Monday, October 19, 2009

#143 Pirates Rookie Stars: John Gelnar and Jerry May

#143 Pirates Rookie Stars: John Gelnar and Jerry May
I am fairly confident that the marks on John Gelnar's face are just decades-old schmutz on the card and not some really unfortunate skin condition, but there's no way to be certain. Such is life.

Fun facts about John Gelnar:

-Hailing from Granite, OK, John attended the University of Oklahoma before signing with the Pirates in 1963.

-After a strong year-plus at his first minor league stop in AA Asheville, he made his major league debut at age 21 in August of 1964, allowing five runs in nine innings over seven games.

-His first strikeout victim was Cubs outfielder and future Hall of Famer Billy Williams.

-Spent four more years in the Pittsburgh organization with only a brief and unsuccessful stint in the Bucs' bullpen in late 1967 to show for it.

-Was dealt twice in the 1968-1969 offseason, first to Kansas City and then to Seattle. The Pilots acquired Gelnar and outfielder Steve Whitaker in exchange for Lou Piniella, who would win Rookie of the Year honors with the Royals.

-Was effective but unlucky with the expansion Pilots, winning three and losing ten despite a spiffy 3.31 ERA. He also saved three games.

-Had the unusual distinction of losing consecutive games to the Twins, the first in relief and the second as a starter. On July 19, 1969, he entered in the 17th inning and allowed four runs in the 18th in a game that lasted 5:41. He bounced back on Sunday, July 20 with seven innings of one-run ball before crumbling in the eighth, surrendering two more runs without recording an out.

-Fared a little better in wins and losses as the club moved to Milwaukee the following year; went 4-3 with four saves and a 4.19 ERA in 53 games of relief.

-Was hit hard in two games early in 1971, and soon thereafter the Brewers traded him to Detroit. He spent the rest of the season in the minors, and after another subsequent season at AAA in the Minnesota organization, he hung up his spikes at age 29. Finished 7-14 with a 4.18 ERA and seven saves in parts of five major league seasons.

-John now works as a rancher in Hobart, OK.

Fun facts about Jerry May:

-Born in Staunton, VA, Jerry was signed by Pittsburgh scout Syd Thrift in 1961. Thrift would later serve as GM of the Pirates and Orioles.

-Never did hit at the higher minor league levels, but earned a major league roster spot based on his strong defense behind the plate.

-Drove in the only run in a 16-inning game on September 30, 1964. His bunt single capped the first 3-hit game of his career and mercifully hastened the end of a game in which an N.L.-record-tying 36 batters struck out.

-After cups of coffee in 1964 and 1965 and a limited role in 1966, he took over the starting catcher's job in 1967. Hit a career-high .271 that year.

-Hit a pinch hit grand slam on June 8, 1969 to give the Pirates a 10-9 lead over the Braves in the seventh inning. Atlanta would reclaim the lead for good with a Hank Aaron home run in the eighth.

-Lost his spot in the lineup on July 14, 1969, when he crashed into the dugout at Montreal's Jarry Park and hurt himself. He was further injured on the way to the hospital, when his ambulance collided with another vehicle, damaging his shoulder. Manny Sanguillen supplanted him, and the Pirates dealt may to the Royals prior to their 1971 championship season.

-Had one of his better seasons in '71, batting .252 in 71 games and fielding at a .997 clip.

-Failed to sniff the Mendoza line in the following two seasons with Kansas City and the Mets, bringing his career to an end at age 29.

-In parts of ten seasons, Jerry hit .234 with 63 doubles, 15 home runs, and 130 RBI. He also gunned down 43% of potential base stealers.

-His life was cut tragically short at age 52 in a farming accident at his home in Harrisonburg, VA.
#143 Pirates Rookie Stars: John Gelnar and Jerry May (back)


  1. I happened to pick up a card of John Gelnar at the card show. You'll be relieved (or not) to know, that it is not a skin condition. Or his skin condition cleared up by 1971.

  2. I just browsed your list of "needs" and find 17 involve Hall of Famers in some way and another 7 involve people with pockets of support for the Hall of Fame.

    Some of the others are curiosities, such as the last 'head coach' card (Bob Kennedy) of the Cubs, Masanori Murakami rookie stars card (first player from the Japanese leagues), Dave DeBusschre and a Jim Bouton card.

    enjoy the blog, I once had most of these cards, but...

  3. It's not a skin condition- he's my dad.

  4. Greg - I believe you, but as you can see below, we got confirmation from another source even closer to John!

    Osinski - You're right - collecting the last 60 cards of the set should be a great challenge!

    Destiny - Thanks for commenting...I hope your Dad is doing well. :)