By Randy York, The N-Sider
Bob Cerv, the only Nebraska student-athlete in history to earn four varsity letters in both baseball and basketball, died Thursday night in Blair, Neb., at age 91, less than a month before his May 5th 92nd birthday.
The Huskers honored Cerv with a moment of silence before Friday night’s Big Ten Conference baseball win over Maryland at Lincoln's Hawks Field. Several months ago, Nebraska began preparations to honor Cerv, offering free Bobbleheads (pictured above) to the first 750 fans through the Haymarket gates on May 5th. Husker Athletics will honor that special tribute on the same day it was planned.
Cerv’s collegiate baseball and basketball careers at Nebraska and his MLB prominence with the New York Yankees and Kansas City Athletics are important, but the March 5th date also was designed to honor his service in the Navy during World War II.
Eichorst, Dobbs, Sharpe Honored Cerv as an Athlete and a Military Veteran
A year ago, Nebraska Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst, along with Husker baseball letterwinners Mike Dobbs (1983-84-85-86) and Sam Sharpe (1971-72-73-74), went to Cerv’s home in Blair, Neb., to focus on Veteran’s Day.
Cerv’s unique two-sport contributions as a Husker and his 12 years in Major League Baseball came after he served his country in World War II.
A starter on Nebraska basketball teams that tied for Big Seven Conference titles in 1949 and 1950, Cerv was on the Husker hoops team that lost to Oklahoma State in an NCAA playoff game in Kansas City. An All-American in baseball, Cerv also helped Nebraska win two conference championships in the sport that made him famous.
After High School, Before College, MLB, Cerv Dodged Dying in World War II
The road to those double-barreled accomplishments was not easy. Cerv not only joined the Navy after high school, but also ended up serving in the Pacific Theater. Cerv’s son Joe, who lives in Overland Park, Kan., told Kansas City writer Pete Grathoff that his father was on a ship that was hit by a Kamikaze plane close to the gun mount where he was working. Cerv was the only one in the gun mount who lived, Joe said.
Bob Cerv “stories could go on forever,” Joe said, acknowledging that his dad was a roommate with both Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in their duel for major league’s home-run title in 1961.
A Maris and Mantle Roommate, Cerv Was a Friend of President Harry Truman
After serving his country, Cerv went to college on a G.I. Bill and became friends with former President Harry Truman (pictured together above).
The first Husker baseball player in history to earn All-America honors, Cerv led the nation with a collegiate slugging percentage of .878 and had a .444 batting average as a senior. He went on to play professionally for 12 years, including six with the Yankees, who won World Series championships in 1951 and 1956.
Amazing Stat: Cerv's 38 Home Runs Remain the Single-Season Record in KC
Remarkably, Cerv’s 38 home runs remain the single-season record for home runs by a Major League Baseball player in Kansas City history. Steve Balboni still holds the Royals’ single-season record with 36 homers.
“Thus, no major-league player has hit more homers in Kansas City than Bob Cerv,” Grathoff said in this story published on kc.com.
Even though he did not start often for the Yankees in New York, Cerv hit 12 home runs as a pinch hitter. His breakout year was 1958 when he hit .304 with 104 RBIs and the 38 home runs. He started in the All-Star game ahead of Ted Williams and outhit Frank Robinson to win the Home Run Derby.
Cerv’s career major league statistics were a .276 batting average, 105 home runs and 374 runs batted in. Funeral services for Robert (Bob) Henry Cerv are pending.
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