Paul Schramka played in exactly two games for the Cubs. He pinch-ran for Clyde McCullough in the seventh inning in a 3-2 win over the Reds April 14, 1953 and served as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning of a 3-0 loss to the Cardinals April 16, 1953. He never batted, nor scored a run.
Schramka died in his hometown of Milwaukee on Monday, aged 91.
Why am I writing this article, then? That’s not much of a big-league career.
Paul Schramka is notable in Cubs history because he was the last player to wear uniform No. 14 before it was issued to someone just a bit more famous, Ernie Banks. Of course, you know of Banks’ Hall of Fame career; he was inducted into the Hall in Cooperstown on the first ballot in 1977.
Five years later, Banks’ No. 14 was retired, the first number retired by the Cubs. In an appreciation of Ernie’s life that I wrote after he passed away in 2015, I noted this about Schramka:
When Ernie’s number 14 was retired by the Cubs August 22, 1982, he received a telegram (back in the days when people still sent those quaint things!) from Paul Schramka, who had worn No. 14 for two games as a defensive replacement early in 1953, the year Ernie debuted in September. To Ernie, Schramka wrote: “I left all the hits in the jersey for you.”
Schramka made a bit of a cottage industry out of being the last Cubs No. 14 before Ernie, as related in this 2016 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article:
“Banks knew an undertaker had given him his number,” Schramka said. “I met him once at the Vince Lombardi (golf) tournament. I said, ‘I’m the guy who gave you No. 14.’ He kicked the guy who was riding with him out of the cart and I rode around with him for three or four holes. That’s as close as I ever got to him.”
Once, at a luncheon in Milwaukee, Schramka approached Hank Aaron, introduced himself and said, “Henry, we’re the only guys in this room to have our numbers retired.” Aaron gave him a quizzical look.
“He had no idea who I was,” Schramka said with a laugh.
“An undertaker” was literally true. Schramka and his family have owned and operated funeral homes in the Milwaukee area for decades, and Paul Schramka continued to work in that business, never really retiring, according to his SABR biography, which also contains many other details about his baseball career. The 2016 article notes that he was actually a decent prospect at one time — he had a .428 lifetime slugging percentage in the minor leagues — but never got a real chance in the big leagues. The article says he continued to play amateur and semi-pro ball in the Milwaukee area until 1967.
Paul Schramka might be just a footnote in Cubs history, but I thought it was worth noting his passing at age 91.