What would be tougher? Being good enough to play major league baseball but only get in to five games? Or having all of those five games come before your 17th birthday? Only one person knows that answer for sure, and its former shortstop Alex George, who reached the pinnacle of his baseball career as a teenager in the autumn of 1955.
Growing up in Kansas City, George was a multi-sport star and after graduating in 1955 at the age of 16, he enrolled at Kansas University with a dual scholarship in baseball and basketball. Upon reaching campus that fall he was introduced to his basketball team—including fellow newcomer, Wilt Chamberlain.
George had hardly cracked the books when he heard from his father that his hometown Kansas City Athletics wanted to sign him and have him join the team for the remainder of the season. That proved to be an offer too sweet to pass up, so he left campus and donned his glove and spikes.
The Athletics finished at 63-91 and were already well out of the pennant chase. This gave them the luxury at being able to look at prospects like George. The left-handed hitter got in five games, collecting a single and a walk in 10 official at bats. His seven strikeouts showed how overmatched he was, but he did pick up his lone hit on September 20th against fellow rookie Duke Maas and the Detroit Tigers, leading off what would be a 7-3 loss. He is still the sixth-youngest player to appear in the majors since World War I.
George spent the next seven seasons in the minors, experiencing modest levels of success (.254 batting average and 81 home runs) but never got back to the big leagues. By the time he was 24, he had been slowed by injuries to the point that it resulted in the end of his career.
He ended up returning to Kansas after his playing days were over and went on to have a successful career in radio and television sales. Now 77 and retired, he answered a few questions about his career when I contacted him (a few years back).
Who was your favorite coach or manager?: When I signed, Lou Boudreau was the manager. I had read a lot about him playing shortstop. Harry Craft was one of the coaches and was very nice to me. He had managed the Yankees Triple-A affiliate in Kansas City; the Kansas City Blues, so he was familiar with me and my family.
What was the strangest thing you ever saw as a player?: Probably the strangest play is when two or more infielders are all calling for a pop fly and then they all stop and look at one another and the ball drops between them. It’s not that unusual of a play, but it always struck me as odd and strange that they would just let the ball drop.
Who was the toughest pitcher you ever faced?: I didn’t faze too many major league pitchers, but I’ll always remember facing Billy Pierce in Chicago. He was a lefty and I just couldn’t catch up with his fastball.
If you could do anything differently about your career, what would that be?: I would probably wait until I was 18 to sign. At 16, I was really too young.
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