After further review, eight more CHSL ballplayers added to list of Major Leaguers

Knuckeball pitcher Charlie Haeger, a Detroit Catholic Central alumnus, sits in the San Diego Padres bullpen during a game in September 2008. Haeger is one of 30 CHSL athletes who went on to play Major League Baseball. Did we miss anyone else? Let Detroit Catholic sports reporter Don Horkey know at [email protected]. (Djh57 | Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-3.0))

Before I introduce eight more members to the roster of Catholic League baseball players who made it to the majors, I’d like to share an email from Dan Hoff, of Kalamazoo.

“Though I did not compete against many of the players listed,” he wrote, “I do remember fouling off a Frank Tanana fastball during my junior year at U of D High, and I felt pretty proud that I even saw the pitch let alone touched it.” 

(Dan graduated from Detroit U-D Jesuit in 1972).

“I am not sure if he would qualify, but my brother Jim Hoff (U-D Jesuit Class of 1963) spent over 50 years in professional baseball as a minor league player, a minor league manager, and a field coordinator (a position that placed him in charge of instruction to minor league players).”

(Hoff played in the Cincinnati Reds' minor-league system from 1967-72. He then moved to coaching, working for the Reds as a minor-league manager from 1973-1983 and field coordinator from 1984-90. He spent four years with the Toronto Blue Jays as field coordinator and director of minor-league development. He joined the Tampa Bay Rays in 2002, where he remained until his death in 2018.)

“He also, on at least three occasions, joined the Rays for late-season games. It is in this capacity that he may merit a mention among those who reached the majors.”

(Dan told me over the phone that his brother took the lineup card to the umpires before the game. The Rays won the first time he did this, so they asked him to do it again. And when they won the second time, the players asked again. “They lost the third time,” Dan laughed.)

“My brother died unexpectedly on December 10 from a massive heart attack as he entered church for a penance service and Mass.”

Tributes poured in from management and players. Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said Hoff was “respected and beloved by all ... it’s a loss for us and for Major League Baseball.” Players and fellow coaches remembered him as a “great man, teacher and influence.”

The Rays named their spring training field the Jim Hoff Field in his honor.

In that same spirit, we honor Jim with our “lineup card” of eight more CHSL players added to the 22 listed in my column last week

Also, my thanks to Fr. Dave Tomaszycki, H. R. Hayes, Bill Sherman, Jerry Cervenak, Tony Sahadi, Kevin Walters, Mike Dempsey, Dan Deegan and James Chwalek for bringing these players to my attention.

3B: Mike Cervenak (Dearborn Divine Child)

He was first called up to the major leagues on July 10, 2008, after spending 1,088 games in the minor leagues. He played in 10 games for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008, getting two hits in 13 at-bats. Though Cervenak was not part of the postseason roster, he did travel with the team and was in uniform for all of the club's playoff games. He received a ring for the Phillies’ 2008 World Series championship. He played for the Czech Republic in the qualifying rounds of the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

Catcher: Eric Haase (Dearborn Divine Child)

He made his MLB debut last September with the Cleveland Indians; nine games, 2 hits in 16 at-bats. Batted .364 in 19 spring training games. Optioned to AAA Columbus in March.

Pitcher: Charlie Haeger (Novi Detroit Catholic Central)

A right-handed knuckleball pitcher, he played five years (2006-11) for the White Sox, Padres and Dodgers. Record 2-7, 6.40 ERA. On July 22, 2007, in the fifth inning, Haeger relieved starter White Sox pitcher Jon Garland against Boston Red Sox knuckleball pitcher Tim Wakefield, marking the first time in recent years that two knuckleballers have faced each other in the same game.

Pitcher: Brett Hinchcliff (Harper Woods Bishop Gallagher) 

He was a right-handed pitcher for three years: for the Seattle Mariners in 1999, the Anaheim Angels in 2000, and the New York Mets in 2001, a combined 0-5 record, 10.22 ERA. He was born with a genetic defect called syndactylism, a condition wherein two or more digits are fused together. As a result, the middle finger of his left hand was amputated as a child, and the bone was inserted into his thumb.

Pitcher: Gary Ignasiak (New Baltimore St. Mary’s) 

He was with the Tigers for 10 days in September 1973; he appeared in three games, all in relief: 4.2 innings, 3.86 ERA, 0-0 record. He and his family operate several Dairy Queen stores in central Michigan. He is president of the Dairy Queen Operators' Association.

Pitcher: Mike Ignasiak (Orchard Lake St. Mary’s) 

He pitched parts of four seasons (1991; 1993-1995) with the Milwaukee Brewers. He had a 10-4 record, 4.80 ERA; appeared in 79 games (started six), threw 137 innings, striking out 88 and walking 65. Prior to the 1996 season, Ignasiak signed on with the Boston Red Sox. However, he suffered a career-ending back injury during spring training. Ignasiak is now a successful amateur golfer and owns Dairy Queen franchises in Saline and Ann Arbor.

1B: Bill Roman (Detroit St. Cyril)

He played in 24 games in two years (1964-65) with the Tigers, only five hits in 35 at-bats. He hit one home run — and what a homer it was: in his first Major League at-bat, as a pinch hitter on Sept. 30, 1964, against Jim Bouton of the New York Yankees.

Pitcher: Chris Rusin (Dearborn Divine Child) 

Currently in his eighth year in the MLB. Spent three years with the Cubs (2012-2014), and since 2015 with the Colorado Rockies; under $1,687,500 contract through 2019. Record 20-28 (49 starts), 4.55 ERA, 464 innings, 338 strikeouts. On Aug. 7, 2016, he gave up Ichiro Suzuki's 3,000th hit.

Fr. Tomaszycki, associate pastor at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, in his email about the Ignasiak brothers, remembered how they were regarded as “local heroes (for making it to the majors) in the Ira (Township) Little League, where I played as a kid.”

They all were parishioners at Immaculate Conception Parish in Anchorville (incidentally, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron's home parish).

Gary was the second oldest and Mike the youngest of 12 siblings: six boys, six girls. Mike told me in a telephone conversation that their father died in the mid-1990s. Two years after that, his mother joined the Capuchin cloistered nuns. She died about six years ago.

Contact Don Horkey at [email protected].