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Elden Auker

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Elden Auker witnessed so much during his 10 years in the major leagues he was amazed that he remained famous for an accomplishment of which he wasn't aware until much later in his life.

Mr. Auker helped the Detroit Tigers win their first World Series championship in 1934. He broke Lou Gehrig's toe, roomed with Jimmie Foxx and gave up hits to Joe DiMaggio during his record 56-game hitting streak.

Mr. Auker compiled a 130-101 record with the Tigers, Red Sox and St. Louis Browns, and led the American League in winning percentage in 1935, when he went 18-7.

Yet Mr. Auker mostly is remembered as the last living person to pitch against Babe Ruth.

"I don't think he even realized it until some sportswriter did some research on it," his nephew, George Purcell, said from Mr. Auker's Vero Beach home Friday evening.

Mr. Auker died Friday at Indian River Medical Center, 10 days after suffering a heart attack. He was 95.

"He always talked about Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and he had an incredible memory," said his son, Jim Auker, 65. "People were always interested in his baseball stories."

Mr. Auker had a significant collection of memorabilia in his home - autographed baseballs and photos of Ruth, DiMaggio, Mickey Cochrane and many others.

And in 2001, he teamed with New York Post columnist Tom Keegan to write Sleeper Cars and Flannel Uniforms: A Lifetime of Memories from Striking Out the Babe to Teeing It Up With the President.

Unfortunately, hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004 ripped off the roof of his house and destroyed his collection. He and Mildred, his wife of 73 years, were forced to move to a retirement community in Vero Beach.

"The only place the roof came off was right over my den, where I had my memorabilia," Mr. Auker told The Post in 2004. "I lost a lot of it, but I still have my memories."

Mr. Auker was born in 1910 in Norcatur, Kan. He starred as a quarterback and pitcher at Kansas State, and was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1969.

He turned down a chance to play pro football with the Chicago Bears to pursue a baseball career. He suffered a shoulder injury while playing football, which eventually forced him to adopt his submarine throwing style.

He made his major-league debut with the Tigers at age 22 in 1933, and later that year faced Ruth for the first time, striking out the aging slugger on four pitches.

Mr. Auker moved to Vero Beach in 1974, spending most of his time on the golf course at Vero Beach Country Club, Purcell said, and making frequent public appearances with friends Fay Vincent and Tommy Lasorda.

Mr. Auker is survived by his wife, Mildred, 96, and son Jim. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at First United Methodist Church in Vero Beach.
Published in The Palm Beach Post from Aug. 4 to Aug. 7, 2006
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