Happy Birthday, Lev Shreve!

leven shreveA member of an historic family in Louisville, Leven Shreve was a pitcher of note in the 1880s.  Born 14 January 1865, Leven Lawrence was the sixth child of Charles and Sally Benbridge, and the Shreve family can trace its roots back to Maryland in the days prior to the American Revolution.

Lev got his start with the Lees in late 1886 – a note about his playing against a New Orleans squad said “Shreve is not a ‘phenomenal pitcher’, but he is a good man to have in a nine and will improve upon acquaintance.” By this time in the Southern League, he already had an offer to pitch for Baltimore for 1887. His major league time includes a tryout with Baltimore where he won three of four decisions before being sent to Indianapolis for the rest of that season (going 5 – 9). He had has fullest season with Indianapolis in 1888 where he went 11 – 24 in his 35 starts, throwing 297.67 innings (all but one game was a complete game). He didn’t last long with Indianapolis in 1889, but was picked up by Detroit and helped them win a pennant. Articles show that he was still pitching as late as 1890 for Minneapolis before returning home to Kentucky to play semi-professional ball.

“Dick Buckley caught Shreve in Indianapolis before Rusie’s debut, and he says Shreve was a wonder. Buckley used to say that slow drop went part way and then stopped. The heavy batters would wrench their backs hitting at it and left-handers would hit their feet chopping at the low ones. Once Shreve struck out nine New Yorks in succession.”

“Little Boy Blue”, Detroit Free Press, 15 May 1897, Page 6.

“Lev Shreve is playing ball again. He isn’t going to ask Hughie Jennings for a job, but he is back-stopping for his 11-year-old son, and neighbors who were wont to watch Lev pitch in the days of his prime say the boy has more speed now than his father ever had.

Shreve was a great pitcher in his day. He was let go by the Baltimore team in 1887 and joined Indianapolis. The team he stacked up against was the old Detroit world’s champion outfit. He let them down with three hits, struck out the whole side and performed a few stunts that sent his name bounding along the telegraph wires. Shreve pitched for Indianapolis next year until he retired with a broken hand.

In 1889 the Detroit International league team was right at the bottom of the ladder and the late George W. Burnham announced that he was the Moses of the occasion. The directors were willing to take any chance at that stage, so they sent Burnham to Indianapolis and he came back with Shreve. They reached here in the morning, and early in the afternoon Lev bought an extra package of cigarettes and went to Recreation park. He donned his uniform, tossed a few rainbow drops to Jake Wells and said he was ready. Just then Burnham marched in wearing a white plug hat and leading a little German band.

That afternoon Shreve’s slow drops alternated with strains of the banders and Detroit won the first game in weeks. Shreve won eight without losing, the other pitchers got into shape, the players were on their toes, and along in midsummer the Detroits were leading the parade.

Shreve has been in business many years and lives in this city, although he is a Kentuckian by birth.

Detroit Free Press, 31 March 1909, Page 4.

Leven’s grandfather, also a Leven, and his great uncle Thomas were the first two people to have bathtubs installed in their Louisville homes in 1856.

Tarvin, A. H. “Finger Bowls and Bathtubs”, Louisville Courier-Journal, 29 May 1949, Page 64.

Leven Lawrence Shreve, 77, former Louisvillian, retired Ford Motor Company executive, and one-time major league ball player, died at 9 a.m. Saturday at his Grosse Point, Mich. home.

Mr. Shreve, a descendant of T. T. Shreve and L. L. Shreve, early Louisville commission merchants, had lived at Detroit forty-five years. He retired fifteen years ago. A half-century ago he played baseball with the Detroit and Indianapolis teams.

He is survived by his wife, Mrs. Elizabeth Mitchell Shreve; a son, Maj. C. Upton Shreve III, 54th Battalion, Fort Callan, San Diego, Calif.; a brother, Charles U. Shreve, Long Island, N. Y., and a granddaughter…”

“Retired Ford Official, Leven L. Shreve, Dies”, Louisville Courier-Journal, 09 November 1942, Page 16.

Other sources:

“It Was Listless.”, St. Paul Globe, 18 June 1890, Page 5.

“Base Ball.”, Frankfort Roundabout, 25 June 1892, Page 5

“A Slugging Match”, New Orleans Times-Picayune, 11 October 1886, Page 2.

“Around the Bases.”, New Orleans Times-Picayune, 11 October 1886, Page 2.

Nemec, David (Ed.). Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900, Volume 1, Pages 169-170.

Image of a Leven Shreve baseball card had been shared on Ancestry.com.

1880 US Census

Michigan Death Records

Sons of American Revolution Application

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