Happy Birthday, Walter Plock!

The tallest and probably the handsomest first baseman in the league is Walter Plock. Then, too, Plock is one of the best men in the south on the initial bag. He fills the position well and has good batting ability. Plock comes from Philadelphia and has spent many an hour waiting for the day he could imitate Harry Wright.

“Those Pelican Boys”, Atlanta Constitution, 26 June 1892, Page 7.

Walter Plock was a tall outfielder and first baseman whose major league career and life both ended with horrific violence.

Arriving on 02 July 1869, Walter S. Plock was the first of two children born to Henry and Emma (Ottinger) Pluck.  Pluck likely became Plock when Walter took up baseball in his hometown of Philadelphia.  Henry’s life was also violent and short – he served in at least two different infantry companies during the Civil War, signing up in April, 1861 and being sent home less than two years later.  He had limits as to what he could physically handle – Henry had a heart condition that eventually disabled him by his fortieth birthday.  His failing condition forced him into a disabled veteran’s home in Hampton, VA where he would die from a self-inflicted wound in 1895.  That very heart condition was passed to his daughter, Mary, who died at 32 of a heart attack.

Plock was a tall and agile man, listed at 6′ 3″ and he played at between 170 and 180 pounds.  In his early days he was an outfielder, but by the time he turned 25 he had become a mobile first baseman.  Mobile also referred to his baseball career.  A cursory glance at his page on Baseball-Reference.com shows that between 1889 and 1895 Plock played for at least fourteen different minor league teams from New Orleans to Indianapolis to Hartford and New Haven and many points in between.  The reason he didn’t stick?  As big and fast as he was, he was an inconsistent hitter.

In 1891, the Philadelphia Phillies were a mess – the Inquirer called them “Harry Wright’s Hospital Team.”  At least four of his stars were injured and he was giving all kinds of players tryouts to survive the season.  On August 21st, he plucked two players off of Hartford, which had recently disbanded, and put them in the lineup.  One was shortstop Harry Morelock, and the other was Walter Plock, who played in center field.  Plock singled twice and scored the lone Philadelphia run – though his hits were “of the scratch order.”  Still – two hits.  He got the start again on August 22nd.

When Plock faced New York pitcher Amos Rusie in the third inning, Rusie let a “Hoosier Thunderbolt” fly – right at Plock’s face.

“Plock received a terrible thump in the face by a pitched ball, and although he pluckily treated the mishap with indifference, he will have cause to remember the shot for some time to come.  It was thought at first that his jaw was broken…”  The same article noted, “It was really wonderful he wasn’t seriously hurt.”

“Keefe Pitched And Beat New York”, Philadelphia Inquirer, 23 August 1891, Page 3.

Plock was the second player hit by a Rusie pitch that had to leave the game that day – and Philadelphia would take advantage of Rusie’s wildness to win.

However, Plock wasn’t taken on the subsequent road trip.  After a fine season in New Orleans, Wright called Plock back for spring training in 1893 but it didn’t work out.  Plock went back to his life as a baseball nomad until about 1895 before settling down as a police officer in Philadelphia.  He married Estella Parker in 1898 and two years later, Plock got an offer to join his cousin, John Simmers, to work for the Pennsylvania Steel Company.  So, in April he moved to Richmond, Virginia where Simmers and his team were building a bridge for the Richmond, Petersburg and Carolina Railroad.

One of Simmers’ crew had a bad dream – and maybe he saw something that he didn’t like.  Dennis Sullivan got a bad feeling about the traveler crane lifting girders that were heavier than the crane itself and quit his job.  The next morning, 28 April 1900, Simmers asked Plock to change positions and take Sullivan’s job.  Walter kissed his wife, Estella, farewell – she took a train back to Harrisburg to prepare to move to Richmond permanently – and he went to the job site where the bridge was being built.

After lunch, disaster struck.  The foreman, John W. Carroll, called out to “slack the boom” and seconds later the boom trembled.  Engineer Harry Albright saw the crane tip and called out to his crew to jump to their safety.  However, two men holding the boom lines failed to heed his warning.  As Albright jumped some 13 feet onto a wood pile to save his own life, Walter S. Plock and three other men were crushed by the weight of the nearly nine ton crane.

The injuries of the men killed were horrific and gruesome.  Plock not only suffered broken legs and crushing injuries to his head and shoulders, he was burned to death by the steam escaping the crane’s boiler which fell adjacent to him.  Albright and Simmers were able to reach Plock before he died.  Albright noted that when they got to him, “Plock was gasping for breath, but his heart was beating strong.  I put my hand inside his shirt, but his body was so hot I could not bear it.”

Plock died about two hours after being pulled from the rubble.

A strange fatality seemed to be that of Plock. He had just gone to work for the first time yesterday morning at his new position, having succeeded Dennis Sullivan, who quit work the night before. Mr. Sullivan made a remark Friday night that he “had better quit while he could.” Yesterday afternoon Sullivan said he was thankful that he quit when he did, as Plock’s fate would have been likely his.

“Three Men Killed Instantly. Another Was Badly Injured.” Richmond Times, 29 April 1900, Pages 1, 6.

A coroner’s jury absolved the company from responsibility saying that the crew did what they could to be safe and that the accident was just that – an accident.  Days later William Benn, husband of Plock’s sister, Mary, came to Richmond and brought Plock home to his family.  Plock was buried in Mount Peace Cemetery in Philadelphia.

SOURCES:

Baseball-Reference.com
FindaGrave.com (Walter Plock)

Pennsylvania Death Certificates (Mary Pluck Benn)

Registry, Disabled Soldier Homes, Hampton, VA.
US Burial Registers, National Cemeteries
US National Cemetery Interment Forms

Pennsylvania Marriage Certificates

1850, 1870, 1880 US Census

1893, 1895, 1896, 1899 Philadelphia City Directories

“Middle States League Umpires.”, Philadelphia Times, 26 April 1889, Page 2.

“Sporting Notes.” Reading Times. 10 February 1890, Page 1.

“Tim Hurst Held The Whip.”, Philadelphia Inquirer, 22 August 1891, Page 3.

“Keefe Pitched And Beat New York”, Philadelphia Inquirer, 23 August 1891, Page 3.

“Those Pelican Boys”, Atlanta Constitution, 26 June 1892, Page 7.

“On The Diamond.”, Philadelphia Inquirer, 29 March 1893, Page 3.

“Notes of the Game.” Harrisburg Telegraph, 10 May 1893, Page 1.

“Game Tomorrow.”, Akron Daily Democrat, 18 May 1893, Page 1.

“As We Expected.”, Camden Post, 17 May 1893, Page 1.

“The World of Sport”, Minneapolis Star, 29 January 1894, Page 3.

“Western League Season.”, Indianapolis News, 24 April 1894, Page 5.

“Three Men Killed Instantly. Another Was Badly Injured.” Richmond Times, 29 April 1900, Pages 1, 6.

“Men Killed By Crane.”, Harrisburg Daily Independent, 30 April 1900, Page 1.

“Everett Dies Of His Injuries”, Richmond Times, 01 May 1900, Page 6.

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