The Three Ghosts of Sumatra, Montana

In Melstone, Route 12 is known as Railroad Avenue even though a railroad hasn’t run through the tiny Montana town in more than 30 years.  We learned this from the proprietor of a gas station where we had stopped to refuel our Jeep Patriot before heading back to see a baseball game in Billings.

I was pumping gas, so Andy got out to stretch his legs.  Not long after his plane landed, we headed out to Sumatra – a ghost town in rural southeastern Montana – to see if we couldn’t find the Finch Ranch.  Andy’s great-grandfather was a homesteader there, which was virtually all Andy knew about his great-grandfather, and it was a two hour drive from our hotel on the heels of a six hour flight.  He needed to stretch out some.

As Andy walked around the grounds, stopping once to take a photo of a historical marker and second time to ponder a rather odd “don’t do meth” sign, the owner of the gas station came by to greet him.

“Bet you don’t know why I am here,” Andy offered.

“Well,” the man replied – his mop of white hair falling out the sides of a trucker hat. “You don’t look Sturgis.”  That’s true – Andy looks nothing like someone headed out to join a world of bikers.

A quick chuckle later, Andy told him that we had just visited what used to be the Finch family ranch.  Andy was the grandson of Richard Finch and his ancestors once owned a ranch in Sumatra.  Andy pronounced it “Su-MOTT-tra”.  The ranch was now gone – heck, the whole city was gone.  There were a handful of falling buildings within a block of a post office that sat on the southwest corner of Sumatra Road and Route 12.  The post office was new and had a paved driveway – the only pavement other than Route 12 we had seen for miles.  It looked out of place compared to buildings in each of the previous four cities we had driven through on the way to the ranch.  Only one building, so far as we could tell, was occupied – and that was a ground-level house and storage garage just to the west of the post office.  As for what used to be the Finch family ranch, we could tell where the house once stood and found the remains of a well pump and a pipe sticking out of the ground that used to provide running water to the house.  The land was maybe twelve miles north of what had to be old Main Street.

Land where Isaiah Finch grew wheat and raised sheep starting in about 1911.

Land where Isaiah Finch and his sons grew wheat and raised sheep starting in about 1911.

“I knew your family; Daniel Finch, his wife Lottie, and their kids.”  The proprietor suddenly went from being friendly to being very interested in our visit.  For Andy, he learned something.  This was the first time he knew his great-grandfather’s name.  “My dad – the Jake this station is named for – went to school with Richard Finch in Sumatra.  His mom and his sister were teachers there.”

By now, I had joined Andy in the conversation.  I introduced myself, and the man wearing a Welcome to Melstone tee-shirt (made to look like the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign) told me his name was Larry Zaharko, son of the man who had first set up his garage and service station in Melstone some 60-plus years ago.

At this point, Larry filled in some blanks about the area.  More importantly, he told us that we should have driven out past what used to be Sumatra – he pronounced it Su-MATT-tra – to a town called Ingomar because there was this old restaurant there and it had pictures of the towns when they were bustling stops along the old Milwaukee Road.  I remembered that railroad and its distinctive red logo.  I had seen cars for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Puget Sound Railroad as a kid growing up near Chicago.  I just didn’t know it once ran through all of these towns in rural Montana, too.

Our options were either heading back to Billings to see a baseball game where it was likely raining, or heading back east to learn more about Andy’s family history.  Andy and I had been making nearly annual baseball trips for 25 years now, but over the last several years we had been adding more non-baseball side trips.  In 2009, we did a huge Lincoln tour – mixing three baseball games with visits to a large number of Abraham Lincoln sites in Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois.  In 2013, our Philadelphia baseball weekend included visits to Valley Forge and Independence Hall, as well as a bunch of Ben Franklin sites.  Just last year, we skipped a minor league stop in Round Rock to drive into the central Texas wilderness to find the ranch owned by Coke Stevenson, a legendary Texas politician.

Just who, exactly, gets mail at the Sumatra post office?

Just who, exactly, gets mail at the Sumatra post office?

Naturally, we chose to drive east to Ingomar.


Just after the turn of the century, a new branch of the Milwaukee Road railroad line came through this corner of Rosebud County, competing with the Northern Pacific Railway running to the south.  Building the railroad immediately created jobs for people who would support the railway – first people to help with the grading of the land, then building bridges and finally laying track.  After that, the railway needed mechanics and road workers, car loaders and ticket sellers.  What the railway really needed, though, was customers.  It needed passengers to ride the rails, and goods to get delivered from town to town.  The federal government spurred future homesteaders by offering 320 acre blocks to willing settlers outside of the newly created towns.  In 1905, nary a soul lived in the area.  By 1910, a railroad spanned from Lake Michigan to the Puget Sound.  Soon after, a number of people – mostly from the Midwest, but many others from places like Norway and Poland (the native land of the Zaharko family) migrated to towns like Sumatra, Vananda, and Ingomar.

The railroad encouraged people by supporting supposed research claiming that farming was possible in arid areas one would find here.  For a few years, this was true.  Timely and adequate rainfall contributed to fair wheat crops.  The most successful farmers also raised sheep on their ranches.  According to one book on Montana history, the tri-city area of Sumatra, Ingomar, and Vananda could shear 6,000 sheep in a single day – a valuable commodity to the US Army as it outfitted soldiers bound for Europe to help finish World War I.

Very quickly, small cities with as many as 1,500 people lived along the various rail stops – a new city every nine miles.  In addition to the rail workers and the ranchers, many local shops and professionals arrived.  Though most of the settlers had at most an eighth grade education, you would also find doctors, pharmacists, bankers, and lawyers hanging shingles along newly created streets.

The growth and bustle lasted from about 1910 to 1918 – and then ended in a hurry.  Regular droughts and the end of the war killed off crops and demand for wool, which sent many people packing.  By 1925, 75% of the people who had moved to the area were gone.  Those that stayed – miles away from their original homes and families – huddled together and made the best of it.  Good intentions, however, don’t cover issues for towns with little running water.  In fact, the trains used to bring tank cars filled with water to support the towns.  Ingomar today still doesn’t have much water – barely enough from a local well to supply about 10 families with running water.

One of four buildings, and the one with the least decay, still remaining from old Sumatra.

One of four buildings, and the one with the least decay, still remaining from old Sumatra.

Sumatra only survived because a high school was there.  However, in the 1960s, the school burned down.  A town that went from 0 to 1500 residents in less than a decade, then shrank to maybe 375 people after World War I disappeared completely in another decade.  Long time residents retired and moved to places like Billings or Butte or Helena – or further away.  The Milwaukee Road, after filing for bankruptcy in the late 1970s, decided to abandon the rail lines through Montana.  Abandon only tells half the story – they actually came to Montana and removed the railway.  Sumatra had gone from nothing to a boom town and back in just three generations.


Larry told us how the railway created and destroyed the towns of his youth, and had wiped out most of his current home of Melstone.  As proof, he made sure to tell us to look for the old railroad grade as we drove to Ingomar.  If you just looked for it, you’d see the ghost of the railroad.

Discarded railroad ties along Route 12 near Sumatra.

Discarded railroad ties along Route 12 near Sumatra.

He was right.  You could see exactly where the railroad used to run – level grade topped or split hills and rose a few feet above the road.  The rails and ties were gone – and so were many of the bridges.  In some spots, you could see a rotted rail tie left behind along the grade, or a bridge support with no crossing.  On one bridge, we saw weeds growing where steel rails used to be.  Along with the ranch and town of Sumatra, the railroad was a third ghost we had uncovered.

The remains of the railroad bridge that crossed the Musselshell River near Sumatra.

The remains of the railroad bridge that crossed the Musselshell River near Sumatra.

The town of Ingomar was still standing, but was a shell of its former self.  It was mostly deserted, except for maybe six functional buildings interspersed with twenty other buildings in various levels of decay.  One of the functional buildings was an old bank that had been converted to a restaurant and bar called Jersey Lilly.

Exterior of the Jersey Lilly in Ingomar.

Exterior of the Jersey Lilly in Ingomar.

We walked in and found a handful of people talking to each other.  A family reunion was starting and a few tables in front were being reserved.  To be honest, nobody else was coming (our arrival was a surprise to the owners), so reserving the tables was unnecessary.  Andy and I wandered through the restaurant, then back through openings to the two adjacent stores.  There, in the last of the three rooms, I found a self-published book detailing the personal remembrances of some 400 families that once lived in both Sumatra and Ingomar.  That became my birthday present to Andy.  He found another book that had been written by the former Sumatra town doctor some sixty years after he migrated to Montana, and then was edited and published by his son in the late 1990s.

We also bellied up to the bar to enjoy a can of pop and a cinnamon roll.  The owner of the restaurant brought us out what he called a Sheep Herder Hors D’Oeuvres, which was a saltine cracker with a layer of cheddar cheese, a layer of cut onions, and topped with a layer of thinly sliced oranges.  We were both surprised that the concoction tasted pretty good.

The teller stations had been converted to a bar inside the Jersey Lilly.

The teller stations had been converted to a bar inside the Jersey Lilly.

The owner suggested that we talk to the last residents of Sumatra, Dan and Meredith Clifton.  They lived in the building just west of the post office.  Talking to strangers was easy for us – Andy and I spent a portion of our lives in journalism where talking to complete strangers was a daily part of our jobs.  We had no problem talking to anyone we could see.  However, knocking on someone’s door seemed a little too intruding – especially as afternoon turned to evening – so we passed on meeting the Cliftons and headed to Billings instead.  Besides, we were armed with stories and books to read.

A deserted business in Ingomar.

A deserted business in Ingomar.

We took a few pictures of town and headed back to the hotel.

A school house, now deserted, in Ingomar.

A school house, now deserted, in Ingomar.

Along the ride home, Andy read aloud through the two books we had picked up.  The reunion book contained a bunch of stories about his great-grandparents as well as a few photos of them and their homes.  The second book was a treasure trove of stories about the founding of town.  Written by Dr. Kent Midgett, the book is filled with his memories of the scores of families that settled in Sumatra – some who stayed and many who left.  His son, Douglas, took his father’s stories, filled in some holes with other local history, and then published it about 15 years ago.

Picture of the Finch family that returned to Sumatra for a reunion in about 1976.

Picture of the Finch family that returned to Sumatra for a reunion in about 1976.

At our hotel, I broke out the laptop and started hunting for other historical references.  The internet is a wonderful source of information that genealogists can use to find stuff – and finally we had names to use in searches.  Using NewspaperArchive.com, we dug up old obituaries of Daniel and Lottle Finch and those of Daniel’s brothers and sisters.  Ancestry.com gave us access to census records and other documentation.  And some woman named Brenda King Finch had done a bunch of other legwork, compiling a website called FinchDNA.com – apparently she married into the family and started assembling their family history.  Andy will be reaching out to her to share stuff we found, too.

We also looked into the history of the Milwaukee Road – and the stories we read matched that told to us by Mr. Zaharko.


Isaiah Finch, the son of an English immigrant, had lived in Pittsburgh most of his life coping with grief.  He lost a wife and child within five years of his wedding.  Remarrying and adding more children to the household, he tried making changes to his fortune.  First, he moved south and tried farming in Virginia before moving back to Pittsburgh to help an ailing father.  Around 1911, he had enough of the steel city; farming suited him better than rolling steel.  Already nearing 50 years old, he picked up his growing family, Isaiah fathered thirteen kids – eleven that survived childhood, and moved west to Sumatra, Montana where he settled a 320 acre homestead north of the city.

Area where house must have stood. To the back left you can see where the running water would have been.

Area where house must have stood. To the back left you can see where the running water would have been.

The Finch Ranch can still be found on topographical maps – it’s a local landmark, even if not a historical one.  You can see how it might have been able to raise sheep – driving out there, there are hundreds of bulls and cows grazing on the land.  Isaiah would teach his sons well – they would be among the few who survived the city’s decline – and a well helped provide some running water to manage crops and a house.

Remains of a well found on the Finch Ranch.

Remains of a well found on the Finch Ranch.

Two of his seven sons were drafted into World War I, including Daniel Finch.  Isaiah was the person who worked the draft board for this part of Rosebud County – he signed Daniel’s official draft form.  When Daniel returned from the war, he met a young widow named Lottie Panena and her daughter, Gilda.  Daniel was smitten – he married the young school teacher, adopted her daughter, and set up shop on his own farm in Sumatra.  After more than 40 years in the area, and with most of their friends already gone (either heaven or other cities), they retired to Billings.  Their daughter, Betty, took over Lottie’s job teaching at the school – until it burned down and she left town for Billings, too.  Betty’s older brother, Richard, had bailed even sooner.  By the time Sumatra’s high school had burned down, Richard was in Independence, MO – and raising Andy Finch’s dad.  Daniel died in 1967 – three years before Andy was born, and about ten years before the last few families were leaving Sumatra for good.


The best part of the story is how we nearly missed it.  We had seen the ranch, taken some pictures, and were ready to go do what we love to do as much as anything: watch baseball.  Instead, a chance encounter with a local resident changed our plans and made the trip memorable – especially so for my friend.

Andy Finch knew very little of these ghost stories – nothing about his great-grandparents and the remains of a ranch where his grandfather grew up; nothing about the ghost town of Sumatra; nothing about how a Midwestern railroad contributed to the birth, life, and death of these cities and how they all changed and shaped the lives of his family – and likely would still not know any of this had we not stopped for gas at a quiet service station in Melstone.  We didn’t even notice the missing railroad the first time through.

Instead, a friendly chat with a complete stranger helped us find the three ghosts who put Andy in touch with his family history.

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Mighty Casey Baseball Bio: Ollie Pickering

You may have heard of the term “Texas Leaguer” – a little flair or bloop single that falls just beyond the infielders and just in front of the outfielders – but you might not know where that term came from.

It’s tied to one of the early nomads of baseball history, outfielder Ollie Pickering.

Oliver Daniel Pickering was born on April 9, 1870 in Olney, Illinois to Joseph McKendree Pickering and Emma Jane (Cochenour) Pickering.  His dad was a cooper, building barrels for local wheat and grain mills.  Ollie was one of two kids – he had a sister, Josephine Elijah, who was seven years younger than he.  A fan of baseball from the first time he came in contact with the game, one thing was certain and that was he didn’t want to build barrels.  Ollie had a more adventurous and daring streak – so in 1892 he saved up all his money and used it to buy postage.  He wrote to every baseball manager he could find in the United States, included an envelope with return postage, and hoped that someone would give him a chance to try out for the team – certain that if given a chance, he’d stick.

Nobody gave him a chance, except a manager for the Houston entry in the Texas League, John J. McCloskey.

Meanwhile, Pickering learned that rival baseball clubs in San Antonio, Texas were looking for fresh talent to help resolve a local baseball rivalry.  Without a penny to his name, Pickering raced out and caught a train heading south (well, west and then south) to Texas.  He would race up alongside a slow moving train jump up along a cattle car, and then hang on for dear life.  As Ollie once told The Sporting News, “I pigged it from my home at Olney, Ill., to San Antonio, Tex., a distance of 1,600 miles, hanging to the brake rods.  They couldn’t come too fast for me in those days, and I’ve caught a train going 20 miles an hour.”

Landing in San Antonio, he once again reached out to McCloskey, using the last stamps he had.  McCloskey said he was interested – but never sent a train ticket so Pickering could get to Houston.  While waiting, Pickering played with a couple of local semi-pro teams but didn’t have enough to cover room and board, so he lived “… under a high sidewalk at San Antonio a couple of weeks waiting for a ticket.”  The season was about to start and he still hadn’t heard from the manager, so Pickering took to the rails again.  ‘McCloskey forgot to send the ticket, and two days before the season opened, I pigged it over to Houston.  These days a player won’t report without advance money, transportation, and Pullmans, but the pig train was good enough for me.”

Let’s let Ollie finish the story.

On the morning of the day the season opened, I fell off a slow freight at Houston, hunted up McCloskey and said, “I’m here.”  

He looked me over and said: “Who are you?”

I told him and he sort of gasped.  I had a crop of whiskers with clinkers in them, one shoe, and what clothes I wore were tied on with ropes and wire.  “How did you get here?”  McCloskey asked.  

“Pigged it,” I said. “Tickets don’t cut no ice with me.  I’ve come 1,800 miles looking for a job.”  

“Have you any money?” the manager wanted to know.  

“Couldn’t make the first payment on a clay pipe,” I said.  

McCloskey said he guessed I’d do.  He gave me 50 cents and told me to come out that afternoon for a trial.  He said there might be something in me, and there was.  I blew 10 cents against a barber shop and the rest for grub, and maybe I didn’t throw in a (beverage) that did me good.  With a meal inside of me and rigged up in a new uniform I felt like a horse.  Nothing could stop me.  In seven times at bat I made seven hits with men on bases, and they couldn’t put anything past me in the field.  Houston beat Galveston 30 to 1, and the town went crazy.  

When the excitement cooled down I strolled round near McCloskey and wondered out loud if I would do.  “Come here,” hs said.  He hustled me downtown, bought me a trunk, suit case, suit of clothes, shoes, underwear, shirts, collars; in fact, a whole dude outfit, and stabled me at a hotel with real beds in it.  McClosky must have spent all of $25 togging me out, and I was the white-haired boy at Houston.  I was stuck on being a ball player, and that was how I broke into the game.  And, do you know, it was weeks before I could ride in a Pullman car without holding on with both hands?

— (“Gossip of the Players”, The Sporting News, 2/15/1902, Pg 2. and “A Ball Player’s Start – Ollie Pickering Relates His Early Experiences”, San Antonio Daily Light, 2/18/1902, Pg. 4.)

Pickering wound up hitting ,300 in the Texas League, and he must have hung around there for a while as Baseball-Reference has a record of his playing for Houston in the South Texas League in 1895, but no records for Pickering playing in organized ball between 1892 and 1895.  In 1896, he was playing closer to home – Cairo, Illinois – before being sent east to Lynchburg in the Virginia League.  There, he was signed by a scout for the Louisville Colonels and given a chance with a major league team.  In his first game, facing Cy Young, he had three hits – all little flairs into the outfield.

Between those two events – his seven-hit game for Houston consisting of little flairs just beyond the first or third baseman or his three-hit game for Louisville consisting of several short flairs to the outfield – is the tale of the term Texas Leaguer.  Having read the stories tying the term to his first game in Houston only makes sense if his hits off of Cy Young were similar – as the term itself is rather derogatory.  A real hit is a line drive or a well placed shot.  A Texas Leaguer is the type of flair or accidental bloop single a lucky minor leaguer got in a big league game.  Either way – all the stories say it started with Ollie Pickering.

With Louisville, Pickering hit .303 and stole 13 bases in 45 games.  He didn’t hit nearly as well in 1897, so Louisville replaced him with Texas League star William Nance and sent Pickering to Cleveland.  There, Pickering found his batting stroke – he hit .352 in 46 games there.  Pickering was also fast – he could run down long flies in the outfield and stole 38 bases in 1897.  At the same time, he had his own struggles.  Pickering occasionally misplayed grounders hit to him in the outfield, and was once referred to as a “Blind Bull” on the bases – reckless and not always paying attention.

Cleveland optioned Pickering back to the Western League despite hitting .352 – he played with Omaha in 1898, Columbus/Grand Rapids and Buffalo in 1899 and the new Cleveland entry in American League when Ban Johnson and his friends started the process of converting the Western League into a major league – first by changing the league’s name.  So, when the American League declared itself a major league for the 1901 season, Pickering stayed with Cleveland – where he hit .309, scored 102 runs, and stole 36 bases for the Blues.  When his batting fell back to .256 in 1902 – a season full of injuries – Cleveland shipped Pickering to Philadelphia and Connie Mack’s Athletics.  Pickering would have a fine season for Mack in 1903 – he hit .281, stole a career high 40 bases, and scored 93 runs.  A year later, Pickering struggled, he would hit just .226 for Mack, and so he was let go.

Pickering signed with Columbus in the American Association where he was a star outfielder.  In 1905 and 1906, he hit .327 and .313 with 398 combined hits in the two seasons.  After two solid seasons, he was drafted back into the major leagues by the St Louis Browns.  In 1907, Pickering hit .276 – not a horrible season considering he was now a 37-year-old outfielder.  However, he wouldn’t stay – he was traded to Washington for Charley Jones.  The New York Times suggested that Pickering fell out of favor with Browns manager Jimmy McAleer because he occasionally enjoyed a beer and was putting on weight.  “Ollie Pickering, cast off by Connie Mack of Philadelphia, and Jimmy McAleer at St. Louis because he liked pie and beer for breakfast, has at last found his way to Washington – the baseball graveyard.”  More likely, Washington manager Joe Cantillon, who knew Pickering from his westward exhibition tours, wanted a better outfielder than Charley Jones, who complained about being in Washington.

It’s hard to believe that Pickering was trouble for anyone.  From what can be gleaned from various articles, people generally liked Pickering.  He had his limitations – he liked his pitches low but struggled against left-handed pitchers, especially those who could keep pitches higher in the zone.  There’s a story Joe Cantillon used to tell about sending Pickering to scout a young lefty pitcher.  “Bring a bat,” Cantillon told Pickering.  “If you get a few good foul balls off him, leave him in the minors.”  Articles talked about his speed afield and on the bases, as well as his occasional miscues – but he was usually referred to as being a well-known and famous outfielder, almost always in a positive light.

As a guy willing to take risks and hit the road, Pickering took a chance in the 1907-1908 off-season by investing in a local theatre troupe and touring around the Midwest with them.  Performing the act “Humpty Dumpty”, the show didn’t last long – having disbanded with just enough money to pay for tickets home for the cast and crew.  Pickering said that when the show got to his birth town of Olney, he was in trouble.  “I thought,” said Pick, “that when my own folks wouldn’t come to see a show it must be pretty punk, so I gave them all carfare home.  I don’t see why it wasn’t a winner.  Had a fine show.  I got a newspaper man to write me some bills, and they were surely swell.  Here is one of them:  ‘Pickering’s Polluted Pollywogs – Picturesque, Pestilential Posers, the Perihelion Pinks of Piccadilly.’  And yet the people wouldn’t come to see my show!”

Pickering lost about $1,000 on the venture.  His son and daughter, Joe and Ozeta, easily took to the stage, though.  They did a traveling skating show and she was an actress for a number of years before returning to Vincennes, Indiana and starting a family there.

Pickering struggled on a poor Washington team in 1908 – he hit .225 with little else to show for his season.  Released at the end of the year, Ollie threatened to retire rather than get shipped back to the minors – but that wasn’t Ollie Pickering.  He was a baseball player.  For most of 1909 he played with the Minneapolis Millers – his friend and former manager, Joe Cantillon, was happy to have Pickering in the outfield.  However, he struggled with illness and injuries.  In 1910, he was traded from Minneapolis to Louisville.  Not good enough to play in the American Association – then known for being a home for fading major leaguers, he went to Omaha in the Western League for 1911, then returned to play for his hometown Vincennes, Indiana team.  As that season ended, he suffered an even greater loss – his son, Joe, was killed while hunting when his gun accidentally discharged and fired a bullet into his chest.

Over the next decade, Pickering continued to play for low level teams in Terre Haute, Henderson, Owensboro, Owatonna, St. Boniface, and even Manitoba (Canada) – where he lied about his age and told his Canadian-based ownership he was 41 (instead of 45).  Joe Cantillon said that “he looked great for fifty…”  For several years, Vincennes tried maintaining a minor league team and Pickering would be called on to manage and occasionally play.  When not managing, he played semi-professional ball, or took time out to manage a firing range and gun club.  When Indianapolis got a team in the Federal League, there were stories that Pickering was interested in being involved – even as a player if possible.  In 1920, at 50, he was playing for Redfield in the South Dakota League, and a year later he would play for the Fort Branch Studebakers.  After managing in Paducah in 1922, he finally called it good and returned home to work in the grain mills.

But baseball never left him – we’re talking about a guy who played into his 50s.  So, he opened up a baseball school in Vincennes and tried to teach the finer points of the game to kids who wanted to make a run at being a professional baseball player.  After years of chasing dreams and fly balls, his heart finally gave out on January 20, 1952, and his restless body was buried in his adopted hometown.  One assumes his soul is still looking to play a ballgame somewhere.

In addition to adding to the lexicon of baseball, Pickering left a legacy in Vincennes – a street there is named after him.  His grandson, Oliver John Russell, like Ollie – a free spirit willing to travel anywhere to follow his dream – would eventually purchase roller coasters and other kiddie rides, bringing them home and setting up a very successful Kiddieland Park in Vincennes.

Web Sources:

Ollie Pickering Page on Retrosheet.org

Ollie Pickering Pages on Baseball-Reference.com

(Majors)

(Minors)

Newspaper Articles:

Centralia Daily Sentinel, 2/17/1896 Page 2.

“Sporting Notes”, Fort Wayne News, 9/21/1900, Pg. 3

“A Ball Player’s Start – Ollie Pickering Relates His Early Experiences”, San Antonio Daily Light, 2/18/1902 Pg. 4.

“Gossip of the Players”, The Sporting News, 2/15/1902, Pg 2.

F. C. Richter. “Philadelphia Points”, Sporting Life, 10/25/ 1902, Pg. 4.

“Baseball Bunts”, Indianapolis Sun, 4/4/1904, Pg. 8.

“Baseball Notes”  Washington Post, 7/9/2014, Pg. 27.

“Milwaukee Players”, Washington Post, 8/12/1904, Pg. 27

“Gossip of the Diamond” Indianapolis Sun, 12/20/1904

“Ollie Pickering Goes Back to Minor League”, San Antonio Gazette, 3/1/1905, Pg. 3.

“Johndon Re-elected President of American League”, Sandusky Star Journal, 12/13/1907, Pg. 7.

“Baseball Gossip”, New York Times, 12/17/1907, Pg. 7.

Poseyville (IN) News, 1/10/1908, Pg 5.

“Show Was Disbanded”, Sullivan Daily Times, 1/21/1908, Pg. 1

“Pick’s Show”, Sporting Life, 2/22/1908, Pg. 7

“Baseball Notes”, Racine Daily Journal, 4/24/1908, Pg. 9.

“Short Sports”, Newark Advocate, 12/28/1908, Pg. 6.

Racine Daily Journal, 1/8/1909, Pg. 10.

“Ollie Pickering Has Unique Record”, Altanta Constitution, 1/17/1909, Pg. 27.

“When Pickering Lost a Toenail”, Des Moines Daily Register, 8/20/1909, Pg. 9.

“Omaha Signs Pickering”, Bessemer Herald, 2/4/1911, Pg. 7.

“Des Moines Gets New Outfielder”, Des Moines Daily News, 5/22/1911, Pg. 8.

“Boy Hunter Accidentally Shot”, Loogootee Sentinel, 12/8/1911, Pg. 7.

“Pickering Bereaved”, Sporting Life, 12/16/1911, Pg. 15.

“The Western League”, Sporting Life, June 10, 1911. Pg. 23.

“Texas Leaguers”, Sporting Life, April 21, 1906, Pg. 2.

“News Items Gathered From All Quarters”, Sporting Life, April 13, 1912, Pg. 5.

Huntington News Democrat, 3/22/1912, Pg. 6.

Muskogee Times Democrat, 3/29/1912, Pg. 9.

“Ball Tosser Heads Club”, Lebanon Patriot, 6/13/1912, Pg. 12.

“Baseball Notes”, Alton Evening Telegraph, 6/8/1914, Pg. 6.

“Pickering, at 41, Beats Kid Stars”, Massillon Evening Independent, 6/15/1915.

Janesville Daily Gazette, 9/13/1915, Pg. 8.

Chandler D. Richter. “Mack’s New View”, Sporting Life, 1/23/1915, Pg. 6.

“It’s Up to Albert Lea to Keep Up Reputation”, Albert Lea Evening Tribune, 9/1/1916, Pg. 6.

“Vincennes to Have Team”, Washington Democrat, 2/23/1917, Pg. 3.

“Sport Column”, Princeton Daily Democrat, 3/16/1917, Pg. 2.

“Former Big-League Star Gets New Job”, Elkhart Review, 8/5/1919, Pg. 8.

“Fort Branch to Play Haubstadt Next Sunday P.M.”, Princeton Daily Democrat, 6/24/1921, Pg. 5.

“Kitty League Rejuvenated”, Laurel Daily Leader, 4/14/1922, Pg. 1

“Sign Four Players for Vincennes New Ball Club”, Bicknell Daily News, 4/7/1923, Pg. 1.

“Caught on the Fly”, Sporting Life, 8/12/1911.  Page. 17

“Kiddieland Thrives In Town of 18,000”, The Billboard, 2/19/1955, Pg. 59, 71.

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John McGraw – a Different Perspective

It’s time to reconsider the legacy of John McGraw.  If Rob Manfred gets to review Pete Rose’s case and consider reinstating him, perhaps Manfred should review the history of John McGraw and consider kicking McGraw out and having him removed from the Hall of Fame.

How did I come to this conclusion?  I had thought about it for a little while (see my article on Pol Parrott), but it really came clearer to me in recent weeks.  I was doing some research on Horace Fogel; it was his birthday a few weeks back and I couldn’t remember who he was, but it gave me a reason to think about John McGraw.  I even bought two books about him – a biography and his autobiography.

Long and short, I no longer think John McGraw is one of the greats of the game of baseball.  Rather – I think he was one of the villains.  He’s Aaron Burr with better press and a better final act.

As a player with the Baltimore Orioles, McGraw had a reputation as a cheat.  As a baserunner, he cut bases; as a defender he grabbed players to prevent them from running around third.  He tripped people, he grabbed belts.  The reason we need four umpires (if not six) at a ball game is because of guys like McGraw.  He menaced umpires and other players – when he retired nobody had been thrown out of more baseball games than John McGraw.

Very noble.

It didn’t end there.  McGraw somehow was made the manager of the AL’s Baltimore Orioles.  Always running in harms way with the umpires, McGraw got on the wrong side of AL President Ban Johnson.  So what did McGraw do?  He worked out a deal with the New York Giants and Cincinnati Reds.  He took over managing the Giants – stole many of the best players (some went to the Reds, who were in cahoots with the Giants since the former owner of the Reds was now the owner of the Giants) – and wrecked the Orioles.  Johnson was so angry, he moved the Orioles to New York and set up the Yankees.

McGraw was a successful manager for the Giants – don’t get me wrong – but given a chance to play in the 1904 World Series, McGraw said no.

In the next decade, the Giants were consistently good – but rumors abounded that the Giants had help.  Here’s where Horace Fogel comes in – he owned the Phillies in the early 1910s.  He was a front for the owners of the Cubs and a guy affiliated with the Reds, but he was the president of the team.  Anyway – Fogel was having a rough year – he had invested in good players and they were competitive, but then things went the wrong way.  A player got suspended, another key player got hurt, and the team fell down the stretch.  At some point, he said things he probably should not have said – but some of the things he said were coming from the guy who owned the Cubs.  One of the things Fogel claimed was that in the height of the pennant race, the St. Louis Cards deliberately played to lose when facing the Giants, which helped the Giants win the pennant.

Roger Bresnahan was the manager of the Cardinals – he had become a manager because McGraw took the raw, fiery pitcher with crazy athletic skills and turned him into an outfielder and then a Hall of Fame catcher (not that there was a Hall of Fame then).  Roger doesn’t get this job without McGraw having helped him as a player, and then by providing Bresnahan with quite the letter of recommendation.  Fogel claimed that Bresnahan returned the favor by helping the Giants win the 1914 pennant, in part, by folding games when facing the Giants.

Fogel was brought before the National League owners and management team, where they decided that they needed to shut Fogel up and kick him out of baseball.  Fogel couldn’t really prove anything; but he was saying things the league didn’t want to talk about, so it was easier to make Fogel – who had no real ownership in the Phillies – go away.

A few years later, Pol Parrott was pitching for the Giants when Hal Chase tried to extract some information from Parrott in hopes to make money on a doubleheader (something Hal Chase did a lot, you know – he looked for information, and often included cash offers).  Parrott told McGraw, word got out, and Chase was brought before a league tribunal to account for his actions.  John McGraw testified about what Parrott said to him.  Somehow, Chase got away with it.  To top it off – McGraw then signed Chase to play first base for his New York Giants.

How does that happen?

McGraw was very good friends with the guy who ran a gambling syndicate (actually, a crime ring) in New York, Arnold Rothstein.  They owned a race track together, among other things.  Two players on McGraw’s 1919 Giants – Chase and Heinie Zimmerman worked with Rothstein to throw the World Series.  Makes you think that Rothstein saw an opportunity to make some extra money and had his friend, McGraw, give Chase a job.

After the Black Sox scandal, the Giants were still among the best teams of the National League and won pennants to start the 1920s.  They shared the Polo Grounds with the New York Yankees – oddly, the team that was created when the Orioles franchise was returned to the American League and moved to New York in 1903 – first as the Highlanders, and eventually taking on the Yankees moniker.  Over time, the Yankees proved to be the more popular (and more successful) team – so McGraw, who was now a part owner of the team, worked to kick the Yankees out of the Polo Grounds.

McGraw’s reward was to lose a tenant, and then never win another pennant.  Sure – he won a lot of games until he called it a career, but he never made it to another World Series after 1924.

If you think about this – what is it, exactly, that makes you think that John McGraw should be treated like one of the greats of the game?  It’s like saying Pete Rose deserves to be in the Hall of Fame because he has 4200+ hits – so what if he broke one of the cardinal rules of baseball.  Maybe THE cardinal rule.  McGraw cheated on the field, he may have indirectly affected the outcome of a pennant race, he cultivated a world of gambling on his own team that contributed to the fixing of a World Series.  He was belligerent; he was pompous; he was corruptible, if not corrupt.

Oh, yeah – he was a great judge of talent.

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Mighty Casey Bio: Herb Gorman

Herb Gorman is best remembered for suffering a fatal heart attack in the sixth inning of a Pacific Coast League game between Hollywood and San Diego in 1953.

Born in San Francisco on 12 December, 1924, Herbert Allen Gorman was a star outfielder with the Balboa High School nine and local American Legion teams, drawing the attention of Brooklyn Dodgers scouts and eventually signing a contract that sent him to Montreal of the International League.  Before he could get his career started, though, he enlisted with the U.S. Coast Guard, where he served the duration of World War II, finally being discharged in early 1946.

At first he was dispatched to Johnstown, then Trois-Rivieres in Canada.  In 1947, he played with Spokane, where he lead the Western International League with 138 RBIs while batting a crisp .351.  He was moved to Pueblo in the Western League where he led the league in doubles with 45, batted .341 with  20 homers and more than 90 walks, and was a unanimous all-star selection.  In 1949, he was moved up to Hollywood in the Pacific Coast League, which would be his home for the next three seasons.  Gorman hit over .300 in successive seasons, but in 1951, he tried a new set of spikes with longer cleats and, while sliding into second base, broke his leg and ended his season.

Herb Gorman - LBTP 4-6-1953

Despite this, the Cardinals drafted the minor league veteran with the quiet and efficient left-handed swing in the Rule 5 Draft and sent him to spring training with the big league club.  Making the team, Gorman got a lone pinch hitting attempt before the Cards decided he was too slow to be an outfielder and had too many options to keep him as a first baseman.  (He grounded out against Turk Lown as a pinch hitter for Willard Schmidt in an 8-1 loss to the Cubs in Wrigley Field on April 19.)    Gorman was sent to San Diego in the PCL where he took time finding his swing, finishing the season with a .261 batting average.  He spent his winter playing ball with Guaymas in the Mexican Coast League, where he proved to be a top hitter.

On April 5th, San Diego manager Lefty O’Doul gave Gorman his first start of the season in left field – the opening game of a double-header.  Gorman had only had two pinch hitting trips in early action, with one hit, and told his manager that he felt fine – even though he told his wife of one year, the former Rosalie Bloom, that he felt tired that morning.  In his first two trips to the plate, Gorman rapped out doubles, driving home the first Padres run of the game.

In the sixth inning, while in left field, Gorman doubled over with chest pain – managing to yell out, “Time!”.  Players helped him to the dugout, but he climbed a screen and walked through the dugout to the clubhouse without assistance.  Given oxygen by trainers, Gorman fell into a coma.  A physician was called out of the stands, who ordered an ambulance.  Unfortunately, any efforts to treat Gorman failed – he was declared dead upon arrival at Mercy Hospital.

Told the news, O’Doul yelled out, “No!  No!  Don’t tell me that!”  The first game ended with Hollywood winning, 4 – 2, but between games the president of the PCL, Clarence Rowland told the players what had happened.  Saying he felt that Herb would have wanted the teams to play, Rowland acknowledged, “You are to decide whether the second game will go on…”  The players on both teams voted to postpone the second game, and fans – told of Gorman’s death – filed quietly out of Lane Field and headed home.

Gorman was remembered for being generally happy and frequently smiling, good with kids at the various ballparks, and ready for life after baseball.  He had invested in a jewelry business at the time of his passing.

Sources:

Retrosheet Player Profile:

Baseball-Reference.com Profiles

(Majors)

(Minors)

“Shantz, Gorman, Genovese Top Western League Stars”, The Sporting News, 9/15/1948, Pg. 30.

“Transactions”, The Sporting News, 9/22/1948, Pg. 38.

“Hollywood Notes”, The Sporting News, 7/11/1951, Pg. 54.

Bob Broeg. “Younger Redbirds to Get Full Chance to Make Grade — Saigh”, The Sporting News, 11/29/1951, Pg. 9.

Red Byrd. “Redhead Tries First Base Mitt and Finds It’s Good Fit”, The Sporting News, 3/12/1952, Pg. 6

“Heart Attack During Game Fatal to Padre’s Gorman”, The Sporting News, 4/15/1953, Pg. 34.

“Herb Gorman Collapses at Outfield Post”, Oakland Tribune, 4/6/1953, Page 43.

“Gorman Like Pro Even as Prep”, Long Beach Press Telegram, 4/6/1953, Page 12.

“Death Takes PCL Player Herb Gorman” Council Bluffs Nonpareil, 4/7/1953, Page 4.

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Baseball 365 – April 5th in History

Birth Announcements!

1859  Ed Andrews

Outfielder with Philadelphia in the 1880s – college educated, his baseball career was reasonably successful, but his post-baseball career was more so.  He would become a real estate developer in Palm Beach, FL, and wrote local articles about the yachting business.

1861  Ed Kennedy

Weak hitting outfielder for New York in the 1880s.

1864  Ted Scheffler
1875  Charlie Emig

Only pitched in one game for Louisville in 1896 (an ugly loss to Washington), but he lived to be 100 years old – the last living man who played in the 19th century.

1876  Big Bill Dinneen

Turn of the century pitcher, and a four-time 20 game winner for Boston.  Later, moved to St. Louis where he helped the Browns in their 1908 pennant run.  He aged quickly after that, though…  Finished with 180 career wins.

1877  Wid Conroy
1889  Tom Phillips
1894  Jim Sullivan
1899  Tony Welzer
1907  Sugar Cain
1907  John “Lefty” Goodell
1921  Bobby Hogue
1922  Gene Crumling
1931  Fred Besana
1936  Jimmie Schaffer
1937  Roger “Noonie” Marquis
1938  Ron Hansen

Good glove, power hitting shortstop with the Orioles and White Sox in the 1960s…  Hanson hit 20 homers twice, but his batting average – assembled during a period where pitchers ruled the relationship – rarely cleared .250.  Hanson once turned an unassisted triple play.

One half of the answer to a rare trivia question – he was once traded from Chicago to Washington and then back in the same season for infielder Tim Cullen in 1968.  The Baltimore Orioles sent Hanson to the White Sox in 1962 for Luis Aparicio.  A bad back led to his eventual release.

1938  Don Prince
1940  Ron Campbell
1951  Rennie Stennett

Pirates second baseman of the 1970s, once had seven hits in a game against the Cubs in 1875.  Didn’t last long after that though – he broke his leg sliding in to second base in 1977.  After the 1979 pennant win, the Giants signed him as a free agent, getting $3 million over five years, but the Giants cut him after two seasons.  Just 31, his career ended quietly…

1953  Kim Allen

A prospect in the Seattle chain, once set a PCL record for stolen bases.  Very short MLB career.

1960  Jim Scranton
1965  Cris Carpenter

The other Cris Carpenter – had a fair career as a pitcher for a few teams in the 1990s and 2000s.

1967  Greg Smith
1970  Ryan Karp
1971  Andres Berumen
1975  Domingo Guzman
1976  Ross Gload

A fine utility hitter and pinch hitter of the last decade.

1976  Ryan Drese
1977  Winston Abreu
1978  Brandon Backe
1981  Jorge de la Rosa

Fine pitcher withe Colorado Rockies.

1985  Lastings Millege

One assumes that Millege is no longer a prospect at this stage, but for a few years he was at or near the top of many prospect lists.  He could hit some, he could run, but he didn’t take many pitches, and he didn’t seem to play the outfield as well as his physical tools might have suggested.

1985  Ian Stewart

Had a couple of years with Colorado as a power hitting third baseman, but it was a mirage.  Heading to the Cubs, he struggled to find the Mendoza line.

1986  Steve Clevenger

 

Obituaries

1902  Dave Eggler

Played in the National Association and National League – left baseball to work for American Express.  His death was an accident – he was crushed between train cars at Central Rail Road Station in Buffalo.

1911  Frank Hankinson
1917  Frank McLaughlin
1929  Tom Crooke
1930  Jack McGeachey
1930  Frederick Fass
1932  Harry Koons
1939  Fred Curtis
1946  Wally Rehg
1951  Roy Moore
1952  Ray Jacobs
1953  Connie Walsh
1953  Tex Erwin
1953  Herb Gorman

Gorman was an outfielder and first baseman with the Cardinals in 1952 – for maybe a week.  A year later, he had a heart attack during the sixth inning during a game between San Diego and Hollywood in the Pacific Coast League and died on the way to the hospital.

You can read a more complete biography here.

1056  Tommy Taylor
1957  Art Bader
1959  Frank Bruggy
1962  Vince Shupe
1964  Bob Clemens
1965  Mike Pasquella
1966  Sam Dodge
1973  Tex Jeanes
1974  Fred Snodgrass

Catcher, first baseman, and center fielder (I know – odd combination) for the Giants in the early years of the last century.  Snodgrass is best remembered for dropping a flyball in the tenth inning of the last game of the 1912 World Series that allowed the tying run to reach base – few remember that after dropping the ball, Snodgrass made a fantastic running catch to rob the second batter of a hit and nearly doubled off the runner.  Tris Speaker batted with two on and hit a pop foul that neither Merkle, Matty, or the catcher wanted to catch giving Speaker another chance to bat,  Sure enough, he lined a single to score the tying run.  One batter later, the Red Sox were champions.

Snodgrass was interviewed in The Glory of Their Times, which provides some of the details listed here…

1984  Chet Kehn
1988  Tom Earley
1993  Joe Coscarart
1994  Bobby Hofman
1997  Bill Holland
2002  Paul Erickson
2008  Walt Masterson
2011  Larry Shepard

You should have been there!!!

1993  The Florida Marlins top Los Angeles, 6 – 3, with former Dodger Charlie Hough getting the win – the first game in Marlins history.

The Colorado Rockies were not so lucky, losing 3 – 0 to Doc Gooden and the New York Mets.

2005  The Washington Nationals begin life as a ML franchise – but lose to the Phillies, 8 – 4.

2012  The Blue Jays score three in the ninth off of Cleveland’s Chris Perez to throw an opening day game into extra innings – 16 innings in total, an opening day record.  J.P. Arencibia homered in the 16th for the winning score.

 

Transaction Wire:

1966  Baltimore releases Don Larsen.

1972  Rusty Staub heads to the New York Mets, as the Mets send Ken Singleton, Tim Foli, and Mike Jorgensen to the Expos.

1975  The Pittsburgh Pirates get Bill Robinson from the Philles for pitcher Wayne Simpson.

1976  The Cubs trade shortstop Don Kessinger to St. Louis for pitcher Mike Garman and a player to be named later (Bobby Hrapmann).

1977  The Chicago White Sox trade Bucky Dent to the New York Yankees for outfielder Oscar Gamble, pitcher LaMarr Hoyt, and Bob Polisky and cash…

NOTES ABOUT SOURCES:

For lists of people who were born or died on this date, I wrote queries against the Lahman Database, which is built on top of data managed by Retrosheet, I believe.  I’m a huge fan of this relational database as it gets many projects started.

Many of the quick summaries are mine, but may include data from two books in my collection:

Baseball Players of the 1950s (Rich Marazzi and Len Fiorito)

Major League Baseball Profiles (Edited by David Nemec – two volumes).

For specific biographies, I have included specific resources used to write those essays.

For events and transactions data, I use lists found on Baseball-Reference.com or Retrosheet.org.  If I get to write essays about those events, specific sources will be cited there.

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Happy Birthday – Curtis Schmidt!

The leading pitcher of the 1991 and 1992 Kansas Jayhawks, Curtis Schmidt went from a 41st round pick of the Montreal Expos to one of the 24 kids who hailed from Montana to make it to the big leagues.

Curtis Schmidt was born 16 March 1970 in Miles City, Montana, a mostly farming community in the southeastern portion of the state.  After graduation, he attended Howard College in Big Spring, Texas before transferring to the Jayhawks for his junior and senior seasons.  The 6′ 5″ Schmidt immediately earned a ticket into the starting rotation with his heavy 90 MPH fastball that led to frequent strikeouts and even more frequent ground balls.  While at KU, he fashioned a 13 – 10 record with a 2.80 career ERA, earning two All-Big Eight Conference awards.

He was drafted in 1991 by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 28th round, but chose to return to college.  Then, after completing his eligibility at Kansas, he was selected by the Montreal Expos in the 41st round of the 1992 draft.  Assigned to Jamestown in the NY-PENN League, Schmidt showed promise – he struck out nearly a batter per inning, allowed just a lone homer in over 6o innings of work, and just 42 hits in 63+ innings.  Advanced to West Palm Beach in the Florida State League for the 1993 season, Schmidt continued to show growth but it was his 1994 season with AA Harrisburg where Schmidt went from decent minor leaguer to ” blue chip relief prospect.”  Schmidt went 6 – 2 with a 1.88 ERA, striking out 75 and walking 29 in 71.2 innings of work.  He allowed only 51 hits all year, just four of them clearing fences.

He was called up to the Expos in early 1995, where he would face the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field for his first taste of the major leagues on April 28.  Rey Sanchez bunted on the rookie pitcher, beating out a single to open the fifth inning.  Schmidt, whose fastball usually stayed low, did just that – getting Mark Grace to bounce into a double play.  Then, Sammy Sosa flew out to end the inning.  Unfortunately, not all of Schmidt’s outings were that successful.  Getting a late call in September, Schmidt appeared in 11 games, pitching 10.1 innings, but allowed 15 hits and nine walks, leading to a 6.97 ERA.   Between call ups, Schmidt was undefeated for the AAA Ottawa Lynx in 1995, which became his minor league home for the next two seasons as well.  After starting 1997 slowly, Schmidt moved to the Pirates where he pitched better for Calgary of the Pacific Coast League, but was no longer considered a prospect.  Trying one more time, Schmidt pitched for the independent Somerset Patriots in 1998 before calling it a career.

For me and several of my Jayhawk journalism alums, Curtis Schmidt is a throwback name – a time when Dave Bingham was moving the Jayhawks baseball program forward.  Several of my friends spent springs and summers calling games where Schmidt would mow down hitters in Hoglund-Maupin Stadium, whether as a Jayhawk or a member of the semi-pro Maupintour Travelers.  A year after Schmidt left, the Jayhawks were in the College World Series; Schmidt was part of that growth pattern.  And of the many players we covered from that period, Schmidt was one of the few who made it to the pros.

 

Sources:

Curtis Schmidt Page on Retrosheet.org

Curtis Schmidt Pages on Baseball-Reference.com

(Majors)

(Minors)

Pascarelli, Peter “It’s Not The System, just bad management”, The Sporting News, 9/12/1994, Pg. 47.

“The playoff share”, The Sporting News, 9/11/1995, Pg. 12.

“Schmidt Tabbed in 41st Round”, Lawrence Journal-World, 6/4/1992

 

 

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Mighty Casey Bio: Arlie Tarbert

One of the better all-around athletes to come out of Ohio State University in the early years of the previous century, Arlie Talbert was a two-sport star who made it to the major leagues with the Red Sox in the late 1920s.

Born in Cleveland on 10 September 1904, Wilbert Arlington (Arlie) Talbert used his skills on the basketball court and diamond at Cleveland East Technical High School to get into Ohio State University.  It didn’t take long for Tarbert to make his mark as he was named captain of the freshman squad – and also played every position on the court.  Not always the best student – he got in trouble and missed time his sophomore year after some poor test scores – he was respected by his teammates and made a captain of the basketball team his senior year.

The versatility he showed on the basketball court also appeared on the baseball diamond.  He started off as a catcher, moved to the outfield, eventually pitched and played first base, and if needed could fill any infield spot.  Upon his graduation and signing by the Boston Red Sox, many felt that Tarbert may have been the best outfielder in Ohio State baseball history.

Boston signed him and immediately gave the kid a chance to make the team in 1927.  Tarbert played in 33 games, came to bat some 78 times, but only got 13 hits – all but one a single.  Despite the poor showing, he was brought back the following spring training where his only play of note was going back on a Freddie Lindstrom fly ball, then – as he reached up for the ball – backing into a metal gate that flew open.  Talbert fell down, the ball rolled away, and Lindstrom circled the bases for an inside the park homer.

Tarbert played in just six games in 1928 collecting three more hits.  He apparently didn’t always pay attention, earning the ire of his manager, and so he was sent to Hollywood in the Pacific Coast League.  He only played six games there – he may not have enjoyed his stay and isn’t credited with getting a single hit – and was recalled, only to be released to the Salem Witches of the New England League.  However, a bout of appendicitis interrupted that season – Tarbert appeared in 25 games, batting just .236 with two doubles. (His teammate in Salem, though, was a 37-year-old Stuffy McInnis, who may have been a player-manager then…)

No matter – Tarbert was a businessman anyway.  After the 1927 season he enrolled in law school and eventually went to work in the private sector.  However, his post-baseball career was short, too.  He spent most of the last 18 months of his life dealing with various illnesses and died of a coronary thrombosis at just 42 years old.

Bill Nowlin wrote a pretty good biography of Tarbert for the Society of American Baseball Research.  You can read his article here.

Anyway, I mentioned that Tarbert once got in trouble with his manager, Bill Carrigan, while in Boston.  Nowlin’s story doesn’t include this tidbit that I found in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  It’s not a nice story – a sportswriter trying to be funny in a sarcastic way – but I figured I should share it.

“Arlie Tarbert, former star at Ohio State, is coming back to the majors and bringing his sun glasses with him.  In the future he will see to it that they are either on his nose, in his hand or at least in his pocket.  It was a pair of sun glasses that nearly cost him his job.

“Tarbert is the careless young man who came up to the Red Sox this spring.  Carrigan liked his playing and put him out into right field.  That happens to be the sun field at Fenway Park.

“The young collegian didn’t mind the glare.  Bright days he donned his sun goggles and hauled down files and picked up grounders in big league fashion.  He looked like a fixture.

“Success made him overconfident.  One day the Athletics came to Boston for a series.  Tarbert had heard of those right field home run hitters of Connie Mack, but they didn’t impress him very deeply.  Up to the seventh inning they didn’t give him a chase all afternoon.  The Red Sox were leading.

“Young Merle Settlemire was twirling a good game.  One man got on base.  That was anything to worry about.  Up stepped Joe Hauser.  Tarbert played deep for him.  He was beginning to learn the weakness and strength of the various hitters.  Manager Carrigan would compliment him on his shrewd way of playing the batters.

“Sure enough, Hauser wafted a high fly nearly to the exact spot where he was standing.  Tarbert jogged confidently under it.  He looked up – and went blind.  All he saw was a ball of fire rushing down into his face.  Too late, he remembered.  He had forgotten his sun glasses.

“He couldn’t see them lying on the grass just a few feet away.  There was no time to run over and pick them up, of course.  The only thing he could do was to duck away and let the ball fall safe.  He had seen old, experienced big leaguers do that.  He followed their illustrious example.

“Hauser got a two bagger, the runner scored and the Athletics went on to win the ball game.

“That one lapse of memory was once too often for Bill Carrigan.  Not wearing sun glasses might be the way they play ball at Ohio State, but it wasn’t how he had been taught at Holy Cross.  The next day Arlie Tarbert was farmed to Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League.

“Down in his heart Carrigan knew that Tarbert was a good ball player who just needed a lesson.  He let him stay in California just long enough for him to get used to looking at the world through a brown haze and harness broken to the feel of the loops of the goggles over his ears.  Now he has recalled him.

“There can be no other reason for the managerial change of mind.  The Red Sox have plenty of outfielders without Tarbert.  Dug Taitt, Ken Williams, and Ira Flagstead are quite capable of looking after the last line of defense unless one of them loses an arm in a railroad wreck.  And Tarbert hasn’t done any hitting to speak of on the coast.  He hasn’t even been a Hollywood regular.

“He won’t go without his glasses again, not even when it’s raining.”

– Harold C. Burr, Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

I’m guessing the Burr was in his saddle that day…  The game happened on May 1.  Tarbert didn’t start the game – he was a defensive replacement who came in after Taitt left for a pinch hitter (Charlie Berry) in the fourth or fifth inning.  Tarbert misplayed Hauser’s flyball in the seventh inning – the A’s trailed 3 – 1 when they got a four spot in the top of the seventh.  Tarbert later got a hit off of reliever Ossie Orwoll, the last hit of his major league career.  Orwoll came in the game in relief of Lefty Grove in the seventh and earned the save (not that they counted saves back then).

SOURCES:

Arlie Tarbert Page on Retrosheet.org

Arlie Tarbert Pages on Baseball-Reference.com
(Majors)
(Minors)

“Ohio State’s Hopes Hanging in Balance”, Charleston Daily Mail, 1/1/25, Page 29.

“Tarbert Named Captain of State Team”, Zanesville Signal, 3/11/1926.

“Only One Veteran Sure of Berth on Ohio State Cage Combination This Season”, Mansfield News, 12/5/1926, Page 20.

“Buckeye Athlete is Star Anywhere”, Lockport Union Sun and Journal, 3/2/1927, Page 13.

“Red Sox Player to Return to College”, Syracuse Journal, 9/29/1927, Page 19.

Franklyn J. Adams.”Colleges Produce Fair Run of Players in 1927 Despite Impression to the Contrary”, The Sporting News, 12/1/1927, Page 8.

Rome Daily Sentinel, 3/27/28, Page 12.

Harold C. Burr, “Red Sox Fielder Has Learned How to Wear Glasses”, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 5/27/28, Page 6C.

“Red Sox Release Three”, Chester Times, 6/2/28, Page 13.

“Hit and Run”, Logansport Pharos Tribune, 9/22/28, Page 7.

“Necrology”, The Sporting News, 12/11/1946, Page 20.

“Hold Rites for Tarbert, Former Red Sox Player”, El Paso Herald Post,  11/28/1946.

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