On August 14, St. Louis manager Fielder Jones announced that Plank hung up his spikes. He cited stomach troubles due to the strain of playing the game regularly at nearly 42 years old. As Plank later admitted to Jimmy Isaminger of the Philadelphia North American, “In my last game…I was so tired at the finish I could scarcely reach my hotel. It was physical exhaustion that seized me in every hard game I pitched that caused me to retire. I had just as much stuff as I ever did, but a game of ball began to tax my strength too much. I soon realized that the wear and tear of baseball was taking my very blood out of me, and I decided to quit.” It was also true that Eddie, with his brother Ira, had just purchased a garage in Gettysburg. They were going into business together; both of them decided to end their baseball careers and settle fulltime back in their hometown.
Eddie Plank retired owning a number of significant records. He was the winningest pitcher in American League history and would be so until 1922 when he was surpassed by Walter Johnson. He also won more games than any other lefthander in major league history. That record wouldn’t be topped until 1962 by Warren Spahn. Plank ended his career as the seventh all-time winning pitcher in major league history with a 326-194 record. He posted 69 shutouts, still most by a lefthander. In 529 starts and nearly 100 relief appearance he accrued a 2.35 earned run average. More important, his ERA was consistently better than the league average, often significantly so; in fact, 1914 is the only season it wasn’t and the A’s still won the pennant. He pitched in nearly 4,500 innings, amassing 2,246 strikeouts against 1,072 walks. He also hit quite a few batters, 196, second all-time. In the batter’s box he was never a wonder, posting a .206 batting average and 49 extra base hits in 1,600 at bats.
Plank had been looking to retire as early as 1911. He had plenty to keep him occupied. He was frugal and made wise investments so that by the time he retired from baseball he was rumored to be among the richest in the game. He took control of his family farm in 1907 and bought a new home for his parents in 1909 near (possibly on) the property. He ran the farm until after World War I when he started renting it out, finally selling in 1924.
Eddie and his brother Ira managed their tire and automotive repair shop, “The Eddie Plank Garage.” It was located at the corner of Stratton and York Streets in Gettysburg. They soon expanded the business to include a Buick dealership, which is where Eddie focused his attention. Plank, like many Americans, was enamored with the new automobile craze. Ty Cobb, an automobile maven, helped feed Plank’s interest. In October 1909, Cobb made a stop in Gettysburg during the National Highway Automobile Run. Likewise enamored, Plank, soon thereafter, purchased his first automobile.
The garage part of the business was run by Ira Plank, who by this time ended his playing career. Ira pitched three years at Gettysburg College from 1901-03 and then embarked on a fifteen-year playing career in the minors. He was drafted by the New York Yankees in 1907 and invited to spring training but never did play in the majors as he was shipped to Jersey City before the 1908 season began. In 1913, he began coaching the Gettysburg College baseball nine, doing so through 1950.
Off the field Eddie Plank was quiet, private and unpretentious. He didn’t flaunt his success nor seek any celebrity from it. As a Gettysburg newspaper noted when Plank returned home after the 1905 championship run which heaped accolades upon Plank and the rest if his Athletic teammates, “Eddie Plank has arrived home. He is the same Eddie.” After the triumphant 1913 pennant race and world championship, Plank was approached about doing vaudeville. The Sporting Life was amused, scoffing that “it would require a mighty pile-driver to push Plank before the footlights.” He never drank, smoked or cussed. Eddie Collins described him as “a man of fine character and intelligence. On the slab he was nervous, irritable, superstitious, off the field restless and capricious.” Plank was a devoted family man; he loved the farm and farm living, often returning home for a day or two between starts both before and after his marriage. He spent the winters during his career on his farm. In fact, just before his death he was talking about repurchasing the family farm and making a go of it again.
For entertainment, Plank often went hunting and fishing and participated in trapshooting contests. He also liked to bowl; in fact, duckpin bowling was his favorite activity over the winters to keep his arm in shape for baseball. Plank was a member of the Good Samaritan Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons and the Knights Templar. He spent a good deal of time with his aging parent, who as it turned out would outlive him. He also kept in touch with friends from baseball. Many would stop by his Gettysburg dealership on their travels, including a saddened Carl Mays soon after he beaned Ray Chapman. Plank occasionally drove to Philadelphia to catch A’s games and catch up with Connie Mack and some old teammates and foes. He would occasionally attend World Series contests. Mack even asked him to make several scouting trips through the years.
Plank didn’t leave his playing days behind when he left the majors. The New York Yankees traded Urban Shocker, Nick Cullop, Fritz Maisel, Joe Gedeon, Les Nunamaker and a reported $15,000 to the Browns for Plank and durable second baseman Del Pratt on January 22, 1918. The deal remained intact despite Plank’s refusal to join the club; he had had enough of the traveling and itinerant lifestyle. New Yankees manager Miller Huggins kept after Plank though; at one point the pitcher almost relented. New York even sent him a contract again in 1919 but Plank was adamant about his retirement, sending it back unsigned.
In April 1918, Plank agreed to pitch for Steelton, located about forty miles from Gettysburg, in the semi-pro Bethlehem Steel League because he could still tend to his automotive and other business affairs during the week and just play ball on the weekends. The league was formed in 1917; the following year the steel company utilized its extensive wealth to encroach on Organized Baseball for talent, trying to lure some of the game’s finest. Plank was the first big name to ink a deal. The league really took off after Secretary of War Newton Baker issued the “work or fight” order in midsummer 1918 stipulating that ballplayers must join the war effort, either enlisting or finding employment in a war-related industry. The top ballplayers made about $200 to $250 a game in the Bethlehem Steel League.
Plank, officially hired as an “employment scout,” was exempt from the draft because of his age but others like Joe Jackson, Lefty Williams, Dutch Leonard and Wally Pipp temporarily left the majors to work at a Bethlehem Steel plant during the week and play ball for the company on the Saturdays and holidays. Babe Ruth even appeared in a few games after the World Series in 1918. The league’s six teams were located in Baltimore, Wilmington, Delaware, Fore River, Massachusetts and in Lebanon, Bethlehem and Steelton in Pennsylvania. Plank pitched his first game on June 1 besting Brooklyn Dodgers’ hurler Al Mamaux of Fore River 6-1. He finished the season with a 4-2 record in 52 innings pitched including a 1-0 victory over Dutch Leonard on July 27 that drew national headlines. He also batted .313, among the league leaders. The Steelton club included past, current or future major leaguers Johnny Beall, Jack Knight, Roxey Roach, Herb Hunter, Kid Stutz, George Pearce, Bud Weiser and team captain Steve Yerkes and future Hall of Fame manager Joe McCarthy at second base. The nine won the league championship, winning an impromptu two-game playoff after a first place tie with Bethlehem. Plank won the final playoff game to claim the championship.
Plank also played for the Gettysburg Athletic Club in 1918 and would occasionally toe the rubber through at least 1924 with the Gettysburg College Alumni club, an older team called the Bald and Gray and for various charitable causes. He continued to coach as well, helping Ira during the spring with the college team. In 1923 he assisted former teammate Jack Coombs who took over the nine of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. In 1925 Plank coached a Gettysburg club. In a game in the mid 1920s he was hit in the head with a line drive which his wife and family later attributed to his declining health.
In 1923, Plank retired from the car dealership and set about building a new home for the family. As noted, the old one was sold to a college fraternity. By 1926, Plank was making plans to repurchase his old family farm and move back in. However, on February 22 he suffered a massive stroke which paralyzed the left side of his body. He was seemingly in fine health but had been complaining of headaches for some time. Two days later, he passed away at age 50. After private and public funerals on the 28th, he was interred at Evergreen Cemetery in Gettysburg. Some family members blamed the liner to his head as a contributing cause of the stroke. Others among the town though noted that the same type of health issues seemed to plaque the Plank family over the years. For one, his father had a slight stroke two weeks before Eddie. Plank left a significant estate for the era, leaving his parents $10,000 and $20,000 each for his widow and 10-year-old son set up in trust accounts. Annie Plank lived until 1955.
A fundraising drive was immediately begun to build and name Gettysburg College’s new gymnasium after Eddie Plank. The Philadelphia Athletics and other major league clubs helped in the fundraising efforts. In 1946, Plank was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in the same class as teammate Rube Waddell. In 1999, he was named to the Mastercard-sponsored MLB All-Century team. A historical marker was placed on the grounds of Gettysburg College in his honor in 2000.
Perhaps Connie Mack summed up Eddie Plank’s career or more specifically his value to the Philadelphia A’s better than anyone else,
“Plank came to me right from college. He was with me in the days when or American league team in Philadelphia was fighting for its existence. I had to call on him to work pretty hard in those days. He never failed me, never complained.
Eddie Plank was one of the smartest left-hand pitchers it has been my pleasure to have on my club. He was short and light, as pitchers go, but he made up for the physical defects, if such they were, by his study of the game and his smartness when he was on the pitching peak.
Plank was the master of the cross-fire delivery and that was one of his big assets. He worked hour after hour to perfect control of that cross-fire and it made him.
Plank was one of the greatest winning lefthanders the game has ever known. He helped us to out first pennant in 1902 by winning eleven straight in the second half of the season. That feat put the Athletics on the map. Eddie was also vitally concerned in the pennant conquests of 1905, 1910, 1911, 1913 and 1914.
Strangely enough he was not successful in the World Series but through no fault of his own. He was notoriously unlucky in the World Series. I don’t believe more than two runs were ever scored off Plank in a World Series, yet he did not win many games.
I can recall his pitching duel with Christy Mathewson, of the Giants, in 1913. It was a scoreless tie for nine innings and then New York made three runs in the tenth and won. In the first nine innings two Athletic players were thrown out at the plate on close plays.
In the pennant race, Plank’s victories always meant much to us. I always saved Eddie for games in which our lifeblood was at stake, and he always won those games. I can’t remember a southpaw who lasted longer. He began in 1901, was a star the next year and was a winning pitcher to his last season.
Plank a clean liver and worked a good influence on younger players. Another point that made him stand out was that he always gave the club his best services. He never sulked or eased up, but always was at high pressure throughout the game.”
The project was brought to me by Stephen Johnson, a baseball scout and amateur historian in Baltimore. He was working on a documentary of Eddie Plank but was having difficulty nailing down the writing and putting the story in historical context, baseball-wise. He and the production crew, Kevin Swink and Dave Waddell, had been working on the project for some time and gathered a great deal of information, insight, interviews, photographs and film material before I was ever brought on. They formed the foundation of this piece and were thus instrumental in bringing the story to light.
I’m appreciative of the assistance Macker at Baseball-fever.com gave me on a statistical question related to Eddie Planks’s win totals.
Karen Dupell Drickamer, Director of Special Collections and College Archivist, Gettysburg College, was very helpful in sharing her understanding of Plank’s academic relationship with the Preparatory Department of Gettysburg College.
Jan Finkel, an Eddie Plank biographer, was most helpful in bouncing questions off of and assisting in my understanding of the subject.
Mark C. Zeigler, a biographer of Ira Plank and Blue Ridge League researcher, assisted as well.
A special and prolonged thanks needs to be addressed to longtime Gettysburg resident Linda Cleveland for her insight into the area and Plank history. She was especially helpful in understanding Eddie Plank’s early life prior to the major leagues. She attended the Good Intent School and provided a good history of such. Her husband Bob, 91-years-old in 2009, was also helpful in my understanding of Plank’s early baseball career. His father and uncle played with Eddie Plank on the Good Intent team and grew up in the same tight community. Ms. Cleveland was my sounding board for this project. She always seemed to have a grasp on the topic and never failed to put my questions in perspective.
Dave Gulden, April 28, 2009
Eddie Plank III, April 29, 2009
Clifford “Junie” Bream, 102-year-old lifelong resident of Gettysburg, worked for Eddie and Ira Plank at their automotive garage and played baseball for Ira Plank at Gettysburg College, June 2007
Linda Cleveland, Gettysburg area historian and longtime resident, summer 2007 and fall 2008
Dave Jordan, Philadelphia A’s Historical Society, October 2007
Bob Kenworthy, Longtime Gettysburg College employee and Gettysburg College sports historian, November 2007 and spring 2008
Eddie Plank III, Eddie Plank’s grandson, summer 2007
Bob Warrington, Philadelphia A’s Historical Society, October 2007
Thanks for the hospitality of the Adams County Historical Society, Pennsylvania.
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Cobb, Ty and Al Stump. My Life in Baseball: The True Record. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.
Dayton, Stoddart, “What Baseball Has Taught Ty Cobb,” Collier’s, LXXIV, July 19, 1924, p. 56.
Finkel, Jan, “Eddie Plank” biography, SABR Biography Project
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Gulden, Dave, “The Forgotten Games of Eddie Plank,” The National Pastime #24, Cleveland: SABR, 2004.
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Keenan, Jimmy, “Lefty Russell” biography, SABR Biography Project
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Macht, Norman L. and Connie Mack III. Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2007.
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Morris, Peter. A Game of Inches: The Stories Behind the Innovations That Shaped Baseball, The Game on the Field. Chicago, Ivan R. Dee, 2006.
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James, Bill and Rob Neyer. The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers: An Historical Compendium of Pitching, Pitchers, and Pitches. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004.
Philadelphia North American
Spatz, Lyle. The SABR Baseball List and Record Book: Baseball’s Most Fascinating Records and Unusual Statistics. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2007.
Star and Sentinel, Gettysburg
Swift, Tom. Chief Bender’s Burden: The Silent Struggle of a Baseball Star. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2008.
Syracuse Evening Herald
Thomas, Henry W. Walter Johnson: Baseball’s Big Train. Washington D.C.: Phenom Press, 1995.
Wilbert, Warren N. What Makes an Elite Pitcher? Young, Mathewson, Johnson, Alexander, Grove, Spahn, Seaver, Clemens and Maddux. New York: McFarland, 2003.
Zeigler, Mark C., “Ira Plank”
Plank held out once again in 1914, citing a desire to retire. He sent Connie Mack’s contract offer back unsigned. The newspapers claimed that he was asking for more money since the Federal League, an upstart third major league, was tossing around cash all winter trying to lure established major league talent. Money wasn’t the issue for Plank though. He had saved his money over the years and with three World Series checks over the last four years certainly wasn’t hurting. Plank, now 38 years old, was interested in marrying and settling on the farm outside Gettysburg. The game had a strong pull however and he signed on February 23 for the same salary as 1913.
Plank posted a 15-7 record and Philadelphia won the pennant again, 8.5 games up on the Boston Red Sox. They faced the Boston Braves in the World Series. Plank started Game #2, losing 1-0 to Bill James as the Braves swept. In four World Series, Plank posted an apparently ineffective 2-5 record. That is misleading though. In seven games and 54 innings, he ceded only 8 earned runs to amass an impressive 1.32 ERA. He allowed considerably less than one base runner an inning, impressive in any era. Many pitchers would be happy just to have had that final victory in 1913 and be carried off the field.
Like many of his colleagues, Plank was approached by Federal League recruiters in 1914. By this time, Connie Mack was feeling the financial pinch like many throughout the industry. Not only was the Federal League curtailing profits but the players as a whole were gaining strength via a new union and, of course, a stronger hand at negotiation time because of the handsome Federal League offers. Expensive and/or multi-year contracts were taking a toll on many major and minor league executives. Plank made the mistake of being upfront with Mack about his offer by the new league. Mack had been hearing the rumors anyway, not just about Plank but other players as well. It was to be expected as the club did win four of the last five American League championships; someone was bound to come poaching.
Less than three weeks after the 1914 World Series, Mack shockingly released the crux of his pitching staff – Bender, Plank and Coombs. It was a bold and disastrous move; the club wouldn’t aggressively compete for the pennant for years to come. Plank was shocked and saddened by Mack’s stance, noting “It was a complete surprise to me and I knew nothing about it until a friend of mine called me this morning from Philadelphia and told me he read it in the papers. I should have thought Connie would have told me something about it particularly since I told him a few days ago that I had received a strong offer from the Federal League. I was man enough to do that and Connie might at least have done the same towards me. I gave the best I had to the Athletics and would like to be able to say the club treated me as well in return.” Plank, now a free agent, weighed his choices. Art Irwin, a scout for the New York Yankees, made an offer. On December 2, a Federal League representative drove up to Gettysburg and met with the lefthander. Plank signed with their St. Louis club.
Plank was married before the 1915 season on January 30 at age 39 in a small, private ceremony in Ridgewood, New Jersey to Anna (Annie) Cora Myers, a New Oxford, Pennsylvania native about seven years his junior. They had known each other since childhood. The marriage wasn’t announced in Gettysburg until a few weeks later. Local newspapers described the couple as sweethearts for “a number of years.” They had one son, Stewart Edward Jr., born just after that year’s World Series on October 18. Eddie Plank’s birth name was “Stewart Edward” as noted in the 1880 and 1900 U.S. Censuses. Unfortunately, Plank’s birth certificate no longer exists, if it ever did. The 1920 Census shows his son with the same name. Plank was called Eddie or Edward at least by the time he went to school. As a consequence, many believed his first name to be Edward. The same goes for his son; in fact, Eddie Plank’s grandson is formally named Edward Stewart Plank III. After marrying, the Planks built a new home at 208 Carlisle Street across the street from Gettysburg College’s Preparatory School building where Eddie attended classes. It was completed in February 1917. In 1924 that home was sold to the college’s Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity which still uses it today. The Plank family purchased another spacious home on Carlisle Street which would sell for $19,500 after Eddie’s death.
Federal League hitters didn’t fare well against Plank; he amassed a 21-11 record helping the St. Louis Terriers tie for first in the league with an 87-67 record, a .565 winning percentage. Chicago posted an 86-66 record in two fewer games, a .566 mark. The Federal League folded after the 1915 season, prompting Plank to claim free agency as he only signed a one-year deal and viewed his obligation as fulfilled. However, major league officials thought otherwise. With the collapse of the rival league, American and National League executives reclaimed their power. The Terriers’ owner Phil Ball purchased the St. Louis Browns and intended to transfer Plank and others to the American League club. Plank took his case to the National Commission, the major’s ruling body. The ruling went against the pitcher and his contract was formally purchased by the Browns on February 10, 1916. In 37 games for the club that season, he won 16 and lost 15. The Browns finished a distant twelve games out in fifth place.
Plank started the 1917 season torn between continuing his baseball career and ending it. For one, he didn’t want to continue playing in St. Louis which was far from home. Like many older ballplayers, he was tired of all the traveling. He was now over fifteen years older than the average pitcher. When he played for the A’s he often went home for a few days between starts; that wasn’t as feasible playing in far away St. Louis. He had told manager Fielder Jones so many times, even threatening to quit the game if he wasn’t traded. He was in fact nearly traded to the Yankees in early 1916 but after extensive discussions the deal fell through. He finally inked his contract and joined the Browns at the end of March, but was still pushing for a trade to an east coast club.
In total, Plank was 5-6 for the Browns in fourteen starts plus six relief appearances in 1917. On August 6, Plank faced Walter Johnson in one of the top games of the year. The contest was scoreless through ten innings. Johnson and Plank matched each other, allowing five hits and striking out three each. Johnson allowed the only extra base hit of the game, a double. The pitchers respectfully traded barbs throughout the game. Plank finally ceded a walk and two singles in the eleventh, which scored Eddie Ainsmith for the loss. The game proved to be Plank’s last appearance in the majors; he left the club the following Saturday, the 11th, to return home to his family in Gettysburg.
Plank and Johnson had some battles over the years, going head to head to a decision twelve times. Johnson came out on top 7-3, though the games were close. Seven of them were decided by one run. Two by two runs and the other was a 3-0 shutout by Johnson. Another contest between the two ended in a 9-9 tie and still another was tied after nine innings when Plank departed.
Part 5 in three days
Plank posted his first 20-win season in 1902. It was the same year that the dominating Rube Waddell, a man some still claim was faster than Walter Johnson and all others, joined the Athletics’ rotation. Waddell was a rarity for the era, a strikeout pitcher. In each of his six seasons with Philadelphia, he led the league in the category. In their first four years together, 1902-05, the pair won 190 games, with Plank accounting for 93 of them. The total accounted for 57% of Philadelphia’s wins for the duration. In 1902, the A’s captured the pennant with an 83-53 record by five games over the recently relocated Milwaukee Brewers who became the St. Louis Browns before the start of the season. Often overlooked today, the championship run took place one year before the modern World Series was established. The Athletics went 11-2 in Plank’s thirteen starts during the last two months of the season to wrap up the pennant.
After the American League’s first of couple years which were strong offensive ones, statistics settled into what is known today as the Deadball Era. The league ERA typically sat 1.50 less than today. Complete games were much higher, between 12 to 13 times more. The specialized role of relief pitching was in its infancy. Scoring was less per game, about one run. Home runs were hit about once every ten games, many of which were inside the park dashes. Few balls actually left the expansive playing areas. Today, one homer is hit per game on average; nearly all of them clear the outfield wall.
Deadball Era pitchers typically walked fewer batters per game and posted significantly fewer strikeouts. Swinging for the fences was virtually unheard of. Batters were more apt to make contact and put the ball in play. Consequently, the pitching style a century ago differed from today. Starters took their place on the mound about once every fourth day. Most of the time, they finished what they started. Pitchers typically tried to put the ball in play, relying on their fielders. There was much less trying to blow the ball by the batter which leads to higher strikeout and walk totals. Plank actually struck out quite a few batters but his goal was to induce ground balls, which he did in great numbers.
Chief Bender joined the A’s rotation in 1903. Bender and Plank would notch 440 victories together as teammates, more than any other duo in modern history. Philadelphia landed in second place but there was no exciting pennant race; Boston won by 14.5 games. The race was much closer in 1904 but the A’s finished in fifth, 12.5 games behind Boston again. On September 10, Plank opposed Cy Young in an exciting duel. Plank himself knocked in the only run of the game in the thirteenth inning to seal the victory. In total, he won thirteen 1-0 games in his career, sixth on the all-time list. Before the 1905 season and again in 1906 and ‘08, Plank coached baseball at Gettysburg College.
The pennant hung over the ballpark in Philadelphia again in 1905. The A’s nipped the Chicago White Sox by two games. In July the Sporting Life commented, “Eddie Plank is keeping the Athletics in the race. This really great pitcher – greatest of all southpaws we consider him – like good wine, seems to really improve with the flying years.” Over the last six weeks of the season, Plank lifted his club to nine wins in ten starts including 5 one-run victories. With the hoopla of the impending World Series versus the New York Giants, Philadelphia North American sportswriter Charlie Dryden embellished a story citing Plank as a battlefield expert who led tours in Gettysburg. The tale was picked up and repeated numerous times but is false nonetheless. The A’s ran into a brick wall in the World Series – Christy Mathewson. Plank opposed him in the opening game, losing 3-0. It was the first of Mathewson’s three shutouts; perhaps a more dominating postseason performance has never been entered into the books. Plank lost again in Game #4, a 1-0 victory by Joe McGinnity. In two complete games ceding only three earned runs, Plank was saddled with two losses.
Plank injured his arm in July 1906 but continued to pitch, amassing a 19-4 record in 24 games before finally giving in to the pain. After pitching ten innings in a 1-0 loss to Chicago on August 8, he was done for a month. He started again on September but that was it for the season. The club finished in fourth place, 12 games behind the White Sox. Plank started only 25 games, sixteen less than the previous year. He bounced back to post a 24-16 record in 1907 with eight shutouts to help the club challenge the Detroit Tigers for the pennant. The Tigers, fortified by the brightest talent in the game, Ty Cobb, were too strong, copping three straight American League titles from 1907-1909.
Plank was frugal and save his baseball money. With help from the World Series payout from 1905, he purchased the family farm from his parents on June 3, 1907, enabling his parents to retire. He would later purchase one home and build another in which his parents lived out their lives.
Beginning in 1908, Plank roomed with Eddie Collins for the next several years. They became good friends, often spending time together hunting and talking baseball each winter. Eddie was also close with Chief Bender. They spent much of the baseball season together in the clubhouse, on the bench and away from the park discussing baseball, more specifically pitching theories and opposing batters’ tendencies. Rube Bressler later talked about cozying up to Plank and Bender on the bench during his first season so he could learn the tricks of the game. He described Plank as approachable and helpful, the opposite of how most treated rookies.
On April 12, 1909 Plank pitched the opening game at the A’s new ball grounds Shibe Park, the game’s first concrete and steel stadium. Behind the plate that day was Doc Powers, Plank’s personal catcher of late. By the seventh inning, it was evident that something was wrong with Powers; he was slumped over in the dugout with violent pains. Blame was later attached to “an unusual effort to reach a ball (which) did some mysterious damage,” as he had crashed into the wall trying to catch a ball in foul territory. Other reports suggest he was hurt diving for a foul ball and still others lay blame on a sandwich he consumed during the game. There may have also been a preexisting injury. Whatever the cause, Powers spent the last two weeks of his life in the hospital, dying of bowel trouble on the 26th. On August 30, Plank became one of the few pitchers to steal home in modern history. The next day the Chicago Tribune commented that, “Plank was good enough yesterday to beat any club in the league.”
He finished the year with a 19-10 record and joined many of his teammates during a barnstorming tour in California. It was the west coast’s first look at the lefty. The Los Angeles Times declared on November 2, “The locals bumped into about the best off-side flinger in the big bush yesterday and he had them scared to death. The name of this bird is Plank and the funny thing about him is that he serves up what they think are wild pitches, but what really are fine ones right over the plate in almost every instance. The cross-fire delivery does it. The fellow Plank has about everything any heaver needs and in addition possesses the ability to make the batter believe the ball is a strike and has them swinging at the wide ones. No one ever did this before in this town and as he got away with it the locals never had a chance.”
The first A’s dynasty kicked off in 1910, as the team took the pennant each year through 1914, save 1912. In 1910, Philadelphia finished 14.5 games up on the second place New York Yankees. Plank contributed sixteen wins but developed a sore arm at the end of the year and didn’t pitch in the World Series. Chief Bender and Jack Coombs carried the club to a four games to one victory over the Chicago Cubs. Plank finished the year with 202 career regular-season victories, surpassing Jesse Tannehill as the all-time leader among lefthanded pitchers. Once again, Plank joined his teammates on a postseason tour, this one to Cuba.
In May 1911, Plank announced his intention to retire after the 1912 season “and back I go to the farm.” He was tired of the constant traveling, had invested his money well, including the 1910 World Series paycheck, and at age 35 was looking forward to a life after the game. He was still extremely effective on the mound, posting a 23-8 record to help the club to another pennant. In Game #2 of the World Series versus the New York Giants, he pitched a complete game to best Rube Marquard 3-1 and claimed his first postseason victory. The game saw Frank Baker hit one of his famous World Series dingers which would earn him the nickname “Home Run.” Plank appeared in relief in Game #5, entering the game in the tenth inning. He was saddled with the loss after giving up a game-winning sacrifice fly. Philadelphia pulled out the championship the next day.
Plank posted his best win-loss record in 1912. Baseball Magazine raved, “Plank…was at all times the star of the slabmen. Mathewson is a pitcher whose name is on everybody’s lips…but at the same time it is only right to remember that Plank entered the majors the same season as Matty, is five years older, and now, at an age when most pitchers have long since disappeared in the general direction of the minors, is as good as ever. Plank won, 26; lost, 6; grand average, .813, a truly remarkable record.” Plank was in fact the oldest starting pitcher in the game, about ten years older than the average hurler in the majors. The A’s didn’t fare as well, dropping to third place fifteen games out. Plank pitched a complete game on September 27, all 19 innings. He held Washington scoreless from the third through the eighteenth inning, but lost 5-4. Walter Johnson scored the winning run on a throwing error by Eddie Collins. The Chicago Tribune noted, “Plank…out-twirled both of his younger opponents; the majority of Washington’s runs being due to battery and fielding misplays.” Once again Plank and teammates headed to Cuba for a round of exhibition games after the season.
Beginning in 1913, Plank helped his brother Ira annually to whip the young pitchers into shape at Gettysburg College. Ira had recently been named coach, a position he would hold for decades. Eddie held out from the A’s at the beginning of the year, seriously considering retirement. Reports claimed that he had saved enough money and invested wisely to be worth more that $50,000, a considerable sum for the time. For example, in September 1914, Plank and teammate Jack Coombs purchased a two-story apartment house in Philadelphia. Plank finally did sign during spring training, becoming the highest paid member of the club. He went 18-10 and Philadelphia topped Washington by 6.5 games to take another pennant. In Game #2 of the World Series, he faced off against Christy Mathewson. There was no score after nine innings but Plank lost in the 10th, 3-0. Plank next took his turn on the mound for the fifth and final game of the series on October 11, pitted once again opposite Mathewson before 37,000 New York fans. The A’s went up by three runs after three innings and won 3-1. Plank pitched a two-hitter; the Giants’ only run was unearned. He faced a mere 29 batters and only twice pitched to more than three men in an inning. Per I. E. Sanborn of the Chicago Tribune, “Plank today crowned a career full of superlatives by pitching one of the most wonderful games of his long life, and was rewarded by a triumph over his ancient rival, Christy Mathewson, after a mighty battle.” Hugh S. Fullerton, writing for the New York Times, noted, “Plank used his deadly fast side arm ball, his fast overhand ball, and, occasionally, his curve…His fast cross-fire was what worried the Giants worst. He had then falling back from it and then crossing themselves.” Plank was hoisted onto the shoulders of his teammates and carried off the field.
Part 4 in three days
On 8 May 1901 Plank soundly defeated the Carlisle Indians 9-3, striking out sixteen along the way. Opposing Plank in relief that day was future A’s teammate Charles “Chief” Bender. A couple days after the game, Plank was contacted via telegram by Connie Mack, manager of the Philadelphia A’s of the American League. It was the league’s inaugural season as a major. Mack wanted Plank to meet him in Baltimore for a trial performance. Plank later said his “heart was almost leaping from behind (his) tongue” with the thought of a potential major league career. He hopped a train headed for Baltimore, arriving on May 12. The day before, he played right field for the college in a 5-5 tie with Carlisle. As if to say good luck and see you in the majors soon, Bender was there manning center field for the Indians.
Plank made his major league debut on Sunday the 13th, pitching in relief in a 14-5 loss to Joe McGinnity of the Orioles. He entered in the seventh inning, relieving Bock Baker who was also called in for the day. In a less formal and restrictive time, Plank was dressed in his Gettysburg uniform, “the gaudy stockings and jersey that form the chief glory of the baseball enthusiast of the famous battlefield town,” noted the Philadelphia Inquirer. He ceded three runs over two innings, two of them in the eighth amid a double and a triple.
The rest of his 32 appearances in 1901 would be as a starter. After the game Plank returned home and pitched for his college team on May 15 defeating Dickinson College in Carlisle, 4-2. Mack telegrammed again; this time requesting that Plank join his club permanently. On Friday, May 17 the Gettysburg students wished him well, as the Gettysburgian, the college newspaper, set the scene, “Eddie Plank received a royal sendoff Friday morning by the large assemblage of students at the Western Maryland depot to wish him success upon his departure for his new field of labor.”
There are a few stories about how Connie Mack came to hear of Eddie Plank. The first claims that Connie Mack, after getting a tip, sent a scout to watch Plank pitch on May 8. If that’s the case, the scout would have seen Chief Bender pitching as well that day. This story however didn’t develop until later years after both Plank and Bender proved themselves at the major league level. The second one claims that Morris Musselman was the link between Mack and Plank. Musselman was the team’s business manager and as such initially received the telegrams from Mack. Someone had to act as the intermediary as the Planks lived in the rural countryside far from a telegraph office. That’s probably the extent of Musselman’s involvement.
A more likely scenario comes from Frank Foreman; well, at least he made a researchable claim. Foreman joined the American League in 1901 when Mack and the other managers were scrambling for talent to fill their. He pitched one game for Boston on May 3 before being released on the 17th. Foreman claimed that he recommended Plank to Mack at the A’s hotel on May 8 or 9 when the A’s were in Boston for a two-game series. This lines up perfectly with Plank’s first telegram and departure from Gettysburg to join the A’s. Another tie-in shows that Foreman’s brother Brownie played for Mack when he was manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League in 1895 and ’96, so the men were probably well-acquainted.
Plank made his first major league start on May 18, a complete-game victory over Washington, 11-6. The Philadelphia Inquirer remarked, “A little ray of promise broke through Mack’s dense cloud of gloom on Saturday, when Plank, the Gettysburg College boy, let the Senators out for six hits.” He would make a habit of completing his games. In 529 career starts he finished 78% of them, 410.
From his second major league appearance onward, Plank drew national attention for his unique style of pitching. The Washington Post after the May 18 game noted, “Plank is not a wooden man. He twisted himself into all sorts of shapes yesterday and put them over the plate in such a manner that the locals could not negotiate many of them safely. He is the slowest man, with the possible exception of (Nig) Cuppy, on the diamond, but still he seems to get there, and that is the main requirement in a twirler.” Plank took so much time between pitches that the crowd started counting the time aloud in an effort to speed him up. With steady nerves, he kept his cool and casually worked at his own pace.
The Philadelphia Record summed up his approach, “Plank, the new college pitcher for the Athletics, was in the box today and the losing streak of his mates was broken. He had everything that was needed and kept steaming them over in the most approved style until the last man was out. For his first game he showed remarkable coolness. It looks as though he would do.” The Philadelphia Times commented, “That elongated Gettysburg boy, Plank by name, was on the rubber for the Quakers, and the way he twirled the ball, batted and fielded speaks volumes for his future. His movements on the rubber are rather slow, and the crowd got after him, counting off the number as he delivered each ball, but he kept his head in masterful style and made the Senators look like the proverbial thirty cents.”
Plank was a finesse pitcher who threw a variety of curve balls at varying speeds, mixing them up with a fastball and a change of pace. He’d throw anywhere from an over-the-top motion, to three-quarters or sidearm and even lower. His famed cross-fire pitch was thrown nearly underhand. Sometimes he’d step straight at the batter with his lead foot; at other times he’d step to his left, especially against lefthanders. Ty Cobb in Collier’s Magazine in July 1924 explained, “The greatest pitcher I ever saw was Eddie Plank. He had everything, but most of all, he had brains. He had a good drop, control, curves and he used to mix his fastball and drop and his curves and shoot them from three or four different positions…And after he lost his fastball, he stuck in the big leagues. How? He used to go out and practice by the hour until he developed a slow ball that was as good as any I’ve ever seen” By “drop” Cobb meant an overhand, 12-to-6-o’clock type curve which he differentiated from a sweeping or bending curve. A “slow ball” in today’s vernacular is a changeup. The Gettysburg Star and Sentinel noted at the end of Plank’s career that he threw a slow ball which “he occasionally varied with a slower ball, a wide slow curve and a fast one, straight over (the top), all of which he delivered with practically the same motion.”
Plank had no qualms about pitching inside to keep a batter honest. In fact, he was the career leader in hits batsmen until being surpassed by Walter Johnson in 1927. Plank still ranks second in the category and is only one of two lefthanders in the top fifteen. He pitched tight to both righthanded and lefthanded batters in an effort to move them off the plate and set up his next pitch.
His main strength was his control, few had better. As Connie Mack declared, he “was a pitcher who had combined a rare knowledge of his opponent’s weaknesses and had marvelous control.” Plank’s uniqueness as a pitcher lies in three areas – the cross-fire, his deliberateness on the mound and his refusal to show the batter the same look twice in an at bat. A lefthander, Plank at times stepped to the right side of the mound with his lead foot, something he called his “slant ball;” today, it’s identified as the cross-fire. It was thrown sidearm or even lower, potentially making it a submarine pitch. This was especially taxing to lefthanded batters as the ball seemed to come from the area of the second baseman, much more so than other lefthanded pitchers of the era. Ty Cobb, for one, found it troubling, as he declared, “Cross-fire was one of the most deceptive deliveries that I have ever seen.”
No one rushed Eddie Plank; he had the ability to block out all unwanted background noise. He delivered the ball at his pace, regardless of the hisses or catcalls from the fans, opponents or even the umpire. He varied this style according to the propensities of the batter, to throw them off balance. As Eddie Collins explained, “To some he would pitch without fussing. To others he would throw a ball only after the umpire warned him against delay.” Plank controlled the pace of the game when he was on the mound and everyone in the ballpark knew it. It was said that fans stayed away from the park on days that he pitch for fear of missing the last train home before dinner time. He was in no rush to give the batter what he wanted. As Collins, a man that played behind him at second base for seven seasons, put it, “Plank’s style of pitching was unique. To watch his preparations for delivering the ball amused us and aggravated opposing players beyond words. To get his feet properly placed was a task. Then came numerous poses, gyrations and other motions and a change of mind and he would start over. The umpires fussed, the players raved, but Eddie ignored them all. He pitched as he pleased – and won.”
He especially elongated his pre-pitch routine with runners in scoring position; he knew the batter was anxious to swing the bat which played right into Plank’s hands. He would rock back and forth on the mound, swipe at bugs, real or imaginary, clean his spikes, shake off the catcher numerous times, rub dirt on the baseball, adjust his belt, button and unbutton his jersey, reposition his hat, step on and off the rubber, rub his hair, ask for a new ball, and basically do anything to offset the batter’s concentration. Ty Cobb in his autobiography My Life in Baseball wrote, “My all-time left-handers are Eddie Plank and Lefty Grove…I batted against Plank something like 125 times and, believe me, he was tough. Gettysburg Eddie was a thin, fidgety type, an artist at exasperating hitters to the point of braining him. He’d fuss and stall on the mound, hitching his belt, pawing at the ground, fiddling around until you were all knotted up. The he’d whip that big curve in there. I hated to see Plank out there as much as any man I ever faced.” According to Cobb researcher Trent McCotter, Cobb actually had 210 at bats against Plank. He did well, placing 70 hits for a .333 batting average; fifty of the hits were mere singles though. Walter Johnson, Nap Lajoie, Home Run Baker and a slew of others listed Plank as one of their toughest pitchers to face, as well. From Plank’s perspective, he considered Tris Speaker his toughest out.
The point of all his antics on the mound was never to give the batter the same glimpse at his pitching motion and style. He’d mix up his delay tactics and change from three quarter motion to sidearm at will to keep the batter guessing. One of Plank’s lasting lessons he passed to his son and thus down to his grandson was to never give the batter the same look twice. Keep the man guessing and uncomfortable in the batter’s box.
Ty Cobb did point out a weakness in Plank’s game, claiming that he was poor at holding runners on base. Cobb seems to have a point. Of all the top pitchers he faced, Cobb stole more bases off Plank, 26, which is surprising since Plank was lefthanded and as such typically harder to steal on. From Plank’s point of view, he detested holding runners on, declaring “There are only so many pitches in this old arm, and I don’t believe in wasting them throwing to first base.” Instead, he would merely stare at the runner for an extended period of time. It was just another excuse to delay his delivery to the plate. As Greg Maddux has taught in modern times, a pitcher can be very successful by concentrating on the batter and virtually ignoring base runners.
The A’s were struggling when Plank entered the rotation in 1901. They were 5-13 through May 17 before his first start. Plank was 4-1 by the time the club returned home for the first time in a month, now with a respectable 16-19 record. The fans were appreciative from the first moment Plank took his place on a Philadelphia mound on June 8. The Philadelphia Record described the scene, “The major part of the applause was reserved for pitcher Plank, the Gettysburg collegian, who is credited with having turned the tide of hard luck. When he walked into the box to start the game cries of “Plank, Plank” went the roar and compelled the youngster to acknowledge the cheers by raising his cap.” He didn’t disappoint, defeating the Detroit Tigers 6-1. The Washington Post commented that “Plank was invincible,” giving up only four hits and striking out six without a walk. Detroit captain Doc Casey was likewise impressed, remarking about Plank’s “remarkable control of the ball and (he) is wonderfully steady.” Tiger manager George Stallings chimed in, “He has more speed than (Wiley) Piatt or any of the other lefthanders.” The next time out, on June 13, Plank tossed the franchise’s first shutout, a 6-0 blanking of Milwaukee – after three straight club defeats since his last start. In all, he won 17 games in 1901 against 13 defeats, not bad for a rookie pitcher during a season that statistically was dominated by the hitters. Connie Mack had found a new ace. After the season, Plank returned to the farm and even pitched a little for the McSherrystown club.
Part 3 in three days
Stewart Edward Plank, known as Eddie to the baseball public, was born on August 31, 1875 on his family’s farm located off Old Harrisburg Road in Straban Township, Pennsylvania, about four miles north of Gettysburg in Adams County. He was the fourth child of David Luther Plank and Martha E. McCreary Plank, both Adams County natives, married in 1870 at age 20. David took over his parent’s farm, valued at $7,000 in the 1870 U.S. Census, prior to the marriage. The farm was passed down from David’s mother’s family, the Weavers. David and Martha tended the farm as their major source of income into the twentieth century.
Eddie’s siblings included Mattie, born in 1871, Luther, born in 1872, Howard, born in 1874, Grace, born in 1880, and Ira, born in 1882. Like all farming families, the entire Plank clan helped out working the farm and tending to household duties. The plot contained 135 acres of which 120 were tillable. The farm’s output was diverse, yielding grain, fruits, vegetables and dairy. It also included the main residence, a large two-story log house, a barn and several other outbuildings. As one would surmise, there was plenty of work to be done on a daily basis including tending the crops and livestock and general maintenance and upkeep of the facilities. Eddie, a blue-eyed, brown-haired boy, lived on and worked the farm fulltime until he joined the Philadelphia A’s in 1901 at age 25, taking time out to attend classes and play baseball. On Sundays, the family attended a local Presbyterian church.
The Plank children attended the Good Intent country school, a one-room schoolhouse without electricity that was warmed only by a pot-bellied stove. Atop the building sat a bell which was used to call the children in the morning and after breaks. Adjoining the structure were two outhouses and a small shed for storing coal. The school was located only a short distance from the Plank home, just down a dirt road and over a creek, which was bridged by a foot log. The children attended classes sporadically depending on the daily or weekly requirements of the farm from one season to the next. As such, one child might have been further ahead or behind another of the same age. The stigma attached to this today was much less prevalent then, as all were in the same boat so to speak fulfilling work requirements. Typically, the teacher separated the children by ability. He or she would teach a lesson to one group, assign them a project and then move on the next group as the others were doing their assignment. Children from ages six to sixteen were taught in the same room.
Lessons were taught for much of Eddie’s time at Good Intent by Robert K. Major, a neighbor and close friend of the Plank family. As usual among farming neighbors, one family helped another work their farm at various times and intertwined their lives socially and perhaps economically. Major was a big baseball fan, which either sparked the Plank boys’ interest in such or merely fed their craving. All four Plank boys, Luther, Howard, Eddie and Ira, loved the game and played it extensively during their childhood. It’s been noted that the Hall of Fame Plank never picked up a ball until he was seventeen years old but that’s simply not the case. Baseball was roundly played by the boys in the schoolyard. Obviously, there was no formal Little League organization at the time but the brothers and their neighbors played and practiced when their chores were done. Actually, the Plank children were known to skip a few chores to meet friends for a quick contest before it became dark or simply to take breaks during the work day to toss the ball around. Luther, who lived to be nearly 100 years old into the 1970s, often told local Gettysburg residents stories about his ball playing youth and in particular that of Eddie who naturally drew the most interest in later years. Luther was his younger brother’s catcher and he often described what a chore on his hands it was to catch the rising star, as gloves weren’t widely used or available during the era, especially so in the countryside.
Eddie Plank melded baseball into his daily work routine. He could often be found throwing a ball, rock or another object into haystacks and at the barn. He was scolded by his father for marking up and busting the planks on barn door. Eddie developed his control by plucking out the knot holes in the wood with a rock and by similarly picking birds off fences. The Planks participated in baseball contests with neighbors throughout their youth. Around 1893, they formed an amateur nine and called it the Good Intent club, after their school. By then, Eddie was in his late teens and no longer attended classes.
The Good Intent club was managed by Robert Major who was in his mid thirties; he also played first base. The lineup included the three older Plank boys, Emory and Robert Cleveland, Reuben Lower, Major, a Morrison, a Hartzell, a Bream and other locals, all neighbors. The men varied in ages from their late teens, throughout their twenties and even into their mid-thirties as in the case of Major. Howard Plank played shortstop and Luther was a catcher. Ira was much younger than his brothers but he would later establish an impressive baseball career of his own. The ball club made their first appearance in Gettysburg newspapers in 1895 and started to garner regular press coverage by the following year.
Due mainly to the dominance of Eddie on the mound, the club became recognized as one of the area’s finest along with the two Gettysburg town teams and another from nearby McSherrystown. On August 9, 1896, Plank struck out 16 Gettysburg batters in a wild 10-9 loss that included 14 stolen bases by Gettysburg. Only seven of the 19 runs were deemed earned. It seems even as an amateur Eddie played little attention to base runners. Luther Plank worked at catcher that day and Howard at short.
The Good Intent club lasted through 1897, opposing such teams as Fairfield, Idaville, Arendtsville, Gettysburg town teams and Gettysburg College nines. The Good Intent field was located on the Plank farm or perhaps adjacent to it. One story passed down describes an opposing club’s pregame inquiry about Good Intent’s intended starter, as no one was warming up on the sidelines. One participant pointed at a farmer in the fields working and said that was their pitcher. Apparently, Eddie felt a little manual labor was enough to loosen up his pitching arm. In fact, as the Hanover Record noted, he was known to “unload two huge wagon loads of hay in the morning” prior to games.
From 1898 to 1900, Plank pitched regularly for the Gettysburg town team. At times, he also toed the rubber for McSherrystown. One story communicated to Eddie’s grandson, Eddie Plank III, tells of local baseball benefactor and enthusiast Morris Musselman whisking Eddie away to play for McSherrystown with little time to spare. Plank didn’t even have enough time to change out of his overalls. As a consequence, he was quickly dubbed “Farmer” Eddie Plank, a nickname that stuck for some time. Actually, Plank was a farmer first and a ballplayer second. As he would later clarify, baseball was something they did on Saturdays and holidays. Formal, organized sports wouldn’t have been permitted on Sundays when Plank was growing up. The farm was his first priority until he joined the Philadelphia Athletics in 1901.
On July 1, 1899, Plank fanned 20 McSherrystown batters. On the 13th, he fanned another 17 from McSherrystown during the second game for the championship of Adams County, but lost 4-3 in ten innings. On the 22nd, Plank topped the York Athletics in York with a 16-0 shutout, which included 16 strikeouts. On the 27th, he won the fourth game for the championship, 5-4, now tied two games apiece. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “The remarkable pitching by Plank, of Gettysburg, was again the wonder of the spectators.” McSherrystown claimed the championship in August.
The 1900 Gettysburg team was financed by local benefactors such as Musselman, a 27-year-old local druggist who also managed the club’s business affairs. If Eddie or any of the other players were compensated for their playing skills, it was kept a secret. The hat was passed at games among the crowd to defray costs, especially for the visiting team which would have incurred some travel expenses. A small sum was probably doled out to the players as well. Perhaps more money was involved at times, as longtime professional pitcher Frank Foreman was added to Gettysburg’s roster in August 1899 to strengthen the team during a series of games with rival McSherrystown. Foreman began in the majors fifteen years prior in 1884 in the Union Association, a one-year major league. He was still playing in the big leagues in 1896, posting a 14-7 record for Cincinnati. It was a coup for a small town team like Gettysburg to add a seasoned professional like Foreman, especially on the mound.
Over the winter of 1899-1900, Plank enrolled in the Preparatory Department of Gettysburg College (then known as Pennsylvania College), the equivalent of a high school, at age 24. It was his first formal schooling in perhaps seven or eight years. Often referred to as the Gettysburg Academy, the Preparatory Department has an interesting history. In 1810 what was to be called the Gettysburg Academy was chartered with a mixture of public and private funds. By 1815, a two-story, four-room building was erected for high school age students. It soon ran into financial difficulties and the structure was sold to and became the foundation of the Lutheran Theological Seminary, a college, in 1825. It quickly became apparent that many of the students enrolling at the seminary didn’t have the prerequisite knowledge needed to matriculate at that level, namely lacking familiarity with the Latin and Greek languages. Therefore, in 1827 the seminary established a preparatory department. In 1832 the seminary opened a sister school called Pennsylvania College. Today it is known as Gettysburg College. In 1900 the schools were still very small; only about 80 attended the Preparatory Department and about 200 were enrolled in the college at the turn of the century.
Unfortunately, the preparatory academic records no longer exist so Plank’s academic career cannot be qualified. However, Karen Dupell Drickamer, Director of Special Collections and College Archivist, assures that Plank would have most definitely attended classes as at that time the college was a Lutheran-sponsored entity and wouldn’t have permitted an individual to play ball for the college but not register and attend classes – even though the practice was permitted at other institutions. Eligibility rules being what they were during the era, Plank, though only registered in the Preparatory Department, was permitted to pitch for the varsity squad of the college proper.
In January 1900 the first reference of Plank as a member of the Gettysburg College nine appears. He was recruited by former Good Intent teammate William K. Dill who was the school’s coach in 1899 and who expected to do likewise in 1900. The following month though Dill was replaced by Frank Foreman, an experienced professional. Plank went 5-3 in nine games pitched in 1900 for the college. He struck out 70 against only 16 walks. When not on the mound, he occasionally played the outfield, mainly right field. Fellow students later recalled Plank’s demonstrations of knocking birds off fences with stones during his time at the school.
It seems that the college had two separate nines, also presenting a club from the preparatory school. Plank pitched for both clubs. The May 28 game versus the Chambersburg Academy shows a completely different roster than the regular college team except for Plank. Eddie lost that game 6-4.
After the college season, Plank was offered a position with the Richmond Blue Birds of the Virginia League. He joined the club in Richmond on June 11 after the college season but, unfortunately, the club folded on the 13th and Plank never did pitch for them. Thus, he never appeared in a minor league game before playing in the majors with the A’s in 1901. He returned home and received an offer from the Hamilton, Ontario, Canada club which had already signed Gettysburg College’s captain Harry Lantz. Plank wasn’t interested; instead, he pitched for the Gettysburg town team and McSherrystown during the summer. In the August 11 game versus McSherrystown, Plank played center field for Gettysburg while Foreman took a shellacking on the mound. Eddie relieved him in the ninth down nine runs but fared no better, ultimately losing 15-2.
Plank returned with the college club in 1901. He posted a 5-1 record in six games, striking out 51 against only seven base on balls. Again, he played right field when not pitching, batting .340. Among locals, he gained the nickname “Grim Reaper” because of his dominance on the mound while with the college nine. Also on the club in 1901 was future major league pitcher George Winter, who had played with Plank on the Gettysburg town team the previous summer. Winter and Plank alternated on the mound for the school. After joining the Athletics, Plank recommended Winter to Connie Mack but the manager passed on him because the righthander only weighed 133 pounds at the time. In April, Plank signed with Chester of the Pennsylvania State League promising to join them after the college season. It would never happen; he was be in the big leagues by then.
PART 2 in three days
The esteemed John Thorn, MLB’s official historian for good reason, recently penned (is anything actually penned anymore?) an article titled “The House that McGraw Built” – meaning the Yankee franchise. In contrast though, I see the franchise’s genesis as a product of Ban Johnson and Clark Griffith’s efforts.
John McGraw with all his bluster and vindictiveness was more an impediment to the development of the American League than an impetus. His “contribution” was more the destruction of the Baltimore franchise than the erection of one in New York City. Baltimore’s fair-haired friend in the end helped erase the city from major league maps for over a half a century. Similarly, he would consciously set out to destroy the fledgling club in New York.
The following multi-part article is pulled from my biography of Clark Griffith, examining the formation of the New York Highlander and Griffith’s near solo effort in running the franchise through its first half-decade.
Part 4 of 4
The Highlanders slipped to fifth place in 1907. Griffith, the pitcher, only entered four games all in relief. Before the season even started, it was evident that Clark was getting restless. He entered into a partnership with his old California buddies Joe Cantillon and Norris L. “Tip” O’Neill to buy a sheep ranch in Montana. The plan was to each put up about $7,000 as an initial stake. O’Neill, president of the Western League, would oversee the operation during the summer while the other two attended to their ball clubs. Clark was already successfully raising cattle but saw a bigger windfall in sheep. The idea never left the planning stages. In the fall, Griffith contemplated leaving baseball to breed horses full-time. He already had over a hundred on his ranch, and figured the enterprise would be much more lucrative than baseball. Perhaps the graying manager was looking to settle down at age 37 after twenty years in the game. Clark made even bigger plans in 1908; he wanted a ball club.
An interesting game took place in Chicago on May 26. Big Ed Walsh had a 4-1 lead in the fifth inning as rain began to fall. Griffith pulled starter Al Orth to delay the game, hoping for a rainout before the contest became official. Inserting himself on the mound, Clark took forever to warm up. It was pouring by then and umpire Jack Sheridan called for a delay. The ploy backfired on the Highlanders, as play resumed after only ten minutes. Griffith did his best to delay further, even allowing a ball to roll through his legs so the last out wouldn’t register. Sheridan threatened to forfeit the game to the White Sox but it actually lasted into the sixth inning. Walsh was immortalized with a rain shortened, five-inning no-hitter.
Griffith was ejected for excessive arguing by umpire Jack Sheridan on June 4. The Highlanders were crushed on June 12, 16-4, making eleven errors in the process, enough to make any manager irate. Griffith became absolutely livid when his hometown crowd began cheering for the Tigers and booing his men. While he was leaving the field after the game, Griffith encountered a local dry goods merchant, Mr. Frank, who was complementing the Tigers’ budding star Ty Cobb. Griffith clocked the man in the jaw and was chased to the clubhouse by the businessman’s friends. Frank threatened to swear out a warrant. In court Griffith declared self-defense and paid a fine.
The Highlanders lost 16-5 on June 28 in a game noted for sore-armed catcher Branch Rickey allowing thirteen Washington stolen bases. Washington manager Cantillon was sitting around a New York hotel on June 29 between games with Griffith’s club, when he received a phone call from Cliff Blankenship. Blankenship, the Nats’ backup catcher, was injured so Cantillon sent him on a scouting expedition to Weiser, Idaho. Cantillon learned of his newest acquisition, Walter Johnson, the man who brought Griffith his greatest riches and happiest moments in the game. Blankenship also signed Clyde Milan during the same trip. Griffith remained sore about the acquisition, until he became the Senators manager of course. His pitcher Bill Hogg received a telegram from a friend in Weiser about Johnson three weeks before Blankenship signed the pitcher. Hogg simply tossed it aside without any further thought.
The story illustrates just how time sensitive spotting budding talent was prior to the institution of the amateur free agent draft. Teams were often overwhelmed with tips on prospects. Senators’ executive Ben Minor received a favorable report on Johnson much earlier. It was just one of hundreds of casual tips he’d received over the years. He discarded the initial one. After several more communiqués on Johnson, he finally mentioned it to Cantillon. If Blankenship hadn’t been injured, there is no telling when the Senators might have gotten around to looking over the young ballplayer. This just goes to show how a little luck, a quick-response and having an experienced scouting staff can change a team’s fortunes. In this instance that club could very well have not been Washington.
Clark started having some personnel trouble in 1907; the men were grumbling, especially Kid Elberfeld. In part, they were disgruntled with the manager’s new policy against smoking cigarettes. Elberfeld was feuding all season with Wid Conroy, Jimmy Williams, Ira Thomas and Hal Chase. In July, Frank Farrell had enough and suspended Elberfeld for “indifferent play in the field and at bat.” The shortstop was pulling the same malaise routine he did with George Stallings in 1903 to force a trade. It didn’t work this time. Finally, Elberfeld apologized to Griffith and the team and was reinstated on August 15. The Highlanders sputtered all season, dropping to the second division with a 70-78 record. Off season rumors suggested that Griff’s days in New York were numbered, potentially being placed by Stallings or George Davis as manager of the franchise by Opening Day.
In December, Griff traipsed to Grand Island, Nebraska to talk Fred Glade into joining the Highlanders after acquiring the pitcher in a trade. Glade didn’t want to play for an east coast club, having grown up in rural Nebraska. Over the previous four years with the St. Louis Browns, he posted a 52-63 record, which may have been significantly better with a little more run support. Glade loved baseball but wasn’t financially dependent on it; his family owned a decades-old, profitable milling business…
Griff headed back to New York from his ranch in late January. Along the way he stopped in Chicago to make a trade and see his tailor. During spring workouts in Atlanta, Clark was rocked when he took the mound and never did enter a game during the regular season. On May 5, President Teddy Roosevelt received Griffith and his men at the White House. Roosevelt was never much of a baseball fan but the President talked of his youngest son, Quentin, who loved the game and played on a team with Secretary of War William Howard Taft’s son, Charlie. Clark grandly threw his support behind Roosevelt for a third term. Ten-year-old Quentin pitched a fit when he discovered that he missed meeting some of his baseball idols.
That same day, Griffith was suspended indefinitely for arguing with umpire Tommy Connolly on the 4th and failing to leave the park as told. Clark simply parked himself in the pavilion behind third base. On June 9, the Highlanders stood in fourth place a mere half game out of first. It fell apart and the team tanked, losing twelve of the next 13 games to end up in sixth place with a 24-32-record. After a 6-6-tie called for darkness on June 24 against the A‘s, Griffith summoned team owner Frank Farrell to the Majestic Hotel in Philadelphia. The manager resigned feeling discouraged over the losses and believing that a replacement might bring better luck to the boys. At least that’s what he told the press. To highlight his frustration, Griffith was ejected from his last game as the Yankees manager by umpire Rip Egan.
A host of problems were later unearthed between Farrell and Griffith. In truth, it is unclear whether the manager was actually fired or resigned or was forced to resign, possibly after a huge blowup. For one, Clark was unhappy with Farrell’s interference, particularly concerning the owner’s attempt to suspend pitcher Bill Hogg after a poor outing. Griffith was also being told which pitchers to start. Further frustrating the manager, Farrell and Devery were refusing to fund any new acquisitions. On the other hand, Farrell was irate over the recent losing skid and had been complaining about unsuccessful trades that Griffith made sending Jimmy Williams, Joe Yeager, Danny Hoffman and Hobe Ferris to St. Louis for Harry Niles, Fred Glade, Charlie Hemphill and Branch Rickey. Rumors also suggested that Kid Elberfeld was undermining the manager, which is wholly believable considering his disposition.
In reality the losing streak doomed the manager. Farrell and Devery decided that a change needed to be made. The above-mentioned trade also sorely stuck in the craw of the Highlander owners, especially since the Browns were riding atop the league at the time. St. Louis also had former Highlanders Jack Powell and Harry Howell, obtained in trades with Griffith, who were consistently winning for the club. The Highlander executives felt that Browns’ manager Jimmy McAleer was consistently getting the best of Griffith.
The owners wanted Willie Keeler to take over the club, but Keeler got wind of this idea. Not wanting the job and especially with the circumstances of replacing his friend Griffith, Keeler went to Philadelphia to hide out for a couple of days to avoid the situation. Farrell then contacted Ned Hanlon about taking over the club but after being turned down gave the job to Kid Elberfeld. Elberfeld proved a disaster; he didn’t have the temperament to run a club. He later admitted to consulting his wife on his starting rotation throughout the season. The club was demoralized under his leadership. First baseman Hal Chase, upset at not being chosen manager, jumped the club in September and returned home to California.
Clark made some off-the-cuff remarks about being done with baseball. He was exhausted. The Washington Post claimed that he was “a nervous wreck as a result of the Highlanders poor showing.” The Sporting Life summed up the situation, “Up to the time Clark Griffith became a manager he was a jovial fellow of good health. Today he is a nervous wreck.” He considered a trip out west to a resort in Wisconsin to fish and recuperate. Instead, he stayed close to the game, joining Joe Cantillon in Philadelphia to watch a Nationals-Athletics contest and rest for a few days. He didn’t stand pat for long. Within a week he was negotiating to purchase the Birmingham Barons of the Southern Association for $30,000. That didn’t pan out but Griffith kept looking. August rumors had him managing the St. Louis Cardinals or perhaps the Washington Nationals. He even talked about forming a whole new baseball league, one in his estimation that would rock the baseball world. His plan called for a group of midwestern clubs with the possibility of an eastern presence like Pittsburgh. This didn’t come to fruition either.
Clark hooked up with Reds’ president Garry Herrmann at the World Series and spent much of October in Cincinnati. Rumors naturally circulated that he would soon take over the team, irking John Ganzel who was recently given the job. The idea of Griffith returning to the National League was a shocker. Seemingly just a few years ago, he was the man leading the charge away from the established league. Griffith initially turned down the Cincinnati job. At the time the minors were in a dispute with the majors and there looked like a possible secession was in the making. He wanted to see how things would play out, possibly easing his way into club ownership, either in the minors or in the show.
At the end of October, Griff headed to his ranch to prepare some cattle for transport for sale in Chicago. The cattle reached Chicago on November 13. Clark and his brother Earl handled the business transactions over the next week. At the time, Herrmann was relentlessly trying to ink Griff to a deal to manage his club. On November 18, Griffith tersely wired Herrmann from Buffalo that, “You better cut me out as am not ready to talk business.” Clark rethought the wording of the telegram and immediately fired off another stating, “I just wired you that you better cut me out of the Cincinnati proposition. I did not do this because I have signed with anyone else but because I am undecided what to do and I think it is up to me to tell you where I stand.”
Undeterred, Herrmann contacted Ban Johnson and requested that he intercede on his behalf in the negotiations with Griffith. Johnson immediately wired Griffith in Buffalo, advising him to take the Reds’ offer. Johnson claimed that he was mystified why Griffith hadn’t accepted the offer, but expected him to eventually sign. The reason for Clark’s hesitation was soon evident; he was negotiating to take over a minor league franchise.
Clark hooked up with minor league owner George Tebeau and Joseph O’Brien, president of the American Association, in November. Rumors suggested that Tebeau was planning to sell Griffith his Kansas City franchise for $25,000 and perhaps his Louisville one as well for $35,000. Tebeau, in turn, was also looking to purchase the Buffalo franchise in the Eastern League. The fact that O’Brien was in the mix suggested a deeper plan in the works. Baseball men wonder if the trio was perhaps plotting the introduction of a third major league. Clark wanted his own club since the formation of the American League. It wasn’t to be; the National Association settled its dispute on December 10.
After months of haggling, Clark was finally cornered by Cincinnati official Max Fleischman. As a result, he signed with Herrmann on December 11 to manage the Reds. The Old Fox was headed back to the National League. John McGraw and others happily welcomed him back into the league.
 The Highlanders’ only run occurred in the first inning after Walsh walked Kid Elberfeld and Hal Chase. Two wild pitches later, Elberfeld scored.
 After that, Griffith started talking about making an outfielder out of Rickey. Sporting Life, July 27, 1907
 Frank H. Young, “The Ivory Hunters of Baseball,” Washington Post, June 2, 1929, p. SM3
 Terry Simpkins, “Kid Elberfeld” entry in Deadball Stars of the American League, 2006
 “Griffith Resigns Job,” Washington Post, June 25, 1908, p. 8
 Sporting Life, July 4, 1908, p. 11
 “Team is Home Again,” Washington Post, July 2, 1908, p. 8
 “Current Notes picked up from Sporting Arena,” Washington Post, August 23, 1908, p. S3
 Western Union telegram dated November 18, 1908 found in Griffith’s Hall of Fame file
 Western Union telegram dated November 18, 1908 found in Griffith’s Hall of Fame file
 Letter from Ban Johnson to Garry Herrmann dated November 18, 1908 found in Griffith’s Hall of Fame file
 “Talk of New League,” Washington Post, November 25, 1908, p. 8