Profile by BCB reader Ihatethecards (with additions by Al)
Henry John (Hank) Sauer was born on March 17, 1917 in Pittsburgh. Signed by the Yankees, he played in their minor league system and was subsequently drafted by the Reds in the 1939 minor league draft. He broke into the majors with the Cincinnati Reds in 1941, and after missing three years for World War II service, and two more back in the minor leagues after a fairly decent late season of 1945 with the Reds (.293/.328/.431 in 116 at-bats), finally became a major league regular in 1948 at the age of 31. The Reds, thinking they wouldn't get much use out of a slugger at that age, traded him to the Cubs with Frank Baumholtz for Harry Walker and Peanuts Lowrey at the then-trading deadline, June 15, 1949.
Sauer, however, defying the usual baseball career path (declining after age 30 or so), then became a feared slugger for the Cubs in the early 1950s, hitting over 30 home runs six different times (four with the Cubs), with a career-high 41 in 1954 -- during those days long before steroids came along. He was a two-time All-Star and had his most productive season in 1952, when he led the National League in home runs (37) and RBI (121), and was named the Most Valuable Player, becoming the first player since Jake Daubert in 1913 to win the award while playing for a team that did not have a winning record (the '52 Cubs finished 77-77, the only time between 1946 and 1963 that they did not finish under .500).
During a time when the Cubs were especially moribund, Sauer provided some joy for Cubs fans with his power-hitting. He was well-known for using smokeless tobacco, and it has often been reported that after he hit a home run, when he returned to his left field position, bleacher fans would shower him with packets of his favorite chew.
Sauer was not especially fleet afoot. Longtime Chicago columnist and lifelong Cubs fan Mike Royko used to say that, in contrast to the 1950 "Whiz Kids" Phillies National League champions, the Cubs outfield of guys like Sauer, Frankie Baumholtz and Ralph Kiner were the "Quicksand Kids".
After the 1955 season, when his numbers had precipitiously declined and he was age 38, he decided to hold out for a larger contract. This got him traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Pete Whisenant before the 1956 season began, and he finished with a couple of decent part-time seasons with the Giants, finally retiring in 1959.
Sauer hit 288 home runs in a career spanning only 4796 at-bats; had it not been for the war years and a team (the Reds) who couldn't see the value in his power and plate discipline (.347 lifetime OBA), over a full career he might have hit well over 400 HR and have been a borderline Hall of Fame candidate. His AB per HR ratio as a Cub was 16.0, third on the all-time Cub list (only Aramis Ramirez and Sammy Sosa have fewer AB per HR as Cubs), and his 198 Cub HR rank him eighth on the all-time team list. In addition to his MVP award, he finished in the top 30 of MVP voting five other times in his career.
Sauer died in Burlingame, California on August 24, 2001 at the age of 84.