Happy Birthday, Ike Butler

Ike Butler is a one-year anecdote – a player whose inclusion in your Baseball Encyclopaedia is the result of an historic accident of sorts.

Born in Langston, Michigan on August 22, 1873, Issac Burns Butler first toiled professionally in 1895 with Detroit in the old Western League where he got a one-game tryout.  Good enough for a look, but not good enough to stay, Butler found work pitching for Seattle in a lower level league, the Pacific Northwest League, where he would win nine of fifteen decisions despite being swatted around a bit.  In 1897, he pitched for Dubuque in the Western Association.  Continuing with this nomadic theme, Butler pitched for a several other teams in the midwest between 1898 and 1901 before landing with Shreveport in late 1901 and 1902.

It was in 1902 that the war between the American League and National League reached its zenith, with manager John McGraw and outfielder Joe Kelley jumping the Baltimore Orioles and taking several stars with them to the New York Giants.  In fact, Giants owner John T. Brush was able to wrest away a majority ownership in the AL club, the biggest threat to what had otherwise been a very successful American League organization.  At this point, Ban Johnson worked with the other owners to take back control of the franchise and stock the team with enough players to actually finish the season.  Most of the AL teams volunteered a player or two to help with the cause, while other players were gathered from around various leagues to help play games.

Ike Butler was one of these gathered players.  Someone on the roster must have known of Butler at some point – though nobody else on the Shreveport roster specifically played on Baltimore in 1902, so it could have been someone else who recommended him.  Butler was an okay pitcher – not a great one, and didn’t really have the credentials to pitch in the majors at that time.  Still – approaching his 29th birthday, Butler took the money and pitched – taking over Harry Howell’s or Joe McGinnity’s spot in the rotation.  At one point in July, the Orioles were 31 – 34 and at least competitive.  After the upheaval of the summer, which stripped the team of most of its best players, the rotation included Snake Wiltse, Jack Katoll, and Ike Butler – and the team won just nineteen more games in the last twelve weeks of the season.

Butler’s 1 – 12 record, with 168 hits allowed in 116.1 innings and just 13 strikeouts, is part of that inglorious – and yet amazingly courageous, from a league standpoint – conclusion to the season.  Johnson, angered by the process, lobbied to put a team in New York, almost in spite of the Giants, but certainly to get in the nation’s largest city.  The Orioles were dead; the Highlanders (eventually renamed the Yankees) were the new team in the American League.

Ike Butler wasn’t kept when the franchise moved.  Instead, he headed west to join a Portland team that was added when the California League expanded to become the Pacific Coast League in 1903.  For most of his thirties, Butler pitched in Portland or Tacoma, or other teams along the coast – eventually winning nearly 200 games in the minors.  Enjoying life west of the Rockies, Butler settled in Oakland where he lived the rest of his days, passing on March 17, 1948.

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