Walter “Steve” Brodie: Warrenton’s “Duke of Roanoke”

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.

1894

No, wait. We need some angry David Ortiz, too.

There. Walter Scott “Steve” Brodie.

1894

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.

Here.

Brodie is an annoying mix of fact and fiction. And, I’m here to annoy you with both.

Whatshisname

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.”

The Baltimore Sun, 1901

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.)

(And, illegal.)

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.)

Minneapolis Star-Tribune, May 6, 1900

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.

So, stellar?

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 Sporting News, November 7, 1935

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.

Chicago Tribune, October 16, 1892

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.

Fauquier Times, Sept 16 2016

And, I thought, “Thank goodness. Someone does remember that old Steve Brodie is from Warrenton.”

Except, no.

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.

Fauquier Times, Oct 28 2016

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.

Yours Sincerely,

The Baseball Bloggess

For more on The Virginia-Born Baseball Project visit here.

 

19 thoughts on “Walter “Steve” Brodie: Warrenton’s “Duke of Roanoke”

  1. Hi Bloggess,

    Once again, I’m impressed by your dedicated research culminating in an interesting and informative post.
    While I had never heard of THE Brodie, the name Bud Matheny (also spelled Metheny) tickled my memory cobwebs. In addition to his time with the Evil Empire, he rehabilitated himself as a long time coach (baseball and basketball) and administrator at ODU. He was also a W&M grad and is a member of the College Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame (amoung others). And he was apparently the last Yankee to wear the number 3 before it was retired.
    Seasons Greetings to you & Editor/Husband and I promise not to add a bear to my animal family. 😉

    • Good catch! I thought I had fixed Metheny, but it clearly haunted me. Thank you! Yes, Metheny is also in the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in recognition of his long career at ODU. He has definitely earned that honor and ODU continues to have a strong baseball program. Thank you for the kind words and Season’s Greetings to you and yours!

  2. Back in late 1968 after leaving Viet Nam, the Army decided I needed a little relaxation and sent me to a place called Vint Hill Farms just outside Warrenton. Visited the town a few times (and your Culpeper stomping grounds). Seemed like a nice enough place, but I never heard of Brodie while there. The post is now closed. I was so impressed with it that I’ve never been back (did drive through Warrenton once with my wife several years later).
    Nice story. Wikipedia (and Bloggess) 1, SABR zip.
    v

    • Thank you, v. About half of Warrenton hasn’t changed a bit since you were there in 1968. I should have posted a photo of the old Frost Diner for you — old school original narrow and stainless steel. And, the breakfast and coffee is exactly what you would expect it to be … whether 1957, 1967, or 2017. And, I mean that in the best way possible. Happy Holidays v … your posts always educate, enthrall, and inspire me.

  3. Interesting. Did not know that. I am playing the 1901 season with APBA Baseball and Brodie is sort of a 4th outfielder with the O’s. They are off to a 12-2 start (!) with Brodie finding his way into 6 games while filling in for an injured Mike Donlin, thus far batting .333 in 21 AB.
    Thanks for the story!

    • 1901 is a good year for Brodie — despite the belief that his career was over in 1900. (The local papers call him a “baseball corpse” in spring training and his knees are bad.) 1901 is also the year that he gets tagged out between 3rd and home in a game because he stops to cheer the other runners who are coming up behind him. I love that APBA exists and keeps the game alive for these old players … I’m cheering for Brodie!

    • Thanks, Sharon! His parents had pretty deep roots in Warrenton and his father fought for the Confederacy and had that shop on Main Street, so I’m a little surprised that he seems to be forgotten. I suspect it’s because he settled in Roanoke and in his later years moved to Baltimore, where he died and is buried. Still, he IS Warrenton’s son.

    • Thanks, Mark! Yes, I thought Big Papi was a perfect fit for trying to describe Walter “Steve” Brodie. Brodie did play for the Boston Beaneaters, so there is even a Boston connection (although not to the Red Sox directly — the Beaneaters evolved into today’s Braves.)

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