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Tom Sunkel- the Cardinals one-eyed hurlerPosted Sunday, June 3, 2012, at 7:12 PM
Thursday afternoon as I sat in my office getting things ready for Friday when the telephone rang.
The call was from a reader, an avid Cardinals fan since the 1930s. He was asking if I knew much about the Cardinals of the 1940s when they were winning championships and breaking records. During our conversation, he made mention of a one-eyed pitcher named Tom Sunkel that pitched for the Cardinals around that time. After some research I gathered some information about him and thought I would share.
Sunkel made his major league debut on Aug. 26, 1937, for the Cardinals. He wasn't a 'lights out' pitcher, but he was far from a pushover.
His left eye was damaged when he was a child, causing him to eventually lose vision in that eye. He retained some vision in the eye until about 1941, but it wasn't good at all. As a result, he pitched and batted with his head cocked to the side to compensate for the difference in depth perception.
He pitched for the Cardinals in 1937 and 1939 going 4-and-4 over 29 games, 12 starts and 114.2 innings pitched. Like I said, not a stellar career, but the one-eyed pitcher from Paris, Ill. did put together one really impressive two-hit start.
The following is taken from the Lewiston Daily Sun on Aug. 7, 1939:
TOM SUNKEL, ONE EYED HURLER HAS GOOD MARK SO FAR
Recently pitched a two hitter for St. Louis Cardinals
Injury to eye as child has produced a traumatic cataract
ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- Aug. 7 AP -- Tom Sunkel, rookie southpaw pitcher of the St. Louis Cardinals, is practically blind in one eye, but despite this handicap, he recently pitched a two-hit game and has a 1939 record of three victories and one defeat.
Traumatic cataract, suddenly becoming worse from an injury suffered when he was four years old, has almost totally impaired the vision of Sunkel's left eye.
The condition dates back 23 years when Sunkel was shot in the eye with a stick fired from a toy gun. A doctor managed to save th eye, but the cataract developed cutting his sight to a little better than half-normal.
Showing his courage and determination, Tom went ahead, played baseball and eventually became a member of the Cardinals organization. He capped an excellent minor league career by winning 21 games and losing only five with Atlanta last year.
There, for the first time, the cataract became worse and Sunkel's sight diminished as the season progressed. The Cardinals recalled him, knowing his condition, and had him examined by an eye specialist.
They agreed his condition could not be corrected by an operation, such as ordinarily restores sight to a person suffering from a cataract. Sunkel calmly accepted the verdict that he would have to battle his way upward with only half of the sight of other pitchers.
Otherwise, he is splendidly equipped-6 feet 1 inch tall, 190 pounds, with a chin and jaw like the rock of Gibraltar. He will be 27 years old Wednesday.
Modest and retiring, Sunkel made no claims for the future, but he seemed quietly confident of his ability to pitch winning baseball.
"It's bothered my control a little," he said. "I have to guess where the plate is when I throw. I also have to turn my head a little more to see when there's a man on second base."
He anticipated no additional difficulties from opposing teams now that his condition was known generally, and he thought he could take care of himself in the field if they tried bunting to his left side.
"I grab 'em with the other eye," he explained.
What a great quote to end this short story with.
Sunkel went on to pitch for the New York Giants in 1941-43 and then the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1944 before retiring. Over the years, he gave up a lot of walks, but only 11 homeruns in 61 games (or 220.1 innings).
Little has been reported about the end of his career in 1944. He was unable to serve in World War 2 due to his disability, but his career ended nonetheless.
Thomas Jacob Sunkel died on April 6, 2002 at the age of 89.
Special thanks to Earl Dunning of Dexter, Mo. for the tip. Thanks for reading! Information gathered from baseball-reference.com and the Lewiston Daily Sun.
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Corey Noles, staff writer for The Daily Statesman and Editor of The North Stoddard Countian, is the author of a regular baseball/St. Louis Cardinals column and also uses his blog to sound off on various happenings in sports. He also operates a weekly baseball mailbag column.
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