SABR

Fred Anderson

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

The earliest known connection between dentistry and the Boston Red Sox is Fred Anderson, a pitcher. You’ll find him in the record books, as playing for the Red Sox in 1909 and then again in 1913. It is said that he passed up an opportunity to join the Red Sox until he finished his dentistry training. A few years later, he joined the team – a dentist who developed a spitball.

John Frederick Anderson was born on December 11, 1885, in Calahan, North Carolina, not far from Winston-Salem. His big-league debut came on September 25, 1909, when the Red Sox swept two from the St. Louis Browns. Edith Anderson, a relative through marriage, said that when Fred got too old to play ball, he turned to the practice of dentistry for which he had trained. He had a practice in Winston-Salem and Edith still has his dental chair.

A grandnephew of Fred Anderson, W. Taylor Slye, said, “He was my grandmother’s brother. I’m 60. I knew him. We’d visit him. I was born in Davie County, North Carolina, but grew up in Washington, D.C. In fact, my daddy grew up right across from the old Griffith Stadium and used to work at the soda shop right on the corner of 7th and Georgia Avenue. He told me about Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth and all these guys who would come over after the ballgame.”

Fred Anderson attended private school in Boone and then both Oak Ridge Military Institute and Davidson College, and received his degree in dentistry from the University of Maryland, meanwhile setting the strikeout record at the university. Trained in oral medicine, as it happened he used his mouth in pitching as well. Anderson was a spitball pitcher, a practice legal at the time.

The family circumstances of his youth show he shared the same fairly common surname with others in his household who were related through marriage, and bore the same first name as his brother. He is listed in the 1900 Census as a brother-in-law of Jolla N. Anderson, a merchant, who lived with his wife, Jennie, and her mother, Julia Anderson, whose occupation was listed as land owner. Both John F. and John R. Anderson are listed as brothers-in-law of head of household Jolla. Fred’s 1957 death certificate lists his father as Dr. John Fred Anderson and his mother as the former Elizabeth Cheshire. Given a family tradition of dentistry, it may be surmised that his father had been a dentist before him but Anderson’s obituary said that his father had been a physician. What had become of his parents before he’d turned 15 remains unknown.

Like many ballplayers of the day, Fred pitched for a number of semipro teams outside of Organized Baseball and it was in the summer of 1906 that he pitched his best game. Working for a minor-league team in Darlington, South Carolina, he threw a no-hitter against a Georgetown, South Carolina, club. The game was pitched so efficiently that the Darlington first baseman was never involved in even one play. It was in 1907 that he began to experiment with moistening the ball before delivery.

“Spitball” Anderson began his major-league career with the Red Sox in 1909 with just one game – a start right near the end of the season. He yielded just three hits and one earned run in eight innings, with five strikeouts and one walk. There was some jockeying for first place at the top of the American League standings between Detroit and Philadelphia, but Red Sox were in third place by the time Anderson was handed the ball and with only seven games to go there was almost no possibility of either reaching second or falling to fourth. The Red Sox skipper was Fred Lake and the team’s home park was the Huntington Avenue Grounds. The St. Louis Browns were in Boston for a doubleheader on September 25.

Anderson had joined the Red Sox on September 13, two days after the team had finished its last road trip of the year. They were scheduled to play the last 18 games on the schedule at home. Anderson pitched his first game for the Red Sox on the 19th, in Newport, Rhode Island, an exhibition game the Red Sox won handily, 14-0. He threw a compete-game shutout, holding the Newport team to four hits. He walked one but struck out seven. He singled once in the game and scored one of the runs. “Newport was unable to locate Anderson’s twisters,” wrote the Boston Globe. “He had a good assortment of curves and lots of speed.”

Fred had started his professional career in his home state earlier that year, pitching for Wilson in the Eastern Carolina League. The Red Sox did hold options on him and on shortstop Steve Yerkes, and on July 17 they exercised both options, paying $1,000 for each. They were to report at once. [Boston Globe, July 18, 1909] Anderson was sizable by the standards of the day, standing 6-feet-2 and weighing 180 pounds. The Wilson Tobacconists were a Class D aggregation and Anderson was 10-7. He wasn’t much of a hitter, batting .183. The Red Sox placed him with Jesse Burkett’s Worcester Busters in the Class B New England League. He was 9 and 5 for Worcester. At the plate he had only four singles in 46 at-bats.

When it came to the 25th, manager Lake asked Ray Collins to start the first game. The Vermont-born left-hander was in his first season, too, and entered the game with a 3-3 record. He carried a 1-1 game through 6½ innings, then saw his teammates score the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh and add an insurance run in the eighth. It was good that they’d added that third run, since the Browns came back with one in the top of the ninth – and had runners on second and third with only one out. Lake brought in Frank Arellanes in relief, and Browns manager Jimmy McAleer countered with a pinch-hitter, Roy Hartzell. Hartzell hammered the first pitch right back to the mound, where Arellanes grabbed it and threw to third base to double up the man running for home and end the game. Boston came out on top, 3-2.

“Anderson Looks Good,” read a headline within the Boston Globe’s game story. Anderson – “Late of Worcester” – held the Browns to just three singles in eight innings, but two errors behind him had been costly, and the Browns had a 3-1 lead after 7½ innings. Just one of the runs was earned. The Red Sox scored twice in the bottom of the eighth, Anderson removed for pinch-hitter Harry Wolter, who grounded out. Eddie Cicotte relieved Anderson and the Red Sox finally won it, 4-3, in the bottom of the 10th when Tris Speaker singled and advanced on a sacrifice and a deep fly ball, and then scored on Amby McConnell’s deep hit to the Huntington Avenue Grounds’ extraordinarily capacious center field. Anderson had struck out five and walked just one. The Globe wrote, “Anderson was a bit shaky in the field, but taking his work all together he made a grand good showing. He is a right-hander and uses the moist ball for his meal ticket.” Neither of the errors had been Anderson’s.

Anderson was projected in 1910, but hadn’t signed by the last week of February. “Anderson would like a greater stipend than was offered him by the Boston club,” observed the February 2 Globe. He could point to his 1.12 ERA, but one might have questioned a holdout after pitching just one game. After the team’s first week of spring training in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the paper noted that “young Anderson, the North Carolina dentist, ... has not been heard from as late.” He never did turn up, taking care of teeth in Statesville instead. In late September, the Red Sox – who still held rights to him – transferred him to Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League. Dr. Anderson sat out 1911, too, but late in 1911 he sold his practice and applied to the National Commission for reinstatement and it was granted. On January 17, 1912, his signed contract showed up at the Red Sox office in Boston. He joined the team at Hot Springs and threw the first five innings of the first intrasquad game of the spring, holding the opposition to one scratch hit and pleasing Jimmy McAleer, now the president of the Red Sox. “This boy looks too good to take any chances with,” McAleer wired catcher (and temporary springtime manager) Bill Carrigan. McAleer sent another telegram to Anderson himself, warning him not to overextend himself too early. [Boston Globe, February 25, 1912] Manager and first baseman Jake Stahl showed up in the Springs on February 25 (he’d been hunting in northern Illinois). When it came time to pitch against real opposition, Anderson got through his first four innings against the Phillies with only two runs, but was slammed for six more in the fifth inning. He rebounded in another couple of outings, but was ticketed for Milwaukee.

“ANDERSON SAYS HE WILL NOT GO,” read the Globe headline on March 30. Stahl had decided he wasn’t going to make the team, and the Sox did a deal with Milwaukee’s Hugh Duffy to send him there for the season, with an option to pull him back in the autumn. Anderson had signed with the Red Sox for $2,000, but was being offered only $1,650 by the American Association’s Brewers. He thought the Red Sox should make up the difference, given that they retained the right to recall him. Something was worked out between the Brewers and the Brockton Shoemakers, and Anderson pitched in the Class B New England League, going 11-17. He played for Brockton in 1913 as well, having a much better year (16-7), when he was purchased on August 6 by the Red Sox. The reported purchase price was $6,000 in cash and pitcher Esty Chaney, who had pitched one inning in one Red Sox game on August 2 (and given up one run). [Boston Globe, August 7, 1913]

“Anderson Shows Enough to Warrant a Place With Red Sox,” read the August 7 Globe. He had allowed one hit in the first four innings against the visiting St. Louis Browns. They scored once off him in the first, twice more in the sixth, and then really got to him as he tired in the seventh. Though the Sox had held 5-1 and 7-3 leads, Anderson saw the lead begin to slip away. He left with runners on second and third and nobody out. Reliever Charley Hall walked three batters, the two runs charged to Fred. Boston won the game, 9-8, in the bottom of the ninth, but Anderson didn’t get the decision. He had pitched well to start, and had a lot of fans cheering him on.

Anderson lost his next start, 3-1, to the Browns on August 17 and then a 1-0 game on the 20th, giving up just four hits in seven innings. As it happened, he never did win a game for the Red Sox and was 0-6 at season’s end. The deal with Brockton was half-payment on arrival and the other half if he stuck with the Red Sox. A Hartford Courant headline suggested the feeling the Red Sox came to have: “BOSTON RED SOX FIND ANDERSON A LEMON.” [Hartford Courant, September 13, 1913] He had often pitched fairly well in the starting innings of games, but the opposition tended to get to him by midgame. The Red Sox didn’t want to pay the second half of the purchase price, so prepared to send him back to Brockton. What was worked out remains unclear, but he appeared in the game on September 24th and started on the 29th, and the last game of the year, on October 4, in one of those farcical games that saw Walter Johnson play center field for Washington and infielder Germany Schaefer pitch one inning. Seven Senators played two or more positions during the course of the game, and they won it, 9-8.

Anderson threw 57 1/3 innings in 1913, but fared poorly (0-6, 5.97 ERA). After the season, he took a job coaching baseball at the Agricultural and Mechanical College in Raleigh (later North Carolina State). And in the spring, he signed a contract to pitch for the Buffalo Blues in the new Federal League. “When asked about his salary, Anderson smiled and said that cash offered him was too much to refuse.” [Atlanta Constitution, March 15, 1914]

He played Federal League baseball in 1914 and 1915 with Buffalo with a 13-15 mark the first year (3.08 ERA) for the fourth-place Blues and a good 19-13 record (2.51 earned-run average) in 1915, when he was arguably the best pitcher on the sixth-place staff. After the league collapsed, Anderson was fortunate to land a spot with the New York Giants when Buffalo sold his contract in mid-February of 1916. He was 9-13, the fourth starter on a good Giants staff, and bore a 3.40 ERA. In 1917 he appeared in the same number of games as in 1916 (38) but started only 18 games as opposed to 27, and saw his innings drop from 188 to 162. He was much stingier with his hits, though, allowing just 122, down from 206 the year before. Despite an 8-8 record, he led the National League in both earned-run average (1.44) and WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) with 0.963.

Anderson’s last year was in 1918. He appeared in 18 games in the war-shortened season, starting only four of them. He was 4-2 with a 2.67 ERA when duty called. Fred’s final game was on July 9, 1918, after which he reported to the United States Army, one of the large number of ballplayers called to serve. Anderson entered the Dental Corps.

Anderson might have returned to pitching but quit baseball, the story goes, over a contract dispute with John McGraw and that is when he truly turned to dentistry as a career. He was in his 30s, then, and had played a couple of seasons for Buffalo in the short-lived Federal League, then three years with the New York Giants. His career record was 53-57 with a 2.86 ERA (he led the National League in 1917 with a 1.44 ERA) and helped propel the Giants to the 1917 World Series. Anderson was tagged with a Game Two loss after giving up four runs in two innings of relief. Taylor Slye, his grandnephew, questioned the story about a dispute with McGraw, saying, “I personally think that he just said, ‘It’s time for me to get on my career.’”

“He never worked on my teeth,” his grandnephew added. “We have several dentists in the family. Three of them on my grandfather’s side; Fred was the only one from my grandmother's side. Dr. Robert Anderson, from another side of the family, was short of stature, and several people in town tell me, ‘Oh, he pulled my teeth, yeah. He was a small man and he’d just get up on my chest.’ … My grandmother and Fred grew up maybe about 100 yards from my grandfather’s house. They lived just up the road there. Fred’s practice as far as I can determine began in Statesville, North Carolina, later moved to Charlotte and finally to Winston-Salem before retiring to Davie County where he died in 1957.”  In his later years, Dr. Anderson sometimes played ball in his area with fellow North Carolinian Ernie Shore.

Slye’s summary is borne out by census records. In 1920, Anderson (then age 35) was living in Winston-Salem as a boarder in the home of dentist Phin Horton and his wife, Carrie. Anderson was himself practicing as a dentist at the time. He married Clementine Tise on June 28, 1921, and by 1930 the two had set up house in South Fork, West View, Forsyth County, North Carolina. The couple had no children at the time but did have two servants living with them, James and Rose Nesmith (as per one reading of the handwritten census records). His obituary in The Sporting News read, “He began his private dental work at Statesville NC, spent a short time at Charlotte NC, and then moved to Winston-Salem in 1920.”  In death, he was survived by his widow, Clemmie, but his death had not been fully natural. He had retired from the practice of dentistry in 1948, but had been quite ill for two years leading up to November 8, 1957. Anderson took matters into his own hands that day; his wife had gone to the bank and he was in an upstairs bedroom. The family butler, James Nesmith, heard a gunshot at about 10:45 in the morning. The death certificate signed by Baptist Hospital recorded the cause of death as “suicide by shooting self in the region of the heart with a 12-gauge shotgun.”

Sources

Interviews with Edith Anderson and W. Taylor Slye, 2004. In addition to the sources cited within this biography, the author consulted his player file and questionnaire at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the online SABR Encyclopedia, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.

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