R.I.P., Buddy Lewis: Big bat, bad glove, long life

John “Buddy” Lewis, onetime Washington Senators slugger, died last week in his native Gastonia.

At 94 Lewis was the 11th oldest living major league baseball player — and the only one whose career had begun before 1936. (Second-oldest: 98-year-old Clarence “Ace” Parker, Duke’s two-sport star.)

Lewis’s chronic weakness was fielding. Before the Senators exiled him from third base to right field, he committed a jaw-dropping 140 errors over four seasons. But at the plate he was a menace from the get-go — at the age of 24 only Ty Cobb had recorded more career hits.

World War II cost Lewis nearly four seasons of his prime. He flew more than 350 cargo missions “over the hump” in India.

After the war he came back strong — starting in the 1947 All-Star game alongside Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio — but retired after the ’49 season to concentrate on his Gastonia Ford dealership.

He seems also to have been the last remaining player to witness Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man on the face of the earth” farewell speech in 1939.

Depicted: This cheaply made tab-style button from the collection was a candy or gum premium, circa mid 1930s. It’s probably coincidence that the odd, open-mouthed image of Buddy Lewis  suggests he’s desperately searching the sky for a pop fly, but….

And here are his baseball cards from 1939 and 1940 and 1941.

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