Al Papai - Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice

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Al Papai

Ballplayers Wounded in Combat

 

Date and Place of Birth: May 7, 1917 Divernon, IL
Date and Place of Death:    September 7, 1995 Springfield, IL
Baseball Experience: Major League
Position: Pitcher
Rank: Corporal
Military Unit: US Army
Area Served: European Theater of Operations

Alfred T. Papai, the son of Hungarian immigrants, Victor and Mary Papai, was born on May 7, 1917, in Divernon, Illinois, where his father worked as a coal miner. Alfred attended Divernon High School and played semi-pro baseball in nearby Springfield, with Emerson Cigars and the Fitzpatrick Lumberjacks. It was during this time that he perfected a knuckleball that helped him sign a minor league contract with the Northern League's Duluth Dukes in 1940. Duluth assigned to 6-foot-3-inch right-hander to the Worthington Cardinals of the Class D Western League, where he was 12-10 with a 3.36 ERA in 31 games.

In 1941, Papai joined the Springfield Cardinals of the Class C Western Association, he had posted a 7-6 record with a 5.30 ERA in 21 games, when he entered military service in July. Papai served as a corporal with the army and was at North Africa, Sicily, Normandy, the Rhineland, and Central Europe. He was awarded the Silver Star and earned a Purple Heart for wounds received in combat.

With the war coming to an end in Europe, Corporal Papai was shipped home from LeHavre, France, aboard the SS Athos II in April 1945. He was honorably discharged from service on June 13, 1945.

Papai didn't waste any time getting back into baseball. He pitched for two Class B teams for the remainder of the 1945 season - the Allentown Cardinals of the InterState League and the Lynchburg Cardinals of the Piedmont League. In 1946, he was back with Lynchburg and was 15-11 in 31 appearances, along with a 2.31 ERA that earned him a place on the Piedmont League all-star team. He climbed to Class AA baseball in 1947, joining the Houston Buffs of the Texas League and had a career-year. He was 21-10 with a 2.45 ERA, helping the Buffs clinch the pennant, the play-offs and the Dixie Series.

Not surprisingly, he was with the St. Louis Cardinals for spring training in 1948, and made his major league debut against the Chicago Cubs on April 24. Used purely in relief, he made 10 appearances for the Cardinals and spent the second half of the season with the Rochester Red Wings of the Class AAA International League. Papai was claimed on waivers by the St. Louis Browns in 1949, and pitched in 42 games (15 starts) for a 4-11 record and a 5.06 ERA. He was claimed on waivers by the Boston Red Sox for 1950, and was 4-2 in 16 appearances by July 5, when he was picked up by the Cardinals again, making 13 relief appearances for the club.

Papai was back in Houston in 1951, where he was 23-9 with a 2.51 ERA, and remained with the team for the following two seasons. In 1955, his second season with the Oklahoma City Indians of the Texas League, Papai had his third 20-win season, posting a 23-7 record and 2.96 ERA, which earned him a final look at the big leagues at the age of 38. Joining the Chicago White Sox for the final month of the 1955 season, Papai made seven relief appearances. In 1956, he was, again, a 20-game winner, this time with the Memphis Chicks of the Class AA Southern Association, and ended his career with the Texas League's Corpus Christi Giants in 1958, aged 41.

After baseball, Papai worked for 20 years as a mail carrier in Springfield, Illinois. He was inducted into the Springfield Sports Hall of Fame in 1993.

Al Papai passed away on September 7, 1995, at St. John’s Hospice in Springfield. Aged 78, he is buried at Brush Creek Cemetery, in Divernon, Illinois.

Date Added January 13, 2018

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