Sunday Frivolities

Cobb didn’t make a lot friends.

A while back when I started this Sunday rotation, I mentioned a bunch of players who only had a “cup of coffee” in the majors. Usually, these guys are players that have spent substantial time in the minors looking for an opportunity. In the comments of that post, Kevin, over at DMB World Series Replay, made the mention that Allan Travers was a future priest who was recruited to play a game in which the Detroit Tigers protested a Ty Cobb suspension. I looked it up and planned to do it last week because the timing (you’ll see) was more appropriate, but due to a 21st birthday the night before, watching the Braves game, and getting a call to go watch a Bats game, I had no time to post last Sunday, which I deeply regret because I like Sundays. Anyway, on to Allan Travers’ unique story.

On May 15, 1912, the Detroit Tigers visited the New York Yankees, and as Yankee fans are want to do, they heckled the Tigers but took particular pleasure in jabbing Ty Cobb. If you know anything about Cobb, you know he’s a man with a short temper. Apparently, Claude Leuker didn’t get the message, and he called Cobb a “half n*****”. Enraged, Cobb ran into the stands and began wailing on Leuker. Oh, and one more thing about Leuker — he lost a hand in a factory accident and only had three fingers on the other. Cobb, disregarding other fans’ pleas, shouted, “I don’t care if he has no feet!”

(What the fans actually did is unclear, but you would think that hundreds could have kept Cobb away from Leuker, or maybe they thought Leuker deserved it. I’m not really sure)

In response to Cobb’s outburst, American League President Ban Johnson suspended Cobb indefinitely on May 18th, and the Tiger players (all of them) decided to protest. Remember, fights and the like were common in those days, but I’m still not entirely sure why they objected other than that Cobb was their best player and they just accepted his behavior (maybe even thought it was an appropriate response to Leuker’s abuse). Without a team, Johnson told owner Frank Navin that he would be fined $5,000 for every game in which he did not have a team. Navin, then, told manager Hughie Jennings to field a team. Making matters worse, the Tigers were in Philadelphia.

Jennings went around Philadelphia that day, searching for enough players to field a team. On a street corner (reportedly), he found Travers playing a violin. Travers had never played a game of baseball in his life, failed to make the varsity team at St. Joseph’s College, and had never pitched. He was just the manager for the baseball team. However, he and Jennings found some other players, and the game went on.

Travers may or may not have wished that it had. Throwing slow curves to try to keep the Philadelphia Athletics off balance, Travers was rocked. Going all nine innings because there were no replacements (I mean, they had an equipment manager pitching, so there was no one else), Travers gave up 26 hits and 24 runs (14 earned). In addition, he walked 7 and struck out 1. The Tigers would go on to lose the game 24-2. Travers’ ERA was 15.75 (unjustifiably good for how bad he probably pitched) and his WHIP was 4.125. ERA+? 21.

After what was embarassingly called a game, Johnson met with the striking Tiger players and told them they would be banned from baseball if they continued their strike. Knowing it wasn’t worth it, Cobb told them it was okay, and they returned to action. All but one of the replacement players’ careers died that night. Billy Maharg would play a game for the 1916 Philadelphia Phillies, but he was most known for his involvement in the Black Sox scandal. In addition to the eight St. Joseph’s players, Jennings and two other 40-year olds played in the game, including Deacon McGuire who added to his assist record for catchers.

Travers would leave his baseball career behind to fulfill his vocation of becoming a priest. He entered into the Jesuit order and was ordained a priest in 1926. For many years, he refused to talk about his one day in the majors. I can understand why — he set the modern major-league record for most runs and hits given up in one game.

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5 Responses to “Sunday Frivolities”

  1. Kevin Says:

    I was wondering if you were going to post something about Mr Travers.

    Several years after pitching in this game he became Father Aloysius S. Travers, so far, the only Catholic priest to appear in a major league game.

  2. Ian Says:

    I recently read Cobb’s autobiography (the original he co-wrote with Al Stump), and he claims that his teammates were the ones who told him to confront Leuker, because his heckling was especially vile.

    If Cobb’s side of the story is to be believed, his teammates did indeed protest because they believed his actions were justified.

  3. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    Interesting. I did not know that. But did they ask him to “confront” him or beat him? But that at least makes sense of why his teammates protested.

  4. Ian Says:

    Well, I don’t have the book with me, since I got it from the library, but here’s what I remember: Apparently, Leuker spent the entire game showering Cobb with invective. Cobb tried to get the ushers to remove Leuker from the stands, but they refused. Some of Cobb’s teammates told him that no self-respecting man would take that kind of abuse, so he made Leuker shut up the only way he knew how. Based on that, it sounds to me like his teammates thought Leuker had it coming.

  5. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    Fair enough.

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