Athletic facilities on the Upper Campus carry the names of Bloomsburg University sports legends. Four were coaches, Danny Hale, Jan Hutchinson, E.H. Nelson and Robert Redman, but only one was an athlete, Danny Litwhiler, Class of 1938.
Born on Aug. 31, 1916, in Ringtown, Schuylkill County, Litwhiler enrolled at the Bloomsburg State Teachers College (BSTC) in fall 1934. His older brothers were BSTC graduates, Archie in 1923 and Truman in 1930; another brother, Woodrow, was a junior at BSTC. While at Bloomsburg, Litwhiler earned money working in the kitchen and sweeping the gym. He served on the Student Council and was president of the North Hall Government Association.
Litwhiler made his greatest contributions in the college’s sporting life. He participated on the junior varsity basketball and football teams and threw the javelin on the track and field team, but it was on the baseball diamond where he truly excelled. A four-year starter in the outfield, he helped lead the team to an overall record of 34-13, including an undefeated 12-0 season in 1935. Outstanding at bat and on the field, Litwhiler was a key component of an offense that averaged nine runs per game.
Earning a Bachelor of Science degree in secondary education, Litwhiler began playing professional baseball in the summer of 1936. Eventually part of the Philadelphia Phillies organization, he made his major league debut on Sept. 16, 1940. Over an 11-year career in the National League, he also played for the St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Braves and Cincinnati Reds. A member of the Cardinals 1944 World Series Championship Team, he played in the 1942 All-Star game, enjoyed a 21-game hitting streak during his rookie year and set a major league record with 187 consecutive errorless games.
Last April’s release of the film 42: The Jackie Robinson Story brought back memories of one of Litwhiler’s most unforgettable moments off the field. In 1948, as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, he was asked to pose for a photograph with Jackie Robinson, who had broken the major league color barrier the preceding season when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Warren Giles, president and general manager of the Reds, and representatives of the Mayor’s Friendly Relations Committee hoped this show of support would encourage the Cincinnati fans to welcome Robinson when he came to town for the first time that season. Litwhiler was invited to pose, he said, because he was a college graduate.
During his major league career, Litwhiler organized teams of major leaguers that toured during the off-season, often coming to Bloomsburg for exhibition games. He coached a basketball team, the Valley Shawnees; served as physical education director and basketball and track coach at Ringtown High School; and spent 1945 in the U.S. Army at Fort Lewis, Wash.
In 1948, Litwhiler and his wife, Dorothy, moved to Bloomsburg, where he operated several small businesses and unsuccessfully ran for county sheriff following his retirement from professional baseball in 1951. His second career began in 1955, when he was hired as head baseball coach at Florida State University, moving to Michigan State of the Big Ten in 1963.
Before retiring in 1982, Litwhiler won a combined 677 games as head coach and produced a number of major leaguers, including Dick Howser, Steve Garvey and Kirk Gibson. He developed Diamond Grit, a substance used to dry wet fields, and the Jugs radar gun for measuring the speed of pitches.
In recognition of his achievements, he was awarded the BU Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service Award in the first year it was presented, 1948, and was inducted into the first class of the Athletic Hall of Fame in 1982. Litwhiler passed away on Sept. 23, 2011 at the age of 95.
From player to coach, educator to innovator, Litwhiler was one of the most talented athletes in Bloomsburg history. It is fitting that today’s Huskies compete on a baseball field named in his honor. •
Robert Dunkelberger, University Archivist