Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Jack Lohrke

Jack Lohrke passed away last week, at the age of 85. I spoke with him briefly only once, and never was able to talk with him for very long. He was a private man. Even more than that, I think, was that he just didn't want to talk about the bus crash anymore.

Jack Lohrke was one of the baseball players on the 1946 Spokane Indians baseball team. He was the player who was pulled off the bus at Ellensberg, Washington - right before the mountain pass and right before the bus plummeted down the mountainside, killing nine of the players on board. The highway patrol found him at dinnertime in Ellensberg to tell him that the San Diego Padres had called him up, that the Indians' front office had asked the highway patrol to let him know, and that he should get his gear off the bus and hitchhike back to Spokane so he could fly to San Diego for his next baseball-playing opportunity.

And yes, he was known as "Lucky" Lohrke because the same thing had happened a year earlier - he had been pulled from a military plane flying to California because a higher-ranking officer had bumped him from it. The plane crashed, killing all aboard.

He preferred to be called Jack.

He went on to play seven years in the major leagues, for the New York Giants and the Philadelpia Phillies.

There is one story I found when I researched the 1946 Spokane Indians team (for the novel I wrote about the crash), from spring training in 1947, when Jack was playing for the New York Giants. He had a red shirt he always wore, was the story. No matter how much his new teammates teased him, he always wore it. All he would say about the shirt was that it came from his gear on that bus. I dramatized the moment in the novel, and hope that I guessed right. (I had one of the other players, Levi McCormack, who always wore red shirts, give Jack one of his own red shirts as Jack left the bus.)

I found out last year that another one of the players from the bus - Ben Geraghty, who survived the crash and went on to become one of the best minor league managers ever (Hank Aaron calls him the best manager he ever had) - also had a red shirt that he always wore, in memory of those 1946 men.

We can't know what the men who survived the bus crash went through, not really, for the rest of their lives, losing their teammates like that. They were a close team, right after World War II, having survived the war, able to come back and return to the game that they loved to play. They really were a special group. And Jack Lohrke, who went on to get married and to have children and to work in security for Lockheed in California - he was a good man who lived his life as they each might have done had the bus crash never happened. I'm sorry he's gone.

1 comment:

Ivan said...

Very cool posting. Cheers.