About Paul Proia

Technology Professional, Amateur Baseball Historian, Published Author, Husband, Father. I try the best I can with the limited skills God gave me.

Happy Birthday, John “Pop” Corkhill

John Corhkill - MetIt’s not every day that when you dig into the great old players of the 1800s you find so many good quotes that paint a nice tale of the personality and history of a player.  Such is the case of John Stewart “Pop” Corkhill, Jr., born on April 11, 1858 in Parkesburg, PA.  John was the seventh of eight children born to John Stewart Corkhill, Sr. (born McCorkle) and Atteline, or Adeline, (Nightlinger) Corkhill.  Dad was a shoemaker and mom was a very busy homemaker and parent.

“John ‘Pop’ Corkhill, veteran professional baseball player, died at his home in Pensauken, N. J., Monday (April 3, 1921),  it was learned here last night.  Death followed an operation.  He will be buried today.

“Corkhill became an outfielder on the old Philadelphia team in 1882.  From 1883 to 1887 he played with Cincinnati, establishing a record by playing in the outfield for three consecutive years without dropping a fly ball.  He played with Brooklyn from 1888 until he joined the Athletics in 1891.

“The following year he went to Pittsburgh, where he played until the 1893 season, when he was hit on the head by a ball pitched by Ned Crane.  After this injury he retired.”

“‘Pop’ Corkhill Veteran of Baseball, Is Dead”, Wilkes-Barre Evening News, 7 April 1921 Page 15.

Crane’s pitch broke his jaw – but the end of his career came the way most players leave the game – he was released.

From what I gather, Corkhill – who was called “Honest John” before he got older and was retagged “Pop” – played a deep center field so as to keep the fly balls in front of him.  And, he was very, very good at charging fly balls.

“Corkhill was a great proponent of that kind of fielding (coming in on flies) andJohn Corhkill combined with his ability to bat well, was one of the great players of this big game, though he has never been given due credit for his skill, his intelligence and his daring.  The pioneers of baseball methods were so often overshadowed by the big deeds of the really big men physically that they were overlooked.

“Corkhill, however, was no infant in size.  As he grew older he acquired a bald spot.  When he donned his frock coat, his shiny bald head, combined with a huge mustache, made him appear like a professor, and when the frock coat was buttoned tightly to the chin, he looked not unlike an evangelist.

“One day while traveling, the Cincinnati team was near a town where an evangelist had been working.  Some of those who had been to the meetings entered the train.  The evangelist was due to leave on the same train.

“It was in the mountains, and cool, and ‘Pop’ Corkhill wore his frock coat.  Leaning back, studying the scenery from the window, he was interrupted by a stranger who sat down, reached out his hand, and said: ‘Glorious work, glorious work.  It must be wonderful to save them as you do, right on the very verge.  Do you ever miss one now and then?’

“‘Miss?  I missed on on that thick-headed, brawling, kicking, nagging, Irishman, Tebeau, just back of second, the first time I’ve missed one in three seasons, and of all the d–d men I ever missed on, I’d rather it would have been any cuss on earth than him.’

“‘Pop’ and the stranger became better acquainted during the day.”

Foster, John B., “When Baseball Was Young”, Harrisburg Telegraph, 29 January 1927, Page 13.

“Several athletes refused to sign with Louisville because of our rowdy patrons.  Cincinnati once tried to trade us Pop Corkhill, an outfielder, for Guy Hecker.  The deal fell through when Pop said, ‘I don’t want to play for Louisville.  The fans down there are too tough.

“Ruby’s Report”, Louisville Courier-Journal, 27 July 1950, Page 24.

“…If my memory serves me right, the first time ‘ivory’ was ever used in baseball, was when Pop Corkhill, the old outfielder of the Cincinnati Reds, was hit on the head by a pitched ball thrown at him with terrific force by Amos Rusie, the Giant pitcher of the New York team.

“At the time of this nearly fatal occurrence Corkhill was at bat when a whizzing pitch took him fairly and squarely on the head.

“It came with such fearful force that it split the ball into two sections.  Aside from a small bump upon his Rosman brow, Pop was not hurt a bit, though the ball was certainly retired from further commission.

“But very often after that Corkhill was referred to as the player with the ivory dome.  It should be stated in this connection that Corkhill was as bald-headed a man as ever played professional baseball.  Corkhill had not a single strand of hair and when he took off his cap the top of his head looked just like a billiard ball.  From that fact, perhaps, came the word resolutions have been adopted for pre-‘ivory,’ so often used nowadays in baseball.”

Spink, Al. “Sporting Talk and Memories”, Reno-Gazette-Journal, 3 Feb 1920, Page 2.

When not playing in the outfield, Corkhill would frequently be called on to pitch in relief.  And, the man could hit and was considered dependable with runners on base.  Like many, he stopped hitting in his 30s, and despite still being a pretty dependable fielder, he eventually ran out of teams willing to carry a weaker bat.

During and after his career, Corkhill was a retailer – groceries, storage units, furniture, whatever.  He was a police officer in his younger days, and was elected police chief in his older days. John married Martha Carey Jackson – they had a long marriage, but without children.

“Mrs. Martha C. Corkhill” (obit), The Cincinnati Enquirer, 9 June 1949, Page 12.

Additional Sources

1850, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920 US Census

Philadelphia Church Records

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/corkhpo01.shtml
FindaGrave.com

Also, Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871 – 1900, Volume 1.  (David Nemec, Editor)

The first image comes from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Jefferson R. Burdick Collection, Gift of Jefferson R. Burdick.

The second image comes from Ancestry.com, and was found here.

Happy Birthday, Milo Lockwood!

Milo Lockwood was a pitcher and utility player for the Washington Nationals of the Union Association in 1884.  He wasn’t on a very good team, and Lockwood was part of the problem.  In his eleven outings, he lost nine of ten decisions.  And, as a backup right fielder, center fielder, or third baseman, he didn’t hit enough to keep his job – he was released about six weeks into the season.

Lockwood did have the occasional good outing. In an April start against Baltimore, Lockwood fanned 11 batters, but ten (!) errors contributed to the 8 – 5 loss.

Milo Hathaway Lockwood was born 07 April 1858 to C. B. and Jane (Hathaway) Lockwood in Solon, OH.  C.B. owned a hardware company and was on the board of directors for a large insurance firm in New York.  Milo went to Hiram Collage and spent two years studying law at the University of Michigan.  He even served as a lawyer for the second district, but was removed from that role in 1885.  Eventually he went back to work for his father and lived an upper class life.  In 1890, he went to Brooklyn and married Frances Mary Pollard and they returned to live in Cleveland.  They never had any children

Over time, however, Lockwood struggled with rheumatoid sciatica.  In 1897, he and Frances spent a summer in Ecomony, PA.  On the afternoon of October 9, after mingling with friends in the hotel office, and after telling his wife he was going to take his afternoon nap, he picked up a pistol and fired it into his temple.

“…The only cause his friends in the town can ascribe is despondency from a long sickness. He has been a sufferer from acute sciatic rheumatism for a number of years. He leaves a wife, who is at the hotel, and has been there with her this summer, but no children.

“…Not five minutes before he (fired) the fatal shot he had been chatting with friends in the office of the hotel, and had retired to his room to read. Before lying down to take an accustomed afternoon siesta, he spent some moments with Mrs. Lockwood and he then stepped into the bedroom adjoining. Within five minutes his wife heard a shot and rushing into the room found her husband gasping his last on the floor with a bespattered temple, where the bullet had entered, and his head resting in a pool of blood. There had not been the slightest intimation that Lockwood had contemplated such an act, nor, from what can be gathered in the town, is there any circumstances surrounding his career which would make him rather face the “ills he knew not of” than to enjoy the society of his wife and friends. If an exceedingly genial disposition, generous to a fault, and seemingly in the position to spend his money freely, there were few people whom he had met in the old settlement who did not count themselves as a friend of Mr. Lockwood’s.

“About the only circumstance in connection with the affair is the oddity of a man of his prominence in the Forest City choosing such a quiet place as the old town of Economy in which to spend the summer: but since the 26th day of August he and his wife have to all appearances led the most contented existence, broken only by little pleasure excursions to the surrounding country… (H)e had spent much time at Hot Springs in hopes of being freed from the pains of sciatic rheumatism, and it was his intention to return there this fall.”

“Suicide at Economy,” Pittsburgh Press, 10 October 1897, Page 16.

Other Sources:

1860, 1880 US Censuses
Baseball-Reference.com
FindAGrave.com
Student Lists, Hiram Colleage Yearbooks (1875, 1876)
Student Lists, University of Michigan (1923, Pg. 965)
Brooklyn Daily Eagle 06 March 1878: Page 1.
“The First Innings,” National Republican (DC), 02 April 1884: 5.
“The Nationals Lose,” National Republican (DC), 29 April 1884: 1.
“The Second District Court,” Wood River Times (Hailey, ID), 30 July 1885: Page 3.
“Married,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 03 January 1890: Page 3.
“Lockwood-Pollard,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 03 January 1890: Page 2.
“Put a Bullet Through His Head,” Meadville Evening Republican, 11 October 1897: Page 1.

The Downfall of Henry Kessler

Henry KesslerHis nickname, hung on him by a Cincinnati Enquirer scribe, is “Lucky” – however, by the time Henry Kessler’s career was at its peak he was far from lucky.  The teams on which he played were never first division, with one team finishing 2 – 42.  He was unlucky with women – his three documented relationships all ended in turmoil.  At some point, his luck ran out when his decisions backfired.  Then his heart gave out.

John and Margaret Kessler came to the United States as Manifest Destiny gripped the nation.  The Prussian immigrants brought along a daughter, Theressa, and added a son in Brooklyn.  Baseball sites list the birthdate of Henry Kessler as July 27, 1851 but the handful of documents available to researchers suggests that his actual birth year was 1847 or 1848.

Kessler’s baseball exploits begin in an area where baseball was thriving.  Among the best teams in the country was the Atlantics of Brooklyn, with plenty of very good teams playing in New York City and across the river in New Jersey.  By 1870, Henry is listed as the third baseman for the Silver Stars of New York, an improving team.  One reason the Silver Stars improve is the play of Henry Kessler, a compentent hitter, a good enough catcher, and a good enough athlete to play any position asked.

His hometown Atlantics took note – needing a first baseman for a game in 1873, Kessler is tabbed to play.  He makes 17 putouts in an 11-inning game on August 4 and remains with the squad through the end of the season without making another appearance.  In 1874, the versatile Kessler is a utility player for the Atlantics.  About half of his games are at catcher, but the rest are scattered across the field.  By the end of the season, the New York Clipper noted that Kessler had earned more playing time.  “Kessler, by his fielding, base running and batting, showed himself to be too good a man to be out of the nine.”  He might have had more playing time, but he was injured behind the plate and missed out on about four weeks of games and exhibitions.  Still, in his fourteen games he tallied a .304 average and threw in a double among his seventeen hits.

The 1873 and 1874 Brooklyn Atlantics were poor but competitive.  In 1875, player-manager Bob Ferguson was gone, Dickey Pearce was deemed too old and Tommy Bond was dispatched elsewhere.  Kessler earned his first regular status on a team destined to be among the worst squads the National Association ever saw.  Kessler finished second on the team in batting (.248, with only one walk and little power – but still the second best OBP on the team) and led the Atlantics in runs scored.  However, Atlantic opponents scored 438 runs to the 132 runs scored by Brooklyn – the Atlantics won but two of 44 decisions.

When the National League formed in 1876, Kessler was signed to play shortstop and third base (among other positions as needed) for Cincinnati.  Kessler’s season, and that of the Red Stockings, got off to a bad start.

“Anson opened the third inning with a hard hit to Kessler, which so rattled that player that he overthrew to Gould and let the runner around to third. McVey followed with a driver also to Kessler, and Anson let out for home. Kessler got the ball well enough, but threw slow and badly to home plate, letting Anson score, while McVey took first. It having been settled that Kessler was a “berry,” Hines followed his two predecessors by hitting right at the unfortunate short stop. The victim got one hand on the ball, but it went through his hands as if he were made of paper, and McVey took third, whence he came in on Spalding’s long fly to Jones, which was well taken. Thus, two runs were scored without a clean hit.

“Sporting News,” Chicago Tribune, May 12, 1876: 8.

Cincinnati finished 9 – 56, Kessler finished as perhaps the third or fourth best hitter on the team and had enough good moments to earn the nickname “Lucky.”  On August 25th, he kept Louisville from scoring the lead run when he made a fine running catch on a fly to right-center field and then turned to fire to first base to complete a double play.  He made another circus catch in the 11th, then his long drive to left plated two runs to give Cincinnati a 3 – 1 win over Louisville.

The Reds started slowly again in 1877; Kessler played well enough in the field but having only two hits in twenty at bats sealed his fate.  When Reds ownership chose to turn over the team in mid-June, Kessler was released.

Kessler returned home and played amateur and semi-professional ball with a team of former Atlantic ballplayers through 1881, but in 1882 he followed the call of Horace Greeley and headed west.  Kessler landed on the Leadville Blues, a Colorado based team that traveled about the United States playing in exhibitions against local professional and amateur nines.  He may have gotten involved in some mining investments, too.  After two seasons, the Leadville’s finances got the blues and the team disbanded in Pennsylvania.  Fortunately, oil country was a burgeoning baseball area and Kessler was invited to play with a semi-professional team in Franklin, PA.

In leaving behind his life in Brooklyn, Kessler also left behind a wife, Louisa, who successfully filed for divorce in 1885, getting full custody of their child.  A family friend chased down Kessler in Franklin, visited with Henry in the United States Hotel there, and returned to Brooklyn to tell Louisa that Henry was living with another woman as his wife.

The second wife would also leave him, but not before Henry was sent somewhere else.  Weeks after Kessler acknowledged he was not returning home at the bar in the United States Hotel, Kessler fell helpless to a growing problem with alcohol and was caught trying to set fire to that same hotel.  Found guilty of arson, Kessler was sentenced to three and a half years hard labor at a Venango County penitentiary.  (It’s his prison record that tells us that Kessler was a shade over 5′ 6″ and 139 pounds, far shorter and slightly lighter than his Baseball-Reference listed data.) 

Not having learned his lesson, within months of returning home he was caught trying to steal from the cash register at the bar of the American House.  Kessler spent another six months in prison.

The kind people of Franklin helped him get his life started again, but bad decisions continued to plague Kessler.  Lizzie Bowersock Saltsgiver ditched her husband and child at about the time Kessler got out of prison for the second time.  She hooked up with Kessler and they lived together for at least a year before Kessler left her.  This turned out to be the right move – in 1892, Lizzie was arrested and sent to prison for stealing a horse and buggy.

Kessler played baseball into the 1890s, but a decade of drinking caught up with him.  In 1899, Kessler started having issues with his heart, resulting in his being moved to a poor farm in Sugarcreek, PA in mid December.  He’d spend just a few weeks there; Kessler’s heart failed him in the early hours of January 8, 1900 and he passed to the next league.  A few friends pitched in to have his body interred in the Venango Farm Cemetery in Sugarcreek the next day, saving it from being dissected by nearby medical students.

Sources:

Baseball-Reference.com
FindAGrave.com

1880 US Census
PA Prison Workhouse Records
NY Death Certificate (Theressa Kessler Clay)

“Warren vs. Silver Star,” New York Clipper, November 19, 1870: 2.

“Mutual vs. Silver Stars,” New York Clipper, June 3, 1871: 2.

“Base Ball,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 27, 1872: 2.

“Atlantic vs. Mutual,” New York Clipper, July 25, 1874: 2.

“Atlantic vs. Boston,” New York Clipper October 31, 1874: 2.

“Sporting News,” Chicago Tribune, May 12, 1876: 8.

“A Firebug Divorced,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 10, 1885: 4.

“The League,” Cincinnati Enquirer, August 27, 1876: 6.

“Louisville Loses,” Cincinnati Enquirer, August 26, 1876: 8.

“Base-Ball,” Cincinnati Enquirer, June 19, 1877: 2.

“An Atlantic Nine,” New York Clipper, April 12, 1879: 3.

“Again Victorious,” Kansas City Times, September 3, 1882: 3.

“Of Local Interest,” Conneautville Courier, February 6, 1885: 5

“Professional Ball Player in Trouble,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, March 23, 1889: 5.

“The Story of Lizzie Saltsgiver,” Butler Citizen, May 6, 1892: 2.

“Death of Henry Kessler,” Frankin Evening News, January 8, 1900: 4.

“Old Ball Player Dead,” Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, January 10, 1900: 6.

(Image Source) “Kessler’s Death,” Seymour (IN) Daily Democrat, February 15, 1900: 7.

Happy Birthday, Johnny Carr!

John W. Carr was a member of the Dayton Marcos when the Marcos were an initial entrant in the Negro National League, formed by Rube Foster and launched in 1920.

Johnny Carr was born John W. Carr to Robert Carr and the former Lue Fleming on January 1, 1887.  Carr was born in Owenton, KY but the family eventually moved to the Dayton area.  There, he earned his way to the Dayton Marcos, a team of African American players formed in the second decade of the 20th century that appeared to alternate between amateur and professional status.  When Rube Foster created the Negro National League in 1920, the Dayton Marcos were one of those original eight teams.  Finishing last, Dayton’s franchise moved to Columbus for 1921.

Carr was a Marco starting at least five years earlier, but only played one game as a Negro National League player (so far as the current documentation exists – he batted once and made an out) in 1920.  However, that year he spent the vast majority of his time with the Johnny Carr All-Stars, a barnstorming team that borrowed players from the Marcos from time to time.  He’d return to the Marcos briefly, but the first baseman would be out of professional baseball before long. Carr hung around the team for years, however, even appearing in old-timer games as late as 1936.

Carr married Paralee Carter in 1909; they took care of her daughter, Ethel, who was born a few years before they married.  After they divorced in 1925, Carr was briefly married to a young woman named Mattie – an Arkansas divorce record suggests that they may have been married while John was married to Paralee and they remarried after 1925.  When not playing baseball, Carr worked as the head porter at the Rike-Kumler Department Store in downtown Dayton. The longtime Dayton resident joined a local Masonic Lodge and was a member of the Shriners. When Carr died on April 7, 1939 he left behind no children, just his third wife, Ella. He was buried at Greencastle Cemetery in Dayton.

Sources:

Baseball-Reference.com
FindaGrave.com

1910, 1920, 1930 US Census
World War I Registration Card

Ohio Marriage Certficate
Arkansas Divorce Records
Ohio Department of Heath Death Index

“Johnny Carr Is Again a Marco,” Dayton Daily News, Septebmer 25, 1915: 7.

“All-Stars To Play Rubbers at Westwood,” Dayton Herald, May 20, 1920: 16.

“Wife Had To Work, Charge,” Dayton Daily News, January 29, 1925: 15.

“Hups, Coopers and Ford Win,” Dayton Daily News, Dayton Daily News, August 17, 1926: 9.

“Pfeiffer, Mills Take No Chances,” Dayton Daily News, September 15, 1936: 20.

“John W. Carr,” Dayton Daily News, April 8, 1939: 16.

Happy Birthday, Nathan Jewett!

Nathan (Nat) Jewett was briefly a major league baseball player – but only if you consider the National Association a “major league” and, just as importantly, the Eckford of Brooklyn a major league team. Jewett’s team won but 3 of 29 decisions, with many of the losses featuring lopsided scores.

Nathan W. Jewett was born Christmas Day, 1844 (census and military records suggest 1842, as does his gravestone) in New York City to Perry Jewett and his wife Catharine Cowen, an English immigrant. The Jewett family can trace its lineage back to the founding of Rowley, Massachusetts in 1638/1639 by Puritans in a hurry to leave Yorkshire, England – and, if you read the family history assembled by Dr. Frederic Clarke Jewett, that line can be traced back to Henri de Juett, a Knight of the First Crusade in 1096-1099.

Perry named his son after his father, but wouldn’t live to see the son’s baseball career. The owner of a porter house passed away in 1851. Catharine was left tending to a family of at least seven children – Nathan was in the middle somewhere, having three sisters that were younger than he. By his late teens, Nathan worked as a clerk and, when he registered for service in the Great War for Slavery, he was listed as a milkman.

Nathan enlisted with the local volunteers and somehow was assigned to Company G of the 71st Pennsylvania Infantry. This unit was extremely busy during course of the Civil War, featuring prominently at the battles of Gettysburg, Antietam and others. Some combination of proud service and having more than 90% of the regiment being killed or wounded, Nathan worked his way to Corporal before mustering out. While he was always employed, he applied for a pension in 1878 to help with some injury he received during the war. He returned home to New York City, living in the Bronx for most of the rest of his life.

Before the Civil War (and certainly after it), New York was a hot bed of amateur and professional baseball. And, baseball was played amongst the soldiers serving during the Civil War. One of these provides the source of Jewett’s finding his way into the top circles of the local baseball teams. In 1872, needing a catcher to give a break to Doug Allison, Jewett was briefly added to the roster of the Eckford of Brooklyn. He caught two games, July 4, and July 6, batting last both times. He reached base twice – getting a hit in his first game and scoring a run in his second. In addition to three errors, he also allowed nine passed balls. The Eckford lost 16 – 3 to the Philadelphia Athletics on July 4, and 24 – 5 to the Forest City club on July 6 – even though Forest City was forced to play the game with just eight men.

With that, Jewett returned home to his wife, the former Christina Campbell, herself an immigrant who came to the United States from Scotland in 1849. The Jewetts had ten children, with eight surviving to adulthood. Working as a letter carrier, clerk or laborer for the remainder of his days, lobar pneumonia took Nathan Jewett to the next league on February 23, 1914. He is buried with other family in Kenisco Cemetery in Valhalla, NY.

Sources:

Baseball-Reference.com
FindAGrave.com

New York Death Index/Certficate
1855 NY State Census
1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910 US Census
New York City Marriage Record

Frederic Clarke Jewett, MD. History of Genealogy of the Jewetts of America, Grafton Press, New York, 1908.

“Base Ball,” New York Times, July 7, 1872: 8.
“Base Ball,” Philadelphia Enquirer, July 6, 1872: 2.

Happy Birthday, Jim (Buzz) Busby!

Jim Busby was a Battle Creek area baseball legend who got a brief tryout with the Indianapolis A.B.C.s of the Negro National League in 1933.

James Alfred Busby, Jr. was born November 28, 1900 to James Alfred and Sarah (Reed) Busby in Benton Harbor, Michigan. (His obituary said he was born in 1902, his gravestone says 1901, and the obituary and some documents list his birthdate as November 26 or November 27.) His father was a laborer and fireman at a Benton Harbor foundry for much of his adult life; they had eight children and James, Jr. was the fifth to arrive. At least one US Census record noted that both of James’ parents were of mixed race backgrounds.

Busby played baseball at Central Junior High and for the Battle Creek High School Bearcats, earning local plaudits. However, he made his mark as an amateur baseball player when he lived and worked in Battle Creek, Michigan. There, Busby played at least fourteen seasons in various class level recreational leagues starting in about 1927. Nicknamed Buzz, Busby was a tall and lanky player who played every position on the field, though his most frequent position was likely shortstop or third base. He had a number of spectacular seasons in Battle Creek, including a 1932 season where he hit .459 – earning a tryout with the Indianapolis A.B.C.s and Cleveland Giants in exhibition games.

Jim Taylor, described as the “roly-poly” manager for Indianapolis, liked the raw athletic skills, but figured that Busby needed seasoning. “(Taylor) “…was particularly pleased with the looks of Jim Busby, gangling, terrificly {sic} hitting all-’round star of Columbia Cleaners, who has maintained a batting average above and around .500 all season in class A recreational league. Taylor believes Busby a ‘comer’ but admits he needs lots of experience and training under capable tutorship of a manager who could successfully develop his natural ability.”

In 1933, Taylor sent travel funds and Busby joined the Indianapolis A.B.C.s, where he would appear in at least two official league games and likely other exhibitions – but failed to make a mark. He was, of course, at least 32 years old even though one paper said he was 21 (!) at the time he got his tryout. In eight official at bats, Busby had two hits and drove in a run. Busby returned to Battle Creek for the rest of the decade, once even hitting .467 for Columbia Cleaners.

Busby never had children, but he did have three wives. He married Cecil Russell in 1923, but she filed for divorce for non-support six months later. In 1928, Busby married Minnie Lee Smith, and they remained married for much of the 1930s and maybe later. When he passed away in 1960 he was married to a young lady named Yvonne.

As a young man, Busby worked at a foundry – just like his father. After, 1940, though, Busby headed east. For a while he was a butler at a fraternity in Philadelphia, and when he died on October 2, 1960, he was living in Clinton, New Jersey. He was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Clinton a few days later.

Sources:

1910, 1920, 1930, 1940 US Censuses
World War II Registration Card
MI Marriage and Divorce Records
SS Claims Index

Baseball Reference.com
FindaGrave.com

“The Sport Outlook,” Battle Creek Enquirer, July 27, 1932: 8.
“Colubmia Cleaners Win Over Hastings Nine, 4 – 1,” Battle Creek Enquirer, September 23, 1932: 20.
“The Sport Outlook,” Battle Creek Enquirer, July 27, 1932: 8.
“Cleveland Club Opposes Postum,” Battle Creek Enquirer, July 27, 1932: 8.
“Busby Will Get Trial With Famous A.B.C’s,” Battle Creek Enquirer, Aprl 23, 1933: 15.
“Home Run Parade,” Battle Creek Enquirer, August 1, 1937: 10.
“Player of Week Busby Veteran of 13 seasons in Recreation Leagues,” Battle Creek Enquirer, June 25, 1940: 15.

Happy Birthday, John “Daisy” Davis!

“…[U]ntil yesterday no one had the faintest idea that Davis could pitch, that is, good enough to put in the box against the Philadelphia heavy hitters. The fact was developed that Davis is a ball tosser and a daisy at that.”

“Joe Hornung’s Home Run,” Boston Globe, June 12, 1885: 2.

John Henry Albert Davis was born November 28, 1858 to William and Annie (Shirreffs) Davis in Boston – dad was a blacksmith and shipwright while mom raised five kids of which John was the youngest. The Davis parents were likely immigrants, but not very clear based on US Census data, which also suggests they had a stop in New Hampshire prior to moving to Boston around 1856 (or the Boston area) for the rest of their lives. (1870 and 1880 says William was from Nova Scotia and Annie was from Scotland while 1860 says New Hampshire, for example.) Anyway – Davis grew up in a huge baseball town and by the time he was old enough to start playing at least on good town teams he was working as a blacksmith.

“The feature of the game was the pitching of Davis, who struck out nine men. His delivery transcended the rules, being considerably above the shoulder, but no objection was made to it.”

“St. Louis, 6; Toledo, 3,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, May 7, 1884: 8.

In 1884, Davis lands on the St. Louis Browns, a very good team with a pretty full roster of decent pitchers. He won his first start over Toledo, with errors marring his first inning, but he didn’t allow a run the rest of the way. However, with the highest ERA and a 10 – 12 record, the Browns decided that they didn’t need a fifth starter and he’s allowed to move to Boston for the rest of the season.

Except, of course, that Daisy Davis was a pretty good pitcher. He had the best K/9 data, didn’t walk that many batters, and probably had room to improve. His best start was likely a four hit shutout of Cincinnati on July 23rd where he fanned five and walked one. Instead, he got shelled a little with his home club as 1884 finished and he wasn’t used all that much in 1885 – the Boston Nationals had two solid starters who split 100 starts down the middle. Davis’s last major league start was a 1 – 0 win over Buffalo in a game shortened to five innings by rain on July 29, 1885. The diminutive Davis (he’s listed as 5′ 6″ and 150 pounds) took a job pitching for Toronto, at allegedly at the highest salary in the International Association, and went 16 – 7 with good strikeout and control numbers in 1886. According to a Utica sourced article published in the St. Joseph Daily Gazette, Davis had a rather interesting delivery.

“Davis, the Toronto pitcher, pitched effectively. His delivery consists of a short Indian club exercise, two sing and dance steps and a hop, step and jump, but the ball gets there just the same. The puzzling nature of his delivery proved a stumbling block to the eleven of the Uticas who struck out.”

“Outside the Diamond,” St. Joseph Daily Gazette, August 31, 1886: 3.

You’d think that SOMEBODY would have given the righthander a chance following that. Instead, he became a bit of a pitching nomad, pitching for the Portsmouths in 1888 – the Kansas City Times noting that by early July he had yet to suffer a defeat there. After that, Davis’s career appears to have ended.

He went home to his wife, the former Minnie Brown (she was eight years younger than John). They moved to Lynn, MA where Davis became a clerk until the fall of 1902, when pneumonia (or tuberculosis, per FindAGrave.com) took him to the next league on November 5, 1902.

Sources:

1860, 1870, and 1880 US Censuses
1865 Mass. Census
Massachusetts birth
Massachusetts marriage records
Massachusetts death records

Baseball-Reference.com
https://www.statscrew.com/minorbaseball/stats/p-c9c42a57

“St. Louis, 2; Cincinnatis, 0,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 24, 1884: 8.

“Was it the Rain?,” Boston Globe, July 30, 1885: 2.

“Outside the Diamond,” St. Joseph Daily Gazette, August 31, 1886: 3.

“Hits Outside the Diamond,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, September 5, 1886: 3.

“Base Ball Briefs,” Kansas City Star, July 8, 1888: 3.

Happy Birthday, Walter Marbet!

“With the game lost, Walter Marbet, the new pitching acquisition from Cleveland, Tenn., made his first appearance. He gave cause for hope. Marby seems to have a ‘hop’ on his fast ball, and he has a good curve. He escaped damage in the last two rounds though the outfielders were kept busy.”

“Card Chirpings,” St. Louis Star and Times, June 18, 1913: 8.

With little professional fanfare, Walter Marbet was lifted from the obscurity of Kentucky and Tennessee baseball diamonds and placed on the mound used by the St. Louis Cardinals. His stay in the majors was about two weeks; it took but three days to show that Marbet belonged behind the counter of his family businesses in rural Tennessee.

Walter William Marbet was born on September 13, 1891 in Merrill, Iowa to Swiss immigrants Jacob and Pauline (Karrer) Marbet. The German speaking parents arrived in the United States around 1880 and had three sons – Walter arrived after Albert and before Otto. Around 1896, the Marbets left Iowa for Hohenwald, Tennessee – a town founded by Swiss immigrants about the time that Jacob and Pauline arrived in the United States. In fact, part of what is now Hohenwald includes a town named New Switzerland. Jacob opened a hotel there and ran the hotel until his retirement around World War I.

walter-marbetWalter and Otto both played baseball in Hohenwald in the late 1900s and early 1910s. In fact, they both tried out with the Nashville Volunteers in 1911. Otto’s career never got much beyond that tryout, though he played baseball locally for several years. Walter’s first impression might have been a bit different. In an exhibition game against Vanderbilt, Walter reached as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning and, forgetting a belt, struggled to keep his pants above his posterior while racing to first base. Walter and his flying fanny didn’t make it with Nashville, though he was was versatile enough with a strong arm – good enough to get a look with Clarksville in the Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee League – called the Kitty League at that time.

Walter Marbet played first base, center field, and pitched with Clarksville for much of 1911 and then semi-professionally for Centreville, TN to begin 1912. That June, Walter signed with Paducah in the Kitty League. At first, the tall and lean Marbet was stunningly successful. After winning his maiden effort, the righthander went 14 innings to beat Hopkinsville. However, three weeks after he signed with Paducah, he either lost his nerve or lost his fastball. By early August, manager Pat Bohannon told Marbet to stay home. Marbet agreed and stated he wouldn’t return to Paducah until he was in condition to win games.

Something changed – Marbet wanted to pitch but didn’t want to return to Paducah for 1913. After trying to sell Marbet’s rights, Paducah traded Marbet for infielder Daddy Whitaker with Cleveland of the Appalachian League. There, Marbet found his form – and pitched well enough in front of a St. Louis Cardinals scout to earn a trip to the Gateway City. Marbet’s signing earned a surprised take from his old home city. The Paducah Evening Sun noted, “Marbet pitched star ball for Clarksville in 1911, but his arm went bad, and he showed only flashes of his form last season. Whether Marbet can make good in fast company is a puzzle to the fans.”

A couple of weeks after arriving in St. Louis, Manager Miller Huggins gave Marbet two innings of mop up duty in an 8 – 3 loss to Brooklyn on June 17, 1913. Two days later, desperate to find anyone who could pitch, Huggins gave a start to Marbet against the same Brooklyn nine. This time, Marbet wouldn’t be so lucky. In the first inning an error and two singles scored a run with one out. However, after a foul out, Casey Stengel was fooled by the hidden ball trick to end the inning with just the one run scored. In the second inning, after a ground out, six straight Brooklyn batters singled, scoring four runs and ending Marbet’s day – Bob Harmon came in to finish the remaining 7.2 innings.

Marbet got one more chance – this time in the tenth inning of a June 25 game that was 1 – 1 when the extra inning started. Rube Geyer was hammered by Pittsburgh, so Huggins called for Marbet. Marbet proceeded to walk the next three batters, forcing in two more runs. Huggins next tried Poll Perritt, who at least got the final out – if not quickly. Exactly a month later, St. Louis sent Marbet back to Cleveland, TN.

And with that, Walter Marbet’s professional career was over. And it was Walter, not Walt. If you run queries for “Walt Marbet” on Newspapers.com you won’t get a single hit. But “Walter Marbet” returns scores of hits over a five or ten year period of time. Marbet tried out one more time in 1914, but the Nashville Volunteers decided he wasn’t good enough after three years wandering through other professional circuits. He’d play locally in any number of amateur or semi-professional leagues for the rest of the decade, but Walter Marbet’s days getting paid to play baseball were done.

Like many of this era, Marbet registered for the draft as World War I started. However, a few things changed. His father sold the hotel business – and Walter Marbet became a year older, listing his birthdate as 1890 instead of 1891. On that registration form, Marbet used his father’s retirement as a reason he should have been exempt from military service – he was the lone provider for his father. One figures that the locals saw through the ruse. Walter eventually was inducted into the Army and sent to Camp Wadsworth in late October, 1918. The war ended three weeks later and Private Marbet soon returned home.

Marbet married a woman at least twelve years his junior, Florine Springer. His father was eighteen years older than his mother, so maybe this was in his genes. To pay the bills, he operated a grocery store for the better part of thirty years. The life long Democrat also served two terms as a county trustee from 1944 to 1948. Florine helped run the family grocery store and gave birth to two children. The oldest, Dorothy, would marry and move away. His son, Jacob Springer Marbet, opened a service station around 1950 but only ran it for five years – he would perish in an automobile wreck at just 29 years old in 1955. Walter Marbet still worked the service station in Hohenwald when lung cancer took him to the next league on September 9, 1956 – just four days shy of his 65th birthday, He was buried in Swiss Cemetery in Hohenwald two days later.

NOTES:

Baseball-Reference,com
Retrosheet.org
FindaGrave.com

1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940 US Censuses
Iowa Birth Records
Tennessee Death Records
Tennessee Marriage Records
World War I Registration Records

“Walter Marbet,” Nashville Tennessean, February 8, 1911: 7. (Includes picture.)

“Three of Hirsig’s Proteges Arrive,” Nashville Banner, March 14, 1911: 12.

“Notes of Yesterday’s Game,” Nashville Banner, April 6, 1911: 16

“Diamond Dope,” Hopkinsville Kentuckian, April 15, 1911: 4.

Jack Nye, “Vol. Sidelights,” Nashville Banner, May 25, 1911: 14.

“Go Out and See New Club,” Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle, May 22, 1912: 1.

“14 Innings to Great Victory,” Paducah Evening Sun, June 28, 1912: 6.

“Big Chief,” Paducah Evening Sun, August 8, 1912: 1.

“Kitty Scratches,” Paducah Evening Sun, May, 8, 1913: 6.

“Walter Marbet Given Tryout by Cardinals,” Paducah Evening Sun, June 6, 1913: 8.

“Card Chirpings,” St. Louis Star and Times, June 18, 1913: 8.

“Marbet Will Go Full Route Today Against Dodgers,” St. Louis Star and Times, June 19, 1913: 10.

“Dodgers Pass Cubs; Return in Third Place,” Brooklyn Standard Union, June 20, 1913: 12.

“Big Bob Before Native Friends,” Davenport Daily Times, June 26, 1913: 13

“Contracts and Releases,” Fall River Globe, July 25, 1913: 6.

“Colonels Romp on Vols 6 to 2,” Nashville Banner, March 23, 1914: 10.

“N., C. & ST. L. Team Defeats Hohenwald,” Nashville Banner, July 6, 1916: 10.

“Moore Democratic Primary Quiet,” Nashville Banner, April 2, 1946: 18.

“Hohenwald Man Killed in Wreck,” Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle, August 26, 1955: 4.

W.W. Marbet Dies in Lewis; Rites Wednesday,” Nashville Banner, September 25, 1956: 6.

The Lost Career of Ralph Sharman

The death of a young person is not just tragic for the loss of life but for the loss of a future. In major league baseball, one of the more tragic losses was that of Ralph Sharman, one of the casualties tangentially related to World War I.

Ralph Edward Sharman was the last of five children born to English immigrants John and Hannah (Ette) Sharman, arriving on April 11, 1895. The Sharmans married in England, then arrived at Ellis Island aboard the Arizona with a child in tow in May, 1883. They first settled in Pennsylvania, then moved to Ohio. Ralph, named after John’s brother, was born in Cleveland shortly before the family moved near Cincinnati in the late 1890s. John Sharman sold insurance and was active in the community, serving as a Norwood city councilman. Their lives were comfortable and socially busy, as John or Hannah might appear in the social columns of the Cincinnati Enquirer from time to time.

Ralph was an athlete – slightly above average in height (5′ 11) and solidly built (his weight was variously listed as 175 and 195). And, he grew up in a city that had been a baseball town for some fifty years by the time he earned notice as an amateur centerfielder for the U.S. Printing baseball team and later as a member of the Norwood city team. He earned the nickname “Home-Run” Sharman while at Norwood. In 1914, after getting a brief tryout with Portsmouth in the Ohio State League, he clocked two triples and a long homer off of former major league pitcher Jesse Tannehill, who was now throwing for amateur teams in Cincinnati.

While Sharman didn’t stick the first time with Portsmouth, he was given a second chance for the 1915 season – and this time he was more than equal to the task. Keeping with his “Home-Run” nickname, Sharman hit the longest ball ever seen at Springfield, Ohio breaking a mark thought to be held by Buster Keene.

But fans, a new mark was set in over-the-fence drives yesterday, Sharman’s wallop that cleared the enclosure was a longer drive than Keene’s. It was nearer center field, which increases the distance as left field is shorter. Candidly, Sharman’s hit will go down in the baseball archives as the longest home run ever uncorked in the River City. The pill landed this side of the Dardanelles.

“Wrests Honor From Keene,” Portsmouth Daily Times, May 20, 1915: 10.

When the season closed, Sharman led the Ohio State League with a .374 batting average, was tops in hits, third in runs scored, and just five stolen bases behind the leader with 31 thefts. The New York Giants took an interest in the young outfielder and sent Portsmouth a $500 check for his rights. The following spring, Sharman joined the Giants in Marlin, Texas for spring training.

Sharman, a humble sort known to have shared his paycheck with his family back home, was modest in describing his chances to stick with the Giants. He told a scribe that he didn’t think he would make it with the Giants and expected to be sent to a Class AA or Class A club for more seasoning. “Better have another year in the minors and be sure of success in the big show afterwards,” says Sharman, “than to go into the majors too green and score a failure.”

Sharman was right. Soon after arriving in Texas, Sharman contracted blood poisoning in his foot – he blamed it on wearing his cleats too tight – and was dispatched to Memphis in the Southern League. Things didn’t get better there – he injured himself a second time, tearing a tendon in his leg while making a mighty swing. With Memphis, Sharman got just five hits in thirty-eight at bats and was once caught napping by the hidden ball trick. By mid-May, Sharman was optioned to the Galveston Pirates in the Texas League.

Finally, Sharman got things squared away. It took a few weeks, but by late summer his batting average had snuck back over .300. He finished the 1916 season with 104 hits in 106 games, good for a .277 batting average. A quarter of his hits were for extra bases. He played well enough for Memphis to exercise their option and have Sharman return there for spring training in 1917.

Maybe he didn’t like the food. Once again, Memphis dispatched Sharman to Galveston, but he wouldn’t stay there long. Galveston was removed from the Texas League and his rights were then acquired by the Fort Worth Panthers. After a particularly good game against former major leaguer Dode Criss (five hits, with two doubles and a triple), the Fort Worth Star-Telegram read the tea leaves and predicted that 1917 would be the year Sharman made it to the majors.

“At the rate Ralph Sharman has been going since joining the Panthers it seems that he intends to make this his last year in the minors. The former Pirate had his hitting togs on Thursday and laced Buff hurlers, Criss and Glenn, for two doubles, a single and a triple in five trips to the plate. He covers as much territory as any outfielder in the league and sports an arm that makes it dangerous to take any kind of chances on the pathways.”

“Kike’s Komment,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 13, 1917: 10.

Ralph SharmanBefore Sharman would win the Texas League batting crown (.341, with 203 hits – 42 doubles), he began attracting the notice of scouts, including those of the Cubs and Athletics.  Connie Mack won the bidding war, purchasing his rights from Fort Worth in August and agreeing to let Sharman join the Athletics once the Texas League season ended. 

Sharman made his debut in the first game of a doubleheader against the Yankees on September 10. The Yankees got out to an early lead, so Mack starting putting in the kids – Sharman replaced Amos Strunk in center field in the third inning. In the seventh, Sharman beat out a grounder to the shortstop for his first major league hit in his second at bat. Then he got a couple of pinch running or pinch hitting chances before sitting down for two weeks to watch the regulars. But this wasn’t a good Athletics team – it wouldn’t quite win 36% of the games in 1917 – so for the last ten days of the season, Mack sat the regulars to let the rookies play.

The player who best took advantage of that opportunity was Ralph Sharman.

After a game with two walks and no hits, Sharman would hit in each of his remaining seven starts, getting ten hits in thirty trips before the season ended. Sharman finished with a .297 batting average, adding a couple of walks and three extra base hits. One was a triple that was launched way over the head of Ty Cobb, but Cobb’s speed and accurate throw to Donie Bush, who then made a perfect relay to home, was able to nab Sharman at the plate.

It was an impressive finish to the season. Fans likely looked forward to seeing the young kid getting a chance to prove himself in 1918, especially after Mack moved Amos Strunk to Boston and right fielder Charlie Jamieson hadn’t exactly earned a guaranteed job in right field with his powerless .267 batting average. (Jamieson hit .202 in 1918 – he might not have played that much if Sharman were around.)

However, that would have to wait. With World War I raging in Europe and the United States committing resources to the Allies, Sharman enlisted in the United States Army, joining Battery F of the 136th Ohio Field Artillery. He spent a week in Fort Thomas, Kentucky before being sent to Camp Sheridan near Montgomery, Alabama. Camp Sheridan’s encampment had a large “Buckeye” contingent in the field artillery batteries.

Sharman’s training included sports. After being promoted to Corporal, Sharman was placed in charge of the Camp Sheridan baseball team. The Cincinnati Reds trained there – convenient given the large number of Ohioans nearby – and Sharman’s team would play practice games against Christy Mathewson’s spring training teams.

While thousands of these soldiers would see battle in Europe, Sharman was not to be one of them. However, he would be a casualty to the war effort. On May 24, 1917, during a break from training, Sharman was swimming in the Alabama River when he got caught in a whirlpool and was pulled under the surface. While more expert swimmers were brought over to try to rescue Sharman, the effort proved unsuccessful and he drowned; his body not recovered until hours later into the night. After a funeral at the camp, his body was returned to Ohio and buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati.

There is no guarantee that Sharman would have played another game for the Athletics. Camp Sheridan was hard hit by the 1918 flu pandemic and thousands of its soldiers who were sent to Europe were killed or wounded in battle. However, he MIGHT have survived and became a regular American League outfielder. One of his Portsmouth teammates in 1915 was Austin McHenry, who had a nice major league career until he, too, died way too young. Instead, we are left saddened by Sharman’s death; we can only wonder what his future might have been.

Sources:

Baseball-Reference.com
Retrosheet.org
FindAGrave.com

1900, 1910 US Census
World War I Registration Card
OH Marriage Records
NY/Ellis Island Passenger Lists
Ohio Roster of Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines, World War 1917-1918

“Norwood,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 10, 1910: 4-5.

Box Score, Cincinnati Enquirer, June 14, 1914: 18.

“Amateur Baseball,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 19, 1914: 23.

“Ralph Sharman,” Portsmouth Daily Times, May 10, 1915: 10.

“Wrests Honor From Keene,” Portsmouth Daily Times, May 20, 1915: 10.

“Local Players are Paid Off in Full,” Portsmouth Daily Times, August 19, 1915: 9.

“$500 For Sharman,” Portsmouth Daily Times, October 2, 1915: Sports, Pg. 1.

“Sharman is Modest,” Portsmouth Daily Times, October 19, 1915: 10.

“Ralph Sharman Boss Hitter in Ohio State,” Portsmouth Daily Times, October 25, 1915: 10.

“Sharman is Better,” Portsmouth Daily Times, March 9, 1916: 10.

“Recruit for Memphis,” Knoxville Journal and Tribune, March 20, 1916: 9.

“Giants’ Colts Beat Regulars For Title,” New York Times, March 24, 1916: 12.

Ed F. Balinger,”Pirate Pickups From Tennessee,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, April 5, 1916: 10.

“Sharman Injured,” Portsmouth Daily Times, April 19, 1916: 10.

“Fine Boost for Ralph Sharman,” Portsmouth Daily Times, April 27, 1916: Sports. Pg. 2.

“Waivers on Sharman,” Portsmouth Daily Times, May 9, 1916: 8.

“Old Army Game Worked on Sharman,” Portsmouth Daily Times, May 12, 1916: Section 2, 2.

“Memphis Turns Back Sharman to Giants,” Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin, May 23, 1916: 12.

“Ralph Sharman With the Galveston Club,” Portsmouth Daily Times, June 7, 1916: 10.

“Sharman Clubbing Pill,” Portsmouth Daily Times, July 24, 1916: 10.

“Minor Circuit Clubs Exercise Player Option,” St. Louis Star and Times, September 15, 1916: 12.

“Memphis Club Has Many Texas Lads,” Shreveport Journal, March 23, 1917: 9.

“Chicks Sell Sharman to Galveston Club,” Chattanooga News, April 5, 1917: 12.

“Kike’s Komment,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 13, 1917: 10.

“Sharman is Sought By Major Clubs,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, August 7, 1917: 8.

“Sharman is Bought By Connie Mack,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, August 12, 1917: Page 19.

Karl Bettis, “Sharman and Bernsen League’s Best Polers,” Fort Worth Record-Telegram, September 2, 1917: 11.

“Tigers Put Check on Rookies’ Rush,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 29, 1917: 14.

“Mack Loses Another Player,” Kansas City Times, November 6, 1917: 8.

Cincinnati Enquirer, March 15, 1918: 8.

“Ralph Sharman of 136th Field Artillery Drowned Friday,” Montgomery Advertiser, May 25, 1918: 3.

Happy Birthday, Carl Spongberg!

Carl Spongberg went from an educated pitcher tossing in obscurity in a small Idaho town to being a member of the 1908 Chicago Cubs and back in the span of eight months. His reward? Baseball encyclopedias spelling his first name wrong for more than a century.

Born May 21, 1884, Carl Gustave Spongberg with the first of six children born to a pair of Swedish immigrants, Gustave and Anna (Sellstrom) Spongberg, in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The Spongbergs and Sellstroms arrived in the United States around 1881 and soon moved to Montpelier, Idaho where Gustave became a bank clerk and later ran a grocery. Carl was both a good student and athlete – in his teens he went away to a business school in Salt Lake City, the first of many times he would leave his Idaho home for Utah.

Baseball took to the Pacific Northwest in the late 1800s and Spongberg took up the sport in his hometown of Montpelier. He’d play a variety of positions, but only on the days he wasn’t pitching. Pitching became his calling card in Montpelier – and groceries… More on that later. After a particularly good season in the Snake Valley League, he joined John Dubel’s Salt Lake City team in the Utah State League. He pitched well enough there in 1907 to earn a tryout with Aberdeen, which was replacing Spokane in the Northwestern League. He didn’t stick, so Spongberg returned to the Utah State League for 1908, only this time with Odgen.

For a kid not good enough to pitch in Aberdeen, he suddenly became a national name in the span of a month pitching for Ogden. Owner of multiple double-digit strikeout games that season, Spongberg’s outing on July 4th against his old Salt Lake City team drew raves. “Most of the credit for the victory goes to Spongberg, the pitcher who hails from Idaho,” wrote the Salt Lake Tribune. “Time and time again with lightning-like rapidity a batsman would retire after but three balls and been thrown over the plate.” Spongberg fanned thirteen batters, walked nobody, and the only Salt Lake base runner reached by an error. Two weeks later, he made a difficult catch of a softly hit infield fly and turned it into a triple play. Spongberg was on fire.

Two people with scouting ties were on hand to see Spongberg pitch. One was his manager, Frank Gimler, who also played centerfield. The other was Joe Shea, who gained fame for finding Walter Johnson, the Idaho pitcher now a star with the Washington Senators. They passed this information on to Frank Chance, a west coast native now managing the Chicago Cubs, who just so happened to be looking for additional pitching help.

Chance and Chicago owner Charles Murphy were willing to take a chance on Spongberg, not only because of the tip, but because it would be an inexpensive investment. As the Utah State League was not part of “Organized Baseball,” the Cubs wouldn’t have to pay a purchase price for Spongberg to head east. Chance sent $150 in advance for Spongberg’s $300 per month salary and covered transportation costs for the pitching prospect. Spongberg made one last start for Ogden on July 26, 1908 – leaving after one inning because a sore on his second finger began to bleed – and headed on a train east to Boston.

Pitcher Karl Sponberg reported to Manager Chance tonight. He is a big husky right hander who looks as if he knew baseball, but will get no chance to show it until he recovers from his long journey from Utah.

“Notes of the Cubs,” Chicago Tribune, July 31, 1908: 10.

Carl Spongberg

The Cubs, in that famous race with Pittsburgh and New York for the 1908 National League pennant, had just left Brooklyn for Boston to begin a five game series with the Doves – and Spongberg was making a four-day journey across the country. Spongberg arrived in Boston on July 30, met the team and got a uniform that would fit his 6′ 2″, 208 pound frame.

The Cubs won the first four games of the series, but Boston got the best of Chicago starter Carl Lundgren in the fifth game on August 1, Chance pulling him after just four batters. Chick Fraser came in to finish the inning, but the Cubs were now behind 7 – 0. Chance pulled himself, one other player, and Fraser, inserting Spongberg into the lineup as the new pitcher.

“Manager Chance gave up the game right there and decided to try out Sponberg {sic}, his latest recruit from the west. The youngster had not regained his land legs after a five days’ journey from Utah and the scenery, including the home plate, was still moving past the car windows for him.”

I. E. Sanborn, “Cubs Massacred by Doves,” Chicago Tribune, August 2, 1908: 15.

Spongberg gave up two runs in the second inning, another in the third and fourth – including a homer to Boston manager Joe Kelley – before finally getting through an inning cleanly in the fifth. Walks and an error by Johnny Evers plated three more runs in the sixth, but Spongberg finished two more clean innings before the game was over. Boston won 14 – 0, and Spongberg’s line included six innings, seven walks, eight hits, two hit batsmen, and seven runs allowed. However, he had two of the Cubs’ five hits. Cecil Ferguson struck out Spongberg in the Swede’s first at bat, but Spongberg got two hits the next two times up.

And that was it. Chance released Spongberg, but he and pitcher Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown both felt awful that Spongberg came all that way for a one-game tryout. Each reached out to contacts to help find Spongberg another baseball gig in the east – Chance getting a job with Springfield, Illinois one hour before Brown got Spongberg a job with Reading. Spongberg was given a tryout, things didn’t work out, and by season’s end, Spongberg was back in the Utah State League, but with Salt Lake City.

Spongberg returned to Montpelier, initially taking a clerk’s role with an implement store and pitching for his old Montpelier team. In fact, while Spongberg lived in Montpelier, he could be counted on to pitch for his local team through at least 1919. In 1913, he returned to Salt Lake to take a position with a large bank there. He met Jean Leishman and they married in May. In time they had one son, Jay Allen. Their stay in Salt Lake was temporary. Before long, he went home to Montpelier and operated a grocery into the 1920s. Western States Grocery Company then reached out to Spongberg and made him a manager of their wholesale grocery company. This necessitated two moves – one to Oregon, and a second to Los Angeles.

In the summer of 1938, Spongberg fell ill. He came down with pneumonia and died on July 21, 1938. He was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles, leaving behind his wife and son.

FYI, if you look up Spongberg in the encyclopedia or even Baseball-Reference.com, you will see his name spelled as Karl Spongberg – but every other reference from his time period, with RARE exception spells it as Carl. Including documents like his World War I registration card which includes his own signature…

SOURCES:

Baseball-Reference.com
FindAGrave.com
World War I Registration Card
1900, 1910, 1920, 1930 US Census
Utah Marriage Index
California Death Index

“For Utah Schools,” Salt Lake Herald, September 13, 1901: 3.

“Each Won a Game,” Montpelier Examiner, July 28, 1905: 1.

“Was The Whole Show,” Montpelier Examiner, May 10, 1907: 8.

“Aberdeen Gets Sponberg {sic},” Salt Lake Herald, March 25, 1908: 10.

“Indians Hit Ball Hard’ Win 11-3,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, April 25, 1908: 14.

“Spongberg Pitches a No-Hit Game,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 5, 1908.

“Ogden Winner in Fast Game,” Salt Lake Herald, July 20, 1908: 7.

“Chicago Nationals Sign Spongberg,” Salt Lake Herald, July 25, 1908: 10.

“Thunder-storm Prevents Game Between Champions and Dodgers,” Chicago Inter Ocean, July 26, 1908: 17.

“Ogden, 4; Occidentals, 3,” Salt Lake Herald, July 27, 1908: 7.

“Notes of the Cubs,” Chicago Tribune, July 29, 1908: 12.

“Notes of the Cubs,” Chicago Tribune, July 31, 1908: 10.

“Boston Gives Cubs an Awful Walloping,” Chicago Inter Ocean, August 2, 1908: 13.

I. E. Sanborn, “Cubs Massacred by Doves,” Chicago Tribune, August 2, 1908: 15.

“Sponberg for Springfield,” Chicago Tribune, August 6, 1908: 6.

“Sponberg Didn’t Last,” Washington (DC) Evening Star, August 9, 1908: Part 5, Page 1.

“Spongberg Still in Demand,” Montpelier Examiner, August 21, 1908: 2.

“Lobsters Trim White Wings,” Salt Lake Herald, September 21, 1908: 7.

“Local News,” Montepelier Examiner, May 17, 1912: 5.

“Two Fast Ball Games on the Local Diamond,” Montpelier Examiner, July 31, 1914: 1.

“Ball League Opens with Good Games,” Montpelier Examiner, June 6, 1919: 1.

Carl G. Spongberg, Los Angeles Times, July 23, 1938: 32.

Carl G. Spongberg, Salt Lake Tribune, July 23, 1938: 13.