July 2nd, 2017
Al Niemiec played in only 78 big league games but made his presence felt with a landmark court case after the conclusion of World War II. Niemiec sued baseball and earned a win that sent ripples throughout the game. It is through the lens of the game that his impact is best understood.
Niemiec played in 199 minor league contests before getting a September call up to the Red Sox for nine games in 1934. He spent the next year back in the bushes before being traded to the Athletics in a package that sent Hall of Fame slugger Jimmie Foxx to Boston. Though Niemiec spent the entire season with Philadelphia, it would be his last as a big leaguer.
By 1938 Niemiec moved to the Pacific Coast League for a five-year run that included three consecutive championships with the Seattle Rainers from 1939-1941. The ’41 season was a good one for Niemiec who hit .297 while leading second basemen in fielding for the third straight season. For his efforts, he was named the PCL’s outstanding player at his position. At the end of the following season Niemiec was called to serve in the navy where he remained until his honorable discharge in January of 1946.
When retired Lieutenant Niemiec returned to civilian life, he reported back to his former job with the Seattle club, a position ensured under the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, commonly known as the GI Bill. Despite his previous baseball success the then 35-year-old Niemiec, more than three years removed from his last professional game, was beaten out for the job and released. He decided to sue based on the job guarantee provision of the GI Bill. With the help of government lawyers, Niemiec won the case. The decision forced the Rainiers to pay Niemiec and more importantly was roundly applied to all other returning ball players, some retroactively.
When Judge Black of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington handed down his oral ruling, he had harsh words for America’s National Pastime.
“I recognize the seriousness to baseball of having the judge dictate as to its players. But since it has been argued and correctly that baseball is the American game, certainly, then baseball ought to bear its share of any burden in being fair to service men. There are few institutions in American life which ought to feel a greater obligation. If Mr. Niemiec and all the others had failed in their job, there would be no American manager of any baseball if such should be played at the stadium this year. If the Nazis permitted baseball, it would not be an exhibition that any of us liked.”
Navy veteran Lieutenant Al Niemiec dealt the mighty institution of professional baseball a blow, and in the process gave its players a victory in an era when such wins were few and far between.
To read more about Al Niemiec’s playing career click here. You can reach the author of this article at JSmiley@CooperstownExpert.com.