RIP to Carl Linhart, one of just a handful of Czech ballplayers in MLB history. He died on January 4 at Anderson Hospital in Maryville, Ill. The long-time resident of Granite City (a St. Louis suburb on the Illinois side of the border) was 92 years old. Linhart played in 3 games for the 1952 Detroit Tigers and was the last surviving member of that team.
Carl (born Karol) James Linhart was born on December 14, 1929 in Zborov, Czechoslovakia — known as the Czech Republic today. Baseball Reference lists 5 ballplayers and 1 manager who are from the Czech Republic. Two of them, Frank “Dad” Meek and John Stedronsky, are 19th-Century ballplayers and don’t have birth cities listed. Josef Koukalik, who pitched in 1 game in 1904, was from Studena. Frank Mooney, who played in the Federal League, was born in Podebrady. Hugo Bezdek, manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1917-19, was from Prague.
Five days before his son’s birth, father Karl Linhart sailed to the United States to find employment. Eight years later, Karol and his mother Veronica set sail on the S.S. Europa from Bremen. The ship docked in New York City on December 8, 1937. The family settled in Granite City, where Karl Linhart worked as the foreman of a brick-making plant. Carl Linhart attended Granite City High School. He lettered in both baseball (as a catcher) and football (as a halfback), and he captained the 1948 baseball squad that won the Illinois State Championship. He was voted the MVP of the state tournament and hit two triples in the championship game.
There was quite a battle between major-league teams to sign Linhart once he graduated from high school. The local St. Louis Browns had the inside track, with most of the rest of the pro teams trailing behind. June 30, 1948, was the key date, because the amount of bonus money that would put Linhart into the “bonus baby” tier — requiring him to go straight to the majors — was cut in half, so it was in the family’s best interest to sign prior to midnight on June 30. The Browns had the young catcher try out at Sportsman’s Park on June 29, and manager Zack Taylor advised his management, “Don’t let him get away.” Linhart and his father Karl left the park with a handshake deal with the team’s owners, Charles and Bill DeWitt. Karl Linhart wouldn’t make the deal official on the 29th because he had promised Detroit Tigers scout Bruce Conatser that he wouldn’t let his son sign with anyone before consulting him first. All parties agreed to meet at Sportsman’s Park on June 30 at 11:00am to sign the agree-upon deal. Then the Linharts never showed. When the DeWitts called to find out why, Mrs. Linhart broke the news that her son had signed already with Detroit. The moral, reported The St. Louis Star-Times, was, “A few extra dollars are worth more than a hundred handshakes in baseball!”
As soon as Linhart began playing in Class-D Evangeline League that summer, he showed he was worth those few extra dollars, too. He played in just 55 games, or less than half of the league’s games, so he couldn’t qualify for the batting title. However, he outhit the league leader by nearly 20 points — and league leader Tex Sanner hit .386! Linhart spent most of the season well above the .400 mark until a late-season slump dropped him in the .300s. A 10-for-13 homestand against Houma, including an inside-the-park homer, put him within range of his target, and six hits in a season-ending doubleheader against Thibodaux left him with a .407 mark. Linhart, who had spent the season as an outfielder to take advantage of his speed, played second and third base in those final games. “Linhart looked like a natural born infielder,” reported The Daily Advertiser of Lafayette, “although he almost knocked [first baseman] Tom Bartlett into the bleachers with a rifle peg from third to first.”
Linhart’s batting average fell by almost 100 points in 1949, though a .311 batting average for Class-B Durham is still pretty impressive. He made the Carolina League’s All-Star Team and had 23 home runs, 114 RBIs and 103 bases on balls for a .437 on-base percentage. He tied a league record on April 21 when he drove in 8 runs against Raleigh, thanks to two doubles, a bases-loaded triple and a 2-run single. He later hit 3 home runs in one game against Winston-Salem, and it was estimated that the 19-year-old lefty slugger was just a few seasons away from the majors.
Linhart was promoted to the Class-A Flint Arrows in 1950, and he struggled at first but rallied to end the season with a satisfactory .272 average and 12 home runs. He was added to the Tigers’ roster and might have competed for a roster spot in 1951, but he got his orders from the Army and was assigned to the Air Force in March. He still played baseball — he was a catcher for the Scott Air Force Base Flyers and was the MVP of the Eastern Air Training Command tournament at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss. He started 1952 as the coach of the Scott Flyers, but his tenure was short-lived due to his discharge from the armed forces.
Linhart rejoined the professional baseball ranks after his discharge. Thanks to a rule that allowed teams to carry discharged veterans on their roster without going against the 25-man roster, he went straight to the majors. He debuted in the major leagues with the Detroit on August 2, as a pinch-hitter against Red Sox pitcher Ralph Brickner. With runners on first and second, Linhart grounded into a double play. The Tigers then sent him to the Williamsport Tigers of the Class-A Eastern League. He had a pinch-hit double in his first at-bat on August 6, but he had a hard time getting back into rhythm. He hit just .169 in 29 games. The Tigers brought him back to the majors in September, and he appeared in his final two games in the majors. He pinch-ran for catcher Matt Batts on September 11 and was promptly erased on a force play by the next batter, Al Federoff. On September 19 against Cleveland, he pinch-hit in the ninth inning against Early Wynn and popped out to second base. Those 3 games and 2 at-bats were the sum total of his major-league career.
Linhart continued to play in the Tigers organization through 1956. He had some good seasons but was unable to become the offensive terror he was in his earliest seasons. He batted .274 with 10 home runs for the Little Rock Travelers of the Double-A Southern Association in 1954, and he topped .300 again in 1955 with a .308 mark for the Class-A Albany Senators in 1955. He was one of six rookie catchers who tried to make the Tigers’ roster in 1956, including Charlie Lau, Walt Streuli and J.W. Porter. He played a little at three different levels of the minors that season, but he could not rejoin the big-league team. It ended up being his last season in pro ball. Linhart ended his career with a .285 batting average and 70 home runs over eight seasons in the minor leagues.
After his baseball days, Linhart spent 40 years working for Granite City Steel, retiring in 1993. Linhart married Joan Schwendeman on October 11, 1952. They remained married until her death in 2016. Carl Linhart is survived by a daughter and three sons (Carla, Greg, Mark and Patrick) as well as many grandchildren and extended family members.
For more information: Irwin Chapel