Professor Ostrowski

There is no shortage of former ballplayers among the ranks of teachers. Among those portrayed in the 1952 Topps set, Bob Hooper became a PE teacher and Dale Coogan made a lengthy career as a school principal and school system superintendent. From the 1993 Finest set there is Dave Fleming who went into the elementary classroom after a five-year MLB career. The staff list of the high school closest to my current address even features a former member of the Cincinnati Reds.

The usual order of operations sees a ballplayer complete their athletic career before moving into the less physically demanding field of education. Sometimes that order is reversed, as in the case of Hall of Famer Earle Combs. Combs earned his degree in education and taught for a few years in a one-room Kentucky schoolhouse before being noticed by the New York Yankees. Combs would go on to be an integral part of the famed Murderers’ Row lineup.

Above: Earle Combs in the famed 1933 Goudey set.

Joe Ostrowski, another member of the Yankees, followed a similar path. He graduated from the University of Scranton three years after Combs’ retirement and taught full time for several years. His recreational baseball exploits caught the eye of the Boston Red Sox and was signed to a minor league contract, eventually playing after his return from WW2 with the same Louisville team that first signed Combs. A couple years and a trade later he embarked on a five-year MLB career with the St. Louis Browns and New York Yankees.

Ostrowski was primarily used as a relief pitcher, though he did start 7-8 games per season, going the distance for 9 innings in a third of those appearances. Decidedly not a strikeout pitcher, he nonetheless generated above average effectiveness with a fielding independent pitching and wins above replacement showing he was better than his 23-25 record and 4.54 ERA suggests. Ostrowski’s career would probably have looked much better had he not gotten such a late start (MLB debut at age 31).

Unlike Combs, Ostrowski never stopped teaching. His 1952 Topps baseball card mentions that he still teaches in the offseason, despite being on his way to a third consecutive World Series championship ring. This would prove to be both his rookie card and his final appearance on cardboard as a major leaguer. He spent the next season in the Pacific Coast League before hanging up his spikes at age 36. He returned to a few more decades of teaching in northeastern Pennsylvania.

One more fact sticks out from the biographical text on the back of Ostrowski’s ’52 Topps card. Sy Berger ends his writeup with the note that “Joe is a competent basketball referee.” A couple dozen players appearing in the set worked in the offseason as basketball refs in order to earn extra cash and stay in shape over the winter. This is one of only two cards in the set to mention this bit of trivia, and the only one to say the job was performed in a competent manner. I guess Berger agreed with Ostrowski’s calls.