Carl Ernest Sawatski (1927–1991)
Carl Sawatski was a Polish American professional baseball player who, over a period of eleven years, played for the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, and St. Louis Cardinals. In 1957, he was a member of the Braves World Series Championship team. After retirement as a player, he served as general manager of the Arkansas Travelers for almost a decade.
Carl Ernest Sawatski was born in Shickshinny, Pennsylvania, on November 4, 1927, to Ernest Sawatski and Stella Gryniewicz Sawatski, both children of Polish immigrants. His father worked for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression and later owned a taxicab service. His mother was a seamstress.
Sometime after his parents separated, his mother moved with her three children to Mountain View, New Jersey. Sawatski attended school in nearby Pompton Lakes, where he graduated from high school in 1945. While attending high school, he participated in football and basketball. In the summers, he played on the local American Legion baseball team.
In 1944, Sawatski was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies, who then assigned him to the minors, where he spent much of his professional baseball career. For four out of his first five years in the minors, he led his team in home runs, establishing himself as a reliable power hitter. Having played outfield for most of his career, he was moved to catcher in 1947 due to his increased weight, which limited his quickness and contributed to him being cut that same year. Fluctuating weight would continue to have a negative impact on his career. He was picked up by another minor league team near his hometown and continued to play in the minors until 1948. In that year, Sawatski got his first chance in the majors, when he was called up by the Chicago Cubs, making his major league debut on September 29. He was sent back to the minors after two games.
In 1950, he was again called up by the Cubs for a thirty-eight-game stretch. Just as his career seemed to be moving in a positive direction, he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1951 during the Korean War. He completed his basic training at Camp Chaffee (now Fort Chaffee) in Arkansas and, for the next two years, served overseas.
After completing his military obligation, he returned to baseball. Sawatski rejoined the Cubs in 1953, playing forty-three games. In late November of that year, the Cubs traded him to the Chicago White Sox, where he finished the season. For the next year, the Sox sent him to play in the International League in Toronto before returning him to the minors and then cutting him. He returned to the International League in Venezuela for one season before being picked up by the Milwaukee Braves in 1957. Sawatski was able to help the Braves win the National League pennant and defeat the New York Yankees in the World Series that year. In the seven-game series, he appeared as a pinch hitter in two games but went hitless.
Early in the 1958 season, the Braves traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies. After two unhappy years with the Phillies, he requested to be traded or to retire. His request was honored with a trade to the St. Louis Cardinals.
His span of four years with the Cardinals was the longest time he spent with any one major league team. He played in 305 games with the Cardinals, but after the 1963 season, the dependable utility catcher decided to retire. The year following his retirement, the Cardinals won the World Series. He finished his eleven-year major league career with fifty-eight home runs and a lifetime batting average of .242.
In 1949, when Sawatski’s minor league teams was playing what is now the Arkansas Travelers in Little Rock (Pulaski County), he met Dorothy Lusk. The couple married on December 31, 1949, and had two children. In the off season, he always returned to Little Rock, where he worked as a football and basketball official. With his baseball playing career at an end, he worked in construction and real estate in Little Rock.
Sawatski maintained a close relationship with the Cardinals, and when Ray Winder, the general manager of the Cardinals’ affiliated Arkansas Travelers, died in 1967, Sawatski was offered the position. During his tenure as general manager, the Travelers won over 600 games, finished second in the league in 1968, and won the league championship in 1971. Two years after he took the job, Sporting News named him Class AA Executive of the Year. In 1976, Sawatski left the Travelers to become the president of the Texas League. In 1987, he was presented the Warren Giles Award for outstanding service as league president. Sawatski was still serving as president when he died in Little Rock of leukemia on November 24, 1991.
He is buried in the Pine Crest Memorial Park in Alexander (Pulaski and Saline counties). In 2005, he was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.
For additional information:
Bailey, Jim. The Arkansas Travelers: 79 Years of Baseball. Little Rock: Arkansas Travelers Baseball Club, 1980.
“Carl Ernest Sawatski, 64, Ex-Baseball Player, Dies.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 26, 1991, p. 4B.
“Carl Sawatski.” Baseball-Reference.com. https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=sawats001car (accessed October 28, 2022).
Wolf, Gregory H. “Carl Sawatski.” Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/carl-sawatski/ (accessed October 28, 2022).
CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas
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