Mennonites and Major League Baseball

It’s the playoffs, and I’ve been a Blue Jays fan since the team began in 1977. Although baseball doesn’t show up in the book, it’s probably OK to think in October about Mennonites and baseball.

I’ll list a number of connections in more or less chronological order. I’d be happy for other suggestions to add. I would like the players to have grown up in a Mennonite home or been an active participant in a Mennonite church.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis

Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis is surrounded by baseball owners as he agrees to be Commissioner of Baseball, November 12, 1920: Wikimedia Commons

I’ll immediately make an exception for Kenesaw Mountain Landis (1866-1944), the first commissioner of baseball, appointed after the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal. His father was a Civil War veteran, but his grandfather, Philip Landis, was a Mennonite from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Kenesaw got his unusual name from the Civil War battlefield where his father was wounded.

Johnny Bassler

Johnny Bassler, 1924 as Detroit Tiger. Wikimedia Commons.

Johnny Bassler (1895-1979) was regarded as the best catcher in the Major Leagues for a time in the 1920s. He was born in 1895 to a large Mennonite family in Mechanics Grove, Pennsylvania. He left home (and the Mennonite church) at age 17 and moved to California where he got his chance to play ball. His best years were with the Detroit Tigers.

Dan Quisenberry

Dan Quisenberry, 1986. Wikimedia Commons.

Dan Quisenberry (1953-1998) was best known as a relief pitcher for the Kansas City Royals during the 1980s. He led the league in saves for five years. He graduated from a Church of the Brethren College, but also took classes at Fresno Pacific College, a Mennonite Brethren school. For a time he attended a local Mennonite Brethren church in Fresno. During his professional career, and later in life, he was a Presbyterian, but always identified with peace and justice issues.

Danny Klassen

Danny Klassen from Baseball Almanac

Danny Klassen (1975- ) was born to a Mennonite family in Leamington, Ontario, but moved to Florida with his family at the age of three. He did return to Leamington in summers to play baseball, and continued to attend the Mennonite church in those summers. He played for the Arizona Diamondbacks from 1998-2002, and briefly for the Detroit Tigers in 2003. He played for Canada’s national team in 2004.

Chris Heisey

Chris Heisey as a Cincinnati Red. Wikimedia Commons.

Chris Heisey (1984- ) grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and attended the Mount Joy Mennonite Church. He attended Messiah College, a Brethren in Christ school, but was selected in the baseball draft after his junior year. He played for the Cincinnati Reds 2011-2014 and was then traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was briefly in the Toronto Blue Jays system in 2015, but did not play at the major league level.

Erik Krath, 2015.

Erik Kratz speaking on January 29, 2015. Minda Haas Wikimedia Commons.

Erik Kratz (1980- ) was born in Sellersville, Pennsylvania, and grew up in a Mennonite home. He graduated from Christopher Dock Mennonite High School and Eastern Mennonite University. (Larry Sheets also attended Eastern Mennonite, but he did not play baseball there.) Kratz was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2002, but got to the major leagues as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2010. He has had his greatest success with the Philadelphia Phillies. He has also played for the Toronto Blue Jays and the Kansas City Royals. Perhaps more than anyone else listed here, he has  acknowledged his Mennonite heritage.

Brandon Beachy

Brandon Beachy, 2011. Wikimedia Commons.

Brandon Beachy (1986- ) grew up in a Mennonite home in Kokomo, Indiana. One incident that shaped his life was burning down the family home as the result of a prank gone wrong. He starred as a third baseman for his high school team, but made it to the major leagues as a pitcher. Before suffering severe injuries to his arm, he pitched for the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers, 2010-2015.

Some players with “Mennonite” names have not grown up in the Mennonite church. For example, Bill Bergen and Marty Bergen who played at the end of the 19th and early 20th century were actually Irish. Jamie Moyer from Souderton, Pennsylvania, grew up in the United Church of Christ, though his ancestry was likely Mennonite several generations previously. Tommy Herr from Lancaster, Pennsylvania also had Mennonite ancestry, but seems to have grown up in the Church of the Brethren. Bruce Sutter, a hall-of-fame reliever from the 1970s and 1980s, also grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He may have Mennonite ancestry, but grew up in the United Methodist Church. Adam Loewen from Surrey, British Columbia appears to have grown up in the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, though his grandparents were Mennonite Brethren.

Who else can you suggest?

If you don’t want to read about baseball, turn to In Search of Promised Lands!

3 thoughts on “Mennonites and Major League Baseball

  1. Chris Heisey’s wife grew up in a BIC Church near Messiah, where her parents still attend. Chris attends regularly in the off season with his wife and son. The congregation is not strongly Anabaptist, but is highly invested in the BIC denomination, rather than BIC in name only. (I attend there as well and teach at Messiah.)

    Like

  2. I find it interesting that the guy who “led the league in saves for five years” “attended a …Mennonite Brethren church.”

    Like

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