Eddie Basinski, an infielder with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Pittsburgh Pirates of the 1940s who, in an unusual combination of abilities, was also a concert violinist, died on Saturday at a care facility in Gladstone, Ore., 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, an outfielder for the 1949 St. Louis Browns, is the oldest.
Basinski, who had taken classical violin lessons since childhood, played with the University of Buffalo’s symphony orchestra before embarking on his major league career in 1944, a time when baseball rosters 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 at shortstop for the 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, and serenaded fans there with his violin. He retired from baseball after the 1959 season.
Basinski had another brush with the baseball world when he was among some three dozen old-time major leaguers whose names provided the lyrics for the jazz pianist and singer Dave Frishberg’s 1969 song “Van Lingle Mungo” (Its title is the name of fastball pitcher with the Dodgers and the New York Giants in the 1930s and ’40s). Basinski was the last survivor of that group.
The closing stanza goes:
John Antonelli, Ferris Fain
Frankie Crosetti, Johnny Sain
Harry Brecheen and Lou Boudreau
Frankie Gustine and Claude Passeau
Eddie Basinski, Ernie Lombardi, Hughie Mulcahy,
Van Lingle … Van Lingle Mungo.
Edwin Frank Basinski was born in Buffalo on Nov. 4, 1922, 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 out for his high school baseball team, but he was a skinny boy who wore thick glasses, his eyesight having been damaged by rheumatic fever at age 4, and the coach decided he didn’t fit the profile of a ballplayer.
He received a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Buffalo (now the University at Buffalo), but it didn’t have a baseball team. He worked at the Curtiss-Wright aircraft plant in Buffalo and starred for semipro baseball teams, catching 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 acquaintance with the musical world may have been limited to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” ribbed him for his violin skills.
Soon after his arrival at Ebbets Field, Basinski was in the Dodger clubhouse, in uniform, playing Strauss waltzes, when Manager Leo Durocher, who was evidently skeptical about reports that Basinski was a professional violinist, walked in.
“He stopped and looked at me and said, ‘Well, I’ll be a son of a bitch,’” Basinski said in a 2011 interview with The New York Times.
“While he was shaving, I was right next to him, giving it to him with my violin,” Basinski said.
Basinski had a .244 career major league batting average.
After leaving baseball, he worked as an account manager at Consolidated Freightways of Portland for 31 years.
In addition to his son Dave, Basinski is survived by two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Another son, Jeff, died in 2011.
Basinski told The Times that there was a relationship between playing the violin and fielding ground balls. “I had great quickness because of the bowing and the fingering, which just has to be lightning quick,” he said. “There is a great correlation.”
And he recalled a recital he performed at home plate between games of a Pacific Coast League doubleheader.
“I got a tremendous ovation,” he said, “and had a good doubleheader too.”