Ernie Lombardi

Position: Catcher
Brooklyn Dodgers, 1931; Cincinnati Reds, 1932-1941; Boston Braves, 1942; New York Giants, 1943-1947

Ernie Lombardi retired with the fourth highest career batting average in history among players who appeared in over 1,000 games as a catcher.

Lombardi was a mammoth man who could palm seven baseballs.
Lombardi was a mammoth man who
could palm seven baseballs.

Those who saw him play insist his .306 mark would have been 50 points higher if he had even average speed. Lombardi was so slow afoot that infielders customarily played him back on the outfield grass, thus cutting off many screeching line drives that otherwise would have been hits.

Born in Oakland, California, Ernesto Natali Lombardi (1908-1977) drove a delivery truck for his father’s fruit and vegetable business in the Bay area and played sandlot baseball. At age 18 in 1926, he was signed by the local Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League.

Ernie didn’t get many at bats that year, and he was sent to Ogden of the Utah-Idaho League, where he batted .398. Oakland brought Ernie back in 1928, and over the next three years he batted .377, .366, and .370.

Brooklyn bought the 6'3", 230-pound catcher after the 1930 season for $50,000 and several players. Ernie played there one year, but with Al Lopez holding down the Dodger backstop job, Brooklyn traded Lombardi to Cincinnati prior to the 1932 season. Ernie hit .303 in his first year of regular duty and collected nine triples.

From 1934 to ’37, Lombardi hit .305, .343, .333, and .334, with about 60 RBI a season. In 1938, he became the first receiver in major-league history to win an undisputed batting crown when he hit .342 for the Reds in 489 at bats. Bubbles Hargrave had been awarded the NL bat crown in 1926 with fewer than 400 at bats, and Lombardi himself took a second hitting title in 1942 with only 309 at bats.

With Lombardi behind the plate and a pitching tandem of Paul Derringer and Bucky Walters, in 1939 the Reds grabbed their first pennant since 1919. Ernie’s poor Series performance culminated in a home plate collision with Yankees outfielder Charlie Keller in the final game of a New York sweep. The collision left Lombardi dazed and sprawled beside the plate while three Yankees runs scored.

Cincinnati then repeated the following year, with Ernie batting .319. A late-season injury held him to just three at bats in the 1940 World Series, however. When Lombardi slipped to a .264 batting average in 1941, he was traded to the Boston Braves.

After he rebounded to win the hitting crown in 1942, the Braves sent him to the New York Giants, where he spent his final five seasons in the majors as a backup catcher and a pinch hitter. In 1986, nearly nine years after his death, the Veterans Committee selected Ernie for the Hall of Fame.

Here are Ernie Lombardi's major league totals:


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