A Stones Throw

By Mike Cooney

A Baseball Quiz: Who was the oldest position player (non-pitcher) to start a major league baseball game?

The Answer:
In 2005 forty seven year old Julio Franco started games at first base for the Atlanta Braves.
Impressed? Good – but that isn’t what, or who, this column is about.
 
Second question: Who was the second oldest position player to start a major league baseball game?

Need a hint? He played many games with and against Vevay town baseball teams. He played town ball for Osgood, Versailles and Cedar Creek and he played games next to the Patriot Jail. He was born and raised in Osgood – actually in the country, but Osgood is the “big town”. He played in towns like Columbus, Ohio, Indianapolis, Springfield, Illinois and in Toledo, Ohio.  And he played in both the minor and major leagues.

He played for the New York Giants, the St. Louis Browns, and the Boston Red Sox. The Cincinnati Reds tried to trade for him but the New York Giants wouldn’t let him go.

Need more hints? He is probably best known as one of the better major league baseball players to join the rebel Federal League in 1914. The starting catcher for the St. Louis Terriers, Grover Hartley was instrumental in recruiting other major league players to the league. Hartley played in 569 major league games during 14 seasons.

He was a catcher who started games at first base, second base, third base, shortstop and center field. He was a coach and later owned a minor league baseball team and is still fondly remembered as a minor league manager. He was combative, competitive and  Grover Hartley was the second oldest non-pitcher to ever start a major league baseball game.
 
But he wasn’t the first major league baseball player from Osgood Indiana.

The first was Tex Pruiett, a pitcher for the 1907 Americans and the1908 Red Sox. Pruiett had a record of 4 wins and 18 losses. Not much to brag about. But he was a major league pitcher and he was from Osgood, Indiana.

Which got me thinking. Who was the first player from Switzerland County to play in the major leagues? Who was the last?

Both questions have easy answers. Even though in the early 1900’s Vevay had a town baseball team that played the best teams around including the Cincinnati Reds - there has never been a player from Switzerland County who has made the big leagues.

There have been players from Lawrenceburg (George Boehler – 1912-1926), Moores Hill (Walt Justice – 1905), and three from Madison (Dutch Distel – 1918; Larry Ray – 1982; and Tommy Thevenow – 1924-1938). There were three more from Aurora, including Kirtley Baker who played 10 years from 1890 to 1899. Others from Aurora were Red Downey – 1909 and Bill Brandt 1941 – 1943.

But never a player from Vevay. Or from Patriot. Or East Enterprise. Or even Quarcus Grove.
 
There used to be a town baseball team in each of these towns and they were good. Players came from surrounding counties to play for and against the towns of Vevay and Patriot. The players and teams were good and area teams were good enough to develop ten major league baseball players.

Unfortunately most were developed in the early 1900’s nearly one hundred years ago. Back in the early 1900’s you could always find a town team baseball game to watch. Some teams had 10 or 11 players while others had as many as 30 players. Some had regular players others had “ringers” but they all played baseball.

When was the last town team baseball game played in Switzerland County, Ripley County or Dearborn County? Isn’t it a little sad that we start our children playing “tee-ball” at 4 years old? Then we go to coach’s pitch, then little league but then comes burnout.

At the time when our young men and women should be honing their baseball skills they are home watching Texas “Hold-um” poker on television.

They burnout before it’s time for town team baseball. (Of course there aren’t any town team baseball teams to play for anyway.)

It seems strange that when we didn’t organize our children to play baseball, they organized themselves. When we didn’t force our children to play they just played for fun. When we didn’t have “little league mothers and fathers” pushing and goading, demanding and prodding, and yes, supporting and encouraging, we had kids staying out past dark playing baseball not just “hanging around.”

Kids could pick their teams and each day was a different team. They could find older baseball players to look up to. They knew they could play with their heroes if they were good enough and their heroes would help them. Sometimes they might even be invited to play with the local town team when one of its regular players didn’t show up.

They didn’t have baseball bat bags with three kinds of bats. They didn’t have baseball shoes and tee-shirt uniforms. They didn’t have schedules and practices that didn’t count. But they did have heart and they did have fun. They played baseball through their teens, into their twenties and often times for decades beyond. They represented their town and themselves.

Today it seems when little league is done so is baseball. Kind of sad isn’t it?

Oh – I forgot to tell you – Grover Hartley from Osgood, Indiana was a coach for the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals when he made an “emergency” start at catcher at the age of 46. – Mike Cooney
 
 
 
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