Ensign Cottrell was a man who was successful at many things in life, but who never reached the level of achievement in the major leagues that some thought he might have. He was a gifted athlete and a scholar who was successful in college, in the minor leagues, and in his life after baseball. While in the major leagues, however, he received few opportunities to show his ability, and on the rare occasions when he played, did little to give his managers the inclination to give him more chances. Of the five major-league teams he played for, he appeared in a single game for three of them, and just two for a fourth, even though he spent a fair amount of time on their rosters.
Ensign Stover Cottrell was born in the village of Hoosick Falls, New York, not far from Albany. His parents, William and Lottie Worthington Cottrell, had both been born in the town of Hoosick, which includes Hoosick Falls. Although his date of birth is generally given as August 29, 1888, both his death certificate and a Syracuse University alumni questionnaire have him a year older, born on August 29, 1887.
Cottrell, also known as Dick, was a left-handed pitcher who was prone to wildness, often walking as many batters as he struck out. He grew up playing baseball and was a varsity pitcher for Hoosick Falls High School, from which he graduated. In 1907 he entered Syracuse University and continued to show his athletic prowess, playing both basketball and baseball. But he was also a scholar, winning an award for the athlete with the best academic record, finishing with an average of 93.7 for his four years of work and earning a degree in civil engineering.
In his senior year Cottrell was the captain and star pitcher of the baseball team. He was reported to have had a record of eight wins with a single loss (to West Point), with five shutouts and two one-hitters.1 In his final college game, on June 13, 1911, he threw a no-hitter against Columbia, winning 2-1. Cottrell attracted the attention of multiple major-league teams, including the New York Giants and the Cincinnati Reds, but in a scout’s letter to Cincinnati president August Herrmann, Cottrell was said to have “ ‘teed’ himself up with the Pittsburg club,”2 allegedly because they had made a close friend of Cottrell as the Pittsburgh representative.3
Cottrell, listed as 5-feet-9 and 173 pounds, reported to the Pittsburgh team on June 17, 1911, and within days made his first and only appearance for the Pirates. On June 21 in Chicago against the Cubs, he entered the game in the bottom of the seventh inning with the Pirates trailing 7-1 and quickly discovered the difference between college and big-league batters. He got Heinie Zimmerman, the first batter he faced, to fly out to right, but after a walk, Cottrell surrendered his first hit and run when Joe Tinker tripled to right. A single, two stolen bases, a sacrifice fly, and two doubles soon followed and the single-inning debut finally ended with four runs scored and the Pirates now down 11-1. In the next inning John Shovlin also made his major-league debut as he pinch-hit for Cottrell and struck out in what would be his only at-bat of the season.
Manager Fred Clarke didn’t call on Cottrell after that, and when the team left for an Eastern road trip in early July, Cottrell and three other players were left behind with instructions “to work out daily at Forbes Field and be ready to join the team in the East on short notice.”4
By the end of August Cottrell found himself released unconditionally by the Pirates and quickly caught on with the Scranton Miners of the Class B New York State League. He made his first appearance with the Miners in a complete-game 2-1 loss to Utica, and manager Monte Cross used him as a starter for the rest of the season. Cottrell finished with a 3-3 record in six games with Scranton, including two complete-game losses in which he gave up only two runs. Scranton finished a disappointing seventh place in the eight-team league but the team appeared to have obtained a solid starter heading into the 1912 season.
Under new manager Buck Freeman, Cottrell soon became established in the starting rotation. On April 26, 1912, he started and lost the Miners’ second game of the season, but five days later he came back to pitch a complete-game 6-5 victory against the Binghamton Bingoes for Scranton’s first victory after three losses. Scranton rapidly fell into the second division and stayed under .500 the entire season, but Cottrell was a consistent winner for the Miners. On August 3 he lost a 2-1 game to Binghamton and saw his record dip to 9-10, but finished the season strongly from that point on with six wins and two losses.
The first of those two losses came on September 2. A morning-afternoon two-city doubleheader was scheduled for that day with the Wilkes-Barre Barons, winners of their previous 24 games; with that morning’s game, it looked as though Cottrell was going to end that winning streak. For most of the game he held the home-team Barons hitless and took a scant 1-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning. With two outs, however, Wilkes-Barre got its only hits of the game, a double and two singles, and pushed two runs across the plate. The Barons took the contest for their 25th victory in a row. For the afternoon game, the teams traveled to Scranton, and the Miners reversed the score to pin a 2-1 loss on Wilkes-Barre and end the team’s incredible run.
In the next to last game of the season, on September 7, Cottrell pitched well but dropped a 2-1 decision to Utica. Scranton ended the season in fifth place with a 62-69 record. Cottrell finished with 15 wins and 12 losses, but those losses included four complete games in which he allowed only two runs and a 16-inning complete game in which he gave up three.
Cottrell’s winning record for a losing team had been drawing attention from scouts throughout the season, and on September 16 the Baltimore Orioles of the International League drafted him in the Rule 5 draft. But the Chicago Cubs, who had reportedly tried to acquire Cottrell early in the season, also drafted him and as a major-league club, had priority in acquiring his services.5 The Cubs had a pennant-contending team that year, but the New York Giants were better, and by September 27, 1912, the second-place Cubs trailed in the standings by ten games. That afternoon, in the first game of a doubleheader, Cottrell made his Chicago debut in relief of Fred Toney, who was knocked out after allowing six runs to Cincinnati in five innings. Cottrell gave up two runs in each of his first two innings, allowing eight hits, a walk, and a strikeout in four innings of relief as Chicago started a five-game skid with a 10-3 loss to the Reds, ending the season in third place.
That appearance would be the only one Cottrell made for Chicago. Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics had also had his eye on the young left-hander. In November, when Chicago mistakenly included his name on a list of players for whom it was seeking waivers, Mack seized the opportunity and grabbed him – Cottrell would start the 1913 season as an Athletic.
Cottrell’s chances of making the club weren’t assured, however. After being world champions in 1910 and 1911, the Athletics had fallen to third place in 1912, but had still won 90 games and had a deep pitching staff. With two winners of more than 20 games in Jack Coombs and Eddie Plank, as well as 13-game winners Chief Bender and Boardwalk Brown, the starting rotation for the 1913 season was established. However, Cottrell and fellow youngsters Herb Pennock, Joe Bush, and Weldon Wyckoff made a strong showing in spring training, and Mack headed into the regular season with a ten-man pitching staff. But even with the early-season loss of Coombs to typhoid fever, there simply weren’t enough shots at game time. Cottrell made his American League debut at home in the season’s eighth game, on April 23 against the newly renamed New York Yankees. He relieved fellow rookie Bush in the ninth inning of a 4-0 loss, striking out one batter and yielding two hits, including a run-scoring single by Hal Chase, who played center field that day while manager Frank Chance enjoyed a rare start at first base.
Cottrell didn’t see action for another six weeks. On June 5, in the third game of a four-game home series against Detroit, he finally got a chance to make his first start in the big leagues. He helped his own cause with a bases-loaded double to score three runs as the A’s jumped to a 9-2 lead. By the end of the game, Cottrell had held on for what became an ugly complete-game 10-6 victory, yielding 13 hits and two walks while striking out two. Sam Crawford got four hits, and Ty Cobb was held hitless in four at-bats. As it turned out, that would be the highlight of this chapter of Cottrell’s career.
Mack was always looking for new talent, and after only these two appearances, he sent Cottrell to Jack Dunn’s Baltimore Orioles in a deal that would soon see Bob Shawkey make his way to the A’s.6 The second-division Orioles put Cottrell right to work on June 19, but he lasted just a third of an inning in a 13-8 victory over the Montreal Royals. He found his bearings in his next start, seven days later, striking out 11 Buffalo batters and limiting the Bisons to four hits and two runs in a 5-2 victory, which ended with his collapsing from the heat after the game. With Shawkey’s departure, Cottrell received steady work as a starter and by the first week of August had racked up ten wins. His workhorse status peaked in a stretch between the 8th and the 25th of August as he started and relieved five times each, but his record suffered for it as he took six losses, four at the hands of Montreal. In September manager Dunn used him at a more measured pace and by season’s end Cottrell had appeared in 32 games and had compiled a 14-8 record in helping Baltimore finish with a winning season and a third-place standing in the eight-team International League.
The 1914 season brought many changes to the world of baseball in Baltimore, two of which had significant impact on the Orioles. The Baltimore Terrapins of the new Federal League came to town, and the Orioles signed a young left-hander named George Ruth. Ruth picked up the nickname “Babe” in spring training in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and on March 7 Ensign Cottrell was on second base during an intrasquad game when Ruth hit his first home run as a professional. As the team came north to open the season, the Baltimore fans quickly abandoned the Orioles in favor of the major-league Terrapins. Playing before scant crowds, Cottrell got off to a slow start and had a losing record as May ended with the Orioles in third place. But in June he turned things around, starting with a win on the 3rd when he entered the game with one out in the first inning and shut the door on the Jersey City Skeeters in a come-from-behind 4-3 victory. Wins on the 6th and 9th helped the Orioles surge into first place, and on June 13 Ruth and Cottrell teamed up for complete-game victories as the Birds swept the Newark Indians. Seven days later Cottrell was once again part of a doubleheader sweep, this time pairing with Ernie Shore against the Montreal Royals.
By the end of June the Orioles were playing .670 ball, but the financial woes brought on by a lack of attendance had Dunn listening to offers from major-league teams for his players, as well as considering a proposal from Richmond, Virginia, to move his team. In order to survive, Dunn began selling his players and by July 9 five players, including Ruth, had been sold to major-league teams. Cottrell continued his winning ways with a 12-inning shutout of the Skeeters on July 2, and another shutout of Newark on the 11th in which no Indian made it as far as third base. Four days later Cottrell bested Carl Mays and the Providence Grays with a three-hit, 2-1 victory for his tenth consecutive win. After a loss to Newark, he tossed a 1-0 masterpiece on July 24 against the Toronto Maple Leafs in what would be his final game for the Orioles. With another round of selloffs by Dunn, on July 29 Cottrell and his 13-7 record were headed to Boston to join the Braves.
In last place on the Fourth of July, Boston had climbed to fourth place when Cottrell joined the team, and had won nine in a row when he made his first appearance for the Braves, on August 7, starting a home game against Pittsburgh. The left-hander gave up two runs on three walks and a hit in just 1? innings, and manager George Stallings wasted little time in replacing Cottrell in an eventual 5-1 loss. His wildness cost him dearly, as the Braves relied on a three-man rotation for much of August, and although he was with the team for the rest of the season, Cottrell didn’t see action as a Brave again. He was carried on the World Series roster, but he didn’t play in Boston’s four-game sweep of Philadelphia, and when the Braves awarded winners’ World Series shares of just over $2,700 to themselves, they voted only partial shares of $500 to Cottrell and infielder Bill Martin, “which their fellow players considered ample in view of the fact that neither man did any thing in particular toward bringing the pennant to Boston.”7
Cottrell headed to spring training with the Braves in 1915, but with a strong staff returning from the championship season and a 21-player limit, there wasn’t a spot available for him. In the American League, new Yankees manager Wild Bill Donovan needed a left-hander and had seen Cottrell the previous two seasons while manager of the Providence Grays. A deal was struck and Cottrell was sold to New York in early April. By the time he joined the club, the Yankees had established their starting rotation, so Cottrell was destined for relief duties and to hope for a chance to start. The Yankees’ quick start that season would keep him waiting. After 24 games New York sported a 16-8 record, and its starters had hurled 22 complete games, with only two appearances by relievers for a total of three innings. But the team started losing and on May 27, New York’s 32nd contest of the season, Cottrell finally made it into a game. He pitched the final inning and two-thirds in an 8-2 loss to Chicago, still only the fifth appearance by a reliever for the Yankees that season. On June 9 Cottrell relieved Marty McHale in the second inning of a game against the White Sox, and gave up 14 hits, two walks, and one hit batter in an ugly 13-0 loss. A month later he pitched one final inning in a loss to Cleveland. New York management, having seen their team fall below the .500 mark, decided that changes were in order and released Cottrell and McHale. Cottrell had made seven appearances for the Yankees, all in relief, and all in losses, giving up 29 hits and seven walks in 21? innings for a 0-1 record and a 3.38 ERA.
Once again Cottrell found a job with Jack Dunn, who had relocated to Richmond when competition from the Federal League drove the Orioles out of Baltimore. After the previous summer’s sale of its best players, the franchise, now named the Climbers, was struggling with a losing record, and Cottrell was slotted back into his old starting role.8 On July 15, six days after his last appearance with New York, he went the distance to beat Buffalo 6-4 before a home crowd. He got steady work for the rest of the season, but was less effective than the previous summer, appearing in 20 games for the Rebels with 15 complete games, and ended up with a record of seven wins and 11 losses, allowing just over four runs and 13 walks and hits per nine innings.
After the season Cottrell’s rights were sold back to the Yankees, but he decided to retire in order to establish a new career in the field he had studied. In January 1916 he entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for a semester and while there helped mentor the school’s pitching staff. In August 1917 he married Evelyn Taylor of Syracuse, and a year later their first child, Jack, was born. Two daughters would later join the family. Cottrell worked for a civil engineering firm in Syracuse and later established his own practice as a civil engineer and surveyor. In early 1947 Cottrell suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died several days later, on February 27, in Crouse-Irving Hospital in Syracuse. Cottrell was a member of Theta Alpha fraternity and the Syracuse University Hall of Fame, as well as Victor Lodge 680 (F&A M). He was survived by his wife, his three children, a brother and sister, and two grandchildren.
This biography is included in "The Miracle Braves of 1914: Boston's Original Worst-to-First World Series Champions" (SABR, 2014), edited by Bill Nowlin.
Smelser, Marshall, The Life That Ruth Built (New York: Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co., 1975).
Baltimore Sun online archives.
Sporting Life online archives.
Ensign Cottrell player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
1 Sporting Life 57, No. 15 (June 17, 1911), 3.
2 Author unknown, letter to August Herrmann, February 4, 1911, Ensign Cottrell player file.
3 Unidentified newspaper clippings, Ensign Cottrell player file.
4 Sporting Life 57, No. 19 (July 15, 1911), 6.
5 Sporting Life 59, No. 10 (May 11, 1912), 11.
6 Sporting Life 63, No. 24 (August 15,1914), 2.
7 Sporting Life 64, No. 8 (October 24, 1914), 5.