by Glen Hammel
"Ghost Runner On First"
If you have a baseball encyclopedia that predates 1987, look up the name Lou Proctor. Go ahead and see for yourself... although you aren't likely to find much. Maybe just a basic entry:
"L. Proctor" 1912 St. L (A). PH. 1 g. ---.
No birth date. No home town. No date of death. I've looked in two different encyclopedias, and I have yet to even discover whether he was right or left-handed.
By 1912 there was seldom a player of any tenure who managed to slip through the cracks without divulging this personal information. Still, if you're just leafing through an old encyclopedia, Lou Proctor's entry doesn't seem at all uncommon. Players like Lou Proctor, however, weren't common at all... in fact, there's never been another one like him.
If you have a baseball encyclopedia printed since 1987 on hand, now look up Lou Proctor in it. Don't spend a lot of time searching for the typo, because you won't find his name in there anywhere.
There have been a number of players like Moonlight Graham, who have made it to the majors for one game, never to get that chance to pick up the bat or use their leather. There have been a number of players who momentarily fooled an organization into thinking they had major league talent. But even though Lou Proctor did get one turn at bat (in which he drew a walk), he had never fooled anyone into believing he had major league talent. He simply fooled the baseball world into believing for 75 years that he was a baseball player.
You see, Lou Proctor was a Cleveland telegrapher by trade and a practical joker by hobby. He is the only man to ever draw a walk while out of uniform and even out of the park. Realizing how easy it was to falsify baseball records, Proctor inserted his own name into the Browns lineup before sending the box score to the newspapers. From 1912 to 1987, when SABR researchers finally uncovered the hoax and had his name stricken from the records, Lou Proctor's name appeared in the same annals as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams and Eddie Gaedel... yes, that other legendary St. Louis pinch-hitter who walked in his lone at-bat.
"The Ballad of Tiny O'Dell"
The dust on the diamond down in Butterfield
Eighty-odd years ago had a story to tell,
Of the man-child of mirth upon the mound,
Just the local miracle, Tiny O'Dell.
The '16 World Champions from Boston
Broke spring training in search of a duel,
But six-foot-six of unconquerable country
Just left them looking like April's fools.
Neither Smokey Joe with his fast ball,
Nor the Babe with all of his girth,
Could match the heat from that volcano,
Nor touch that natural curve of the earth.
How many on the morning train from Hot Springs,
Saw Tiny that day on the attack
As he dotted his potent pitching
With the exclamation of his each at-bat?
One run on four hits is all he would yield,
And four hits he had all on his own,
And Babe hung a pitch and then hung his head,
In the ninth when Tiny trotted home.
And as the crowd cried out for a curtain call
The Red Stockings offered him pay,
But Tiny O'Dell just doffed his cap
And went merrily on his way.
Two weeks went by, the Sox went north,
The legend of Tiny O'Dell only grew,
And just why he didn't go north as well,
No one really knew.
How many on the morning train from Hot Springs,
Saw Tiny that day on the track
On his way to one more victory
'Til he lost his arm on impact?
Now only the dust on that diamond still recalls
Tiny O'Dell, age just seventeen,
Who shortly after, walked out of the hospital
And was never to be seen.
"Bill James' Wildest Fantasy"
.348 batting average, 366 home runs, 1,387 runs batted in.
A first-ballot Hall of Famer?
Quite possibly "No"... not after you realize the personality behind the numbers and his relationship with those who vote on such things.
The career spanned from 1939-1954, with three seasons lost to World War II ...or at least it would have if retirement had gone as planned.
Retirement didn't go as planned, though. Not after Ted Williams met Eddie Mifflin.
Mifflin, salesman, businessman, Pennsylvania politician, and forefather of today's baseball stat-heads everywhere, met Williams at the Baltimore train station in the latter part of the 1954 season. Mifflin introduced himself to one of the greatest hitters in baseball history with a rather unbecoming lack of awe.
"You're not really going to retire, are you? You can't, you know. Your numbers aren't good enough."
Teddy Ballgame had just rejoined the game in June of 1953, after serving in the Korean War, and he planned to leave the game for good just as soon as his contract expired at the end of the 1954 season. He thought his broken elbow from 1950 had strangled his power stroke, although the numbers didn't bear it out. He stumbled right from the start in 1954, breaking his collarbone in spring training. By April there was no point in merely pondering it anymore - he announced in The Saturday Evening Post that this season was to be his last.
"Ted, you barely have 350 home runs. You don't have 1,500 rbi. You don't even have 2,000 hits. And these writers hate your guts," Mifflin told Williams just a month or two before he planned to hang them up. "They didn't even vote you the MVP twice when you won the Triple Crown. You need stats that are undeniable. These aren't."
And so Ted Williams realized it was worth a bit more pondering... pondering over his legacy. Was Ted Williams leaving behind enough doubt to allow the scribes he hated to keep him out of Cooperstown?
Williams met up with Mifflin a week or so later in New York. They poured over the stat sheet and pulled an all-nighter. Finally, the two men, the forgotten fan and the fabled figure, agreed on the grail - Ted Williams could not retire until he hit his 500th home run. Ruth, Foxx, Ott... Williams. No one could deny his place in history then.
In May of 1955, Williams returned from "personal business" and battled his way through nagging injuries, and still hit .356, with 28 home runs (one every 11.4 at-bats, not bad for a lost power-stroke), and drove in 83 in just 98 games.
He had planned to retire at 36, but for the next six seasons, Williams out-hit most all-stars in their prime. Along with perhaps Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds, he had arguably the most success of any player after the age of 35. In 1957, at the age of 39, Williams ended up just five hits short of posting the last .400 season in baseball, let alone in his own career. His encore was a batting title the following season, at the age of 40.
Williams finally had a sub-par season in 1959 and hit only ten home runs. His career total stalled at 492. Eddie Mifflin had never vanished from the picture though, and neither he nor Williams was willing to accept that the talent had faded away. While Williams crushed the pitches, Mifflin crunched the numbers and kept him posted all the while.
A year later, Williams finally went through those plans for retirement... right after the last pitch he ever saw sailed over the fence. Number 521.
.344 batting average, 521 home runs, 1,839 rbi.
A first-ballot Hall of Famer.
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Yannigan is an old multipurpose baseball term that's gone out of vogue. It was used to refer to a rookie before there were "rookies," but it was also stuck to those whose talent left something to be desired. Seemed about right... these stories aren't about "The Called Shot" or "Merkle's Boner," they're about the lesser known tales of baseball - the stories that, hopefully, you find interesting, maybe even educational, but they won't be the rehash of the stars we already know.
March 31, 2011
March 30, 2011
June 16, 2008
April 15, 2008
April 8, 2008
Eddie Gaedel's jersey number was 1/8.