While some shamelessly point only to his 1945 “Merkle Moment” in the Philadelphia sun, George Binks shined in Milwaukee during the summer of 1944…
By Paul Tenpenny (Tencentz@aol.com)
(Copyright 2010 (Tencentzports)
Reprinted with permission of the Author
George Alvin Binkowski was born July 11, 1914 in Chicago, Illinois.
He shortened his name to Binks when he began in baseball, adopting the moniker, “Bingo.”
It proved to be a name that was both easily remembered and popular with fans as well as the sports writers during a baseball career that spanned 15 years.
George started playing baseball during the depression while working in a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. Finding that he had natural ability for the game, he launched himself into a baseball career playing for the Monessen Indians in the Pennsylvania State Association in 1936 at the age of 21.
In 1937 he was playing for the Owensboro Oilers of the Kentucky Illinois and Tennessee League and the Springfield Indians of the Middle Atlantic League. 1938 found him playing on 3 more teams in 3 different leagues: The Tyler Trojans of the East Texas League, Springfield Indians again and the Wilkes-Barre Barons of the Eastern League. He played the entire 1939 season with the Cedar Rapids Raiders of the Illinois Indiana Iowa League.
In 1940, our well traveled Bingo played with the Cedar Rapids Raiders and the Charleston Senators of the Middle Atlantic League. In 1941, he played with 3 teams in Wisconsin: The Madison Blues of the Illinois Indiana Iowa League, The Green Bay Blue Sox of the Wisconsin State League and catching my breath and throwing away my map, which is a mess by now …
he finally arrived in Milwaukee, joining the American Association Brewers late in the year.
While in Green Bay, manager Red Smith tweaked George’s batting stance and he became a much improved hitter. Once he spread it out a bit “he became one of the best hitters,”
according to Smith.
Red subsequently recommended him to Milwaukee’s Charlie Grimm.
(Red Smith would have a long association with The Milwaukee Brewers as a player-1930’s, coach-1940’s and General Manager in the 1950’s.)
George Binks 1941 Milwaukee Brewers
In his first at bat, Binks swatted a home run. Way to go Bingo!
While 1941 was mostly miserable and forgettable for Milwaukee and Charlie Grimm, affectionately known as “Jolly Cholly,” considered the late season addition of Binks to be “the only good thing he remembered from that season.” (Grimm’s first year managing the Brewers)
George was a hit in the 5 games played as a Brewer that year. He tallied an impressive .444 batting average with 8 hits in 18 at bats with a double and a home run.
When the war broke out, Binks was classified 4-F, “not acceptable for military service,” because he was deaf in one ear due to having mastoid trouble in his childhood. Instead of sitting out the war and continuing his career, he sacrificed baseball to work as a machinist in a converted auto factory in South Bend, Indiana, producing war material for the war effort during 1942 and ’43.
George Binks 1944 Grand Studio Card
George returned to baseball and the Milwaukee Brewers in 1944, playing like he was gone for only 2 days, not for 2 years! He immediately became an integral part of the team. Having the ability to play both first base and the outfield and with his ever present batting prowess, he would have a crucial role with the Brews the entire season.
Grimm left the Brewers in the capable hands of Casey Stengel when Charlie yielded to the siren call to manage the Chicago Cubs. With his prized utility man hitting near .400, Casey bragged: “his greatest value has been as a pinch hitter.” Binks had a superb batting average of .300 in that role. He was called a “lifesaver” as a hitter for the Brewers.
Box Score May 1944
In addition to being a quality player, George Binks was also quite the character. Even his glove got the attention of the press.
As early as 1941, George’s first baseman’s mitt was a topic of much conversation. Seemingly held together with tape and bailing wire, the team couldn’t get him to give it up. It was a good luck charm given to him by a major league scout when he first began playing baseball in 1936. It was the cause of much laughter and some consternation with manager Charlie Grimm who considered it a “hunk of leather.”
“I just can’t part with it,” said Binks in 1944, “There’s a lot of memories in that piece of leather. It’s not the fanciest glove, I know, but I prefer it to a new one.” Binks turned down a new glove offered to him by manager Grimm. The web of the glove is made of bird cage wire put together by a Green Bay clubhouse boy when the leather wore out. “It’s been a luck charm
so I will go on using it,” said Binks.
Well, he did use it until a storm tore the roof off of Borchert field on June 15th. In the ensuing excitement he lost the treasured keepsake.
George Binks 1944 Favorite Glove Photo and Autograph
Besides jury-rigging gloves, George was considered the “handy man” on the Brewer club too. He was comfortable playing at the first sack as well as filling in when needed in the outfield during the absences of Frank Secory and Bill Norman. His hitting was not affected by changing positions.
In late August, while expounding to the Wrigley field press about the ability of their clutch utility man, George Binks, Milwaukee Brewer manager Stengel answered a question posed to him. “Can he play third?” Ignoring the obvious ignorance of the questioner who didn’t know George was a southpaw, Casey, so confident in the fielding skills of Binks, responded in the affirmative. Normally the 3rd sack was reserved for right handers. But with Casey, anything was possible. While in Toledo a few years earlier, he shocked the fans by inserting outfielder John Cooney, a left hander, at 2nd base.
The phlegmatic Bingo, was such a good hitter that he never seemed to bother with the identity of the opposing pitcher. Shortstop Arky Biggs, a former Brewer teammate in 1944, remembers an incident with Milwaukee where Binks had gotten a base hit and later scored. When he sat down next to Biggs he watched the pitcher wind up and asked him, “when did the left hander come into the game?” He had been pitching for two innings! Maybe this was why he was such a good hitter; he didn’t care who was pitching, he just swung away at “his” pitches. Bingo was acknowledged as being an important factor in the Brewer pennant drive all year. Starting out filling in for Heinz Becker at first base, but playing mostly as their left fielder. George’s pinch hitting was repeatedly noted as winning several games for the Brews. His hitting was phenomenal. As late as August, he was hitting at a “fat” .407 batting average.
George finished the season with a team leading, .374 batting average. In one hundred games, Bingo had 105 base hits in 281 at bats, 17 doubles, 2 triples and 11 round trippers. His fielding average was .956.
George Binks Game Used Bat
His dream of playing major league ball became a reality that same year when the Brewers sold him to the Washington Senators (Nationals). On August 25th he joined the Senators after the season ended with Milwaukee in Chicago against the White Sox. He played in a total of 5 games with the Nats in 1944, scattering 3 singles in 12 at bats.
1945 would be a season to remember for Bingo in more ways than one.
George had a great year on the field and at bat. Playing in 145 games that year, Binks tallied 153 hits in 550 at bats for a .278 batting average. He was second in the league in doubles with 32 and fifth in RBIs with 81. He had a stellar .983 fielding average too. George even garnered votes for American League MVP for 1945 (placing 21st).
Manager Ossie Bluege considered Bingo a great outfielder and a great left handed hitter. “Binks has the greatest gloved hand I have ever seen on an outfielder, I have never seen him drop a ball that he got his glove on.” He was a valuable player in the outfield, on first base and as a hitter he was a spark plug for the team. When regular first baseman, Joe Kuhel, went down with an injury, Binks filled in and went on a hitting tear that rocketed them into pennant contention almost single-handedly. The Senators winning 16 of their next 22 games.
But he was not without problems. Being deaf in one ear was at times, a handicap for him and his teammates. More than once he had trouble in the outfield with being called off by his fellow outfielders, which made collisions a definite possibility if they weren’t mindful of his handicap. He also was picked off base one time because he could not hear the warnings from the bench. He had a penchant for missing or ignoring signs from the bench on a regular basis, among other mental errors. But his bat was so valuable for Washington that manager Bluege could ill afford to bench him. His teammates mostly kidded him good-naturedly about his foibles.
“Boner Bingo” Original Press Photo
His biggest mistake, the “Binks Boner,” occurred while the Washington Senators were contending for the 1945 American League pennant and it looms as large as Bill Buckner’s through the legs error in 1986 and “Bonehead” Fred Merkle’s famous flub of 1908. The Nats were in a close race thanks in no small part to the hard hitting Binks. Washington was playing a double header with the Athletics in Philadelphia. The first game was tied and in extra innings. The bright sun played a roll that day as it had been “dancing in and out of the clouds” all day. Binks did not take a cue from his Philadelphia outfield counterpart who had his sunglasses brought out to him. When A’s outfielder Ernie Kish hit a fly to center field, George lost the ball in the sun, it dropping in for a double instead of an easy out. The next man was walked intentionally to set up the double play possibility. Future hall of famer and Philadelphia 3rd baseman, George Kell, drove in the winning run with a single. The Senators did win the 2nd game of the twin bill, but never caught up to the Detroit Tigers.
Blame fell on Binks for his misplay, deservedly so, but owner Clark Griffith could well share the blame for his scheduling arrangements for the 1945 season. Trying to earn some extra money, he rented the ballpark to the Washington Redskins for the last week of September. The schedule was arranged to finish on the road and also forced them to play more double headers, where they couldn’t use their best pitchers to their advantage.
They were forced to wait and hope that the Tigers would lose. They didn’t. The Nationals finishing 1 1/2 games behind Detroit, who went on to defeat Charlie Grimm’s Chicago Cubs in the World Series 4-3 that season.
George went on to play another season with the Washington Senators in 1946, moving on to the Philadelphia Athletics in 1947 and later on to the St. Louis Browns for 1948, his final season in the majors. He played a couple more years in AAA ball before retiring after 1950.
George Binks was able to live out his dream of playing major league baseball. While the World was at war, he stepped up to a different plate, in spite of his handicap and not being able to fight. He served his country quietly by working in a critical industry, actually giving up the game he loved for two years.
Returning in 1944, he became one of those very special players who kept the sport alive, lifting moral at home and abroad while others gave up their time and some, their lives, for our country.
While some choose to remember him only for his blunder, losing the ball in the sun and that single game, remember, his team finished a full game and 1/2 back. So like the press photo said, you can’t blame the entire season on his one misplay. They finished more than 1 game behind the Tigers. His hard hitting and fielding actually helped put them in contention in the first place. He was a valuable part of the Washington team, giving them that chance at the pennant.
George Binks 1944 Original Snapshot and Autograph
He was a valuable part of the Brewer team in 1944 in Milwaukee. The fans loved watching the Borchert “Bingo Party“ put on by this scrappy utility player. He was their “handyman,” playing when and where they needed him, truly a “lifesaver.” Be it first base, outfield, pinch hitter, even 3rd base… if Casey would have needed him there. He was their “go to” guy in a pinch. His bat was always a critical addition to the lineup and, no doubt, a major player on the team that won Bill Veeck his 2nd American Association title in a row while he was away serving his country.
We tip our caps to you Bingo!