The Tragic Story of Snuffy Stirnweiss

I have to lead off with the oddest fact about Snuffy Stirnweiss: He died before age 40 when his commuter train ran off a bridge and fell into Newark Bay. He had recently sought different employment after a heart attack nearly killed him while working in banking sales a year earlier. The new position involved some travel into New York from his New Jersey home. It turns out a major transportation accident was in store for him one day in 1958.

Sometimes a player has a defining story. Sometimes a story provides a nickname, such as when George “Snuffy” Sternweiss reported to a minor league assignment with a bag full of tobacco products. Sometimes a player performs so well at a pivotal moment it defines a career, such as when Stirnweiss replaced Phil Rizzuto and Joe Gordon of the New York Yankees during their military service. Sometimes a freak accident strikes, giving a very unexpected exclamation point to one’s life.

Stirnweiss played several seasons of minor league ball with affiliates of the New York Yankees and coached players at my alma mater in the off-season. The call of WWII took Phil Rizzuto and Joe Gordon from the Yankees, opening infield spaces for him to play in. Stirnweiss made the most of this opportunity, ultimately winning a batting title in 1945 and performing as an ideal leadoff hitter. The return of the Yankees’ double-play duo relegated him to backup duty and his performance declined.

Above: My Stuffy Stirnweiss card. This is the fifth 1952 card added to my collection.

Armed with ample up and coming infield talent, the Yankees traded him to the St. Louis Browns. He quickly moved along to the Cleveland Indians in 1951 where he finished his MLB career. Stirnweiss is depicted in the above 1952 card as Cleveland’s second baseman, though he would appear in only one game with the team during the season. At least he is shown with a better smile than the Chief Wahoo logo.

Stirnweiss was amazing for a player traditionally depicted as war-time replacement. Frankly, he was better than three quarters of the players appearing in ’52 Topps.

Another Interesting Stirnweiss Card

Snuffy was well known to baseball fans as the country emerged from WWII and consumer products began to reappear on store shelves. Chicago’s Leaf Gum Company followed Bowman’s 1948 lead with the release of a 98-card set in 1949. The set is frequently referred to as “1948” or “1948-49” due to a seemingly random assortment of copyright dates appearing on the cards. Snuffy’s card bears the 1948 date but makes reference to full-season statistics that would only be known once the season was over. With that mystery resolved, the only remaining question about this card is why does he look like Elon Musk wearing a Dodger-blue Yankees uniform?