Danning, last of '37 Giants, dies at 93

December 03, 2004|By John Woestendiek | John Woestendiek,SUN STAFF

Harry "The Horse" Danning, the only surviving member of the pennant-winning 1937 New York Giants and the oldest living Jewish major leaguer, died of pneumonia Monday in Valparaiso, Ind. He was 93.

Mr. Danning, a catcher for the Giants from 1933 to 1942, was a four-time All Star and member of three World Series teams.

A New York sportswriter dubbed him "Harry the Horse," after a Damon Runyon character, a nickname that recognized both his power and durability.

Mr. Danning hit over .300 three straight years. He withstood more than his share of being hit by pitches - and more than a few ethnic slurs.

"Pitch under his nose, he can't see the ball," was one of them, he recalled in an interview with The Sun four months ago.

One of fewer than 150 Jews to play in the major leagues, Mr. Danning said the comments seldom bothered him, and paled in comparison to what the league's first black players faced.

The Baseball Hall of Fame honored Jewish major leaguers at a ceremony in August, but Mr. Danning, who had been in a wheelchair for three years by then, couldn't make the trip.

"In the last month, he had been in and out of the hospital quite a bit, but he went home Saturday," said his brother, Ben Danning, a retired attorney in Los Angeles.

He talked to his brother Saturday - about college football, the Red Sox and the "same old baloney you talk about among brothers." Later that night, Ben Danning said, his brother returned to the hospital, where he died peacefully.

Mr. Danning retired from baseball in 1942, with knee problems diagnosed during a stint in the Army. He then tried his hand at selling cars, minor league coaching and newspaper distribution before taking a job in the insurance industry.

Later, he and his wife moved to Indiana to be closer to their only child, a daughter.

Besides his daughter and son-in-law, Viktoria and Lot Voller, and his brother, Mr. Danning is survived by a sister and three grandchildren. Services will be held Sunday in Miller, Ind.

The son of a used furniture salesman who immigrated from Poland, Mr. Danning grew up in Los Angeles, where during the Depression he played for a semi-pro team sponsored by a Mexican grocery store and was spotted by a New York Giants scout.

Mr. Danning eventually became the Giants starting catcher.

"The biggest thrill I ever had in baseball?" he said in August. "Being able to step on the field. Seriously, with all the good players that I played with and against, that's my biggest thrill - to step on a major league field."

Mr. Danning was catching when Joe DiMaggio hit his first World Series home run, when Lou Gehrig hit his last World Series home run and, in 1941, when Ted Williams hit what many consider the most dramatic All-Star game home run ever.

On June 9, 1939, Mr. Danning hit one of the five home runs hit in an inning, breaking a major league record. He also hit for the cycle once, with an inside-the-park home run.

Mementos of those moments and others filled his apartment, located above his daughter's home in Valparaiso, where he donated money to establish a softball tournament that still bears his name.

There, ailing but still mentally sharp, Mr. Danning passed his hours watching sports on TV and answering the fan mail that, 60 years after his career ended, still came in.

He took those letters, like everything else, in stride.

"I take things as they are. ... If it happens it happens," he said. "I beat the rap anyway - I'll be 93 next month. How many people are that old in the world?"

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