Grave Story: Ossie Bluege (1900-1985)

Here lies Ossie Bluege, a lifer for the Washington Senators. Not only was he an All-Star third baseman for the team from 1922-39, but he also served as a coach, a manager and a front-office executive. His brother Otto also played pro ball and played in Cincinnati in 1932 and 1933.

Oswald Louis Bluege was born on October 24, 1900 in Chicago. He attended Carl Schurz High School in the city and played for the St. Mark’s Lutheran team in a church league. He was discovered by scouts as he played for the Logan Squares, a semi-pro club in Chicago. Bluege started his pro baseball career not too far away from home, in Peoria with the Tractors of the Three-I League. Still, he got so homesick that he almost quit after two games. Manager Bill Jackson corralled Bluege as he was walking to the train depot and led him back to the hotel, convincing him to stick it out.

Bluege spent two seasons with the team and played all over the infield. While his fielding was a little rough, he hit in the high .280s and .290s and knocked a good number of doubles and triples. He began attracting scouts as early as 1921 and was acquired by the Senators on August 27, 1921.

“Bleuge is a right-handed hitter of promise, according to Scout Engle, who looked him over,” reported the Evening Star of Washington D.C. Peoria put a heavy price on Bluege, but Washington owner Clark Griffith made the investment, sight unseen – a rare feat, since the whole Griffith family was knock for pinching pennies.

Source: Hawaii Tribune, April 17, 1930.

Philadelphia Athletics scout Tom “Tink” Turner was very high on Bluege and tried to snag him for the A’s, but owner Connine Mack didn’t buy in. Undeterred, Turner became manager of the Portland Beavers in 1922 and tried to buy Bluege for $6,000, but Griffith had other plans for the youngster.

In his first professional Spring Training, Bluege drew rave reviews for his fielding, particularly his speed in picking up a grounder and firing it to first base. His hitting was less impressive, as he was more of a slap hitter, but the raw talent was apparent.

“Bluege is an intelligent fellow and only a kid, last year being the first be put in as a professional, having gone to Peoria from the sand lots on the west side in Chicago,” Griffith remarked to the Star. “Unless I am greatly mistaken, he has a bright future in base ball.”

Bluege played sparingly for the Senators in 1922, batting .197 in 19 games. He had his moments with the team. On June 8, he had to replace third baseman Donie Bush after Bush came up lame in the first inning of a game against Cleveland. Bluege fielded five grounders flawlessly and leapt high in the air to snag a Stuffy McInnis line drive. He also picked up 2 hits in 4 at-bats. He spent most of the season with the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association, but those would be the last minor-league games Bluege would see.

Starting in 1923, Bluege locked down the role of the starting third baseman for the better part of the next two decades. In that entire stretch, he had an OPS+ above 100 just once, meaning that he was largely a below average hitter for his career. Part of that may have been that he never did develop a power stroke. He never reached double digits in home runs, and he only led the AL in an offensive category once in his career – he was hit by 8 pitches in 1928. While he wasn’t a major offensive weapon, he was still a good hitter. Most importantly, he had no peers when it came to playing third base. While the Senators frequently tried to shift him to shortstop or second base, he inevitably ended back at third.

He described his abilities as such: “It’s just a simple combination of natural ability, perfect condition, agility and keen study of plays and players,” he said. That may come across as cocky, but I think Bluege was just that analytical. In the offseason, Bluege worked as an accountant until owner Griffith made him cut back for fear of ruining his great eyesight. Those accounting skills would eventually help the Senators in the second half of Bluege’s baseball career

The Senators won 92 games to win the AL pennant in 1924, led by a sterling infield of Bluege at third, Roger Peckinpaugh as shortstop, manager Bucky Harris at second and Joe Judge at first. Bluege slashed .281/.358/.353 in 117 games, with 113 hits and 49 RBIs. He didn’t do much in the World Series against the Giants – hitting .192 with 5 singles and 3 RBIs – but the Senators won the World Series for the only time in the franchise’s nearly 60-year history.

The starting infield of the only Washington Senators championship team, from 1924: Third baseman Bluege, shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh, second baseman Bucky Harris and first baseman Joe Judge. Source: wire photo.

The Senators returned to the World Series in 1925 to face the Pirates. Again, Bluege had a solid regular season, with a .287/.362/.377 slash line and 79 RBIs. He was thought to be lost for the Series when he was hit in the head by a Vic Aldridge pitch in Game 2. He returned in Game Four and ended up hitting .278 as the Senators lost in seven games. Along with a possible concussion, that fastball to the head also brought romance into Bluege’s life. He was taken to a Washington D.C. hospital, where he was put under the care of nurse-in-training Margaret Eckert. The two married in October 1926, a day after manager Harris wed. The marriage didn’t last, but Bluege would marry Wilor Marie Maxwell in 1940, and they would remain together until his death.

Bluege brought his batting average to a career-high .297 in 1928. Thanks to 33 doubles, he achieved a .400 slugging percentage for the only time in his career, too. He might have had an even better season in 1929, but an injured knee ended it on July 18. In 64 games, he’d hit 5 home runs and was batting .295.

Bluege recovered from his injury and remained a valuable player for the Senators. He drove in 98 runs in 1931, hitting a career-high 8 long balls in the process. Even though his batting average had dropped from the .290s into the .270s, he remained an everyday player until 1933. In 1934, as his average dropped to .246, and Bluege was limited to 99 games. He rebounded in 1935 and was named to the All-Star Team for the only time in his career (The All-Star Game having started in 1933). He replaced Jimmie Foxx at third base in the 9th inning. He batted .263 in 100 games.

Bluege stayed with the Senators through the 1939 season. His playing time gradually decreased as he became a backup infielder, but he still hit for a decent average. Even as he spent more time on the bench, he was praised for his willingness to be a team player and work with the youngsters who would eventually keep him off the field. Griffith made it known that Bluege would have a job with the Senators for as long as he wanted it.

Bluege’s career wound down in 1939, when he was asked to step in as the regular first baseman. He batted .153 in 18 games, and he played his last game on July 13. In his 18 years with the Senators, Bluege had a slash line of .272/.352/.356, with 1,741 hits and 848 RBIs. He hit 276 doubles, 67 triples and 43 home runs. He walked 723 times against just 515 strikeouts, and he stole 140 bases as well.

So about that promise that Bluege would have a job with the Senators for as long as he wanted it. He served as a coach for Bucky Harris in 1940 through 1942, though the infielder frequently talked about being restored to the active roster as a player. Harris resigned after the ‘42 season, and on October 10, Bluege was named as his replacement. In five seasons at the helm, he guided the Senators to two second-place finishes, in 1943 and 1945. He was named The Sporting News Manager of the Year in 1945 after taking Washington from 90 losses to 87 wins.

Griffith joked that Bluege was probably the first accountant to ever be named a manager, but the skipper had a fine analytic mind. He got the most out of a team that was known by the motto, “First in war, first in peace, last in the American League.”

“Oh, don’t go giving me all the credit,” Bluege told sportswriter Chip Royal in late 1945, when Washington was mere games behind the Tigers in the pennant race. “I only manipulated the players around until I found the right combination. Every one of those boys has been playing great ball for me.”

Senators manager Ossie Bluege and owner Clark Griffith meet their new pitcher Lefty Gomez. Gomez pitched in the only non-Yankee game of his career for Washington in 1943. Source: The Paducah Sun Democrat, May 28, 1943.

In five seasons, Bluege accumulated a managerial record of 375-394. He resigned from his post after the 1947 season to help the club in other ways. “I was getting punchy,” Bluege said later. “Everything depended on Clark Griffith making big deals. We had no farm system.”

(“Punchy” was an interesting word to use, considering Bluege punched out a Washington D.C. sportswriter who wrote about dissension on the team during the Senators’ 90-loss 1947 season. It’s not known if Bluege was punished for it or not.)

Joe Kuhel succeeded Bluege as manager, and Bluege was given the task of overseeing the Senators’ farm system, which was the smallest in the majors. Although he had the position to help the Senators find prized prospects, he didn’t get much help in the way of finances. The team really didn’t put much money into player development until the team had moved to Minnesota and Griffith’s nephew, Sherry Robertson, took control of the farm team. But Bluege did what he could.

He added some new teams to the Senators’ farm system, including one in Virginia that was run by eventual Twins president Howard Fox. He paid the first bonus in Senators history, paying $30,000 for a kid from Idaho named Harmon Killebrew. He signed the slugger after watching Killebrew play in three semipro games, picking up 12 hits in 12 at-bats, including 4 home runs and 3 triples. “Killebrew swings a bat better than any youngster I’ve ever seen,” Bluege said in 1954. “Perhaps the only player in the American League who is faster is Mickey Mantle of the Yankees.”

Bluege put his accounting background to use and moved to the position of executive secretary and controller in 1957. He held those positions until his retirement in 1971. He had been a member of the Senators/Twins franchise for half a century.

“I’ve known him since 1922 when I was a bat boy in Washington and he was a rookie third baseman,” said Calvin Griffith, Twins owner. “He’s been an important part of our organization for 50 years… As a defensive third baseman there was none better, including Brooks Robinson.”

Ossie Bluege died in his sleep on October 14, 1985, at the age of 84. He was 10 days shy of his next birthday. Two days prior, he had returned home to Edina, Minn., having traveled to Washington D.C. to be inducted into the city’s Hall of Stars. He is buried in Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis.

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