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Nation, World Sports

Vandergrift native, ex-MLB pitcher Minarcin dies at 83

Bill Beckner Jr.
| Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, 11:24 p.m.
Rudy Minarcin, a former major league pitcher and two-sport star at Vandergrift High, died Tuesday at 83.
Rudy Minarcin, a former major league pitcher and two-sport star at Vandergrift High, died Tuesday at 83.

It's late September in 1956.

Boston Red Sox right-hander Rudy Minarcin had just pitched against the hated Yankees — four innings of relief work and a win — and headed to the locker room, where he changed into street clothes.

As he left Yankee Stadium and hailed a cab, he was approached by autograph seekers. He signed a few items, even handing some out of the cab window. But some came back before the ink dried.

This wasn't who they thought it was.

“Fans mistook my dad for Mickey Mantle all the time,” said Michelle Solomon, the daughter of Minarcin, the former Vandergrift baseball and football great who died Tuesday at age 83. “Eventually it got so bad that he just started signing as Mantle. So somewhere there are Mickey Mantle autographs floating around that my dad signed.”

Those who knew Minarcin never confused him with someone else. He was as genuine as the leather in his glove and even more humble, despite the mental scrapbook of stories he could tell.

An Alle-Kiski Sports Hall of Famer, Minarcin played on the same team as Ted Williams and told stories of how the Red Sox great's unusual batting practice habits that included hitting golf balls, wiffle balls and tennis balls. Minarcin roomed with troubled outfielder Jimmy Piersall.

Minarcin appeared in 70 major league games from 1955 to '57. He made three starts and went 5-9 for Cincinnati in 1955. With Boston during the following two seasons, he started just once and pitched 54 13 innings. His career earned-run average was 4.66, his overall record, 6-9.

But then there was that gem of a one-hitter for which he is most associated. On June 4, 1955, he threw a complete-game one-hitter against the Pirates at Forbes Field. He also drove in a pair of runs in the 6-0 win — the only two RBI of his career.

Eleven days later, he tossed a complete-game four-hitter against the eventual World Series champion Brooklyn Dodgers. Cincinnati won the game, 5-2.

“He was one of the most humble people. He never bragged,” said Solomon, who now lives in Oak Ridge, Tenn. “Someone once congratulated him on his one-hitter, and his reply was, ‘It was nothing.'”

In high school, Minarcin threw eight one-hitters and played on the 1948 WPIAL championship team. His late brother, John, who also played in the Red Sox organization, was a key player on that team and the '49 team that repeated.

Rudy played quarterback for the Lancers and had more than 30 scholarship offers, including one from Notre Dame. But he chose baseball and signed with the short-lived Vandergrift Pioneers, a Class C affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies.

“He got an congratulatory card from an insurance man after the Notre Dame offer,” Solomon said. “That same man (later) said my dad was one of the greatest quarterbacks the Irish ever had. The only thing is, he never played in a game.”

Minarcin served in the Army during the Korean War but received an honorable discharge in 1954 after injuring his right knee in a pick-up football game.

That injury slowed his progress in the majors, giving him a tainted “push-off” leg.

“I talked to him from time to time, and we compared notes and things of that nature,” said Mike Spagnolo, a softball coach at Burrell whose wife, Mary, is Minarcin's niece. “He was a pretty happy-go-lucky guy. You wouldn't have even known he played the game if you didn't know him.”

Spagnolo, who played in the Phillies minor-league system, said he bought Minarcin's baseball card recently at a local story. It won't be sold again.

“It's a family momento,” Spagnolo said.

After baseball, Minarcin took over his father's grocery store, Martin's Market, until he retired in 1995.

Minarcin always was a Pirates fan, his ear often glued to radio broadcasts narrated by the voices of Rosy Rowswell and Bob Prince

He even followed the recent resurgence of the 2013 team, falling ill the week of the National League Division Series.

“He was so excited about the Pirates. He was so looking forward to seeing them win again,” Solomon said.

Apollo-Ridge athletic director Ray Bartha's wife, Christine, also is Minarcin's niece.

“He was a good-hearted man,” Ray Bartha said. “He was unique. When I was young and broke, he carried me for months when it came to groceries. We'd play card games but the rule was you had to bring donuts or sweet rolls or you weren't invited. I lucked out marrying into this family.”

Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Dunmire-Kerr and Rowe Funeral Home in Vandergrift.

A funeral mass will be 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church in East Vandergrift.

Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com.

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