Obituary: George Gerberman (1942-2022)

RIP to George Gerberman, who pitched in a single game for the Chicago Cubs in 1962. He died on January 7 at the age of 79 from glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer. He was a resident of El Campo, Texas, where he was born and where most of his family still lives. His family business, Gerberman Jewelers, posted a lovely tribute video for him on their Facebook page.

George Alois Gerberman Jr. was born on El Campo on March 8, 1942. His father George Sr. was a jeweler who started Gerberman Jewelers in 1940. George Jr. played baseball, starting in Little League, and played all the way through El Campo High School. In his senior season of 1960, he lost his first 3 decisions and then went on a 9-game winning streak. Gerberman was signed by Milwaukee Braves scout Earl Halstead in June of 1960 at 1:30 in the morning, right after he struck out 17 batters in a semipro game and allowed just one ball to leave the infield. He worked out in the Braves’ training camp in Florida and was a part of the Florida Instructional League team over the winter. Despite his inexperience, he was the winning pitcher of the championship game. Some of his teammates on that team included future major-leaguers Phil Neikro, Denis Menke, Bill Lucas, Chuck Cottier, Tommie Aaron and Joe Torre.

Pitchers Tony Cloninger, George Gerberman and Phil Niekro at the Braves’ training camp in 1960. Source: The Bradenton Herald, November 11, 1960.

Gerberman’s first season with the Milwaukee organization was a little shaky, as he went 10-16 for the Wellsville Braves of the Class-D New York-Pennsylvania League. He had a 4.90 ERA and walked 111 batters in 189 innings, though he also had 185 strikeouts. One of the wins was a 1-hit shutout against Batavia. He was assigned to Vancouver of the Pacific Coast League for the 1962 season, but the Chicago Cubs decided to take a chance on the young pitcher in the November minor-league draft.

Source: Facebook (Gerberman Jewelers)

Gerberman was an early cut at the Cubs’ training camp in Mesa in 1962, and he was assigned to the Wenatchee (Wash.) Chiefs of the Northwest League. The Chiefs won the NWL championship, and the 20-year-old Texan did his part, winning 13 games and losing just 5. He had a 3.62 ERA and 109 strikeouts, and he cut down his walk total by more than a walk per 9 innings. Gerberman beat the Tri-City Braves 10-1 in the championship game, allowing just 5 hits. For his success, the Cubs brought him to the majors for a couple of weeks in September.

Gerberman’s only major-league appearance came on September 23, 1962, against the New York Mets — the one team in the National League worse than the Cubs. The Cubs struck first when Nelson Mathews hit an RBI single off Mets starter Bob Miller in the first inning, driving in Ken Hubbs. Gerberman started the game a little wild. He walked leadoff hitter Elio Chacon and then gave up a double to Choo-Choo Coleman to put runners on second and third with nobody out. Then Joe Christopher popped to second for one out and Frank Thomas hit a grounder to third base. The Cubs turned it into a double play after catching both Chacon and Coleman in rundowns, so Gerberman got out of his first inning in the majors unscathed. He held off the Mets in the next few innings as well. He walked 5, which could be chalked up to rookie jitters, and he committed an error on an Ed Kranepool comebacker. But he worked his way out of trouble each time. The Cubs, meanwhile, couldn’t do any further damage off Miller. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Thomas hit a leadoff home run to tie the game at 1. After Gerberman allowed a 1-out single to Sammy Drake, he was taken out of the game. The contest remained tied at 1 until the bottom of the ninth inning, when Thomas drove in Coleman with a walkoff base hit. It was the Cubs 100th loss of the season, marking the first time the struggling franchise had ever reached that mark.

Gerberman ended up with a no-decision in the game. He lasted 5-1/3 innings and allowed 1 run on 3 hits and 5 walks while striking out 1 batter (Jim Hickman). That makes for a 1.69 ERA and a 1.500 WHIP.

Source: Facebook (Gerberman Jewelers)

Gerberman took a step back in 1963 for Amarillo of the Double-A Texas League. He was 9-13 with a high 5.31 ERA, and though he struck out nearly 8 hitters per 9 innings, he had a WHIP of 1.733. He returned to Wenatchee for most of 1964 and had an even 10-10 record there with a 4.14 ERA. His control showed noticeable improvement, and he helped himself at the plate frequently, clouting 4 home runs on the season. When he got off to a poor start with Dallas-Fort Worth of the Texas League in 1965, he was released. He signed with the Amarillo Sonics, which by then was part of the Houston Astros organization. He finished the season out of the bullpen and pitched very well for the Sonics.

Gerberman became a starter for the Sonics in 1966 and had the best season of his career. He added a knuckleball to his repertoire and turned in a stellar 12-2 record and 2.98 ERA. Only 21-year-old Don Wilson (18 wins, 2.21 ERA) had a better pitching record for Amarillo. His control, once a real handicap, had become one of his greatest strengths. He walked just 38 batters in 178 innings and struck out 117. The Sonics won one game in the postseason, and Gerberman worked 7 strong innings in a 9-2 victory over Albuquerque. When the team’s season was over, Wilson was summoned to the majors to make his first appearance, but Gerberman didn’t join him. Wilson was a rising star with a blazing fastball and Gerberman may have been seen a 25-year-old journeyman with a trick pitch. He turned in back-to-back losing seasons with Amarillo and Dallas-Fort Worth in 1967 and ’68. The 1968 campaign was especially tough to swallow, because he had a 1.44 ERA through June 11 and had a mere 6-5 record to show for it. Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist dubbed him “Lonesome George,” because when he went out to pitch, the rest of the team took the game off.

Source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, June 8, 1968.

“I’d rather pitch in a close, low-score game,” he said. “It keeps me on my toes and I think it’s making a better pitcher out of me. If your team gets you a bunch of runs, especially in the first couple of innings, there’s no way you can bear down.”

Gerberman finished the ’68 season with an 11-15 record but a good 2.61 ERA. He completed 10 of his 31 starts and threw 3 shutouts. “The only thing that has been a little hard to understand is why I haven’t been given a good chance with a Triple-A club,” he said, adding that major-league expansion in 1969 might give him an opportunity in the majors or at least a change in the high minors. Instead, after balking at the Astros’ initial contract offer in 1969, he opted to retire. Gerberman had a 77-79 career record in the minor leagues with a 4.00 ERA, but this is certainly a case where a win-loss record and ERA doesn’t tell the full story of his improvement as a pitcher over his career. He pitched very well for the Houston organization in the second half of his career, but management there never gave him a fair chance.

During his playing career, Gerberman held down various jobs in his offseasons, including working as a die-head operator at an aluminum company and as an oilfield roughneck. After baseball, he worked at Gerberman Jewelers along with his brother, Ben. He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Mary, a son and a daughter.

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