July 17th, 2014

Phantom Ballplayers

Cliff Kachline

Cliff Kachline

While at the recent All-Star Game in Minneapolis I had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with Ron Roth, longtime official scorer of the Cincinnati Reds. Swapping stories in the hotel lobby I recalled a couple that seemed particularly apt for a man of his calling. There was the one that Fred Lieb used to tell about how Ty Cobb achieved his third and final .400 batting average via an overturned call (read, if you have not already, his wonderful book, Baseball as I Have Known It: http://goo.gl/NqxZyH). And I recalled the story of “Proctor,” a Western Union telegrapher who inserted his own name into a 1912 box score and for eighty years thereafter was immortalized in the baseball encyclopedias. The man who told me that tale was Cliff Kachline, historian at the Baseball Hall of Fame and afterward executive director of the Society for American Baseball Research. Upon my return home I dug up the fascinating article on baseball’s phantoms, as they came to be called, that Cliff contributed to the first edition of Total Baseball in 1989 and was included in several subsequent editions. Here it is, through the 1993 season. It is a model of baseball research.

Phantom Ballplayers

Clifford S. Kachline

Garbage in, garbage out is an expression that gained currency with the advent of the computer age. The logic behind the catch phrase, however, prevailed long before the electronic marvels came into being. Baseball, in fact, has had its own version of the maxim almost since the game’s earliest days, largely as a consequence of record keepers who sometimes unwittingly entered erroneous data into the record books.

Numerous examples of the garbage in, garbage out principle have been discovered in baseball’s statistical archives through the years. But statistics aren’t the only area where the phenomenon has shown up. Another involves what researchers of the sport refer to as “phantoms”–players credited with having performed in the major leagues but who in reality never did appear in a big league game.

Phantoms are hardly a recent phenomenon. They have existed almost as long as box scores have been published. Some were the product of misunderstandings by–or misinformation given to–official scorers or the parties who compiled the boxscores. A few of these crept into the leagues’ official records. Others were created by mistakes on the part of telegraph operators or by typographical errors and appeared only in newspaper boxscores.

Little if any attention was paid to the situation until the 1950s. The original edition of The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball, published by A.S. Barnes and Co. in 1951, provided fans for the first time with a supposedly complete alphabetical tabulation of every man who ever played in the majors, together with his basic yearly big league stats. The publication stimulated the interest of the sport’s researchers. When editors Hy Turkin and S.C. Thompson deleted the names of some players–most of whom were previously shown as having a one-game career–from subsequent revised editions, the matter of phantoms started to become a source of fascination.

Who really were the “impostors” that were listed in earlier editions? What had prompted the editors to include them in the first place? And what evidence had been found to prove conclusively that they never played in the big leagues?

The introduction of The Baseball Encyclopedia by the Macmillan Publishing Company in 1969 focused additional attention on the subject. In compiling data for that publication, David Neft and his crew of Information Concepts, Inc. researchers continued the process of purging phantoms from the records. Since then, further investigation by Neft, Pete Palmer, Bill Haber, Al Kermisch, and others has led to the expunging of several more players.

In many instances confirming the status of a phantom was a complicated chore. The task sometimes was made more difficult because the player’s name was included in the official league statistics. In other cases, especially those involving nineteenth-century performers, the fact that official league records no longer exist compounded the problem because it made it impossible to determine who was credited by the official scorer and/or league statistician with appearing in the game or games in question. (The American League’s official game-by-game player sheets of 1901-1904 reportedly were destroyed by fire decades ago, while the official National League data also vanished for the pre-1902 period except for the 1899 season.)

An example of a phantom who appears in the league records is Albert W. Olsen. For thirty-five years he was carried in the encyclopedias and shown as participating in one game–as a pinch hitter–for the Boston Red Sox in 1943. Olsen did train with the Red Sox that spring, but he was shipped to San Diego of the Pacific Coast League before opening day and spent the entire season in the minors. In addition, it was his exploits as a lefthanded pitcher, not as a hitter, that originally attracted the Red Sox.

Leon Culberson

Leon Culberson

Nevertheless, American League records list Olsen as playing for Boston in a game in Chicago on May 16, 1943. Newspaper box scores credited him with drawing a walk while batting for pitcher Dick Newsome and subsequently stealing a base. However, research has confirmed that the Red Sox pinch-hitter on that occasion definitely was not Olsen. Instead, it may have been outfielder Leon Culberson, who had just been called up from Louisville of the American Association, or possibly another Boston rookie outfielder, Johnny Lazor.

And why is there still uncertainty as to who the pinch-hitter really was? How could this mistake have occurred? First off, the exchange of roster data among major league teams during that period was quite limited. Consequently scorecards often contained the same player names and uniform numbers for the visiting team, especially early in the season, as the team listed in spring training. For example, the scorecard for a Red Sox-Senators game in Washington approximately a week before the incident in question showed Olsen on Boston’s roster with uniform number 14, even though he was pitching for San Diego. Second, it’s unlikely there were phone lines from the press box to the dugouts in those days, and in the absence of being able to call down to check on the identity of a player, the media and official scorers relied on outdated roster information.

Several years ago researchers felt they had cleared up the Olsen mystery upon discovering that one Boston newspaper identified the pinch-hitter as “Culbeson.” This seemed to settle the matter. After all, Culberson had joined the team that day and was installed as the Red Sox’ leadoff batter in the second half of the afternoon doubleheader, collecting a single and triple in five at-bats. But the mystery was revived when Ed Walton, a Red Sox historian, discussed the situation with Culberson at a Red Sox Old Timers affair in 1986. According to Walton, Culberson contended he did not pinch-hit in the twin-bill opener, but rather made his debut in the second game. He added that manager Joe Cronin said he wanted the young newcomer to sit beside him (Cronin) through the first game to get a feel of the big leagues. However, the records reveal Cronin played third base during the entire first game. All of which raises the questions: Was Culberson’s memory playing tricks on him and was he indeed the pinch-hitter listed as Olsen? Or was it Lazor, who is shown as wearing uniform number 14 later in the year but who was batting a mere .136 (3 for 22) at the time? Because the passage of time makes memories hazy and also because the incident was of no particular significance, the mystery may never be solved. [Today, more than twenty years later, the game is credited to Lazor.]

A manager’s pique led to a phantom known as J.A. Costello getting into the early encyclopedias. Curiously, the incident also took place in Chicago  and likewise involved a player’s big league debut. It occurred in the morning half of a holiday bill between Cleveland and the White Sox on July 4, 1912. Late in the contest, Indians’ Manager Harry Davis, still burning over an umpire’s decision, sent the newcomer into the game to replace center fielder Joe Birmingham and instructed him to announce himself to umpire Gene Hart as “Costello.”

In reality, the player was Kenneth Nash, who had only recently joined Cleveland from Boston University law school. He subsequently appeared in ten additional games with Cleveland that season under his correct surname, mostly as a shortstop, and then played with the St. Louis Cardinals for part of 1914. Nash later became a prominent state representative, state senator, and judge in his home state of Massachusetts.

Reddy Grey, Rochester 1901

Reddy Grey, Rochester 1901

The 1903 official National League records contain a phantom who long baffled researchers. Among the Pittsburgh player sheets is one headed “George Gray” with entries for two games as an outfielder–on May 28 and May 31. Four years earlier the Pirates had a pitcher named George “Chummy” Gray, and it’s possible the scorer or league statistician remembered him while filling in the player’s first name. When the first official encyclopedia appeared in 1951, the player was identified as William (rather than George) Gray, a native of Pittsburgh.

It turns out that the two George (or William) Gray entries properly belonged to not one, but two different players. The Pirates’ left fielder in the May 28 game really was Romer Carl “Reddy” Grey, younger brother of novelist Zane Grey. He had been obtained on loan from the Worcester club of the Eastern League to fill in that afternoon in the final game of a series in Boston.

On the other hand, while box scores in Cincinnati newspapers listed the Pittsburgh left fielder for the May 31 game in Cincinnati as “Gray,” the player actually was Ernest Diehl, a Cincinnati sandlotter who had been recruited by the injury-riddled Pirates. The game represented Diehl’s first appearance in the major leagues and his only game that season, but he played twelve more games with Pittsburgh the following year. It should be noted that ever since the original Turkin/Thompson tome, the encyclopedias have credited Diehl with playing one game with Pittsburgh in 1903, but until recent years they also carried William Gray with two games.

A majority of baseball’s phantoms were the product of typographical errors–instances where a linotypist or a typesetter mistakenly included one or more incorrect letters in a name, or where a printer inserted a correction line in the wrong place. In compiling data for the encyclopedias, the authors/researchers relied not only on the so-called official league records but also combed box scores published in The Sporting News, Sporting Life, The New York Clipper, and various local newspapers. In the process they occasionally came upon what appeared to be a previously unlisted “new” player who, in the final analysis, proved to be someone else. Even today, misspellings of this type in newspapers can cause great befuddlement.

A classic illustration of a phantom who was created by a typographical error is the player carried in the early encyclopedias as John P. Morgan. He was listed as appearing in one game as a third baseman with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1916. A study of A’s box scores for the season disclosed the source of the mix-up: It was The Sporting News‘s box score of the August 3 game at Cleveland. (Sporting Life had dropped box scores by this time.) The Philadelphia half of TSN’s box has “Morgan, 2b,” while on the same line in Cleveland’s half is “Gandil, lb.”

Careful examination reveals the Morgan/Gandil type slug was a correction line that the printer inserted in the wrong place. It was intended for the Washington-at-Cleveland box score of the previous day (August 2) in which the Senators’ second baseman, Harry Morgan, appeared on the same line as Chick Gandil and contained the identical AB-H-PO-A-E figures given for each player in the misaligned August 2 line.

This explanation may well leave you, the reader, with several questions, to wit: (1) Who did play third for the A’s that day, and was he properly credited in the official records? (2) Why did the encyclopedia compilers show Morgan as a third baseman instead of a second baseman? (3) How did they come up with “John P.” for the impostor’s name?

The answers are: (1) Lee McElwee and, yes, he was credited with this game; (2) because veteran Nap Lajoie played the entire game at his usual second base position for the A’s, the researcher who made this “discovery” apparently assumed it should have read “Morgan, 3b” rather than “2b”; (3) an infielder named John P. Morgan was active in the minor leagues that season, and the encyclopedia editors probably figured the A’s had given him a trial. Numerous other phantoms were similarly tagged with the first names of then-current minor leaguers.

Fred Carisch

Fred Carisch

Typos involving misspelled names led to a number of one-game phantoms. Two examples will serve to demonstrate the point [see table below for a full listing]. They are John H. Carlock (1912, Cleveland) and a player listed simply as Deniens (no first name given) with the 1914 Chicago Federals. Sporting Life had “Carlock, ph” for Cleveland in an August 24, 1912, game at Boston, but Cleveland newspapers and The Sporting News reported the pinch-hitter was Fred Carisch, a reserve catcher with the Indians. Official AL records also credit Carisch with that appearance. “Deniens, c” turned out to be Clem Clemens, a catcher in thirteen games with the 1914 ChiFeds. One can readily visualize how handwritten names “Carisch” and “Clemens” could have been misinterpreted by a telegrapher or linotypist for “Carlock” and “Deniens.”

The origins of some other phantoms are more mysterious. Take the case of Lou Proctor. The encyclopedias credited him with one appearance with the 1912 St. Louis Browns. The Sporting News and Sporting Life, which may have obtained their box scores from the same source, show “Proctor, ph” and “Procter, pi,” respectively, in a May 13 game at Boston. However, a Boston newspaper referred to the pinch hitter as Albert “Pete” Compton, an outfielder with the Browns that season (whose real first name was, of all things, Anna). While AL records contain no reference to Proctor, they unfortunately also fail to include the May 13 appearance among Compton’s 103 games. Rumor has it that Proctor was a prankish Western Union telegrapher who inserted his own name as a pinch hitter.

The presence on one team of two players with the same or similar surname can lead to problems. The Washington Senators figured in three such mixups. Ironically, in one instance research by Kermisch has established that a player long labeled a phantom was, in fact, “the real McCoy.” The player in question was Charles C. Conway. In 1911 the Senators had both Conway, a rookie outfielder up from Youngstown (Ohio-Pennsylvania League), and William “Wid” Conroy, veteran infielder-outfielder, on their spring roster. When the season began, Conroy was idled by a stone bruise of the foot. Meantime, Conway appeared in two games during opening week, finishing up in right field on April 15 and starting at that position three days later, before the Senators returned him to Youngstown. Unfortunately, Sporting Life and The Sporting News each showed “Conroy” as the replacement in the first contest, but both had “Conway, rf” in their April 18 box score. Although the early encyclopedias listed Conway and credited him with playing two games, the Macmillan compilers dropped his name 20 years ago [in 1969] on the erroneous premise that it was the veteran Conroy who participated in the April 15-18 games. Actually, Conroy didn’t make the first of his 106 appearances that year until April 27.

An equally confusing puzzle centered on a 1914 Washington pitcher known as Barron or Barton. The early encyclopedias carried both John J. Barron (later changed to Frank John Barron) and Carroll R. “Buck” Barton and credited each with pitching in one game for the ’14 Senators. Actually only one pitcher was involved (and just one appearance), but which pitcher was it? Player contract data of the period reveal that Washington signed Carroll R. Barton in 1913 and retained rights to him while he pitched for Newport News (Virginia League) that season and again in 1914. During the same two years John J. Barron was pitching in the New England League. To complicate matters further, Washington signed Frank J. Barron in 1914 and shipped him to Newport News, where he became a teammate of Barton. While Barron posted a dismal 1-3 record, Barton was a 16-game winner that year.

Charles C. Conway, Washington 1911

Charles C. Conway, Washington 1911

So who was the 1914 Washington pitcher? The American League player records contain an entry headed “Barron” with data for an August 18 game, and box scores of the contest likewise have “Barron” pitching one inning–the ninth–for the Senators against the visiting St. Louis Browns. The player’s correct identity was confirmed when, shortly before his death in 1964, Frank Barron disclosed in an interview that while still studying for his law degree at West Virginia University he was signed by Clark Griffith in 1914, was assigned to Newport News and later pitched one inning for Washington before resuming his law studies.

The third Washington mix-up relates to a 1944 player identified in the encyclopedias as Armando Viera Valdes. Official AL records contain a sheet for Armand (without the final “o”) Valdes and note that he made a pinch-hitting appearance for the Senators in a May 3 game at Boston, but Richard Topp’s research has disclosed that the pinch hitter was Rogelio “Roy” Valdes, a fellow Cuban but no relative of Armando. With many major leaguers lost to military service in 1944, scout Joe Cambria lined up several Cubans to fill voids on the Senators’ roster. Early in the year he signed an outfielder who was listed in the 1944 American League Red Book as Armand (without the “o”) Valdes. Several weeks thereafter–too late for inclusion in the Red Book–Cambria signed Rogelio Valdes, a catcher. Both spent the early weeks of the season with Washington (each was later optioned to Williamsport of the Eastern League), and presumably the official scorer and/or league statistician picked up the incorrect first name from the Senator roster in the AL Red Book.

As in the case of Charles Conway, another player once regarded as a phantom has turned out to be a legitimate athlete after all. The Turkin-Thompson tomes listed him as William Krouse, a second baseman in one game with Cincinnati in 1901. Compilers of the Macmillan encyclopedia decided he was an impostor and dropped him, crediting his appearance to Bill Fox, the Reds’ regular keystoner. However, research has revealed that the “Krouse, 2b” for Cincinnati in the July 27, 1901 game at Chicago was a recently released minor leaguer whose correct name was Charles “Famous” Krause. Krause, who was on his way home to Detroit at the time, was given a chance with the Reds because Fox was sidelined with a split finger, but the newcomer performed so poorly that he was dumped after that one appearance.

Recent research has revealed that one player long listed as a phantom–Ivan Bigler, who was shown in one box score at first base with the 1917 St. Louis Browns when George Sisler actually played there that day–really did make an appearance with the Browns as a pinch runner on May 6 that season, and thus he’s been restored to the all-time list of major leaguers.

The accompanying table lists the phantoms who have been eliminated from the all-time roster of major league players since the first Turkin/Thompson Official Encyclopedia of 1951. In the absence of an official clearinghouse for such data, no claim is made that the list is complete. Where it is available, brief information on the reason for the deletion of the player is given. Unfortunately, documentation by Turkin/Thompson and the ICI group that
compiled the 1969 Baseball Encyclopedia disappeared years ago.

With today’s sophisticated technology and record-keeping procedures, the margin for error in the identification of players–and in the official statistics–has been reduced considerably. Still, a slipup that occurred in the 1984 official American League averages (Alvaro Espinoza was omitted completely, even though he appeared in one game with Minnesota) emphasizes that mistakes still are possible.

A factor that poses the potential for error is the increasing frequency in recent years of teams having two or more players with an identical surname–and who often perform at the same position. In 1992 and 1993, for instance, the Los Angeles pitching staff included brothers Ramon and Pedro J. Martinez as well as Kip and Kevin Gross, who are not related. Meantime, San Diego unveiled pitcher Pedro A. Martinez in ’93. Following that season, the Dodgers swapped Pedro J. Martinez to Montreal, where he succeeded another Martinez–Dennis–on the Expos’ pitching staff when the latter signed with Cleveland as a free agent. But lo and behold, the situation was further muddied in 1994 when San Diego added a second pitching Martinez–Jose. This meant there were five Martinezes pitching in the majors at the same time, including Pedro J. with Montreal and Pedro A. with San Diego.

Besides the Dodgers, four other teams had a pair of pitchers of the same surname in 1993. They were: Houston–Todd and Doug Jones; Philadelphia–Mitch and Mike Williams; Cleveland–Matt and Curt Young; and San Diego–Gene and Greg W. Harris (not to be confused with Boston pitcher Greg A. Harris). In addition, Philadelphia also had Tommy Greene and Tyler Green on its staff at one point.

To add to the confusion, the Phillies swapped relief ace Mitch Williams to Houston after the ’93 World Series, and he teamed on the Astros’ mound corps briefly in 1994 with Brian Williams. The ’94 season also found several other teams fielding players with the identical surname who played the same position. The most confusing situation involved Baltimore. At one time or another the Orioles had three outfielders named Smith–Lonnie, Mark, and Dwight–as well as relief ace Lee Smith. An early-season Atlanta-Cincinnati trade sent Roberto Kelly to the Braves, where he joined Mike Kelly, likewise an outfielder, while Deion Sanders went to the Reds and teamed in the outfield with Reggie Sanders. Other 1993-94 teammates sharing a common surname and position included Bernie and Gerald Williams, outfielders with the New York Yankees, and infielders Edgar and Tino Martinez of Seattle, who normally man third base and first base, respectively, but on occasion in the past performed at the opposite corner.

Couple these potential mixups with the typographical errors that still show up in newspaper box scores, and you can see that the days of “garbage in, garbage out” are likely to continue.

Tabulation of Phantoms

Allen, Robert. 1919 Philadelphia AL, 9 games as OF. Pseudonym used by Alvah C. “Rowdy” Elliott, long-time minor leaguer.

Baldwin, —-. 1907 Boston NL, 1 game as C. One of James C. Ball’s 10 games.

Barton, Carroll R. 1914 Washington AL, 1 game as P. Same as game credited to Frank J. Barron.

Boylan, —-. 1887 Philadelphia NL, 1 game as 2B. One of Charles J. Bastian’s 60 games.

Carlock, John H. 1912 Cleveland AL, 1 game as PH. Typographical error; one of Frederick B. Carisch’s 25 games.

Christman, H.B. 1888 Kansas City AA, 1 game as C. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Collins, Frank. 1892 St. Louis NL, 1 game as OF. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Costello, J.A. 1912 Cleveland AL, 1 game as OF. One of 11 games played by Kenneth L. Nash, who used pseudonym in debut.

Davis, Thomas J. 1890 Cleveland NL, 1 game as OF. One of George Stacey Davis’ 136 games.

Davis, —-. 1903 Chicago NL, 1 game as OF. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Deniens, —-. 1914 Chicago FL, 1 game as C. Typographical error; one of Clement L. Clemens’ 13 games.

Drennan, K. John. 1904 Detroit AL, 1 game as 1B. Typographical error; one of
William “Wild Bill” Donovan’s 46 games.

Dresser, Edward. 1898 Brooklyn NL, 1 game as SS. Typographical error; one of Jack Dunn’s 51 games.

Dugan, E. 1884 Kansas City UA, 3 games as OF. Same player as William H. Dugan, who played 9 games with Richmond AA the same year.

Gray, William. 1903 Pittsburgh NL, 2 games as OF. One game belongs to Romer C. Grey; other game belongs to Ernest G. Diehl.

Kerns, Daniel P. 1920 Philadelphia AL, 1 game as PH. Pseudonym used by Edward “Ted” Kearns, later a 1B with 1924-25 Chicago NL.

King, Frederick. 1901 Milwaukee AL, 1 game as C. Game belongs to John A. Butler, later with St. Louis and Brooklyn NL, who used pseudonym in debut.

Lane, —-. 1901 Boston NL, 1 game as 3B. Typographical error; one of Bobby Lowe’s 129 games.

Mares, —-. 1894 Louisville NL, 1 games as OF. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

McCauley, William. 1884 St. Louis AA, 1 game as C. Game belongs to James A. McCauley, who also played in 1885-1886.

Meddlebrook, —-. 1884 Baltimore UA, 1 game as OF. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Merson, —-. 1914 Brooklyn FL, 1 game as PH. Typographical error; one of George J. Anderson’s 98 games.

Miller, Bert. 1897 Philadelphia NL, 3 games as 2B. Games belong to Frank A. Miller, formerly listed as Frederick Miller, who also played one game each with Washington NL and St. Louis NL in 1892.

Miller, Henry D. 1892 Chicago NL, 4 games as P. Games belong to Harry DeMiller, who was erroneously listed for 1 game as 3B with 1892 St. Louis
NL.

Moore, Guy W. 1922 St. Louis NL, 1 game as OF. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Morgan, John P. 1916 Philadelphia AL, 1 game as 3B. Typographical error; one of Leland S. McElwee’s 54 games.

Olsen, Albert W. 1943 Boston AL, 1 game as PH. Appearance apparently belongs to either Leon Culberson or Johnny Lazor.

Pratt, Thomas J. 1884 Baltimore AA, 1 game as OF. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Proctor, Lou. 1912 St. Louis AL, 1 game as PH. Game belongs to Anna S. “Pete” Compton, who played in 103 games that season.

Ritchie, —-. 1910 St. Louis NL, 1 game as PH. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Schauer, —-. 1890 Columbus AA, 1 game as 1B. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Seymour, Thomas. 1882 Pittsburgh AA, 1 game as P. Player’s correct name was Jacob Semer.

Sheehan, Timothy. 1884 Washington UA, 1 game as OF. One of seven games belonging to player known as John A. Ryan, whose real name was Daniel Sheehan.

Smith, Charles H. “Pacer.” 1877 Chicago/Cincinnati NL, 34 games as 2B-OF-C. Record belongs to Harry W. Smith, who also played 1 game with 1889 Louisville AA.

Smith, E.J. 1890 Buffalo PL, 1 game as 1B. One of John Irwin’s 77 games.

Strands, Lewis. 1915 Chicago FL, 1 game as 2B. One of John J. Farrell’s 70 games.

Thayer, Edward L. 1876 New York NL, 1 game as 2B. Player’s correct name was George T. Fair.

Turbot, —-. 1902 St. Louis NL, 1 game as OF. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Valdes, Armando V. 1944 Washington AL, 1 game as PH. Game belongs to a different player, Rogelio “Roy” Valdes.

Young, David. 1895 St. Louis NL, 1 game as 3B. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.


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