One of the most prolific homerun swatters of the 1950s, Ozark Ike hit his long balls in relative obscurity for the Philadelphia/Kansas City A’s. The AL’s homerun champ in 1951, Zernial finished in the Top Five six times in homeruns and had one of the best homerun-per-at-bat ratios in the game. He hit a homerun every 17.4 at-bats, which places him 58th on the all-time list.
Zernial’s career was rather short, but that had more to do with elements beyond his control. While playing in the minor leagues, Gus was drafted into the service and spent three years serving his country during World War II. He returned to the game in 1946 and became a big-time power source for the old Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League. After an amazing 1948 season, when he hit 40 homers and drove in 156 runs, his time on the farm was over.
The White Sox called Zernial up in 1949 and he hit .318 after spending some time on the shelf with a broken collarbone. The next season his power bat came to life at the highest level as he led American League left fielders in homeruns. After a weak start in ’51, the Pale Hose packaged him in a three-team swap that netted them Minnie Minoso. But Gus rebounded with the A’s and went on a tear, swatting a league high 33 homeruns and leading the junior circuit with 129 RBI. His slugging average was second in the league, just behind a notable star named Ted Williams. That ’51 season began a three-year run in which Gus drove in at least 100 runs for the sad sack Athletics.
Although Zernial’s homerun and RBI totals dropped off slightly in 1952, he nevertheless led AL left fielders in both categories. Able to tally 100 RBI, Gus’s runs batted in total was good for fourth in the league. But Ozark Ike’s best year for power was right around the corner. Named to the 1953 All-Star team, Gus blasted a career high 42 homeruns (one blast every 13.2 at-bats); he was the only corner outfielder in the American League to eclipse 20 long balls.
Zernial was kept under 100 games played in 1954 and in 1955, the A’s relocated to Kansas City where Gus put on a power display for the folks in the Midwest. He was the only Major League left fielder to reach 30 homeruns that season. After an off year in 1956, Ozark Ike had his last great season in 1957. Gus clubbed 27 homeruns for the KC Athletics before he was packaged in a large deal to the Detroit Tigers. In his mid 30s, Zernial’s days as a regular were over. He ended his career after the 1959 season.
G 1,234/R 572/H 1,093/2B 159/3B 22/HR 237/RBI 776/SB 15/BB 383/SO 755/BA .265/SA .486/OBP .329