Grave Story: Lou Limmer (1925-2007)

Here lies Lou Limmer, a hard-hitting first baseman who had two seasons in the big leagues and who was a part of historic moment in Jewish baseball history and Philadelphia Athletics history. Limmer played for the Athletics in 1951 and 1954.

(Special thanks to Harry Shpelfogel, RIP Baseball reader, who sent me the photo of Limmer’s gravestone. I appreciate the help!)

Abraham Louis Limmer was born in New York City on March 10, 1925. He was one of 10 children, and athletics ran in the family. One brother was a boxer, one was a football player, one was a fencing champion and two more became professional wrestlers. According to Baseball Reference, Limmer attended high school at the Manhattan School of Aviation, which is the coolest-sounding high school ever. He was captain of the basketball, track, boxing and swimming teams and was an excellent baseball player too. The school, incidentally, has operated since 1936 and is now called Aviation High School in Queens. Whitey Ford would graduate from it a few years after Limmer. From what I could tell, Limmer never learned to fly. During his playing career, he was a refrigerator repairman on the side.

Limmer signed with the Athletics in 1946 after being discovered by scout George Halpin on the New York City sandlots. Connie Mack assigned the youngster to the Lexington A’s of the North Carolina State League. Lexington, North Carolina, must have been quite a culture shock to the New Yorker, but he adjusted pretty well on the field at least. In two seasons there, he hit well over .300 and clubbed 24 home runs in 107 games in 1947.

Source: The News Messenger, May 21, 1951.

Limmer was moved to the Lincoln A’s of the Western League for 1948 and 1949, and the power went with him. A couple of his Lincoln teammates — Nellie Fox and Bobby Shantz — went on to great major-league careers of their own, but nobody on the team hit like Limmer did. His 28 home runs in 1948 were second-best in the league, even though his season ended on August 9 after a scary head injury. He was accidentally kicked in the head while sliding into third base. He suffered a spinal injury that caused a swelling in his brain.

Limmer, nicknamed “The Bronx Buster,” was pretty popular, as evidenced by the reaction to his injury. Not only was he inundated with cards and letters at the hospital, but the sports desk at The Lincoln Star had two phones ringing constantly by worried fans asking for medical updates. One 10 year old boy, on the verge of tears, said, “Gosh, why did it have to be Lou?”

Years later, Limmer recalled that head injury in an interview. He was rushed to St. Elizabeth Hospital, where he was met by the Most Reverend Bishop Louis Kucera, who was prepared to administer last rites. But Limmer was Jewish, so Kucera contacted a rabbi instead. Limmer also had to deal with the idiosyncrasies of being Jewish in a Catholic hospital on Fridays, when the staff only served fish. Limmer didn’t like fish. The Reverend, a big baseball fan, encouraged a nurse to smuggle Limmer some chicken instead. The two became good friends.

Judging by the 29 home runs and .315 batting average he hit for Lincoln in 1949, it’s safe to say the injury didn’t have any long-term effects. This time, without any debilitating injuries, he won the Western League home run crown by 6 long balls. When he hammered 29 home runs and drove in 111 runs for the St. Paul Saints in 1950, he was considered to have the inside track on the Philadelphia A’s first base job. He also added to his list of accolades by being named the American Association’s Rookie of the Year.

Twenty-six-year-old Limmer joined the A’s in 1951. Unfortunately for him, the A’s regular first baseman Ferris Fain hit .344 that year and won the AL batting title. Limmer couldn’t displace the hot-hitting Fain from the starting lineup, and he failed to produce when Fain was moved to the outfield to give the rookie some playing time. Given few changes to play regularly, he slashed .159/.256/.280, with 5 home runs in 94 games.

Lou Limmer (facing the camera) celebrates with his teammates after hitting a grand slam home run. He would suffer a serious head injury later in that game. Source: Lincoln Journal Star, August 10, 1948.

Limmer became a part of baseball history on May 2, 1951. He stepped up as a pinch hitter for Billy Hitchcock against the White Sox. Saul Rogovin was pitching for the Tigers, and Joe Ginsberg was catching. It was the first time — and possibly the only time — that a Jewish hitter faced a Jewish battery. Home plate umpire Joe Paparella noticed.

Limmer recalled, “So Paparella comes from behind home plate and he dusts it off and says, ‘Boy, now I’ve got the three [Jews]. I wonder who’s going to win the battle?’ and Rogovin throws the first pitch and I hit into the stands. Paparella says, ‘I guess you’re the winner, Lou.’

“It so happens I wasn’t the winner because Joe Ginsberg stayed with Detroit, and Saul Rogovin went to the White Sox and he led the league in ERA and poor Lou Limmer, he got shipped to the minors,” he added.

Limmer spent the next two seasons with the Ottawa A’s of the International League and continued to rake. He made his way back to the majors with the A’s in 1954. Without a batting champ ahead of him, Limmer was able to play in 115 games and hit .231, with 10 doubles, 3 triples and 14 homers. He split time at first base with Don Bollweg, but both players would be supplanted by Vic Power, who would become an All-Star for the A’s as they packed up and moved to Kansas City the following season.

The Athletics played their final games in Philadelphia by getting swept in a 3-game series against the Yankees on September 17-19. Limmer got the last base hit by an Athletic in Philadelphia by singling off Johnny Sain in the 7th inning of the Sept. 19 game. He also hit the last home run in Philadelphia A’s history, slamming a solo shot off Sain in New York on September 25.

Limmer was demoted to the minor leagues in 1955 and never returned to the majors. In his two seasons, he played in a total of 209 games and slashed .202/.285/.360, with 107 hits, 19 home runs and 62 RBIs. He played in the minor leagues through 1958. He saved the best for his last season, when he hit a career-best 30 home runs while playing for the Birmingham Barons. That was a record for a Barons left-handed hitter. He also drove in 100 runs. In 11 minor-league seasons, Limmer hit 216 home runs and had a career .281 batting average.

Lou Limmer recuperates in the hospital after being kicked in the head. Source: Lincoln Journal Star, August 18, 1948.

Limmer returned to the Bronx and ran a commercial refrigeration business. He was also the first ex-ballplayer to serve as president of his synagogue, at Castle Hill Jewish Community Center in the Bronx. He reunited with his Philadelphia teammates for events, and he participated in meetings with the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society.

“We were the strongest team in the American League,” he said of his days with the A’s. “We were in last place so we held everyone else up.”

Limmer’s obituary notes that, during his career, he had to deal with anti-Jewish signs in Southern towns while attending Spring Training camps. He hung out with Jackie Robinson in towns in Florida where neither one of them were welcome. On the bright side, he had many Jewish people reach out to him wherever he played, from Lincoln to Toronto.

Even late in life, when he was suffering from emphysema and had to carry an oxygen tank, he would make special appearances. He was a regular visitor at Pine Brook Elementary School in Manalapan, Fla., where he wintered. Those meetings raised his spirits so much that he didn’t even need oxygen. “When I talk to those kids I forget about everything,” he said in 2004. “When I talk to them, I can breathe.”

Lou Limmer died on April 1, 2007, in Boca Raton, Fla. He was 82 years old and is buried in Montefiore Cemetery in St. Albans, N.Y.

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