When the Spotlight Goes Off

“So, what do you do for a living?”

No, I’m not asking, merely musing on the concept of self-identification. If you do something very well under the public spotlight for relatively few years, is that “something” who you are? Even if you spend many more years in later life doing something else?

There are few careers more public than that of a professional athlete. Because of the physical skills required, it’s a career that’s by nature relatively short. At any age at which most of us would consider ourselves to still be young and in our professional prime, an athlete finds that he or she must deal with the second chapter of their adult lives far earlier than the rest of us.

The modern baseball player, if he manages his money well, can find himself in position, after six-to-eight years in the big leagues, to never have to work another day in his life, if he so chooses. Or better put, he can pick and choose his next move to his own liking. But players in the Dead Ball Era, although they made more than the general populace, found things a bit more precarious — particularly when you consider that they would be beyond their playing years when the Depression hit in the 1930s.

For most players of that time, an end to their playing days meant a return to the general workforce. After all, they had bills to pay.


In 2007, McFarland published an intriguing book with the less-than-intriguing name of Major League Baseball Players of 1916. The author, an English professor and baseball fan named Paul Batesel, was looking to take a snapshot of the average ballplayer from early in the 20th Century, and did so by researching every player in both leagues to play even a single game that season.

The book reads like an encyclopedia, which, after all, it is. This is not the place to go to read thrilling tales about Walter Johnson‘s 36-win season in 1913. It is the place to go to learn that after retiring in 1927, Johnson raised purebred cattle on a Maryland farm and entered state politics, before returning to baseball to manage the Senators and Indians and later serving as a radio announcer for the Senators. He was only 59 when he died of a brain tumor in 1946.

So what happened to these men, removed from the spotlight between the foul lines?

Not surprisingly, many of them stayed in baseball as long as they could. Minor leagues were independent in the pre-war era (both wars, for that matter), and offered many players a chance to keep competing after the majors had cut them loose. Beyond that, there was always coaching and managing.

Chief Bender was the coach at the Naval Academy in the 1920s, before returning to the Athletics as a coach. “Colby Jack” Coombs didn’t return to his alma mater, but did coach the baseball team at Duke University for a quarter of a century. Larry Gardner did return to his alma mater, the University of Vermont, where he served a baseball coach and athletic director.

Donie Bush spent 65 years in baseball, as a manager, minor league team owner and scout. Hans Lobert had a similar experience, coaching at West Point and with several major league teams before spending the last two decades of his life as a scout.

Max Carey managed in the majors and minors, and helped establish the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during World War II. Larry Doyle remained in the Giants’ organization after his playing days; when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1942, the team sent him to the same sanitarium in Saranc Lake, N.Y. where Christy Mathewson spent his last days. Doyle’s ending was happier, however. He was released 12 years later and retired to that small lake town.

Sherry Magee gave umpiring a try, but a year after returning to the National League in that capacity, he died of pneumonia at 44.

Half of the “$100,000 Infield” ended up in college coaching. Jack Barry, after several years of running an automobile agency, returned to his alma mater of Holy Cross, where he spent more than three decades, coaching the Crusaders to the 1952 NCAA championship. Stuffy McInnis spent a quarter of a century in college coaching, including a stint at Harvard. Barry’s double-play partner, Eddie Collins, had a long career as vice president, treasurer and business manager of the Red Sox.

Frank Baker went another direction. The home-run hero of the Atheltics teams of the early 1910s returned to his hometown in Maryland and bought up land where he could farm and raise hunting dogs.

Babe Adams, the hero of the 1909 World Series, operated a farm in Missouri before World War II and another in Maryland afterwards. George Gibson and Vean Gregg, both Canadians, returned to their home country to farm.

For some who didn’t stay in baseball, other sporting activities offered employment. Rube Marquard, Heinie Groh and Buck Herzog all worked at race tracks. Ray Schalk ran a bowling alley. Honus Wagner owned a sporting goods business that was wiped out by the Depression; fortunately, the Pirates were ready with an offer of a coaching position.

What of baseball’s most famous double-play combination? Frank Chance, who’d had a history of injuries and ailments during his career, died young at 48, having spent his post-playing days as a manager in the majors and minors. Johnny Evers, like Wagner, owned a sporting good store, and was appointed stadium superintendent in Albany, N.Y. Joe Tinker managed his money well until his Florida real estate investments went belly-up during the Depression. He bounced back, running a pool hall and opening a bar, and worked at the Orlando, Fla. airfield during World War II.

Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown and Stan Coveleski each owned service stations in Indiana, Brown in Terre Haute and Coveleski in South Bend. Ed Walsh retired to Connecticut and was employed by the Meridan Water Plant. Jim “Hippo” Vaughn worked in a refrigeration assembly factory.

Some players did quite well for themselves, financially. Ty Cobb got in on the ground floor of investing in Coca Cola. Bill McKechnie had lucrative land and oil investments in Florida. Gavvy Cravath not only did well with real estate in Laguna Beach, CA, he also served as Justice of the Peace in that city for 36 years.

The Red Sox “Golden Outfield” spread across the country. Harry Hooper spent a quarter of a century as the postmaster in Capitola, CA. Duffy Lewis spent 30 years as the traveling secretary for the Boston/Milwaukee Braves. Tris Speaker made a living out of being Tris Speaker; he was a regular on the banquet circuit and was president of Tris Speaker, Inc., a wholesake wine and liquor company in Cleveland, before retiring to his native Texas.

Fred Snodgrass ran an electrical appliance business in Oxnard, CA, where he also served as mayor. Terry Turner, who patrolled the hot corner for so many years in Cleveland, went on to become the Chief Superintendent of Streets in that city. Heinie Zimmerman ran a speakeasy for gangster Dutch Schultz. Ed Konetchy owned a restaurant and chicken ranch in Fort Worth, Texas.

Zach Wheat did a little of everything. A native of Missouri, he was running a farm in Caldwell County even while playing with the Dodgers, but lost it in the Depression. His post-baseball resume includes managing a bowling alley, serving on the Kansas City police force, running a hunting resort in the Lake of the Ozarks and working in a Wichita defense plant during World War II.

As if fate hadn’t already saddled him with enough to carry, Fred Merkle‘s investments were largely lost in the Depression. Afterwards, he was a partner in a company that made fishing equipment. Slim Sallee may win the award for persistence. After his baseball career was over, he put his money into an ice plant, a service station and a restaurant in his hometown of Higginsport, Ohio. He lost everything when the Ohio River flooded in 1937. He bounced back by tending bar and finally purchasing “Slim’s Cafe.”

The downward spiral of Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander after his playing career is one of baseball’s saddest chapters. Dealing with epilepsy, alcoholism and the lingering effects of a World War I shrapnel injury, he lived on the fringes and got by with a series of odd jobs. He did a stint playing with the House of David baseball team, worked in a penny arcade, retold the story of his strikeout of Tony Lazzeri in the 1926 World Series for patrons of a Times Square flea circus, and worked as a security guard at a defense plant, before dying of a heart attack at 63.

And then there were the Black Sox, the members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox drummed out of baseball for their involvement in the throwing of the World Series. If organized baseball had its druthers, they’d recede into anonymity, and that’s largely what they did. Most of them played for a few years on touring teams or in outlaw leagues that weren’t bothered by baseball’s ban, but as their skills diminished they moved on to the next stage of life.

Lefty Williams ran a pool room in Chicago for a few years before moving to California, finally ending up in Laguna Beach, where he ran a garden nursery business. Fred McMullin worked as a carpenter before later making a career as a Los Angeles County deputy marshal. Swede Risberg landed in the Northern California town of Weed, where he operated a tavern for nearly two decades.

Buck Weaver, who proclaimed his innocence to the end and unsuccessfully petitioned baseball commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis for reinstatement numerous times, worked in the pari-mutuels department of Chicago racetracks. Happy Felsch opened a grocery store, then later ran a tavern. At 58, he started a new career as a crane operator, one that lasted until his retirement at 71.

Chick Gandil, the man who drove the conspiracy from the inside and is believed to have pocketed the greater portion of the money used to fund the throwing of the games, moved to Berkeley, CA, and became a plumber. Joe Jackson, the man who became the symbol for the American tragedy that was the Black Sox scandal, played for independent teams as long as he could, then retired to his home in Greenville, S.C. For years he ran a successful liquor store before dying of a heart attack at 63.

Eddie Cicotte, a native of Detroit, remained in that city but used another name to protect his family. He worked for the Ford Motor Company until 1944, then spent the last 25 years of his life on a farm near Farmington, MI, raising strawberries. On his death certificate, his occupation was listed as “baseball player.”


Almost every player listed in this piece has an Ars Longa card. You can view some in the pastoral hues of the Pilgrim series, others with the striking backgrounds of the Diamond Heads ’15 cards. Either way, they look forever young and strong, heroes to a growing sports fandom.

But eventually the spotlight was turned off. And like all of us, they had to pay the bills . . .

Major League Baseball Players of 1916 by Paul Batesel
SABR Bio Project (sabr.org)

Overlooked, but not unappreciated

If you’re a fan of the 19th Century and Dead Ball eras of baseball (and if you aren’t, you probably aren’t reading this), then you may be frustrated by the lack of movement in getting players from that period enshrined in baseball’s Hall of Fame. It seems like the Hall has shut its doors on the old timers.

Well, not exactly shut them . . . every few years the door pops open a few inches.

It used to be a lot simpler for the average fan to follow. The Baseball Writers Association of America voted on the recently retired, and the Veteran’s Committee considered those that time had almost forgotten. But in 2010, the Hall broke the Veteran’s Committee into three different groups. Candidates from the 19th Century fall under the consideration of the Pre-Integration Era Committee. Specifically, that means that every three years a ballot of 10 persons is drawn up from players, executives and other significant figures — including those from the Negro Leagues — from a period covering roughly 80 years, and then voted upon by the committee, with the usual three quarters of the vote (12 or more of 16) needed for induction.

Pretty slim odds at best . . .

Fortunately, there is a group that hasn’t given up on honoring the stars of the 1800s who haven’t yet gotten into Cooperstown, and it’s just the people you would have expected: The Society for American Baseball Research.

Each year, SABR’s 19th Century Committee holds a vote to determine who would join the ranks of Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legends. Past winners have included Pete Browning, Harry Stovey, Bill Dahlen, Ross Barnes and Lucius “Doc” Adams. When Deacon White became the second annual winner in 2010, it might well have been a premonition of being voted into the Hall of Fame by the Pre-Intergration Committee two and a half years later.


SABR’s Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legends, 2009-2014

Pete Browning

Deacon White

Harry Stovey


Bill Dahlen

Ross Barnes

Doc Adams

Top 3 finalists for SABR’s Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legend for 2015


This year’s winner was announced just last week: Tony Mullane (482 points), the American Association pitching ace took the top spot in a close vote over shortstop Jack Glasscock (465 points) and pitcher Jim Creighton (402 points).
Tony Mullane
2015 Winner

Jack Glasscock
1sr runner-up

Jim Creighton
2nd runner-up

To say that Mullane was a fascinating candidate is putting it mildly . . . and that’s even before you consider his 284 career victories.

Oh, Mullane’s numbers are plenty good. In a 13-year career, eight of which were spent with the Cincinnati Reds, he won 30 games in a season five times, with four different teams. He pitched the first no-hitter in Association history, in September of 1882 for Louisville. His 468 complete games still ranks 10th all time, and given the rarity of that particular statistic in this day and age, his standing is not likely to drop.

But Mullane can’t help but being remembered for a variety of other aspects of his career:

Labor relations: As a general rule, baseball management has never wanted to pay the players any more than they absolutely had to, and the players have never been crazy about that state of affairs.

Mullane, early in his career, was always ready to leap for a better deal. Following a rookie season in Louisville in which he posted a 30-24 record with a 1.88 earned-run average and a league-leading 170 strikeouts, he accepted a better offer from Association rival St. Louis for the 1883 season. The reserve clause was beefed up the following off-season to stop club-jumping, but the new Union Association wasn’t part of that agreement, and Mullane accepted a bigger contract to play for the UA’s team in St. Louis. But Mullane got cold feet when the new league’s prospects began to look a bit iffy (it lasted only one season) and he tried to return to the Browns. In an attempt to avoid any legal problems from multiple contracts in St. Louis, he was instead signed by Toledo.

After a money-losing season, Toledo managment disbanded their America Association team and sold off its stars, including Mullane, to Chris Von der Ahe’s Browns. But despite a written promise to sign a contract with the Browns, Mullane was soon entertaining offers to play for Cincinnati. In the dust-up that followed, the Reds were allowed to retain the rights to Mullane . . . but only after he sat out the 1885 season, a turn of events that would cost Mullane in ways that would only be appreciated many years later.

That was the end of Mullane’s bumping heads with the reserve clause, although he did earn a reputation during his career — whether deserved or not — for occasional “indifference” on the mound. Reds management tried to make sure their ace was as satisfied as possible with his salary, to keep him in the best competitive mood.

Handedness: Mullane’s name recently resurfaced in the sports news due to Oakland’s elevation to the majors of Pat Venditte, one of the few ambidextrous major league pitchers in baseball history. Mullane was the first, although it was more of a novelty than a weapon. There is documentation of him pitching with each hand in a league game on only two occasions, although he developed a reputation for being able to do so. Perhaps it was a trick he brought out for exhibition games.

Good looks: It’s a myth that Ladies Day at the ballpark was created around the desire of the fairer sex to see Mullane on the mound, but by all accounts he was one of baseball’s most dashing players. He was known as the Count and The Apollo of the Box for his aristocratic bearing, as well as Smoked Italian for his swarthy good looks (surprising, really, since he was actually born in Cork, Ireland before emigrating at age 5).

Unfortunately, we can’t really see that from his Ars Longa 1880s card. Mullane appeared in seven different poses in the Old Judge set, but the photographer didn’t capture the “matinee idol” quality in any of them. Flattering portraits of Mullane do exist and I have heard word from Jesse that he is currently working on this image for inclusion in the Ars Longa Pioneer Portraits II Series. (Editor’s note: Card complete and pictured right.)

Race relations: Mullane’s billeting in Toledo in 1884 for the Blue Stockings’ lone major league season coincided with a major historical event, that of Moses Fleetwood Walker becoming the first African-American player in major league history. Unfortunately, Mullane doesn’t come across well in that partnership. Walker shared Toledo’s catching duties with the venerable Deacon McGuire, and Mullane would frequently cross up Walker with pitches he wasn’t expecting. Eventually, Walker told Mullane to throw whatever he wanted, and the two worked well together after that.

Years later, Mullane would credit Walker as a good catcher, but said that he couldn’t like the man because of the color of his skin, a sad commentary on a time that was only one generation removed from the Civil War. Oddly, Mullane had one of his best seasons in 1884, running up a record of 36-26 while the rest of the Blue Stockings’ staff was a collective 9-32.

Mullane’s talents began to dissipate in the mid-1890’s, and he bounced around the league for a couple of season before retiring. An attempt to run a saloon ended up in financial failure, but he had success as a policeman in Chicago, rising to the rank of detective. He died in 1944, at the ripe old age of 85.

So, why are these Overlooked 19th Century Legends not in the Hall of Fame? There’s no one single answer. Doc Adams was a member of the Knickerbocker Club in New York in the 1840’s and did perhaps as much as anyone to shape the game in its early years, but after Abner Doubleday and Alexander Cartwright, perhaps the Hall has had its fill of people that have been proclaimed the “Father of Baseball.” Ross Barnes was professional baseball’s first great hitter, but his best years came in the five years of the National Association, pre-dating the National League.

Bill Dahlen may have been a victim of having his career split almost evenly between the 19th and 20 Centuries. He played on four league champions, but in his only World Series appearance, he was hitless in 15 at-bats for the 1905 New York Giants. He batted over .300 only three times in a 21-year career, but his longevity put him near the top in numerous career offensive categories for shortstops. And in the field, he was one of the best his era. His chance could come again this winter, when the Pre-Integration Committee votes again. Three years ago, when Deacon White made the grade, Dahlen was also on the ballot and missed by just two votes.

And what of Pete Browning, the original Louisville Slugger; Harry Stovey, one of the 19th Century’s top power hitters; and Mullane? They all have the numbers to qualify, so one can’t help but thinking that they’re tarred by having played most of their careers in the American Association. The only player to be elected to the Hall after playing all or most of his career in the Association was Bid McPhee, and that didn’t happen until 2000.

It’s probably true that the level of play in the Association wasn’t quite at the level of the National League, but it was major league baseball nonetheless. One wonders, though, if that resonates with a 21st Century voter.

And for Mullane, that season in his prime in which he was suspended likely would have easily given him the victories he needed to top the 300 mark for his career. Until Roger Clemens’ steroid issues, that figure was a guaranteed ticket to the Hall of Fame.

But they’ll all get their chance again, slim as it might be. I mean, doesn’t it just seem right that “The Apollo of the Box” should have his mug emblazoned for all to see on a bronze plaque in a museum in a bucolic little town in New York?