Paul Kardow

This article was written by Chris Rainey

Paul Kardow was a freshman at Harlandale (Texas) High School in 1931. At 6-feet-3-inches tall and 190 pounds, he led the freshmen intramural basketball team to the school championship. On March 4, he had just completed three weeks of spring football practice that left his coach drooling over the prospects for future seasons.1Three weeks later his world exploded when a robber entered the Graham’s Red and White Grocery. His father, Paul Emil Kardow, was the butcher and happened upon the robbery in progress. In the ensuing scuffle he was killed by three bullets to the abdomen. His father’s murder was only the first in a string of tragedies in Kardow’s life.

Born on September 19, 1915, in Humble, Texas, Paul Otto Kardow was the second of five children born to Paul E. and Josephine (Metzger) Kardow, four boys and a girl. In 1931 the family was living in San Antonio and like many in the Depression were struggling to make ends meet. Their home had two mortgages and the eldest child, John, was having difficulty finding work to supplement his father’s income.

Robert Lockett entered Graham’s grocery on March 21 full of liquor and looking for cash. Paul E. Kardow was unaware of the events unfolding when he came down from the second floor. Kardow was a large man and had been a professional wrestler. Twice before, 1916 and 1928, he had confronted holdup men and captured them on each occasion. He grappled with Lockett and in the struggle, could not get the gun away and was shot.2

Lockett was brought to trial in early May. His lawyers pleaded insanity based upon intoxication. The jury deliberated for two days and was unable to reach a verdict. All 12 agreed to Lockett’s guilt, but they were split on the penalty. The state decided to retry Lockett on the death penalty and he entered a plea bargain for 99 years in jail.3

The community rose to support Josephine and the children. A portion of the second mortgage was forgiven. Churches, businesses, and private citizens donated to a support fund and their first mortgage was brought up to date. The mayor promised to find work for either Josephine or John on the city payroll. Paul continued to grow and became a multisport star for Harlandale.

He played tackle on the football team until his senior year, when he was moved to end. He was a member of the all-city team that took on the Dallas contingent in a postseason match in 1933. Now 6-feet-6-inches tall, he made a fine center on the basketball team. In the spring he pitched and played either first base or outfield on the diamond. The rangy right-hander had a blazing fastball and it was common for him to pile up strikeouts. His exploits attracted the attention of former major-league pitcher Jack Knight, who resided in San Antonio.

Knight had recently taken the job of manager for the Fargo-Moorhead Twins in the Class D Northern League. Over the next five years he would sign a dozen San Antonio-area players for the Twins. His 1934 team included Jerry Feille, Kardow, Gus Koch, Alton Lenz, and Charley Suche. Feille, Kardow, and Suche were all 18-year-olds and Koch was 20. Knight got every bit of talent out of them he could. Suche won 19 games, Kardow 16. Koch smacked a league-leading 36 homers and Feille batted .325 with 20 bombs. Future major leaguer Bill Zuber won 16 games to form a “Big Three” pitching rotation. The Twins won the second-half crown and defeated Superior 4 games to 2 for the league championship. Kardow was on the hill in the two losses, taking the decision in the first one. In late September the Twins took on the Lincoln Links, champions of the Nebraska League. Kardow and Suche pitched the squad to 9-3 and 3-1 wins.

After a winter of basketball, Kardow went to spring training in San Antonio with Fargo-Moorhead. Knight added two more locals, infielder Blas Monaco and pitcher Carl Dietzel, to the roster. Including the playoff games Kardow had thrown over 220 innings in 1934. His arm was slow to respond during training camp, but when the team broke camp to head north, Knight was sure that Kardow was ready to go. Knight also praised Kardow’s improved fielding and said it was like having “a five-man infield.”4

Kardow arrived in Moorhead feeling sick and was confined to the hotel. He made his first appearance on May 10 against Crookston and gave up seven runs. Knight and the Twins had a working agreement with the Cleveland Indians. C.C. Slapnicka, Indians scout and later executive, was in town and conferred with Knight regarding Kardow’s condition. They were concerned with his fastball, probably an indication that Kardow was experiencing a dead arm.

Fargo-Moorhead had a working agreement with the semipro team in Devil’s Lake, Minnesota. When the new uniforms for the Twins were slow to arrive in 1935, they wore Devil’s Lake togs instead. Knight and Slapnicka decided to send Kardow to the Devil’s Lake team for 30 days. Manager Jack Hruska was entrusted with bringing Kardow back to his 1934 level.

The 30-day demotion lasted until August 6. Kardow had plenty of opportunities to regain his form. He took on the House of David and the Kansas City Monarchs, and faced Bismarck’s interracial squad with Satchel Paige on three occasions. He won two of the battles, splitting his head-to-head matches with Paige. In a tournament in July he pitched 16 innings in back-to-back games and allowed one run. The second of those games was against Bismarck and he struck out pinch-hitter Satchel Paige to preserve his 2-1 win.5

Kardow had a variety of nicknames during his career. In high school, the San Antonio paper labeled his picture as Paul “Man Mountain” Kardow. He was referred to as “Tex” on many occasions. The most curious moniker was when the Moorhead Daily News dubbed him “Punjab” upon his recall from Devil’s Lake. He won his first outing back with the Twins, but finished the season 3-4. The Twins were second-half champs but lost to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in the playoffs 5 games to 1. Kardow was one of five Twins players sold to the Minneapolis Millers in the American Association.

Over the winter, Kardow played basketball to maintain his condition. In early March he joined the Millers in Deland, Florida. The Minneapolis Star posted Kardow’s picture and did a brief introduction of him on March 23. The following day he was optioned to Jacksonville in the South Atlantic (SALLY) League. The vignette in the paper made no mention of whether Kardow was married. He wed his first wife, Eunice Oeffinger, in 1936, but whether she shared his journeys is unclear.6

Kardow saw action with Jacksonville in exhibitions against the Philadelphia Athletics, the Boston Braves, and the Baltimore Orioles. He was hit hard in all the games and was optioned to Zanesville in the Middle Atlantic League. He opened the season in the bullpen and hurled under 45 innings with two wins before he was summoned by Cleveland on June 24.

Kardow pitched in relief against Indianapolis in a June 29 exhibition. His major-league debut came on July 1 in St. Louis vs. the Browns. He mopped up a 16-12 loss by surrendering a run in the eighth. The road trip continued to Chicago, where he tossed an inning against the White Sox. He coaxed three groundballs for a scoreless outing. On July 6 Kardow was used in an exhibition with the St. Louis Cardinals. Seventeen-year-old Bob Feller made his professional debut, pitching the middle three innings. Kardow tossed the last three, surrendering four runs, but Cleveland won 7-6.

Kardow was optioned to the New Orleans Pelicans on July 12. The announcement listed him as 6-feet-6-inches tall and weighing 220 pounds.7 Kardow was done growing, but by the end of his career he was weighing in at 240 pounds.8He debuted with a relief appearance against the Atlanta Crackers. The Pelicans were in the second division when he arrived, but they went on an 18-game winning streak in August to make the playoffs. Kardow turned in a couple of strong performances, but was left in the bullpen for the first-round triumph over Atlanta. Birmingham made quick work of the finals as Kardow watched from the pines.

Kardow returned to San Antonio and once again took up basketball as a diversion. On November 17, he and Eunice were driving to Seguin, Texas. Eunice was behind the wheel when their car collided with a Southern Pacific locomotive. She was killed and Paul was in a coma for four days.

Kardow made an amazing recovery and reported on March 1 to spring training in New Orleans. The Indians had 15 pitchers in camp and were going to keep nine. It was obvious early on that Kardow was not ready for the big club, but he was kept in camp until April 3, when he was optioned to Jersey City in the Double-A International League. He made a trio of unimpressive mop-up appearances before he was returned to Cleveland. The Indians sent him out to Knoxville in the Class A Southern Association.

The Smokies were the worst team in the league and won only 42 games. Kardow picked up nine of those wins. His best effort was a complete-game 7-1 victory over Little Rock on June 16. He led the team in innings pitched and victories but sported a high ERA and piled up 23 losses. On September 4, Cleveland traded Kardow to Buffalo along with fellow San Antonian Blas Monaco for Myron McCormick. There was one bright spot to the season. He met Marilyn Alexa Cooper. They were wed on August 9, 1937.

The couple returned to Texas for the winter. In later years, Kardow began a small plumbing business that he built into a well-known plumbing contracting firm by the early 1950s. The couple had four children: Sammy Cullen, Emily Kay, Marilyn Ann, and John Paul. Alexa and Paul eventually divorced, and he was married a third time, to Ruth E. Dishman in 1955.

When Kardow packed his bags for spring training in 1938, he had no idea the extensive travel that awaited him. Starting with Buffalo, he beat Columbus 4-2 in an April 1 exhibition. This did not impress the leadership, who sent him to Wilkes-Barre in the Eastern League. An 8-5 loss to Binghamton contributed to his May 12 release. His next stop was in Knoxville for a week or so before moving on the Augusta in the SALLY.

Kardow’s first outing for Augusta was a 1-0 loss to Columbia, but he earned a spot in the rotation. He posted a 2-5 record for the team. On June 23 he left the team to fly to San Antonio and claim a $15,000 award from a litigation. Details were not made clear, but the timing coincided with Kardow’s dropping an appeal against the Southern Pacific in civil court.9 The following week he was suspended by the team. The reason for the suspension was unclear; had he simply not returned from Texas?

Kardow was 22 years old and had just come into a sizable sum of money. He had a falling-out with the Augusta team. What would be his next move? Kardow purchased several pieces of real estate in San Antonio. Then in August he purchased the Evergreen, Alabama, franchise in the Class D Alabama-Florida League. He debuted with them as owner/pitcher in a 5-3 loss to Union Springs on August 3.10 He made it known his plan was to move the team to Greenville, Alabama, the following year. He posted a dismal 0-6 mark with a 7.98 ERA with his last-place Greenies.

True to his word, Kardow moved the franchise to Greenville in 1939. He appointed himself manager of the team. Was he living a dream as owner/manager/pitcher? Or was he a shrewd young businessman out for a quick buck? At any rate, on May 18 he sold the franchise to a group of local businessmen who appointed a new manager. Kardow was done playing in Alabama and returned to Texas. He played three games from June 1 to June 11 in a mop-up role for the Dallas Rebels in the Class A Texas League. On July 1 he debuted with the Class B Greenville, South Carolina, Spinners in the SALLY by beating the Columbia Reds 9-3.

After dismal performances for Evergreen and Greenville, Alabama, Kardow found his pitching groove and posted a 6-1 mark in his first month.11 He finished the season 8-7 for the second-division Spinners. They were quick to reserve him for the 1940 season. The Spinners retooled their roster but retained manager Alex McColl, first baseman Reggie Otero, and Kardow. The results were a fourth-place finish followed by an early exit from the playoffs. Kardow was not with the team for the postseason. After posting a 7-10 record and a team-worst 5.84 ERA, he was released to the Wilmington Blue Rocks in the Class B Interstate League in late July. The change of scenery worked for Kardow and he posted a 5-2 mark with a 3.82 ERA. Led by batting champion Elmer Valo, the Blue Rocks faced Lancaster in the playoffs and were eliminated by the eventual champs. Kardow was used in relief during the playoffs and had no decisions.

The family stayed in Wilmington because Paul found work in the city. He was released by the team in 1941 and played semipro ball in the Eastern Pennsylvania League with Lansdale. He returned to minor-league ball with Wilmington in 1943. He tossed a three-hitter on May 12 in the season opener. At the end of July, Kardow had a 9-7 record but was relegated to the bullpen and then released on August 23. He signed with the Lancaster Red Roses, also of the Interstate League. He closed out the season with a 13-10 record.

As fate would have it, the Blue Rocks and Red Roses met in the first round of the playoffs. With the series tied 1-1, Lancaster sent Kardow to the mound against Wilmington ace Ted Abernathy. Kardow outpitched Abernathy and Lancaster went on to win the series and then the league championship over York.

After packing and unpacking multiple times each season, Kardow had found a baseball home on the edge of Pennsylvania Dutch territory, fitting since he was of German and Dutch heritage. He pitched for the Red Roses through the 1946 season. They won the title in 1944 and 1945 before finishing last in 1946. Kardow turned in a 19-10 performance with a 3.58 ERA in 1945. After the 1946 season he returned to his native Texas.

Kardow’s baseball life came full circle in 1947. He had started his career with San Antonian Jerry Feille in Fargo-Moorhead. Now Feille was manager of Class C Lone Star League team in Marshall. Kardow put up his best numbers ever with a 20-9 record. Marshall made it to the league finale before losing to Kilgore. The following year Kardow played for Longview in the same league.

After his professional career ended, Kardow played some semipro ball in San Antonio, but he mainly concentrated on the plumbing business and family. Tragedy struck again in 1954 when his 15-year-old son, Sammy, was killed in an auto accident. In the 1960s, Kardow saw his youngest son, John, follow in his footsteps as a star football and baseball player at Harlandale High. A half-foot shorter and much lighter, John played quarterback. He went on to Texas A&I (now Texas A&M at Kingsville). The Javelinas were an NAIA Division II powerhouse. John played linebacker and was the kicker. Paul Kardow succumbed to cancer before John’s senior season. He died on April 27, 1968, and was buried in Mission Burial Park South in San Antonio.

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Len Levin and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.

 

Sources

Baseball-Reference.com.

Johnson, Lloyd, and Miles Wolff, eds. Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (Durham, North Carolina: Baseball America Publishing, 1993).

Various Spalding and Reach baseball guides.

 

Notes

1 “Girls and Boys in Harlandale Track Work,” San Antonio Light, March 4, 1931: 7-B.

2 “A Brave Man, His Death and Family,” San Antonio Express, March 24, 1931: 10.

3 The Light and Express gave extensive coverage to the killing and trial. This is a condensed version of their reports.

4 Dick Hackenberg, “Knight’s Pleased With Effectiveness of Kardow, Stolt,” Moorhead (Minnesota) Daily News, April 22, 1935: 4.

5 “Devil’s Lake Noses out Bismarck 2-1, to Win Brandon Tournament,” Bismarck Tribune, July 18, 1935: 8.

6 Charles Johnson, “Introducing New Millers,” Minneapolis Star, March 23, 1936: 19.

7 “Pelicans Land Pitcher Kardow,” New Orleans Item, July 12, 1936: 45.

8 Weight listed on the Hall of Fame questionnaire he filled out.

9 Augusta Chronicle, June 23, 1938: 8.

10 Columbus (Georgia) Daily Enquirer, August 4, 1938: 4.

11 “Quick Plays Brilliantly and Guerra and Kobesky Hit Hard to Cheer Big Crowd,” Greenville (South Carolina) News, July 29, 1939: 5.