Strikeout King and Protector of Umpires, Max Surkont

Though Max Surkont had a 61-76 record for his career, he finished 40-36 for the Braves and never once posted a losing year in that span. He moved with the team to Milwaukee in 1953 and promptly became a local favorite. He struck out 8 consecutive Cincinnati Reds batters in May, a Major League record that would stand until Tom Seaver fanned 10 in 1970.

Already pictured as a big guy on his 1952 Topps card, Surkont was rewarded by local residents with a year’s supply of Polish sausages for his pitching success. He reportedly put on significant weight, though Topps would continue to claim him at only 205 pounds as late as 1957. News articles as far back as 1950 had him pegged at hefty 230 pounds before the move to Milwaukee.

Surkont’s MLB career ended with six innings pitched in the 1957 season, though not before he provided one last gasp of on-field heroics. Playing in a Pacific Coast League game, his team lost a game on a tight play at the plate. Fans rushed the field and began to attack the home plate umpire. Surkont and a fellow pitcher jumped into the fray to defend the umpire, allowing him to escape in one piece.

After his playing days he operated Surkont’s Cafe for nearly two decades. The building still stands on Broadway in Pawtucket but now houses a cigar retailer, convenience store, and a church of some sort.

Pictured above is Max Surkont’s entry in the 1953 Bowman Color set. While Topps generally used publicity stills and other less creative photographic sources for its 1952 offering, Bowman really focused on photo quality in 1953. Surkont is shown at an angle that Topps would not use for decades. I really like it.

Surkont gets the “mugshot in a ballcap” treatment from Topps. In later years he would be pictured close up with his arms raised for a pitch, but with less than 100 games under his belt at the time of production this would have to do. It’s my second addition to the set from the semi-high series and was acquired at the same time as my Ray Murray card. Both appear to have been once glued to something and bring my set completion past the 5% mark. Further review of the back of Max’s card reveals that “Max” is somehow a nickname of “Matthew” and that his is a veteran with a capital V.