By September of that season, however, manager Boudreau was expressing disappointment with Gernert’s overall performance, believing he was developing a habit of taking too many pitches. He may have been ahead of his time, given today’s emphasis on on-base percentage. His OBP was often 100 points above his batting average. Boudreau often benched him and or pinch-hit for him. Nevertheless, Gernert ended the season with 21 home runs, tied with Mickey Mantle for seventh in the league. His 88 walks ranked fourth and 82 strikeouts were placed him third. He drove in 71 runs while raising his batting average 10 points (.253) from his rookie season. Throughout his career, he was a very good fielder and finished his 11 seasons in the majors with a .990 fielding percentage.
As the 1954 season began, Gernert was celebrating the completion of his bachelor of education degree from Temple. He was also in a battle with a young Boston sports hero, Harry Agganis, for the first-base job. Despite getting on base 12 times in 30 plate appearances, and hitting .300, he just wasn’t getting playing time, so was sent to Louisville, where he continued to struggle, hitting just .161 in 20 games. He was reassigned on loan to Buffalo, Detroit Tigers International League (AAA) affiliate, where he rebounded to hit .272 with 13 home runs. By June of that season, Gernert was being mentioned in trade rumors. He maintained in a 2008 interview that his coming down with hepatitis was one of the major factors in this overall disappointing season. In fact at the end of the baseball season he was diagnosed with that illness and spent two weeks in the hospital.
When the 1955 season began, Gernert was still suffering from the effects of hepatitis. He had lost over 40 pounds and now weighed just 165 pounds. He spent most of that season in Louisville regaining his strength. He ended up hitting .287 with 24 home runs, his career high, and 86 RBIs. He returned to the Red Sox late in the year and managed to get four hits in 20 at-bats. On Christmas Eve 1955, Dick Gernert and Patricia Turner were married.
At the beginning of spring training in 1956, press reports speculated that as Gernert had used up his minor-league options, he would likely be traded. Within a couple of weeks, however, the press was changing its tune as Gernert delivered some big hits in exhibition games. He had eight hits in 24 plate appearances, four of which were extra-base hits. He also delivered five RBIs.
Perhaps belatedly benefiting from Boudreau’s counsel, Gernert attributed his success in the spring of 1956 to being more aggressive at the plate: “You can’t do much with the bat on your shoulder!” By the end of August, the Lowell Sun was calling him one of the most improved hitters in the American League1. This was quite a turnaround from the previous season, when his name did not even inspire a nibble on the waiver wire. Looking back, it is easy to believe that his illness had a significant effect on his strength and stamina for the previous couple of seasons. He finished the 1956 season with a .291 batting average a .399 on-base percentage, 16 home runs, and 68 RBIs. Gernert’s value was enhanced by his ability to draw a walk. During the season he reached base 56 times on bases on balls in 370 plate appearances in 106 games. He played 50 games in the outfield, often replacing the injured Ted Williams, but was not an everyday player.
This strong comeback led to Gernert’s being the 1957 Opening Day starter at first base. During the spring, he made a public appearance in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, at a Father-Son Night. The theme of his presentation was the importance of education, a central theme to Gernert throughout his career. His season, however, was one of disappointment as his offensive numbers including batting average, power numbers, and on-base percentage all declined. Due to his offensive struggles, he was platooned at first base with Mickey Vernon.
When the 1958 season began, Gernert was once again involved in a struggle for a position. During spring training, manager Pinky Higgins was suggesting that the left-handed hitting Pete Runnels would alternate at first with the right-handed Gernert. Runnels started the season at first and played 42 games at that position before Higgins decided to move Runnels to second, where he played 106 games. Gernert played 114 games at first base that year and was able to show that he was more than a one-dimensional player by leading American League first basemen in several defensive categories including putouts (1,101), assists (93), and double plays (118). His power numbers were better than in 1957 and he finished the season with 20 home runs and a somewhat lower 69 RBIs, still not up to the promise he’d shown back in 1953. Gernert’s season, however, came to an end September 13 when he was sidelined with a badly sprained wrist.
The next season proved to be Gernert’s last one in Boston. Newcomer Vic Wertz, acquired from Cleveland in a trade for Jimmy Piersall, started the season at first base and, although the two shared duties throughout the year, by season’s end the Red Sox decided to bank on Wertz for the following year. Dick hit the 100th home run of his career, a solo shot, on August 19 off Cleveland’s Bud Daley. Home run number 101 was memorable too; it was of the walk-off variety on August 28 against the Orioles and reliever Billy Loes. The dramatics were not enough however. On November 21, 1959, the Red Sox traded Gernert to the Chicago Cubs for first baseman Jim Marshall and pitcher Dave Hillman.
In 1960, playing for the woeful Cubs, Gernert appeared in just 52 games before being sold to the Detroit Tigers on August 31. With the Cubs, he had just 96 at-bats and did not hit a home run. In 21 games with the Tigers, he came to the plate 50 times, hitting .300 with a single home run.
On May 10, 1961, Gernert was traded by Detroit to Cincinnati for infielder and career minor-league Jim Baumer, who would never play another game in the big leagues. Before his trade, Dick had appeared in just six games and had one hit – a home run – in five at-bats. The 1961 Reds won 93 games, the National League pennant, and thus a berth in the World Series. Playing in a reserve role for the Reds, Gernert managed 63 at-bats in 40 games and a .302 batting average. The Reds fell to the New York Yankees in five games in the World Series. Gernert was hitless in four pinch-hitting appearances, including one memorable one. In Game One, Yankees third baseman Clete Boyer made a diving stop to his left on a hard smash and threw Gernert out from his knees. It was the second outstanding fielding play of the day for Boyer.
During the offseason, the Reds made Gernert available in the expansion draft and he was chosen by the Houston Colt 45’s. But after just 10 games in 1962, he was released by the Texas team. He had five hits in 24 at-bats at the time of his release. For the rest of the season, Gernert played with the Tacoma Giants of the Pacific Coast League, putting up very respectable offensive numbers including a batting average of .289 along with 20 homers. Gernert’s major-league totals after 11 seasons showed 103 homers and 402 runs batted in, with a batting average of .254.
In 1963, Gernert returned to his home town and played with the Reading Red Sox of the Eastern League. He hit .297 with 15 home runs. He returned to Reading for the following season and slipped to .254 with nine home runs in 71 games. For his two years in the Eastern League with Reading he had played in 182 games and compiled a batting average of .283 with 24 home runs and 125 RBIs. Nonetheless, he was 35 years old and decided it was time to retire,
Gernert began a new career as a junior high school physical education teacher, but by the April after he retired, he became involved with baseball again, accepting a position as a scout with the Cincinnati Reds. He held this position until 1969, when he managed the Wytheville Senators, Washington’s team in the rookie Appalachian League. Within a couple of months, the Senators’ top draft choice, Jeff Burroughs, was praising Gernert for helping him in his development as a professional ballplayer.
During the offseason, the Senators announced that the 41-year-old Gernert would be promoted to take over as manager with the Pittsfield Senators in the Eastern League. This change of duties forced him to seek a leave of absence from his teaching duties at Reading Junior High School, where he also coached the basketball team and refereed. The job in Pittsfield lasted until June, when Washington promoted him to their top farm team, the American Association Denver Bears. Denver won the Western Division of the American Association but lost to Omaha in the league championship series.
Although successful, the move to the West had been difficult for Gernert, who was married with a young daughter, Heather. At the end of the season, he told Washington he would not be coming back, deciding instead to return to his teaching duties in the Reading public school system. On January 21, the Berkshire Eagle of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, reported that Gernert had accepted a position with the Washington organization to scout around his home area in Pennsylvania2. He remained in this position until 1976, when the organization, now the Texas Rangers, hired him as a coach. He held this position until the end of that season, when the Texas organization offered him a new position as a “super scout” which included a raise in pay.