Ivan Kuester

Ivan Kuester played baseball at Reitz High School in Evansville, Indiana, and graduated in 1938. He attended a tryout camp held at Bosse Field, home of the Evansville Bees. Manager Bob Coleman signed the 19-year-old outfielder to a professional contract with the Boston Bees organization and sent him to their Class D club at Bradford, Pennsylvania, in the Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York (PONY) League. He signed for about $125 a month. In 75 games, he batted .291 with 20 doubles and 38 RBIs.

In 1941, the Boston organization sent Kuester to the Owensboro Oilers in the Kitty League, beginning a six-year stint as a player and manager in the Class D circuit. He batted .306 with 28 doubles, 10 triples, 4 home runs, 76 RBI, and 19 stolen bases. He returned the following season and hit .311 before the league folded in June 1942. He finished the year at Canton (Class C Middle Atlantic League) and with his hometown team, the Evansville Bees (Class B Three-I League).

After serving his country during World War II, Kuester resumed his playing career in Owensboro. He batted .303 in 98 games before the Boston Braves ticketed him for their Class A Hartford club in the Eastern League. The Oilers held a special Southern Indiana Night to honor Kuester and fellow Indiana natives George Buickel and Dick Fischer before he left for Hartford.
Kuester played 40 games at Hartford, Bluefield, and Fort Lauderdale, hitting .242 overall with all three clubs.

Kuester then tried his hand at managing. He applied for the vacancy with the Hopkinsville Hoppers before the 1948 season, a position eventually filled by Vito Tamulis. The former major league pitcher led the Hoppers to the Kitty League pennant and the second-best winning percentage in league history. On July 20, the Fulton Railroaders hired Kuester as their third manager of the season.

Ivan Kuester (left) and Arnold Heft at the Kitty League Reunion, 2003

In 1951, the Washington Senators intended to promote Kuester to the Class B Selma Cloverleafs in the Southeastern League. But the circuit folded before the season began and he was sent to the Chattanooga Lookouts instead. He served as third base coach for manager Jack Onslow, who had managed the Chicago White Sox the previous season. Kuester enjoyed the challenge and the higher competition level in the Double-A Southern Association. “That was pretty fast company,” he recalled.

“I was an aggressive coach at times,” he recalled. “Oh, I got a few thrown out. The big guy [who] really hurt me more than anyone when I was coaching at third base was Jimmy Piersall. He played center field for Birmingham and he played a short outfield. If you hit a line drive to him on the ground anywhere close, you couldn’t score on him.

“So one night we’re down there playing in Birmingham and we had Pete Runnels on second base and two out. The guy got a base hit through the middle and it was a routine ground ball. I sent him in and Pete got thrown out at the plate. Jack Onslow, the manager, said, ‘All right, let me take third for a while.’ So I went down to first base; it was the only time I coached first base all year. We had a runner on second base named Daniel Porter and nobody out. A fly ball was hit to Piersall and it was fairly deep. Jack had Porter come to third base and Piersall threw him out. After the inning, he said, ‘Go on back to third base. Just don’t try to score him if Piersall gets the ball.’”

The following season, Kuester received his Class B promotion and managed the Charlotte Hornets in the Tri-State League. “I was supposed to win the pennant,” he recalled. “I didn’t and finished a game-and-a-half out and I got fired.” The Hornets finished in second place behind the Gastonia Rockets with a record of 87-51. Despite losing the pennant, the club won the postseason Shaughnessy playoffs.

Kuester returned to Class D ball in 1953 as player-manager of the Bluefield Blue-Grays in the Appalachian League. The Senators farm club’s last-place finish marked the end of his managerial career.

Kuester remained with the Washington Senators as a full-time scout. “The old Washington Senators were a family organization and a good organization,” he recalled. “They didn’t have a lot of money, but they always treated you good.”

Over the next fifty years, he scouted for other major league teams, such as the Kansas City Athletics, St. Louis Cardinals, and Atlanta Braves. He also coached high school, collegiate, and amateur baseball teams in the Evansville area.

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