Eddie Basinski, who played both the infield and fiddle, dies at 99

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Eddie Basinski, a 1940s Brooklyn Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates infielder who, in an unusual combination of skills, was also a concert violinist, died Saturday at a Gladstone, Oregon, care facility near Portland. He was 99.

His death was announced by his son Dave.

Basinski had been the second oldest former Major Leaguer. George Elder, 100, a 1949 St. Louis Browns outfielder, is the oldest.

Basinski, who had taken classical violin lessons from childhood, played with the University at Buffalo symphony orchestra before embarking on his major league career in 1944, a time when baseball players had lost many players to service in World War II. (He was deferred from military service because he had poor eyesight.) He played in 39 games for the Dodgers in his rookie season, mostly at second base, and in another 108 games in 1945, filling in as shortstop for future Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese, who was in the Navy.

Basinski was sent to the minors when Reese returned to Brooklyn in 1946. He joined the Pirates in 1947 and played in 56 games.

He later played in the Pacific Coast League, mostly for the Portland Beavers, serenading fans there with his fiddle. He retired from baseball after the 1959 season.

Basinski had another touch with the baseball world when he was one of three dozen longtime major leaguers whose names formed the lyrics for the 1969 song “Van Lingle Mungo” by jazz pianist and singer Dave Frishberg (the title is the name of fastball- pitcher with the Dodgers and New York Giants in the 1930s and 1940s). Basinski was the last survivor of that group.

The closing stanza reads:

John Antonelli, Ferris Fain
Frankie Crosetti, Johnny Sain
Harry Brecheen and Lou Boudreau
Frankie Gustine and Claude Passeau
Eddie Basinski, Ernie Lombardi, Hughie Mulcahy,
From Lingle… From Lingle Mungo.

Edwin Frank Basinski was born in Buffalo on November 4, 1922, as one of seven children of Walter and Sophie Basinski. His father was a machinist. His mother, who played the piano, encouraged him to take violin lessons when he was a child. He tried for his high school baseball team, but he was a skinny kid who wore thick glasses, his eyesight was damaged by rheumatic fever at age 4, and the coach decided he didn’t fit the profile of a ball player.

He earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University at Buffalo (now the University at Buffalo), but did not have a baseball team. He worked at the Curtiss-Wright aircraft factory in Buffalo and played for semipro baseball teams, capturing the attention of a Dodger scout. He received a $5,000 bonus for signing with Brooklyn and made his debut against the Cincinnati Reds on May 20, 1944.

Basinski’s Dodger teammates, whose knowledge of the musical world may have been limited to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” criticized him for his violin skills.

Shortly after arriving at Ebbets Field, Basinski was at the Dodger’s clubhouse, in uniform, playing Strauss waltzes, when manager Leo Durocher, apparently skeptical of reports that Basinski was a professional violinist, walked in.

“He stopped and looked at me and said, ‘Well, I’m going to be an asshole,'” Basinski said in a 2011 interview with The New York Times.

“While he was shaving, I stood right next to him and handed it to him with my violin,” Basinski said.

Basinski had a .244 batting average in the Major League.

After leaving baseball, he spent 31 years as an account manager at Consolidated Freightways of Portland.

In addition to his son Dave, Basinski leaves behind two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Another son, Jeff, died in 2011.

Basinski told The Times there was a link between playing the violin and playing ground balls. “I had great speed because of the bending and fingering, which just has to be lightning fast,” he said. “There’s a big correlation.”

And he recalled a recital he performed at home plate between games of a Pacific Coast League doubleheader.

“I got a great ovation,” he said, “and had a good doubleheader too.”

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