Christian Frederick Albert John Henry David “Bruno” Betzel

What a mouthful.  Named for six uncles and nicknamed for the family St. Bernard dog that followed him around as a child,  Christian Frederick Albert John Henry David “Bruno” Betzel (1894-1965) was a dead ball era baseball player whose brief career as an infielder with the St. Louis Cardinals spanned the years 1914 through 1918.  Betzel made the majors at the tender of age of 19 and was through by 24.  Normally, a player prodigious enough to make the show as a teenager has a long, even Hall of Fame caliber career.  Robin Yount was the starting shortstop for the Milwaukee Brewers at 18.  Al Kaline jumped straight from high school to the Detroit Tigers, also at the ripe age of 18.  I have been unable to find any story recounting why Betzel was washed up so young.   At any rate, his name was truly longer than his career, and the sportswriters of that pre-broadcast era must have been thankful for his sobriquet.

The closest Betzel ever came to being a Hall of Fame player was to room with one–Rogers Hornsby–during his years with the Cardinals.  He also once touched off a brawl in spring training when his errant infield throw beaned the irascible Ty Cobb.  Hornsby and Cobb were not only Hall-of-Famers, but to this day have the two highest career batting averages in MLB history.  They did not rub off on Betzel; he hit a paltry .231 over his five big league seasons.

Betzel as manager of the iconic  Durham Bulls c. 1943.

Betzel as manager of the iconic Durham Bulls c. 1943.

But baseball–as this author readily knows–is chock full of interesting if obscure side stories, and Betzel’s is a prime example.   While his playing career may have been forgettable, his post-playing days were most certainly not.  He won six pennants in a 30 year minor league managing career, for which he was inducted into the International League Hall of Fame.   But it was for some little known  words and deeds  that he  should be remembered, as he helped propel one of the all-time greats of baseball–and American history–to immortality.   The year was 1944.  He was manager of the Montreal Royals, the AAA International League affiliate of the  Brooklyn Dodgers.  He was a particularly effective coach and mentor to his standout young second baseman of whom he said, “I don’t care if he is polka-dotted, he will play in the major leagues,” and added, “I would tuck him in at night if necessary to get him to play for me in the major leagues.”

That player was Jackie Robinson.   While Branch Rickey deservedly gets most of the credit for bringing Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers in 1947, thus breaking the sport’s color barrier, Betzel should not be overlooked.  Robinson was quoted, during one spring training  during his Dodger career, as saying that Betzel was one of the best people he ever played for and was responsible for rounding him into a major league ball player.  He also implied that he preferred Betzel as a manager over the volatile Dodge skipper, Leo “The Lip” Durocher.  In the upcoming movie “42” depicting Robinson’s life, there is a character apparently identified only as “Montreal Royals Manager.”  If it’s not Betzel, it should be, and he ought to be identified by name.  He may not have been a Hall of Fame player, but in my book, he was a Hall of Fame human being.

Play Ball!

My own obscure place in baseball history is chronicled on my blog, The Millennium Conjectures.

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About Mark Sackler

"The best way to predict the future is to invent it."-Alan Kay; let's invent a better future, together.
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22 Responses to Christian Frederick Albert John Henry David “Bruno” Betzel

  1. Dave says:

    Bruno is the only guy who is anywhere close to giving Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma “Cal” McLish a run for his money! Very interesting insight into a player who made a mark on baseball history somewhere other than the statistics column.

  2. Liz says:

    That’s a long name!

    • Dave says:

      It really is. It has me wondering about the longest name we’ve covered. I don’t have time for research right now, but I think Pablo Picasso’s full name, Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma (“Cal” “Bus” or “Buster”) McLish, or Dikembe Mutombo’s full name are probably the main contenders. And that old British soldier I wrote about – the one who Amb linked to a while ago – Leone Sextus Denys Oswolf Fraudatifilius Tollemache-Tollemache de Orellana Plantagenet Tollemache-Tollemache

      • marksackler says:

        Another great “long” baseball name is Saturnino Orestes Armas “Minnie” Miñoso Arrieta. I just might do him one of these days, particularly since HIS career was even longer than his name.

        • Dave says:

          It’s true. Wasn’t it the longest ever? I remember reading something about him returning at 50 to play a couple of exhibition games.

  3. marksackler says:

    Reblogged this on The Millennium Conjectures(tm) and commented:

    Here’s another monthly guest post of my from The Blog of Funny Names. The name is funny, but the story is not. I guess I get serious–or at least less flippant–when the baseball season approaches.

  4. momshieb says:

    I love this. I love baseball, I love obscure baseball facts, and I love the dreamy feel of old time baseball stories. Thank you!

    • Dave says:

      Thanks for stopping by! Between Mark and Rob (who posts every Wednesday), we end up covering a lot of old baseball players – all with a funny-named twist 🙂

  5. Rob says:

    That’s a great name, and I love your millionth run post on your blog. That’s so awesome!

  6. Dave says:

    Wait, are the Durham Bulls somehow related to the movie Bull Durham?

  7. test says:

    Thanks a bunch for this awesome post on adjustable piano bench. I will keep it mind once I am hunting for a piano seat..

  8. The birth certificate must have been a banner.

  9. Thanks for putting this story all in once place. This is my Great Grandfather and my nephew is named for him. Bruno Alexander Betzel. I am also named for him but just the Christian as a middle name. I have seen many of these facts in different places but never consolidated like this. Bruno’s impact on the game of baseball was very deep as a mentor and coach to many legends of the game and I love the fact that I get to claim him as family. Thanks again.

    • marksackler says:

      Robert, you are SO welcome. The pleasure is all mine–especially after reading a comment like this. You have every right to be proud.

    • Lawrence Albert Coughlin says:

      Robert, Bruno is my grandfather. I spent the summer with him in Toronto where he was the manager of the Maple Leafs. I was a 11 year old “ball boy” who honored everything he told me to do. My first day there, he told me, among other things, to never allow anyone to enter the club house via the locked screen door that lead to the club house. As I walked by the door, a dignified but somewhat miffed man demanded that I let him in to see “Bruno”. I of course ignored him, The man happened to be Jack Kent Cooke owner of the team and later in LA. Grandpa’s response to me was priceless:”You would have walked home tonight if you had not done as you were told”.

      Grandpa died the year my college baseball team(Univ. of Maine) finished third in the college world series. I played center and lead off. I learned all I knew about CF from Toronto’s CF Sam Jethroe. My middle name, by the way, is Albert. Sound familar

  10. Rod Carpenter says:

    The part about rounding Jackie Robinson into a ballplayer is not correct. I think you got this out of the book “The Other Side of the Jackie Robinson Story”. By Big Ed Stevens. Stevens is talking about himself here. Jackie only played for Montreal in 1946. In 1946 Bruno was managing New Jersey. 1945 Jackie played for the KC Monarchs.

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