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 on November 27, 1946 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).
“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.