Don Lenhardt, who spent five seasons in the major leagues as an outfielder with the St. Louis Browns, Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and Baltimore Orioles, passed away June 9, 2014 in Chesterfield, Missouri. He was 91.
A native of Alton, Illinois, Lenhardt was a standout multi-sport athlete, earning a scholarship to the University of Illinois to play both baseball and basketball. His collegiate career was cut short in 1942 when he joined the Navy. He served in World War II until his 1945 discharge, never playing during his military service.
“I missed about five summers of playing after I went into the service,” Lenhardt told Lou Hernandez in his book, “Memories of Winter Ball.” “I cannot say it was bad, because you never know. It probably did not hurt me at all, because I probably matured some. I did not play ball in the service. I tried out when I was leaving, and they wanted me to stay and play, but I said no, I am going home.”
With the help of Yankees scout Lou Magualo, Lenhardt signed with the St. Louis Browns in 1946. As he progressed in the Browns minor league organization, Lenhardt grew into a feared power hitter, smashing 22 and 26 home runs respectively for Springfield in 1948 and San Antonio in 1949. His outburst in Double A with San Antonio attracted the attention of Mike Gonzalez, who managed the Habana team in the Cuban Winter League.
“Mike Gonzalez saw me play in San Antonio and he invited me to play in Havana,” he said to Hernandez. “I wanted to go, because I knew it would help me get to the big leagues. I had a great year down there and I had a great first year in the big leagues.”
Lenhardt had a breakout rookie season in 1950 with the Browns, cracking 22 home runs, driving in 81 runs while posting a .273 batting average; however, his powerful start was not enough to cement his position in St. Louis. The cash strapped Browns traded Lenhardt to the Chicago White Sox less than halfway through the 1951 season for two players and cash. It was a welcome acquisition for the White Sox.
“I’m glad to have him with us,” White Sox manager Paul Richards said to the United Press in 1951, “and I’ll probably use him most against left-handed pitching.”
The White Sox used him as Richards directed and in 199 at-bats, he hit 10 home runs. Still, despite his power hitting, the winds of change continued to blow Lenhardt throughout the American League.
He played for three different teams in 1952, starting with the Boston Red Sox after an off-season trade. He was then traded twice in the span of two months, going from Boston to Detroit in a blockbuster deal that sent Walt Dropo and Johnny Pesky to Detroit in exchange for future Hall of Famer George Kell and Dizzy Trout. In August, Detroit sent Lenhardt back to St. Louis for 20-game winner Ned Garver.
Lenhardt stayed with St. Louis through the 1953 season, their last in St. Louis. He followed the organization in their move to Baltimore in 1954 and finished out his major league career that year with the Boston Red Sox after being sold to the team in May.
He played two more seasons in the minor leagues with the Boston organization and hung up his spikes for good at the end of the 1956 campaign.
He finished his major league career with a .271 average and 61 home runs in 481 games.
After his playing days, he worked over four decades in the Red Sox organization as a scout and coach, serving as the Red Sox' first base coach under manager Eddie Kasko from 1970-73. He retired from scouting in 2002 and lived in Chesterfield attending St. Louis Browns reunions and meetings of the 1-2-3 club, an exclusive group of St. Louis retired athletes and sports writers.
His passing leaves only 22 living former members of the St. Louis Browns.