rd in the league. But it didn’t get him any closer to Yankee Stadium.

The Yanks, it seems, didn’t know what to do with the slugger. He was a third baseman when he signed, but he struggled with the position as he gained weight — Baseball Reference lists his playing weight at 200 pounds. They briefly converted him into a pitcher in 1950, and he went 5-5 with a 4.89 ERA before that experiment was abandoned. He then moved into the outfield. The whole experience left him discouraged.

“My arm was sore, my shoulder was sore, and I was sore,” Greengrass told the Atlanta Constitution. “I was ready to quit. And if it had not been for Catherine’s encouragement, I would have.”

Greengrass’ big break came about because the Yankees coveted Reds pitcher Ewell Blackwell. On August 28, 1952, New York traded Greengrass, three other players and $35,000 in cash to Cincinnati for the pitcher. The Yankees got what they wanted, as they won the 1952 World Series, though Blackwell didn’t pitch all that much. Greengrass was added to the trade because Reds manager Rogers Hornsby saw him play for Beaumont and insisted he be included in the deal. The Reds wasted no time in bringing the big slugger to the majors.

Earlier in 1952, the Reds had traded for Wally Westlake, hoping that the slugger could recapture the power stroke he had in his first seasons in Pittsburgh. That didn’t work out, and Westlake was dealt to Cleveland. Greengrass, though, lived up to the Reds’ expectations, and then some. In the words of veteran Cincinnati sportswriter Tom Swope, “No player has broken into the Cincinnati lineup with as much of a bang as Greengrass within our memory and that covers a lot of years, the last 37 of them to be exact.”

In 18 games, Greengrass slashed .309/.373/.588, with 5 home runs and 24 RBIs. Manager Hornsby inserted him as a pinch-hitter in game one of a doubleheader against the Braves on September 9, and he struck out against Joe Nuxhall in his first MLB at-bat. He started game two and drove in 2 runs with a single to win the game for the Reds. His first MLB home run was a grand slam off the Dodgers on September 14.

Source: Press and Sun Bulletin, June 13, 1949.

Proving 1952 wasn’t a fluke, Greengrass delivered in 1953 with 20 home runs, 22 doubles and 100 RBIs. He finished in 6th place in the Rookie of the Year voting, behind Jim Gilliam and Harvey Haddix. The Reds ended up in 6th place; Greengrass formed a formidable lineup with Ted Kluszewski and Gus Bell, but the Reds lacked good pitching.

Greengrass cracked 4 doubles on Opening Day in 1954 and ended with a career high 27 home runs, with 95 RBIs. He missed the final three weeks of the season when he developed blood clots in his right leg. His leg was badly swollen from a condition called thrombo-phlebitis, and if a clot had broken loose, it could have cost him his leg or even his life.

Greengrass was said the be healthy in 1955 but got off to a slow start, with just 4 hits in 39 at-bats. The Reds traded him, along with catcher Andy Seminick and outfielder Glen Gorbous in a package that brought Smoky Burgess to Cincinnati. The change of scenery improved his offense, as he batted .272 with 12 long balls with the Phillies. However, he missed time due to recurring complications with his legs. He never got back on track after that; his last season came in 1956, when he had a .205 average with 5 home runs.

In his five years in the majors, Greengrass slashed .269/.330/.448, and 69 of his 482 hits were home runs. He drove in 282 runs and scored 243 times. His career OPS+ was 103, and his Wins Above Replacement (WAR) was 4.6 for his career.

Greengrass’ contract was sold to the Miami Marlins in 1957, but he spent most of the season with the Sacramento Solons of the Pacific Coast League, where he hit 20 homers. He played in the minors through 1961 and had a couple of good power seasons, but no teams came calling for him. He retired after 1961, with 124 minor-league home runs.

Greengrass worked as a scout for the Houston Colt .45s (Astros) immediately after his retirement. He then settled in Marietta, Ga., where he worked for Lockheed for 17 years and then became a Deputy Sheriff in the Cobb County Warrant division for another 17 years. After his retirement from the police force, he and Catherine traveled the country in a mobile home before they settled in Chatsworth, Ga.

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11 thoughts on “Obituary: Jim Greengrass (1927-2019)

  1. I had the pleasure of taking care of Mr. Greengrass in 2018-2019 he was a great person and he and I had a lot in common because I love baseball and football and he and I would sit and talk for hours on in about baseball and let me tell you he had a lot of great stories to tell me about the big leagues. I will never forget him and I have stories to tell my grandson about Jim Greengrass!


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