I initially wrote this because on August 22, 1892 Ben Sanders threw a no-hitter to beat Baltimore and I wanted to know who was Ben Sanders…
Alexander Bennett Sanders was a husky right handed pitcher with what was a corkscrew delivery that would frequently spin him around such that his back was facing the batter after a pitch. A strong hitter and able runner, one writer claimed he had but one fault, “…that he handles himself a trifle awkwardly. It is believed, however, the abolition of the bunt will make this defect amount to little.” (The bunt, of course, was never outlawed.)
It must have been efficient, though. According to an article in Sporting Life, Sanders set the record for fewest pitches in a game with 68 in a win over the St. Louis Browns in 1891.
He was born in Catharpin, Virginia just weeks before the end of the Civil War (February 16, 1865) to George (Gus) and Roberta (Grayson) Sanders – the fourth of eight children born to a farmer and his busy wife. According to a baseball scribe who grew up with him, he described Sanders as a big fellow who built up endurance playing in the heat of Virginia summers playing for the Catharpin nine around 1885. “[Sanders] …only threw the out-curve at the time, but was a terror in the box, and the fellow who could make a two-base hit [off him] was considered a prominent figure in the community…” He added, “It’s hard to find a better gentleman on the diamond…”
Sanders was first noticed by the big league managers while pitching in Altoona, PA. Signed to pitch for Philadelphia, he would win 19 games both seasons with the Phillies in 1888 and 1889. In his rookie season, he threw a league leading eight shutouts.
Like many, he jumped to the Player’s League in 1890 and won 19 more games there in 40 starts. The Player’s League folded after that one season, though, making Sanders a free agent. The Phillies thought they would get Sanders back for 1891, but he was now finishing a civil engineering degree at Vanderbilt (as well as playing football and baseball – amateur athletics not being as well defined then). Instead, Sanders held out for the best deal and then pitched the rest of the 1891 season with the Philadelphia Athletics in the American Association, getting paid at least $5000 for a partial season, which made him the highest paid pitcher (per month, I am guessing) in the game. He went 11 – 5 in his 18 starts.
Back in school for the 1891 – 1892 school session, he graduated in June and then made 31 starts for a poor 1892 Louisville team, finishing 12 – 19 but throwing a no-hitter against Baltimore. A contemporary article in the Louisville Courier-Journal says that the game had been a one hitter (not a no-hitter) vs. Baltimore, and he followed it with another one-hitter against Boston (Quinn – 4th inning ground single to left). His one hit in two starts would be the record beaten by Vander Meer nearly 50 years later. When the season was over, Sanders took a job with a prestigious engineering firm and retired from baseball.
After 1892, he was done but never gone. Every year Louisville asked him to come back and pitch and kept him on their reserve list for at least five seasons and even offered him a player-manager role in 1897 (!). (That’s the year that the Colonels gave their managing job to the very young Fred Clarke, by the way.) Most of the time the owner of the Louisville Colonels tried to convince Sanders to put an end to his civil engineering business and Sanders considered going, provided it didn’t materially affect his current business. He claimed that he could still pitch if called upon, and he would need extraordinary inducements (not necessarily money) to make a comeback. (Sunday starts only? Train rides back to wherever his current clients needed him?) Regardless, Sanders was a favorite in Louisville for his “…earnest play and the gentlemanly bearing which characterizes him at all times.”
According to articles written while Louisville was still begging Sanders to play, he was among the engineers in charge of building the Chicago West Side Elevated Railway, invested in property in Louisville, and was involved in the engineering of the water works system of Morgantown, PA. He married Mary Lamar Mayes in 1898 while living in Chicago. They had a son and three daughters (the last two were twins) – three lived until adulthood and were born in three different states owing to the travel requirements of Sanders’ job. The son, Bennett, followed his father into civil engineering.
Ben Sanders remained an engineer based in Tennessee until his death in Memphis on August 29, 1930 of a disease related to his gall bladder. He is buried in the Sudley United Methodist Church Cemetery in Sudley Springs, VA.
1870, 1900, 1910 US Census
VA Death and Burial Records
TN Death Certificates
IL Marriage Records
“Out of Baseball”, Sporting Life, 30 May 1891, Page 9.
“It Suits Louisville”, Louisville Courier-Journal, 1 Feb. 1892, Page 8.
“Only One Missing.”, Louisville Courier-Journal, 26 March 1892, Page 7.
“Brave College Boys.”, Louisville Courier-Journal, 2 April 1892, Page 8.
“Hurrah For Sanders”, Louisville Courier-Journal, 27 August 1892, Page 8.
“Editorial Views, News, Comment”, The Sporting Life, 17 September 1892, Page 2.
“Has Given Up Ball Playing For Good”, The Sporting Life, 18 Feb. 1893, Page 4.
McKee, Jr., Sam. “Louisville Lines”, The Sporting Life, 23 December 1893, Page 3.
Saunders, John J. “Will The Prodigal Return”, The Sporting Life, 1 February 1896, Page 3.
Richter, Francis. “Ben Sanders in Luck”, The Sporting Life, 6 April 1895, Page 7.
Saunders, John J. “Louisville Lines”, The Sporting Life, 2 January 1897, Page 2.
“Remarkable Performances”, The Sporting Life, 27 January 1912, Page 5.
Nemec, David, Major League Baseball Profiles 1871 – 1900, Vol. 1, University of Nebraska Press, 2011, Pages 161, 162.