Norm Zauchin

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Norm Zauchin

Norbert Henry Zauchin (born November 17, 1929 in Royal Oak, Michigan; died January 31, 1999 in Birmingham) was a first baseman for the 1950 Birmingham Barons and played six seasons in the Major Leagues with the Boston Red Sox and Washington Senators.

Zauchin, the son of Polish immigrant Casmer "Charles" Zauchin and his wife, Catherine, grew up in Royal Oak, Michigan and graduated from Kimball High School with hopes of becoming a star for the Detroit Falcons basketball team. The Falcons folded, however, and he set his sights on baseball. After waiting fruitlessly for an offer from Tigers scout Wish Egan, he gave up and phoned Red Sox scout Maurice DeLoof and signed a contract in 1948. He began his playing career at age 18 assigned to the Milford (Delaware) Red Sox of the Class D Eastern Shore League, hitting .353 with 33 home runs in 120 games to earn recognition as the league's Most Valuable Player.

Zauchin reported to the AAA Louisville Colonels for the 1949 season, where they unsuccessfully tried to convert him into a catcher. He was sent down to AA Scranton and then quickly to the San Jose Red Sox of the Class C California League where he returned to first base. He hit .322 with 22 home runs in 101 games there.

In 1950 Zauchin started the year with Pinky Higgins' Birmingham Barons. The 6-foot-5 20-year-old was billed as the heir apparent to Walt Dropo at first base. He lived up to his billing by leading the team in total bases and doubles, and setting a Rickwood Field record with 35 home runs. Beneficiary of an advertising promotion, he collected a new suit of clothes from J. Blach & Sons for each one. He and Memphis outfielder Bill Wilson both sailed past the Southern Association single-season record of 29, but Wilson ended the year with 36, claiming the record for himself.

In 1951 Zauchin returned to Louisville and maintained his impressive batting, interrupted by an ankle injury. He was called up in late September and made two appearances spelling Dropo at first base before the end of the season. On February 16, 1952 he married Janet Louise Mooney of Bessemer, whom he had first run into, literally, while chasing a foul ball into the stands at Rickwood. Two weeks later he was inducted into the U.S. Army and assigned to Camp Gordon, Georgia. He was discharged on February 25, 1954 and reported to Red Sox spring training. With Dick Gernert established in Boston, Zauchin returned to Louisville, now managed by Higgins, and batted .289 with 18 home runs in 145 games, helping the Colonels win the American Association playoffs and the Little World Series.

Zauchin returned to the Majors in 1955 and split time with Harry Agganis at first at the beginning of the season. The return of Ted Williams from military service provided Zauchin with a valuable hitting mentor and helped him anticipate pitches, leading to a landmark 3 home run, 10-RBI outing against the Senators on May 27, setting single-game Sox records which still stand. On August 14, Zauchin took advantage of a "State of Maine Day" promotion to win several prizes, including a live bear cub, named Homer, which he donated to the Birmingham Zoo. For the season he hit .239 with 27 home runs and led all AL first basemen in fielding percentage (.995). He finished behind Herb Score and Billy Klaus in AL Rookie of the Year voting.

In 1956 Zauchin's fortune waned as the Red Sox brought in hot-hitting lefty Mickey Vernon. Zauchin managed to hit .214 with 2 home runs and 11 RBI in 44 at bats. In 1957 Vernon's bat cooled and Zauchin split time with him and Dick Gernert. Zauchin batted .264 in 91 at-bats with three home runs and 14 RBI. His season was cut short when he broke his wrist sliding into second on August 27. Zauchin was traded along with Albie Pearson for Washington Senators infielder Pete Runnels on January 23, 1958.

As a Senator, Zauchin got off to a fast start, hitting over .300 through mid-May and knocking his first home run against his former team. Later that month, though, he hurt his shoulder fielding a ground ball. The injury affected his swing and he finished the year with a .228 average and 15 home runs. Manager Cookie Lavagetto openly doubted Zauchin's commitment to the team and used him sparingly for the rest of the season. He began the 1959 campaign with a pay cut and a challenge from converted outfielder Roy Sievers. His batting continued to slump, and his contract was sold to the AAA Miami Marlins on May 12. Over his six seasons in the Majors, Zauchin was a .233 hitter with 50 home runs and 159 RBI in 346 games.

Zauchin's numbers improved in AAA ball, but injuries continued to stifle him. He finished the 1960 season with the Buffalo Bisons and then retired from baseball and moved back to Birmingham. He took up golf and bowling and was active in the Professional Bowlers Association for several years. He managed the Bessemer Super Highway Holiday Bowl and played in golf tournaments with other former baseball players. He appeared in a special "Old Timers" game at Rickwood during the 1982 Birmingham Barons season.

Zauchin died from prostate cancer in January 1999. He was inducted into the Birmingham Barons Hall of Fame in 2007.


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