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Old-Time Lithuanian-American Athletes: Baseball Player Vito (Vytautas) Tamulis

Search Google -- as well as at a number of Lithuanian-American sports sites, journals and newsletters -- for "Lithuanian-American Baseball Players" and this group is what you get: "Johnny Podres, Pete Gray, Eddie Waitkus, Frank J. Thomas, and Barney McCoskey."

Who's famous but missing from the typical list? Vito (Vytautas Kazimieras) Tamulis (1911-74): left-handed major league pitcher from 1934-41 for the New York Yankees, St. Louis Browns, Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies. His mid-career bad health dampened what might have been a truly amazing record. Originally from Cambridge, Mass., Tamulis was the most famous Lithuanian-American baseball player of his time. Here are his baseball cards, including the printed backs, followed by his stats, and a comparison with Johnny Podres, Dodger and all-time great Lithuanian-American ballplayer.

1935: His first card, as a Yankee. His major league debut, at 23, was September 25, 1934, beating the Philadelphia Athletics 5-0 in a 7-hit shutout. Image:

1936: His second, Canadian, card as a Yankee. Image:

1939 His third card, as a Brooklyn Dodger. Image:

1940: His fourth card, as a Brooklyn Dodger. Image:

1941: His card as a Brooklyn Dodger for the second time around. There are no known cards of him as a St. Louis Brown or as a Philadelphia Phillie.

How good a pitcher was he?

Compare his major league stats to that of Dodger great and acknowledged all-time best Lithuanian-American ballplayer, Johnny Podres. (Bear in mind that Tom Gregg, in a 1997 article in Lithuanian Heritage, put Tamulis in his third and lowest tier of Lithuanian-American ballplayers, mentioning his debut shutout as his only noteworthy achievement.)

Tamulis: Won 40, Lost 28, .588 winning %, 3.97 ERA*

Podres: Won 148, Lost 116, .561 winning %, 3.68 ERA

*ERA = Earned Run Average, the number of earned runs (runs scored without the aid of an error or passed ball) a pitcher allows per nine innings, the most commonly accepted statistical tool for evaluating pitchers. An ERA between 2.00 and 3.00 is also considered excellent, achieved only by the best pitchers. An ERA between 3.00 and 4.00 (like that of both Tamulis and Podres) is above-average. An ERA between 4.00 and 5.00 is average, achieved by the majority of pitchers.

Compare their minor league stats before they came to the majors, and during their time in the majors:

Tamulis: Won 52, Lost 22, .703 winning %

Podres: Won 31, Lost 17, .646 winning %

Compare their combined major and minor league stats:

Tamulis: Won 92, Lost 50, .648 winning %

Podres: Won 179, Lost 133, .574 winning %

Tamulis' year-by-year stats:

1932-34: Yankee minor leaguer: Won 27, Lost 11, .711 winning percentage

1934-35: Yankees: Won 11, Lost 5, .688 winning %, 3.87 ERA

1936: Vito falls ill with pleurisy: inflammation of the tissues that line the lungs and chest cavity, caused by infections such as the flu and pneumonia, and causing chest pain that worsens during breathing. The Yankees send him to the minors.

1936-37: After recovery, as a Yankee minor leaguer: Won 25, Lost 11, .694 winning %

December 4, 1937: on the strength of his recovery, the Yankees trade him up to the St. Louis Browns

1937-38: St. Louis Browns: Won 0, Lost 3, 7.63 ERA. Tamulis' play falters, and the Browns give up on him

1938: Brooklyn Dodgers claim Tamulis on waivers

1938-40: Brooklyn Dodgers: Won 29, Lost 19, .604 winning %, 3.77 ERA

November 11, 1940: Traded by the Brooklyn Dodgers to the Philadelphia Phillies

Nov. 1940 - May 1941: Philadelphia Phillies: Won 0, Lost 1, 9.00 ERA off 12 innings pitched

May 6, 1941: Traded by the Philadelphia Phillies back to the Brooklyn Dodgers

May - July 1941: Brooklyn Dodgers: no games credited, pitched 22 innings, 3.68 ERA

July 31, 1941: Traded by the Brooklyn Dodgers to the minor league Nashville Volunteers

1942: Nashville Volunteers: Won 20, Lost 8, .714 winning %

1942-45 in service

When he was healthy -- in the minors, for the Yankees, and in his first stint with the Dodgers -- Tamulis was very good, and, I believe, belongs in the first tier of Lithuanian-American ballplayers.


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