A lifelong affair with baseball


Gus Mancuso watched the seventh game of the World Series from the St. Louis dugout on Oct. 10, 1931 as his Cardinals beat the Philadelphia Athletics for the championship.

The son of Sicilian and German parents was born in Galveston five years after the Great Storm of 1900 nearly blew his birthplace away. In spite of his stern father’s insistence that schoolwork and household chores came first, he always found time to do what he loved most— play baseball.

After high school, August Rodney Mancuso went to work as a teller at an Island bank that hired him for the company baseball team. The 19-year-old catcher caught the eye of the president of the Houston Buffs, a fixture in the Texas League, who immediately signed him to a contract that almost doubled what he made on his day job.

Mancuso started at the bottom with Mount Pleasant in the Class D East Texas League. He shined so brightly his rookie season that the Cardinals, his parent club, promoted him to the top rung of their minor-league system.

Mancuso feasted on International League pitching in 1927, batting .371 for the Syracuse Chiefs. The Cardinals rewarded him with an invitation to spring training and a three-month trial in the big leagues. Sent back down to the minors, he spent the rest of 1928 and all of 1929 with a trio of farm teams that included his original ball club the Houston Buffs.

Since the Cardinals in 1930 already had Jimmie Wilson, one of the best catchers in the National League, they offered Mancuso an extra thousand dollars if he would patiently wait his turn in the minors. The Texan swallowed his disappointment and did as he was asked, mainly because his widowed mother needed the money in the deepening Depression.

Mancuso might have languished in the bush leagues had it not been for Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s strongwilled commissioner. He gave the St. Louis front office the choice of playing or trading the prime prospect, and they elected to put Mancuso in a Cardinal uniform rather than lose him.

As the back-up catcher, he saw limited duty until Wilson hurt his ankle in the last two weeks of a tight pennant race. Mancuso hit two home runs in a critical win and contributed four singles in another stellar performance to finish the season with a .366 average.

In Game One of the 1930 World Series versus the Philadelphia Athletics, Mancuso recorded the Cards’ first hit and first run in a losing effort. He also handled the chores behind the plate in Game Two but sat out the rest of the Series, won by the A’s four games to two, following Wilson’s return.

1931 was a frustrating campaign for Mancuso as he spent far more time on the bench than on the field. In the World Series rematch with the Athletics that the Cardinals won in seven games, he was a spectator going to bat just one time.

In 1932, Mancuso caught 82 games, seven more than his rival, and posted a .284 batting average 40 points better than Wilson. Told he could expect to split time again the next season, he insisted on being traded.

Bill Terry, the new manager of the New York Giants, welcomed Mancuso with open arms. He needed a catcher with the Texan’s quickness and agility to handle a pitching staff that threw a challenging array of pitches featuring screwballs, sinkers, wicked curveballs and unpredictable knuckleballs. The Giants’ skipper gave Mancuso a public vote of confidence by making room for him with an unpopular trade and the declaration, “Mancuso is the best catcher in the National League today.”

With Terry’s emphasis on defense and pitching and Mancuso’s letter-perfect handling of the hurlers, the Giants ended a nine-year drought by capturing their first National League crown in nine years. A sportswriter for the New York World Telegram praised Mancuso as the “real spark-plug of the Giants. Peppery, smiling, hard worker, timely batsman.”

Over the next four seasons, the Giants added two more pennants with the same philosophy and essentially the same cast. For his part, Mancuso was honored with selection to the NL All-Star squads in 1935 and again in1937.

At 32 years of age, Mancuso was beginning to show the wear and tear from squatting behind home plate. Under pressure from a young understudy in 1938, he took more days off. The Giants could read the writing on the wall and traded him to the Chicago Cubs.

The manpower shortage of World War II prolonged Mancuso’s career as he bounced from club to club. He came out of retirement in 1945 to catch a handful of games for the Phillies and coach their pitchers before finally calling it quits.

Mancuso’s playing days were behind him, but he was far from finished with baseball. He managed in the minors for five years before switching to the broadcast booth in 1951 as a play-byplay commentator.

Mancuso’s 36-year love affair with baseball ended in 1960. Cooperstown has never given him the time of day, but he was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame before his death in 1984.