February 1, 2023

Would Korean War Casualty Carl Tumlinson Have Replaced the Ageing Pee Wee Reese as the Dodgers Shortstop?

February 21, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The Dodgers Hall of Fame shortstop, Pee Wee Reese, played his last full season at that position in 1956, aged 37. Charlie Neal (1957) then Don Zimmer (1958) were his immediate replacements. Not until the emergence of Maury Wills in 1960 did the Dodgers have a shortstop who, in any way, resembled the great Pee Wee.

tumlinson_carlOne name that never comes to mind when thinking of Dodger shortstops is Carl Tumlinson. Why? Because Tumlinson never made it to the big league team. Not because he lacked talent – he had that in abundance – but because military service intervened, shattering his hopes and dreams, and ultimately taking his life.

Carl Tumlinson was a big-hitting shortstop at Union High School in Phoenix, Arizona in 1950. Major league scouts were on his trail and he spurned a number of offers to sign with the Brooklyn Dodgers for $6,000 in June. He immediately reported to the Santa Barbara Dodgers of the Class C California State League where the starting shortstop job was his to lose. The youngster didn’t dissapoint, playing 86 games and batting a very respectable .271 with 22 doubles.

In 1951, he was assigned to the Greenwood Dodgers of the Class C Cotton States League, where he proved to be one of the league’s top hitters. On June 24, he hit two home runs, one a grand slam, in a win over Hot Springs, and the Greenville Delta Democrat Times commented that day on how he was gaining on batting leader Jim Gilbert:

“Carl Tumlinson, Greenwood, picked up 13 points in batting during the week ending June 19 and pulled to within 13 points of the Cotton States League leader, Jim Gilbert of Natchez. The Dodger shortstop rapped out 10 hits in 21 times at bat to boost his mace mark to .373, while Gilbert was dropping 11 points to .386 by virtue of only four safeties in 16 tries.”

Tumlinson dropped off the pace during the tail-end of the season although he still came through in style on occasion. On August 15, he blasted a home run, single and double to drive in four runs against Clarksdale. He finished the year with a .319 batting average, 30 doubles and 19 home runs and was named to the league all-star team (Jim Gilbert won the batting title with a .352 average).

In 1952, the 20-year-old advanced to the Elmira Pioneers of the Class A Eastern League. He got off to a great start and was hitting .314 by mid-May. Then he recieved his army draft notice to report for military duty in July. Tumlinson’s season ended right at the moment he opened that letter. He knew he woundn’t be back playing baseball until at least 1953, maybe even later.

He pretty well went through the motions until it was time to leave the club. In his last game (June 18), batting in his usual number three spot, Tumlinson went 1-for-5, hitting a double in the sixth inning against Albany’s Stan McWilliams. He headed home to his parents in Phoenix, having played 53 games and allowing his batting average to slip to an uncharacteristic .258 with five home runs. His replacement at shortstop was Bob Lillis, who batted just .203 for the remainder of the season but went on to enjoy a 10-year big league career.

On July 4, 1952, Tumlinson left Phoenix to return to Elmira, New York, where he was inducted in the Army on July 8. Private Carl Tumlinson served in Korea with Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regimental Combat Team. He was killed in action on April 7, 1953, having been in military service for onlynine months.

Carl Tumlinson’s career spanned just three seasons. He played 267 games and batted .289 with 25 home runs. Don Zimmer had been Elmira’s shortstop the year before Tumlinson was there. Zimmer reached the majors in 1954 and stayed for 12 years. Charlie Neal, who had been Tumlinson’s teammate at Elmira in 1952, joined the Dodgers in 1956 and played eight years in the majors. Maury Wills, six months younger than Tumlinson, was playing Class D ball at Hornell in 1952. He reached the big leagues in 1959 and played for 14 years. Would Carl Tumlinson, a kid from Phoenix, Arizona, have been the replacement for Pee Wee? I think he might have been.

Carl Tumlinson’s full biography, along with the biographies of more than 300 ballplayers who died while in military service, appears on www.baseballsgreatestsacrifice.com

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