The Shoeless One
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The newspaper account reported that he “found the shoes lent him were too irritating and he deliberately took them off after the first inning,” playing the “last eight innings in his stocking feet.” But the phenom in question was not Joe Jackson (or Joe Hardy, of Damn Yankees) but instead Michael Joseph Landmann, whose shoelessness was the least startling thing about his professional baseball debut.
You are not likely to have heard of Shoeless Mike for he never cracked a big-league box score. But all he did in this first game in Organized Baseball was to toss a no-hitter, a feat never accomplished before and, to my knowledge, only once since. [See bracketed comment below.] The New York Tribune reported, on the day after the contest of August 30, 1888:
The game at Oakland Park, Jersey City, yesterday was remarkable for the discovery of an apparently genuine baseball phenomenon, in the shape of a big-raw boned individual who … is about twenty years old, six feet high and carries around a pair of genuine Chicago feet. This young man was full of baseball ambition, and he hunted up manager [Pat] Powers and said he wanted to pitch for the Jersey City club [in the Central League]. Manager Powers thought his visitor a “crank,” but told him to put on a uniform and he would see what was in him.
The stranger did so well that Powers told him to get ready and he would pitch him against the Allentown team later in the afternoon. When the game started, Landmann, the phenomenon, was put in to pitch, although Manager Powers had seen him but two hours before. Landmann’s first appearance was a remarkable one. Not a base hit was made against his curves, and his opponents did not score a run. In fact, the Allentown players succeeded in getting but two balls past the infield, and both of these were easily caught by [left fielder Pat] Friel.
More information may be gleaned from other accounts of this game, and from the box score. Landmann’s Jersey City Skeeters won by 3-0 over the Allentown Peanuts, before some 200 spectators. Rival pitcher Harry Zell allowed only one earned run and seven hits, two of them by Landmann himself. The barefoot neophyte struck out three, walked one, and hit another: Frank “Piggy” Ward, who would play many years in baseball, six of them in the majors. The Jersey Journal reported:
In the fifth inning Ward, unable to hit Landmann, tried the baby act of holding his bat to be struck by the ball. “Chick” [Hofford, the catcher] put on the mask and concluded to spoil his game. A ball from the pitcher struck Ward on the head and he managed to get his base, where he was left.
The game account in the New York Evening Sun told us more about Landmann and his amateur or semipro experience in Brooklyn.
Mr. Landmann was hampered in the first inning by shoes which cramped his well-developed toes. Taking his penknife from his pocket he ruthlessly cut the leather, but this afforded him little relief, as the jagged leather cut his toes cruelly.
Impatient of this annoyance he removed his shoes and threw them far beyond first base. Then unhampered and unrestrained, he sent the outshoot, the inshoot, the up-curve, the down-curve at those Allentown chaps and they sought for the ball in vain.
He swept through the lineup “as a scythe cuts a hay field.” (Why don’t they write like this today?) For some time the six-foot, 185-pounder—“forty inches around the chest and his legs are like the cedars of Lebanon”—had been connected with amateur clubs in Brooklyn. He had recently starred with the Park Baseball Club: in a game against the Cypress Club he had struck out eighteen men in the first six innings.
Romping quickly past fact and into hooey, the Sun reporter declared that Landmann wore a modest suit of blue flannel, topped by a dilapidated derby. He did not drink, except for an occasional glass of beer—his favorite drink being soda water. “He says this keeps his nerves steady.”
No records survive for the Central League of 1888, though it was written in mid-October that Landsmann had won all of his games. In addition to Jersey City, four of the Central League’s other clubs had played in the International League in the momentous season of 1887, when the color line was drawn: Binghamton, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, and Newark. The last named club featured pitcher George Stovey and catcher Fleet Walker, who famously and profanely were ordered from the field before an exhibition contest against Cap Anson’s Chicago White Stockings.
On the same day that Anson succeeded in removing the “colored battery,” the directors of the International League met in Buffalo to transfer the ailing Utica franchise to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. It must have pleased Anson to read in the next day’s Newark Daily Journal:
THE COLOR LINE DRAWN IN BASEBALL. The International League directors held a secret meeting at the Genesee House yesterday, and the question of colored players was freely discussed. Several representatives declared that many of the best players in the league are anxious to leave on account of the colored element, and the board finally directed Secretary White to approve of no more contracts with colored men.
After the 1887 campaign Skeeters owner John B. Day, who also owned the New York Giants of the National League, transferred the Jersey City club to the Central League, declaring to the New York Times that he would “run it as a reserve for the New-York club,” i.e. as a farm team. “He thinks that the only way to secure a club in a minor league and develop young men.”
This intent would explain a brief notice spotted in the New York Herald on September 22, 1888: “Pitcher Landman [sic; both spellings are common], of Jersey City, may play with New York next season.”
He did not, however, instead returning to pitch for Jersey City until July 27, 1889, when the franchise, relocated to the Atlantic Association, blew up. Pat Powers returned to the International League, finding a job as manager of the Rochester club. The Jersey City players were sold piecemeal, and Landmann returned to Brooklyn, where he pitched for the Brooklyn Ls (the Brooklyn Elevated Railroad team of 1889, which played at Dexter Park). On August 12 the Brooklyn Eagle placed outcasts Landmann and Stovey on the same playing field:
On Wednesday the Brooklyn L Base Ball Club will cross bats with the (colored) All Americans at the Brooklyn Athletic Association Grounds. The L boys are going to do their utmost to win and will have Landmann and Healey in the points against Stovey and Collins for the All Americans.
In the next year Landmann was at liberty once more. From the Eagle of January 5, 1890: “Michael Landman, the ex-Jersey City pitcher, is now open for an engagement. His address is 105 Central avenue.” He landed with the Greenpoint Athletics, but any pitching exploits thereafter are lost in the sands of time.
Michael Joseph Landmann, virtually unknown to baseball fans until now, was born in Brooklyn on November 7, 1867, and died there of myocarditis on January 28, 1920. In between he married Lizzie Delany [Delaney] on December 24, 1891, and divorced her in December 1897, winning custody of their son. Landmann was married again, to the former Ernestine Heisinger. Landmann had been a Brooklyn policeman.
Where does his no-hit debut fit into baseball history? Attempts to document equivalent firsts might include Pud Galvin’s perfect game (history’s first) of August 17, 1876 at a tournament in Ionia, Michigan. He pitched for the St. Louis Red Stockings, a professional club not admitted into the National League. But the eighteen-year-old Galvin had pitched to a 4-2 record for the same club when it was in the National Association of 1875, and his perfecto in 1876 was not his first start of that year.
Joe Borden, who in 1876 won the first game played in the National League, had thrown a no-hitter in 1875, but not in his first start. Lee Richmond, nominally an amateur pitcher for Brown University, threw a seven-inning no-hitter against the Chicago White Stockings in an exhibition game for which he had been invited to pitch for the minor-league club from Worcester, but he had moonlighted previously as a pro with the Rhode Islands of Providence in the League Alliance of 1877.
Bumpus Jones pitched a no-hitter in his first big-league game, on October 15, 1892, and like Landmann it was said of him that he was signed “off the sandlots”—but he had gone 24-3 for the Joliet club in the Illinois-Iowa League earlier that year, and had played for four professional clubs in two leagues in 1891.
Ted Breitenstein in 1891 and Bobo Holloman in 1953 pitched no-hitters in their first big-league starts but these were not their first big-league, let alone minor-league, games.
The only other pitcher besides Landmann whom I know to have tossed a no-hit game in his first professional game–though I know my readers will help me if I have missed any!–is Myles Thomas, a spot starter with the 1927 Yankees. Signed by New York in June 1921 after graduating from Penn State, Thomas was optioned to the Hartford Senators of the Eastern League (where Lou Gehrig had been playing first base under the name “Lou Lewis,” trying to preserve his collegiate eligibility at Columbia). On July 5, 1921, in his first professional game, Thomas threw a no-hitter against the Springfield Ponies, winning 3-0. [After initial publication of this story, estimable researcher and old pal Bill Deane alerted me to another such game: Denny McLain’s no-hitter on June 28, 1962. Pitching for Harlan, KY of the Class-D Appalachian League, McLain beat Salem, 3-0, striking out 17.]
But Myles Thomas–whom Babe Ruth nicknamed “Duck Eyes”–was not the first. For that, all hail Shoeless Mike Landmann.