Off-season jobs of major league baseball players in the winter of 1958-59

Baseball players today are paid enough during the season that they don’t have to worry about making ends meet in the winter, and the best of them can put away enough money during their playing careers that they don’t have to worry about money after their careers end. But in my younger days major leaguers routinely held down jobs during the off-season, both to keep cash coming into the household and to establish themselves in positions that could provide a living when their playing days were over.

As just a tiny bit of evidence of this, I share here some off-season jobs held by players as listed on page 12 of The Sporting News of Oct. 8, 1958, something I stumbled upon while researching something else. TSN correspondents often provided rundowns of how their teams’ players would be spending the winter as the regular season came to a close. So this is the most random of samplings — I’m not even trying to look at other players mentioned in the same issue, just the ones on this particular page.

Eddie Mathews: president of Eddie Mathews Enterprises, a construction firm.

Johnny Logan: president of a title company that bears his name.

Gene Conley: vice-president of an oil company.

Ernie Johnson: insurance salesman.

Frank Torre: public relations representative for a soft drink concern.

Bob Rush: sell real estate in Mesa, Arizona.

Bob Buhl: has an appliance dealership in Saginaw, Michigan.

Harry Hanebrink: drive an oil truck in St. Louis.

Joe Koppe: paint houses in Detroit.

Warren Spahn: work his cattle ranch in Hartshorne, Oklahoma.

Joey Jay: work his chicken farm in Lutz, Florida.

Cal McLish: work for the Associated Oil Fields Rental Company in Oklahoma City.

ChunkyRay Narleski: “a good-will representative for Chunkies, a chocolate candy bar.” Perhaps the bar in question was Chunky; a frame from a 1959 commercial is at right.

Billy Hunter: work in his insurance agency in Baltimore.

Woodie Held: sell houses for a contractor in Kansas City.

Rocky Colavito: work for the Temple Mushroom Transportation Company, Temple, Pennsylvania.

Don Ferrarese: work for a sporting goods store in Pleasant Hill, California.

Morrie Martin: “intends to buy into a meat-processing plant in Washington, Missouri, and will study the butchering trade.”

Hal Woodeshick: work for the Baldwin Supply Company, learning to be a salesman in the industrial mill supply business in Charleston, West Virginia.

Randy Jackson: work at his insurance business in Athens, Georgia.

Vic Wertz: has a beer distributorship in Mount Clemens, Michigan.

Gary Bell: work for a photographer in San Antonio, taking pictures of school children.

Rudolph and WagginDon Rudolph: work as a clothes-catcher for his wife, burlesque star Patti Waggin (together at left). No, Patti Waggin was not her real name. Rudolph and Waggin are both deceased but they have a website and each still has a fan club you can join. Mike Hasse has written a brief bio of Rudolph.

Nellie Fox: operates a bowling establishment in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

Early Wynn: in the construction business in Nokomis, Florida.

Dick Donovan: “has a thriving insurance agency of his own in Quincy, Massachusetts.”

Billy Pierce: helps out in the pharmacy owned by his dad in Detroit.

Gerry Staley: works in a lumber mill in Vancouver, Washington.

Jim Rivera: “will give his father-in-law a hand on the latter’s farm near Angola, Indiana.”

Ron Jackson: will break into the insurance field as a salesman in Kalamazoo.

Alex Kellner: roping mountain lions in his native Arizona to sell to zoos and circuses.

Joe Nuxhall: salesman for a trucking firm in his native Hamilton, Ohio.

Bob Purkey: public relations man for the Vienna Baking Company in Pittsburgh.

Hal Jeffcoat: construction work and “peddle some real estate and insurance” in Tampa.

Don Newcombe: whiskey business in Newark, New Jersey.

Walt Dropo: sell real estate in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

Pete Whisenant: has a bar in Charlotte (“I’ll sell beer and drink beer”).

Smoky Burgess: run a service station in Forest City, North Carolina.

Bob Schmidt: “will wrestle a concrete mixer in St. Louis.”

Sad Sam Jones: drive a lumber truck in West Virginia.

Larry Jackson: “plans to work on the sports staff of the Idaho Daily Statesman back in Boise.” (After his playing days Jackson served in the Idaho legislature and ran for governor.)

Stan Musial: “has a bowling alley to look after, in addition to his restaurant, banks, etc.”

Del Ennis: opening a bowling alley in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania.

Irv Noren: owns a bowling alley in Pasadena, California.

Eddie Kasko: work with a beer distributor in Richmond, Virginia.

Ray Katt: sell life insurance in New Braunfels, Texas.

Wilmer Mizell: with a new insurance firm in St. Louis.

Jim Brosnan: will resume his job with a Chicago advertising agency. (During the 1959 season Brosnan would write the first of his classic books, “The Long Season.”)

Sal Maglie: has a liquor store in Niagara Falls, New York.

Quite a few players reported they would be involved in some variation of taking it easy, and a number were playing winter ball. But most of them had gainful employment.

Super-low strikeout pitchers of the 1970s and ’80s

Strikeouts are at an historic level in the major leagues. In 2013 American League pitchers struck out a league-record 7.65 batters per nine innings; the National League record of 7.69 was set in 2012. (The NL dropped to 7.49 this past season, a number that’s been topped only by the two previously mentioned.)

It wasn’t that long ago (at least in the mind of this 55-year-old) that these numbers not only weren’t “average,” they were off the charts. No pitcher who qualified for the ERA title reached 7.69 strikeouts per nine innings in the National League in 1974 or 1977, nor in the American League in 1980 or 1981 (after Nolan Ryan left the league; Ryan was the only AL pitcher who topped that mark in 1972, 1973, 1977 and 1979).

Jeremy Guthrie, who had the lowest strikeout rate in the majors in 2013, would have been an above-average strikeout pitcher in the American League from 1978-81

Jeremy Guthrie, who had the lowest strikeout rate in the majors in 2013, would have been an above-average strikeout pitcher in the American League from 1978-81

Len Barker led the AL with 6.83 K/9 in 1980; 56 pitchers topped that mark in the major leagues in 2013, or 69% of those who qualified for the ERA title. The lowest K/9 rate for a qualifying pitcher in 2013 was Jeremy Guthrie’s 4.72; in 1980, 48 of the 89 qualifying pitchers in the majors — more than half — had lower rates.

In the 1970s and early ’80s there were pitchers who were successful, at least for a limited time, despite extremely low K/9 rates. This article focuses on what I will characterize as “super-low” strikeout rates — below 3.0 K/9.

First some context…pitchers with super-low strikeout rates were quite common through the 1940s and weren’t uncommon until the late 1950s, as league-wide K/9 rates didn’t reach 5.0 until 1958 in the NL and 1959 in the AL (you can see the year-by-year numbers for the National League here and the American League here). Then when the strike zone was expanded by definition from 1963-68, strikeouts soared, with the AL reaching 6.0 K/9 four times during that period. (The NL didn’t hit 6.0 until 1969, when the strike zone had shrunk and the mound was lowered, but the league had expanded by 20%.)

From 1962 through 1971, only one pitcher who qualified for the ERA title (and from now on when I say “pitcher,” that’s what I mean) was below 3.0 K/9 in a season: knuckleballer Joe Niekro, then a youngster with the first-year San Diego Padres, who had 2.52 K/9 and an 8-18 record (although his adjusted ERA was right around league average). Niekro went on to win 221 games in his career, but in his best seasons his K/9 was always above 4.

Steve KlineThe first pitcher since 1960 to have a good season with a super-low strikeout rate was Yankee right-hander Steve Kline, who went 16-9 with a 2.40 ERA in 1972 and a K/9 rate of just 2.21, still the lowest for a pitcher with an adjusted ERA better than league average since Sandy Consuegra in 1954. Kline’s K/9 rate was half what it had been as a rookie in 1970 and one-third less than what it was in 1971. He succeeded thanks to allowing just 11 home runs and two stolen bases in 236-1/3 innings, walking 1.7 batters per nine innings, getting 26 ground-ball double plays behind him and allowing a BABIP of .242 (ridiculously low, but not as ridiculous as it sounds today; the league BABIP in the 1972 AL was .267, compared to .298 in the 2013 AL). He ranked third in the league in BB/9 and fourth in HR/9, a powerful combination. Kline wasn’t able to continue his success (which we’ll find to be true for most super-low strikeout pitchers), spending just two more years in the majors with a record of 9-17.

The only other super-low strikeout pitcher in 1972 was Carl Morton (2.67), who was 7-13 with a 3.92 ERA for Montreal.

Starting in 1973, strikeouts went into decline. In the American League that was partially explained by the arrival of the designated hitter, pulling weak-hitting pitchers out of the lineup. The K/9 rate in the ’73 AL (5.10) was down 7.3% from the previous year and 14.4% from 1968, and it dropped further from there. The National League, even with pitchers continuing to bat, saw a decline in K/9 at the same time, dropping 4.2% in 1973 and another 5.2% in 1974. The AL K/9 rate stayed below 5.0 from 1974-83 (except for the expansion season of 1977 when it hit 5.0) and didn’t rise above 1973 levels until 1985. In the NL, the K/9 rate stayed at or below 1973 levels through 1982. Both leagues saw significant spikes in K/9 in 1986 and have never gone back to where they were before that.

During the 12 seasons from 1973 through 1984, there were 69 pitcher/seasons with a K/9 rate below 3.0 (the complete list is coming up in a bit). Keep in mind these weren’t just low strikeout rates — these were super-low strikeout rates. And some of these pitchers had excellent seasons…they just didn’t have very many of them. Here are some comments:

Al FitzmorrisAl Fitzmorris: The Royals’ righty went 13-6 in 1974 followed by a 16-12 mark in 1975, with adjusted ERAs better than league average both seasons. In fact, his adjusted ERA in 1974 was 36% better than league average, still the best for any super-low-strikeout pitcher since Sandy Consuegra in 1954. Fitzmorris had another good season (15-11, 3.06 ERA) in 1976, when he pulled his K/9 rate up to 3.3, but won just seven games in the majors after that.

Clyde Wright: The Angels’ lefty was a low-strikeout pitcher when he was good, going 22-12 in 1970 with a K/9 of 3.8 and 18-11 in 1972 with a K/9 of 3.1. But when he dipped into super-low-strikeout territory, his record suffered, losing 19 games in 1973 and 20 in 1974. He had just one, ineffective, season in the majors after that.

Dave McNally: McNally’s K/9 rate plunged in 1973 (it had been as high as 6.7 when he won 22 games in 1968), but he still won 17 games with an adjusted ERA better than league average. He was helped by having 50 outs by non-batters (31 ground-ball double plays, 12 caught stealing and 7 pickoffs). His K/9 went back up to 3.9 in 1974, when he went 16-10, then he abruptly retired during the 1975 season after getting off to a poor start.

Jim Perry: Perry was a below-average strikeout pitcher as a youngster but improved later in his career; in his back-to-back 20-win seasons for the Twins in 1969-70 his K/9 was above 5 both years. As an older pitcher Perry slipped into the super-low zone but remained effective. In 1973 he had a winning record and a league-average adjusted ERA, then in 1974, at age 38, he went 17-12 with a 2.96 ERA while striking out 2.54 batters per nine innings. In 1975 he was hit hard and knocked out of the majors.

Jim Barr: Barr’s strikeout rates were always below average, but he spent three years in the super-low zone. In 1975 and ’76 he won a total of 28 games for the Giants with adjusted ERAs considerably better than league average and extremely low home run rates both years.

Bill LeeBill Lee: Boston’s “Spaceman” had a 7.8 K/9 as a rookie in 1969, but his strikeout rate plummeted once he became a full-time starter in 1973. He had three good seasons with super-low strikeout rates, going 17-9 for the 1975 AL champion Red Sox, 10-10 with a 3.46 ERA for the 1978 Bosox and 16-10 with a 3.04 ERA for the 1979 Expos. Lee was helped in 1975 by having 50 outs recorded by someone other than the batter: 29 ground-ball double plays, 11 caught stealing and 10 pickoffs.

Larry Christenson: Christenson had a 4.6 K/9 ratio when he went 11-6 as a 21-year-old rookie for the 1975 Phillies, but the next year his K rate went super-low as he went 13-8 with an adjusted ERA just slightly worse than league average. That 1976 season proved to be out of character; when he won 19 games in 1977 his K/9 was 4.8 and it eventually went as high as 6.

Randy Jones

Randy Jones

Randy Jones: Jones won a Cy Young Award in 1976 with a K/9 of 2.65. It didn’t hurt that he got 34 ground-ball double plays behind him, allowed just 1.4 walks per nine innings and had a miserly .241 BABIP. That matched his BABIP from the previous year, when he was runner-up in the Cy Young voting and led the league in ERA with a 3.3 K/9. Jones’ K rate had been 5 or better in his first two seasons in the majors. Plagued by arm trouble after 1976, he had only one more good season, and it came with a super-low strikeout rate in 1978 when he got a whopping 55 non-batter outs (36 ground-ball double plays, 13 caught stealing and 6 pickoffs) while allowing just six home runs in 253 innings. (ADDED 12/4/13: I just acquired a 1977 Padres media guide, which includes this tidbit about Jones — the average length of his 25 complete games in 1976 was 2:03, with a 1:38 win over Montreal and a 1:31 win over the Phillies, both of them shutouts at home so the home team didn’t bat in the ninth.)

Dock Ellis: Ellis had a K/9 of 7.1 in his first full season in the big leagues in 1969 and was above 5.0 in his best seasons with the Pirates in 1971-72. But his rate took a significant drop in 1974, and when he was traded to the American League in 1976 he slipped into the super-low zone. He still had a terrific year for the Yankees, going 17-8 with a better-than-league adjusted ERA, even though he walked more batters than he struck out. He was helped by an extremely low .251 BABIP (the league figure that year was .280) and a low home run rate. Ellis was traded twice in 1977 and wound up doing a good job for the Rangers (where his K/9 increased to 4.8), but after two more ineffective seasons he was out of the majors.

Ken Holtzman: Holtzman had a 7.0 K/9 as a rookie with the Cubs in 1966 and stayed above 6 through 1971. But when he was traded to the American League in 1972 his K rate dropped, and in 1976 it took another big tumble, all the way to 2.41. He still managed to be reasonably effective, going 14-11 with an adjusted ERA just slightly worse than league average, but he won only nine major league games after that season and was out of baseball at age 33.

Doyle Alexander: Alexander was a low-strikeout pitcher when he began his major league career but was super-low in 1976, when he went 13-9 with an adjusted ERA around league average, aided by a bizarrely low BABIP of .239. He went on to have an exceptionally long career for someone who started with such a low strikeout rate, pitching another 13 seasons in the majors, as his strikeout rate gradually improved, peaking at 5.5.

Dave RozemaDave Rozema: Rozema made the Tigers in 1977 as a 20-year-old and had an impressive rookie season, going 15-7 with a 3.09 ERA and leading the AL in fewest walks allowed per nine innings. But his K/9 rate of 3.8 did not bode well for his long-term prospects, and in ’78 he slipped into super-low strikeout range. His adjusted ERA was still considerably better than league average, although his record slipped to 9-12. After pitching more than 200 innings in each of his first two seasons, Rozema never threw as many as 150 innings in a season again, but he remained reasonably effective when he did pitch through 1985 and saw his K/9 rate gradually increase, peaking at 5.4.

Jack Billingham: Billingham had above-average strikeout rates as a young pitcher but took a big drop in 1973 and was a low-strikeout pitcher by 1975. He went super-low in 1978, as a teammate of Dave Rozema’s on the Tigers, putting up a 15-8 record with a league-average adjusted ERA. His K/9 rose slightly in 1979 when he had last effective season before being driven out of the majors in 1980. (In addition to Billingham and Rozema, the Tigers had another successful low-strikeout pitcher in that era: Mark Fidrych had a K/9 of 3.5 in his fabulous rookie season in 1976, helped by extremely low walk and home run rates, a .250 BABIP, and 16 caught stealing.)

Jerry Augustine and Lary Sorensen: These late-’70s Brewers teammates had multiple super-low seasons. Augustine wasn’t terribly effective in 1977 or 1978, although he did have a winning record in ’78. Sorensen was better, going 18-12 with a 3.21 ERA in ’78 at age 22, then posting winning records with adjusted ERAs slightly better than league average in ’79 and ’80. After spending 1981 in the National League and seeing his K/9 rise to 3.3 with the chance to face the occasional pitcher, he returned to the AL and super-low-strikeout status in 1982 and was strafed. Another Brewers pitcher in the super-low strikeout club was:

Mike Caldwell: Caldwell reached the majors in 1971 but had only one decent season (14-5, 2.95 ERA for the 1974 Giants with a 3.9 K/9) before coming out of nowhere to finish as runner-up for the Cy Young Award in 1978. He went 22-9 that year, 16-6 in 1979, and his K/9 rates were merely low those years. Beginning in 1980 he spent four straight years in the super-low zone, and while he had winning records all four years, his adjusted ERAs were worse than league average as he gave up a lot of hits and home runs. After a poor year in 1984 (with another super-low strikeout rate but not enough innings to qualify for the ERA title) he was out of the majors.

SplittorffPaul Splittorff: The Royals’ lefty had K/9 rates of 5 or better in his first two full seasons but was a low-strikeout pitcher after the DH rule was implemented. His three super-low-strikeout seasons included his best, when he was 19-13 with a 3.40 ERA in 1978, although that was helped by a career-low .247 BABIP that was 33 points below the league average.

Ross Grimsley: The lefty’s K rate was about league average when he won 18 games for the Orioles in 1974, but his rate later went super-low. His 2.18 K/9 in 1977 remains the lowest for a pitcher with a winning record since Sandy Consuegra in 1954 (him again), then in 1978 with the Expos he had 20 wins and a 3.05 ERA with a 2.87 K/9 (that .249 BABIP helped). His decline from there was quick, as he put up a 5.35 ERA in 1979 and won only seven games after that.

Bob Stanley: Stanley went 16-12 with an adjusted ERA better than league average in 1979 and a K/9 rate of just 2.33. An extreme ground-ball pitcher, he got 35 ground-ball double plays turned behind him. This came on the heels of a 15-2 season with a 2.60 ERA in 1978, when his K/9 was 2.41 but he did not pitch enough innings to qualify for the ERA title because he was used primarily in relief. Stanley was one of the rare pitchers who actually saw his K rate steadily increase over time, peaking at 5.9 in 1986.

Tommy John: John never topped the 6.2 K/9 of his rookie year, but he was at 4.6 or higher every year until his famed elbow surgery in 1974. After the surgery he had two seasons with K rates of 5 or better before going to the Yankees, when he became a low-strikeout pitcher. He won 21 games with a K/9 of 3.6 in 1979, then in 1980 he became the last pitcher to win 20 games with a super-low strikeout rate, helped by the league’s lowest home run rate and 46 non-batter outs (as well as only two stolen bases against him all year). John had three more super-low strikeout seasons (although only the first of them could be considered a good season) and pitched his final major league game just after his 46th birthday in 1989. John and Mike Caldwell are the only pitchers since 1960 to have four seasons in which they qualified for the ERA title and had a K/9 rate below 3.

ForschBob and Ken Forsch: Never a big strikeout pitcher, Bob Forsch saw his K/9 rate plunge into super-low territory for three straight seasons (1981-83), the first two of which were good: 10-5 in 1981, 15-9 for the 1982 World Series champion Cardinals, with adjusted ERAs better than league average both seasons. He had only one season you could consider good after that, even though his K rate went back up, but he stayed in the majors through 1989, and his 168 career wins are the most for any pitcher with a career K/9 rate below 4.0 in baseball’s expansion era (since 1961). Older brother Ken had a K/9 rate as high as 6.7 early in his career but later had two super-low seasons, with winning records and better-than-league adjusted ERAs in each.

Rick Honeycutt: Technically Honeycutt had just one super-low strikeout season, 1981, but he deserves special mention for 1983. In 174-2/3 innings with the Rangers that year he had a 2.42 ERA with a K/9 of 2.89 (good control, a low home-run rate and a phenomenal 50 non-batter outs in just 25 starts helped considerably). But in August he was traded to the Dodgers, and he struck out enough batters in the NL to raise his overall K/9 for the season to 3.1. However, he had pitched enough innings in the AL to qualify for, and win, the ERA title for that portion of the season in which he had a super-low strikeout rate.

Geoff Zahn: Zahn was a career low-strikeout pitcher who went super-low twice. In 1981 he didn’t have a good year (leading the AL in home runs allowed didn’t help), but in 1984 he had an adjusted ERA considerably better than league average and led the AL with five shutouts. He didn’t allow a single stolen base against him all season. Zahn was 39 when the season ended and pitched just seven more games in the majors. When he had his best record, going 18-8 for the 1982 Angels, his K/9 was 3.2.

Scott McGregorScott McGregor: Never a high-strikeout pitcher, the Oriole lefty barely slipped into the super-low zone in 1983 when his K/9 was 2.98. He went 18-7 with a 3.18 ERA for the World Series champions (and pitched effectively in three postseason starts), then followed that up with a so-so year and several poor ones.

Mark Thurmond: Thurmond went 14-8 with a 2.97 ERA for the 1984 National League champion Padres but spent another six years in the majors without a winning record and became a full-time relief pitcher.

Here now are all the pitchers who had super-low strikeout rates from 1973 through 1984:

Player Year SO/9 Age Tm Lg W L ERA ERA+ HR GDP SB CS PO OPS+
Clyde Wright 1973 2.28 32 CAL AL 11 19 3.68 96 26 28 8 2 1 110
Fritz Peterson 1973 2.88 31 NYY AL 8 15 3.95 93 18 22 2 4 0 114
Jerry Bell 1973 2.79 25 MIL AL 9 9 3.97 95 14 17 6 9 6 102
Jim Perry 1973 2.93 37 DET AL 14 13 4.03 101 22 20 5 8 1 104
Milt Pappas 1973 2.67 34 CHC NL 7 12 4.28 92 20 20 14 5 0 119
Dave McNally 1973 2.94 30 BAL AL 17 17 3.21 116 16 31 10 12 7 86
Jim Perry 1974 2.54 38 CLE AL 17 12 2.96 122 11 17 12 12 0 82
Al Fitzmorris 1974 2.51 28 KCR AL 13 6 2.79 136 8 18 13 2 1 82
Clyde Wright 1974 2.48 33 MIL AL 9 20 4.42 81 22 26 8 2 0 110
Jim Barr 1975 2.84 27 SFG NL 13 14 3.06 125 17 24 11 10 2 98
Al Fitzmorris 1975 2.90 29 KCR AL 16 12 3.57 108 16 28 24 11 4 94
Claude Osteen 1975 2.77 35 CHW AL 7 16 4.36 90 16 21 13 12 3 117
Bill Lee 1975 2.70 28 BOS AL 17 9 3.95 105 20 29 12 11 10 92
Carl Morton 1975 2.53 31 ATL NL 17 16 3.50 108 19 18 23 11 1 100
Jim Barr 1976 2.68 28 SFG NL 15 12 2.89 125 9 23 20 4 5 90
Randy Jones 1976 2.65 26 SDP NL 22 14 2.74 119 15 34 15 3 2 74
Larry Christenson 1976 2.88 22 PHI NL 13 8 3.68 96 8 16 12 3 1 120
Dock Ellis 1976 2.76 31 NYY AL 17 8 3.19 108 14 20 19 6 2 94
Dave Roberts 1976 2.82 31 DET AL 16 17 4.00 93 16 25 27 10 1 96
Paul Hartzell 1976 2.77 22 CAL AL 7 4 2.77 120 6 25 15 6 1 96
Ken Holtzman 1976 2.41 30 TOT AL 14 11 3.65 93 18 25 13 11 1 116
Doyle Alexander 1976 2.60 25 TOT AL 13 9 3.36 102 12 17 24 12 3 86
Jerry Augustine 1977 2.93 24 MIL AL 12 18 4.48 91 23 20 15 13 0 105
Fernando Arroyo 1977 2.58 25 DET AL 8 18 4.17 103 23 24 6 9 1 97
Ross Grimsley 1977 2.18 27 BAL AL 14 10 3.96 96 24 33 8 4 0 112
Player Year SO/9 Age Tm Lg W L ERA ERA+ HR GDP SB CS PO OPS+
Ross Grimsley 1978 2.87 28 MON NL 20 11 3.05 115 17 26 11 7 2 87
Jim Barr 1978 2.43 30 SFG NL 8 11 3.53 98 7 12 16 4 2 102
Randy Jones 1978 2.53 28 SDP NL 13 14 2.88 115 6 36 13 13 6 103
Lary Sorensen 1978 2.50 22 MIL AL 18 12 3.21 118 14 18 12 8 3 76
Jerry Augustine 1978 2.82 25 MIL AL 13 12 4.54 83 14 23 9 5 0 104
Paul Splittorff 1978 2.61 31 KCR AL 19 13 3.40 112 22 26 13 7 6 85
Dave Rozema 1978 2.45 21 DET AL 9 12 3.14 123 17 16 10 12 1 84
Jack Billingham 1978 2.63 35 DET AL 15 8 3.88 99 16 27 14 10 1 107
Dennis Lamp 1978 2.94 25 CHC NL 7 15 3.30 122 16 20 28 9 1 84
Bill Lee 1978 2.24 31 BOS AL 10 10 3.46 120 20 23 7 7 6 103
Bill Lee 1979 2.39 32 MON NL 16 10 3.04 121 20 16 14 8 3 95
Phil Huffman 1979 2.91 21 TOR AL 6 18 5.77 75 25 9 12 6 0 125
Paul Hartzell 1979 2.43 25 MIN AL 6 10 5.36 82 18 22 16 7 1 111
Lary Sorensen 1979 2.41 23 MIL AL 15 14 3.98 105 30 25 11 6 4 92
Paul Splittorff 1979 2.89 32 KCR AL 15 17 4.24 101 25 23 21 4 1 95
Ken Forsch 1979 2.94 32 HOU NL 11 6 3.04 116 14 16 8 4 0 80
Bob Stanley 1979 2.33 24 BOS AL 16 12 3.99 112 14 35 14 7 1 91
Tommy John 1980 2.65 37 NYY AL 22 9 3.43 115 13 33 2 12 1 89
Lary Sorensen 1980 2.48 24 MIL AL 12 10 3.68 106 13 28 5 6 3 112
Mike Caldwell 1980 2.96 31 MIL AL 13 11 4.03 96 29 33 9 10 1 108
Paul Splittorff 1980 2.34 33 KCR AL 14 11 4.15 97 17 25 13 8 0 104
Rick Honeycutt 1981 2.82 27 TEX AL 11 6 3.31 104 12 18 0 2 2 87
Bob Forsch 1981 2.97 31 STL NL 10 5 3.18 112 7 10 13 3 2 80
Glenn Abbott 1981 2.42 30 SEA AL 4 9 3.94 99 14 13 10 6 2 98
Eddie Solomon 1981 2.69 30 PIT NL 8 6 3.12 117 10 12 3 6 2 107
Player Year SO/9 Age Tm Lg W L ERA ERA+ HR GDP SB CS PO OPS+
Fernando Arroyo 1981 2.74 29 MIN AL 7 10 3.93 101 11 20 10 8 0 113
Mike Caldwell 1981 2.56 32 MIL AL 11 9 3.93 88 18 17 4 1 0 120
Randy Martz 1981 2.67 25 CHC NL 5 7 3.68 101 6 15 11 7 1 106
Jim Palmer 1981 2.47 35 BAL AL 7 8 3.75 97 14 14 10 4 1 101
Geoff Zahn 1981 2.90 35 CAL AL 10 11 4.41 82 18 18 4 6 3 112
Bob Forsch 1982 2.67 32 STL NL 15 9 3.48 105 16 18 20 17 5 101
Mike Caldwell 1982 2.62 33 MIL AL 17 13 3.91 97 30 38 8 6 2 103
Lary Sorensen 1982 2.95 26 CLE AL 10 15 5.61 74 19 25 11 4 3 126
Ken Forsch 1982 2.88 35 CAL AL 13 11 3.87 105 25 16 9 11 0 92
Tommy John 1982 2.76 39 TOT AL 14 12 3.69 108 15 27 5 8 0 95
Bob Forsch 1983 2.70 33 STL NL 10 12 4.28 85 23 12 14 9 5 110
Ed Lynch 1983 2.27 27 NYM NL 10 10 4.28 85 17 18 6 6 0 126
Mike Caldwell 1983 2.29 34 MIL AL 12 11 4.53 83 35 28 10 10 3 126
Larry Gura 1983 2.56 35 KCR AL 11 18 4.90 83 23 24 11 10 4 119
Scott McGregor 1983 2.98 29 BAL AL 18 7 3.18 124 24 23 9 5 2 94
Tommy John 1983 2.49 40 CAL AL 11 13 4.33 93 20 32 5 7 0 111
Tommy John 1984 2.33 41 CAL AL 7 13 4.52 89 15 24 12 6 1 119
Geoff Zahn 1984 2.75 38 CAL AL 13 10 3.12 129 11 27 0 7 3 83
Mark Thurmond 1984 2.87 27 SDP NL 14 8 2.97 121 12 15 15 5 1 90
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/1/2013.

In the nine seasons from 1985 to 1993 there were only eight pitchers who had a K/9 rate below 3. A few of them had good seasons:

  • Ron Romanick went 14-9 with a league-average adjusted ERA for the 1985 Angels. He won just five games in the majors after that.
  • Andy Hawkins was 18-8 with a 3.15 ERA for the 1985 Padres. His K/9 had been 4.7 the previous season and was 5.0 the following year, so his super-low rate in ’85 was an aberration.
  • Jeff Ballard put up an 18-8 mark with a better-than-league adjusted ERA in 1989 for the Orioles after entering the season with a 10-20 major league record. He went 8-23 over the next two seasons.
  • Bill Gullickson is the last pitcher to have a winning record with a super-low strikeout rate, going 14-13 for the 1992 Tigers. He also led the league in home runs allowed that year and had a below-league-average adjusted ERA. Gullickson won 20 games for the 1991 Tigers, making him the last pitcher to win 20 with a K/9 rate of less than 4. He had a 7.7 K/9 as a 21-year-old rookie in 1980 but quickly became a below-average strikeout pitcher.

In the 11 seasons from 1994 to 2004 there were only two super-low strikeout pitchers, the last of which was Kirk Rueter for the 2004 Giants. Rueter didn’t have a good record that season, and he finished his career with an adjusted ERA worse than league average, but he did finish with a lifetime mark of 130-92 to give him the highest winning percentage (.586) for any pitcher in the expansion era with at least 70 wins and a career K/9 rate of less than 4.0. (It should be said, though, most of his best seasons came with K/9 rates of 4.6 or higher).

And in the past nine seasons (2005-13)? The lowest K/9 rate was Chien-Ming Wang‘s 3.14 with the 2006 Yankees, when he won 19 games with an adjusted ERA 25% better than league average. He also had the league’s lowest home-runs-allowed rate and got 53 non-batter outs (33 ground-ball double plays, 11 caught stealing and 9 pickoffs). He won 19 again the next year, but his K/9 jumped to 4.7.

Even including the era when super-low strikeout pitchers were not uncommon, it’s been hard for a pitcher with low strikeout rates to maintain a successful career of any length. I used Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index to search for pitchers since 1960 who meet these criteria:

  1. At least 100 career wins and
  2. A winning record and
  3. A career adjusted ERA of league-average or better

There are 183 of them. Here’s the breakdown by career strikeout rate:

  • 4 with K/9 of 9+ (Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax)
  • 15 with K/9 of 8-8.99
  • 28 with K/9 of 7-7.99
  • 48 with K/9 of 6-6.99
  • 55 with K/9 of 5-5.99
  • 28 with K/9 of 4-4.99
  • 5 with K/9 of <4.00

Of those bottom five low strikeout pitchers, Paul Splittorff had the most wins (166), Larry Gura the best winning percentage, Bob Stanley the best adjusted ERA and Bill Lee the lowest K/9 (3.30). The other pitcher is Geoff Zahn. Zahn barely qualified, with a career record four games over .500, and Splittorff barely qualified with an adjusted ERA less than 1% better than league.

SorensenSo it’s tough enough as a low-strikeout pitcher. But as a super-low-strikeout pitcher? Forget it. Since 1960, only nine pitchers have reached double figures in LIFETIME wins with a career K/9 below 3. The wins leader among them, by far, is Lary Sorensen with 93 — and he finished with a losing record and an adjusted ERA worse than league average. Only Jerry Bell had a winning career record, a better-than-league adjusted ERA and a career K/9 less than 3 — and he won a total of 17 games.

Have we seen the last of starting pitchers who strike out fewer than three batters per nine innings? People may have felt that way in the late 1960s and were proven wrong, but at this point it’s hard to imagine another super-low strikeout pitcher ever getting regular action.

No, Bill Sharman was never ejected from a major league baseball game as a member of the Dodgers

Bill Sharman, who died Friday (Oct. 25) at age 87, had a remarkable career in sports. One of only three men (along with John Wooden and Lenny Wilkens) to be a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach, Sharman was named first-team All-NBA four times, played in the NBA All-Star Game eight times (and was MVP in 1955) and starred on four NBA championship teams with the Boston Celtics. He went on to coach championship teams in three different professional leagues (the American Basketball League, the American Basketball Association and the NBA) and coached the Los Angeles Lakers to an NBA-record 33 consecutive wins in 1971-72. He left coaching to become the Lakers’ general manager and later president, and when the Lakers won the 1980 NBA title Sharman became just the second man, after Red Holzman, to be part of an NBA championship team as a player, coach and general manager.

But this post has to do with another facet of Bill Sharman’s life in athletics: his five seasons as a professional baseball player, including a brief tenure in the major league uniform of the Brooklyn Dodgers at the end of the 1951 season. His time with the Dodgers resulted in this entry on Sharman’s Wikipedia page:

…as a result of a September 27 game in which the entire Brooklyn bench was ejected from the game for arguing with the umpire, Sharman holds the distinction of being the only player to have ever been ejected from a major league game without ever appearing in one.

Similar language is found, at least when this was written, on Sharman’s Baseball-Reference.com Bullpen page and at BaseballLibrary.com, among many other sites. Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo even included the tale in their book “The Baseball Hall of Shame,” but they were smart enough to include this: “Officially, [Sharman and his teammates] weren’t ejected.” So they toned down the language to say he was “kicked out of a game without ever having played in one.”

Sharman may have been kicked out of the dugout, but he wasn’t kicked out of the game. Because he wasn’t “ejected,” as in not being allowed to play. Here’s what happened, according to the game story in the September 28, 1951 New York Times.

The Dodgers entered play on September 27 just one game ahead of the Giants, as their at-one-time-13-1/2-game lead was melting away. With the score tied 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning of Brooklyn’s game at Boston, Dodger second baseman Jackie Robinson fielded a ground ball and threw home in an attempt to retire Bob Addis trying to score from third. Catcher Roy Campanella took the throw and put what he thought was a tag on Addis, but home plate umpire Frank Dascoli ruled Addis safe to give the Braves the lead. Campanella jumped up and down, slammed his mitt on the ground and was ejected — as in, he was done playing for the day. Then Brooklyn manager Chuck Dressen, his coaches, pitcher Preacher Roe “and many other players swarmed around Dascoli in protest,” according to Times reporter Roscoe McGowen, with coach Cookie Lavagetto also being ejected.

Frank Dascoli ejecting Roy Campanella from the Sept. 27, 1951 game at Boston (photo from The Sporting News of Oct. 10, 1951)

Frank Dascoli ejecting Roy Campanella from the Sept. 27, 1951 game at Boston (photo from The Sporting News of Oct. 10, 1951)

That was all until the next Braves’ batter, Sid Gordon, grounded into a double play that would have ended the inning had Addis been called out. Apparently that led to audible griping from the Brooklyn bench, and so after Walker Cooper went up to bat for Boston, “Dascoli suddenly wheeled and ordered the Brooklyn bench cleared,” McGowen wrote. “Jocko Conlan, second-base arbiter, went to the bench and herded the players out. The boys took their time, many of them pausing en route to pay their compliments to Dascoli.”

But while the Dodger bench players had to go to the clubhouse, none of them were barred from playing in the game. And in the top of the ninth one of the dismissed players, Wayne Terwilliger, was used as a pinch-hitter (batting for Campanella’s replacement, Rube Walker) before the Dodgers went down to the defeat that cut their lead to one-half game with just three games to play (the Giants had only two remaining).

Sharman had been with the Dodgers for less than a week at the time of his “ejection.” An item in The New York Times of September 9, 1951 said Sharman was one of 13 players the Dodgers had recalled from the minor leagues. “Since their teams are all expected to be involved in the playoffs,” Joseph M. Sheehan wrote, “it is unlikely that any of the recalled players will report to the Brooks until next spring.” But Sharman had spent the season with Fort Worth, which did not make the playoffs in the Class AA Texas League, and according to an Associated Press story dated September 18 he was scheduled to report to the Dodgers on September 21. (I’ve not found a story that confirms he arrived on that date.) Sharman remained with the Dodgers, on the roster, in uniform and eligible to play, through the playoff series against the Giants that ended with Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round The World.”

Sharman had signed with the Dodgers for a reported $15,000 bonus in the spring of 1950, after his senior year at the University of Southern California, where he played baseball and was a first-team Sporting News All-America selection in basketball as a senior (along with future Celtics teammate Bob Cousy). The Sporting News story about his All-America selection listed his age as 22, typical for a college senior. But Sharman had spent two years in the Navy between high school and college, and he was actually 24. He went by the younger age through the duration of his pro baseball career and early in his pro basketball career as well. But at some point he came clean; by the time the first Sporting News NBA Guide was published in 1958, his birth date was listed as May 25, 1926, which is correct.

Bill Sharman as a Fort Worth Cat in 1951.

Bill Sharman as a Fort Worth Cat in 1951.

After spending the 1950 season at the Class A level, hitting .288 with 12 home runs between two teams, Sharman was promoted to Fort Worth in 1951. The next year he was advanced to the Dodgers’ Class AAA farm club at St. Paul in the American Association, where he had a solid year, hitting .294 with 16 homers and 77 RBI. That led to a headline on an Associated Press story in the Los Angeles Times in February 1953, “Bill Sharman Hopes To Play With Dodgers.” But in that story Sharman admitted he didn’t think he had much chance of starting the season in the big leagues, because of his late start to spring training due to basketball:

The pitchers will be ahead of the batters when I finally join the Dodgers for spring training and it’ll take a while to get my eyes tuned for some of those curve balls. By that time I may be on my way back to St. Paul. When I reported last season I was so far behind that I asked Buzzy Bavasi (the Dodgers’ vice president) to assign me to whatever club he felt I was ready for.

Bavasi must not have thought Sharman was as ready in ’53 as he was in ’52. The Celtics progressed further in the NBA playoffs than they had the previous season (Sharman was named second team All-NBA and played in his first All-Star Game) and Sharman wasn’t able to report to spring training until March 31. When he arrived the Dodgers immediately assigned them to their Mobile team in the Class AA Southern Association, one level below St. Paul. And Sharman didn’t even start the season with Mobile, as he remained at the Dodgers’ training camp in Vero Beach, Florida “for further batting instruction” (according to an item in The Sporting News) during Mobile’s opening series.

It was a disappointing season for Sharman. On May 8 he broke his left hand sliding into home during a game. He wound up playing in just 90 games, finishing with a .211 batting average, and at the end of the season he announced he was retiring from baseball to concentrate on basketball.

But in 1955 — after missing the entire 1954 season — Sharman returned to the diamond. Shortly after Sharman was named MVP of the NBA All-Star Game in January 1955, Dodger officials persuaded him to give baseball another try with the promise he would be assigned to St. Paul. “He has so much natural ability, hits with power and can run, that we think he has a fine chance,” Buzzie Bavasi said. “So we’re giving it to him.” (Keep in mind the Dodgers thought Sharman was about to turn 27 years old, when he was really about to turn 29.)

From The Sporting News of May 4, 1955

From The Sporting News of May 4, 1955

And Sharman had a fine year in St. Paul, batting .292 with 11 homers in 133 games — a remarkable performance, when you think about it, for someone who had missed an entire season and returned to the highest level of the minors. “If I honestly didn’t think I could make it in the big leagues, I would not be playing in St. Paul this season,” Sharman told reporter Joe Hennessy in a story that was published in The Sporting News of May 4, 1955. “I’m ready. And if I make it in the majors I’ll give up pro basketball. I have a wife and three youngsters and I know that I could last four or five years longer in baseball than in basketball.”

But the Dodgers weren’t exactly hurting for talent (they won the National League pennant in 1955, for the third time in seven years, and would win again in ’56) and the call to the majors didn’t come for Sharman. In February 1956 — after playing in his fourth straight NBA All-Star Game, during a season in which he would be named first team All-NBA — it was clear that Sharman was frustrated that he couldn’t play major league baseball. He talked to George C. Caerns for a story in the Boston Traveler of February 7, 1956:

I’ve asked the Brooklyn Dodgers for my release, so far as minor league assignments are concerned. I figure it’s now or never for a fling in the majors. I hope the Brooklyn brass will see it my way. I’m figuring that as a free agent I might be able to catch on with the Washington Senators. But it all depends on what Brooklyn decides.

Apparently the Dodgers didn’t go for Sharman’s proposal, and an item in The Sporting News of March 28, 1956 said he had retired from baseball.

Others tried combining careers in pro basketball and baseball in the ’50s; Dick Groat, a college All-America basketball player who won a National league MVP award, did so briefly, and Gene Conley, who had the benefits of being both 6’8″ and a pitcher (so he didn’t play baseball every day), did so for a longer period. Steve Hamilton, another tall pitcher, did it for a couple of years before he reached the majors. Then in the ’60s Dave DeBusschere, Cotton Nash and Ron Reed all combined both sports for a while. But Sharman may be the most intriguing of them all, even though he never played major league baseball. None of the others were NBA all-stars while playing pro baseball, and Sharman did quite well at the highest level of the minors. Had he been in a less talent-laden organization than the Dodgers, he may have had a major league career. But how different things may have been in basketball if baseball had won him away. For instance, would anyone have come up with the game-day shootaround?

SABR member Nick Diunte has also written about Bill Sharman’s baseball career.

Things I found while looking for other things: Some unusual classifieds in The Sporting News

A few years ago I did a post with some classified ads that caught my eye in back issues of The Sporting News. Well, I’ve been doing a fair amount of Sporting News research lately, and I set aside some of the classifieds I saw along the way for when I had time to share them. Now I have time.

Let’s start with this one, from September 28, 1960:

TSN 9-28-60

What I’d love to know is, who picked up the phone when you called that number? Was that Satchel Paige’s home number, or the number for a business manger of some sort?

Satch wasn’t the only future Hall of Famer who used The Sporting News to look for work. This appeared on June 11, 1952:

TSN 6-11-52

The ad didn’t work; Joe Medwick, then 40 years old, had been let go as manager of the Tampa Smokers of the Class B Florida International League in May and never managed in professional baseball again.

This ad appeared in the issue of March 12, 1952:

TSN 3-12-52

I wonder if “Jimmie Hill, Legless Ball Player” was able to make a career of this? I haven’t been able to find anything else about him. He wanted to be the Max Patkin or San Diego Chicken of his day, and I gather his day didn’t agree.

Now a couple of business-related posts…this from April 15, 1943:

TSN 4-15-43

And this from August 19, 1943:

TSN 8-19-43

Maybe they were hard to come by in 1943 (almost everything was), but it seems to me two pairs of flip-down sun glasses would have cost less than an ad in a national publication like The Sporting News. Maybe there’s more to this than meets the eye…I saw the same ad in another issue, so clearly the Colonels were interested.

Now for some personal ads in TSN…this is from July 25, 1951:

TSN 7-25-51

Who was Bob Chickering and why was he out of touch? And why was The Sporting News the way to find him? And why the attorney? Had he come into an inheritance? Was his wife trying to divorce him? Somebody please figure this out.

This ad is from May 28, 1952:

TSN 5-28-52

North Platte didn’t have a team in Organized Baseball in 1952, so this must have concerned a town team. I hope the Bobs got connected.

This ad from during World War II is poignant…it was in the issue of February 17, 1944:

TSN 2-17-44

There’s a lot of story behind that one.

The last item I have to share is not a classified but a regular ad…unfortunately I failed to write down the date, but it was from the 1930s:

Feen-a-mint

First of all, um…that’s a diagram of an intestine. That’s gross. How is that supposed to make me look at the ad? Second of all. who has one of those Babe Ruth masks? Seems like that would have been a better visual for the ad. How many people sent in for their free Feen-a-mint/King of Swat mask combo? Was it supposed to be laxative gum for dad and the mask for Junior, or just what? All I know is if someone wearing that mask knocked on my door, I’d want to get him out of there pronto before the Feen-a-mint kicked in.

Oh wait, I found one of those masks…and Dad should have sent in for the gum, because this mask sold at auction for $1,160. Note what’s written on the auction page: “We’re not sure what was the overall concept for this promotion. Apparently ‘Feen-A-Mint’ executives envisioned thousands of youngsters in Babe Ruth masks, each of them anxious to take laxatives, and encouraging others to take them as well.”

Babe mask

Speaking of Feen-a-mint…the ad below is not from The Sporting News but from Woman’s World magazine in 1938, I found it here:

Feen-a-mint 1938

This makes me feel confident there’s a Feen-a-mint Advertising Hall of Fame somewhere. Feel free to post any links in the comments.

The oldest players to make their debut in the major leagues: Satchel Paige and the rest

The RookieJim Morris attracted a fair amount of attention when he made his major league baseball debut with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999, and even more when the story of his life became a movie starring Dennis Quaid (“The Rookie”) in 2002. A promising young pitcher who was drafted out of junior college as a 19-year-old, Morris gave up on his playing career in 1989 because of arm problems, went to college (and played football, leading the NCAA’s Division II in punting and earning Little All-America honors in 1992) and was a high school teacher and coach before his players encouraged him to give pro ball another shot — at age 35. The Devil Rays, in their second year of existence, signed him to a minor league contract and brought him to the big leagues that September.

On his website Morris refers to himself as “The Oldest Rookie” (although he has nothing on Quaid, who was 47 when he portrayed Morris in the movie). No doubt Morris put the words in quotation marks because he knows he wasn’t actually the oldest man to reach the major leagues; in fact, an older rookie reached the majors the year after Morris. Using Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index feature, I find 27 players who were at least 36 years old when they played in their first major league game, going back to 1916. The complete list is at the end of this post.

Of those players, five (Satchel Paige, Quincy Trouppe, Pat Scantlebury, Bob Thurman and Buzz Clarkson) were delayed in beginning their careers in Organized Baseball because they were black; six, all pitchers, came to the American majors from Japan (Ken Takahashi, Masumi Kuwata, Chang-Yong Lim, Keiichi Yabu, Satoru Komiyama and Takashi Saito); and seven others made their debut during World War II, when most younger players were in the service (Chuck Hostetler, Joe Berry, Lee Riley, Otho Nitcholas, Ernie Rudolph, Joe Vitelli and Buck Fausett).

Here are the stories of these oldest rookies (well, all except the ones who came from Japan). One thing almost all of them have in common: they passed themselves off as younger than they really were. Another thing almost all of them have in common: they were very good players, somewhere, for a long time.

Satchel Paige is the only player on this list in the Baseball Hall of Fame, enshrined largely for his achievements in the Negro Leagues and as a barnstormer before he reached the majors once the de facto ban on black players was lifted with the arrival of Jackie Robinson. Paige liked to stir up controversy about his birth date, and his age was always a matter of conjecture during his playing career, but it’s no longer questioned that he was born July 7, 1906, meaning he was two days past his 42nd birthday when he made his debut with the Cleveland Indians. He pitched regularly in the majors past his 47th birthday, was still an outstanding pitcher in the minors the year he turned 52, and pitched three shutout innings in a regular season major league game when he was 59.

OlivoDiomedes Olivo was older than he let on when he reached the major leagues in 1960. During his playing career he listed his birth date as Jan. 22, 1920; his obituary in The Sporting News after his death in 1977 said he had been a 40-year-old rookie. But it’s now believed he was born Jan. 22, 1919, making him 41 when he played in his first game for the Pittsburgh Pirates. A native of the Dominican Republic, Olivo didn’t start playing in the Cuban winter league until 1947 and didn’t begin playing in Organized Baseball until he was 36. According to a story by Harry Keck in The Sporting News of May 23, 1962, “Because of the language barrier, he preferred to play in Latin American countries and also had a horror of fighting his way up through the Class C and D leagues in this country.”

When Olivo did break into Organized Ball, it was with the Havana team of the International League, and after one season with them he spent the next four summers in Mexico, where he also played outfield and pinch-hit. The Pirates signed him in April 1960, after he had won 21 games in Mexico in 1959, and after a good season with the Bucs’ Columbus farm club in the International League Olivo made his debut for the Pirates in September. He was back at Columbus in 1961 and was named the IL’s Pitcher of the Year at age 42, then returned to Pittsburgh in ’62 and had a solid year pitching out of the bullpen at age 43.

HostetlerChuck Hostetler, the oldest man ever to bat in his first major league game (and the oldest man to get a hit in his debut), was also older than he claimed to be when he arrived in the big leagues. “Hustling Chuck Hostetler, Rookie at 38″ cries the page-width headline in the May 18, 1944, Sporting News, but although Chuck had given his birth date as Sept. 22, 1905 (it’s listed as Sept. 2, 1905 in the 1945 Street & Smith’s, likely just a typo), he was actually born Sept. 22, 1903, making him 40 when he earned a spot on the Detroit Tigers’ roster in spring training 1944. “In these days, anybody who can hit is mighty welcome on a ball club,” Tigers manager Steve O’Neill told Fred Lieb for that Sporting News article, “and Chuck really can hit.”

Hostetler had a .307 career average in ten minor league seasons (the first of which came when he was 25 but believed to be 23), then after the 1937 season he took a job at the ship canal in Baytown, Texas, to support his family, and turned to playing semi-pro ball. He later moved to Wichita and was a member of teams that took third place in the 1942 and 1943 semi-pro national tournaments.

After the 1943 season, Tigers general manager Jack Zeller was desperate for outfielders because of players called to military service, and among the people he queried searching for replacements was Red Phillips, a Tiger pitcher in the mid-’30s who was doing some umpiring around Wichita. Phillips recommended Hostetler, and once Zeller talked to Chuck and received assurances he was still in good physical condition (“I’m one of those wiry fellows who doesn’t put on much weight,” Hostetler reportedly told Zeller), Zeller invited Hostetler to spring training.

Hostetler hit .350 in exhibition games and was second on the team in runs batted in, earning a spot on the regular season roster. He finished the season with a .298 batting average in 90 games, 65 of which he started in the outfield, and was named to The Sporting News’ all-rookie team. He also spent the entire 1945 season on the Detroit roster but did not play as much or as well, hitting just .159 in 44 at-bats and starting only four games. But Hostetler was used as a pinch-hitter three times in the 1945 World Series against the Cubs. In his final appearance, in Game 6, he reached base on an error and later tried to score from second on a single but fell down between third and home and was tagged out. The Tigers went on to lose that game but won Game 7 to take the championship. (A story by Furman Bisher in The Sporting News of Oct. 20, 1973, said Hostetler fell down trying to score “the winning run in one of the games,” but the Tigers actually trailed 5-1 at the time, although they rallied to tie the score before losing in extra innings.) With the war over in 1946, Hostetler left Organized Ball.

Alex McColl in 1935

Alex McColl in 1935

Hostetler was, at the time of his debut, the oldest man to appear in his first major league game. The man who held that distinction before him was Alex “Red” McColl, who won 332 games in his minor league career, ranking sixth on the all-time list, the last of which came when he was a 47-year-old player-manager in the Class D Pennsylvania State Association. And he sat out one full season (1926, when he was “just” 32) as voluntarily retired, apparently due to an injury. But in 1933 — 18 years after he had begun his professional career — the Washington Senators brought the then-39-year-old McColl to the majors, and on Sept. 6 he pitched a four-hitter to beat the White Sox, 3-1. The Senators won the American League pennant and McColl pitched two scoreless innings in relief in Game 2 of the World Series. (It’s interesting that Paige and McColl pitched in the World Series in their debut year, Hostetler played in the World Series the year after and his team was in the race until the final day in his rookie year, and Olivo pitched for a team that won the World Series weeks after he debuted, although he was not eligible to play in it.)

I haven’t come across anything that explains why the Senators, in a pennant race, turned to a 39-year-old who not only had no major league experience but hadn’t even pitched at the highest minor league level for 11 years. (McColl wasn’t trying to fib about his age; The Sporting News reported him to be 39 after he reached the majors.) McColl spent most of the 1934 season with the Senators and did not play in the majors after that, but he spent another seven years (and won another 85 games) in the minors.

TroupeQuincy Trouppe (his birth name was spelled Troupe and that’s how it typically appeared in his playing days, he said he added the second “p” after playing in Mexico) is the oldest man to play a position other than pitcher in his major league debut. (Chuck Hostetler was a pinch-hitter in his first game.) Although he certainly didn’t own up to his age when he was with the Cleveland Indians in 1952…here’s what Harry Jones wrote in the Cleveland Plain Dealer of Feb. 28, 1952:

Quincy Troupe…denies the report he attended Satchel Paige’s christening.

But when asked to give his age today, right after he had checked into the Tribe’s training camp, the big fellow studied the pocket in his over-sized receiver’s mitt before answering.

“I’m 30,” he said at last. “That is, I’ll be 30 on my next birthday. Actually, I’m 29.”

An article in the Boston Daily Record after Troupe’s first regular season start said he was 35. Actually, Troupe had turned 39 the previous Christmas Day.

Trouppe had played in the Negro Leagues as a young man, then was a teammate of Satchel Paige’s on the integrated Bismarck (N.D.) Churchills team that won the first semi-pro national championship in 1935. Trouppe had also played in Mexico and played and managed in winter ball before joining the Indians, returning to Cleveland where he had been a player-manager for the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro American League from 1945-47.

Trouppe actually signed with Indianapolis of the American Association, which had a working agreement with Cleveland, but he earned a spot on the major league team with a strong spring training (“for the time being,” manager Al Lopez told reporters). Trouppe had his tonsils removed on April 21, just a week into the regular season, and wasn’t able to eat solid foods for a week after that.

The Indians’ regular catcher Jim Hegan sprained an ankle on April 30, and Trouppe made his debut as Hegan’s replacement in the game in which he was hurt. But in Hegan’s absence Lopez turned to 37-year-old Birdie Tebbetts as his primary catcher, because of Tebbetts’ knowledge of American League hitters from his 13 years in the league. Trouppe started just two games, getting his only major league hit in the second one, before being sent to Indianapolis when major league rosters had to be trimmed from 28 players to 25 in late May. The Associated Press item about Trouppe’s demotion said he was 29 years old. At the end of the season Trouppe was given $200 by his teammates as his share of the World Series earnings for the Indians’ second-place finish (a full share was worth $1,066.35).

After the 1952 season Troupe ended his playing career and became a scout for the St. Louis Cardinals, who at that time still hadn’t had a black player in the majors. “One of the first things Mr. [August] Busch told us when he [bought] the club was that he wanted good ball players regardless of race, color or creed,” Cardinals chief scout Joe Mathes told The Sporting News in January 1954. “With the help of Troupe, we’ve now got 13 colored boys among our 141 professional rookies.” But Trouppe was reportedly upset that his recommendations of future Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Roberto Clemente were ignored.

WillisLes “Wimpy” Willis, a left-handed screwball pitcher, took a very unusual path to reach the major leagues at age 39. Although, like so many others on this list, he had fudged his age; the 1947 Street & Smith’s gives his birth date as Jan. 17, 1912, when he was actually born four years before that.  Just 5’9″ and 195 pounds, Willis was described as “rotund,” “roly-poly,” “quite chubby” and “the portly portsider” — and I found all those without looking that hard. (“Wide Wimpy” was a nickname that appeared in print.)

I’m not sure why, but Willis didn’t begin his professional career until he was 24 years old (a Sporting News story of Aug. 28, 1946, confirms 1932 was his first year in the minors), and then he posted a 7-29 record in his first three seasons. At that point he rolled out three straight 20-win seasons at the Class C level, earning a promotion to Louisville of the American Association…where he lost 21 games in 1938. He bounced back to win 18 games for Memphis of the Southern Association in 1940 but fared worse the next two years, then missed three seasons (1943-45) entirely — not because he was fighting World War II but because his arm was bad.

It was tough to get a job playing baseball in 1946, with all the ballplayers back from the service, but somehow Willis not only caught on at Memphis, he had his best season, going 18-7 with a 2.37 ERA, leading the league with six shutouts, pitching 37-2/3 consecutive scoreless innings and throwing a no-hitter. The Cleveland Indians drafted him that winter and he spent the entire 1947 season in the big leagues. He didn’t pitch well and he didn’t win a game, although he did make two starts. He didn’t play pro ball after that season, and he later became mayor of his longtime home, Jasper, Texas.

Marrero“Connie” Marrero — who, as this was written, is the oldest former major leaguer at age 102 — deserves a much better telling of his life’s tale than I’m prepared to do here. Fortunately, Peter Bjarkman has done that as part of the Society for American Baseball Research Baseball Biography Project.

Marrero’s age was a constant topic of discussion during his five seasons with the Washington Senators. Morris Siegel wrote this in The Sporting News of May 9, 1951:

Marrero’s age has been estimated from 30 to 45. He’s mum on that subject, pointing only to the number on the back of his uniform when asked how old he is.

The number? 22.

In 1950, his rookie year with the Senators, Street & Smith’s listed his birth date as May 1, 1917. But he was actually born in Havana on April 25, 1911, making him four days short of his 39th birthday when he first appeared in a regular season game. As evidence that the estimates of Marrero’s age varied, a story in The Sporting News in June 1952 said he was 43, when that year’s Street & Smith’s said he was 35 and he was actually 41. To further emphasize the confusion, a Sporting News story in January 1955 said Marrero would be “43 in May,” which would finally have made him the age he was reported to be in the same publication three years earlier. And it was still wrong.

Marrero — somewhere between 5’5″ and 5’7″ in his playing days — broke into Organized Baseball in 1947 with the Havana team of the Florida International League and won 70 games over three seasons for that squad before joining the Senators. He was named to the All-Star team in 1951, got a tenth-place vote for Most Valuable Player in 1952 and had a good year in 1953 before his final major league season in 1954 at age 43. He pitched for Havana’s team in the Class AAA International League until 1957.

Pat Scantlebury

Pat Scantlebury

Pat Scantlebury, a native of Panama, is the oldest player to be in the starting lineup in his first major league game, but no one knew it at the time because he had shaved eight years off his age. An Associated Press story when Scantlebury was purchased by the Reds in October1955 said he was 29; the 1956 Street & Smith’s lists his birth date as Nov. 11, 1925. But he was actually born on Nov. 11, 1917, making him 38 when he first took the hill for Cincinnati. His major league career numbers (6 games with an 0-1 record and a 6.62 ERA) are misleading, as he had a notable baseball career over more than 25 years and is a member of the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame (he was inducted the same year as Diomedes Olivo).

Scantlebury came to the U.S. in 1944 to pitch for the New York Cubans of the Negro National League. He and Luis Tiant Sr. (father of the major league star) pitched the Cubans to the 1947 NNL pennant, and Scantlebury was the winning pitcher (in relief of Tiant) in the deciding game of the Negro World Series against Cleveland. Future major league star Minnie Minoso was the Cubans’ third baseman. Scantlebury also pitched in the Negro Leagues All-Star Game in 1949 and ’50.

In 1950 Scantlebury was named most valuable player of the National Baseball Congress’ national tournament for non-professional teams, allowing just four runs in 36-1/3 innings. His Fort Wayne Capeharts came through the losers’ bracket of the double-elimination tournament to meet unbeaten Elk City, Oklahoma, in the finals, with the Capeharts needing to win consecutive games to take the title. In the first game Scantlebury pitched a 12-inning four-hit shutout, striking out 12, and doubled in the game’s only run. The next night he came on in relief to face the tying run with two on and none out in the top of the ninth and retired all three batters he faced, striking out two, to nail down the win. From Wichita, the site of the tournament, the Capeharts flew to Tokyo and won the “First Official Inter-Hemisphere Playoff,” taking four of five games from a Japanese team in front of huge crowds. Scantlebury won the first and last games games, allowing just two runs in 18 innings, and was named best pitcher of the tournament.

Scantlebury had plenty of other experience before going into Organized Baseball, playing in his own country, in Caribbean winter leagues, in Mexico in 1951, and on Roy Campanella’s barnstorming teams that toured the U.S. after the 1951 and ’52 seasons. Then in 1953 Scantlebury joined Texarkana of the Class B Big State League and was a sensation, winning his first seven decisions and leading the league with 24 wins and 177 strikeouts while hitting five home runs (he was also used as a pinch-hitter). He won 20 games the next year, 18 for a Dallas team that finished a distant last in the Class AA Texas League and two after he was purchased by Havana of the Class AAA International League.

Scantlebury DallasThat was enough to earn Scantlebury a trip to Cincinnati’s training camp in 1955, but he had a bad arm and didn’t show much. Sent back to Havana, he was used as a starter and in relief and posted a 13-9 record with a 1.90 ERA. The Reds purchased his contract after the season and they had high hopes for him for 1956; Scantlebury fueled those hopes with an excellent spring training. But when the regular season came he didn’t get much of a chance.

Scantlebury started the second game of the season, against St. Louis, and was lifted after giving up a leadoff home run in the sixth inning, the fourth run he had allowed in the game. Five days later he started against the Cardinals again and was removed for a pinch-hitter after allowing three runs in four innings. That would be his final major league start. He made two more relief appearances before being sent back to Havana when the Reds had to reduce their roster to 25 players in mid-May, then was recalled in late July and made two more relief appearances before being sent to Seattle of the Pacific Coast League as compensation when the Reds acquired pitcher Larry Jansen from the Rainiers.

Cincinnati’s manager was Birdie Tebbetts…the same fellow who beat out Quincy Trouppe for the backup catching job in Cleveland in 1952. Tebbetts apparently wasn’t buying the party line that Scantlebury was 30, as evidenced by this exchange reported by W. Rollo Wilson of the Pittsburgh Courier in The Sporting News of June 26, 1956, after Scantlebury had been sent to Havana. Quoting Tebbetts, Wilson wrote, “‘He [Scantlebury] might still be able to help us in the stretch even if he is old and will never be any better than he is now.’ (Tebbetts glared at me, silently daring me to challenge his statement as to the Panamanian’s age.)”

Scantlebury continued to pitch in the high minors, and pitch well, through the 1961 season, when he was 43 years old. In nine years of Organized Baseball he won 114 games, despite not starting until he was 35. He made his home in New Jersey and continued to play semi-pro ball for some time after he left Organized Ball and later coached until contracting Parkinson’s disease a few years before his death in 1991.

ThurmanBob Thurman is another former Negro Leaguer who shaved some years off his age when he entered Organized Baseball. During his major league career Street & Smith’s always listed his birth date as May 14, 1923, but he was actually born six years before that and thus was a month away from his 38th birthday when he made his first appearance for the Reds in 1955. (I have a 1951 San Francisco Seals roster that shows his birth year as 1922.) Thurman played four years in the minors, then left Organized Baseball to play in the Dominican Republic in the summers of 1953 and ’54. In the winter of 1954-55 Thurman was part of an outfield with Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente on one of the greatest winter league teams of all time in Santurce, Puerto Rico, and that led to his signing with the Reds.

While he was only a part-time player in the majors, Thurman hit 35 home runs in 663 at-bats…not bad for a man who didn’t get the first of those at-bats until he was almost 38. He is also the all-time leader in home runs in the Puerto Rican Winter League and was the league MVP in 1950-51; he was part of the first class elected to the Puerto Rican Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Clemente and Orlando Cepeda, in 1991. Rick Swaine does a fine job telling Thurman’s story as part of the SABR Bio Project.

Joe Berry in 1944

Joe Berry in 1944

Add Joe Berry to the list of players who portrayed himself as younger than he was. Although he may not have been fooling anybody…Jim Coleman of the Toronto Globe and Mail wrote in The Sporting News in 1946, “Joe claims to be 37 years of age, but, actually, he is considerably older than that.” Heck, he was older than that in 1944, when Red Smith, writing in The Sporting News, gave Berry’s birth date as Dec. 16, 1905, making him 38. Street & Smith’s that year (and every year of his major league career) reported his birth date as Dec. 16, 1907, but it was actually Dec. 16, 1904.

Berry’s build would best be described as “slight.” While he was typically listed as weighing 145 pounds, Coleman wrote “he weighs only 135 pounds and looks as harmless as a dead moth.” His longtime nickname was “Jittery Joe” — “about the most inept misnomer a ball player ever wore,” Smith wrote. “It was inspired by his hitchy-itchy pitching motion. If there ever was a day when he experienced a single nervous jitter, the memory of it is buried somewhere deep in his dark and practically bottomless past.”

Berry began his professional career in 1927. He had three 20-win seasons in the low minors and later spent six years with the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. When the last of those seasons didn’t go so well (6-10, 5.26 ERA), the Angels sold him to Tulsa of the Texas League, where he had a superb year in 1942 with an 18-8 record, a 1.88 ERA and a no-hitter. The Cubs purchased him in September, and the then-37-year-old made two ineffective relief appearances.

He went to spring training with the Cubs in 1943 and survived until the last day, when he was sent to Milwaukee of the American Association and had another very good season (18-10, 2.78). The Philadelphia A’s purchased his contract that winter and Berry went on to become the American League’s top relief pitcher as a 39-year-old rookie in 1944 (10 wins, a 1.94 ERA and a league-leading 12 saves, figured retroactively), followed by another excellent performance in ’45.  He pitched one more year in the majors followed by two in the minors, then after a year off came back for two more seasons as a player-manager, ending his playing career at age 46 with 269 career professional wins.

Joe Strong

Joe Strong

Joe Strong was the player who came to the majors the year after Jim Morris. It was May 2000 — 16 years after he was drafted by the Oakland A’s out of the University of California, Riverside — when Strong made his first appearance for the Florida Marlins at age 37. His road to the majors may have been the most unusual of all.

Released by the A’s in January 1987, he sat out that entire season with an injury before returning to play with Reno, an independent team in the Class A California League, in 1988-89. Reno released him, after which he spent three years in Taiwan (1990-92) before returning to the minors with the Padres; was let go after the 1993 season and signed with another independent California League team for 1994; spent time as a “replacement player” for the Cubs during the major league players’ strike in the spring of 1995, then spent that season playing for a Canadian team in the independent Western League; had shoulder surgery and spent TWO years driving a forklift at a Sears warehouse before playing in Korea in 1998.

In 1999 — the same year Tampa Bay signed the 35-year-old Morris to a minor league contract — the Devil Rays also took a chance on the 36-year-old Strong, who threw hard but got lousy results. In July the Devil Rays loaned him to a team in the Mexican League, and after he was granted free agency at the end of the season he stayed in Mexico to play winter ball. That’s when he caught a break: one of the scouts who saw him there was Tim Schmidt, who was a first-year assistant coach at UC Riverside in Strong’s last season there, 1984. Here’s how Mike Berardino told the story in the Orlando Sentinel after Strong reached the big leagues in May 2000:

When he asked Strong how he was throwing in a brief pregame chat, Schmidt only was making conversation.

“Schmitty, I’m throwing 91-95 mph,” said Strong, then the top reliever for the Obregon Yaquis.

Schmidt rolled his eyes. “Come on, Joe,” he said. “I coached you.”

A few hours later, Strong got into the game and backed up his boast.

“The first pitch was 94 mph,” Schmidt said. “Next one was 95, then 96. I’m the only scout in the stands, and I’m sitting there thinking, ‘God almighty.’”

Schmidt talked his bosses into letting him sign a pitcher who had just turned 37. Strong started the 2000 season (in a foreign country, of course) with the Marlins’ Class AAA farm club at Calgary. Then in May, when Marlins pitcher Ricky Bones had to go on the disabled list when he strained his back watching TV in the clubhouse (seriously, that’s what the Miami Herald reported), Strong got the call he had long hoped for to come to the major leagues, and he didn’t allow a run in his first four appearances. He drew considerable national media attention as the oldest rookie since Diomedes Olivo. His manager, John Boles, wondering where a 37-year-old who threw 95 miles an hour came from, compared him to Sidd Finch.

“If I had a dollar for every time someone told me I was too old, I’d be a rich man and I wouldn’t be here,” Strong said after joining the Marlins. “But that just adds fuel to the fire.”

Strong pitched in 19 games during the season; three ugly appearances left his season ERA at a gruesome 7.32, but he did get a win and a save. He made five more appearances with the Marlins early in the 2001 season, and while he didn’t play in the majors after that, he kept pitching — in the minors, in independent leagues, in Mexico — until he was 41. (Thanks to SABR members Ed Washuta, Andy McCue and Rod Nelson for their help in confirming the chronology of Strong’s career.)

Lee Riley in 1950

Lee Riley in 1950

Leon “Lee” Riley may have been almost as unlikely to reach the major leagues as Strong. In 1942 he hit .204 in the Class B Interstate League. In 1943 he sat out the season in a salary dispute. In 1944 he started the season with the Phillies as a 37-year-old outfielder. Well, there was a war on, so that helped.

Riley had a long and successful minor league career, including four years as a player/manager before joining the Phillies, but most of it was in the lower minors.  He had won two batting championships and a home run title, all for teams he also managed (he would win another home run crown as a player-manager after leaving the Phils). He would finish his minor league career with 2,418 hits and a .314 batting average plus 248 homers (his Baseball-Reference.com stats are missing 23 hits and two homers he hit in 1927, according to The Minor League Register from Baseball America).

In his month in the major leagues Riley played four games, starting two, and got one hit before being sent back to the minors. He resumed his player-manager duties in 1945 and managed another eight seasons in the Phillies’ farm system (Baseball-Reference.com doesn’t show that he managed Wilmington in the Interstate League in 1952). In 1952 the Phils decided to replace major league manager Eddie Sawyer at midseason; Riley reportedly thought he had a chance to get the job, but it went to longtime big league skipper Steve O’Neill. The Phils dropped Riley as a manager at the end of that season, and his days in Organized Baseball were over.

Lee Riley managed the Terre Haute Phillies in 1949

Lee Riley managed the Terre Haute Phillies in 1949

According to his obituary in the Schenectady (N.Y.) Gazette, Riley operated a variety store after his baseball career ended and “was associated with” Bishop Gibbons High School in Schenectady from 1964 until his death from a heart attack in 1970. An article in Sports Illustrated in 1985 said Riley had suffered “business setbacks” and had been a janitor at Bishop Gibbons; his obituary doesn’t mention any custodial duties but says he was the school’s baseball coach in 1969 and ’70.

Lee Riley had two sons who played professional sports. Lee Riley Jr. spent five seasons in the NFL and two in the AFL from 1955-62. The youngest of Lee Sr.’s six children was a high school quarterback who turned down a chance to play for Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama to pursue a career in basketball. That turned out pretty well for Pat Riley, who won five NBA championships as coach of the Lakers and Heat to earn a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Billy Williams

Billy Williams

Billy Williams (not the Hall of Famer who played at roughly the same time) was the oldest man ever to be used as a pinch-runner in his major league debut — and he was thrown out trying to score the tying run from third on a two-out safety squeeze bunt. Home plate umpire Frank Umont said Williams missed the plate. “He was so intent on kicking the ball away from [Baltimore catcher Elrod] Hendricks he missed the plate entirely,” Umont said after the game. “Yeah, I heard Williams was making his first big league appearance after something like 17 years in the minors. It’s tough. He had a chance to be a hero. But he blew it.”

Williams’ side of the story: “I knew I was safe. I was. And listen, Hendricks never did make the tag. He has to tag me out on that play [it was not a force-out situation]; he can’t just touch the plate or wait for me to leave the basepath. He has to make the tag, and he STILL hasn’t tagged me.”

Such was life with the 1969 Seattle Pilots.

Umont actually underestimated the length of Williams’ apprenticeship; 1969 was his 18th season of minor league baseball. Williams finally did score a run before his 10-day major league career ended, but he never did get a hit.

Williams’ age has changed over the years. I don’t have any publications from his playing days that include his birth date, but when he was called up to the Pilots in mid-August 1969 he was reported to be 35. Later his birth date was given as June 13, 1933, which would have made him 36 when he reached the majors. But after he died in June 2013, his obituary listed his birth date as June 13, 1932, which would have made him 37 when he debuted. Of course, his obituary also says he was 39 when he played for the Pilots, so there’s at least one error in the obituary. (By the way, it was the news of Williams’ death that triggered the idea for this post.)

Billy Williams began his professional baseball career in 1952 as the first African-American player in the Class D Mountain States League, a six-team loop with towns in Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky. In 1954 he began a 15-year career in the Cleveland organization, not reaching the Class A level until 1960. But from 1961-69 he was a regular in the Pacific Coast League, never a star but always good enough to play, and he spent some time as a player-coach in Portland.

The Pilots acquired him early in the 1968 season, the year before the team actually hit the field, and assigned him to the PCL’s Seattle Angels; there he was a teammate of pitcher and future author Jim Bouton, who had also signed early with the Pilots. Williams was hitting .283 with seven homers and 79 RBI (his highest RBI total in nine years) for Vancouver in ’69 when he got the call to the big leagues.

One of my beat-up paperback copies of "Ball Four" (I have two, shouldn't everybody?)

One of my beat-up paperback copies of “Ball Four” (I have two, shouldn’t everybody?)

And yes, Williams does appear in Bouton’s classic diary of the 1969 season, “Ball Four.” “He’s a good-hitting outfielder,” Bouton wrote. “He should have had a better shot but I think he’s one of those Negroes who wasn’t quite good enough to be a star and wound up a good minor leaguer….There are a lot of Negro stars in the game. There aren’t too many average Negro players. The obvious conclusion is that there is some kind of quota system.” Later in the book Bouton reveals Williams was being paid $1,300 a month at Vancouver (paid only during the five-month season); when he was promoted to the Pilots he got a raise to the major league minimum, prorated at $1,666 a month.

While Williams’ stay in the big leagues was only ten days, he appreciated the big league meal money while he got it. “You can do an awful lot of eating on $15 a day,” he said before he departed, looking back on the $2.50 a day he had received in the Northern League in the ’50s. He was nothing but classy in his departure: “I owe everything to baseball. It took me away from the Virginia coal mines and gave me an appreciation of my country.”

An Associated Press story in the Seattle Times on Aug. 26, 1969, after Billy Williams was released by the Pilots

An Associated Press story in the Seattle Times on Aug. 26, 1969, after Billy Williams was released by the Pilots

Billy Williams never played professional baseball after leaving the Pilots, finishing his minor league career with 2,171 hits. Rather than returning to Vancouver for the final days of the minor league season, he went home to California and the clothing store he managed in Berkeley. He had worked there for a number of offseasons and by “working like hell and saving like hell” he bought into the business and was a full partner by the time he played for the Pilots.

And he wasn’t anxious to go back to baseball. “After I got let go [by the Pilots], I got real frustrated with my whole situation in terms of baseball,” Williams told a reporter in 2005. “So I went into the private sector. I owned a couple of clothing stores in Oakland.”

Billy Williams with the Sioux City Explorers

Billy Williams with the Sioux City Explorers

But Williams would return to the game. In 1987 he took a job scouting for the Indians, then in 1988 managed their Gulf Coast League team. The next year he was a coach for the Indians’ Class AA affiliate at Canton-Akron, and then he was back in a major league uniform in 1990 and ’91 as a “coaching assistant,” working with players in pregame sessions. But because the Indians had five other coaches, he couldn’t be in uniform during games, so he kept batting and pitching charts from the stands. From 1992-99 Williams was a minor league coach in the Cleveland organization, then in 2000 he joined the coaching staff of the Sioux Falls Canaries of the independent Northern League. After five years there he moved to the Sioux City Explorers of the same league (and later the independent American Association) and spent five seasons there, including a brief stint as interim manager at the end of the 2005 season. His last year in uniform was 2009, the summer he turned 77.

Thanks to SABR members Bob Kerler and Andy McCue for their help in providing information about Williams.

Buzz Clarkson

Buzz Clarkson

Jim “Buzz” Clarkson (also sometimes referred to by his middle name, Buster, or Bus) is another Negro Leagues player who deducted a few years (in his case, three) from his age when he joined Organized Baseball. Clarkson had also played in Mexico and Canada (and missed three years for military service in World War II, his gravestone says he was a sergeant in the Army) before signing with the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association in July 1950. He hit .302 in 59 games with the Brewers that season, .343 in 97 games in 1951 (when the Brewers won the American Association regular season and playoffs plus the Junior World Series), and started the 1952 season with Milwaukee.

Then in late April Clarkson got the call to join the Boston Braves. Al Hirshberg told the story in The Sporting News of May 7, 1952:

In desperation the Braves pulled James (Buzz) Clarkson up from their Milwaukee farm. Clarkson is a comparative ancient colored shortstop…The only thing against him is his age, which is indeterminable….Clarkson doesn’t exactly fit in with the Braves’ new youth movement, but he can hit and he can play short, and the Braves have got to do something to strengthen themselves.

While Clarkson was with the Braves his high school coach “confirmed” he was only 34 years old. But according to the Social Security Death Index, Clarkson was born March 13, 1915, making him 37 when he debuted in Boston. What’s funny is, according to the 1951 edition of “Who’s Who in the American Association” (source of the photo I’ve used), Clarkson would have been even older — it lists his birth date as March 3, 1913.

Clarkson got a pinch-hit single in his first major league at-bat and started three games in his first week in the majors, but when he went 1-for-10 in those games he was sent to the bench and pretty much ignored, getting just four at-bats and one start over a nearly-four-week period. Then on June 1 the Braves replaced manager Tommy Holmes with Charlie Grimm in a move that would have seemed to be good news for Clarkson, since Grimm had managed him at Milwaukee the previous season. Only in his first move, Grimm sent Clarkson back to the Brewers. He soon returned to the Braves but went 1-for-10 before being sent to the minors for good with a lifetime major league average of .200 (5-for-25).

Clarkson continued to thrive in the minors, hitting .318 with 12 homers in 74 games at Milwaukee in ’52 (the Brewers won another pennant), .330 with 18 homers for Dallas of the Texas League in 1953 (the Eagles won the TL pennant, playoffs and Dixie Series), and .324 with 42 homers in the Texas League in 1954 (he was traded from Dallas to Beaumont the previous winter and then dealt back to Dallas in June 1954). He spent two more years in the minors before ending his Organized Baseball career at age 41.

Clarkson spent a number of winters playing in Puerto Rico, and in the winter of 1954-55 he was a teammate of the above-mentioned Bob Thurman on the great team at Santurce.

From left to right: Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Buzz Clarkson, Bob Thurman and George Crowe. Not a bad lineup.

From left to right: Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Buzz Clarkson, Bob Thurman and George Crowe. Not a bad lineup.

SABR member Nick Diunte tells more of Clarkson’s story here.

I’m really stumped on Art Jacobs, whose major league career consisted of one game when he was 36. But I confess I haven’t spent a lot of time researching him.

Otho Nitcholas as a St. Paul Saint, from Who's Who in the American Association 1947

Otho Nitcholas as a St. Paul Saint, from Who’s Who in the American Association 1947

The distinctively-named Otho Nitcholas shares characteristics with several other players on this list: he won a lot of games (in his case, 254) in a long minor league career, and he passed himself off as younger than he was (the 1945 Street & Smith’s lists his birth date as Sept. 13, 1911, when he was actually born three years before that).

Nitcholas was in double figures in victories in each of his first 14 seasons in professional ball; that would be every year from 1932 through 1946, except for 1939, which he sat out with “a rheumatic condition which has affected his arm,” according to an Associated Press dispatch that spring. Of course, he was in double figures in losses most of those years too (he wound up with 200 career losses), but he routinely pitched more than 200 innings a season and did a creditable job.

Nitcholas went 14-11 with a 2.89 ERA for St. Paul of the American Association in 1944 and was purchased by the Dodgers for the following season. He started 1945 in Brooklyn, at age 37, and made seven relief appearances, getting one win in a six-inning stint, before being returned to St. Paul.

Nitcholas pitched in the minors until he was 43 and was a player-manager his last three seasons. He did quite well in the lower minors in his later years, going 18-7 with a league-leading 1.97 ERA in the Class C Lone Star League in 1948, 17-5 in the Class C Evangeline League in 1951, and 14-5 in the Class C West Texas-New Mexico League in 1952.

After his playing career Nitcholas went into law enforcement and was the police chief in the Dallas suburbs of Plano and McKinney (his hometown). He retired as McKinney’s chief in 1970 with health concerns after one of his patrolmen was shot to death in the line of duty.

Minnie MendozaChristobal “Minnie” Mendoza was a feel-good story when he made the opening day roster of the defending American League West Division champion Minnesota Twins in 1970, after 16 seasons in the minors (12 of them with the Twins, or their predecessors, the Washington Senators). The Twins said he was 36 (using the birth date that’s still believed to be correct), but Mendoza insisted he was 34. His promotion to the big leagues wasn’t exactly a gift; the previous season he had led the Class AAA American Association with 194 hits and batted .333. “Sometimes I feel like quitting, but I don’t,” he said in the spring of 1970. “I love baseball. I love to travel, too.”

But it turned out there was no role for Mendoza to play with the Twins. He got into only 16 games, with no starts, and had three singles in 16 at-bats before being sent back to the minors in mid-June. And he won another batting title in the minors, hitting .316 to lead the Class AA Southern Association in 1971, when he was 37, helping the Charlotte Hornets win the pennant. (He played in Charlotte for 10 seasons and was enormously popular there.) Mendoza finished his minor league career with 2,502 hits (his record on Baseball-Reference.com does not include the 43 hits he got in the Mexican League in 1973).

IzquierdoAnother Twins player who debuted at age 36 (and one who, like Mendoza, was also a native of Cuba) was Enrique “Hank” Izquierdo, who had actually retired as a player five years before he finally made the big leagues in 1967. In four seasons with Cincinnati’s Class AAA teams from 1957-60 Izquierdo posted batting averages of .153, .196, .218 and .186. Not exactly encouraging. In 1961 he was a player-coach with the Reds’ AAA team at Jersey City, and in 1962 he stopped playing altogether to be a bullpen catcher for the Cleveland Indians.

But he missed playing, so in 1963 Izquierdo hooked up with the Twins and dropped down to the Class A Florida State League, where he hit .297 and rekindled his career. By 1966 he was back up to AAA, and in ’67 he hit .300 for Denver of the Pacific Coast League to earn another call to the big leagues — this time as part of the active roster, when Earl Battey went on the disabled list with a dislocated thumb. It didn’t hurt that Cal Ermer had replaced Sam Mele as the Twins’ manager; Ermer had started the season at Denver and had also managed Izquierdo in winter ball.

With the Twins in the thick of one of the greatest pennant races in history (they wouldn’t be eliminated until the last day of the season), Izquierdo did just fine when called upon. The Twins went 7-2 in the games he started, and he finished the season with seven hits in 26 at-bats for a .269 batting average.

After the season Izquierdo was drafted by the Houston Astros’ Oklahoma City farm club and spent two years with them. After the 1968 season he was nearly killed while driving a cab in Miami when he was shot during a robbery, then his 1969 season ended prematurely when he was suspended for the rest of the season by American Association president Allie Reynolds after swinging a bat at future major league star Ted Simmons during an on-field argument. Izquierdo went on to manage in Mexico before returning to the Twins as a scout.

I wrote the story of Ernie Rudolph a few years ago. When Ernie broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers at age 36, he became the first — and only — man ever to make it from Class E to the major leagues. You didn’t know there was a Class E? Go back to the beginning of the paragraph and click that link.

Joe Vitelli

Joe Vitelli

Joe Vitelli had not pitched professionally since 1940 when Pittsburgh Pirates manager Frankie Frisch hired him as a batting practice pitcher early in the 1944 season. (And yes, Vitelli may have altered his age; the 1945 Street & Smith’s lists his birth date as April 25, 1911, when it was actually April 12, 1908. At any rate, this item announcing his signing said he was 36, which was correct.) Frisch had only seven men on his pitching staff, one of whom had a sore arm, and in those days the team’s regular pitchers usually threw batting practice. Vitelli pitched in four games during the season, all of them blowout losses, and was voted a full $722.48 share of the World Series receipts the Pirates received for finishing second in the National League.

Vitelli continued to pitch batting practice but got into just one game in 1945 — and as a pinch-runner, at that — and left the team in midseason “in a dissatisfied state of mind,” according to a story in The Sporting News of July 12, 1945. Charles J. Doyle wrote Vitelli “thought he should have been given a chance to pitch, so that he could earn more money.” I don’t know what kind of contract Vitelli was on that has pay would be dependent on his pitching appearances.

A former football player at the University of Pittsburgh who also played semi-pro football, Vitelli started his pro baseball career in 1932. He spent the 1936 season playing semi-pro ball in the Pittsburgh area after a dispute with his team, Norfolk of the Class B Piedmont League, according to a story in The Sporting News of July 22, 1937. (That story lists his birth date as April 12, 1912.) He returned to pro ball in 1937 and posted a 17-10 record with Albany of the Class A New York-Pennsylvania League, finishing second in the league’s most valuable player voting (behind future major leaguer Jim Bagby, Jr.) despite pitching for a last-place team. The highlight of the season was when he pitched an 18-inning complete game against Binghamton, striking out 20 and driving in the winning run. But he complained of a sore arm in 1938 and never got beyond the Class A level before joining the Pirates in 1944.

I’m sure there’s a really interesting story to tell about Vitelli, but I haven’t found much of it. You’ll find a little more here.

Buck Fausett, from The American Association On Parade 1936

Buck Fausett, from The American Association On Parade 1936

Buck Fausett (apparently one of his other nicknames was “Leaky”) was another longtime minor league star who got a chance to play in the majors during World War II. And yes, he’s another one who fudged his age, at least during his younger days; The American Association On Parade 1936 lists his birth date as April 8, 1911, when he was actually born three years earlier. But stories in The Sporting News when he was with the Reds in 1944 have his age as 36, which was correct.

A graduate of East Texas State Teachers College (now known as Texas A&M University-Commerce), Buck was a third baseman in the Texas League from 1932-35. He went to spring training with the Philadelphia A’s in 1935…here’s how he told the story in 1944:

Two days before training camp broke, I squabbled with [A's owner/manager Connie] Mack over money. I was sent back to Galveston. Mack had Pinky Higgins playing third at the time. I knew I didn’t have a chance to beat him out. On the second day of the season, Higgins broke his leg. If I had been on the spot, my major league career would have started then.

Fausett told the story in more detail in The Sporting News of April 27, 1944. Mack had purchased both Fausett and Galveston teammate Wally Moses on a conditional basis, and he had decided to keep them. But Fausett balked, saying the owner of the Galveston team also gave him an offseason job that brought his total income to more than what the A’s would pay him, and he wouldn’t be able to have that winter job if he were no longer playing for Galveston. So under the circumstances (there was a Depression going on, after all), Fausett told Mack he preferred to go back to Galveston.

Fausett would not get a second chance to make the majors in the ’30s. He played in the American Association from 1936-41. After a poor year at the bat with Minneapolis in ’41 (a season in which he also took to the mound for the first time, pitching 14 games and starting seven), Fausett went to Little Rock in 1942 and helped his team win the Southern Association pennant, batting .334. The next year he became the team’s manager and finished second in the league in batting average with a .362 mark (he also pitched four games). At the end of the season the Cincinnati Reds purchased his contract. (It was reported Fausett’s draft status was 3-A.)

Part of a graphic that appeared with a story about Buck Fausett in The Sporting News of April 27, 1944

Part of a graphic that appeared with a story about Buck Fausett in The Sporting News of April 27, 1944

The Reds didn’t have much of a spring training in 1944 for manager Bill McKechnie to sort out his third base situation, so the position was still up in the air as the regular season began. Returning starter Steve Mesner was in the lineup the first three games; Chuck Aleno, who had been with the Reds in previous seasons, started the next four. And then Fausett got his chance, starting the next six games. It didn’t go well, as he got just two hits in 22 at-bats, and he never played third in the majors again.

His last two major league appearances were as a pitcher. On June 1 he pinch-hit and pitched four innings of relief at Philadelphia, allowing two runs. His final appearance came in a game that remains famous today, on June 10 at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field. With the Reds trailing 7-0 and only one out in the second inning, McKechnie put Fausett on the hill to take one for the team, and Buck pitched 6-2/3 innings, allowing six runs. The reason the game is famous is the pitcher who relieved Fausett in the ninth inning: Joe Nuxhall, who at age 15 became — and remains — the youngest player ever to appear in a major league game.

Fausett did get a hit in that final game to raise his career major league batting average to .097 (3-for-31).

Shortly thereafter Fausett was sold to Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League, where he went back to being a quality minor league player. He also managed the Stars in 1945 and part of 1946 before he was sent to Albuquerque of the Class C West Texas-New Mexico League.

The high altitudes and lower quality competition of that league allowed Fausett to record monster seasons in his final two years as a player, when he was 39 and 40 years old (he managed those years as well). In 1947 he hit .409 with a career high 20 homers, 142 RBI and a league-leading 21 triples for Albuquerque; then in 1948 he hit .398 and knocked in 101 runs in 109 games for Amarillo. Fausett finished his minor league career with 2,679 hits (not showing on his Baseball-Reference.com page are two hits he got as a player/manager at Amarillo in 1949).

Two players who came up when I did this search on Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index turned out to be younger than they are listed, so I have not included them in the lists below. Bill McGhee, who broke in with the 1944 A’s, was born in 1908, not 1905, so he was 35 when he debuted. And Dutch Stryker of the 1924 Braves was born in 1895, not 1885. Also, please note Baseball-Reference.com has not updated Billy Williams’ birth date…his age should be 37 years and 63 days.

With those exclusions, here are the non-pitchers since 1916 who were 36 or older when they played their first major league game. Click the name to see the player’s lifetime stats, and click the date to see the box score of his first game. Note none of these players started in his first big league game.

Player Age Date Tm Opp Rslt PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI Pos Summary
Chuck Hostetler 40.210 1944-04-19 DET SLB L 1-3 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 PH
Quincy Trouppe 39.127 1952-04-30 CLE PHA L 1-3 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 C
Bob Thurman 37.335 1955-04-14 CIN CHC L 4-6 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 PH
Lee Riley 37.243 1944-04-19 PHI BRO L 4-5 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 PH
Buzz Clarkson 37.048 1952-04-30 BSN PIT L 5-11 2 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 PH SS
Minnie Mendoza 36.144 1970-04-09 MIN CHW W 6-4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3B
Hank Izquierdo 36.142 1967-08-09 MIN WSA L 7-9 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 PH C
Billy Williams 36.063 1969-08-15 SEP BAL L 1-2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 PR
Buck Fausett 36.010 1944-04-18 CIN CHC L 0-3 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 PH
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/12/2013.

And now the oldest pitchers to make their major league debut. Scantlebury is the only one who started.

Player Age Date Tm Opp Rslt IP H R ER BB SO
Satchel Paige 42.002 1948-07-09 CLE SLB L 3-5 2.0 2 0 0 0 1
Diomedes Olivo 41.227 1960-09-05 (2) PIT MLN L 1-7 2.0 1 0 0 2 1
Ken Takahashi 40.016 2009-05-02 NYM PHI L 5-6 2.2 1 0 0 1 1
Alex McColl 39.151 1933-08-27 (2) WSH CLE L 3-6 3.1 3 0 0 0 1
Les Willis 39.101 1947-04-28 CLE DET L 0-3 1.0 1 0 0 0 1
Masumi Kuwata 39.070 2007-06-10 PIT NYY L 6-13 2.0 1 2 2 2 0
Connie Marrero 38.361 1950-04-21 WSH NYY L 7-14 0.2 1 0 0 0 0
Pat Scantlebury 38.160 1956-04-19 CIN STL W 10-9 5.0 8 4 4 3 3
Joe Berry 37.264 1942-09-06 (2) CHC PIT L 0-5 1.0 4 2 2 1 0
Joe Strong 37.245 2000-05-11 FLA ATL W 5-4 1.1 0 0 0 1 0
Chang-Yong Lim 37.095 2013-09-07 CHC MIL L 3-5 0.2 1 0 0 1 0
Art Jacobs 36.294 1939-06-18 (1) CIN BSN W 12-6 1.0 2 1 1 1 0
Otho Nitcholas 36.217 1945-04-18 BRO PHI L 2-6 2.0 1 0 0 0 0
Satoru Komiyama 36.201 2002-04-04 NYM PIT L 2-3 1.0 0 0 0 0 1
Keiichi Yabu 36.193 2005-04-09 OAK TBD L 2-11 3.2 4 0 0 0 5
Ernie Rudolph 36.123 1945-06-16 BRO BSN L 5-6 2.2 1 0 0 1 1
Takashi Saito 36.054 2006-04-09 (1) LAD PHI L 3-6 0.2 0 0 0 0 0
Joe Vitelli 36.039 1944-05-21 (2) PIT PHI L 4-9 1.0 1 0 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/12/2013.

Aside from Scantlebury, the next oldest pitcher to start in his major league debut was Jesse “Andy” Rush, who was 35 years and 111 days old when he debuted for Brooklyn in 1925. Here are the oldest players to start in their first big league game at each of the other positions:

C Earle Brucker 1937 A’s 35.348
1B Bill McGhee 1944 A’s 35.304
2B Johnny Butler 1926 Dodgers 33.029
SS Louis Brower 1931 Tigers 30.347
3B Lew Groh 1919 A’s 35.290
LF Dick Spalding 1927 Phillies 33.187
CF Ty Tyson 1926 Giants 33.316
RF Jocko Conlan 1934 White Sox 34.212
DH Alejandro Friere 2005 Orioles 30.351

Lew Groh, who played in only two major league games, was the older brother of deadball era star Heinie Groh. Jocko Conlan went on to make the Hall of Fame as an umpire.

The same-game Dodger debuts of Gil Hodges and Chris Haughey

I started my day researching the opening game of the New York Mets’ 1969 championship season, but that project was soon hijacked by researching the one-game major league career of a teenage pitcher during World War II.

Gil HodgesThe man who connected these projects was the manager of the ’69 Mets, Gil Hodges. In Arthur Daley’s New York Times column on April 9, 1969 — the morning after the Mets’ 11-10 opening day loss in the first regular season game ever played by the Montreal Expos — Hodges recalled his own debut as a major league player in 1943. Since I have a thing for checking the memories of old ballplayers, I put Hodges’ memory to the test, and to my surprise he was absolutely correct. In his first game, on the final day of the 1943 season, the 19-year-old Hodges (the New York Times game story said he was 18) came off the bench to play third base, struck out twice and walked against Cincinnati lefty Johnny Vander Meer and stole a base. (While he didn’t mention it to Daley, Hodges also made two errors in what was his only major league appearance at third base until 1957.)

Hodges also seems to have accurately remembered the circumstances behind his stolen base. Leo Durocher was manager of the Dodgers then; Hodges told Daley:

My impression is that the Reds were trying to break a double play record for the year that Leo Durocher had a piece of. So Leo wanted to reduce every chance of an easy double play. Whenever our runners reached first, Leo would shout, “Get going, fellows,” and flash the steal sign. No one lingered long on first, including me.

Hodges may be exaggerating how aggressively the Dodgers ran that day; his was one of only two stolen bases. But caught stealing was not an official statistic at the time, so we don’t know if any Dodgers were thrown out trying to steal. And not many Brooks were on first base to begin with, as they accumulated just two singles and four walks in the game.

But Hodges was right about the record. The Reds turned two double plays in the game to finish the season with 193 — one short of what was then the National League record of 194, set by the 1931 Reds, whose regular shortstop was Leo Durocher. Pretty impressive memory, Mr. Hodges.

Before I went back to reading about the ’69 Mets, I scanned the box score of Gil’s first game…and as a result I still haven’t gone back to reading about the ’69 Mets. There was a name in the Brooklyn box score I didn’t recognize, Chris Haughey. And then his pitching line caught my eye:

Haughey pitching

The seven innings in relief was unusual enough. But TEN walks? And NO strikeouts? Then I checked his record and found it was the only major league game he ever pitched in…and it came on his 18th birthday. Time to go down the rabbit hole…

Chris Haughey

Chris Haughey

A New York Times story on Sept. 3, 1943, said, “The Dodgers signed 17-year-old Christopher Haughey of Bayside [a neighborhood in Queens, the New York City borough next to Brooklyn], a right-handed pitcher. ‘I’ll pitch him in at least one game before the season ends,’ declared Durocher.” Keep in mind this was during World War II, many professional players were in military service and it wasn’t uncommon for teenagers to get a shot at playing in the majors. Just after Haughey signed, on Sept. 6, 16-year-old Carl Scheib would take the mound for the Philadelphia A’s, and the next year Joe Nuxhall made his infamous big league debut as a 15-year-old.

Haughey had gained some prominence in New York baseball circles in the summer of 1943 by pitching three no-hitters in a North Queens CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) league, although a news story published after his Dodger debut indicated some observers thought the no-hitters were the result of “friendly scorekeeping.”

Anyway, Durocher almost didn’t keep his promise to use Haughey in a game. Going into the final day of the season, the Dodgers were one game ahead of Pittsburgh for third place in the National League, but the Pirates had a doubleheader at home against Philadelphia and could move ahead of the Dodgers with a sweep and a Brooklyn loss. The difference between third place and fourth was not just a matter of pride but a matter of money, specifically about $350 per player, a not-insignificant amount at the time. (The 1944 Sporting News Baseball Guide and Record Book reported the third-place Dodgers’ share of World Series receipts was $756.60 per player, while each member of the fourth-place Pirates earned $400.01.)

From The New York Times of Oct. 4, 1943

From The New York Times of Oct. 4, 1943

So Leo’s starting pitcher in the season finale at Cincinnati was Whit Wyatt, a veteran of the Dodgers’ 1941 National League championship team whose 14 wins in 1943 led the squad. But, according to the game story in the next day’s New York Times, once the scoreboard showed that the Pirates had lost the first game of their doubleheader, clinching third place for the Dodgers, Durocher pulled Wyatt and sent Haughey to the mound. The Times’ Roscoe McGowen wrote that Durocher had promised Haughey’s mother his son would appear in a game. McGowen also wrote that Haughey was “not yet 18 years old,” apparently remembering that he had been 17 when he signed a few weeks earlier, but the day was indeed his 18th birthday. To that point he was the youngest player ever to pitch for the Dodgers; only one younger pitcher has appeared for them since, Charlie Osgood, who was 17 when he played in his only game on June 18, 1944.

This is not the Charlie Osgood who pitched for the Dodgers in 1944; besides, this fellow's birth name was Charles Wood III.

This is not the Charlie Osgood who pitched for the Dodgers in 1944; besides, this fellow’s birth name was Charles Wood III. (But, like Chris Haughey, this fellow attended Fordham University.)

For what it’s worth, it looks like the only other player in major league history who made his debut on his 18th birthday was Larry Dierker, who went on to a fine career that included 139 wins and being named to two All-Star teams. But Dierker’s debut was even rockier than Haughey’s.

Aside from his control issues, Haughey did an admirable job in his debut. Over his first six innings he allowed just two hits, both bunt singles, although the Reds did score two unearned runs in the fifth inning when Hodges let what appeared to be a double-play grounder go through his legs with the bases loaded. (The New York Times story doesn’t state this, but Hodges may have also entered the game with Haughey once third place was clinched. He replaced catcher Mickey Owen, with Bobby Bragan moving from third base to Owen’s spot behind the plate.) The Reds then broke through for three hits and four runs in the eighth inning, one of those runs being unearned thanks to an errant throw by catcher Bragan trying to pick a runner off third.

By the way, the game was not just the major league debut for Haughey and Hodges but the first professional game played by each. Hodges had left college to sign with the Dodgers that summer and was sent to their Class D farm club in Olean, N.Y., but did not appear in a game with them. Apparently the two teenagers were road roommates with the Dodgers. Also, it would appear Haughey is the only player in major league history whose only appearance came on his birthday; he’s also one of only a few who debuted on his birthday.

I’ve used Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index feature, searching box scores back to 1916, to see if Haughey set any major league records in his debut. For instance, how about most walks allowed by a pitcher in his first major league game:

Player Date Tm Opp Rslt IP H R ER BB SO
Skipper Friday 1923-06-17 WSH CHW L 3-5 11.0 4 5 5 14 4
Jimmy Freeman 1972-09-01 (2) ATL PHI W 11-5 9.0 8 5 5 11 5
Harry Courtney 1919-09-13 WSH DET W 9-8 8.0 12 8 7 11 2
Dick Weik 1948-09-08 (2) WSH PHA L 2-5 5.2 5 4 4 10 3
Chris Haughey 1943-10-03 BRO CIN L 1-6 7.0 5 6 3 10 0
Tom Drake 1939-04-24 CLE CHW L 3-9 5.1 7 5 3 10 0
Bill Zuber 1936-09-16 CLE BOS W 13-3 4.2 2 3 3 10 2
Roy Sanders 1917-04-18 CIN PIT W 7-5 6.0 4 5 5 10 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/31/2013.

But the record was actually set before 1916: Bruno Haas walked 16 in his debut for the Philadelphia A’s on June 23, 1915, in which he went the distance in a 15-7 loss to the Yankees. Haas never played in the majors after six appearances on the mound in 1915, but he went on to get more than 2200 hits in a long minor league career as an outfielder.

Grier “Skipper” Friday went the distance in his major league debut, which was also his only major league complete game, one of only two major league starts, and his only major league decision. In his other start, four days after his debut, he walked just one batter in seven innings.

Jimmy Freeman, a tall skinny lefthander, is by far the most recent player on the list above. Asked if he had been nervous after his 11-walk debut, he said, “Why do you think I walked all those people? I’ve never been that wild in my life.” No account of the number of pitches he threw in the game survives, but it had to have been substantial. He faced 44 batters, the most for any pitcher in his major league debut since World War II; no pitcher has faced more than 40 batters in his first outing since then. Freeman won his next start and never won a major league game after that, finishing with a career ERA of 6.87.

Dick Weik’s major league career was nothing short of remarkable: he walked 237 batters in 213-2/3 innings over parts of five seasons, with a 6-22 record and a 5.90 ERA. The low point was allowing 13 walks in seven innings against the White Sox in 1949 (although he allowed just three runs); only two players have ever issued more walks in a game (since 1916), and both needed extra innings to do it. His minor league record was no better, including 173 walks in just 132 innings for Chattanooga of the Southern Association in 1948.

You’ll notice Tommy Byrne issued 13 or more walks in a game three times; he also had another four games with double-digit walks. Nobody else since 1916 has had as many games issuing 10 or more walks. Get this: J.R. Richard had three games in which he issued double-digit walks, going only six innings in two of them, yet was the winning pitcher in all three.

Checking the 1971 Little Red Book of Baseball, I find five pitchers who issued at least 14 walks in a game prior to 1916. In addition to Haas, three pitchers each gave up 16 walks in a 19th-Century game, one of them in the Players League, and Christy Mathewson’s younger brother Henry walked 14 in a game on Oct. 5, 1906. That was Henry Mathewson’s only major league start; he had one relief appearance prior to that, one after, and did not walk a batter in either.

How about the most walks allowed by a pitcher who didn’t strike out anyone? While the table above shows Haughey holds that mark for pitchers making their debut (although two other pitchers had done it previously, and we can’t say for sure if anyone had walked that many or more in a debut prior to 1916), two others walked more:

Player Date Tm Opp Rslt IP H R ER BB SO
Sid Hudson 1948-08-07 WSH DET W 3-2 8.2 6 2 2 12 0
Bill Zuber 1943-09-14 NYY PHA W 6-5 4.1 3 5 5 11 0
Al Papai 1949-09-19 SLB PHA L 4-7 8.0 12 7 5 10 0
Phil Marchildon 1948-06-24 PHA SLB W 6-5 4.2 1 4 3 10 0
Chris Haughey 1943-10-03 BRO CIN L 1-6 7.0 5 6 3 10 0
Tom Drake 1939-04-24 CLE CHW L 3-9 5.1 7 5 3 10 0
Ed Morris 1931-04-25 BOS NYY W 5-4 7.2 4 3 2 10 0
General Crowder 1926-07-29 WSH CHW W 7-3 10.0 7 3 3 10 0
Dana Fillingim 1920-06-04 BSN NYG L 8-11 9.0 8 11 10 10 0
Hod Leverette 1920-05-08 SLB DET L 4-5 6.1 4 4 4 10 0
Roy Sanders 1917-04-18 CIN PIT W 7-5 6.0 4 5 5 10 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/31/2013.

Bill Zuber showed his 10-walk, two-strikeout debut in 1936 was no fluke by walking 11 without a strikeout in 1943, less than three weeks before Haughey’s game…and managing to squeeze those walks into just 4-1/3 innings! Zuber walked 11 of the 26 batters he faced before being lifted. Phil Marchildon, held as a prisoner of war by the Germans during World War II, walked 10 of 24 batters before he was pulled from his 1948 game even though he had allowed just one hit.

Sid Hudson, who went on to have a long career as a major league pitching coach, won 104 games in his major league career, but his 1948 season was a nightmare, with a 4-16 record, a 5.88 ERA and more than twice as many walks as strikeouts. His 12-walk, no-strikeout “masterpiece” wasn’t one of his 16 losses, though; he was removed from the game with the score tied 2-2, and his Senators went on to win in the 10th inning.

Haughey does share the record (again, at least since 1916) for most walks issued in a game by a relief pitcher who didn’t strike out anyone. He shares that mark with Tom Drake, who likewise walked 10 and struck out no one in his major league debut, in 1939. Unlike Haughey, Drake did pitch again in the majors, but his career lasted only 18 games with a 6.13 ERA. No other relief pitcher who didn’t strike out a batter walked more than eight; one of those was Babe Ruth, who did so in an 11-inning relief appearance in 1919.

So what happened to Chris Haughey? He entered the military in February 1944, and Gary Bedingfield tells some of his story on his fabulous website devoted to ballplayers who served in World War II, Baseball In Wartime. Haughey trained radio operators stateside before being discharged in 1946. He spent that season in the minors and struggled, then was drafted by the Cardinals and went 15-7 for their St. Joseph (Mo.) farm club in the Class C Western Association in 1947. That would be the pinnacle of his professional career, and after three more undistinguished seasons he left baseball. He went on to earn a degree in engineering from New York’s Fordham University, worked for an oil company and owned a men’s clothing store, and according to this story was still working at Macy’s at age 79. He apparently is still alive today, nearing his 88th birthday, in Fremont, California, in the Bay Area.

Babe Didrikson in baseball spring training 1934

Babe Didrikson pitchingIn researching Mildred “Babe” Didrikson, who holds the record for the longest baseball throw by a woman, I learned she made appearances in exhibition games for several major league baseball teams during spring training in 1934. The only web site I’ve found that accurately lists all of her appearances is Baseball-Reference.com, but it offers few details. I’ve not found complete and accurate information in any published biography, and her autobiography includes one glaring piece of apparent misinformation. I’m here to share everything I can find.

Didrikson was the most famous female athlete in the country, and one of the most famous athletes period, after winning two gold medals and just missing a third in track and field in the 1932 Olympics at Los Angeles. She was also a standout basketball player and spent the winter of 1933-34 traveling the country with a basketball team, reportedly earning $1,000 a month (a staggering amount of money for the time) playing local teams in various communities. The basketball venture was put together by a promoter from Muscatine, Iowa, named Ray Doan.

When March 1934 arrived Didrikson turned to baseball as a means of earning cash, as the news broke that she would spend the summer playing with the House of David barnstorming team, with and against men. On March 4 she arrived in Hot Springs, Arkansas, to “enroll in the baseball school taught by big league ball players who are training and resting here,” according to a United Press dispatch. The school was run by Doan. From there she would join major league teams in spring training as a publicity stunt, to get some space in the newspapers and some people at the ballpark. In return Didrikson was reportedly paid $200 for a one-inning appearance, according to her biography “Whatta-Gal: The Babe Didrikson Story,” by William Oscar Johnson and Nancy P. Williamson, published in 1977. (Johnson and Williamson don’t have a bibliography, let alone footnotes, which was typical for non-academic works like this in that era, so we don’t know where the $200 claim comes from. The book is also the source of the claim, in an interview with a teammate years after the fact, that Didrikson made $1,000 a month playing basketball. We’ll find some problems with “Whatta-Gal” later, so I don’t want these numbers to be assumed to be correct.)

From the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch, March 15, 1934

From the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch, March 15, 1934

Babe’s time in Hot Springs was well publicized, and future Hall of Fame pitcher Burleigh Grimes (then still hanging on as an active player with the St. Louis Cardinals) did his part, posing for numerous photos with Babe and talking up her abilities:

HOT SPRINGS, ARK., March 14 — AP — Babe Didrikson would be one of the best prospects in baseball if she were a boy, said Burleigh Grimes of the Cardinal hurling staff after watching the noted woman athlete work out here with pupils of the Ray Doan Baseball School.

But since Babe is a girl, Grimes still thinks she is the wonder of the athletic world. The Texan, who flashed across the Olympic horizon, also convinced newspaper correspondents here that she can play ball, and that she is fully competent to take her place in the box.

The Babe has mastered somewhat of a curve, too, that surprised those who gathered to watch her in action. She also showed a flash of the speed that enabled her to hang up a record in the eighty-meter Olympic event when, during batting practice, she hit one to short and easily beat out the throw to first.

Here are some of the photos that were published during her time in Hot Springs (you’ll notice one of the photo cutlines erroneously places the Cardinals’ training camp there):

Babe New Orleans photoHatless Babe and BurleighBabe in Hot SpringsBabe Stubenville photoBabe and Burleigh

The plan, according to the March 14 AP story, was for Babe to go to New Orleans and pitch for the Cleveland Indians on March 18 (not against the Indians, as the photo cutline above says) and then go to Florida to appear with the Philadelphia Athletics on March 20 and the St. Louis Cardinals on March 22. The New Orleans Times-Picayune did its part to promote her appearance with this game-day feature:

Babe ready for Pelicans

Babe was to pitch three innings against the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association, a Cleveland farm club. Ray Doan was in full promotional mode in his comments for the story:

“Babe, who will be the first woman in the history of baseball to pitch for a major league team, will demonstrate that as in other sports she is a first-rater in baseball.”…Mr. Doan explained that a number of the greatest baseball players of the world have been in Hot Springs and have seen Babe in action. “They are all of the opinion that she is a real player and would be in organized baseball now, if she were a man,” he said.

And Babe did her part to build up her appearance:

“I know that I will be facing the keenest of competition. I know also that I know how to play baseball, and all I ask is a chance to prove it….Boys used to let me play on their teams, and I was a good hitter and fielder. I bat from either shoulder and modestly say that I am a good hitter….I certainly hope that the New Orleans pitchers will not feel sorry for me and try to feed me perfect strikes. I ask no quarter and ask that they pitch to me as if I were the most dangerous of hitters — I’ll get by.”

But Didrikson’s debut against a professional opponent was delayed by rain. The Indians and Pelicans did play their scheduled game on March 18, but the Times-PIcayune reported, “The heavy downpour shortly before game time played havoc with the crowd and caused the postponement of Babe Didrikson’s appearance on the mound. The gal pitcher will appear here next Sunday instead.” The game was played “before a small crowd…hardly more than 1500 fans,” which apparently wasn’t enough bang for the 200 bucks due Ms. Didrikson.

Headline from gthe Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 21, 1934

Headline from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 21, 1934

So Babe went on to Fort Myers, Florida, to suit up for the A’s against the Brooklyn Dodgers on March 20, and she retired only one batter in her single inning on the mound…but she got three outs, as her teammates pulled off a triple play behind her. Here’s the way the story was told in a special report by an unidentified author in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Jersey Joe Stripp pulled the Merkle on this occasion. He just doesn’t know the Didrikson slow curve, developed under the tutelage of the ancient Burleigh Grimes at Hot Springs, Ark. In an unhappy situation after she walked Danny Taylor and nicked Johnny Frederick with a fast one, the Texas Babe faced the menacing war club of Stripp.

[A's manager] Connie Mack, waving his traditional scorecard, moved the outfielders back, but he, too, doesn’t know the Didrikson slow curve. The Babe, undaunted, wound up, threw that change of pace offering and Jersey Joe lined right into the hands of Dib Williams at shortstop. Dib tossed to Rabbit Warstler at second to double Taylor and the Rabbit’s heave to Jimmy Fox [sic] at first nipped Frederick before the latter could get back to the bag.

Fortunately, the Dodgers were not compelled to face any further slants served by the Babe….

Headline from The New York Times, March 21, 1934

Headline from The New York Times, March 21, 1934

Roscoe McGowan added details in his account in The New York Times:

Miss Didrikson, who pitches with a graceful, easy delivery that would do credit to any hurler, undoubtedly profited a bit from the chivalry of Danny Taylor and Johnny Frederick, but the triple play was an honest one.

Danny and Johnny both swung lustily at a pair of strikes each, missing the ball by wide margins, but Babe walked Danny and nicked Frederick with a pitched ball. Then, with first and second occupied, Joe Stripp lined a hard one to Dib Williams and the triple killing was completed, Williams to Warstler to Foxx.

This sequence is misreported in “Whatta-Gal” and in the more recent Didrikson biography, Don Van Natta, Jr’s 2011 “Wonder Girl: The Magnificent Sporting Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias,” which uses “Whatta-Gal” as its source for the story. Johnson and Williamson cite the New York Times story, but somehow came away with the impression that both Taylor and Frederick struck out with their chivalrous swings. They then say Didrikson walked a batter and hit one with a pitched ball before the next batter lined into a triple play…which, of course, isn’t possible to do when there are already two out. Van Natta fell into the same trap in describing the inning the same way. Johnson was a senior writer for Sports Illustrated and Van Natta a national correspondent for The New York Times; both should have known better. At any rate, Didrikson did not strike out a batter in any of the three games she pitched in spring training.

Babe TSNA brief item in The Sporting News of March 29  (at left) said Taylor “was thwarted in a seeming attempt to strike out when the girl’s pitches were too wide for him to make a show of swinging at them” and Frederick “was right in the way of an inside delivery.”

By the way, McGowan added this in his New York Times story: “Following the game Miss Didrikson repaired to a local golf course, where she had promised to give a demonstration of her driving power.” He didn’t mention if she was paid for that. An account of the event in the Sarasota Herald on March 21 said Didrikson “made 40 drives, dubbed two, and out of the other 38, not one traveled less than 250 yards.”

Here’s the box score for Babe’s debut, as printed in The New York Times:

Dodgers box score

This picture of Babe with Jimmie Foxx, reportedly taken before the March 20 game, appeared in the Seattle Times on April 1:

Babe and Foxx

Here’s another photo from that same session…the cutline provided misidentifies the date of the A’s-Dodgers game as March 19:

Babe and Foxx

Sarasota headlineFrom Fort Myers Didrikson went up Florida’s Gulf Coast to Bradenton, where she pitched for the Cardinals against the Red Sox on March 22. At right is the Sarasota Herald’s front-page headline of March 21 previewing the event. The unidentified author of the piece wrote:

The noted Texas athlete said today her invasion of baseball was not a mere publicity stunt. She really intends to take it up seriously. And according to none other than Burleigh Grimes, the famous spitballer, she really has the “stuff.” Burleigh attended Doan’s baseball school before joining the Cardinal camp and he says he was astonished when she showed him her curves — that is, with a baseball. And they say she can run the bases like the Ty Cobb of old.

Unfortunately Babe did not live up to her billing when game time rolled around, as she gave up three runs in the first inning. The Cardinals wound up winning, 9-7.

Most of the accounts I’ve read from the next day’s newspapers don’t go into great detail about what transpired. The Sarasota Herald had a story by Jack Malaney of the Boston Post; he doesn’t address Didrikson until his sixth paragraph:

Babe Didrikson pitched one inning only and the Sox made four hits off her, it merely being a case of smacking the ball if it were near the plate. It was well that Babe started for she was the only one that Moose Solters was able to hit. He hit a long ball off her which landed in the trees beyond left field for a two bagger that brought in a couple of runs…

Melville E. Webb, Jr., was also sparing in his account in the Boston Globe: “At the go-off ‘Babe’ Didrickson was in the box for the Cards. This young lady athlete…was clipped for three singles and a double which netted the Sox three runs in the one inning she pitched.” The Associated Press game stories had very little to say about Babe’s performance.

Herald headline

Headline from the Boston Herald, March 23, 1934

Boston Herald’s John Drohan also didn’t have much to say about the events on the field, but he offered a little more information about the day:

So far as could be learned Babe Didrikson isn’t a member of the Cardinals but it was just another scheme on the part of [Cardinals general manager] Branch Rickey to coax a few shekels into the box office. That it worked is best explained by the fact 400 cash customers were present where less than a hundred generally spend the afternoon.

Babe may be all right in her class, but the best advice to her is that she remain in it. Our boys resented the feminine intrusion in the national pastime and rallied three runs on four hits in the first inning….She then retired to the dugout, where she kidded around like the rest of the ball players.

Red Sox headlineI haven’t found a play-by-play of Babe’s work against the Red Sox, but the most information is from a syndicated column by John Lardner that was published several days later; the headline at left appeared over the column in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. It’s entirely possible Lardner was not at the game to see Didrikson’s performance but put together his story from second-hand accounts, and as a result it’s entirely possible not everything he wrote is correct. Here’s part of what he wrote:

Big Julius Solters parked one of her slants in the top of a tree in left field. The ball dropped cautiously from limb to limb, and big Julius was rounding second before it dropped to the ground.

Others who hit Miss Didrikson safely were Bill Cissell, Eddie Morgan, Dusty Cooke and Rick Ferrell. [Note: the accounts published in the Sarasota Herald, Boston Globe and Boston Herald all said Didrickson allowed only four hits; Cooke is not shown with a hit in the box score.] All the boys profited by a tip from Max Bishop, the first hitter to oppose the Babe.

“Count ten before you swing,” Max advised them. “This girl does not throw as fast as she runs.” [I don't know what happened in Bishop's at-bat, but apparently he was put out.]

“That don’t seem possible,” said Eddie Morgan, but it turned out that Max was correct.

When the first half of the inning was over the Cards clustered around Miss Didrickson and patted her on the back. They patted her in the direction of the nearest exit. Virgil Davis paid the Babe a brief tribute as he removed his mask.

“One thing, she’s got a change of pace,” said Mr. Davis. “She can go from slow to slower.”

Cards second baseman and manager Frank Frisch added to the unkind comments when he told Lardner, “A woman’s place is in or around the home. I was glad to give this dame a lift, but there’s such a thing as carrying a thing too far.”

But Lardner did write, with apparent sincerity, “The comments of the athletes and the spectators…must not be interpreted as a reflection on the ability of women to play ball. The time is not far off when women will be playing in the big leagues.”

For a completely different account of Babe’s performance against the Red Sox, let’s read a letter Ray Doan sent to his hometown paper, the Muscatine Journal, that was published in the “Sports From The Wings” column on March 29:

She should not have been scored on as there were two out, two men on bases [sic] and she pitched a perfect third strike to Solters which was called a ball by an experienced umpire. Solters followed with a double and Pepper Martin and Collins, first baseman, made errors. [Collins is shown with an error in the box score, Martin is not.] Then followed another hit, scoring another run.

None of the game stories identifies the player who drove in the third run off Didrikson; perhaps it was Ferrell. Here is the box score of the game that appeared in the Boston Globe:

Red Sox box score

Three days later Didrikson was back in New Orleans to make up the appearance there that had been cancelled the previous Sunday. There was no report of the size of the crowd this time. Facing minor league competition, she pitched two shutout innings for the Indians against the Pelicans, allowing three hits. Clifton Dreyfus’ story in the New Orleans Times-Picayune said she “showed the speed, control and hooks [breaking pitches] of a man.” She walked one batter and did not strike out anyone. There are no further details about her pitching in either the Times-Picayune or the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The box score shows she had two assists, presumably on ground balls back to the box; she had no fielding chances in her earlier games.

Headline in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, March 26, 1934

Headline in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, March 26, 1934

She also got a hit of her own, described by Dreyfus as a “clean single.” That came when she was allowed to bat out of turn to get another chance at the plate; the inning is not specified. In her first trip to the plate, in the bottom of the first (she was batting third in the order specifically to ensure she would get to bat), she “socked a hefty line foul and then grounded out, second to first,” according to Dreyfus. The newspaper didn’t say whether she batted left or right; her comment quoted when she was in Hot Springs implied she could switch-hit.

Gordon Cobbledick wrote in the Plain Dealer Didrikson “smacked out two line drives, one fair and one foul, and looked as if she had been playing baseball in fast company all her life.” But Cobbledick added some information about her first at-bat: “[Catcher] Chick Autry dropped her pop foul on purpose so that she could have another chance to hit the ball.” (The box score does not list an error for Autry.) Cobbledick said that helped the Indians score their first run, as Dick Porter moved from first to second on Didrikson’s eventual groundout, then scored on Joe Vosmik’s single.

Headline in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 26, 1934

Headline in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 26, 1934

I haven’t found who was managing Didrikson’s team in New Orleans. Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson was the Indians’ skipper, but he took a split squad to Lafayette, Louisiana, that day to face the minor league Kansas City Blues. Johnson put himself in to pitch in that game (he was 46 years old) and wound up scoring the winning run after hitting a ninth-inning double.

Here is the box score of Babe’s game against New Orleans as published in the Plain Dealer:

Pelicans box

Didrickson traveled from New Orleans to her home in Beaumont, Texas, according to Ray Doan’s letter to the Muscatine newspaper, thus ending her brief tour of baseball training camps.

Missing from this post is one story that appears in all her major biographies. The source for it is Babe’s own 1955 autobiography, “This Life I’ve Led.” The problem is, it seems to be completely fabricated.

Here’s the tale in Babe’s words (or those of her “as told to” co-author, Harry Paxton):

In Florida before the baseball tour [with the House of David team] started, I did a little exhibition pitching against some of the major-league and minor-league teams. One day I was at Bradenton, Florida, where the St. Louis Cardinals were training. They were going to play an exhibition game with the Philadelphia Athletics. I was sitting in the grandstand before the game with Dizzy and Paul Dean of the Cardinals. Jimmy [sic] Foxx of the Athletics was there too.

Dizzy Dean was always bragging, you know. That is, people called it bragging. Actually, it was just his way. It was Southern Texas talk. Dizzy was good and he knew it. He’d say, “I’m gonna do something big” and then go ahead and do it.

Well, we were talking there, and the fellows were kidding each other back and forth. And Dizzy says to Jimmy Foxx, “We’ll pitch Babe against you, and I’ll betcha that me and Paul and Babe can beat you guys.”

So it wound up with me pitching the first inning for the Cardinals. Frankie Frisch was managing the team then, and he was a fellow to enjoy a stunt like that. Dizzy Dean wasn’t in there at the start of the game, but they put Paul Dean out in left field, because he was going to come in anyway and pitch after I finished.

Pretty soon the bases were loaded with none out. Those bases got loaded on hits, not walks. I always had pretty good control. I seldom walked anybody. But I couldn’t seem to throw the ball past these major-leaguers.

The next batter hit a line drive, but it turned into a double play and nobody scored. That brought up Jimmy Foxx.

There was a big grove of orange trees out back of left field. I don’t suppose many balls were hit that far, but with a girl pitching and Jimmy Foxx batting, Paul Dean wasn’t taking any chances. He was backed up almost to the edge of the orange grove.

And Jimmy Foxx hit a ball deep into those trees. Paul Dean turned and started running back. He disappeared right into the orange grove. A couple of moments later he came trotting out. He was holding up his glove for everyone to see. There was a baseball and about five oranges in it. That’s how we made the third out. And that was enough pitching for me that day.

I have no hesitation in saying this never happened. Didrikson was quite famous at the time and, as we’ve seen, her baseball appearances gained attention. I have found no contemporaneous news report of this event.

Babe 1934But it mixes elements of things that did happen in 1934. Didrikson started a game in Bradenton…pitched for the Cardinals (Dizzy Dean pitched in relief in the game she started) and the A’s (and had her picture taken with Foxx)…there was a line drive that turned into multiple outs when she pitched (the triple play against the Dodgers)…somebody hit a ball into a tree against her (although it was Moose Solters).

Apparently Didrikson’s biographers made no effort to find out, say, exactly when the game Babe described took place. Johnson and Williamson swallow the tale whole in “Whatta-Gal,” describing it as having happened “another day” during spring training in 1934. (They don’t provide the dates for her game against the Dodgers or Red Sox, but erroneously placed them on consecutive days, and don’t mention her game against the Pelicans.) Van Natta likewise repeats the story pretty much verbatim; he also doesn’t give a date for the game against the Dodgers, and he ignores the games against the Red Sox and Pelicans.

The other major Didrikson biography is “Babe: The Life and Legend of Babe Didrikson Zaharias” by San Diego State University professor Susan E. Cayleff. She says merely that Babe “pitched in exhibition games against minor and major league teams” in the spring of 1934 without specifics. Later, during a passage about Babe’s time with the House of David, Cayleff launches into a description of the orange grove incident:

To increase her visibility and her income, Babe set up one-on-one pitching outings against big leaguers. Her first was against Jimmy [sic] Foxx and his Philadelphia Athletics. Her ‘team’ would be Dizzy Dean and Paul Dean of the St. Louis Cardinals.

I don’t know how she came up with this scenario, or when and where she thought this had taken place. From there she told the story as Didrikson did, concluding with, “The papers went wild and reported that Babe Didrikson got Jimmy Foxx out with the bases loaded (there was one on, but ‘loaded bases’ makes for more excitement).” I have searched a number of archival sources and have not found any newspaper account of an event anything like what is described here; if you know of one, please share it in the comments below.