Take one part Yasiel Puig crazy …
Stir in Adrian Beltre …
… and that thing about people touching his head.
Toss in last summer’s nacho incident with Addison Russell …
And, there. You’ve got Walter Scott “Steve” Brodie.
No, wait. We need some angry David Ortiz, too.
There. Walter Scott “Steve” Brodie.
Goofy. Quirky. A bit of a mean streak.
The starting centerfielder of the 1896 Baltimore Orioles, Brodie wasn’t the greatest player on that legendary team, but he wasn’t the worst either.
1896 Baltimore Orioles. Brodie, Middle Row, Far Left.
He was loved by fans nearly everywhere he played, including Boston, St. Louis, and Baltimore, but not Pittsburgh, because … well, they had their reasons.
And, he’s why we went to Warrenton, in Fauquier County, Virginia where Brodie was born on September 11, 1868.
Brodie is an annoying mix of fact and fiction. And, I’m here to annoy you with both.
While he was born Walter Scott Brodie, I am assured by historians that everyone called him Steve, after the famous daredevil of the day, Steve Brodie.
But, no, not everyone called him Steve. Reporters regularly called him Walter. And, I bet his mother did, too.
Walter, Walter, Walter.
Plus, that daredevil?
That Other Steve.
That Steve Brodie was famous because he said he jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge and survived, although even his fans thought he faked it. Many of his subsequent public jumps off bridges seemed to occur at dusk or twilight and reporters always suspected that stuffed pillows were being tossed into the water in his place. He even faked his own death once simply to make headlines. He made a fortune off of that. His talent for obnoxious self-promotion based on nothing would probably land him a million Instagram followers today.
So why did Walter Scott Brodie end up nicknamed after his era’s Kardashian? No idea.
“The Duke Of Roanoke”
In the 1880s, as a teenager, Brodie left Warrenton to play semipro ball – initially as a catcher – in a hardscrabble competitive league in Roanoke, Virginia. (His brothers Alex, a pitcher, and Irvin, an infielder, also played there.)
And so, throughout his big league career, Brodie was often called, “The Duke of Roanoke.”
Or, “The Pride of Roanoke.” Or, the “Chief of the Roanoke.”
(And, not to confuse matters, but people in Roanoke often referred to him as “The Brodie.” THE Brodie meaning, I hope, that they were distinguishing OUR baseball playing Brodie from that huckster bridge jumper. More likely, THE Brodie, meant Walter, the Brodie who made it to the majors, and not Alex or Irvin, who did not.)
But, THE Brodie is not from the Roanoke.
He was born and raised in Warrenton, Virginia – 200-some miles NNE of Roanoke.
Warrenton was just far enough away from Washington, DC to make it a prized 19th-century summertime resort for the DC upper crust. A horse and carriage could make the trip in about 12 hours. Today, it’s been absorbed into the DC suburbs and the morning commute to DC can take anywhere from three to four hours in rush hour traffic, plus another three to four to get back home.
In other words, there are people today who spend up to 40 hours commuting all week in their cars simply to live in Warrenton.
It’s a nice place.
Brodie’s dad was one of the town’s tailors whose shop was on Main Street.
Main Street, circa 1880. A.M. Brodie Tailor Shop is on the far right.
Main Street. Same view, 2017.
The building next door to Brodie’s shop is still there. It’s now the Black Bear Bistro and it’s delicious.
So Nice, We Ate There Twice.
Was He Quirky Or Just Jerky?
One Pirates history described Brodie as “slow of foot and not too nimble above the ears.”
He would talk to himself in the outfield, sometimes missing a play or dropping the ball when his conversation with himself became particularly animated.
When a fly ball came his way he would routinely yell at it – “You dirty dog! You dirty dog!” – which disturbed right fielder Wee Willie Keeler so much on his first day with the O’s that he left the field.
Brodie would amuse his teammates by running around the diamond with his arms filled with bats or by singing “Carry Me Back To Old Virginny”. (Humor was weird back then.)
In his first game back in Baltimore following his trade to Pittsburgh, Brodie simply walked over to the Orioles bench and sat down.
More than one story reported that he kept a pet bear at home and he would muzzle it and then wrestle it during the off-season to keep fit.
(Editor/Husband, who works at the Wildlife Center of Virginia, insists that I tell you that keeping a bear as a pet or as a wrestling partner is a bad idea.)
(A very bad idea.)
But, Brodie also had a mean streak – if there was a fight, he was in it. If he didn’t start it, he would push his way into it.
Once during a home game, angered by a Baltimore fan who was heckling him about a batting slump, he pulled a ladder out to the outfield, told Keeler to handle both right and center field and started to climb into the bleachers – mid-game – to wallop the loudmouth. (His teammates ultimately pulled him back.)
(I’m giving Brodie credit for getting Keeler to cover centerfield for him. He may have been loopy, but Brodie clearly took his job responsibilities seriously.)
He was tough on umpires and was quick to berate or push or shove or punch an ump who called him out on strikes. (There was a lot of ump punching in those days.)
Brodie was notorious for swinging at the first pitch – something that drove his Orioles manager Ned Hanlon mad. Those old Orioles were known for their patience at the plate, careful swings, perfect bunts, and precise hit and runs. When the Baltimore summers hit their humid peak, the Orioles tried to wear out opposing pitchers by taking more balls and biding their time.
Once, Hanlon demanded that Brodie take the first pitch. Brodie responded by taking the first pitch. And, the next. And, the next. Striking out looking, he went back to the dugout, gave his manager a dirty look, and sat down. (He was probably not the first, and certainly not the last, to do this.)
Brodie Was A “Stellar” Player. Or, Maybe He Was Just Ordinary.
Boston Beaneaters, 1890. Brodie, holding a bat, middle row, far right.
The Baltimore Sun still mentions Brodie from time to time and referred to him in 2015 as “stellar, but loopy.”
Loopy, sure. We’ve covered that. But, stellar?
He was a career .303 batter and an okay fielder, but was prone to boneheadedness.
Once, when rounding the bases and heading for home, he stopped to cheer on his teammates and was tagged out.
He may – or may not – have used a glove with a hole cut in it because he believed he could field better bare-handed.
Fans loved his goofy outfield play – once, overrunning a fly, the ball bounced off his heel and into his glove. Another story says that a ball once bounced off his head and into his glove.
(Do not … DO NOT … make a Jose Canseco joke here. I’ll have none of that on my blog.)
His .297 BA during the Orioles championship 1896 season ranked him seventh out of the nine regular starters. Four of those champion Orioles are in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But, no, not Brodie.
But, fans loved him anyway (well, probably not the one he tried to punch in the bleachers).
“Brodie’s Baltimores” — After the Browns traded him to Baltimore, they cashed in by promoting his return to St. Louis in 1893.
Baltimore traded Brodie to Pittsburgh in late 1896. (He learned about his trade from a local reporter and was upset that the team owner and manager hadn’t bothered to tell him personally.)
1897 Pittsburgh Pirates. Brodie, front row, far right.
Brodie was so upset about his trade to Pittsburgh that he convinced the Pirates to move that season’s spring training from Savannah to his home in Roanoke.
His shoulder was bum pretty much from the get-go in Pittsburgh and the Pirates suggested that the Orioles had known that Brodie’s shoulder was bad all along.
(He injured it, the Pirates discovered, in an off-season ball-throwing contest that was popular with players looking to make a few bucks.)
(Maybe Brodie’s bad shoulder that the Orioles likely knew about when they traded him away is why the 21st-century Orioles are so famously persnickety when it comes to physicals with free agents and trades. They snookered the Pirates in 1897, but they’re not going to let anyone snooker them.)
Brodie Played In 727 Consecutive Games – A 19th-Century Record. Except, He Didn’t And It Wasn’t.
Brodie died in 1935, and shortly after his death The Sporting News reported that Brodie had played in 727 consecutive games, which would be a 19th-century record.
The Baltimore Sun occasionally cites this number and so does the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) in their bio of Brodie.
Except, it’s not right.
(This may be the only time I get to say, SABR is wrong and Wikipedia is right.)
The alleged 727 count begins in 1891 when he’s with Boston and continues through seasons in St. Louis and Baltimore, and finally ends with Pittsburgh in 1897 (with that bum shoulder I just told you about).
The problem is 1892.
You could look it up. But, you don’t have to, because I did it for you.
St. Louis was playing Chicago in the last game of the 1892 season and Brodie didn’t play. St. Louis papers didn’t always provide box scores, but Chicago papers did. And, their box score is clearly Brodie-free. Lew Camp played centerfield that day. A reporter later noted that Brodie was let go a day early so he could head back home to Roanoke.
See? No Brodie.
That missed game in 1892 scrubs the 727 number.
But, beginning in 1893, Brodie did play in 574 consecutive games which isn’t 727, but is still impressive. He ranks 23rd amongst all ballplayers.
And, second amongst 19th-century players.
George Pickney – at 577 games, three more than Brodie – holds the 19th-century record.
So close, Steve Brodie. So very, very close!
(I need not tell you that the Orioles Cal Ripken holds the record with 2,632, do I?)
Wherefore Art Thou, Walter? Or, Steve?
I can’t tell you if Walter Scott “Steve” Brodie is remembered fondly in Warrenton or if he’s remembered at all.
The local historical society was closed on the day we visited.
But, Brodie isn’t the only major leaguer to hale from Warrenton.
Lefty reliever Mike Duvall was born in Warrenton in 1974.
As a minor leaguer, he was picked up by Tampa from Seattle in the 1997 expansion draft and spent three seasons with the Devil Rays and one with the Minnesota Twins. He appeared in 53 games, pitched 51 innings, and ended his major league career in 2001 with a 5.29 ERA.
In 2016, the local paper reported that Duvall was the only Fauquier County product to make the major leagues. But then they corrected their mistake, saying Duvall was the only Fauquier County High School player to make the major leagues.
And, I thought, “Thank goodness. Someone does remember that old Steve Brodie is from Warrenton.”
The reason The Fauquier Times corrected the story? Arthur “Bud” Metheny, a outfielder with the 1940s Yankees, graduated from another high school in Fauquier County.
But, here’s the thing. Metheny wasn’t born in Virginia. He was born in St. Louis in 1915.
St. Louis Product.
Let’s set this record straight.
Dear Warrenton, Virginia,
Walter Scott “Steve” Brodie was born in your town in 1868. His father had a tailor shop on Main Street. He learned to play baseball there. He played for one of the greatest major league teams in baseball history – the legendary 1896 Orioles.
You shouldn’t forget him.
The Baseball Bloggess
For more on The Virginia-Born Baseball Project visit here.