- 3B, 2B, C, SS, 1B
- March 20, 1920
- 175 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 9-13-1939 with PIT
Although he wasn’t originally from Pittsburgh, after 10 years of giving the fans from the Steel City everything he had, the people of the ’Burgh, took in infielder Frankie Gustine as one of their own.
Gustine came up with the big club in 1939 at the tender young age of 19. It was that season, 1939, that he befriended Hall of Famer Paul Waner and became his roommate. He was originally brought into the organization by then Pirate manager Pie Traynor three years earlier when he was 16 years old as a third baseman in hopes he could one day take over the position the way Traynor did when he played. When Pie left following the Gustine’s first big league season, the organization would shift him to second base.
While Frankie took over the reigns at second in 1940, he would play every position in the infield over his 10 years for the Pirates including 2 games at catcher and 1 at first base. He would, though, get more than a look see at third and short as he would start three years at short and two at third for the club.
After hitting an impressive .281 his first full season in the show in 1940, Frankie fell back a little in ’41 to .270 before tumbling all the way down to .229 in 1942. One of the reasons for his early decline was a double hernia that plagued him throughout his career.
Despite the Hernia and other injuries that cropped up, Gustine went on a roller coaster for a few years, one good season followed by a bad one. The gutsy infielder, who was a fiercely competitive while at the same time being one of the nicest men in baseball, rebounded in 1943 to .290 before once again tailing off the following season to .230.
Frankie, who became extremely popular among the Pirate faithful not only during his time in the majors, but long after it, had a solid final war season in 1945, with not only a .280 average, but a then career high 66 RBI’s, 20 more than his previous high in 1941.
When the war ended in 1945, and most of the former star players returned to the game from their time in the service, a huge majority of those who played the game during the war either left the show or played in a very reduced role. There were very few war ball players who actually improved after the end of the conflict. Luckily for the Pirates, Frankie Gustine was just one of those players.
In his career up to this point, Gustine had hit a grand total of 8 home runs in 7 seasons, in 1946; he matched that output and was selected to play in his first of three consecutive All-Star games.
Gustine followed up his inaugural all-star campaign with what proved to be his marquis offensive season, 1947. Frankie was finally moved back to the position that Traynor originally had envisioned for him, third base, and he set career highs in average .297, runs 102, which he was 7th in the NL, hits 183, 3rd in the league, at bats, 616, 4th, homers 9, and games played, 156 which led the senior circuit. The Illinois native also smacked 30 doubles, which was 9th best in the circuit and was on base a total of 248 times, 10th best in the NL.
After one more good major league season in Pittsburgh, when he hit .267 and tied his high in homers with 9, Gustine was dealt to the Cubs with Cal McLish for Clyde McCullough and Cliff Chambers. As sad as it was to see the popular Gustine go, the trade proved to be a good one for the club as injuries and illness had caught up to Frankie.
He played one unimpressive season with the Cubs before being picked up on waivers by the Phillies later on in the 1949 campaign. He never played an inning in Philadelphia and was sent to the Browns in the off-season where he went 3 for 19 before hanging them up at the ripe old age of 30.
Frankie came back to Pittsburgh after he retired and opened up a bar in the Oakland section of the city, where Forbes Field and the University of Pittsburgh were located, and became a wildly popular city landmark. He also had invested in several other local businesses including the famous Sheraton Inn at Station Square.
In 1991, he was in Iowa, attending the maiden Voyage of a Riverboat Casino, owned by one of his business partners. While in Iowa, Gustine suffered a heart attack and passed away at 71 years old. He was truly a Pirate and city treasure that will always be missed.
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- Frankie Gustine