SABR

Hap Myers

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Former major leaguer Ralph Edward “Hap” Myers faced a possible death sentence for armed robbery in El Paso the year after he left the game, but later went on to serve as the director of a number of companies and retired as vice president of Laurentide Finance Corp. He was acquitted of the alleged crime in Texas – but he did steal 132 bases in 377 big-league games.

Myers’ father, Edward, was an attorney in California; he’d come to the United States from England and married Katherine McDermott, a California native of parents from Rhode Island. The two had five children, and Ralph was their first-born, coming into the world on April 8, 1887. He was born in San Francisco. He attended the Governess School and St. Ignatius College (a high-school-level prep school in San Francisco), and then graduated from the University of California. He was captain of the baseball team there.

On September 11, 1909, the Boston Red Sox announced the signing of two players from the Pacific Coast League in California: left fielder George “Duffy” Lewis of the Oakland ballclub and Hap Myers, first baseman for Sacramento. Earlier in the season, Myers had played for the San Jose Prune Pickers, the California State League club in San Jose, hitting .318 in 81 games (all at first base) before the team folded on July 11. He may briefly have played with the Santa Cruz Sand Crabs, before he secured a spot with the lesser-known California State League Sacramento Senators on July 25, playing through August 8 (hitting .484), before he joined another team (the better-known Pacific Coast League team) of the very same name, the Sacramento Senators. He hit .292 in 76 games for Sacramento.

It appears that Myers had come to an agreement with the Red Sox in July. The Oakland Tribune noted that Hap and his father, the attorney, wanted assurances before he agreed to play for the Pacific Coast League club that any signing with would not “interfere with the agreement he made a month ago to become a member of the Boston Americans next season.”i Apparently John I. Taylor ratified the signing and the agreement on August 12, and Myers made his debut with the PCL club that afternoon. Because Myers was playing in what was then the “outlaw” California League, Taylor would negotiate directly with the player and not the club. However, when he signed with the PCL club, Taylor would, through the agreement, have “control” of him within Organized Baseball, and thus Myers father and son wanted his blessing before Hap signed with Sacramento.ii

When reporting his signing, the Boston Globe characterized Myers as “a very industrious worker and a first-class player.” The paper noted he was tall – 6-feet-3, quite tall for the day – but he was far from stocky, at 175 pounds. He was dubbed a “brainy fellow” and a “shifty baserunner,” adding, “(I)f he has a fault it lies in a lack of aggressiveness. There have been times when Myers has displayed a tendency to loaf.”iii

Because of flooding, it took Myers eight days to reach the team for spring training in Hot Springs, Arkansas. (Also arriving late were Californians Duffy Lewis, Harry Hooper, and Frank Arellanes.) Hap came up a little short of making a positive first impression on veteran baseball scribe and former player Tim Murnane, who observed, “Myers is not an ideal looking player. He is very tall and has very thin legs. … He meets the ball with a short preliminary motion, depending on lining the ball over or through the infield. A man more than six feet tall, batting right-handed and gripping a short bat more than six inches from the handle, is not an inspiring sight.”iv

But Myers was good enough to make the team, and enjoyed his major-league debut on the second day of the season, April 16, when the Red Sox played the hosting New York Highlanders. Jake Stahl played first base in the game, but with Boston down 4-2 after eight, Manager Patsy Donovan called on Myers to pinch-hit for pitcher Charley Hall in the top of the ninth. Hap grounded out.

Within a week Myers complained of a very sore throat and was told to stay in his room. When the team left on a road trip, he was left behind. He was initially thought to have tonsillitis, but on May 4 the club physician was sufficiently concerned that Myers was showing symptoms of scarlet fever that he ordered him to hospital. Fortunately, it was a mild case and none of the other players contracted the disease – though Red Sox management had a Washington physician check players two or three times a day during their stay in the District.v Myers came out of the Massachusetts Homeopathic Hospital on June 4, and on June 7 he departed for Chicago to join the team. He played sparingly, in only three games, with six at-bats, and collected two singles.

On July 9 a deal was done and Myers was sent to Toronto, but played in only a very few games for the teamdue to a surfeit of players there. He was returned to Boston and then sent on to the Louisville Colonels.vi He appeared in 54 games for Louisville, hitting .240. On September 1 the St. Louis Browns drafted Myers from Louisville in the Rule 5 draft.

After Jake Stahl announced his retirement, the Red Sox were anxious to get Myers back and Boston claimed title.vii He was with the Red Sox in Redondo Beach for the start of spring training in 1911. His was the first injury of the season, when he tore the nail on a finger in an intrasquad game on February 25. He opened the 1911 season with the Red Sox and got into 13 games, batting .368, scoring three runs but without a run batted in. But it didn’t take manager Donovan long to conclude that Myers wasn’t going to fit the bill at first base for the Red Sox. On May 11 they sold his contract to the still-interested Browns.

Myers played in 11 games for the Browns in 1911, batting .297 with one RBI and four runs scored, and was considered “very popular.”viii Why had the Red Sox, in need of a first baseman, let him go? The St. Louis Post-Dispatch suggested that he simply didn’t get along with Patsy Donovan.ix On May 23 Myers was 1-for-4 in a game in St. Louis against the visiting Red Sox, who had scored once in the top of the 11th to take a 2-1 lead. Myers was replaced by a pinch-hitter, Dode Criss, who drove in two runs.

Two days later Myers was released by the Browns, and questions were raised. St. Louis manager Bobby Wallace announced on May 25 that he’d released Myers back to the Red Sox – but Donovan said he didn’t want him, and that the ten-day option period for returning him had expired. Browns president Robert Hedges may have had his reasons to cut Myers loose, but his initial comments were not enlightening; he said he didn’t know who was going to become the Browns’ first baseman. The Post-Dispatch said that the National Commission would probably need to decide who owned Myers’ contract.x Sporting Life pointed out that it was only a matter of days before Dave Rowan was due back with the Browns, and quoted Hedges as explaining, “We thought him a good fielder, but he has a weak arm and does not hit well. He would have done nicely for the time being, but we are dealing in futures just now.”xi

How it was all resolved is unclear but one week later, in its June 17 issue, Sporting Life’s list of American League batting averages listed Myers as with Boston once more. On June 29 Myers played for Boston in both halves of a doubleheader. Precisely why St. Louis turned him back still remained a mystery, and in July Sporting Life ascribed it to “some unknown reason.”xii Given his history – noted with Donovan and, later, Boston Braves manager George Stallings, one wonders if there may have been similar problems with skipper Bobby Wallace of the Browns.

Myers didn’t stay in Boston all that long. Jersey City had expressed interest in him as early as April 1910, and the club remained interested over a year later. On August 18, 1911, the Skeeters secured Myers from Red Sox owner John I. Taylor, and he appeared in 11 games, with four hits in 19 at-bats. His contract reverted to Boston at the end of the season, but the transfer of his contract to Jersey City became permanent when, on January 5, 1912, Myers was part of a large trade that took him back to Jersey City again, this time not on option. He joined Hal Janvrin, Walter Lonergan, Marty McHale, Billy Purtell, and Jack Thoney – and all went to the Jersey City Skeeters for one player, catcher Hick Cady.

Through an unknown transaction, Myers played in 1912 not for the Skeeters but for the Spokane Indians in the Northwestern League. He had an exceptional season, and Boston’s National League club, the Braves, had been keeping an eye on him. On August 19 the Braves purchased his contract, but he was permitted to play out the season for Spokane.

Myers did have speed, and he finally turned it on for Spokane, stealing an Organized Baseball record 116 bases as of September 22. Myers also led the Northwestern League in hits (207) and runs scored (121). He hit .328 (fourth in the league) in 159 games and Boston sportswriter A.H.C. Mitchell wrote, “Myers I have always considered a first-class ballplayer. He is far ahead of anything the Boston Nationals have had on first base since Tenney was in his prime.xiii

When Myers was sold by Spokane to the Boston Braves, he sought one-third of the $1,200 purchase, pressed the argument, and the National Board granted him his wish.xiv The larger portion of the price was contingent on his sticking with the Braves, but he had, so Spokane had to pony up a third of the final payment, which was ordered on August 11.xv

Myers had a good year for the Braves, playing in 140 games and batting .273 with 50 RBIs and 74 runs scored. He stole 48 bases and was caught stealing 18 times. But after the season was over, on October 8, his contract was sold outright to the Rochester Hustlers of the International League, in a transaction later revealed to be a trade for first baseman Butch Schmidt. The reason given was “personal differences” with Braves manager George Stallings.xvi

Myers never played for the Hustlers. On January 15, 1914, he jumped his Rochester contract and said he would sign instead with the Buffalo club in the newly forming Federal League. “Sentiment in baseball no longer exists,” he said. “It’s a cold business now. Buffalo has agreed to pay me $1,000 more than I could hope to receive in Rochester this year, and I am not going to let it slip.”xvii He reportedly signed with the Buffeds on February 9.xviii But he hadn’t. The actual signing came on March 12 and, as if to underscore his point, he signed with the Federal League’s Brooklyn Tip-Tops.xix

Myers played in 92 games for Brooklyn, but struggled at the plate, batting just .220 – more than 50 points below his average in any other year. Even though he reached base far less often than in 1913, he stole 43 bases – only five fewer than for the Braves. In 1915 Myers played for the Tip-Tops once more, in 118 games, batting .287. He made headlines in a June 26 home game against the Chicago Whales. Player-manager Joe Tinker was playing shortstop and he trapped Myers off second base for a force out. Myers “took a wallop” at Tinker, but missed, whereupon several players (presumably Brooklyn ones) “grabbed Tinker and while he was being held Myers took half a dozen punches at him. Jimmie Smith came to the rescue and dropped Myers in his tracks.” Myers and Tinker were both ejected.xx

With the demise of the Federal League, Myers was included in the January 1916 listing of players released from their contracts. He played in, as far as we know, just three games for the 1916 San Francisco Seals in the Coast League, with just two at-bats and no hits. He appears to have played for a team in Miami.xxi Perhaps other business ventures beckoned.

Armed robbery was presumably not one of them, but Myers was indeed jailed in Los Angeles on November 28, on an arrest warrant from El Paso, Texas, where he was “wanted on a charge of highway robbery. Myers, Joe Fisher, and Shelly Tracy are alleged by the El Paso police to have held up a man and robbed him of a diamond ring valued at $2,000. The crime of highway robbery is punishable by death in Texas.”xxii The trio was also accused of drawing pistols on and robbing a second man of his diamond ring.

Myers was arraigned in District Court in El Paso on January 10, 1917, and pleaded not guilty.xxiii On January 27 he was acquitted. An unattributed news story in his player file at the Hall of Fame discussed “the disappearance of two diamond rings” – quite different from robbery at gunpoint, and in any event, regarding Myers, the story reported, “In court it was not proved that he was in any way connected with the theft.”

Later in 1917, Myers enlisted in the United States Army and served in military intelligence into 1919. Three years later, in June 1922, he married Gladys Tennant. After his career in business with Laurentide, with a specialization in auto finance, Myers died of cardiac arrest at Notre Dame Hospital in San Francisco on June 10, 1967. He is buried in Golden Gate National Cemetery at San Bruno, California.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Myers’ player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com. Thanks to Carlos Bauer, Tom Ruane, and Bob Hoie for assistance with data on Myers.

 

Notes

i Oakland Tribune, August 12, 1909.

ii Thanks to Bob Hoie for his assessment of what likely transpired.

iii Boston Globe, September 12, 1909.

iv Boston Globe, March 12, 1910.

v Boston Globe, May 8, 1910.

vi Sporting Life, November 12, 1910.

vii St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 12, 1911.

viii St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 17, 1911.

ix Ibid.

x St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 26, 1911.

xi Sporting Life, June 10, 1911.

xii Sporting Life, July 8, 1911.

xiii Sporting Life, October 5 and November 16, 1912.

xiv Sporting Life, November 23, 1912.

xv Hartford Courant, August 12, 1913.

xvi Los Angeles Times, October 27, 1913. The Times reported that the Oakland club was desirous of Myers’ services.

xvii Washington Post, January 16, 1914.

xviii See, for instance, the story datelined Rochester which ran in the February 10, 1914 Harttord Courant.

xix Washington Post, March 14, 1914.

xx Chicago Tribune, June 27, 1915.

xxi Sporting Life, January 20, 1917.

xxii Los Angeles Times, November 29, 1916.

xxiii Boston Globe, January 11, 1917.

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