How did a ballplayer from Indiana whose entire major-league career saw him pitch for the Boston Americans come to be known as Tex? His given name was Charles Leroy Pruiett. It wasn’t his lanky stature; he was 5-feet-8 with a listed playing weight of 176 pounds. The answer is probably a simple one: It likely lies in where he started his career – in the Texas League, pitching for the Waco Tigers in 1905 and the Dallas Giants in 1906.
Pruiett was born in Osgood, Indiana, on April 10, 1883, to John and Sarah Pruiett. John was a day laborer at the time of the 1900 Census. He and Sarah had three children: William, 19 and a railroad laborer in 1900, and Charles (17 in 1900), and Pearl, 13. In 1906, when word reached town that Pruiett was being considered as a possibility to advance from the American Association’s St. Paul Saints to the National League’s Cincinnati Reds, the Ripley Journal of Osgood noted that the family still lived in the area, and that Charley “is an Osgood boy … of this place, having been born and raised here. He began his base ball career with the local team and Osgood is quite proud of having given such a man to the cause.”i The newspaper attributed his beginning in baseball to area man James Geragherty, who had formerly managed the Rushville, Indiana, team “and practically placed Pruiett where he is.”ii
Pruiett’s first year in Organized Baseball had been with Waco of the Texas League and he appeared in 27 games, with a decision in every one. He was 12-15. Waco finished 65-64, in third place in the six-team league. After the season Pruiett returned home and played some October baseball for the town team in Osgood.
In 1906 Pruiett pitched for the Dallas team, also in the Class D Texas League, beginning the year nicely with a 3-0 defeat of the American League’s St. Louis Browns in March, in the first exhibition game of the spring season. He started the regular season 11-7 for Dallas, and joined the American Association’s St. Paul Saints during the season, winning another 11 games for manager Dick Padden and the Class A team (Pruiett was 11-8). On August 20, before the season was over, St. Paul sold his contract to the Boston Americans. Actually, and revealingly, his contract was reported as “sold to Ban Johnson for the Boston American league team.”iii As the architect of the American League, Johnson was still active in trying to achieve competitive balance within the league. Boston needed help desperately; as of August 20 they were 32-77 and 34 games out of first place. Five days later, Jimmy Collins – the only manager the team had ever had, since it began in 1901 – was out, replaced by Chick Stahl. Pruiett was one of seven players formally drafted by Boston during August.
Not unaware of the value he might bring Boston, Pruiett asked for $1,000 more than he was being paid by St. Paul, but, as Boston sportswriter Tim Murnane noted in the Boston Globe, he was perhaps “not aware that Boston is only taking him for a tryout until May 15, when he would revert back to the St. Paul club unless Boston decides to part with $1,500. The chances are that Pruitt (sic) will accept the golden opportunity of breaking into the big league at the liberal stipend offered for a player absolutely unknown….”iv
Pruiett and Frank Oberlin faced off well against Rube Kroh and Cy Young in the first intrasquad game of the springtime, Pruiett and Young giving up one run apiece. Tex made the team, and stuck, so St. Paul probably got its $1,500. Pruiett’s major-league debut came on April 26 in Boston, and only a lack of run support cost him the game, a 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Athletics. Jimmy Dygert of the A’s only allowed one hit. On July 4 Pruiett made sure he didn’t lose, throwing a 7-0 shutout, going 2-for-4 and scoring a run. But at the same time there was a play on which he failed to cover first base, apparently not for the first time – it was called “an old trick of his.”v His other shutout of the ’07 season came on August 17 in St. Louis, a 1-0 four-hitter (only one of those hits coming in the first seven innings). For the season as a whole, he was 3-11, but with a 3.11 earned-run average. This was quite a pitching staff, however. None of the five main starters had an ERA as high as 2.50, and the team ERA was 2.45. Nevertheless, the team won only 59 games, lost 90, and finished in seventh place.
Offered a contract for 1908, Pruiett didn’t hesitate and signed up in December. He was 1-7 in 1908, but he deserved at least one more win early on. On a cold and windy April day, the 21st, at Boston’s Huntington Avenue Grounds, Pruiett allowed the visiting Athletics just three hits – and lost the game, 4-0. On May 30 it was announced that the Red Sox (they adopted the name before the 1908 season) had sold Pruiett and three other players to Kansas City.vi
For whatever reason, the sale did not go through. Pruiett’s best game of 1908 was the July 8 shutout he threw against the visiting Cleveland team, a 2-0 win. Pruiett allowed just four scattered hits through eight innings, but then gave up three singles in the top of the ninth, before escaping with the shutout still intact. The handwriting may have been on the wall, however. The story of the game in the Globe was overshadowed by a large photograph captioned NEW PITCHER OF THE RED SOX SAID TO BE A GREAT BOX ARTIST. The pitcher was Frank Arellanes, on his way to Boston from the West Coast.
Pruiett apparently impressed Cleveland with his shutout, though. On July 20 Red Sox owner John I. Taylor announced his trade to the Cleveland Indians for Jake Thielman. By way of bidding him farewell, the Boston Globe said, “Pruiett has looked pretty good at times, and Manager McGuire had great faith in bringing the boy out as a winner, but luck has been against him, and a trade was considered the best thing for the club.”vii
As it happens, Pruiett didn’t stay in Cleveland long enough to appear in a game. On August 3 the team released him to Toledo. An explanation: “Thielman, of whom Manager Lajoie was trying to rid himself, was not acceptable to Toledo, to which team he was offered, but W.A. Armour, manager of the association team and formerly in charge of the Cleveland team, said he would be glad to have Pruiett.”viii
That July 8 shutout had been Pruiett’s only win for the Red Sox in 1908. He was 1-7 for Boston, despite an ERA of 1.99. He wasn’t going to stick in the major leagues with his batting, either. He hit .134 in 67 at-bats for Boston.
As it happens, Pruiett didn’t pitch for Toledo, either. Before August was out, the National Commission indicated that seven different transactions the Cleveland club had engaged in were “irregular, and in violation of the national agreement” – essentially because of the prohibition at the time against “farming” players. Their contracts were expected to be set aside by the Commission, and all the players freed from their contracts.ix Pruiett nonetheless appears to have at least tried out with Toledo, as another story datelined September 1 said that he was being returned to Cleveland that day. In the words of manager Armour, “Pruitt (sic) has showed no form since coming here.”x
On January 11, 1909, Cleveland sold Pruiett’s contract to the New Orleans Pelicans. He was 14-13 for the Pels. The team finished in the middle of the pack in the Southern League.
In 1910 Pruiett began the season with New Orleans again (beating Cleveland 1-0 in an exhibition game on April 2) but was released in late May “owing to failure to get into condition.”xi He quickly signed with the New Bedford Whalers of the New England League and impressed early on, with a 1-0 no-hitter over Fall River on May 31. He enjoyed a very successful year for the Whalers, his 15-5 record, helping the team to a first-place, 77-46 finish for manager Tommy Dowd. Jim Sullivan took over as manager in 1911 and the Whalers plunged to seventh place, though Pruiett won 13 games (13-15). In his third season with New Bedford (1912), he was 18-15.
Three years was the longest Pruiett had stuck with one team, but beginning in 1913 he played five seasons – or parts thereof – for the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League. He seems to have begun the season with New Bedford, but we cannot find indication of his work for the Whalers. On June 30 it was reported that he had been purchased by Oakland and was rushing to join the Oaks in Los Angeles.xii
Pruiett was 9-9 for Oakland in 1909, with a reported 3.04 ERA. As often as not his name was being spelled “Pruitt” and in all the research done for this biography, we never once came across the nickname “Tex.” He was dubbed “Charles Hercules Pruitt” by the Los Angeles Times at one point in 1913 after a 1-0 two-hitter he threw against Venice on August 26.
There was one odd article, in the Portland Oregonian. Pruiett was arrested at the Lyric Theater in Portland during a matinee. “Pruiett is accused of placing No. 3 birdshot between his teeth and throwing them with a toothpick, beanshooter fashion, at the players on the stage. His aim, the chorus girls admit, were excellent. This method of throwing shot is said to be a favorite amusement in baseball training camps. The stinging projectiles, however, had an unusual effect on the lightly clad chorus girls. Some of the pretty victims declared that they had not exactly been ‘beaned,’ in the baseball acceptance of the term, for to be ‘beaned’ is to be struck on the head with a thrown ball. Really, the girls explained, they would have been better off if it had been so, for their hair might have afforded some protection against the hurtling missiles.”xiii
Pruiett was also apparently a champion shot-putter; fortunately, he stuck with birdshot for the chorus girls.
Pruiett was 9-13 in 1914, but the team hadn’t done that well (it finished in last place) and his own future was in doubt. In November, a rival manager, Del Howard of the San Francisco Seals, said that he might never be able to work again owing to a bad knee.xiv
But Pruiett recovered and won 16 games (losing 20) in 1915. In 1916 he’s shown as appearing in just four games for Oakland, with an 0-1 record. He was apparently not in good shape; a Los Angeles Times headline bluntly said: “Charley Pruiett Is Too Fat for Real Work.”xv For a couple of years, Pruiett had been considered an unlucky pitcher, but Cliff Blankenship of the Salt Lake City team decided to take a chance on him, purchasing his contract from Oakland on May 3. A problem cropped up, though: Pruiett wanted half the purchase price to go to the Bees. Needless to say, Oakland wasn’t interested in this idea and it was expected that Pruiett would be suspended for refusing to report.xvi
How that resolved itself is not known, but Pruiett is not found pitching for either club in 1916. He was brought back with Oakland for 1917, and Del Howard (now manager of the Oaks) said he expected Pruiett and [Bill] Prough “to form the backbone of the pitching staff.”xvii That never happened. Pruiett appeared in just one game for Oakland in 1917, a 3-2 loss to San Francisco in San Francisco. It was the last game he pitched. Prough won 22 games (and lost 22.)
Before his retirement, Pruiett had been a longtime employee of the Tidewater Associated Oil Company after his time in baseball, and died from heart disease at his home in Ojai, California, on February 6, 1953. He was cremated
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Pruiett’s player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, The Baseball Necrology, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.
i Ripley Journal, Osgood, Indiana, August 15, 1906.
ii Rushville Republican, quoted in above issue of the Ripley Journal.
iii Boston Globe, August 21, 1906.
iv Boston Globe, February 16, 1907.
v Boston Globe, July 5, 1907.
vi Washington Post, May 30, 1908.
vii Boston Globe, July 21, 1908.
viii Boston Globe, August 4, 1908.
ix Washington Post, August 18, 1908.
x Chicago Tribune, September 2, 1908.
xi Sporting Life, June 5, 1910.
xii Los Angeles Times, July 1, 1913.
xiii Reported in the Washington Post, April 29, 1914.
xiv Sporting Life, November 7, 1914.
xv Los Angeles Times, April 3, 1916.
xvi Los Angeles Times, May 14, 1916.
xvii Sporting Life, March 24, 1917.