SABR

Gene Paulette

This article was written by Bill Lamb.

Perhaps the most emphatic action ever taken by the Commissioner of Baseball occurred on August 3, 1921. On that day, Kenesaw Mountain Landis banished eight Chicago White Sox players from Organized Baseball for life for throwing the 1919 World Series, despite their acquittal in a court trial. The expulsion edict quickly became a baseball landmark, the signature action of Landis’ autocratic 24-year governance of the game. In later years, those following the Black Sox affair paid scant attention to the fact that Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte, Buck Weaver, et al, were not the first players permanently barred from the game by Landis. That dubious distinction belonged to a now-forgotten Philadelphia Phillies first baseman named Gene Paulette.

Several months before the Black Sox case came to trial, the Commissioner placed Paulette on baseball’s ineligible list for failure to explain satisfactorily his association with two St. Louis gamblers suspected of trying to rig games. Soon after, a brief show of defiance by a Massillon, Ohio industrial league club that tried to put the banished Paulette back in uniform served only to demonstrate the efficacy of Landis’ order. The Massillon club had to jettison Paulette when no other team would play them. His baseball playing days thus at an end, Paulette spent the remainder of his life in quiet obscurity, his name usually rating no more than a footnote in accounts of the Black Sox scandal.

The forgotten precedent-setter of the Landis regime was born Eugene Edward Paulette in Centralia, Illinois on May 26, 1891.1 He was the 11th of 12 children born to Joseph Paulette and his wife, the former Marguerite DeServe, French-Canadians who emigrated to the United States during the 1880s.2 In time, father Joseph’s work as a railroad locomotive engineer brought the Paulette household to Little Rock, Arkansas, where Gene spent the remainder of his life. Despite the size of his family, Gene remained in school far longer than was the turn-of-the-century norm. He graduated from Little Rock Catholic High School and attended college for a year.3 According to the Little Rock City Directory, Eugene Paulette was still a student living with his parents in 1911.

Early in 1911, the tall (6 feet) and slender (150 lb.) right-handed Paulette was signed off the Little Rock sandlots by veteran minor league manager Mike Finn, then working as a scout for New York Giants manager John McGraw, and dispatched immediately to the big club. Although signed as a rifle-armed catching prospect, Paulette saw no time behind the plate in New York. Rather, he made his major league debut on June 16, as a late-inning defensive replacement at third base in a 4-3 win over St. Louis. In very limited action thereafter, Paulette filled in at first and shortstop, going 2-for-12 (.167) at the plate. The postseason proved more eventful.

The untested rookie saw no action in the 1911 World Series, lost by the Giants in six games to the Philadelphia A’s. Still, his new teammates awarded Paulette a one-quarter ($609.10) loser’s share of their Series money,4 a generous allocation to a rookie who had appeared in only 10 regular season games. Then, when regular first baseman Fred Merkle balked at making a Giants exhibition game tour of Cuba, Paulette replaced him. Before the club set sail for the Caribbean, Gene returned home to marry Mary Elizabeth Mahoney, the daughter of an Argenta (now North Little Rock) hotel and saloon keeper.5 The newlyweds honeymooned in Havana.6 In the coming years, they had two children, a daughter also named Mary Elizabeth (born in 1916), and a son, Eugene, Jr. (1917).

Paulette went to spring training camp with the Giants in 1912 but was soon farmed to Providence of the Class AA International League.7 Paulette spent the next two seasons with the Mobile Sea Gulls of the lower-tier Southern Association, under his old friend Mike Finn. There, Paulette demonstrated his versatility by playing all over the diamond. Even against Class A minor league pitching, however, Paulette was not much of a threat with the stick; he hit for mediocre averages with little extra-base power. In early 1914, Mobile sold Paulette to the American League Cleveland Naps, but he did not make the roster. Rather, in April, Paulette was assigned to the Cleveland Bearcats, the Naps’ Class AA American Association affiliate.8

After a brief, unproductive (.237 BA) stay in Cleveland, Paulette was back in the Southern Association with the Nashville Volunteers. There, Paulette impressed defensively, being considered “about the niftiest thing at the initial sack in the SouthernAssociation.”9 The Paulette bat finally began to show some life in 1915 when he hit a solid .298, with 41 extra-base hits. Gene kept up the good offensive work for Memphis the following season. He was batting .286, with 40 extra-base hits when the St. Louis Browns acquired his contract late in the season.10

Gene Paulette was back in the majors after an almost five-year absence,but his stay with the Browns did not last long. He got into just five games for the Browns before the 1916 season ended, going two for four at the plate. Stuck behind a young George Sisler at first base the following season, Paulette appeared in only 12 more games as a Browns utility man before the club placed him on waivers in June 1917. Picked up by the St. Louis Cardinals, he finally saw his first appreciable action as a major league ballplayer. Installed as the everyday Cardinals first baseman, Paulette batted a respectable .265, scoring 32 runs and knocking in 35 more for a third-place (82-70) St. Louis club. But if the transfer to the Redbirds had afforded Paulette a chance to demonstrate major league playing ability, it also brought him into contact with the Mound City characters who figured in his later banishment from the game: gamblers Elmer Farrar and Carl Zork.

As did other major league cities, St. Louis had a thriving gambling scene. Its chieftain was an enterprising swashbuckler named Henry “Kid” Becker. Severalworks about the Black Sox relate that Becker aspired to rig the outcome of the 1918 Series between the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, only to have his plans frustrated by a lack of cash.11 Becker was shot to death in April 1919, but he was not the only St. Louis gambler with an interest in the outcome of major league baseball games. Becker acolytes such as Farrar, a local bookmaker, and Zork, ostensibly the manufacturer of women’s clothing, also followed the game closely.12 In time, this pair insinuated themselves into Gene Paulette’s life and hastened his exit from the game.

With player ranks thinned by the personnel demands of World War I, the 1918 St. Louis Cardinals were a last place (51-78) team. Gene Paulette, however, turned in decent numbers, batting .273, with 52 RBIs, second-best on the club. The Cardinals also took advantage of his defensive versatility. Although primarily stationed at first base, Paulette also saw action at the other infield positions and the outfield. He even made a brief pitching appearance during a meaningless late-season game.13 The following season, Paulette got off to a poor start. He was batting only .215, with a mere six extra-base hits in 43 games when traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in mid-July 1919.14 The seeds of his expulsion from baseball, however, remained in St. Louis.

While the circumstances of their introduction are unknown, Paulette and gamblers Farrar and Zork were well acquainted. In need of money, Paulette met with the pair early in the 1919 season. After Farrar had supplied Paulette with an undetermined amount of cash, he and Zork probed Paulette's willingness to engage in game-fixing.Paulette later wrote a letter to Farrar claiming that he could get two other St. Louis players to cooperate in game-fixing with him. Any further such plans were aborted when Paulette was traded to Philadelphia. Although the circumstances are somewhat murky, it appears that both the Cardinals and Phillies management were aware of Paulette’s association with St. Louis gamblers. At a later point, Phillies owner William Baker somehow came into possession of the letter that Paulette had written to Farrar. But in the short run, Baker was content to accept Paulette’s assurances via affidavit that he had done nothing untoward and allowed him to suit up for Philadelphia.15 Once in the Phillies lineup, Paulette’s offensive numbers improved; he batted .259, with 31 RBIs in abbreviated duty. He even hit the first home run of his MLB career, an August 11 drive off of Cincinnati’s Hod Eller that bounced over the fence at Redland Field. His defensive versatility was again an asset; Paulette mostly played second base but also filled in at center and right field.

Paulette reached the modest summit of his major league career in 1920. As the regular first baseman on a last place (62-91) Philadelphia club, Paulette batted a career high .288. He also posted personal bests in walks (33), runs scored (59), and on-base percentage (.332). In addition, Paulette hit his second and final big leagues home run, a June 8 shot off the Cubs’ Grover Cleveland Alexander at the Baker Bowl. At season’s end, however, Paulette was swept up by events that had ultimately little to do with baseball in Philadelphia.

In September 1920, a Chicago grand jury was convened to investigate the reported fix of an August 31 game between the Cubs and the Phillies. The probe quickly shunted the inquiry into the Cubs-Phillies game aside to focus on the suspiciously-played 1919 World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds. The revelations leaked from the proceedings and the indictments thereafter returned against eight Sox players and assorted gamblers on Series fix-related charges unnerved baseball’s establishment. The signal result of the Black Sox scandal was the appointment of United States District Court Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as a new, all-powerful commissioner of baseball.

Shortly after Landis’ installation in January 1921, Phillies owner Baker turned the Paulette letter over to National League president John Heydler, who promptly referred the matter to baseball’s new commissioner. Summoned before Commissioner Landis on March 7, 1921, Paulette denied engaging in any wrongdoing, but he had difficulty explaining the contents of his letter to Farrar. He admitted accepting “loans” from Farrar, which he had not repaid, and exonerated the two Cardinal players (never publicly identified) implicated in the letter. Paulette had “no basis whatever for using their names and asserted that as far as he knew, they were honest men.”16

Landis was not satisfied and directed Paulette to await further instructions. Meanwhile, a newly elected prosecutor and his staff had encountered problems getting the criminal case against the Black Sox players ready for trial. With the 1921 baseball season on the horizon, the prosecution sought an indefinite postponement of the proceedings. This forced Landis to place the indicted players (Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte, Lefty Williams, Swede Risberg, Buck Weaver, Happy Felsch, and Fred McMullin) on the ineligible list, pending the disposition of the case.17 Then in rapid succession, disaster struck the prosecution and Organized Baseball. The adjournment request was unexpectedly denied, with a peremptory trial date only a few weeks away set by the court. For strategic purposes, the prosecutor thereupon decided to dismiss the charges pending and take the case back to the grand jury. Exasperated White Sox owner Charles Comiskey declined to wait for new charges to be returned. Acting unilaterally, he immediately voided the contracts of the previously charged players and granted them their unconditional release.

These developments left Commissioner Landis in no mood to tolerate insubordination from a non-entity like Gene Paulette. When Paulette did not appear as ordered for follow-up questioning by Landis, the gavel fell swiftly. On March 24, 1921, Paulette became the first player permanently banned from the game by the baseball czar. In his expulsion decision, Landis acknowledged that Paulette had denied “that he had ever thrown a ball game and asserts that during the last season [1920] he held himself aloof from corruption associations.”18 These claims had little weight with the Commissioner. “The fact remains,” Landis proclaimed, that Paulette “had offered to betray his team and that he put himself in the vicious power of Farrar and Zork.”19 On these grounds, Paulette was placed on baseball’s permanently ineligible list. In rendering this judgment, Landis’ only regret was “that the real culprits, the gamblers cannot be reached by this office.”20

Landis doubtless derived a measure of satisfaction when Carl Zork was charged in the superseding indictments returned against the Black Sox players on March 26, 1921. Chicago Tribune sportswriter Irving Sanborn then reported the rumor that Gene Paulette and Elmer Farrar would also be charged, but that never happened.21 Nevertheless, Paulette did not vacate the baseball scene willingly. Within days of his expulsion from Organized Baseball, Paulette signed to play shortstop for an industrial league team in Massillon, Ohio.22 An investigation supposedly conducted by Massillon club officials had not uncovered any evidence that Paulette was “crooked,” team brass announced. Thus, he was deemed fit for employ on the Massillon nine.23

Baseball officialdom was incredulous, with Philadelphia sportswriter James Isaminger calling for a consumer boycott of the Massillon team sponsors and a blackout on newspaper coverage of the league that Massillon played in.24 Of more immediate consequence than the denunciation of indignant big city sportswriters was the reaction of the local competition. No other club would take the field against Massillon as long as Commissioner Landis’ edict against Paulette was in effect. That settled the issue for the club. Paulette was released by Massillon before the month was out.25 Although Paulette was just 30 years old, his playing career was now over.

Within months, the Black Sox scandal was back on center stage in the baseball world, with the jury’s acquittal of the accused on August 2, 1921, followed by their permanent expulsion from Organized Baseball a day later. Gene Paulette, meanwhile, was largely forgotten. His baseball career behind him, Paulette found work in the Little Rock rail yards of the Iron Mountain (later Missouri Pacific) Railroad.26 In time, he advanced from yard worker to switchman to yard master for Missouri Pacific Railroad operations in Little Rock. All the while, Paulette lived quietly in Little Rock with his wife and daughter Mary, an auditor for the Internal Revenue Service. Son Eugene and his family resided nearby. In his later years, Gene suffered from heart disease and other ailments.27 He died of a heart attack in Little Rock on February 8, 1966, age 74. Following a Funeral Mass at Our Lady of Holy Souls Roman Catholic Church, Eugene Edward Paulette was interred at Calvary Cemetery in Little Rock. He was survived by his wife, children, brother Victor, and sister Lydia Paulette Bayliss.28

A ballplayer of limited batting capability, Paulette’s defensive versatility made him a useful addition to Deadball Era clubs in both the major and minor leagues. But sadly, the only thing that recalls him to mind today is a singular but ignominious accomplishment. Of all the ballplayers permanently banished from the game by Commissioner Landis, Gene Paulette was the first.

 

Notes

1. Gene Paulette’s World War II draft registration card and his grave marker give 1892 as his year of birth, but 1891 is the Paulette birth year listed on most official records and the Paulette birth year recognized by Baseball-Reference and other baseball authorities.

2. The biographical details of this portrait have been drawn from the Gene Paulette file at the Giammati Research Center, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, New York; US Census data, and various of the newspaper articles noted below, particularly the Paulette obituaries in the Arkansas Democrat and the Arkansas Gazette, February 9, 1966. At times, Sporting Life and other publications spelled the family surname, Paulet, the spelling which Gene himself reportedly endorsed. See Sporting Life, October 2, 1911. Paulette, however, is the spelling used by baseball references and the one utilized herein. Gene’s siblings were Joseph (born 1864), Albert (1867), Louise (1876), John (1878), Leda (1882), Lydia and Cyprian Charles (1883), George Gaston, called Gus (1884), Harry (1886), Victor (1890), and Elizabeth (1893).

3. As per the player questionnaire contained in the Paulette file at the Giammati Research Center. A July 1911 column by Pittsburgh sportswriter A.R. Cratty described Paulette as a former collegian [Sporting Life, July 15, 1911], as do unidentified circa 1912 news items in the Paulette file.

4. As per the New York Times, October 29, 1911, and Sporting Life, November 4, 1911.

5. As briefly noted in the New York Times, November 3, 1911. For a number of baseball off-seasons thereafter, Paulette worked as a hotel clerk for father-in-law John Mahoney.

6. Sporting Life, November 18, 1911.

7. As reported in Sporting Life, April 13, 1912.

8. Formerly the Toledo Mud Hens, the AA club was moved to Cleveland for the 1914 season as a preventative measure against Federal League encroachment by Charles Somers, the owner of both the Naps and the newly christened Cleveland Bearcats.

9. According to Sporting Life, April 18, 1914.

10. Nashville manager Bill Schwartz announced that the Browns had released four players to the Volunteers in return for Paulette, as per the New York Times, August 22, 1915. A recent website news article ups the number of players sent to Nashville to eight: Dick Kaufman (1b), Art Kores (3b), Gus Williams (of), Billy Lee (of), Bill Ellis (p), Ernie Herbert (p), and Dick Wells (p). See “Commodores History Corner: Vandy’s Bill Schwartz Remembered,” by Bill Traughber at http://www.VUCommodores.com, posted April 25, 2012.

11. See e.g., David Pietrusza, Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2003), 159-160; Susan Dellinger, Redlegs and Black Sox: Edd Roush and the Untold Story of the 1919 World Series (Cincinnati: Emmis Books, 2006), 178. A wafer-thin case that the Cubs may actually have dumped the 1918 Series is presented in Sean Deveney, Original Curse: Did the Cubs Throw the 1918 World Series to Babe Ruth’s Red Sox and Incite the Black Sox Scandal? (New York: McGraw Hill, 2010).

12. Carl Zork was later among those criminally charged with the fixing of the 1919 World Series in the superseding indictments returned in the Black Sox case in March 1921. The thesis that Black Sox codefendants Lefty Williams and Happy Felsch also threw 1919 regular season games against the St. Louis Browns at Zork’s behest is offered in “They Were Black Sox Before the 1919 World Series,” by Timothy Newman and Bruce Stuckman, Base Ball, A Journal of the Early Game, Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 2012, 75-85.

13. It is sometimes reported that the pitching appearance, a two-batter stint in a September 2 game against Cincinnati, enabled Paulette to become the first National League player to man all nine defensive positions in a single season. See e.g. the Rome (Ga.) News Tribune, September 25, 1988, commenting on Jose Oquendo’s accomplishment of the feat. But neither Baseball-Reference, Total Baseball (7th ed., 2001), nor The Encyclopedia of Baseball (4th ed., 1979), list a major leagues game appearance by Paulette as a catcher.

14. St. Louis sent Paulette and pitcher Lee Meadows to the Phillies in exchange for prospects Elmer Jacobs, Frank Woodward, and Doug Baird.

15. See David Pietrusza: Judge and Jury, The Life and Times of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis (South Bend, Indiana: Diamond Communications, Inc., 1998), 177; Harold Seymour and Dorothy Mills Seymour, Baseball: The Golden Age (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960), 372-373.

16. As per Daniel E. Ginsburg, The Fix Is In: A History of Baseball Gambling and Game-Fixing Scandals (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1996), 164.

17. Although the banishment of the seven players was only temporary at this juncture, Landis signaled his long-term intentions by publicly observing that “baseball is not powerless to protect itself. All of these players … must vindicate themselves before they can be readmitted to baseball,” as per the Chicago Tribune, March 12, 1921. Chick Gandil was not among those placed on the temporarily ineligible list by Landis. Following a contract dispute with the White Sox, Gandil had been suspended by club owner Charles Comiskey and had not played during the 1920 season. Codefendant Hal Chase, quietly released by the New York Giants in February 1920 and now persona non grata, had not played major leagues ball during the 1920 season either.

18. As reported in the Auburn (NY) Citizen/Chicago Tribune, March 25, 1921, and elsewhere. See also, The Sporting News, March 24 and 31, 1925.

19. As per the Auburn Citizen/Chicago Tribune/New York Times, March 25, 1921. See also, Ginsburg, 164.

20. As quoted in the Auburn Citizen/Chicago Tribune, March 25, 1921, and elsewhere.

21. Chicago Tribune, March 26, 1921. Whatever had transpired between Paulette and the St. Louis gamblers, it had occurred well outside the jurisdictional limits of a grand jury sitting in Cook County, Illinois. The indictment against Zork was 1919 World Series-related, predicated upon a purported attempt to revive the Series fix at a Chicago hotel after the corrupted players and the original fixers had had a falling out after Game 2. Paulette and Farrar, however, were not connected to that matter.

22. As reported in the Chicago Tribune/Los Angeles Times, April 3, 1921.

23. See Los Angeles Times, April 3, 1921.

24. See The Sporting News, March 31, 1921.

25. See Chicago Tribune, April 21, 1921. See also, “The Spirit of Massillon,” an editorial published in The Sporting News, April 28, 1921, that excoriated Massillon club officials for the effrontery of impugning the official judgment rendered on Gene Paulette.

26. Gene joined his father and brothers Albert, John, Gus, Harry, and Cyprian as railway employees.

27. A copy of the Paulette death certificate, which incidentally gives 1892 as his birth year, is contained in the Paulette file at the Giammati Research Center.

28. As per the Paulette obituaries published in the Arkansas Democrat/Arkansas Gazette, February 9, 1966. Neither local paper mentioned the ball playing career of the deceased.

 

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