By CHUCKIE MAGGIO
Editor’s note: The Rochester Red Wings have 121 years of history and have welcomed many spectacular athletes into their clubhouse, whether it be Culver Field, the Bay Street Ball Grounds, Silver Stadium or Frontier Field. To pass the time until they’re playing ball again, we’re counting down the five best players at each position in club history in the “Red Wings: Best Of” series.
Day four of the “Best Of” series focuses on shortstops. The earlier decades continue to be well-represented, but a 2000s player also made the list for the first time this series. The “fab five” at short:
1. Bobby Grich. Grich, the 1971 Minor League Player of the Year and International League MVP, won the batting title with a .336 average and also led the league with 32 home runs in his first full season with the Red Wings. The Wings also won the Governor’s Cup and Junior World Series, making it one of the most decorated single seasons for a Triple A player.
The Orioles’ top choice in the 1967 draft formed a veritable one-two punch with second round-pick Don Baylor. The duo combined to hit 52 homers and drive in 178 runs, powering the highest-scoring offense in the league.
“Bobby Grich would be a star for any other club in the big leagues,” Winnipeg Whip manager Clyde McCullough told Democrat and Chronicle sportswriter Bob Matthews that July, empathizing with the talented Red Wings who were “frozen” by an established Orioles team. “He’s one of the best three ball players in America today.”
2. Red Schoendienst. The Baseball Hall of Fame inductee played parts of two seasons in Rochester, winning the 1943 International League batting title with a .337 average.
Fellow St. Louis great Stan Musial said Schoendienst had “the greatest pair of hands I’ve ever seen.” Schoendienst played 161 games for the Red Wings, hitting .373 in 25 games in 1944 before being drafted into military service and joining the Cardinals the next season.
Defensively, then-Red Wings president Oliver French remarked that Schoendienst was “one of the best judges of ‘hops’ that I have ever seen… And he’s a revelation at taking balls in between hops.”
3. Charles Gelbert. Gelbert collected three hits in the first Red Wings game under their present name, an auspicious start to a dominant 1928 season. Gelbert batted .340 with 21 home runs and 116 RBIs in his only season in Rochester as the Red Wings won the International League title.
Gelbert’s greatest homer was arguably the inside-the-parker that ended the final game at the Bay Street Ball Grounds, when he hit the first pitch of the 10th inning deep to right to defeat Toronto 3-2.
“It took one bounce in right center, caromed further away from the scurrying Easterling and between him and Shinners,” Joseph T. Adams wrote in the next day’s Democrat and Chronicle, describing the frenzied final play. “Both were in hot pursuit as it bounced into the fence. Gilbert, going like an antelope, went faster than when he scored from first… and did not have to slide at the plate.”
Gelbert received a promotion to St. Louis the next season and played 11 years in the major leagues.
4. Bobby Bonner. Bonner won the IL Rookie of the Year in 1980 after driving in 41 runs and starting the All-Star Game. He played parts of six seasons in Rochester, collecting 369 hits, 135 RBIs and 163 runs scored as a Wing.
Known for his agility and range at short, Bonner handled 706 fielding chances in the 1980 season. He also had a matter-of-fact quote in the D&C before his first Red Wings Opening Day that is all too relatable for today’s players.
“I’m always excited to play baseball,” he said at the batting cage, hours before a season that would punch his ticket to major league appearances.
5. Jason Bartlett. Bartlett is by far the most recent Wing selected to this point, last playing for Rochester in 2006. The 10-year MLB vet has the best career batting average since the Red Wings affiliated with the Minnesota Twins and the sixth-best mark in overall team history (.323), strengthened by hitting .331 in 67 games in 2004.
The 2016 Red Wings Hall of Fame inductee scored 137 runs and drove in 82, collecting 48 doubles and 12 triples.
The Wings’ legacy meant a lot to Bartlett, even after he made the big leagues, including a 2008 American League pennant with Tampa Bay. He met his wife Kelly here, while Kelly’s father, Tony Chavez, pitched for Rochester from 1977-79.
“This means more to me than the normal person,” Bartlett told then-D&C sportswriter Kevin Oklobzija after his induction. “This means more to us than people know.”