It is always fascinating to look up the careers of athletes in a time before college sports became the big business they are now.
Robert “Bob” Cerv was born in 1925 in Saunders County, Nebraska. While in high school, he played Legion baseball (catcher and outfielder) and even took part in the semipro Pioneer Night League. Can you imagine the NCAA reaction today if a recruit played semi-professionally in their chosen sport???
Bob did not head straight to Dear Old NU right out of high school, but instead joined the Navy and served in the Pacific theater. He survived a 1944 kamikaze attack that killed five other sailors on his ship.
He enrolled at Nebraska in 1946. He was a four-time letter winner in both basketball and baseball (1946-50).
As part of Nebrasketball, Cerv participated in two Big Seven conference champion or co-champion teams (1948-49 and 49-50). Below are a few pictures snipped from the 1950 Cornhusker yearbook. In case you can’t enlarge the one below, it refers to the 1949-50 team as “the most unified basketball machine in the university’s history.”
Based on the captions of the photos, Cerv’s specialty was stealing the ball.
Even way back then, basketball got more glory than baseball as the Nebrasketball section of the yearbook included many photos and detailed game-by-game statistics and breakdowns. The baseball team got one page.
In 1950, the Husker baseball team was the Big Seven conference champion and Cerv was named an All-American. He batted .444 that year with an .878 (!) slugging percentage.
He went on to have a decade-long major league career. At first, he was with the New York Yankees and bounced between New York and their AAA squad in Kansas City. In 1951, he was called up to New York and replaced Micky Mantle, who was sent down to AAA. They ended up swapping places again after a month.
The Yankees were a powerhouse team in those years and he didn’t play as a starter but did participate in the 1955 World Series. He was traded to the Kansas City Athletics and played for them from 1957-60.
It was in Kansas City that Cerv put up career numbers, including 38 home runs in 1958 with a .305 batting average (Source). He became the first former Husker to be invited to the All-Star game.
After his major league career, he returned to Nebraska and according to his Huskers.com bio, he “he coached college baseball at Southeast Missouri State College and John F. Kennedy College in Wahoo, Neb., where he also coached the men’s basketball team.”
Bob married his wife Henrietta while still in college at Nebraska. They had 10 children, all of whom went to college. He died in 2017. A couple of tribute articles and one Q&A the year before he died are linked below.
“I always said my life was kind of lucky,” Cerv said. “Everything I ever did, it turned out pretty well.” (Omaha World Herald)
Bob Cerv, the only Nebraska student-athlete in history to earn four varsity letters in both baseball and basketball, died Thursday night in Blair, Neb., at age 91, less than a month before his May 5th 92nd birthday. (Huskers.com)
Quite a career. And quite a life story for a guy from Weston. (Lincoln Journal Star)