Obituary: Moe Savransky (1929-2022)

RIP to Moe Savransky, who appeared briefly as a reliever for the 1954 Cincinnati Reds. He died in Alpharetta, Ga., on October 13, at the age of 93. At the time of his passing, he was the oldest living Jewish baseball player.

Morris Savransky was born in Cleveland on January 13, 1929. His parents, Barney and Eva, had come from Russia and settled in Ohio, where they had five children. Morris was the youngest in the family. The family grew up in a Cleveland Heights neighborhood with immigrants from across the globe, and Barney Savransky and his eldest children worked in the gasoline industry. Morris played both basketball and baseball at Cleveland Heights High School, and he was also part of a Cleveland Legion baseball team that narrowly lost the state tournament in 1946. He held an Akron team hitless until the seventh inning and ended up with a 1-hit, 14-strikeout, 7-0 win on July 31 to advance in the tournament. Then on August 2, he threw a 4-1 complete game over Cincinnati in a morning contest but tired in the second game of the day, lasting 6-1/3 innings in an 8-4 loss. That’s 15-1/3 innings in one day for the 17-year-old lefthander.

Savransky as part of the World All-Stars team. Source: Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 13, 1949.

In 1947, the Cleveland Heights baseball team won the state championship for the first time in school history. Savransky was 10-0 that season and pitched on back-to-back days to win the championship. After that, he was selected to the World All-Stars, a team that competed against the Brooklyn Eagle All-Stars team of New York baseball talent. Savransky threw 7 shutout innings of 2-hit ball in the third and deciding game, leading the World team to a 4-0 win. His mound opponent that day was Victor Barbella, a cousin of champion boxer Rocky Graziano and who had a brief minor-league pitching career of his own. One of the other players on the World All-Stars was catcher Gus Triandos, who would become an All-Star with the Baltimore Orioles.

In July of 1948, Moe Savransky, as he was commonly called, signed with the Cincinnati Reds and farm director Fred Fleig. He made his professional debut with the Sunbury (Pa.) Reds of the Interstate League and had a 6-4 record in 16 games. He was a little wild, with 56 walks in 76 innings, but he fanned 84 batters and allowed just 59 hits. After the season, he went back to Ohio to attend classes at The Ohio State University. in Columbus.

The Reds must have liked what they saw in the young left-handed pitcher, because they moved Savransky to Charleston (W.V.) of the Class-A Central League in 1949. Charleston, managed by Joe Beggs, had an interesting pitching staff. Along with Savransky, there was 20-year-old Joe Nuxhall, who still was trying to return to the major leagues after his 1-game debut as a 15-year-old in 1944. Future Reds slugger Wally Post also joined the team briefly, but as a 19-year-old pitcher rather than as an outfielder. As for Savransky, he led the team in starts but had a 10-18 record and a 5.28 ERA to show for it. The Reds tried him at Double-A Tulsa to start the 1950 season, and he split 4 decisions there. Savransky was then send to Columbia of the Sally League, and he nearly accomplished baseball history.

Retired manager Joe McCarthy, left, gives some advice to members of the Buffalo Bisons. Savransky is in the black suit on the right. Also in the picture are Hobie Landrith, Tom Acker, Rudy Minarcin and (standing) Tommy Simpson. Source: Buffalo Evening News, April 26, 1951.

Savransky was a little shaky with Columbia and was 5-5 in his first 10 decisions. Then he threw a 4-hit shutout against Columbus on June 30. After that, he tossed a 7-inning no-hitter against Savannah as part of a July 4 doubleheader, striking out 7. The very next day, he was brought into the game in the ninth inning against Savannah with the tying runs on base and recorded the final two outs to preserve a 5-3 win. In his next start on July 8, Savransky allowed just one hit — a bunt single by Jacksonville shortstop Dean Wood. If not for that one bunt hit, Savransky would have thrown back-to-back no-hitters. In fact, had he accomplished the feat, he would have topped Johnny Vander Meer’s twin no-nos, because he had a hitless relief appearance between them. While he lost out on that history-making moment, Savransky did finish the year with 15 wins and a 2.25 ERA in Columbia, giving him a cumulative 17-9 record on the year.

The Reds moved Savransky up to the Buffalo Bisons of the Triple-A International League in 1951. He won 11 games and lost 11 with a 2.92 ERA. He walked more batters than he struck out (104 to 78), but his ERA was the best on the team and one of the best in the league. After the season, the Reds purchased the contract of Savransky and his Bison teammate Tom Acker, but neither had a chance to make the team in 1952. Acker had been called to the military already, and Savransky was not far behind him. For the next two years, Savransky did his pitching for the U.S. Army while stationed at Fort Shafter in Hawaii. He was named to the Armed Forces Baseball League All-Star Team in 1953 as a pitcher, though he also drove in 60 runs and hit .270 as a part-time outfielder. On the mound, he was 12-3 with a 1.97 ERA. Savransky also traveled as part of an All-Star contingent that represented the U.S. Army Pacific in a 1953 baseball tournament at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.

Savransky was discharged late in 1953 and was invited to Cincinnati’s spring training camp in 1954. Manager Birdie Tebbets brought in more than 20 pitchers to audition for the Redlegs — the team had changed its name temporarily because a worthless senator from Wisconsin had scared America with the “Red Menace” threat of Communists. Savransky had a great spring training and placed himself on the Reds’ Opening Day roster. Unfortunately, he spent most of the year sitting in the bullpen, as Tebbets brought him into only 16 games all season long.

Savransky made his debut with a scoreless inning against the Chicago Cubs on April 23, 1954. He struck out the first major-league batter he faced, pitcher Bob Rush. Then he sat for almost three weeks before pitching 3-1/3 scoreless innings against Philadelphia on May 13. He didn’t give up a run until June 30 and brought a sub-1.00 ERA into July. He was roughed up in a couple of appearances against the Phillies and suffered his first loss when he gave up a 2-run homer to Granny Hamner on July 17 for a 5-3 Phillies win. Home runs ended up being Savransky’s weakness, as he surrendered 6 of them in 24 innings of work. Nine of the 13 earned runs he allowed scored as a result of a home run. On the season, Savransky had an 0-2 record and a 4.88 ERA, with 7 strikeouts, 8 walks and 2 hit batters. His only win on the year came in an exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers on June 28; he started the game and allowed 2 runs in 6 innings of work as Cincinnati won 6-2. Savransky also came to bat three times and had a walk and a single to show for it. His one career hit came against Milwaukee Braves pitcher Gene Conley on July 11.

After the 1954 season, Cincinnati released Savransky to the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League. He pitched briefly for Seattle in 1955 and won 1 game before being sent to the Charleston Senators, now in the American Association. He struggled as a swingman, with a 5-13 record and 5.44 ERA. After the season, he was assigned to the Nashville Vols but underwent surgery in January 1956 to remove bone chips from his elbow. His left arm never recovered enough for him to pitch again, and he retired from baseball at the age of 27. Savransky had a 50-56 record over 5 seasons in the minor leagues. He also batted a solid .249, as well.

Source: The Kentucky Post, March 14, 1954.

After his playing days, Savransky got into the oil business in Ohio. He also worked as a batting practice pitcher for the Cleveland Indians for a time. In an interview with the Cleveland Jewish News, he said was still able to get his curveball past Cleveland slugger Colavito, but not the fastball. “I told him I’d throw a fast ball and strike him out on that, and (he hit it and) almost killed my third baseman,” Savransky said. That article also touches on some of the antisemitism that Savransky endured during his baseball career and is worth a read.

Savransky played in a 1967 Old-Timers game in Ohio that was part of a centennial tribute to Cy Young. His teammates for that game included Red Ruffing, Lefty Grove, Luke Sewell, Denny Galehouse and 88-year-old Paddy Livingston. Savransky hit a 2-run inside-the-park home run against a group of county all-stars, also scoring Tommy Henreich.

During his one season for the Reds, Savransky was ejected from a ballgame — but he was just following his manager’s orders. Reds skipper Tebbets was harassing umpire Frank Secory in a game in Pittsburgh, and finally the ump came to the dugout and said, “One more peep out of you and I’ll throw you out, and I do mean you.” Tebbets then stationed Savransky at the end of the dugout and told him what to do when he got the signal. The manager and the rest of the bench then went back to jockeying Secory. When the umpire turned toward the Cincinnati bench, Tebbets said, “Now, Moe.” Savransky, doing what his manager told him to do, pointed at the umpire and said, “And I do mean you!” Savransky promptly got kicked out of the game.

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