Happy 95th, Alex
Want to wish a special Happy Birthday today to Alex Pitko, 95 years young.
OK, OK, who is Alex Pitko? He was an outfielder who played for the Phillies in 1938.
OK, OK, what is special about being 95? First of all, a number that high has to be special. Secondly, he is now the second-oldest living Phillie, trailing first baseman Art Mahan who turned 96 back in June. Well, Alex is actually tied with Stan Benjamin for the second oldest. Among all major leaguers, he’s in the top 10 as far as age.
Pitko, born across the Delaware River in Burlington, NJ, now resides in Mesa, AZ.
His career with the Phillies was brief, .326 in 7 games (19 AB) as a right fielder. Next year (1939) was his last in the majors, four games with the Washington Senators (.125).
Pitko originally signed with the Philadelphia A’s in 1936. “Went to spring training with the A’s in Williamsport (PA) and was assigned to Portsmouth (OH),” said Pikto, whose memory is as sharp as a tack. “Only trouble, the roster was filled and I was left behind when the team went on the road. I thought the heck with this so I went back home to New Jersey.
“Played semi-pro ball for the Florence (NJ) Pipe Foundry. After a game there in 1937, a Phillies scout named Patsy O’Rourke, signed me. I reported to Centreville (MD) in the old Eastern Shore League.” Pitko was selected to the league’s All-Star team after hitting .328 in 92 games. He led the league with 103 runs scored and 20 homers.
The following spring, the Phillies sent him to Montgomery, AL, and brought him to the majors for the final month of the 1938 season. He made his debut on September 11, replacing Hall of Famer Chuck Klein in right field during an 11-2 rout over the Boston Braves, the first game of a Sunday doubleheader.
“Although brief, I really enjoyed playing with Klein, Pinky Whitney, the third baseman, and Hugh Mulcahy, a pitcher,” Pitko said. The following spring the Phillies assigned him to Pensacola (FL). “Same story. Roster was full and I hardly played during two-three weeks and they finally let me go.”
Back to Burlington and more semi pro ball. The Washington Senators approached him and after saying no twice, he finally signed a minor league contract with them. His American League career included four games with the Senators in 1939.
Pitko enlisted in the Army in 1941 and spent six years in uniform. While in the military in Kansas, he met his wife, Anita, a secretary to the commanding officer of the base.
Once his military career was behind him, he moved to Kansas and took over a print shop. Anita wound up with a doctor’s degree in business and was a professor at Emporia (KS) State College.
When retirement rolled around in 1983, they settled in Mesa. He and Anita have been married 66 years, have two sons, three grandchildren and six great grandchildren. The oldest son, Michael, spent a couple of years in the Los Angeles Dodgers system as a pitcher.
His hobbies are golf and dancing. “Play golf once a week, but only nine holes. A group of us play and then eat afterward. We have fun. Anita and I still enjoy dancing. We’ve slowed up a bit, everybody passes us now.”
His birthday will be spent in Mesa. “We and two other couples celebrate each other’s birthdays by going out to dinner. I still drive, you know.” Cards and phone calls will come from his family that are scattered around the country.
One final note: as indicated, his major league debut came on 9/11/38, the day I was born. Sorry, Alex, but I don’t remember you. “I certainly understand,” he chuckled.
Oldest Living Phillies
96 1B Art Mahan (1940 with Phillies)
95 OF Stan Benjamin (1939-42)
OF Alex Pitko (1938)
94 RHP Nick Strincevich (1948)
93 RHP Freddie Schmidt (1947)
OF Danny Litwhiler (1940-43)
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