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Detroit — You're a Wyandotte man, born and raised — just 21. Your dad makes gaskets for $2 a day. You went to Wyandotte Roosevelt High School and you've always been a Tigers' fan.

The year is 1945 — the event, the World Series, Tigers vs. the Cubs. Seventy years later, you are the last living Tiger from it.

The war you went off to in 1942 is over, but you returned from it early because of rheumatic fever.

It's nearly the bottom of the ninth inning at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Ahead 9-3, the Tigers are about to win it all — with or without you.

You are Ed Mierkowicz, not a well-known Tiger, but a Tiger all the same, and proud to be one. Darn it, though, you haven't yet seen any action yet in the Series.

Time is running out. Only one-half inning to go. Then it happens. You hear your name.

"Mierkowicz, left field."

What?

"Mierkowicz, you're in for Greenberg."

Yes, sir.

Wyandotte man goes to left field. Tigers' great Hank Greenberg takes a seat in the dugout

Just a pup, Ed Mierkowicz is on the field for the last three outs of the 1945 World Series — thinking, as he now recalls 70 years later, "What the hell am I doing here? My knees are shaking."

Hal Newhouser, a future Hall of Famer, is on the mound for the Tigers. The game is well in hand, but the first hitter for the Cubs, shortstop Roy Hughes, singles to left field.

Mierkowicz fields the ball cleanly and throws it back in. That's as much as the Cubs will threaten, though. The next three hitters go down in order: strikeout, fly out, ground out.

Suddenly, it's celebration time. The players mob each other — great names of Tigers' history hootin' and hollerin': Greenberg, Rudy York, Virgil Trucks and Dizzy Trout.

Mierkowicz joins them.

Inside the clubhouse, it's time to drench each other, a time-honored tradition for winning teams if ever there was one.

Champagne?

"Are you kidding?" said Mierkowicz. "The Tigers didn't have that kind of money back then. We sprayed each other with plain water.

"It was great. We didn't know any better, so we jumped around the way they do now. Thank God, I had the ability to play for that team."

Recovering from a broken hip at Woodward Hills Nursing Center in Bloomfield Hills, where you can send him a note if so inclined, Mierkowicz turned away at times while remembering his career.

Maybe he didn't want anyone to see his tears as he journeyed back. Maybe, by turning away, he could better envision those happy times.

Or maybe, just maybe, he simply was grateful to have someone remembering who he is — and what he did.

"I should be dead, and here I'm getting interviewed," he said. "It makes me cry."

Ed Mierkowicz was not a great ballplayer. But he was a ballplayer. In three seasons with the Tigers, he batted just 63 times. And hit .177.

But he had his moments.

Such as the home run — his only home run as a major-leaguer — that he hit off Eddie Lopat of the Chicago White Sox in 1947 at Briggs Stadium.

"A curveball at my knees," Mierkowicz, remembers of the pitch. "It was well-hit."

To this day, the big right-handed hitter (6-4, 205 in his playing days) can bask in the pride that he hit his only home run off an excellent pitcher. In 1953 for the New York Yankees, Lopat went 16-4 and led the American League with a 2.42 ERA.

"I was a line-drive hitter," Mierkowicz said. "My home run was a line drive."

Not all his home runs were, though.

"The longest home run I ever hit," he said, "was for Milwaukee at Nashville in the minors. It went up, up, up. I never saw it come down.

"Sometimes I think it's still going."

For years, Mierkowicz thought he was forgotten as a ballplayer — and to some extent, he was. But when Virgil Trucks died a year ago, Ed became the lone survivor of the 1945 Tigers World Series team.

Also still living, Detroit native Billy Pierce, who was only 18 at the time, pitched five games for the 1945 Tigers, but did not participate in the World Series.

Ardent Tigers' fan David Dyer of Grosse Ile, who writes for the weekly newspaper there, the Ile Camera, rediscovered him.

Dyer also learned that Mierkowicz and Bob Kuzava, who has an impressive claim to fame as a Yankee, have remained good friends for all these years.

Also of Wyandotte, but a year older than Mierkowicz, Kuzava earned a save in the final game of both the 1951 and 1952 World Series.

For the 1952 save at Ebbets Field, he retired eight of the nine Brooklyn Dodgers he faced, among them Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Carl Furillo and Pee Wee Reese.

Only Gil Hodges reached base safely against him, and that was on a throwing error.

Kuzava eventually pitched for eight major-league teams, but never for his hometown team. He was on three World Series championship teams (the Yankees also won in 1953), but doesn't have a Tigers World Series ring, as Mierkowicz has.

And still wears.

It was a dream come true for the player they called "Autch" — based on the sneezing sound of "ah-choo."

But it never would have had a chance of coming true if Mierkowicz hadn't innocently stolen someone else's thunder.

It happened on the day that longtime Tigers' scout Wish Egan (who pitched for Detroit in 1902) came to watch a promising pitcher for Dearborn Fordson High — one who hadn't lost a game in three years.

But it was Mierkowicz who caught his eye instead with two home runs. And it was Mierkowicz whom the Tigers eventually signed before the 1944 season.

"A star was born," Mierkowicz said, with a chuckle.

After debuting by hitting .331 (in 541 at-bats) for the Hagerstown (Maryland) Owls of the Class B Interstate League in 1944, Mierkowicz hit .303 with 21 home runs and 94 RBIs in 1945 for the Buffalo Bisons, the Tigers' Double A team in the International League.

He was a bona fide prospect of whom the Tigers thought so much that they brought him up to the majors to make his debut at Briggs Stadium on Aug. 31, 1945.

Mierkowicz doubled and drove in a run in the first game he started as a Tiger on Sept. 10, which was the second game of a doubleheader at Fenway Park.

His star never shined as brightly after that as it did in that 1945 season, but he continued to play in the minors through 1957, which means, because there were only 16 teams then instead of the 30 there are now, that he very well could have had enough talent by today's standards to play several seasons in the majors.

After all, he hit .284 in 5,481 minor-league at-bats — and would have had more than that if he hadn't gotten hit in the head by a pitch in 1950.

"It happened in Rochester (New York)," Mierkowicz said. "They flew in a doctor from New York to remove the slivers and protect my little brain.

"That happened on the Fourth of July. I didn't play again until the next year. Other than that, I was lucky."

Baseball, by no means, provided him with financial security, though.

Following his playing days, Mierkowicz worked for 24 years in a Wayne County waste management plant.

"But a couple of years ago," he said, "I began to get an annual check for $2,500 from Major League Baseball."

Now he's 90, and his career is fading more distantly into the past. At least he thinks it is.

"It's only a memory," he said, sadly. "So long ago, it's forgotten."

It's not forgotten, Ed

And neither are you.

But we have something to ask of you as your next birthday approaches: Have yourself a happy 91st on March 6.

tom.gage@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/Tom_Gage

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