The St. Louis Cardinals supplied their Duluth farm team with another manager and players - other teams in the league sent players to Duluth as well - to finish the 1948 season. The Pheasants sent Duluth Bill Emery. The Dukes were 40-32 before the crash. But the Dukes finished the season in fifth place and out of the playoffs with a 53-61 record.
In 1978, 30 years after the crash, seven of the 11 surviving players reunited in Duluth to renew their support for one another and to honor their fallen teammates. In 2008, only six were alive when the team commemorated the 50th anniversary of the bus crash on July 24, 1998.
We got together numerous times as a team, whoever was left, Gerl said. One year, St. Louis held a reunion for us, and they put us in a luxury box for the game, plus we spent an afternoon with Stan Musial in his restaurant. We were very close as a team before the wreck, but we became even closer after it. We exchanged a lot of phones calls with each other in the years that followed. Some turned into very long calls.
Gerl is now the only remaining survivor of the crash. A few days ago, he visited Duluth, meeting some fans now in their 80s and 90s who still remembered Gerl and his talented Duke teammates.
After sitting out the 1949 season, Gerl would return to baseball in 1950 for teams in Houston and Montgomery, Ala. He could no longer hit the long ball and his strong arm had given way to a sore elbow that would not seem to heal.
Gerl returned to the Dukes in 1952, and he played for a couple of more seasons before retiring in 1953. In 1953, his arm had improved and so had his game. He put up numbers comparable to the 1953 Northern League rookie of the year, Roger Maris of the Fargo-Moorhead Twins.
Gerl remembers his playing days, and Aberdeen, well.
Aberdeen had the nicest hotel in the league, he said. It was on Main and was probably the tallest building in town. And Aberdeen always had good teams with good managers and lots of fans.
Other things to know:
·Gerl and Larsen have communicated with each other about the 1948 All-Star game and wreck that followed.
·During the 1952 season as the Dukes' catcher, Gerl caught three foul balls to make all the innings' outs unassisted.
·The Dukes bus crash is considered one of the worst tragedies in baseball history. On June 24, 1946, a bus accident killed nine members of the Spokane minor league team.
·Larsen recently announced that he will auction off the uniform he wore while pitching the perfect game to help pay for his grandchildren's college educations. Steiner Sports Memorabilia will conduct the telephone/online auction for 56 days this fall beginning Oct. 8, the 56th anniversary of the event.
John Papendick is the managing news-sports editor for the American News. Reach him at email@example.com.