In early 1891, second baseman Clarence Childs signed a $2,300 contract with the Baltimore Orioles, about $65,000 in today’s dollars. Upon signing he was immediately paid a $200 advance. He then abandoned the team, saying that the Orioles had deceived him and he could find a better deal elsewhere. The Orioles sued. They lost. And, Childs joined the Cleveland Spiders.
(Months later, the Orioles were still in court trying to get their $200 back. It’s unclear if they ever did.)
There are many weird stories about Valentine’s Day. I’ll share just one with you.
St. Valentine – there are three St. Valentine’s if you’re keeping track, and this St. Valentine was one of the three – was imprisoned by the Romans for either a) helping Christians escape from the Romans, or b) marrying young couples when the Roman emperor expressly told him not to. Either way, St. Valentine ended up in prison, fell in love with the jailor’s daughter, and, before being put to death, sent her a card signed, “From Your Valentine.”
In this world of “Alternative Facts,” I’m sure this story is absolutely true.
“When assembled for exercise, the President, or in his absence, the Vice-President, shall appoint an Umpire, who shall keep the game in a book provided for that purpose, and note all violations of the By-Laws and Rules during the time of exercise.”
The only thing more important than an umpire? Rule #1 which reminds players to “strictly observe the time agreed upon for exercise, and be punctual in their attendance.”
So, let’s give umpires some love on Valentine’s Day …
First, don’t call it a clicker.
“[A] ball and strike indicator … figured in my very first lesson in how to be a professional umpire: Never call it a clicker. (Why? Nobody ever said, but, I guess it’s like an opera singer’s not referring to an aria as a song.)” ~ Bruce Weber, As They See ‘Em: A Fan’s Travels In The Land of Umpires
Not a clicker.
Don’t call the Umpire “Blue.” It’s just rude as it was once a heckle and it was spelled “Blew” – as in “Hey, Blew, you blew the call!”
So, I guess it’s no surprise that baseball lost Bob Valentine.
I don’t mean Bobby Valentine, who played in the 1970s and went on to manage the Mets (quite well) and the Red Sox (not well at all).
I mean Robert (Bob) Valentine who played for the New York Mutuals for one game in 1876.
Just one game at catcher and three at-bats. No hits.
Righty, lefty? Who knows? Fly out, ground out, struck out? Don’t know that either.
Place of birth, date of death, anything? Nothing.
A name. And, a line in a box score.
Bob Valentine is just three obscure at-bats in a game the Mutuals lost 7-4 to the Boston Red Caps on May 20, 1876.
Baseball fans and historians pride themselves on keeping track of every play by every player, in every game. I estimate that 22 percent of the internet cloud today is storage for baseball statistics. (I base this estimate on nothing more than I chose the number 22 because it was Jim Palmer’s number.)
What happened to Bob?
The New York Mutuals were one of baseball’s first professional teams, a powerhouse for many seasons, and had just joined the brand new National League in 1876. Just a few days before Valentine’s debut (and farewell), the Mutuals executed major league baseball’s first triple play.
That was the highlight of an otherwise dismal season. They went 21-35 and were permanently expelled from the league when they refused to make their last road trip of the season. That was the end of the Mutuals.
And, really, good riddance, because in 1865 the Mutuals were also the first team to fix a game.
But, back to Bob. Where the hell did he go?
I’ve started and stopped this post several times, in the hope that Bob would turn up.
He never does.
Could he be the Robert Valentine who goes on to open a muslin underwear factory in Jackson, Michigan?
Was he the cotton mill worker in Tennessee?
Or, did he become the jeweler in New York?
Maybe he was the divorced and retired Bob Valentine who moves in with his son and son’s family in Duncannon, Pennsylvania sometime around 1920.
Did he become the clay miner in Woodbridge, New Jersey?
Or, the fireman in Philadelphia?
They were all Robert Valentine. Their ages are close enough to fit. Maybe he is one of them.
But, Bob Valentine has it over the 984 others who played just one big league game. Because his name is Valentine. And, every February someone like me looks him up.
Oh sure, he’s no Moonlight Graham. Graham also played just one big league game. In 1905, for the New York Giants.
More precisely, he played two innings. And, never had an at-bat.
A bunch of decades later, W.P. Kinsella stumbles across Graham in a baseball book, is smitten by the name “Moonlight”, and mentions him in his book Shoeless Joe. Next thing you know Burt Lancaster is playing Moonlight Graham in Field of Dreams.
(Fun Fact: Field of Dreams is not the best baseball movie ever. Have I mentioned that I was a “crowd extra” in Major League II?)
Look, it’s me in the crowd!
But, let’s set aside the Valentines and Moonlights. Let’s honor a player who is truly obscure. Someone, like, say, Jack Smith, who played one game for the Detroit Tigers in May 1912. I picked him at random out of the list of 985because his name was Smith.
Come to find out, Jack Smith was an 18-year-old college kid from St. Joe’s in Philadelphia hired by the Tigers for one game when they were in Philly playing the A’s, and needed to quickly replace the regular Tigers who had gone on strike to protest Ty Cobb’s suspension for jumping into the stands and beating up a disabled fan a few days earlier.
Smith was paid $25 (or $10 depending on who you believe), played five innings at third, and had either no at-bats (baseball-reference.com) or one at-bat (Associated Press box score of the game). The Tigers lost that game, 24-2.
Jack Smith wasn’t even his real name. His real name was John Joseph Coffey. I hope he changed it that day because he was ashamed to be a scab.
(Pun Fact: A very short career in the majors is called “a cup of coffee.” In Jack Smith’s case, it was a “cup of Coffey coffee.”)
In any event, I now know more about Smith than poor old Bob Valentine.
Which is a shame. This being Valentine’s Day and all.
(I’m not clever enough to make this up. This story is true.)
public domain image.
This is Slim.
Slim wasn’t his given name, of course.
His birth name, given in 1890, was Edward.
But, baseball is the land of a thousand nicknames. And, while “Slim” isn’t the best of them, it certainly isn’t the worst, and it’s appropriate enough if you’re a lanky, stringbeany, beanpoley, 6 foot 7 kind of fella.
In 1913, as a member of the Senators, The Washington Post called Love the “elongated twirler” with a “bucolic disposition and odd appearance.”
Slim Love is the perfect-ish name for Valentine’s Day.
It’s sweet with the Love part, but Slim makes the love seem a bit stand-offish and tenuous. A slim love is fragile. It’s a complicated love. Tender, but a little bit sad. Still, it’s a good name.
(Unconditional love is what you get from a dog. Slim love is what you get from a cat.)
Even Stevie’s love is slim at times.
Slim Love wasn’t a spectacular pitcher. He isn’t particularly memorable at all.
But, baseball historians are a fair-minded lot and they remember everyone.
Love, apparently, bragged his way onto a minor league team in Memphis, while having, apparently, no real baseball skills.
I thought this was fairly remarkable and quite a lucky break for Slim, and assumed perhaps that this was merely a sign of how baseball behaved in a far simpler time.
Then I realized that idiots in all walks of life brag themselves into jobs they are unsuited for all the time and I find them, as a group, highly annoying.
Slim Love must have figured something out, however, because he eventually played a few big league seasons with the Senators, Yankees, and Tigers.
public domain image
1918 New York Yankees. Slim Love is in the middle (kneeling) row, second from the right.
He had an undisciplined fastball and never learned – or just couldn’t – throw a curve or anything else for that matter, despite the futile efforts of Yankees manager Miller Huggins to teach him a new pitch or at least some control.
His major league career was finished by 1920 at age 29. He ended with a 3.04 ERA and a 28-21 record (most of that with the Yankees), which isn’t all that special, but could still land you a job today in many bullpens, if not in a starting rotation.
Slim Love even had his own baseball card.
He kicked around in the minor and independent leagues into the 1930s. He died in 1942 in Memphis, at age 52, after being struck by a car.
There’s no moral to Slim Love’s tale.
Only that there are plenty of players in baseball who may not have been very good, but were a little bit interesting, or just a touch quirky.
Maybe just their name will stand the test of time.
Or, maybe not. In reporting on his death in 1942, The Sporting News got his name and age wrong. They called him Elmer.
The Sporting News. Dec. 10, 1942
The Slim Love story doesn’t end quite yet. For Part 2, and the day Slim Love faced Babe Ruth, click here.
Happy Baseball. Pitchers & Catchers report this week. Finally.