Luke Easter (baseball)

Luscious Luke Easter (August 4, 1915 in Jonestown, MS - March 29, 1979 in Euclid, OH) was a professional baseball player in Major League Baseball and the Negro leagues. He batted from the left side, threw with his right hand, was 6 ft 4 in tall, and weighed 240 lb. The birth year listed here is drawn from census data. Easter himself listed multiple birth years ranging from 1911 to 1921 on different occasions, so some ambiguity as to the correct year does exist.

Early career

Easter grew up in St. Louis, MO. His family moved there when Easter was four years old, so that his father James could secure a more lucrative job in the auto industry. Prior to that time, the Easters had been farmers. He attended the same high school as fellow Negro league star Quincy Trouppe. After graduation, Easter was good enough to be a professional player, but there was no Negro league franchise in St. Louis. As a result, in 1937 Easter joined the top team in the area, a semipro outfit called the St. Louis Titanium Giants. This team was sponsored by the American Titanium Company, with membership drawn from the company's worker base; players held a job at the factory and received a weekly paycheck, but received substantial amounts of time off from "work" to practice and to participate in games against visiting squads. During the time Easter played for them, the Giants fielded a very competitive team; also featuring Sam Jethroe, they went 6-0 in exhibitions against teams in the Negro American League in 1940. Easter played for the Giants until 1941, when he suffered a broken leg in a car accident, as a passenger in a car driven by Jethroe.

During World War II, Easter avoided combat by working domestically in war essential industries. Luscious Easter 37 368 805 was inducted into the Army of the United States at Jefferson Baracks, MO, on June 22, 1942 and stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, MO, with the Quartermaster Corps. He was separated from the Army at Fort Leonard Wood, MO on July 3, 1943. (National Archives and Records Administration.) After the war ended, he tried to resume his playing career by trying out for manager "Candy Jim" Taylor of the Chicago American Giants. Taylor elected not to sign Easter, but referred him to promoter Abe Saperstein, who at that time was founding a new touring baseball team, the Cincinnati Crescents. Saperstein signed Easter, and after a successful 1946 season, sold him to the Homestead Grays.

Negro and Major Leagues

Easter was a solid contributor to the Grays in 1947, and then excelled in 1948. That year, he batted .363, tied for the league lead in home runs, and led the league in runs batted in. He led the Grays to a victory over the Birmingham Black Barons in that year's Negro League World Series, the last one ever played. His success attracted the attention of Bill Veeck, owner of the Cleveland Indians, who purchased his contract from the Grays. A knee injury in spring training in 1949 cost Easter a spot on the major league roster at the start of the season. He started the year in the Pacific Coast League, and despite a mid-season operation on the knee, continued to excel. He again batted .363, along with 25 home runs and 80 RBI. This performance impressed the Indians so much that they called Easter up for a brief appearance at the end of the season, and early in 1950 traded All-Star Mickey Vernon to open up first base for him.

As a 34-year-old rookie, Easter continued his record of strong hitting. He ranked among the league leaders in home runs and RBI, and led the league in times hit by pitch. He continued to excel in these areas in 1951 and 1952, even finishing 13th in Most Valuable Player voting in the latter year, but continuing knee and ankle problems sapped his strength. He played in only 68 ML games in 1953, spending part of the year at AAA, and finished his major league career with six games in 1954.

Easter continued to play professionally at AAA, even though the leg injuries had reduced his running speed to a slow limp. He played regularly for the Ottawa Athletics, Charleston Senators, Buffalo Bisons and Rochester Red Wings, and won the International League's MVP award with the Bisons in 1957. He ultimately retired as a player in 1963, at the age of 48, and worked for several years thereafter as a coach. His number (36) was retired by the Rochester Red Wings and number (25) by the Buffalo Bisons.

Notable Home Runs

As a player, Easter was best known for his tape-measure home runs. While with the Grays in 1948, he became the first player to hit a home run into the center field bleachers at New York's Polo Grounds during game action, a section that was 475 feet from home plate. During his rookie season, he also hit the longest home run in the history of Cleveland's Municipal Stadium, a 477-foot blast over the auxiliary scoreboard in right field; the only other player to match that feat was Mickey Mantle, who did it in 1960. Finally, during his twilight days with the Bisons, he became the first player to hit a home run over the center field scoreboard at Buffalo's home park, Offermann Stadium, doing so twice in a month in 1957.

When told by a fan one time that the fan had seen Easter's longest home run in person, Easter is reported to have replied, "If it came down, it wasn't my longest."

Post-Playing Career

While playing with the Red Wings, Easter also began to serve as a coach, and after his playing days were over he continued in this role. Future major leaguers Boog Powell, Curt Blefary, and Pete Ward were among the players who credit Easter as a positive influence on their careers.

After his days as a coach were over, Easter moved back to the Cleveland area. While transporting $40,000 for the Aircraft Workers Alliance from a bank on March 29, 1979, in the course of his job as chief union steward for TRW, Easter was approached by two robbers armed with shotguns. He refused to turn over the funds, and was killed.

Woodland Hills Park in Cleveland's Mount Pleasant neighborhood was renamed Luke Easter Park in his honor.

Historical Analysis

Easter was generally well-liked by teammates during his career, and most printed recollections by them refer to him as a good-natured practical joker. He owned and operated a sausage company while in Buffalo, and gave five pounds of sausage to every teammate who hit a home run. He was inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 1997, with that body citing his "grace and dignity on and off the field" and his "legacy as a friend to the community, a generous soul with plenty of time for any cause" [http://www.buffalosportshallfame.com/1997/luke_easter.html 1] . He had already become the charter member of the Rochester Red Wings Hall of Fame in 1989 [http://www.redwingsbaseball.com/history/easterhof.html 2] .

In "The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract," baseball writer and statistician Bill James rated Easter as the second-best first baseman in the history of the Negro leagues, behind only Buck Leonard. He described Easter as "an amiable, fun-loving man who gambled, wasn't 100% honest, and had a temper," with "shoulders that crossed three lanes of traffic," but also claimed that "if you could clone him and bring him back, you'd have the greatest power hitter in baseball today, if not ever."

External links

* [http://www.baseball-reference.com/e/eastelu01.shtml Easter's major league statistics.]
* [http://www.baseball-almanac.com/minor-league/minor9.shtml A description of Easter's minor league career.]
* [http://www.redwingsbaseball.com/history/easterhof.html Photos of Easter and his wife Virgil.]
* [http://www.baseballthinkfactory.org/files/hall_of_merit/discussion/luke_easter/ An attempt to interpret the course of Easter's non-ML career.]


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