George Susce dreamed of reaching the big leagues ever since his days as a child selling scorecards and pencils at Cleveland Stadium. Seemingly poised to make a large splash, arm problems limited the promising youngster to a five-year major league career. George Susce (aka Junior) was born on September 13, 1930.
George’s father launched an eight-year major league playing career from behind the plate and moved into the coaching ranks with the Cleveland Indians 11 years later. Junior grew up less than a mile from Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field, but came to know Cleveland Stadium far better while visiting his father during the baseball seasons. He attended Schenley High School in Pittsburgh’s North Oakland neighborhood where, like his father, he excelled at sports.
Junior did not resist the appeals of the Schenley Spartan coaches to turn him into a pitcher. Under their tutelage he developed an effective curveball and change to accompany his fastball. In May 1947, the baby-faced sophomore struck out 14 while leading the varsity squad to a 2-0 win over Washington (Pennsylvania) High School. During the summers he was frequently invited to work out at Cleveland Stadium and the Indians made no secret of their desire to sign their bullpen coach’s son.
Junior graduated from Schenley High in 1949 and spent the remainder of the year in the semipro Greater Pittsburgh League while contemplating his future. In January 1950, he signed with the Boston Red Sox for a reportedly smaller bonus than that offered by Cleveland. He saw a quicker path to the majors in Boston than on the Indians, who were anchored by future Hall of Fame hurlers Bob Feller and Bob Lemon, part of the best staff in the majors.
But he was unable to launch his professional career in 1950. Weeks before signing the youngster broke his leg in a pickup football game with his brothers and friends. It wasn’t until April, 1951, that a healthy George Susce made his debut in a spring training exhibition against the AAA Toronto Maple Leafs. In June, he was optioned to Scranton (Pennsylvania) in the Class-A Eastern League where he continued to struggle, finishing the season with a record a 5.72 ERA in 19 appearances.
In 1952 his ambitions to further his career were interrupted by a call from Uncle Sam. He made just four appearances with the Albany (New York) Senators in the Eastern League before being inducted into the Army’s Medical Replacement Training Center. In September 1953, he participated in the Army’s baseball tournament of military camps worldwide, hosted at nearby Fort Sam Houston.
On leave from the Army in spring 1954, he joined the Red Sox and requested an assignment playing in the field. He was given a two-game trial at third base, before management convinced him to move back to the mound. He was assigned to the Louisville Colonels in April and toiled with mixed success until a July 19th near no-hitter against the Kansas City Blues, turned his season around, winning 10 of his last 11 decisions.
In 1955 he reported to the Red Sox spring training and was one of three non-roster invitees whose fathers had played in the majors. SJunior stood out among this trio because of the club’s desperate need for pitching. He was added to the major-league roster and made his debut on April 15, 1955, in Fenway Park against the New York Yankees. He was moved into the rotation, where he remained through most of the season’s remainder and finished with a record of 9-7, 3.06 in 144 1/3 innings, including a remarkable record of 5-2, 2.30 ERA away from the cozy confines of Fenway Park.
In pennant contention through most of the year, the Red Sox collapsed with a 4-14 finish to end the season in fourth place. Despite the dispiriting conclusion, club owner Tom Yawkey, took solace in the performance of the team’s improved pitching.But injuries began taking their toll on the young right-hander. It started in March 1956, when he became the Red Sox’ first spring training casualty after taking a vicious line drive to his right ankle. The injury, combined with the club’s off-season acquisition of veteran Bob Porterfield and the emergence of rookie Dave Sisler, forced Susce back to the bullpen at the start of the season.
Things took a turn for the worse in June, when he entered Boston’s Santa Maria Hospital with a mysterious arm swelling. Initially diagnosed as phlebitis, doctors later determined it was a circulatory problem. He returned to the club five weeks later but was used sparingly, finishing the season with a disappointing record of 2-4, 6.20 in just 69 2/3 innings. Meanwhile, the long-term effect of the arm problem became evident in the ensuing years as he never approached the triple-digit innings thrown in his rookie season.
During the winter of 1956-57 he added a screwball to his repertoire that contributed to his successful Grapefruit League season the following spring. Used primarily in relief in 1957, he proved quite effective out of the bullpen, posting a record of 6-0 with a 3.14 ERA in 43 innings, before tiring at the end.
A second strong Grapefruit League season in 1958, seemingly spelled continued success, but when the regular season opened, he saw little gain in his first two appearances and became the forgotten man in the Red Sox dugout. In May, when the club was required to reduce its roster to 25 players, they placed him on waivers, where he was picked up by the Detroit Tigers.
Having finished in the first division just once in the preceding seven years, the Tigers were very active on the trade front during the off-season. Lacking a reliable fifth starter, they looked to Susce to fill the void. He finished with a respectable record of 4-3, with a 3.98 ERA. But he was one of those dying breed of players who refused air travel, having followed their teammates by rail.
The success he discovered in 1958 was nowhere to be found the next season and the Tigers optioned him to AAA Charleston in the American Association. He refused to report and eventually was persuaded to accept an assignment to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the International League. When the season ended he called it quits.
In 1960 he entered the construction business, eventually forming his own company. Twenty-six years later he retired to Florida, residing in the fishing community of Matlacha FL, 12 miles west of Fort Myers.
A former smoker, George Susce Jr contracted chronic obstructive pulmonary disease while living in Florida and died from the lung ailment on May 8, 2010, four months from his 79th birthday. He was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Wellesley.