Monday, October 17, 2011

Eloise and The Bigs

Well, it seems that the Jul Kustus mystery is coming to a resolution. After seeing a post by the Friends of Eloise on their Facebook page concerning Kustus being buried at the Detroit Memorial Park West in Redford, Michigan, I mentioned that I had gone there and that he was nowhere to be found in physical or paper form. To which they responded by tracking down a death notice which stated that he was buried in the Sweetest Heart of Mary Cemetery in Detroit at Mound and McNichols.

It's an old Polish cemetery which is just about filled to capacity and has been for some years, though there are still occasional family plot burials. Also, apparently the guy who handles the database for the cemetery is also a member of the several Eloise Facebook pages and he tracked down relatives of Kustus though he's still uncertain where Jul is buried. I went there today to track the grave down and was unsuccessful with many of the old stones either broken or unreadable. Of course I only searched a quarter of the cemetery with a pal of mine but we couldn't uncover it nonetheless. Hopefully the database guy can.

Which brings me to the next lucky find: another Eloise patient who played in the bigs! Sheldon Aldenbert "Larry" Lejeune had two brief stints in the major leagues in 1911 and 1915 and had just as little luck as did old Jul Kustus, batting .158 in 21 plate appearances in his first stint and .169 in 69 attempts his second go around. Ironically enough he also made his major league debut with the Brooklyn team but whereas Kustus played for them when they were known as the Superbas, Lejeune played for the Nationals (some accounts call them the Robins), who would later become the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1932 and finally the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1958.

Although Kustus and Lejeune may not have played directly against one another they tread the same path on at least two occasions. A March 27, 1911 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article entitled "Superbas Intact; Regulars To-Day", which covered the team in spring training, mentioned that both Kustus and Lejeune had come to the team via Evansville and that, "it isn't reasonable to shoulder all the baseball failure on Evansville or to prejudge Lejeune on the strength or weakness of Kustus and Dunn, but the stigma is there and Larry will have to show us." Odd corollaries for two men who would also die at Eloise some 36 years apart.

Known as a strong hitter in the minors, Lejeune often hit in the middle .300s, with several dozen stolen bases per season and had a great arm. A fact that would be attested to when in 1910 he broke the record for the longest throw in a "field day" skills exhibition event while playing for Evansville. The throw of 426' 6-1/4" (many articles state it as 426' 9-1/2) held until 1952 when 29-year-old Don Grate unleashed a throw of 434 feet 1 inch at Engel Stadium in Chattanooga, Tennessee while playing for the hometown Lookouts. Lejeune was projected as a sure bet for the major leagues but was passed up several times because he was thought to be a "boner". Which roughly translates to: his skills in the minors most likely wouldn't be duplicated in the big leagues. A fact that would never really be challenged but may have had something to do with Lejeune's difficulty in contract matters, having several times breached the taboo subject of sitting out a season rather than accepting a lower salary than he felt was deserved.

Another record he held, which is of dubious merits and his own word-of-mouth, was 65 straight hours of poker playing! Or so his story goes. True or not, Phil Laak has him beaten!

Although I've read where Lejeune supposedly collected a large inheritance from a wealthy Belgian relative, the only mention of him that I could find after his baseball career ended was that he was a mutuel ticket puncher at the Detroit Fair grounds. Which, from what I can gather, was the Detroit Race Track for horse racing. Wikipedia (the final distillation of truth, right?) states that he died at Eloise on April 21, 1952 though I can find no other confirmation of that fact. Hopefully he did though or else I just wasted several hours of research and pecking away at the keyboard. According to Find A Grave he is buried at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Wyandotte. No, I will not be driving there tomorrow to take pictures of the grave or anytime soon. I'll leave that up to somebody else.

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