I suppose we all have lost a valentine or two.
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.
No one forgets Moonlight Graham anymore.
“It was like coming this close to your 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 985 because 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.