It’s Saturday morning and I’m a little short on time today. As a result, here’s a second look at a subject I wrote about a while back, this time with a little more reporting on his actual major league career. I’m talkng about the fellow we 1950 Houston Buff fans called Little Joe Presko.
Little Joe Presko. Baseball Almanac lists him at 6″0″ and 170 lbs., but Baseball Reference hits it a lot closer at 5’9″ and 165 lbs. Macmillan’s Baseball Encyclopedia gives Joe an extra half-inch at 5′ 9 1/2″ and 165 dead weight lbs. Today Presko is 81 and probably closer to the 5’7″ or 5’8″ we thought he was back in 1950, when Presko (BR/TR) won 16 and lost 16 for one of the worst Houston Buff clubs on record. He was “Little Joe” to us then; he’s “Little Joe” to me now, but remember too – that was a title we put on Presko in great admiration for him as one of our few Houston hopes of the season.
Born in Kansas City, Missouri on October 7, 1928, Joe Presko signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1948 at the age of 19. He went 16-8 with Class C St. Joseph in ’48, before moving up to go 14-9 with Class A Omaha in 1949. Those nice ladder stops elevated Little Joe to Class AA Houston and his 16-16 banner achievement for what turned out to be a pretty bad club.
Joe Presko made his big league debut on May 3, 1951 as a spot starter/reliever for the Cardinals. He went 7-4 on the year with a 3.45 earned run average. In a six-season career that was limited by appearance, but pretty evenly divided between starting and relieving, Joe Presko won 25 and lost 37 with a 4.61 ERA thrown in to boot for the Cardinals (1951-54) and Detroit Tigers (1957-58). Joe spent 1955 back in Omaha and 1956-57 and parts of 1958-59 with Charleston, ending up with Toronto in 1959 and a closed-door on his baseball playing days. He wrapped up with a minor league career record of 77-68 and an ERA of 3.46.
Joe Presko had some memorable big league moments, the kind a pitcher doesn’t get today with pitching role specialization and pitch count limitations. The following examples are referenced to reports in Baseball Library.Com:
August 24, 1952. In a game played before 34‚709‚ the largest single-game crowd at Sportsman’s Park since 1937‚ Preacher Roe and the Brooklyn Dodgers stopped the Cards’ 8-game win streak‚ 10-4. Roe registered his 10th straight win over the 2nd-place Red Birds going back to May 7‚ 195. Joe Presko took the loss‚ exiting in the 2nd inning.
April 29, 1953. An 11th inning double by Billy Johnson, along with an error‚ allowed the Cardinals to beat the first-place Phillies‚ 1-0. Curt Simmons was the loser‚ despite allowing just three hits. Joe Presko pitched 9.1 scoreless innings‚ with Al Brazle coming in late for the winner credit.
May 20, 1953. Paced by Red Schoendienst’s 6 RBIs‚ on a HR‚ two doubles‚ and a single‚ the Cardinals planked the Pirates, 11-6. Solly Hemus scored 5 runs for St. Louis‚ as Joe Presko got the best of Bob Friend.
June 17, 1954. Starter Robin Roberts scored the winning run in the 15th inning to give the Phillies a 3-2 win over the Cardinals. The loss fell to Joe Presko who took over after Gerry Staley worked the first 12 innings.
The end of Joe Presko’s playing career due to arm trouble at age 29 did not end his involvement in the game. Little Joe went home to Kansas City and got involved as an American Legion baseball coach for quite a few years thereafter. David “Prefect Game” Cone was Joe’s most successful student, but many others also grew up learning baseball the right way under Joe Presko’s skilled, experienced, and caring guidance.
We called him Little joe Presko, but he stood tall in our youthful eyes back in 1950. The guy was a terrific role model to all of us minions out there trying to learn the game on our own through the great leveling field that was sandlot baseball after World War II prior to Little League.
Thank you, Little Joe!