ED REULBACH

I was surprised the other day when I stumbled across the information that Ed Reulbach is buried in a Catholic cemetery in Montclair, New Jersey. I have always associated Reulbach with the Chicago Cubs, and I have never associated him with New Jersey.

Reulbach’s name is not well known today, except by people like me who live in the past. He was well known in his own time, however; he was one of the most dominant pitchers of his era. Actually, in some respects he has had relatively few equals in the whole history of the game, but he pitched in the dead-ball era and he isn’t on the minds of the play-by-play announcers whose memories don’t go back much farther than the 1960s.

I’m in the midst of reading The House that Ruth Built, a new book about the 1923 baseball season in New York. (A review will follow soon.) The author refers to a pitcher who threw both ends of a double header, and that’s what got me thinking about Reulbach. Modern pitchers are such fragile creatures that the idea of one of them throwing a double header is absurd. A modern pitcher rarely throws more than five or six innings at a time.

JOE McGINNITY

This wasn’t always the case. It wasn’t long ago that a starting pitcher was expected to throw a complete game. Whether he did or not depended on his performance on the mound, not the number of pitches he threw. Even then, pitching double headers was unheard of after 1926, when Dutch Levsen, pitching for the Indians, became the last to do it.

The most spectacular performance in this regard was turned in by “Iron Man” Joe McGinnity of the New York Giants, who pitched three double headers in the month of August, 1903, and won all six games without relief. McGinnity won 31 games that year. Perhaps more significantly — in view of the modern practice of counting pitches — he won 35 games in 1904, , 21 in 1905, and 27 in 1906.

Altogether, there were 45 instances of a pitcher throwing a double-header. Grover Cleveland Alexander did it a couple of times. Also in this elite group was Fred Toney, who won a double bill for Cincinnati in 1917. What’s even more remarkable is that in that same season, Toney and Hippo Vaughan of the Chicago Cubs joined in the only game in history in which both pitchers pitched no-hitters for nine innings. Vaughan lost it in the 10th.

Reulbach’s performance stands out, because on September 26, 1908, he pitched two games for the Cubs against Brooklyn, and they were both shutouts. He’s the only pitcher in the history of the game to pull that off. To emphasize his point, he allowed a total of eight hits in the two games.

ED REULBACH

For the record, Reulbach pitched nine more seasons after the year of his double shutouts and he finished with a .632 won-loss percentage and an ERA of 2.28.

So why is he buried in New Jersey — along with his wife and their son? I notice in his stats that Reulbach played the 1915 season with the Newark Peppers in the short-lived Federal League, which was the last serious attempt to establish a league to compete with the American and National circuits. The Federal was given major league status retroactively in 1968.
Reulbach finished his career in 1916 and 1917 with the Boston Braves, but maybe he had settled his family in New Jersey and didn’t want to move again.
His son was ill for most of his life, and that might have been a consideration.
Reulbach is largely forgotten now. It’s a melancholy thing that his grave marker takes no notice of his baseball career. He deserves better; he was a powerhouse on the mound, still among the very best in several categories.
There’s a detailed biography of the pitcher at THIS LINK.

The stone on the Ruelbach family grave makes no mention of the pitcher's career. His lifetime ERA has been bettered only 10 times, and he was the first pitcher to throw a one-hitter in World Series play.

… and it’s gone!

August 10, 2009

GABBY HARNETT baseball card

GABBY HARNETT baseball card

The Boston Globe has a touching little story about Sara Bejoian, a Watertown woman who carried on a friendly baseball rivalry with her husband, Jim, who died last year when the couple had been married just shy of 54 years. Sara was a Red Sox fan and Jim rooted for the Yankees.

The point of the story was that Sara has agreed to throw out the first ball at an old-time baseball game, as a tribute to her late husband. The account by Peter DeMarco includes this sentence: “Jim Bejoian’s passion for the sport extended to the Oldtime Baseball Game, an annual charity game held at St. Peter’s Field in Cambridge in which local amateurs dress in uniforms from bygone teams and swing wooden bats in the gloaming of a late-summer night.”

What caught my eye in that sentence was the word “gloaming,” a favorite word of mine, but a word that has been neglected to the point that it is practically extinct. “Gloaming” means “twilight” or “dusk.” To my ear, each of those terms has its own connotation, each suggests a different atmosphere in those moments after sunset. Gloaming has a kind of a brooding sound.

Baseball fans — I mean fans — know that the word “gloaming” occupies a special place in the history of the game. It is associated with a game between the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field on Sept. 28, 1938. The Cubs were a half game behind the Pirates in the National League pennant race, and their record for September up to that point was 18 wins, 3 losses, and a tie.

GABBY HARTNETT

GABBY HARTNETT

On Sept. 28, the teams were locked in a 5-5 tie in the bottom of the ninth inning. The sun had set, and night was coming on. There were no lights at Wrigley Field, so when Cubs playing manager Gabby Hartnett came to bat with two men out, it was clear to everyone that if he didn’t reach base, the umpires would end the game in a tie. With two strikes on him, Hartnett hit the ball into the darkness. The Cubs won and, three days later, clinched the pennant. The event has been known ever since as “the home run in the gloaming,” and what expression could capture it better?

I hope Hartnett is still an iconic figure in Chicago, where he played for 18 years. He certainly isn’t one in the everyday vernacular of baseball. He deserves better. He was one of the leading catchers of his time and an excellent hitter. He was a six-time All Star and an MVP, and he is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

In addition to his outstanding record as a hitter and fielder, Hartnett took part in two more of baseball’s legendary moments, at least one of which actually happened. He was behind the plate in the 1934 All Star Game, when Carl Hubbell struck out in succession Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin. And Hartnett was the catcher in the 1932 World Series when Babe Ruth ostensibly called his own home run to centerfield.

I think I’ll start slipping “gloaming” into the conversation and see if I can inspire others to do the same.

The Globe story is at this link:

http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/08/10/sox_loyalist_80_will_throw_pitch_for_her_beloved_yankees_fan/