Happy Birthday, Buzz Wetzel!

 

Charles Wetzel from Scranton Tribune 10 Aug 1927 pg 14

Ed Wetzel, Athletics pitcher as he appeared in the Scranton Tribune in 1927

“Wetzel exhibited his right hand to show a portion (of his thumb) missing down to his first joint and a mangled first finger.  He suffered the accident when he chopped off a portion of his finger hacking trees last winter.

“‘I thought my baseball career was over,’ Wetzel said, ‘but it turned out that this year I’ve won twenty-one and lost five, three of these by one run.  I had to learn to grip the ball a new way and suddenly I found myself tossing curves and using a change of pace I never had before.'”

“Connie Mack Signs Sand Lot ‘Wonder'”, Allentown Morning Call, 24 July 1927, Page 12.

Buzz Wetzel’s baseball career is amazing, really, considering the collection of tragedies, errors in judgment, and other events in a five-decade life that took a young orphan from a Cherokee Indian reservation to a spot on the Philadelphia Athletics.

Charles Edward Wetzel, Jr. was born 25 August 1894 to Charles Edward Wetzel, Sr. and Orlena (Petty) Wetzel in the town of Jay, a Cherokee Indian reservation town on the eastern edge of the Oklahoma Territory.  Young Ed Wetzel was a grandchild of the Trail of Tears and 1/32nd Cherokee Indian (one source suggested 3/64ths).  His paternal grandmother, Martha (McDonald) Wetzel, had Cherokee blood and had been born in Georgia before her family was forced to relocate to the Oklahoma Territory.  Within months of Ed’s birth, however, Martha and her husband, Daniel King Wetzel, would have to raise their four grandchildren when both Charles Sr. and Orlena both succumbed to typhoid fever.

A childhood accident – his brother accidentally chopped off a chunk of his right thumb leaving Ed with only half of his original digit – would be the first of two significant injuries to his throwing hand during his life.  Despite this, he learned the game of baseball and found that he was able to throw the ball with considerable velocity.  Armed with a fastball and a seventh grade education, Ed Wetzel would play semi-professional baseball in Bixby, Oklahoma – now a bedroom suburb of Tulsa – and once was allowed to pitch for the Haskell Indian College team in an exhibition game.

By now, he was already married.  Charles Wetzel married Anna Grace Douglas, also part Cherokee, and they had a son, James.  Both events occurred in 1914 – which, based on the timing of the birth and marriage dates, suggested that their wedding may have been hastily arranged.  After working on farms in Oklahoma, Charles and Grace moved to Arkansas where he was a mechanic and later a fireman when not pitching or playing first base.  The Wetzels bounced back and forth between Arkansas and Oklahoma for the first several years of their marriage.

“Ed Wetzel, who was with the Miners during the closing two weeks of the last campaign, evidently had a head start on some of the boys. He cut loose with a fast ball that landed in the receiver’s mitt with a bang that would tumble the walls of Jericho.”

“Vanguard of Miner Squad Starts Training at Miami”, Joplin Globe, 15 March 1921, Page 6.

They were living in Bixby in 1920 when someone arranged for Ed to get a tryout with the Joplin Miners of the Western League.  He would spend spring training in Miami, OK learning the art of pitching alongside another future major leaguer, Oscar Roettger, but only Roettger would stay.  Wetzel was dispatched to Fort Smith of the Western Association.  As that league wouldn’t begin games until June, Wetzel returned to Bixby where he could work and pitch until the season began.

Almost immediately, Ed Wetzel became “Thumbless Ed” – that name was used in newspaper articles for the next several years.  And, he became one of the better starters on the staff that would lose a seven game playoff series to Chickasha, the league pennant winners.  Among his better efforts was a shutout in game six that forced a seventh and deciding game.  Noticed for his incomplete hand and his pitching prowess, Joplin recalled Wetzel to pitch in a Western League game.  And, Joplin pitched Wetzel to the Cincinnati Reds, who put in a claim for the now twenty-five year old pitcher.

“Wetzel has but part of his thumb on his pitching hand, but has a good curve ball in spite of the fact…”

“Signed Contract of Ed Wetzel Arrives”, Joplin Globe, 25 January 1922, Page 8.

Wetzel signed with Joplin for 1922, but he wouldn’t pitch there.  Joplin’s franchise was sold to Denver.  That team was awful, barely winning a third of its games through July before finishing with a record of 59 – 97.  Wetzel, however, was wonderful.  He’d walk a lot of batters (120 in 236 innings – more than his 88 strikeouts), but his record was 12 – 13.  The next season, however, Wetzel wasn’t in good shape.  Between a sore arm and various illnesses, he hardly pitched in 1923.  The next year, he nearly signed with the Fort Smith Twins again but finally landed with Wichita Falls in the Texas League.  Still not pitching well, his contract was sold to the Springfield Midgets of the Western League.

Eventually, he was released and found work in Des Moines, Iowa and pitched semi-pro ball.  He even beat his former Springfield teammates in an exhibition game.  So, Springfield took him back.  His second stint with Springfield was equally poor.

“‘Thumbless’ Wetzel has proven a failure on the mound. He has had plenty of chances to show his wares with the Midgets, but to date has failed to turn in but one victory, that being the first game he pitched, when the Midgets spotted him 16 runs.”

“Rain Prevents Topeka Clash”, Springfield Missouri Republican, 21 June 1924, Page 5.

Wetzel hit a home run – an inside the park shot – in a loss to Hutchinson, but that was his last good moment with the Springfield Midgets.  He would next sign to pitch for Des Moines in the Western League, but that didn’t go well either.

“‘Thumbless Ed’ Wetzel, who started for Des Moines had his ‘home run’ ball working nicely. (Tony) Lazzeri socked for the circuit in the second…”

“Much Long Distant Hitting Features Lincoln’s Ten Inning Victory”, Nebraska State Journal, 3 September 1924, Page 3.

Wetzel’s contract called for a bonus at the end of the season, but if he didn’t receive that bonus he would become a free agent.   Baseball-Reference.com suggests his record for 1924 was 4 – 19 and it could have been even worse than that.  Still – there were teams desperate for pitching and Omaha would give Wetzel a chance in 1925.   That didn’t work out – he was released and returned to Des Moines, which was his new home.  He would pitch well in semi-professional leagues, get one more shot with Des Moines – which was a disaster – and return to the semi-pro Des Moines Elks.  Not every team in Des Moines appreciated that the Elks got a professional pitcher to help finish the season, but Wetzel was allowed to pitch and the Elks would win the city championship.

Charles Wetzel from Des Moines Tribune in 1925

The Des Moines Elks in 1925; Ed Wetzel is second from the left.

Somewhere around this time, unhappy with his baseball life and unhappy with his home life, Ed Wetzel decided to leave and move to Ohio.  He found work there doing carpentry and pitching for Massillon in a semi-pro league there.  After the 1926 season, Wetzel was chopping or cutting wood when he ripped into the index finger of his throwing hand.  That finger was shredded some, anchored as best as possible by doctors, and left him with half of a thumb and a mostly immobile pointer finger, misshapen by injury.

Now 32 years old and with a mangled hand, Wetzel thought his baseball life was over.  And, given his poor performances in lower level minor leagues over the previous five years, it probably should have been.  Ed picked up a baseball and started throwing.  What he found was that if he gripped the ball with his outer three fingers and released it over his first finger, he got a lot more spin.  Suddenly, he had a legitimate curve and a change up to go with his fastball, which wasn’t as fast as it used to be, but was still pretty good.

Pitching for Massillon in 1927, Wetzel got a new nickname.  He was occasionally called Buzz because he was being confused with Henry “Buzz” Wetzel, a former minor league infielder who happened to manage for Muskogee in Oklahoma and now returned to Ohio where he was a very successful minor league manager and eventually a minor league director for the Cleveland Indians.  (Later on, a third Buzz Wetzel would appear.  Damon Wetzel was a fine football player who played with the Chicago Bears and later was the general manager who hired Hugo Bezdek to coach the Cleveland Rams in the NFL.)  Ed must have appreciated being called something other than Thumbless Ed.

Wetzel’s pitching went from pretty good to very good, first earning the notice of scouts and then the attention of Earl Mack, Connie Mack’s son.  He was a little bit Albert “Chief” Bender and Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown.

“He’s a great young pitcher,” said Connie Mack, introducing the youngster. “He’s been in the big league before and was only a fair performer until an accident to his right hand gave him a peculiar curve which has made him one of the best hurlers our scouts have ever picked up. My scouts tell me he’s as good as some of our high salaried pitchers.

“My son Earl really got him for the A’s. Wetzel was the only pitcher who could defeat a famous colored team around Pittsburgh and the manager got in touch with Earl to look him over…”

“Connie Mack Signs Sand Lot ‘Wonder'”, Allentown Morning Call, 24 July 1927, Page 12.

Mack told writers that Wetzel was twenty nine even though he was approaching 33 years old.  Wetzel was named the starter for a game against the Detroit Tigers on 25 July 1927.  Seven Hall of Famers appeared in this game – Wetzel would pitch to Mickey Cochrane while facing Heinie Manush, Charlie Gehringer, and Harry Heilmann.  Ty Cobb played center field that day for the Athletics as Al Simmons was benched with a groin injury, moving Zack Wheat to left field.  (Curtis Wheat, also nicknamed Buck but no relation to Zack, was briefly Ed Wetzel’s catcher in Des Moines in 1924.)   Eddie Collins would pinch hit in the ninth and help tie the score.  (In addition to Simmons, another Hall of Famer, Lefty Grove, sat on the bench.)  By then, however, Wetzel was already out of the game.

Wetzel started off a bit rocky, giving up three runs in the first inning.  When the last wheel fell off in the fourth inning, he was removed for Jing Johnson.  Still – the Athletics scored one run in five different innings, the last in the ninth to tie it.  Rube Walberg pitched into the thirteenth inning and got the win when Jimmy Dykes homered on the first pitch of the Athletics half of that inning.  Wetzel’s line was 3.2 innings, allowing eight hits, four walks, and five runs – four of them earned.  Wetzel batted once, singling and scoring a run.

Three days later, Wetzel came on in relief of Eddie Rommel and pitched a scoreless inning against the Tigers, though he walked a batter.  A short while later, Mack returned Wetzel to Massillon, who finished the season winning a semi-pro pennant.

The week spent with the Athletics in 1927 gave Wetzel a new professional career.  Invited to pitch by Portland, he made the Pacific Coast League team in spring training.  However, his 1928 season with Portland lasted just two weeks.  Released, he landed with the Oakland Oaks and in his first start there, beat the San Francisco Seals.  Unfortunately, the first impression didn’t last and was replaced by a second impression – that of a drinking man.

“Loss of ball games is not all that Manager Ivan Howard has to worry about these days. Just when he believed his pitching problems had been solved through the signing of Pitcher Charlie Wetzel, a Portland Beaver castoff, along comes Mr. Wetzel to report an attack of ‘flu.’ The pitcher has not shown up at the Oakland ball park all week and investigation proved that he was suffering with a new kind of “flu.” The failure of the pitcher to keep in condition will mean his release within the next couple of days.

“Del Howard, business manager of the Oaks, said yesterday that Wetzel has the makings of a great pitcher, but with a team losing almost daily it is no time to fool around with a fellow who will not keep his mind on the game. The Oaks gave Wetzel a bonus and transportation to bring his wife out here from the east and now they are about to give him transportation elsewhere.”

Murphy, Eddie. “Charlie Wetzel to Draw Release From Oakland Ball Club”, Oakland Tribune, 05 May 1928, Page 10.

The pitcher with at least nine baseball lives wasn’t finished, though.  Another player fell injured and Oakland was forced to keep Wetzel around.  He pitched well for ten innings in a thirteen inning victory over Seattle.  He’d pitch a lot of long relief.  However, his time ran out in mid-July.

“Charlie (Buz) Wetzel, Oak pitcher who was released early in the season and then taken on again when he promised Manager Ivan Howard that he would not break training rules, is once again a free agent. The Oaks handed him his release yesterday afternoon when he failed to arrive at the ball park in time for the usual practice before the game. Wetzel’s team-mates regret he has been released, as he was popular among them, but the Oaks cannot afford to take chances during the second half.”

“Oaks Drop Wetzel, Sign Western Leaguer”, Oakland Tribune, 18 July 1928, Page 14.

Begging manager Ossie Vitt for a job, the Hollywood Stars took on Wetzel for the final weeks of the season and pitched well enough to stay on the next season.  He stayed in shape by pitching for semi-pro teams throughout the winter.  The Stars got off to a slow start, but they all roared down the stretch to win the second half crown and then topped the Missions in the post season to win the Pacific Coast League pennant.  Wetzel, now 35, finished with 18 wins, earning a bonus.

Charles Wetzel and Frank Schellenback in Oakland Tribune in 1930 - AP Wire Photo

Wetzel (L) and Frank Shellenback, Hollywood pitchers as they appeared in the Oakland Tribune in 1930.

In 1930, Wetzel was more of a swing man for the Stars – he’d appear in 44 games starting and relieving as necessary.  He had a winning record again, 13 – 11, though his ERA was 5.58 and he still walked a few more batters than he struck out.  He was liked by his teammates – he stuck up for players on his team who had been beaned, was fun to have around the clubhouse, and at this point, he could pitch without much practice right from the start of the season (pitching winter ball surely helped keep him in shape).

It’s no surprise to learn that Wetzel is in early shape for Buzz has one of those rubber arms. All he has to do is take off his sweater and he’s ready…

“Sheiks Like Carlsbad”, Los Angeles Times, 27 February 1931, Part II, Page 12.

Unfortunately, Wetzel still liked an occasional beverage and once in a while it would get him in trouble.  He was suspended during spring training in 1931 and put on probation.  He must have shown up unprepared in July as Vitt left Wetzel in the game where Portland trounced the “peevish” pitcher, winning 18 – 8 and getting 24 hits.  Soon after that, Wetzel was arrested for reckless driving and liquor possession – someone notified the police that he was driving from curb to curb on a local road – and was released.

In 1932, still with a few baseball lives left, Wetzel signed with the Los Angeles Angels, who released him after six weeks.  Next he pitched for Seattle briefly before returning to the Los Angeles area to pitch semi-pro baseball.  Remarkably, his career wasn’t over.  He was signed by Hollywood after a good spring training where he became the fifth starter/long reliever for the Stars.  He appeared in 42 games and went 14 – 10 for the 1933 Pacific Coast League champions.

His arm wasn’t as good in 1934, though.  After a few relief appearances with Seattle, a ninth baseball life ending just before his 40th birthday, Wetzel’s professional career was finally over.

By now, Ed Wetzel had remarried.  He met the Iowa-born Hattie May Birdsall in Des Moines.  Hattie was a widow whose first husband died months after their wedding in 1915.  She appears with Ed in the 1930 census and they would live in Los Angeles until about 1938 when Ed was hired as a carpenter for an asbestos mining company in Arizona.  After a few years, he would take a position helping with the expansion project at Fort Huachuca, which was preparing for World War II.  By then, however, he already had a blood infection and a couple of months later pneumonia would take the 46-year-old Wetzel’s life on 07 March 1941.

Wetzel left behind his wife, Hattie, who ran off to Ohio with Ed around 1926.  Hattie would return to Los Angeles and live in the area near her stepson until her death in 1956.  James Edwin Wetzel, Ed’s son, left this world in 1971.  His mom, Anna Grace Douglas Ray would outlive them all, taking her final breath in 1981.

Sources:

Baseball-Reference.com

Retrosheet.org

1896 Cherokee Census
1900 US Census
1910 US Census
1920 US Census
1930 US Census
1940 US Census

World War I Registration Card

Arizona Death Records

Iowa Birth Records

Iowa Marriage Records

Social Security Death Index

Findagrave.com – Charles Wetzel, Jr.
Findagrave.com – Charles Wetzel, Sr.
Findagrave.com – Orlena Wetzel (1)
Findagrave.com – Orlena Wetzel (2)
Findagrave.com – Martha Wetzel
Findagrave.com – Anna Grace Douglas Ray
Findagrave.com – James Edwin Wetzel

Wikipedia.com – Damon Wetzel

Family records provided to Ancestry.com by (User Name = Kitty Acres)…

“Two Stars Join Mets; Three Men Released”, Muskogee Daily Phoenix, 15 April 1916, Page 2.

“Manager Wetzell Arrives in Town”, Muskogee Daily Phoenix, 04 March 1917, Page 8.

“Mets and Twins Stage Burlesque”, Muskogee Daily Phoenix, 15 June 1917, Page 8.

“Buzz Wetzel Severs His Connections With ‘Mets'”, Tulsa Daily World, 13 August 1917, Page 2.

“Bixby Vs. Jenks.”, Bixby Bulletin, 23 May 1919, Page 1.

“Bixby Wins Game”, Bixby Bulletin, 28 May 1920, Page 1.

“O.P. & R. Defeats Bixby”, 25 June 1920, Page 1.

“Taken Up.”, Bixby Bulletin, 23 July 1920, Page 8.

“24 Miners Given Training Orders”, Joplin Globe, 23 February 1921, Page 4.

“Miners Assembling for Spring Training”, Joplin Globe, 13 March 1921, Page 10.

“Vanguard of Miner Squad Starts Training at Miami”, Joplin Globe, 15 March 1921, Page 6.

“Thumb-Nail Sketch of Miner Squad Prepared by The Globe for Fans”, Joplin Globe, 20 March 1921, Page 11.

“Weather Halts Two Games With Giants Here; Blues To Open Series Wednesday”, Joplin Globe, 29 March 1921, Page 6.

“Bixby Twirlers Win First Three Games.”, Bixby Bulletin, 22 April 1921, Page 1.

“Crown Petroleum Ball Team of Bixby”, Bixby Bulletin, 20 May 1921, Page 1.

“Chickasha Forges Ahead By Taking Third Game, 7 – 0”, Daily Arkansas Gazette, 23 September 1921, Page 8.

“Cincinnati Buys Wetzel”, Daily Arkansas Gazette, 11 September 1921, Page 15.

“Fort Smith Wins, 4 to 0: Game Today Decides Flag”, Daily Arkansas Gazette, 27 September 1921, Page 10.

“Signed Contract of Ed Wetzel Arrives”, Joplin Globe, 25 January 1922, Page 8.

“Rosenberg Leaves For St. Louis For Players”, Joplin Globe, 26 January 1922, Page 6.

Bixby Bulletin, 03 March 1922, Page 3.

“First Denver Player Reports For Practice”, Sioux City Journal, 13 March 1922, Page 7.

“Sioux City Is Defeated in Exhibition Contest by Denver Club”, Sioux City Jounal, 25 March 1922, Page 16.

“Trailing Bears Won From Chesty Saints”, St. Joseph News-Press, 06 May 1922, Page 10.

“Grizzlies Pound Gregory Hard to Trim Wichita”, Wichita Daily Eagle, 14 July 1922, Page 8.

“Weekly Happenings of Local Interest”, Bixby Bulletin, 04 August 1922, Page 4.

“Bixby Boy With Denver”, 20 April 1923, Page 1.

Sioux City Journal, 03 September 1923, Page 3.

“Wetzel May Again Play With Twins”, Springfield Leader and Press, 13 January 1924, Page 8.

“Aid From Cubs Puts Spudders in Flag Chase”, Houston Post, 13 April 1924, Page 20.

“Steers Pound Spudders For Many Bingles”, Houston Post, 21 April 1924, Page 8.

“Midgets Start To Change Their Club”, Joplin Globe, 10 May 1924, Page 8.

“‘Thumbless’ Wetzel May Join Local Club”, Springfield Missouri Republican, 10 May 1924, Page 5.

“Sevastopol Victor Over City Railway”, Des Moines Register, 12 May 1924, Page 8.

“‘Thumbless’ Wetzel Tames Former Mates”, Springfield Missouri Republican, 16 May 1924, Page 7.

“Wetzel Fails To Stage Comeback And Midgets Lose, 7 to 2”, Springfield Missouri Republican, 20 June 1924, Page 5.

“Rain Prevents Topeka Clash”, Springfield Missouri Republican, 21 June 1924, Page 5.

“Midgets Divide Double Bill With Shockers”, Springfield Missouri Republican, 03 July 1924, Page 7.

“Ed Wetzel Is Signed by Des Moines Club”, Cedar Rapids Gazette, 15 July 1924, Page 11.

“Ed Wetzel And Wilson Puzzle Kansas Hitters”, Des Moines Register, 17 July 1924, page 11.

“Boosters, With Terrible Ball Club, Continue to Get Their Daily Beatings”, Des Moines Tribune, 31 July 1924, Page 19.

“Much Long Distant Hitting Features Lincoln’s Ten Inning Victory”, Nebraska State Journal, 3 September 1924, Page 3.

“Wetzel Signed By Omaha Buffaloes”, Nebraska State Journal, 11 January 1925, Page 7.

“Hutton’s Fine Pitching Is Too Much For Omaha Club”, Des Moines Tribune, 12 May 1925, Page 14.

Western League stats from the Lincoln Star, 14 June 1925, Page 14.

“Elks Defeat Newton In Hurler’s Battle”, Des Moines Tribune, 22 June 1925, Page 16.

“Elks Beat Southern Surety and Lead in City League”, Des Moines Tribune, 27 June 1925, Page 18.

“Demons Are Walloped In Third Game At Omaha, 13 to 8”, Des Moines Tribune, 02 July 1925, Page 18.

“Faeth to Join Locals; Release Pitcher Wetzel”, Des Moines Register, 07 July 1925, Page 9.

“Demons Play at Home Today”, Des Moines Tribune, 11 July 1925, Page 8.

“Surety Questions Officers’ Rights In Semipro Loop”, Des Moines Register, 13 August 1925, Page 11.

“Ed Wetzel of Elks Declared Eligible”, Des Moines Register, 19 August 1925, Page 15.

“Double Triumph Gives Elks City League Pennant”, Des Moines Register, 08 September 1925, Page 10.

Photo – Elks Team, 1925. Des Moines Tribune, 19 September 1925, Page 3.

“Regulars and Massillon Agathons to Play for Championship of Loops”, Coshocton Tribune, 27 September 1927, Page 3.

“1000 Catasauqua School Children See Athletics Defeat Detroit, 6-5”, Allentown Morning Call, 26 July 1927, Page 18.

“Detroit Jolts Mackmen in Series Final, 5 to 2”, Lancaster News Journal, 29 July 1927, Page 16.

“Mack Signs Wetzel; To Use Him Tuesday”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 24 July 1927, Page 27.

“Connie Mack Signs Sand Lot ‘Wonder'”, Allentown Morning Call, 24 July 1927, Page 12.

Image of Ed Wetzel from Scranton Tribune, 10 September 1927, Page 14.

“Agathons Triumph Over Athletics, 10 – 3”, Akron Beacon Journal, 31 August 1927, Page 19.

“Ducks Work in Orange County”, Los Angeles Times, 21 February 1928, Page 44.

“Seraphs Wallop Portland in Opener, 11 to 5”, Los Angeles Times, 04 April 1928, Section Three, Pages 1 – 2.

“Oaks Sign Wetzel, Portland Castoff”, San Francisco Examiner, 17 April 1928, Page 31.

“Oaks Stop Smead Jolly and Defeat Seals”, Oakland Tribune, 20 April 1928, Page 38.

Murphy, Eddie. “New Talent Makes Good for San Francisco Seals”, Oakland Tribune, 20 April 1928, Page 37.

Murphy, Eddie. “Charlie Wetzel to Draw Release From Oakland Ball Club”, Oakland Tribune, 05 May 1928, Page 10.

Murphy, Eddie. “Lary’s Injury Halts Oaks’ Pruning”, Oakland Tribune, 08 May 1928, Page 26.

“Oaks Divide Double Bill With Indians”, Los Angeles Times, 21 May 1928, Page 14.

“Oaks Drop Wetzel, Sign Western Leaguer”, Oakland Tribune, 18 July 1928, Page 14.

“Wetzel Hurls Star Triumph”, Los Angeles Times, 06 September 1928, Pages 9, 11.

“P. E. Team To Play Santa Fe”, San Bernadino County Sun, 22 November 1928, Page 15.

“Rally Brings Win to Solons”, Los Angeles Times, 27 March 1929, Section Three, Pages 1, 3.

Photo of Buzz Wetzel from Oakland Tribune, 06 May 1929, Page 23.

“Oaks Defeat Stars In The Sixteenth”, Oakland Tribune, 09 May 1929, Page 38.

“Foul Tips”, Los Angeles Times, 10 August 1929, Page 9.

“Stiff Finger Aids In Throwing Curves”, Oakland Tribune, 23 August 1929, Page 41.

“Hollywood Wins Coast League Flag Over Missions in Playoff”, Bend Bulletin, 14 October 1929, Page 2.

“Cokes to Play Doubleheader”, San Bernadino County Sun, 08 December 1929, Page 19.

“Beavers Take Edge In Series Against Stars”, Medford Mail Tribune, 05 May 1930, Page 5.

“Coast League Pitching Records for Season 1930”, Oakland Tribune, 14 December 1930, Page B-3.

“Sheiks Like Carlsbad”, Los Angeles Times, 27 February 1931, Part II, Page 12.

“In Coast League’s Workouts”, Klamath News, 27 March 1931, Page 6.

“Beavers Plaster Hollywood 18 – 8”, Corvallis Gazette-Times, 23 July 1931, Page 4.

“Stars Get Pitcher From N. Y. Yankees”, San Bernadino County Sun, 01 August 1931, Page 20.

“Wetzel Gets Release”, Spokane Spokesman-Review, 24 September 1931, Page 15.

“Sports Tabloids”, Bend Bulletin, 24 September 1931, Page 2.

“Driving Charge Causes Jailing of Ball Player”, 19 January 1932, Page 10.

“Hollywood Stars Look Out From Top”, Bakersfield Californian, 20 May 1932, Page 17.

“Acme Brews Open Series Today Against Pasadena Merchants”, San Bernadino County Sun, 14 August 1932, Page 15.

Ray, Bob. “Wetzel Twirls Cripples to 7-4 Win Over Acorns”, Los Angeles Times, 01 June 1933, Section II Page 1.

“Buzz Wetzel Given Release By Stars”, Fresno Bee, 09 July 1933, Section C, Page 1.

“Buzz Wetzel Dies of Blood Infection”, Oakland Tribune, 10 March 1941, Page 12.

“‘Buzz’ Wetzel, Ex-Coast Pitcher, Dead”, Santa Ana Register, 10 March 1941, Page 7.

Abilene Reporter-News, 13 March 1941

“Henry ‘Buzz’ Wetzel, 79, Is Dead; Former Baseball Team Operator”, Zanesville Times Recorder, 06 April 1961, Page 1.

 

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In Search Of… Oscar Charleston’s Gravesite!

Armed with the address of the cemetery courtesy of the book Baseball Roadmap and an article we found online by Greg Doyel, Andy Finch and I headed to the Floral Park Cemetery in Indianapolis hoping to pay our respects to Baseball Hall of Famer, Oscar Charleston.

Doyel’s writings were kind of helpful – he explains how he got there and drops a couple of hints in there.  He lists a couple of nearby graves that helped us narrow things down, but to be honest – he led us down a rabbit hole in a different article about finding Mordecai Brown’s historical marker (it’s not on Adams Road, as his article suggests).  And, he doesn’t tell you exactly where it is.  (Still a nice article.)  That led to an extended walk through the cemetery.  We eventually found Charleston’s grave site, but Andy and I figured we might not be the only ones who might want to stop and pay our respects, so we’ll help you out and save you a little search time.

Floral Park Cemetery - Google Map View

  1. Floral Park Cemetery is easy enough to find.  The office is just off Holt Road and Cossell Road at the northwest corner of the cemetery
  2. So far as we can tell, there are only two ways into the cemetery and both are on Cossell Road.
  3. Based on the location information on FindAGrave.com you are looking for the Maple Lawn section.

You can’t find that section.  There are no markings for it.

The first hint from Doyel’s writings is to find an area with hardly any trees in the back of the cemetery, where those who are buried there are likely to have been people with fewer means than those in the more tree-lined areas.  And, there are hardly any markers that are above ground – most of them are at ground level (and covered with grass clippings or mud).

There are two areas that fit this bill more than others – and both are in the southern corners.  The one to the southwest (and we checked) is mostly kids, toddlers and babies.  The one to the southeast, though, is where we found Oscar.

So – once you are in the cemetery, head east until you find the mausoleums.  Then, follow that road south.  Along the way, before you make the hard right turn, you’ll see a small marker that reads “K 8” in front of a smallish tree with red hints in the summer leaves.

Floral Park Cemetery - Google Map View

If you look along the ground, you should be able to make out what looks to be a cement line that starts near the tree by the marker toward another tree standing more or less by itself along that line.  The cement line separates this area in half (you might see the number 4 scratched into it).  With your eyes (and legs), follow that line to the small maple tree standing there.  Close to it, unlike most of the other markers in this section, you will see a brighter white grave stone sticking out of the ground about three or four inches.  You can’t really miss it.  In fact, if you zoom in on the southeast corner of the Google map, you can clearly see the white marker by the smallish, lonely maple tree that is along that cement line that separates the section in half.

Floral Park Cemetery - Google Map View - Close Up

The really white marker is just below that tree that is along the cement line running right along the center of this section of the cemetery.

Oscar Charleston’s grave is the one immediately to the left (as you are facing the markers).  On the picture above, it’s the marker right below the brighter white one just below the small maple tree in the middle of the picture.

Charleston Grave Marker

So – enter the cemetery.  Drive toward the mausoleums on the eastern edge of the main cemetery.  Then, head south.  Look for the K-8 sign.  Park the car, walk straight along the marked line from the K-8 sign to the small maple tree where you will see a bright white marker.  That’s not Oscar’s marker, but his is right next to it.

Happy hunting!

Happy Birthday, Walker Buehler!

Walker Buehler Topps 2018 RC

Buehler’s Topps Rookie Card (2018) taken from my collection…

Walker Buehler, now (2019) in his third season in the major leagues, is a hard throwing right handed pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Born 28 July 1994 to Tony and Karen Buehler in Lexington, KY, Walker (named after his mother’s maiden name) moved to the mound because the scrawny kid couldn’t hit for any power.  His grandfather, Dave Walker, taught him to pitch much like Justin Verlander, and he was effective with that delivery – over the years adding five more pitches to complement his fastball.  Eventually he gained size and strength and looked to be a possible first round pick out of Henry Clay High School, but fell to the 12th round.  He chose, instead, to head to Vanderbilt where he developed a strength training regimen that allowed him to build to a 98 MPH fastball.  He struggled his junior year, though, which allowed him to fall to the Dodgers in the 2015 draft.  The struggle turned out to be an elbow injury, which required Tommy John surgery after the draft.

Buehler needed a year to recover, but by the end of the 2017 season he was in the majors and in 2018 became a regular member of the rotation and arguably as good as anyone in that rotation (including a late-prime Clayton Kershaw, who remains as valuable a pitcher as ever, though he misses a few starts each year to various injuries).

Sources:

Verducci, Tom. “Buehler? Buehler?”, Sports Illustrated, 12 August 2019, Pages 30 to 38.

(Really?  That’s the best headline you guys could come up with?  No originality.)

Baseball-Reference.com

 

Baseball History for July 3rd

<– JULY 02     JULY 04 —>

BIRTH ANNOUNCEMENTS:

1861 William McLaughlin
1869 Nig Cuppy
1881 Fred Olmstead
1881 Cliff Curtis
1882 Bill Tozer
1882 Tom Tennant
1885 Jack Dalton
1886 Mike Balenti
1888 Wese Callahan
1891 Joe Houser
1892 Bunny Brief
1893 Dickey Kerr
1896 Curt Walker
1897 Chet Nichols
1897 Heinie Sand
1900 Joe Brown
1904 Luke Hamlin
1914 Buddy Rosar
1920 Al Montgomery
1920 Paul O’Dea
1922 Howie Schultz
1922 Art Fowler
1930 Al Pilarcik
1930 Jim Westlake
1931 Ed Roebuck
1940 Coco Laboy
1940 Cesar Tovar
1941 Casey Cox
1948 Phil Meeler
1950 Rob Ellis
1952 Ryan Kurosaki
1952 John Verhoeven
1953 Frank Tanana
1955 Matt Keough
1955 Jeff Rineer
1956 Larry Whisenton
1957 Danny Heep
1959 Kurt Kepshire
1960 Jack Daugherty
1963 Don August
1964 Warren Newson
1965 Greg Vaughn
1966 Moises Alou
1968 Mike Farmer
1975 Christian Parker
1978 Juan Rivera
1980 John Koronka
1981 Dan Meyer
1982 Logan Kensing
1983 Edinson Volquez
1985 Greg Reynolds
1986 Tommy Hunter
1987 Zach Putnam
1987 Casey Coleman
1990 Brandon Maurer

OBITUARIES:

1891 John Cassidy
1924 Ed Householder
1929 Bill McClellan
1936 Bill Niles
1940 John Stafford
1941 Tom McCreery
1944 Pete McBride
1944 Charlie Reynolds
1948 Charles Witherow
1950 Ed Donalds
1951 Hugh Casey
1952 Fred Tenney
1957 Dolf Luque
1958 Paul Smith
1959 Red Barnes
1960 Bill Killefer
1962 Jimmy Walsh
1965 Hank Robinson
1968 Pat Simmons
1969 Hunky Shaw
1969 Harry Spratt
1972 Leroy Herrmann
1975 Ed Johnson
1981 George Knothe
1982 Spence Harris
1986 Bill McCahan
1992 George Staller
1993 Don Drysdale
1997 Rufe Gentry
2002 Earl Francis

YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERE!!!

1912 Rube Marquard won his 19th consecutive game to start the season by beating Brooklyn. The Giant lefty would win only seven more decisions the rest of the way.

1936 Ted Williams gets a single for his first professional hit; then stays in to pitch relief for San Diego of the PCL.

1965 Frank Thomas, who just hit a pinch hit homer, is waived by the Phillies after a confrontation with Dick Allen.

1968 Reds Pitcher Tony Cloninger hits a pair of grand slams and drives in nine runs in a 17 – 3 win over the Giants.

1968 Luis Tiant fans 19 in a 10-inning complete game win over the Twins. The Indians won, 1 – 0.

1970 Angels pitcher Clyde Wright fires a no-hitter to beat the A’s, 4 – 0.

TRANSACTION WIRE:

1951 The Yankees sign amateur Johnny Blanchard.

1989 Montreal signs amateur pitcher Antonio Alfonseca.

1999 Chicago signs amateur pitcher Carlos Marmol.

2008 Texas signed amateur Odubel Herrera.

Happy Birthday, Frank Norton!

Frank Prescott Norton appeared in one game, batted once, and struck out for the Washington Olympics in May, 1871.  Norton was born in New York on 09 June 1845 to S. S. and Violet Norton, was an amateur baseball player for a number of years, then later was a surveyor, a sports bar owner, and involved in real estate before passing away in August, 1920.  Around 1872, he married Louisa Smith but I haven’t found that they had any children.

Norton’s claim to fame, according to Nemec’s Major League Baseball Profiles (Vol 2, Page 326), is that Norton was the first pinch hitter, entering the Olympic’s opening day game because Doug Allison’s thumb was injured; the Olympics asked Boston for the approval to make the switch.  The Chicago Tribune combined two takes on the game into one article on 06 May 1871 (page 4) – and it doesn’t read as if he was a pinch hitter in the description.  The newspaper makes it sound like he was a defensive replacement owing to Allison’s spraining or splitting his thumb and left out the part about Norton batting in the seventh frame.

Based on the game description of the seventh inning, Norton would have batted in the eighth inning – Allison was already replaced. If it happened earlier, Norton would have batted more than once.

Not only did he strike out – Norton made an error in the field on his only chance, too.  Boston came back to win the game in the bottom of the ninth.

Sources:

FindAGrave,com
Baseball-Reference.com
1850, 1900, 1910 US Census
North Carolina Death Certificate (Louise Norton)

“The Sporting World.”, Chicago Tribune, 06 May 1871, Page 4.

Nemec, David (Editor). Major League Baseball Profiles 1871-1900 (Vol. 2), University of Nebraska Press, 2011, Page 326.

Happy Birthday, Dario Lodigiani!

Dario Lodigiani was a good second and third baseman whose big league career was shortened by World War II, but extended for years beyond his playing days by his ability to find and hone young talent.

Dario Lodigiani Yearbook Photo 1934

Dario Lodigiani’s 1934 yearbook photo.

Born 6 June 1916 to Carlo and Antoinetta Arrigotti Lodigiani, Dario was the second of five boys – but the first of at least two professional ballplayers (brother Eddie played for Topeka in 1940).  Carlo, a baker, and Antoinetta both immigrated to the United States in 1913, settling in the North Beach section of San Francisco – near a lot of other Italian immigrants.  Dario was small and thick, but quick, agile and smart – at Galileo High School, he played soccer, football, basketball, and baseball while also serving on the principal’s cabinet.  And, he was close friends with Dominic DiMaggio, who (like his older brothers) played baseball at Galileo High School and hung out with Dario at Funston Playground, which had a fine baseball stadium at the marina.

After graduating from high school, Lodigiani played for the Langendorf Royals and in the Golden Valley League as a semi-professional second baseman.   His toughness (and hair) earned him the nickname “Dempsey” as a young ballplayer.  While playing American Legion ball for Legion Post 363 he was noticed by scout Spike Hennessey and signed to play for the Oakland Oaks of the PCL.

Dario Lodigiani 1935“Dario Lodigiani, who day by day is looking more like a big league prospect, featured the seventh inning raid with a long double…”

Murphy, Eddie. “Shellenback Hurls Tomorrow”, 17 April 1936, Pages 36, 37.

After a summer crushing the ball at a .400 clip for Vancouver, Lodigiani, still a teen, was impressive in his 1935 Oaks debut, batting .395 with a homer in 38 at bats.  When the 1936 season started, Oakland manager Billy Meyer had to make a tough decision – go with veterans Bernie Deviveiros and Ernie Leishman in the middle of the infield, or give the jobs to University of Oregon shortstop Joe Gordon and teenaged Lodigiani at second base.  Meyer went with the kids.  Early on, Lodigiani was seen as the better prospect, though Gordon soon proved to be the better player and was purchased by the Yankees at the end of the 1936 season.  Over the 1936 and 1937 seasons, he played in more than 160 games and batted .280 and .327, anchored a solid infield and became one of the more popular players on the Oaks – him and his old friend Dominic DiMaggio.  In fact, Lodi earned himself a “day” where he was feted with gifts for his fine season.  In October, it was announced that the 21-year-old kid was soon leaving to join the Philadelphia A’s and Connie Mack.  It was a trade of sorts – Mack sent five players and cash back to Oakland to acquire Lodigiani, including Jess Hill, Wilbur Conroy, and infielder Hugh Lube.  It was a great deal for Oakland, who got nine solid seasons out of two of those players, plus another $15,000.

“Dario Lodigiani, Philadelphia third baseman, was hit on the head by one of Kimberlin’s pitches in the seventh inning. He fell to the ground apparently unconscious and, after being revived, was taken to a hospital.”

“Chapman Pounds Ball!”, San Francisco Examiner, 05 May 1939, Page 18.

Lodigiani didn’t disappoint as a hitter, batting .280 in 93 games and getting on base more than 36% of the time for the 1938 Athletics, though he did Connie Mack a favor and spent a quick hitch in the Eastern League where he batted .303 down the stretch trying to help Williamsburg win the league title.  He did, however, struggle at second base and eventually moved to third base.  In May, 1939, “Lodi” was felled by a Harry Kimberlin pitch, suffering a concussion but, thankfully, no other more serious injuries.  The concussion, and certainly the incident, may have affected his play.  Lodigiani’s batting average for 1939 fell to .260 and a year later he played just one game for the Athletics but spent the rest of the season with Toronto of the International League.  Connie Mack traded Lodi to the White Sox for pitcher Jack Knott after the season ended.

“I remember Jimmy Dykes used to say (Lodigiani) played third base ‘as long as his chest held out.'” – Thornton Lee.

Holtzman, Jerome. “DiMaggio hit streak wasn’t always easy”, Billings Gazette, 26 August 1987, Page 9.

Dario Lodigiani Baltimore Sun Ad 1942His first season with the White Sox didn’t really work out.  In June, he had a shot at ending Joe DiMaggio’s streak before it got past 25 games – but Dario couldn’t handle a hot smash down the line.  It ricocheted off Lodigiani’s chest and bounced to his left.  The throw didn’t get there in time.  The scorer ruled it a single and not an error – keeping the streak alive.  In July, 1941 he broke a finger and then struggled to a .239 average.

However,  Lodi picked it up to .280 in a utility role for 1942.  That summer, Lodigiani was one of fourteen players and coaches tossed from a game against the Red Sox.  After Joe Haynes tossed a couple of pitches up and in to Ted Williams, someone – Lodi claimed it was coach Mule Haas who had a uniquely loud raspberry that he would launch from the dugout – said something that bothered umpire Red Jones.  Not knowing who was responsible for the noise (at some point it was rumored to be a ventriloquist), Jones tossed everyone but the manager, a trainer, and the bat boy.  Coach Bing Miller offered his glasses to Jones on the way to the clubhouse.

After that season, Lodi enlisted and joined the Air Force for World War II.  Private Lodigiani spent much of the war years in a support role in Hawaii and was fortunate to be allowed to manage and play for the Hickam Bombers base team during much of the war (a teammate was Ferris Fain).  When he returned in 1946, he got one more season with the Sox but was lost to the team after he first broke his arm, and then had surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow that May, and again the following spring.

In May, after working out the kinks of his elbow and getting his batting swing grooved, Lodigiani was back in an Oakland Oaks uniform.  That year, he played for Casey Stengel and along side a third DiMaggio brother.  He had played in a youth league with Joe, he played high school and minor league ball with Dom, and now Dario was a teammate of Vince DiMaggio.  And, he could help mentor a young infielder named Billy Martin.  The 1948 Oakland Oaks were loaded with old and young talent.  Joining Lodigiani and the twenty-year-old Martin were Ernie Lombardi, Nick Etten (43-155-.313), and George Metkovitch (.336 with 23 homers).  Throw in a veteran staff, and the Oaks would win the Pacific Coast League crown by two games over San Francisco.  It was the first pennant for Oakland in twenty one years.

Dario Lodigiani Yakima Manager in Seals Uni 1952

“We grieve at the announcement Dario Lodigiani is no longer to be with the Oaks. The way he hits, the way he starts double plays and the music in his name are things we should have kept.”

Ad Schuster. “Other Fellow”, Oakland Tribune, 09 June 1949, Page 40.

The 1949 Oakland team had a new manager in Charlie Dressen, and the defending champions played just .500 ball for the first two months of the season.  Dressen apparently didn’t have full support from some of the veterans – and as June began, a bunch of veteran players were suddenly placed on irrevocable waivers.  Dressen was quoted as saying “If I am going to lose, I’m going to lose my way.”  So, on the night the team celebrated raising the championship pennant, one player was sold and a few others were waived.  One of those players was the very popular Dario Lodigiani.  Lodigiani was considered a bonus player – he was signed for more than the $4000 signing limit in 1947 – and Oakland could get back a good chunk of that money by letting Lodi go.

While every team was interested in Lodi, three teams initially filed a claim.  The first was San Diego, then Hollywood, and finally Sacramento.  With the worst record of the three, Sacramento was ready to bring Lodigiani to their squad.  However, the night before the waiver claiming period expired, Sacramento won their game and San Francisco lost its game, putting Sacramento a half game ahead of the Seals in the standings.  Seals management hastily sent out a wire and filed a claim for Lodigiani minutes before the waiver period expired.  Days later, Pacific Coast League directors confirmed that Lodigiani was a Seal and he finished the season in San Francisco.  In fact, the confusion over the timing of waiver claims and records was resolved by a rule change the following month – the record at the time of the waiver expiration would be used.

Lodigiani spent two seasons as a regular with the San Francisco Seals hitting over .300 each time, but eventually he would become a manager – first for Yakima in the Western International League and then for Ventura and Capital Cities in the California League.  Ultimately, what Lodigiani wanted to do was manage a big league team, but that shot never happened.  He was a coach in Kansas City in the early 1960s for his longtime friend Joe Gordon, but never a manager.  And, he was a scout for the Cleveland Indians and then the Chicago White Sox for number of years.  In 2006, after the White Sox won the World Series, the Sox gave their longtime scout a ring.

Still – he had a fine playing career.  In addition to playing more than 400 games in the major leagues, Lodigiani played more than 1500 games in the high minors – the vast majority of them in the Pacific Coast League.

Dario Lodigiani Athletics 1939

Lodigiani’s scouting career bridged the gap between the days when it was possible to find future stars of the diamonds and preparing for the draft. “You still look for young talent. I beat the highways 30,000 miles every summer. But there is no such thing as an exclusive find because every other team is searching, too.”

He said the last shot he had at finding a gem was Gary Nolan, whom he discovered in Oroville, CA. “I was one year too late,” Lodi lamented. “I got friendly with the family. Everything was coming up roses. It was in 1965. The free agent draft was introduced. I was knocked out of the box. Cincinnati drafted Nolan.”

He appreciated the draft, though. “The draft gives the second division teams a chance to strengthen. Oakland is a case in point. When the A’s were down, they were able to draft Reggie Jackson and Rick Monday, “Lodigiani said. “In the old days, rich teams such as the Yankees and Red Sox would have outbid everyone for youngsters of their outstanding potential.”

During his lifetime of baseball scouting and coaching, he would return home to his wife, Marie Roberts, whom he married in December, 1950.  (Dario had previously married and divorced his first wife, Constance Matthews, whom he had met in high school.)  Their life included a lot of ballgames (as well as fishing, hunting, and golf), but no days with their own children.  After years living in his original family home, the Lodigiani’s eventually settled in Napa.  Asked by Jerome Holtzman if he (was) a wine connoisseur, Lodigiani laughed and said, “Oh, no, but once in a while I drink it.”

Dario Lodigiani passed away at age 91 on 10 February 2008.  By then, he had spent more than 50 years as a scout.

SOURCES:

1920, 1930 US Census
WWII Draft Cards
The June 1934 Telescope (Galileo High School Yearbook), Pages 18, 44 (also photo)
California Marriage Index
Baseball Questionnaires, 1953 and 1954
FindAGrave.com
Baseball-Reference.com

“Oaks Sign S.F. Boy”, San Francisco Examiner, 14 January 1935, Page 19.

Nealon, James J. “New Parkside Ball Diamond Attracts Fans”, San Francisco Examiner,  18 June 1935, Page 22.

Preston, Bob. “S. F. Boy Stars In Northwest”, San Francisco Examiner, 30 July 1935, Page 21. (Also Photo.)

“Ponders Gamble”, Oakland Tribune, 09 April 1936, Page 28.

Borba, Henry. “Oak Mystery: Lodigiani Is Spark of Club”, San Francisco Examiner, 22 July 1937, Page 24.

Murphy, Eddie. “Dario Lodigiani Cracks Homer, Double At ‘Night’ as Oaks Lose in Tenth, 5 to 3”, Oakland Tribune (Sports Section), 04 September 1937, Page 14.

“Dario Lodigiani Gets Call to Athletics”, Petaluma Argus-Courier, 25 October 1937, Page 4.

Murphy,  Eddie. “Lodigiani Goes To A’s For Hill, Four Others”, Oakland Tribune, 05 November 1937, Page 26.

“Chapman Pounds Ball!”, San Francisco Examiner, 05 May 1939, Page 18.  (Also photo)

“Athletics Get Knott For Dario Lodigiani”, Passaic Herald-News, 17 December 1940, Page 20.

“Dario Lodigiani Sweetheart of School Days”, Santa Ana Register, 15 April 1941, Page 13.

“Chicago White Sox Lose Dario Lodigiani”, 10 July 1941, Page 8.

(Ad) Baltimore Evening Sun, 28 April 1942, Page 22.

“Baseball Lineups”, Honolulu Advertiser, 09 March 1945, Page 1.

“Takes Treatment”, San Bernadino County Sun, 23 February 1947, Page 22.

“Lodigiani Divorced”, Oakland Tribune, 25 March 1947, Page 18.

Byrne, Emmons. “Wholesale Acorn Shake-Up Reported”, Oakland Tribune, 08 June 1949, Page 30.

Ad Schuster. “Other Fellow”, Oakland Tribune, 09 June 1949, Page 40.

“Directors Rule Lodigiani To Play For Seals”, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 14 June 1949, Page 11.

“Waiver Rule Eased by PCL”, San Mateo Times, 12 July 1949, Page 11.

Baskett, Bob. “Connie Mack Gave Lodi Chance in the Minors”, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 30 March 1952, Page 19.  (Also photo)

McLeod, George. “Leek Aims To Pay Off On $50,000”, Tucson Daily Citizen, 17 March 1959, Page 15.

“Baseball’s Scouting Era Over”, San Francisco Examiner, 15 March 1970, Page 51.

Corona, Al. “Lodigiani recalls Yankees’ Gordon”, San Francisco Examiner, 24 May 1978, Page AA-6.

Holtzman, Jerome. “DiMaggio hit streak wasn’t always easy”, Billings Gazette, 26 August 1987, Page 9.

Holtzman, Jerome. “His memories of Luke fill the old park”, Chicago Tribune, 26 August 1990, Page 47.

“Joltin’ Joe’s 56-Game Hitting Streak”, Hackensack Record, 10 June 1991, Page 34.

Travers, Steven. “Little Professor is the real pride of San Francisco”, San Francisco Examiner, 08 March 2001, Pages B1, B4.

“Shine On”, Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, 05 May 2006, Page B1.

Branch, John. “Years later, still thumb kind of myth”, 09 July 2006, Page 3 – 3.

Delcos, John. “Cork-gate, version 2003, places stigma on Sosa”, Morris County Daily Record, 08 June 2003, Page B3.

Happy Birthday, Claral Gillenwater!

As suggested by his SABR biographer, Bill Lamb, the writers in the various cities never seemed to get Claral Gillenwater’s first name right.  At various times, he was called Claude, Claire, and other odder names – like Al or Alton.  Not once – until his obituary – was he called Claral in the newspaper.

Claral Lewis Gillenwater was born on 20 May 1900 to Robert and Nellie (Albright) Gillenwater in Sims, Indiana.  He was the second child, trailing his sister Ora by three years.  His mother later died during childbirth (septic shock and internal hemorrhaging) and his father remarried and moved to Ohio.  Over the next seven years, he and his next wife, Myrtle McCammon Gillenwater died in 1919, and then he and Stella Shoemaker married and had three more kids.  And he paid for all of this as the owner of a family barbershop.

Claral left school around the eighth grade and learned the family trade – he became a barber.  On the side, he played baseball and became a locally famous pitcher.  The tall, thin kid with light brown hair and blue eyes earned a tryout with Columbus in the American Association and, while he didn’t stick, he did get a job pitching for Peoria in 1920.  When not pitching league games, he’d occasionally make starts in exhibition games against the Decatur Staleys, featuring outfielder and football legend George Halas (name dropping on his behalf).  He then showed off his improving skills with San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League, finishing the 1921 season and then playing winter ball.  He moved to Saginaw in 1922 and Nashville and then the Greenville Spinners in 1923.   By mid-summer, he was pitching for Muskegon.

Pitcher Claude Gillenwater, leading hurler of the local Michigan-Ontario League team, has been purchased by the Chicago Americans and will report to the White Sox tomorrow, it was announced today. The purchase price is said to have been $5,000.”

“Sox Purchase Young Pitcher”, Chicago Tribune, 16 August 1923, Page 13.

He made his debut appearance with the White Sox against Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees.  It didn’t go well…

(Gillenwater) was greeted in the fourth with a single, two triples, and a two bagger. In the sixth, the Yanks started on another rampage, and after the first three men and notched doubles, (Kid) Gleason decided it was time to yank the Muskegon, Mich., kid.”

“Yanks Bingle As Sox Bungle; Sad Figures Are 16 – 5”, Chicago Tribune, 21 August 1923, Page 13.

However, at least one writer thought he might have a future.

“If Claude’s service in the upper strata of baseball circles is as long as his handle he ought to draw pay from the White Sox management far into the future.”

“Tigers Tighten Hold on Third”, Battle Creek Enquirer, 04 September 1923, Page 13.

Anyway – Gillenwater was given a second chance against the Boston Red Sox.  In this game, Gillenwater was brilliant and he pitched a four-hit shutout.

“He is a side-arm twirler and starts his ball rather low. It was evident that his peculiar delivery would be to his advantage, as his style differs from the majority of pitchers. Gillenwater delivers the ball much after the manner of Howard Ehmke, who it so happened was the Boston pitcher that day… He has a fairly good fast ball… He also had on tap a fairly good curve.”

“Billy Evans Says-“, Battle Creek Enquirer, 04 September 1923, Page 13.

Glaral Gillenwater - TSN 1928Unfortunately, his three other appearances – two starts and one relief outing – were more like his first one – and his stay with the White Sox was short.  Gillenwater became a minor league nomad, but never making a whole lot of headway back to the majors.  The next spring, he was pitching for Norfolk.  In 1925, it was Terre Haute and a year later, he played for Ollie Pickering and the Quincy Reds.  In 1927, he had a fine season with the Wheeling Stogies – good enough to get his picture in The Sporting News.  While he stayed in a Wheeling a second season, his days of professional baseball were few – he’d head back closer to home and play some semi-professional ball before spending the rest of his working days as a barber.

During the depression, the Claral Gillenwater lived with his mother-in-law while working as the proprietor of a barber shop in Saginaw, MI. He and his wife, the former Rachel Phillips, had a daughter, Gloria.

Glaral Gillenwater - Cropped from 1954“Funeral Services for Mr. Claral L. Gillenwater, 77, of Chula Vista Trailer Park, Ruskin, who passed away in a Bradenton hospital Sunday, will be held from the Lewers & Shannon Funeral Home Chapel Wednesday afternoon… Survived by his wife Rachael Gillenwater, Ruskin; 1 daughter Mrs. Gloria Walsh; 1 brother John Gillenwater, and 1 sister Mrs. John Nevins…”

“GILLENWATER (Obit)”, Tampa Times, 28 February 1978, Page 5.

Gillenwater passed to the next league on 27 February 1978 in Bradenton, FL, leaving behind a wife, sister, brother, and daughter.

Sources

1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940 US Census
Indiana Death Records
Michigan Marriage Records, 1922.

SABR Biography by Bill Lamb
Baseball-Reference.com
FindAGrave.com

Image of Gillenwater fishing cropped from photo uploaded to Ancestry.com and found here:

https://www.ancestry.com/mediaui-viewer/tree/23820383/person/1435752118/media/cc185ee5-e794-4476-9d73-120579eed22a?_phsrc=RJg274&_phstart=successSource

“Peoria Buys Player”, Decatur Herald, 29 February 1920, Page 9.

Bertz, George. “Seals Play Beavers And Increase Lead”, 26 September 1921, Page 10.

“Bees Trounce Seals In Fast Diamond Event”, 26 April 1922, Page 10.

Bousdog, Ray. “Judd in Rare Form Saturday, Aces Lose 7 – 3”, Port Huron Times Herald, 17 July 1922, Page 9.

“Pirates Hit Snag in Southern Town, But Nose Out Game”, Pittsburgh Daily Post, 11 April 1923, Page 9.

Heads to Greenville Spinners for 04 May 1923, Page 12.

“Spinners Lose Opening Game To Spartans, 5 to 2”, Greenville News, 04 May 1923, Page 12.

“Sox Purchase Young Pitcher”, Chicago Tribune, 16 August 1923, Page 13.

“Yanks Bingle As Sox Bungle; Sad Figures Are 16 – 5”, Chicago Tribune, 21 August 1923, Page 13.

“Tigers Tighten Hold on Third”, Battle Creek Enquirer, 04 September 1923, Page 13.

“Billy Evans Says-“, Battle Creek Enquirer, 04 September 1923, Page 13.

“What Former Sally Leaguers Are Doing In Other Fields”, Greenville News, 07 May 1924, Page 6.

“Terre Haute Bunches Hits and Ruins Springfield’s Opening Day Program”, Decatur Herald, 13 May 1925, page 17.

“Commodores Split Double Header With Quincy, 9-10, 10-0.”, Decatur Herald, 12 July 1926, Page 4.

“He Had Good Year in Good Company”, The Sporting News, 26 January 1928, Page 8.

Box Score, Pittsburgh Press, 06 May 1928, Page 55.

“GILLENWATER (Obit)”, Tampa Times, 28 February 1978, Page 5.

“Obituaries”, Sporting News, 01 Apriil 1978, Page 61.