SABR

Jack Bentley

This article was written by Nelson 'Chip' Greene.

The “Pebble” game. After 85 years it remains one of the most memorable games in the history of the World Series. On October 10, 1924, at Washington’s Griffith Stadium, in the seventh game of the World Series between the New York Giants and Washington Senators, the Senators’ Earl McNeely came to bat in the bottom of the 12th inning with the score tied, 3-3, runners on first and second, and one out. Moments later, his routine grounder fortuitously struck a pebble and bounced high over the head of Giants’ third baseman Freddie Lindstrom, and the Senators scored the winning run for their only World Series victory. Fittingly, the winning pitcher that day, in what would also be his only World Series victory that year, was the universally beloved Big Train, Walter Johnson. For New York, the losing pitcher was a 29-year-old left-hander named John Needles Bentley. Everybody called him Jack.

Jack Bentley remembered that game for the rest of his life; yet surprisingly, he recalled it with fondness, not regret. In October 1955, when he was 60 years old, Bentley told a reporter, “There I was, pitted against Walter Johnson, my boyhood idol. The whole country wanted him to win a Series. When we lost, I felt lower than a snake’s belly in a rut. But as I walked off the field and heard all those people hollering, I was a little bit pleased that I had brought so much happiness to so many people ... by losing! My own family was rooting for Washington.” 

Indeed, Bentley could claim somewhat of a Washington connection. The future major leaguer was born on March 8, 1895, into a prosperous family on a farm in Sandy Spring, Maryland, a Quaker community 20 miles from the site of Griffith Stadium. His great-grandfather Caleb Bentley, one of the area’s original Quaker settlers, served as postmaster of the nearby town of Brookeville, and during the War of 1812, when the British invaded Washington, he sheltered President James Madison for a night. Jack’s father, John Caleb Bentley, was a bank president, while his mother, Cornelia Hallowell Bentley, was the daughter of another prominent Sandy Spring family. In addition to Jack, their only son, John and Cornelia also had five daughters.

According to Bentley, he began learning to play baseball at a very early age. In July 1967, two years before his death, he reminisced for Maryland News magazine that he was only 3 years old when he was first given a baseball and taught how to throw. Soon, however, Bentley became a “baseball nut,” and by the time he was 9 or 10 he was playing regularly with adults. Throughout the morning, the young Jack worked on the family farm; then, in the afternoon, he would run more than 2 two miles to join his friends for baseball. His favorite position was shortstop but he played every other position too, with the exception, ironically, of pitcher. He wouldn’t play that position until he got to high school. 

Bentley wasn’t alone among his kin in his passion for baseball. Living so close to Washington, baseball fans in Sandy Spring and the nearby communities, said Bentley, “loved those Washington Senators,” and would often travel by horse and buggy or even ride their bikes for the two-hour trek to the city to see the major leaguers. Years later, asked to reminisce about that seventh game of the ’24 World Series, Bentley commented to a reporter, “It seemed to me that as I stood there waiting to throw the first ball, that it was only yesterday that I had come to that field with my father to see Johnson pitch on that summer day a dozen years before.”  

Given that, by the time he arrived at Sandy Spring’s Sherwood High School, Jack was infused with a love of baseball. And it didn’t take long before his natural talent was fully on display. While it’s not clear exactly what dates Bentley attended Sherwood, he was a member of the school’s first uniformed baseball team, sometime around 1908. (Bentley was then 13 years old.) At Sherwood, Bentley finally became a pitcher, and also led his team in slugging. 

In September 1911, the 16-year-old Bentley left Sandy Spring for the first time, enrolling in the George School, in Newtown, Pennsylvania, a Quaker coeducational boarding and day school that offered education from grades 9 through 12. As a member of the Class of 1915, Bentley likely intended to prepare for college. Instead, after two years he emerged as an 18-year-old major-league pitcher.

In 1955, Bentley remembered his first game at the George School. “The new boys were playing the regular school team,” he said. “The newcomers didn’t have any pitchers, so I pitched – and won.” By all accounts, he won a lot, as “team after team was baffled by his ability.” In fact, during the course of his two years at the school, Bentley threw several no-hitters.

Yet he also apparently swung a potent bat. While no records exist of Bentley’s hitting while he was on the George School team, in 1912, he was approached by Bert Conn, manager of the Johnstown, Pennsylvania, team of the Class B Tri-State League, and offered a contract as an outfielder at $75 a month. Undoubtedly intrigued by the offer, Bentley nevertheless declined, and at the end of the school year he returned instead to Sandy Spring to help harvest the crops.

He never returned to George School. Whether or not Bentley intended to return is unknown. According to school records, there is no date of withdrawal, but his last grades were recorded for the school year 1912-13. If he did intend to return, however, two events transpired that perhaps led to a change in plans: First, Bentley’s father was dying; and second, the left-hander joined the Washington Senators.

Credit for the latter event belonged to a friend of Senators’ manager Clark Griffith, a Washington doctor named Julian Gartrell, who brought the pitcher to Griffith’s attention. When Bentley returned to Sandy Spring from the George School, he joined a local county team, the Montgomery Tigers. One afternoon, while Bentley was pitching the Tigers to a victory over Highland, a team from the adjacent Howard County, Gartrell was in the stands. After the game, the doctor approached Bentley and suggested that the pitcher go to Griffith Stadium for a tryout with the Senators. Bentley did, and Griffith was impressed.

Many years later, the pitcher vividly remembered that day. “Though I wanted to be a baseball player more than anything in the world,” he recounted in 1955 for the Montgomery Sentinel, “I had no idea I could make the Washington team. In fact the tryout was more an opportunity to meet the stars than to get on the team. … I was really floating on air. Chick Gandil, Ray Morgan, George McBride, Eddie Foster, and Clyde Milan were in the dressing room… Was I scared! I was like a blind dog in a meat house!”

Griffith instructed the 18-year-old to throw batting practice and assigned Senators catcher John Henry as his batterymate. Bentley was unsure what to expect. “I thought every pitch would be hit over the fence,” he later recalled, but after the first batter swung at and missed four or five pitches, Bentley gained confidence. Finally, after throwing for 20 minutes, Bentley was called to the bench and told by Griffith to come to the manager’s office, which was then located downtown, in the National Press Building. There, Griffith offered Bentley a contract for $600 -- $100 per month -- and Bentley went home to discuss the offer with his parents.  

Initially, they were adamantly opposed. Given their standing in the community, the Bentleys “considered baseball a public spectacle, something Quakers were supposed to avoid.” Eventually, however, after Jack promised not to drink or gamble, they relented, and Bentley joined the Senators. Incredibly, he was now a teammate of his idol, Walter Johnson.

Bentley made his major-league debut on September 6, 1913, against the New York Yankees. “I’ll never forget that first walk from the bullpen,” he recalled more than 50 years later. “It seemed like a hundred miles to the mound. I was so nervous the plate looked like it was floating around.” Nevertheless, Bentley’s first pitch was a strike, and he held New York scoreless for two innings. Almost a month later, on October 2, he made his first start, allowing just three hits in eight innings in a 1-0 victory over the champion Philadelphia Athletics, before being lifted in the ninth for a pinch-hitter. After one other relief appearance in the final game of the season, Bentley finished with a 1-0 record in three games, allowing just five hits in 11 innings, and when the season ended he returned home to Sandy Spring to again tend the farm. 

That fall, however, Jack lost his biggest fan; John Caleb Bentley lost a lengthy battle with cancer. So renowned was John in the community that upon his passing, the Maryland legislature adopted a resolution expressing tribute to him. Many years later, Jack remembered one of his final conversations with his father, who told him, “Son, I hate so much to die – I’m so interested in your career.” In his will, John Caleb bequeathed to his only son the 125-acre farm and family home. It remained Jack’s home for the rest of his life. (According to Margaret Wintz, director of exhibits at the Sandy Spring Museum, in 1913, Jack was playing ball and the home was rented. Jack remodeled it in 1939 and finally moved in.)

With his baseball career just getting started, Bentley wasn’t yet ready to be a full-time farmer. It soon appeared, however, that he might be harvesting sooner than anticipated. In the spring of 1914, due in no small part to the tutelage of veteran Washington coach Nick Altrock, who had “taken a fatherly interest in the youngster,” rooming with him on the road and “constantly by his side during practice,” the left-hander made the team and he subsequently spent the entire year with Washington. Yet despite pitching two two-hit games in three days, winning both by 1-0 scores (“I beat Bob Shawkey of the A’s Labor Day morning in the first game of a doubleheader,” Bentley later remembered, “then came back two days later and won over Jack Warhop of the Yankees,”), his career in the American League proved relatively brief. In 30 games, 11 as a starter, Bentley’s record in 1914 was only 5-7; although he posted an impressive 2.37 ERA, and he struggled with a walk/strikeout ratio of 53/55 in 125 1/3 innings. While that performance proved promising enough, however, for Griffith to reward Bentley with an $1,800[1] contract for 1915, the manager soon decided that Bentley needed seasoning, and on June 12 he sent the Marylander to Minneapolis of the American Association. Except for 1 1/3 innings he pitched in two games in 1916, he never made it back to the Senators. After just one full season, Bentley’s Washington career was over. 

Perhaps an injury was to blame for his struggles. At least Bentley always claimed so. At Minneapolis the left-hander didn’t pitch right away; in August, the press reported he “has been suffering from a sore arm, and is expected to return to the slab shortly.” It was later learned that soon after being sent down, Bentley sought the services of the famed “curer of ballplayers’ ills,” Bonesetter Reese, who claimed to have treated Bentley for a “misplaced ligament.” Then, in March 1916, Bentley told the press he’d undergone surgery the previous winter to have his tonsils and adenoids removed. Those infected glands, his doctor asserted, had “poisoned (Bentley’s) system and induced ‘rheumatism’ in the pitcher’s arm.” It seems that during spring training in 1915, the Senators had tried to change Bentley’s delivery, attempting to make him a “no-windup” pitcher; thereafter, Bentley always claimed doing so had injured his arm. If Griffith had been skeptical, however, of Bentley’s natural delivery, it was probably understandable, for it was, to say the least, slightly unorthodox. In fact, it was downright unique.

In February 1924, after Bentley had returned to the major leagues, writer F.C. Lane watched the left-hander pitch during spring training for the New York Giants and described Bentley’s windup thusly:

“With no one on base, he always goes through a set number of astonishing gyrations. He winds the ball violently in two or three directions, then hauls it down laterally across his chest, heaves it up over his shoulder once more, then takes it almost completely around and finally disengages himself long enough to hurl the pellet at a waiting batsman.”

 In 1936, after Bentley had retired from the game, another writer, describing “Freak Pitching Deliveries -- Past and Present” remembered that Bentley “turned almost all the way around and when he swung back toward the batter he not only tossed the ball up there but also a large foot that threatened to kick the batter in the face.”

Future Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Alexander, upon his first look at Bentley, questioned whether the left-hander could be effective with such a complicated delivery. “I should think he would tire himself all out winding up and have nothing left to put on the ball,” Pete opined.

For his part, though, Bentley was philosophical about his singular delivery: “My windup is original to me. No one taught it to me, and I guess perhaps nobody else wants to learn it. I think it’s effective too, but that isn’t the main reason why I use it. The fact is that I cannot pitch in any other way. I wish I could. Alexander is partly right. When the game is over I am about all in, especially on a hot day.” Disdaining any changes to his “original” windup, Bentley never adopted Griffith’s altered pitching delivery. 

If Bentley couldn’t pitch through his pain, he was nonetheless a valuable commodity for Minneapolis. Playing for manager Joe Cantillon, Bentley proved to be a better than average hitter, and his productivity set the stage for the next phase of his career, as he became a two-way threat and one of the most heralded players in minor-league baseball history.

It started with a championship in Minnesota. With a team made up almost exclusively of Washington Senators castoffs, Joe Cantillon led Minneapolis to the American Association pennant in 1915. Bentley was a major factor in the Millers’ victory. In 14 pitching appearances, the left-hander contributed a 7-4 record and a 3.18 ERA. When not on the mound, he played the field in 16 games. His batting average for the season was.238, with a .357 slugging average. After joining Minneapolis again in 1916, following two brief appearances with Washington, Bentley threw 117 innings in 21 games, fashioned a record of 8-6 and posted an ERA of 4.15. Again taking a turn in the field when not pitching, Bentley batted .308 in a total of 36 games, and improved his slugging average to .436.

And then came the trade that ignited his career.

On January 27, 1917, Jack Dunn, owner and manager of the International League’s Baltimore Orioles, had not yet finished assembling the core group of players who would soon make his team legendary. Two and a half years earlier, in July 1914, with the Orioles in first place by 5½ games but in desperate financial straits because of competition from the Federal League’s Baltimore Terrapins, Dunn had sold pitchers Babe Ruth and Ernie Shore and catcher Ben Egan to the Boston Red Sox for $20,000. After the subtractions from the roster, the Orioles had collapsed, finishing 21 games behind. Now Dunn was rebuilding, and on January 27 he announced that he had traded shortstop Sam Crane, in Dunn’s estimation “easily the best shortstop in the minor leagues last season,” to the Senators for catcher Alva Williams, outfielder Turner Barber, and Bentley. As it turned out, Dunn didn’t want Bentley to pitch; instead, having witnessed Bentley’s batting prowess in Minneapolis, Dunn installed him as the Baltimore Orioles’ starting first baseman.

It proved a very prescient move. Beginning in 1919, the Orioles won seven consecutive International League pennants, and for three of those years Bentley, who by then considered himself a hitter who occasionally pitched, put on one of the most dazzling offensive demonstrations the league had ever seen. In his first two seasons, 1917 and 1919 (he was in the US Army in 1918), with the exception of a lone pitching appearance in his first year, Bentley played exclusively at first base and in the outfield: In 185 games, he posted averages of .333 batting and .510 slugging. Then he really caught fire. From 1920 to 1922, Bentley’s numbers were staggering, as he batted .378 in 439 games, scored 340 runs, drove in 399, and had a slugging average of an astounding .590. In both 1920 (161) and 1921 (120), Bentley led the league in RBIs; in 1921, he won the league Triple Crown, batting .412 (the league’s highest season average in the 20th century), with 24 home runs and 120 RBIs. His 246 hits that season remain the league’s single-season record.

Yet Bentley continued to pitch when needed, and those results, too, were staggering. From 1920 through 1922, Bentley pitched in 56 games and produced a 41-6 record, a winning percentage of .872: in both 1921 (.923) and 1922 (.867), he led the league in that category. In 1920 (2.10) and 1922 (1.73), Bentley also led the league in ERA, and over three seasons his ERA was an astounding 2.07. During those years, by virtue of his performance both at the plate and on the mound, the press bestowed on Bentley the moniker Babe Ruth of the Minors.   

Bentley’s absence in 1918 was a controversial decision. After he was drafted in July 1917, speculation abounded that Bentley would claim exemption from military service as a conscientious objector due to his religious faith. Yet he chose to enlist in the Army. “Some of the members of our faith thought I was justified in my conduct,” Bentley later related. “Others didn’t. But I think I was.” In 1962, he told an interviewer, “That was the turning point in my life.”

In March 1918, Private Bentley was stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland. Shortly thereafter, he was deployed to France. It was a harrowing experience.

“We went to the Argonne and took an awful shellacking,” Bentley remembered. “We were the 313th Infantry, boys from Baltimore and the Eastern Shore. Of 3,600 active men in our regiment, 1,200 were killed or wounded – a terrible lot of casualties. In the first four days we lost nearly half of our officers. We had over 80 officers and then we had only 45. … When it was over, we had only four officers left in our battalion. … I was knocked unconscious twice from shellfire, and it was no fun. But it was one way to find out how it was to get killed. I can assure you that if you get it quick like that, it is easy.” When the Armistice was signed, Bentley was up for the rank of captain.

For Bentley, the 19 months served in the Army were an experience that “forever changed my viewpoint.” Indeed, “the heroics of the battlefield topped anything anybody could do on a baseball field.” When he returned from France “ballplayers became ordinary human beings,” Bentley said, and he “was able to compete more realistically.”

Perhaps that confidence was responsible for his batting exploits over the next several years. Regardless, by 1922 Bentley was a bona fide star, the highest-paid player ($4,500 a year) on a team of well-paid players, and major-league scouts were knocking on Dunn’s door trying to acquire Bentley’s services. The International League, though, wasn’t subject to the major-league draft, so, much to Bentley’s mounting frustration (“An ambitious ballplayer can’t be satisfied with anything he may do below the highest rank,” he told Baseball Magazine in February 1924), Dunn felt no necessity to unload his stars for anything less than what he considered top dollar. However, after refusing numerous offers over the years for the player he considered “a more finished pitcher than Babe Ruth” and “a hard and dangerous hitter,” after the 1922 season, Dunn finally sold his star to the New York Giants for the then-staggering sum of $72,500. (The sale price was actually $65,000 and three players, each valued at $2,500; however, when the Giants were later unable to provide three players to Dunn’s liking, the Giants paid the Baltimore owner their estimated worth of $7,500, making the final sale price for Bentley $72,500.) After a first failed effort in Washington, Bentley was going back to the major leagues. Yet, disappointingly for the left-hander after his offensive exploits, he was returning as a pitcher. (In 1950, long after his retirement, Bentley, who was fanatical about the Washington Redskins football team, visited his friend, Redskins owner George Preston Marshall, on the sidelines as the team practiced at Griffith Stadium.

Reminiscing, Marshall told Bentley he thought Giants manager John McGraw, who was then desperate for left-handed pitching, had chosen Bentley over Baltimore teammate Lefty Grove. No, replied Jack, “I told McGraw he bought the wrong pitcher when I reported. But Dunn had a $100,000 price tag on Lefty and McGraw wouldn’t have him after watching him walk eight batters against Kansas City in a Little World Series game.”) 

By this time, Bentley was both a husband and a father. According to Bentley’s files at the Sandy Spring Museum, sometime in 1921 he married Mary Adams. Little is known about Mary, but she produced Bentley’s only child, a son, Robert Hamlyn Adams Bentley, who was killed on Iwo Jima in World War II. Bentley subsequently married his second wife, Helen Murray, on September 25, 1928 (they met when Jack was playing with the Giants and Helen was studying dancing in New York; the marriage lasted until Bentley’s death), there is no mention at the museum of the dissolution of Bentley’s first marriage. According to museum director Margaret Wintz, however, the rumor was that Jack married Mary because she was pregnant. In those days, said Ms. Wintz, “apparently it was the right thing to do.”

After a brief holdout (he felt he was due a portion of the money Dunn had made in his sale), Bentley, now 28 years old, joined the Giants for the 1923 season. He was realistic about his chances. “I consider myself only a fair left-handed pitcher,” Bentley told the press upon his arrival. “I might become a good one, I might not. I don’t know. First base is the position I would like to play, but there’s naturally no chance for me (future Hall of Famer George Kelly was a fixture at first base for New York, and Bill Terry was waiting in the wings at Toledo), and I must do what I can as a pitcher.” Besides, Bentley continued, “I have one advantage as a pitcher anyway. The fellow who is pitching against me can’t afford to take it too easy when the tail of the batting list comes up. A pitcher who can drive in a run once in a while himself can help win his own games.” Indeed, before he was through in New York, Bentley would often be called upon to deliver some timely hitting.

If Jack Bentley wasn’t ultimately a sensation in New York (and given the expectations engendered by his purchase price, how could he be?), neither was he a failure. Considering that he was 28 years old and hadn’t ever really had time to fully develop as a pitcher, it was probably asking a lot to suppose he would be a 20-game winner. Nonetheless, he won some important games for New York. In his three full seasons (1923-25), the left-hander compiled an enviable record of 40-22, a .645 percentage, and posted an ERA of 4.40. Moreover, pitching 87 games in the three seasons, he completed 50 percent of his starts (36 of 72), allowed 594 hits in 528 innings, and walked 182 batters while registering 187 strikeouts. Crucially, during the pennant race of 1924, when the Giants held off the Brooklyn Dodgers to win the National League pennant by 1½ games, Bentley defeated Brooklyn six times during the season[2], and at one point won eight games in a row, finishing the season with a team-leading 16 wins.  

He also played a prominent role in two World Series. In 1923, the Giants faced their New York City rivals, the Yankees, for the third straight season, having beaten the American League champions the last seven Series games in a row (the final three in 1921 and a four-game sweep in 1922). In Game One in 1923, Bentley delivered a pinch-hit single that led to a run in a 5-4 Giants win at Yankee Stadium. Then in Game Two, at the Polo Grounds, he made his first pitching appearance, entering in relief in the top of the fifth, and faced Babe Ruth. It was a memorable encounter. Ruth had homered in the fourth, so this time John McGraw ordered catcher Frank Snyder to signal for a beanball. Bentley refused, shaking off the signal three times. Snyder motioned that it was McGraw who had ordered the pitch, but still Bentley refused. Finally, Bentley delivered an inside curve at the knees and the Babe launched the pitch into the right-field seats for a home run. Between innings, McGraw, livid that his order had been ignored, reamed out Bentley and told him, “If you want to get paid, pitch what I say.”

Accordingly, when Ruth came up later in the game, McGraw again ordered a beanball and this time Bentley threw the pitch directly at Ruth’s head, sending the Babe to the dirt. Ruth, naturally, was angry and approached Bentley menacingly, waving his bat and challenging him to a fight. “Babe,” said Bentley, “if you think I wanted to throw that beanball, then go ahead and hit me.” Whereupon Ruth stopped and laughed, responding, “I guess it’s McGraw I ought to hit in the head with this bat.” Bentley’s final performance came as the Game Five starter, when he was shelled, taking the loss in an eventual 8-1 Yankees victory. When the Yankees went on to win Game Six as well, the American League champions claimed their first World Series victory. In the two games he worked, Bentley totaled one loss and amassed an ERA of 9.45.

His 1924 Series performance against Washington was demonstrably better. After allowing just six hits but losing, 4-3, as the Game Two starter, Bentley then started Game Five, and defeated Walter Johnson, 6-2, to give the Giants a three games-to-two lead. Beyond stellar pitching, Bentley also homered off Johnson in that game,[3] before allowing McNeely’s Series-winning hit in relief in Game Seven. For the Series, Bentley compiled a 1-2 record in three appearances and posted a 3.18 ERA. 

Over the two World Series, Bentley also batted impressively. Appearing at the plate in ten games, he totaled 5 hits in 12 at-bats, a .417 average, with an on-base percentage of .462 and a slugging mark of .750, an outstanding performance. It’s easy to see why Bentley long lamented never having the chance to swing the bat full time in the major leagues. At 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, he was a formidable hitter. As with his pitching windup, though, his batting style was also unorthodox. Much in the manner of Mel Ott, Bentley, as F.C. Lane described in Baseball Magazine, in February 1924, would “draw back his bat and raise himself slowly on one foot” as the pitcher released the ball. Then, “when he meets the ball,” continued Lane, “if he does meet it, he is standing, literally, on one leg.” Quite often his unique style produced a hit. (In 584 major-league at-bats, Bentley batted .291, with 7 home runs, a .406 slugging average, and a .316 on-base percentage.) 

After the 1924 Series, Bentley joined his Giants teammates and the Chicago White Sox in a barnstorming trip to Europe designed to acquaint the Europeans with the American game. While overall the trip proved less than successful (“There was one day in Ireland,” he remembered years later, “where they had us scheduled to play on a Sunday morning during Mass, the same day as the Irish Hurling championship! I tell you the truth when I say we had no more than 15 people to watch our game”), Bentley and his mates did gain an audience with Britain’s King George V and his two sons. Jack greeted the king with a carefully rehearsed “Your Highness, I’m honored.” 

As the 1925 season began, Bentley was 30 years old and his effectiveness was waning. That season proved to be his final full one in the major leagues. After leading the National League for 2½ months, the Giants finally fell out of first place and eventually finished second behind the Pittsburgh Pirates, ending New York’s four year run as league champion. Bentley contributed 11 wins for New York in 22 starts, but his ERA soared to 5.04, and on December 30, McGraw traded the left-hander to the Philadelphia Phillies, along with pitcher Wayland Dean, for pitcher Jimmy Ring. Bentley never recorded another major-league victory.

He made three starts for the Phillies in 1926, but to disastrous results: an 0-2 record and an 8.17 ERA in 25 1/3 innings. So Philadelphia manager Art Fletcher shifted Bentley permanently to first base, where the former Baltimore phenom played 56 games before he was placed on waivers. Apparently hoping Bentley had something left, McGraw then reclaimed the left-hander on September 26, but Bentley played in just three games, two as a pinch-hitter, before the season ended. In 1927, he saw his final major-league action, playing in eight games for the Giants, before being released and signed by the International League’s Newark Bears. After 287 games, Bentley’s major-league career was over.

For the next two seasons, Bentley played in Newark. Paul Block, owner of the Bears, desired a championship for his club and spared no expense acquiring former major-league stars at tremendous minor-league salaries. Besides Bentley, Block also purchased such players as Jack Fournier, Hugh McQuillan, and Bill Lamar, and for the 1928 season signed Bentley’s childhood idol, Walter Johnson, to manage his club. All that talent failed to translate to wins on the field, however, as in 1928 the Bears finished 81-84 and seventh in an eight-team league. Over the two seasons, Bentley pitched and played first base, compiling a mound record of 17-10 in 43 games, while batting .297 in 112 games.

He then moved on to the Class B New York-Penn League in 1929, as player-manager of the York White Roses. With his pitching days now mostly behind him (he threw 3 games for Elmira in 1932), Bentley played the next two seasons exclusively at first base for York, and in 1929 he led the league in doubles, with 46. His stint with York ended, however, in August 1931, when the 36-year-old was released. Branch Rickey signed Bentley for Rochester to replace the ailing George Sisler, and Bentley batted .306 in 17 games. His final position in baseball came in 1932, when he began the season as manager of the Cardinals’ New York-Penn League affiliate at Elmira, but he was replaced by Clay Hopper when that club fell to last place early in the season. It was Bentley’s final stop. He never again held a position in any capacity in baseball.

After his retirement from the game, Bentley’s life remained full and varied. At his peak with the Giants, his salary had been $8,500 a year, but despite that Bentley never made much money from baseball. Still, he had few financial worries. In 1993, his niece recalled for a reporter that “when he got out (of baseball), he began to make money, first as a (car) salesman, then as a public-relations man with an international construction and architecture firm. … He lived in the Hay Adams Hotel (in Washington), and also had a farm out here (Sandy Spring). He was very successful.”

Bentley was the fourth generation to occupy the farm. An avid fox hunter, he bred champion foxhounds and at one time had more than 100 in his pack. He also raised Christmas and holly trees on the land, and by 1955 had 6,000 Christmas trees and 200 hollies planted in the front yard. For 30 years, he and Helen lived there, and Bentley, well-known around town, enjoyed the celebrity that came from his baseball career.

Through the years he remained civic-minded. During World War II, Bentley participated with Walter Johnson (who also owned a farm in Montgomery County, just 15 miles away from Bentley) and Mrs. Dwight Eisenhower in autographing bowling pins to be auctioned at a bowling tournament for war bonds. Later, in May 1944, he became a volunteer in the Army Air Forces Aircraft Warning Service Reserve. Still later, in the 1950s, Bentley served as vice president of the Montgomery County branch of the Maryland Historical Society and was actively engaged in securing a new county museum.

He also received the recognition that resulted from 20 years of service in professional baseball. Given his brilliant performance in Baltimore, in 1958 Bentley was inducted into the International League Hall of Fame, in December 1964 into the State of Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame, and finally, in September 1966, into the Maryland Shrine of Immortals.

As Bentley aged, though, it became difficult to get around. Wracked with arthritis, probably caused, he speculated to a reporter in 1958, by a back injury suffered in a collision at first base with Jim Thorpe in 1920 (Thorpe was then playing for Akron and Bentley for Baltimore), he became increasingly bedridden, and spent most of his time in his farmhouse’s second-floor bedroom, reminiscing with friends and the press about his life and career. (Former Senators’ teammate Sam Rice, who lived a mile away, was a frequent visitor.) On October 25, 1958, however, in what Bentley described to the crowd as “one of the greatest honors I have ever had,” he hobbled on two canes onto the field at Sherwood High School, where it had all begun for him 50 years before, and gave the dedication speech for their new athletic field. The Quaker farmer from Sandy Spring, Maryland had finally come full circle.

Jack Bentley died on October 24, 1969, and was buried in the Friends Cemetery, behind the Meeting House in Sandy Spring, Maryland, just across the road from the farm he loved so much.

Notes

By 1962 Bentley had sold all but 20 acres of his farm to developers. Upon his death he willed the land to his wife, Helen. In 1980, in memory of Jack, Helen donated 7-plus acres of land for the establishment of the Sandy Spring Museum, as a tribute to the history of the community of Sandy Spring. The museum has a permanent exhibit of Bentley memorabilia and a bust of Bentley, and its central courtyard, which is surrounded on three sides by the museum and a fourth by a wall of evergreen trees, is named the Bentley Courtyard. The museum is located on Bentley Road. Upon Helen’s death in the early 1990s, the remainder of what had once been Jack Bentley’s farm was sold. Helen is buried beside Jack in the Friends Cemetery.

For 20 years, I lived in Gaithersburg, Maryland, about 13 miles from Sandy Spring. During that time I drove past the Sandy Spring Museum hundreds of times, but never felt inclined to visit. Further, the high school my children attended was an archrival of Sherwood High School. Several times I cheered for our school as they took on Sherwood in various sports. Throughout, I never knew Jack Bentley’s connection to Sandy Spring. I had known for many years, however, the name of the pitcher who opposed my grandfather in his only major-league start. Then one day a friend who knew of my interest in baseball visited the museum and asked me afterward if I had ever heard of a player named Jack Bentley. As they say, it’s a very small world.

Sources

Most of the articles and material referenced in this biography are contained in the Jack Bentley files at the Sandy Spring Museum in Sandy Spring, Maryland.

The author offers heartfelt thanks to Ms. Margaret Wintz, director of exhibits, and her staff at the Sandy Spring Museum for their time and assistance.

The author also thanks Ms. Debbie Chong, assistant, the George School, for a series of e-mail exchanges that provided insight into Bentley’s career at that institution.  

Magazine Articles

Bruce Dudley, “Planning a Junior World’s Series on a Big Scale,” Baseball Magazine, February 1922.

F.C. Lane, “Why Jack Bentley is a ‘Victim of Circumstances,’ ” Baseball Magazine, February 1924.

Rick Benner, “Baseball Memories Endure for Ex-Senator,” Maryland News 40th Anniversary, July 27, 1967.

Jack Bentley, “I Remember When … I Crawled Home after Hitting My First Home Run,” Baltimore Sunday Sun Magazine, October 3, 1965.

Dave Anderson, “Bonesetter Reese: Baseball’s Unofficial Team Physician,” Batting Four Thousand -- Baseball In the Western Reserve, edited by Brad Sullivan; SABR, 2008.

James Isaminger, “Connie Mack Gets First Choice Any Time Jack Dunn Unloads,” The Sporting News, December 23, 1920.

Jack Dunn, “A Minor Leaguer’s View of the Draft Problem,” Baseball Magazine, May, 1923.

John McGraw, “The Greatest Players I Have Ever Developed,” Baseball Magazine, December, 1924.

Hugh Bradley, “Freak Pitching Deliveries -- Past and Present,” Baseball Magazine, June 1936.

Arthur O.W. Anderson, “They Hold the Record,” Baseball Magazine, July 1937.

Newspaper Articles

Washington Post, 1913, 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917.

Des Moines (Iowa) Daily News, 1913.

Frederick (Maryland) News-Post, 1913.

“Baseball Dates at George School,” Trenton (New Jersey) Evening Times March 9, 1914.

“Jack Bentley is Praised,” Logansport (Indiana) Chronicle, August 29, 1914.

Indianapolis Star, 1914.

“Star Pitcher on Washington Club,” Decatur (Illinois) Daily Review, September 14, 1914.

Decatur Daily Review, 1916.

“Bentley and Shaw, Youngsters, Are Finds for Clark Griffith,”  Fort Wayne (Indiana) Journal- Gazette,September 21, 1914.

.Fort Wayne News, 1915.

Janesville (Wisconsin) Daily Gazette, 1915, 1917, 1918. 

Fresno (California) Morning Republican, 1914.

Syracuse Herald, 1914, 1916, 1917, 1918.

Bill Fuchs, “Turning Point For Jack Bentley: Ill Wind of War Blew Good,” Washington Star, February 13, 1962.

 “Jack Bentley Saw Dramatic Baseball Days,” Montgomery County (Maryland) Sentinel, October 27, 1955.

Montgomery County (Maryland) Sentinel, October 30, 1969 (obituary).

Rod Thomas, “Bentley Not Downcast After 5 Months in Bed,” The Sunday Star, 1/19/58

 Joel Davis, “This Jack Was an Ace: Remembering Hall of Famer Jack Bentley,” The Free Press, 10/21/93

William Gildea, “When Everyone Loved the Senators,” Washington Post, March 29, 1999.

Racine (Wisconsin) Journal-News, 1916.

“Former Nat Hurler Is Hitting ’Em Now,” Lima (Ohio) Daily News, June 22, 1917.

Books

Jim Kaplan, Lefty Grove: American Original (Cleveland: Society for American Baseball Research, 2000).

James H. Bready, Baseball in Baltimore (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998).

Joseph Durso, The Days of Mr. McGraw (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1969).

Reed Browning, Baseball’s Greatest Season, 1924 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003)

Websites

www.sandyspringmuseum.com

www.georgeschool.org

www.ukulele.org/?Ukulele_Journal

www.uscoachways.com/articles/sandy-spring-museum.html

http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/documents/2008/01/08/337536/1/Bentley...

http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/documents/2007/07/22/278252/1/ILHOF_1957-59.pdf

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/20/AR2005062001378

http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/milb/history/top100by Bill Weiss and Marshall Wright,

 http://www.brjsabrwebs.com, “Jack Bentley’s Sad Tale: Victim of Circumstances,” by Ralph S. Graber






[1] This contract is on display among Bentley’s archives at the Sandy Spring Museum.


[2] On June 3, 1924, Bentley defeated the author’s grandfather, Nelson Greene, a Brooklyn rookie, 3-2, at the Polo Grounds. It was Nelson’s only major-league start. Refer to Nelson’s biography at the BioProject website.


[3] The bat Bentley used to hit the home run on display at the Sandy Spring Museum.
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