Who Is Bob Kuzava and Why Should We Care?

In his recent guest post on Hardball Times, my friend and fellow baseball historian Graham Womack mentioned in passing that he had never heard of pitcher Bob Kuzava.Read Graham’s post “Getting One Vote for the Hall of Fame” here.

Let’s be clear from the outset. There’s not a reason in the world that anyone outside of diehard New York Yankee fans from the mid-1950s should recognize Kuzava’s name. The journeyman left hander who pitched for eight teams in 10 years (Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, Washington Senators, Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals) and compiled a 49-44 record with a 4.05 ERA is completely forgettable.

But as was so often the case with the Yankees during their run of five consecutive World Championships, a player—usually a pitcher—would rise out of obscurity to perform spectacularly at a critical moment to help deliver a key game to the Yankees.

So it was with Kuzava in 1951, his best season. After posting an 8-4 record with a 2.40 ERA Kuzava, who had started eight games, took a seat in the Yankees’ bull pen for the World Series against the crosstown rival New York Giants. With Vic Raschi and Eddie Lopat winning 21 games and Allie Reynolds 17, manager Casey Stengel’s starting rotation was set.

In the sixth game, the Yankees were coasting with a 4-1 lead in the top of the ninth. But Johnny Sain, pitching in relief of starter Reynolds, faltered, gave up two runs and left the bases full when Stengel summoned Kuzava.  Press box reporters thought Stengel was crazy since the next two batters were right handed, Monte Irvin and Bobby Thompson. But Stengel’s gamble paid off. Irvin and Thompson hit back-to-back sacrifice flies that scored two runs but left Kuzava with only one out to collect.

With the score now 4-3, it was Giants’ manager Leo Durocher’s turn to play a hunch. Durocher chose right handed, back up catcher Sal Yvars to hit for the lefty Hank Thompson. Yvars, understudy to Wes Westrum, had made a mere 41 regular season plate appearances.

That set the stage for one of the World Series’ most thrilling finishes. With Whitey Lockman in scoring position and representing the tying run, Yvars lifted a weak fly ball to right field that, in the late afternoon sun and with the shifting winds, seemed sure to drop in. But Hank Bauer, playing right in place of the injured Mickey Mantle, made a lunging dive and came up with the ball. The game and the series were over.

Kuzava earned the save, an achievement he repeated in 1952 in the seventh gameagainst the Brooklyn Dodgers. Although the Dodgers slugging right handed line up feasted on lefties, especially in Ebbets Field where the game was played, Kuzava set down the last eight batters: Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson (on another famous lunging catch, this one by Billy Martin falling on his knees near the pitcher’s mound), Roy Campanella, Andy Pafko, Carl Furillo, Bobby Morgan, Billy Cox and Pee Wee Reese. Once again, Stengel’s faith in Kuzava paid off.

Now 88 and living in Michigan, Kuzava’s friends call him “Sarge,” his rank during World War II where he served from 1943 to 1945.

11 Replies to “Who Is Bob Kuzava and Why Should We Care?”

  1. Most people would have little or no reason to remember him, or if they heard his name, might confuse it with some kind of melon. That’s if they knew there was a melon that sounded like it.

  2. I’m beginning to think that the names of the respondents to this article bear a striking resemblance to those who gathered in Apalachia, NY, in 1957. I was not, by any means, a fanatical Yankee fan in the 50s, but saw those “damn Yankees” destroy my beloved Dodgers in 5 of 6 World Series. And part of that systematic obliteration of what was considered the “best overall team in baseball,” came about when Yankee players – such as Kuzava and Billy Martin – worked wonders in the October classic. When it mattered the most, players like Bob Kuzava came through in the clutch.

  3. @isakusava:

    I replied:

    “Thank you for writing. If Bob has an email address you can share with me ( I am the author), I’ll forward. Otherwise maybe you could print it out and mail it to him.”

    And I received this response:

    “Not a problem! I don’t know his email address! Good idea, thank you! Have a good night.”

  4. I saw Bob Kusava pitch for Cleveland (in Detroit,) on the last Friday of the 1946 season. This was only Kusava’s second or third start in the majors. There was no significance to the game, except that Bob Feller was just 6 strikeouts short of tying Walter Johnson’s single season SO record. Kusava pitched 4 innings, was ahead 6-4, and then Lou Boudreau inserted Feller, to boost Feller’s SO total. Feller pitched the last 5 innings for strikeouts and almost lost the game. He did get 6 SO’s, plus two strikes on Hank Greenberg for the go-ahead 7th, but Cal Hubbard next ruled a checked swing, and Greenberg popped up to end the game. On Sunday, Feller and Newhouser both went 9 innings, Feller won 4-1, and both ended the season with 26 wins. But Feller only got 5 SO’s that day. Without the unscheduled appearance on Friday, Feller would not have beaten Walter Johnson’s record.

  5. A very nice man, unlike some of the now a days players who believe they are entitled. A Great guy who remembered where he came from

  6. I had the privilege of caring for Bob Kuzava in his last 7 months of life. I’m happy to say he was my buddy and im glad i could make a difference in his life! Miss you always Bob 💗 R.I.P

  7. I was a bird dog scout for Bob in 1969 and 1970. We were with the Oakland A’s, I learned a lot from Bob. A great guy who loved baseball.

  8. My wife and I met Bob at a Public park in Wyandotte, MI. He signed Her Dodgers jacket without any comment and my Met hat with a sharpy and a smile ! Great guy to meet !! Charlie & JoJo

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