What Might Have Been: Art Rico

Art Rico was an athletic marvel playing catcher for the Boston Braves who tragically lost his life before his “very bright future” could arrive.

Art Rico - 1917 Boston Globe

Arthur Raymundus (Ramon) Francis Rico was born on July 23, 1895 to Antonio and Margarita (Monahan) Rico, the third of four children born to the Spanish immigrant tobacco dealer and his Scottish immigrant wife. Antonio Rico came to the United States around 1877, more than a decade after Margarita arrived, but they met, married, and lived in the Boston area. The children were all born in Boston and lived a rather well-to-do life – as the family had a live-in servant by the time the fourth child was born.

Arthur was a tall and thick kid, granted great natural strength and speed. After completing high school at English High, he enrolled at the Huntington School, a finishing school for boys. There, he was an accomplished athlete in track, wrestling, baseball, and football. In 1914 and 1915, he won hurdles races, set local records in the shot put (48′ 1-3/4″), captured wrestling matches in the heavyweight division, scored six touchdowns from his fullback position in a game against Mechanics Arts High School, and was batting third and catching for the baseball team.

Rico, right, after a meet with his Huntington School teammates in 1915. (Boston Globe)

Before he finished classes in finishing school, he was recruited by George Stallings, the manager of the Boston Braves, to become a third string catcher and learn while watching and practicing with the professionals.

“Arthur Rico of the Huntington School of Boston is a youngster whom he hopes to develop into a catcher. Johnny Evers, who watched Rico work yesterday, also thinks the youngster has a wonderful whip and that some day he will make a great backstop. Rico is a bright fellow and a good boy. He is just the kind of material that Stallings or any other manager would be glad to work on, and if he shows up well during his tryout he will be signed.”

“Stallings Thinks He May Make A Real Catcher Out of Young Rico, Boston Boy,” Boston Globe, March 8, 1916: 9.

In 1916, Stallings invited Rico to spring training and Rico earned a job on the roster, earning $175 each month for going to practice and sitting on the bench. If he ever got into a game, his salary would jump to $300 per month – which happened at the end of July. Both regular catchers, Hank Gowdy and Walt Tragesser, went down with injuries necessitating that Rico put on the gear. He finished a game behind the plate on July 31, 1916 against the Cardinals. Stallings obtained Earl Blackburn from Providence to take the regular role for the short term, but for at least one day, Art Rico had to catch a major league game.

That was August 2, 1916. Rico was challenged in the first inning, but he threw out Tom Long who tried to steal, ending the inning. Dick Rudolph pitched a great game, holding St. Louis without a run and allowing just four hits. No other base runner dared challenge Rico and when Boston pushed a run across in the eleventh inning, the Braves won, 1 – 0. Blackburn arrived, Rico got two more shots to give Blackburn an inning or two off behind the plate but never batted again that season for Boston. He’d go hitless in four games and four at bats, though he did execute a sacrifice once. Rico was optioned to Providence while Blackburn stayed in Boston so that Rico could get regular work there.

Art Rico - Boston NL 1916

“Rico is a stocky boy, but very fast. He is a splendid thrower and a good batsman. He is studying the game all the time and must improve with experience. All these good points, added to the fact that he is more than ordinarily intelligent, of exceptional character, and of an engaging personality, will make his future look very bright.”

“Stallings Thinks He May Make A Real Catcher Out of Young Rico, Boston Boy,” Boston Globe, March 8, 1916: 9.

Rico returned with the Braves in 1917, but he wouldn’t stay long. In May he was optioned to Springfield, but came back to Boston to close out the season, pinch hitting, getting a couple of starts behind the plate, and even playing the outfield on two occasions. Rico got four hits in fourteen at bats. He might have been in line for even more work in 1918, but with World War I calling on players to fight or work for the war effort, Rico took a job in a US Navy shipyard in Cambridge. There, along with Jack Barry, Rabbit Maranville, Ernie Shore, Herb Pennock and other players, he would get to play several local exhibitions under the watchful eye of Barry, who would be managing the Naval Yard baseball club. The baseball part ended quickly – many of those working in the naval yard were dispatched to Europe by the summer. Rico served in Europe on the USS Georgia until the end of the war.

As 1918 ended, Rico returned to prepare for the 1919 season. First, he chose to have minor surgery to fix a broken nose and remove his tonsils. While at the Eye and Ear Infirmary, Rico came down with pain in his stomach – he had an acute appendicitis attack (it likely burst) and the resulting infection caused peritonitis to kick in. Moved to Massachusetts General Hospital, doctors performed surgery, but it didn’t work. Rico died on January 3, 1919 and was buried in Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline, Massachusetts. He was just 23 years old.

The Boston Globe wrote, “News of his death will come as a shock to the thousands who knew him personally, and other thousands who have seen him perform in school athletics at English High and Huntington School…” beneath a headline that read, “One of Baseball’s Finest Lads, an Athlete of the Type All Love and Respect…” Weeks later, his friends helped create a memorial trophy in Rico’s name – an award first given to the winner of the Army-Navy track meet, but then later given to the winner of the annual Boston Athletic Association schoolboy meet.

Notes:

Baseball-Reference.com
FindAGrave.com
Retrosheet.org

Massachusetts Birth Records
Massachusetts Roman Catholic Sacramental Records
1900, 1910 US Census
World War I Registration Card

“Marling Five-Time Winner,” Boston Globe, December 19, 1914: 9. (Includes photo)

“Rico Gives Boston Y.M.C.A. New Shotput Record,” Boston Globe, February 2, 1915: 5.

“Huntington Wins From Cambridge Latin, 8 to 7,” Boston Globe, May 21, 1915: 8.

“Walkover for Huntington,” Boston Globe, October 20, 1915: 6.

“Stallings Thinks He May Make A Real Catcher Out of Young Rico, Boston Boy,” Boston Globe, March 8, 1916: 9.

“Miami’s Fans Pick Winners,” Miami Herald, April 16, 1916: 12.

“Maranville To Talk Over Terms,” Boston Globe, January 28, 1917: 17.

Also, photo “Arthur Rico, Boston Boy of Major League Quality,” Boston Globe, January 28, 1917: 17.

“Rico Released By Braves On Conditions to Springfield,” Boston Globe, May 15, 1917: 7.

“Sporting Notes,” Norwich Bulletin, February 2, 1918: 3.

“Boston Navy Yard Has Real Ball Club,” Washington Herald, March 4, 1918: 8.

“Art Rico, Braves Catcher, Dies After Operation, Buffalo Courier, January 8, 1919: 10.

“Arthur Rico, Brilliant Young Catcher of the Braves, Dead,” Boston Globe, January 4, 1919: 5.

“Trophy in Memory of Late Arthur Rico of the Braves,” Boston Globe, January 29, 1919: 4.

The Boston Braves team photo was uploaded to Ancestry.com – it would appear to be from a Spaulding Guide or similar.

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