By Ben Walker
The Associated Press
Tony Malinosky rapped hits off Dizzy Dean and King Carl Hubbell, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and got reprimanded by Richard Nixon.
Quite a life for baseball’s oldest living major leaguer.
A few days shy of his 100th birthday, Malinosky still tunes the television to follow his favorite team, the Dodgers.
Malinosky played three months for Brooklyn as an infielder in 1937. Back then, before the days of Dodger Blue, the club wore another color and often was called the Kelly Greens.
“I’ve got a very good TV and we usually watch the Dodger games,” he said this week by telephone from his home in Oxnard. “I like to discuss certain plays and second guess the manager. But I don’t know Joe Torre. He seems all right.”
Malinosky might even get an early present. He and his niece, Beth Lango, are talking about going to Dodger Stadium tonight to see the Dodgers play Colorado.
A celebration at home with friends and family is planned for Monday, his actual birthdate. Lango said her research shows Malinosky will be only the 17th former big leaguer to hit 100 — ex-Negro Leagues player Emilio Navarro turned 104 last weekend.
Malinosky’s secrets to longevity?
“Just keeping breathing,” he said, “and be associated with a good doctor.”
Born Oct. 5, 1909, Malinosky made it to the majors at a time when the Yankees and Giants ruled New York. Playing under manager Burleigh Grimes and alongside future Hall of Famers Waite Hoyt and Heinie Manush, Malinosky and the Dodgers went 62-91.
“I lived off Flatbush Avenue, near Ebbets Field,” Malinosky recalled. “We had a lot of fun in those days. Of course, it was a lot different than today. The players nowadays have to have a truck to haul away their money. When I played, you could put it in your pocket.”
Malinosky made $400 a month in the majors, but found ways to scrimp with his $5 daily meal money.
“We’d go to White Castle, buy five hamburgers at a dime apiece, and save the rest,” he said.
Malinosky hit .228 (18 for 79, including two doubles) in 35 games for Brooklyn, scoring seven runs and driving in three. He split time at shortstop and third base, making nine errors.
Among his hits were singles off Hall of Fame aces Dean and Hubbell.
An adept bunter, Malinosky was skilled on the bases, too. His prowess in prolonging a rundown that let Cookie Lavagetto score against the Cardinals prompted The New York Times to write “the Kelly Greens ran the bases like a bunch of War Admirals,” a reference to the horse that won the Triple Crown that year.
Then there was the day at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, when an 80-piece high school band and the mayor from his hometown of Collinsville, Ill., came across the Mississippi River to salute Malinosky and present him with a wrist watch.
“That was one of the big highlights,” he said. “That was a lot of people, considering the population of the town was only about 9,000.”
Malinosky played his last game for the Dodgers in mid-July. A knee injury cut short his time in 1937, and he never made it back to the majors. He spent a few years in the minors after that.
“I’d say that was my one regret. I didn’t get to play enough in the major leagues. I looked forward to playing a whole season. It didn’t materialize,” he said.
Malinosky said he kept one souvenir from his playing days — a miniature Louisville Slugger bat with his name on it, a gift from the Dodgers when they signed him.
“Every time I go over to the bar in my house and get a beer, I see that bat and it reminds me that I was in the major leagues,” he said.
After baseball, the Army came calling. He was drafted and served in the Battle of the Bulge. Later, he worked for a company that built fighter jets.
Following his retirement, Malinosky traveled across the United States with his late wife, Vi, to whom he was married 64 years.
During one trip, he found himself in St. Paul, Minn., when Nixon was there. They were classmates at Whitter College, and Malinosky made his way through presidential security to greet his former classmate.
“We talked about our school days and I called him Dick, the way I always did,” Malinosky said. “But maybe I made mistake, I don’t think he was pleased. He took me aside and said, ‘When we’re in company, I prefer to be called Mr. President.'”