Friday, June 21, 2013

Tookie, Putsy, and Fats: Jesuit High School in Major League Baseball

Jesuit High School in New Orleans is an elite high school with a proud academic and athletic tradition.  The school has produced a lot of noteworthy people in its 166 years of existence: actors, filmmakers, musicians, baseball card bloggers, politicians, and a couple of New Orleans mayors (not the "Chocolate City" one).  A lot of graduating Jesuit Blue Jays moved on to play pro ball in the Major Leagues - this post is for them.

Here's some information about every Jesuit grad who's ever played in the Bigs along with a few cards from my collection:

Charles "Charlie" Gilbert, class of '37, became the first Jesuit graduate to play in the majors in 1940.  He played multiple outfield positions for the Cubs until 1943.  I could not find any information on whether he went to war, but upon his return to the league he played in a handful of games for the Cubs before being moved to the Phillies in 1946.  He retired after the 1947 season with a .229 lifetime average in 364 games with 5 HR and 195 hits.  He also finished with a respectable .982 career fielding percentage. 

Here's a Did You Know? from the back of the card: "Casey Stengel played with Charlie's dad, Larry, in Brooklyn and was the opposing manager in Charlie's big league debut."

Standing 5'8" and weighing in at 165lbs, the ironically nicknamed John "Fats" Dantonio, also of the Jesuit High class of 1937, got his start with the Brooklyn Dodgers at age 25.  He only played in two seasons during WWII and never for a full season.  Having played in just 50 games his whole career, J-Fat finished up with a .244 average with 12 runs and 12 RBI.  His fielding percentage was a not-so-great .923 with 14 errors committed. 

Fatman John had a few brushes with greatness in his short career.  While in the minor leagues he roomed with and caught for pitcher Stan Musial.  In 1945 Fatty D was managed by the great Leo Durocher, a Hall of Famer who was ejected from games an impressive 95 times in his career.


Connie Ryan from the class of '38 was a journeyman for 12 years.  He played in just under 1,200 games, the most noteworthy being with the Phillies wherein he went a mind-blowing 6-for-6.  That's 6 hits in 6 at-bats.  In case you're not a big baseball fan, that's an amazing feat.  People go nuts when players today go 4-for-4.  Connie did that....and a half.

In all Ryan played seven stints on five different teams (six if you count the Redlegs-Reds changeover in Cincy).  He would go on to manage in Atlanta (with very limited success) and Texas (even, and spend some time as a minor league scout and manager.

His career stat line puts him at a .248 average with 58 HR and 381 RBI.  Ryan lived out the rest of his days in Metairie, La, a major suburb of his hometown of New Orleans (and headquarters of this very blog).

Putsy Caballero graduated Jesuit at only 16 and was immediately signed by the Phillies.  He remains the youngest third baseman ever to play in the majors at 16 years old. 

One of the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies "Whiz Kids," a list that includes Richie Ashburn, Andy Seminick, Eddie Waitkus, Granny Hamner, and Don Draper Dick Whitman.  After helping Jesuit win the City Championship, Putsy graduated and signed immediately with the Phillies.  He would play with them for four games in 1944 before being sent to the minors to get prepped for the bigs.


Putsy put up respectable numbers in the minors until 1947 when he would get called back up to the Phillies.  As a utility man he played an array of positions including third base, backup infielder, pinch hitter and pinch runner.  In 1948, his first full season, he participated in a rare triple play.  After a short bust back to AAA in 1949, Caballero came through in a number of clutch pinch-hit and run moments in 1950 to help the Phillies secure the pennant.

Mr. Caballero was moved back to the minors after the 1952 season and never returned to the major leagues.  His final career stats include a .228 average with 1 home run and 40 RBI.  He would retire from baseball in 1955 and move home to New Orleans, eventually starting his own exterminating company. 

Despite losing his home in Hurricane Katrina, Putsy continues to live in the Lakeview area of New Orleans to this day.  I'm told he carries a copy of his only original baseball card (which is damn hard to find) around with him in his wallet.

"Tookie" Gilbert, brother of Charlie Gilbert, graduated Jesuit in 1946.  That was the year of "all the tricks" when the Blue Jays won undefeated State Championships in football, baseball, basketball, and track & field.

First signed by Mel Ott, Tookie played two stints with the New York baseball Giants.  He hit a home run in his very first game in 1950, and like his brother he also spent time under manager Leo Durocher.  Despite having put up solid numbers in the minor leagues, Gilbert batted only .203 with 7 HR and 48 RBI in 183 games in his days with New York.  His fielding percentage ended up at a very solid .991.  Mr. Gilbert would later become sheriff of Orleans Parish.

Next up is All-Star, publisher, philanthropist, restauranteur, francophone, and Doctor of Humane Letters Rusty Staub, class of 1961.  

Yikes.  Sketchy but endearing....

After Jesuit, Rusty was signed to the expansion Houston Colt 45's (renamed the Astros two years later).  After a slow start, he was sent back to the minors to sharpen his skills.

When he got back Staub was on his game.  His average only improved over the following three seasons, and Rusty went on to become an All-Star in '67 and '68, his last two years in Houston.

The Staubster was traded to the Expos in their expansion year where he quickly became a star and embraced the French-speaking populace who nicknamed him "Le Grand Orange."  Even though he only spent four seasons there, he quickly became a local favorite.  His number 10 would later become the first number retired in Montreal.

After a successful run with the Expos, El Staubarino would be traded to the Mets where in 1975 he would become the first player there to break 100 RBIs in a season.  He spent three and a half years in New York, contributing a .423 average and a home run to the Mets' exciting but unsuccessful 7-game World Series run.

Staub moved to Detroit in '76 where he was made designated hitter year-round.  After bouncing around to the Rangers and back to the Expos, the Staubinator returned to the Mets where he he would finish his career as player/manager in in 1985.

1976, '79, and '77 Topps cards

1981 Topps - He had a short stint with the Rangers.

'76, '81, and '82 Topps

Staub's 23-year career stat line puts him at a .279 average with 292 HR, 1466 RBI, and 2,716 hits.  He is one of only three players, including Ty Cobb and Gary Sheffield, to have hit a home run before age 20 and after age 40.

Remember after the September 11th attacks hearing about a charity called the New York Police and Fire Widows' and Children's Benefit Fund?  Rusty founded that way back in 1986.  It ended up raising over $100 million for victims of the terror attacks.  

Mr. Staub has owned restaurants, been a T.V. personality, even written poetry and children's books.  While he never made it into the MLB Hall of Fame, he has been inducted into our hearts (as well as the Texas and the Canadian Baseball Halls of Fame).  Also my Dad got his autograph on the back of his little league football trophy in 1962.

Staub didn't have a pen, so he just scratched it in there.  This man is seriously practical.  Also there is a bobblehead of Rusty (which is the only way you could ever really know that you've made it) that was given away by the Mets last year.  If you got one, you should probably trade it with me.....

Vive le Grand Orange!

Jim Gaudet from the class of '73 played in just six games over two season with the Royals.  He logged a single hit in 14 career at-bats - it was off of the not-yet-mustachioed Goose Gossage at Yankee Stadium.  

Here's a Did You Know? from the back of the card: "He faced Nolan Ryan in his first major league at bat, reaching first base on an error."  Gaudet would not be the last Blue Jay to face down Nolan Ryan in his first at bat.....

Perhaps the most famous Jesuit High School baseballer is Will Clark, class of 1982. 

Panini re-used that High School card photo for this relic card.

Also known as Will the Thrill, The Natural (like Griffey), and Lefty McAwesomesauce (made that one up), Clark matriculated to Mississippi State after Jesuit.  His time there would eventually earn him a spot in the National College Baseball Hall of Fame. 

Will's middle name is Nuschler.

He played on the U.S. Olympic Team with Barry Larkin and Mark McGwire.  Will put up excellent numbers and came home to New Orleans with a silver medal from the '84 games.

Will's Topps, Fleer, and Sportflics rookies.

His Donruss rookies.

The Golden Spikes award-winning #1 collegiate player in the country, Will was picked second overall in the 1985 draft by San Francisco.  He would spend the golden age of his career there, generally kicking ass and taking names.  With his first swing in the majors he hit a home of Nolan Ryan.  That makes Will the second Blue Jay to have successfully faced The Express in his first at-bat.

He would help get the Giants to the World Series in '89, but they would go winless against Oakland.  Despite a few injuries in the early 90's, his numbers were consistently solid when he was healthy.  Will was also a dominant defensive player with a lifetime .992 fielding pecentage.

Will played with numerous juicers including former teammate Rafael Palmeiro.
 He has never been implicated in any form of PED use.  His skill is all-natural.

After the 1993 season the Rangers would pick him up to replace Rafael Palmeiro at first base.  He would bat .329 in his first year there with a .932 OPS.

Will continued to be plagued by injury, but again his numbers never faltered.  Despite this, the Rangers would bring back Palmeiro at first base after the '98 season and Will would take Palmeiro's spot in Baltimore.  There he would join the 2000 hit club in '99.

Will appreciates beer.....and winning.

Clark's last season was spent in St. Louis where his outstanding 79-game .345/.426/.655 stat line would contribute to the Cardinals' playoff run.  Unfortunately the Mets would eventually take the NL pennant, and Clark would retire at the end of one of his best years ever.

McAwesomesauce played solid ball for 15 years, finally finishing his career with a solid .303 average, 284 HR, 1205 RBI, .881 OPS, and 2,176 hits. 

First eligible for the MLB Hall of Fame in 2006, he got just shy of the 5% needed to stay on the ballot; but don't fret - in 2020 he becomes eligible for induction by the veterans' commitee.  In the meantime he is working front office for the San Francisco Giants.

This man loves 'Merica.

I've seen Clark referred to as a kind of upper limit, the statistical border guard for the Hall of Fame - in other words he's as good as a player can get and not be Hall of Fame material.  Will has a sizeable nationwide fanbase who believe otherwise; but whether the veterans' commitee votes him in or not, Clark already has spots in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, the College Baseball Hall of Fame, and the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame.

This card was made in 2013 - still Thrillin'.

Sometime in the late 90's Will made it back to Jesuit and spoke to the student body during morning assembly.  I was there, but it was especially exciting for my cousin who was a class behind me and a much bigger fan.  He even got to hang out after the assembly and take pictures with Clark.

My uncle taught us both English.  That's why we talk so good.

Not long after that another cousin of mine met him at one of those photo development places that no longer exist and got him to sign a slip of receipt paper for me.  I have yet to meet Will, but living in New Orleans I'm hoping I'll run into him someday.  It would be thrilling (see what I did there?).

Ryan Adams 2012 Topps #520 blue parallel

Ryan Adams graduated from Jesuit in 2005.  He is from Mandeville, or as locals call it, "da Northshore."  He was picked by Baltimore 58th overall and started in the minors in '06, putting up respectable numbers until 2011 when he was called up to play second base.  That year, his only in the majors so far, he played in 29 games and batted .281 with 7 RBI.  

Ryan is currently a free agent; so if you have a baseball team and need a second baseman with a good Catholic school education, Ryan is your man....

Here is a great article about Ryan and his transition into baseball following Hurricane Katrina.

2012 Topps #442

Also from the Class of 2005, Johnny Giavotella was born in Metairie which leads me to believe he's a Lakeside baby (it's astounding how many Metairie and even New Orleans residents were born at this one hospital).  Johnny played for the University of New Orleans Privateers baseball team before being drafted by the Royals in 2008.  He got his call on August 5th, 2011, making his the most recent call-up of a Jesuit Blue Jay to the majors.  He would hit his first home run just two days later, boosting the Royals to a 4-3 victory over the Tigers.

Johnny's two years with the Royals ('11 & '12) put him at a .242 average with 3 HR and 36 RBI in 99 games.  While with the Royals Johnny has been coached by baseball legends George Brett and Rusty Kuntz.  He is currently on the Royals' inactive list.

Two second basemen from one class.

In addition to these guys, a lot of Jesuit grads have made it into the minor leagues.  Hopefully we have a few more prospects on the horizon who could someday see some playing time in the bigs.  I'll be keeping my eyes open for them. 

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