Erv Palica, a laconic Californian, was little more than a bit player during the 1947 season, but four years later he was at the epicenter of a midseason controversy that may have cost the Dodgers the 1951 pennant.
Palica was born on February 9, 1928, in Lomita, California, a small town west of Long Beach. His parents, Ambrose and Phyllis (Marzurana) Pavliecivich, were German-speaking native Austrians who immigrated to the United States before the beginning of World War I. As the family moved to California from Michigan, around 1920, the surname was shortened to Palica. The youngest of six athletic brothers, Erv honed his skills on the diamond by competing with his siblings. Four of the Palica boys found their way into pro ball during the 1940s. The fifth (and eldest), Christy, was killed in the Philippines during World War II.
There was little mistaking who the real talent in the family was. Even as a skinny adolescent (he ultimately filled out to 6 feet 1½ and 180 pounds), Erv Palica displayed a quick bat, live right arm, strong legs, quick feet, and a seemingly unquenchable thirst for baseball knowledge. He was introspective and polite, rarely speaking unless spoken to; over the years, his demeanor remained essentially unchanged.
After his sophomore season at Narbonne High School in Harbor City, he was chosen to the allLos Angeles schoolboy team. Palica was among those honored as high school Ail-Americans in 1944 by Esquire magazine, and he was invited to play in the magazine’s East-West All-Star Game at the Polo Grounds.
Brooklyn Dodgers scout Tom Downey signed Palica on January 25, 1945. The sixteen-year-old high school junior reported to spring training at the team’s wartime camp in Bear Mountain, New York. Palica considered himself a pitcher, but general manager Branch Rickey had other plans. Rickey took a liking to Palica’s skills and, with Pee “Wee Reese still in the service, thought he might have discovered a short-term answer to the team’s shortstop needs.
Erv Palica’s pitching debut came on September 18 when he
threw four balls to the only batter he faced.