SABR

Gene Packard

This article was written by Bill Lamb.

Although twice a 20-game winner in the Federal League, lefthander Gene Packard lingers in baseball’s consciousness only because of a phrase once purportedly inscribed next to his name: 1918 Series fixer. The accusation, attributed to a diary maintained by Chicago White Sox club secretary Harry Grabiner, did not surface during Packard’s lifetime. Rather, it appeared in a memoir penned by maverick baseball team owner Bill Veeck Jr. in 1965. Veeck, however, never produced the Grabiner diary for public inspection and it is now said to be lost – leaving those who would defend Packard’s memory a task akin to bottling a shadow.

That said, publication of the Veeck memoir did not inflict a stain on an otherwise unblemished reputation. Gene Packard’s character had been called into question decades earlier. Despite his ability, Packard rarely lasted long in any one clubhouse, often leaving under cloudy circumstances. His frequent uniform changes made Packard a teammate, at one time or another, of some of the Deadball Era’s more disreputable characters: Heinie Zimmerman, Gene Paulette, Claude Hendrix, Phil Douglas, Tom Seaton, and others suspected of too-close ties to professional gamblers. More ominous than dubious associations, however, were the events attending Packard’s departure from the game.

Eugene Packard was born outside Colorado Springs, Colorado on July 13, 1887, the third of five children born to transplanted Iowa farmer Douglas Packard (1861-1928) and his wife, the former Elizabeth Coulter (1861-1829).1 Douglas Packard was a left-handed pitcher in his youth and taught his four sons how to pitch. When not attending to chores, the Packard boys pitched to a device rigged by their father that was designed to foster pinpoint control.2

Sometime in the 1890s, the family relocated to the Helena, Oklahoma area, where Gene attended the local high school. In 1907, the 5’10”, 155 pound Packard entered the professional ranks, signing with the Wichita Jobbers of the Class C Western Association for $100 per month.3Packard saw no action with Wichita, spending the 1907 season pitching for the Independence Champs of the Class D Oklahoma-Arkansas-Kansas League. No individual player stats survive from that campaign, but he must have impressed as Wichita saw fit to re-sign him.4

Packard started the 1908 season with Independence. On July 26, he posted a one-hit shutout victory over Tulsa,5 and followed that up two weeks later with a 10-strikeout perfect game against the first place Bartlesville Boosters.6 Before the season was out, Packard was promoted to the Wichita club, but no record of his performance there is available.

Prior to the 1909 season, Wichita sold Packard to the Louisville Colonels of the Class A American Association. Now pitching only one rung below the majors, the 22-year-old lefty posted a 14-17 record in 250 innings pitched for the flag-winning (93-75) Colonels. In January 1910, Louisville sold Packard to a league rival, the Columbus Senators. .Gene posted a modest 13-11 record in 248 innings pitched, but steadily improved on that mark during his next two Columbus campaigns. In 1911, Packard went 18-13 for the Senators in a season cut a week short by a trip home to Helena to marry Luyte Harriet Jackson, the daughter of a local minister. The couple was wed on September 30, 1911, and eventually had three children: Wilbur (born 1913), Pauline (1914), and Margaret (1922).

Domestic life evidently agreed with Gene Packard. In 1912, he had a breakout season with Columbus, going 24-8. Before the season was over, Packard was in the National League, drafted by Cincinnati Reds. He made his major league debut on September 27, 1912, going the route in a 10-2 victory over the Cubs.

Cincinnati signed Packard for $2,500 for the 1913 season, and the Reds were expecting big things from the new hurler. Cincinnati sportswriter Ren Mulford Jr. informed readers that “great hopes are pinned on the blue ribbon recruit … from Columbus, [and that] there will be plenty of folks disappointed if he fails to take rank as a winning pitcher.”7

Unhappily for the Reds faithful, Packard did not live up to expectations. In his first full season in the majors, the now 26-year-old pitcher went 7-11 (.389 winning percentage), surrendering 208 hits and 64 walks in 190 innings pitched. The Cincinnati club as a whole faired only marginally better, its 64-89 (.418) log good for seventh place. Packard was still young and he cemented his place in future Cincinnati plans during a post-season exhibition game tour when he pitched a 7-0 no-hitter against opposition from Montgomery, West Virginia on October 13.8

Packard’s off-season was highlighted by an improbable appearance in the pulpit of the Oakhurst Methodist-Episcopal Church of Kansas City. Substituting for the church pastor, Packard urged the aspiring young ballplayers in attendance to join the local temperance league. “You boys may never be major leaguers,” said Packard, earnestly, “but if you have an ideal in life and determination to leave liquor and cigarettes alone, you’ll be a success in some other business.”9

Cincinnati's hopes to rebuild around talents like Gene Packard suffered a blow in January 1914 when the lefty joined Reds manager Joe Tinker in signing with the Chicago club of the new outlaw Federal League.10 Packard actually ended up pitching for the new circuit's Kansas City Packers. Pitching for a sixth place (67-84) club, Gene turned in a standout season going 20-14, with a 2.89 ERA and 154 strikeouts in a yeoman 302 innings pitched. The strikeout total was something of an anomaly as Packard did not have overpowering stuff. He was a heady workman who usually pitched to contact, but surrendered few long balls.

Packard often helped his own cause with the stick, batting a respectable .241, and he was generally considered one of the best fielding pitchers in baseball.11 Gene backed up his fine 1914 campaign with a repeat the following year. He was again the staff ace for an improved (81-72) Packers club, going 20-12, with a 2.68 ERA in 283 innings pitched. The 1915 season, however, was marred by a family tragedy. Like other members of the Packard clan, younger brother Milo was a left-handed pitcher; at times he threw batting practice for the Packers. Sadly, Milio’s budding professional career was stilled in early July 1915 when he was killed by lightning while working in the fields of the Packard farm in Helena.12 He was only 17years old.

The three-year contract that Gene Packard signed in 1914 was acquired by oil tycoon Harry Sinclair when the Federal League was liquidated following the 1915 season. In February 1916, Sinclair sold the services of “the eminent left-hand pitcher” to new Chicago Cubs owner Charles Weeghman for a reported $10,000.13 Here, Packard joined a clubhouse sprinkled with players believed to be on intimate terms with the gambling fraternity, including Heinie Zimmerman, Claude Hendrix, Tom Seaton, and Otto Knabe. In time, Zimmerman, Hendrix, and Seaton would be deemed persona non grata and tacitly excluded from the professional game, while Knabe reputedly made book on the 1919 World Series and was indicted as a bookmaker many years later.14

On April 20, 1916, Packard helped the Cubs inaugurate Weeghman Park (soon renamed Wrigley Field) successfully, winning the home opener against the Reds in relief of Hendrix. Later in July, Packard threw a one-hit shutout against the Boston Braves, allowing only a fifth- inning single by Fred Snodgrass.

For the most part, manager Joe Tinker used Packard sparingly. He went 10-6, with a 2.78 ERA in only 155 innings pitched. This reduced workload prompted Cubs management to send Packard a contract for the 1917 season that contained a $1,000 reduction in salary. The contract was returned unsigned.15 Eventually, the parties reached agreement in time for Packard to join a Cubs club fortified by two new pitchers, each of whom were later excluded from the game: Phil Douglas and Paul Carter.

The abundance of pitching led to Packard’s departure from Chicago. After two ineffective relief outings, the Cubs sold his contract to the St. Louis Cardinals in late-April 1917. For the remainder of the season, Packard’s experience resembled that of the previous year in Chicago. He was used only in spots but pitched capably, going 9-6, with a 2.47 ERA in 153 innings pitched.

Packard saw somewhat more action in the World War I-shortened 1918 season, going 12-12, with a 3.50 ERA in 182 innings for a last place (51-78) Cardinals club. That log included an August 3 outing against the Phillies in which Packard had a huge lead, to which he contributed two hits, including a double, and three RBIs. He then surrendered 12 runs on 15 hits in the last three innings but still managed to hang on for a 16-12 complete game victory.16

The troubled 1918 season ended with the playing of a Chicago Cubs-Boston Red Sox World Series that has become the subject of fix-related conjecture. Several contemporary Black Sox authors maintain that Henry “Kid” Becker, the reputed head of the lively gambling scene in St. Louis, had designs on fixing the 1918 Series outcome, but could not come up with the necessary cash in time to do so.17 Perhaps more significant are the suspicions of the day. In September 1920, White Sox ace Eddie Cicotte informed authorities that the Black Sox scandal was instigated by the belief that Cubs players had received $10,000 payoffs for dumping the 1918 Series.18 Gene Packard’s name would not be connected with the matter until Veeck’s memoir was published some 47 years after the 1918 World Series was played.

In January1919, the peripatetic Packard was on the move again, traded to the Philadelphia Phillies as part of a six-player deal that required him to exchange the uniform of one bad club for that of another.19 The Packard stay in Philadelphia was brief but eventful. A 16-44 start to the 1919 campaign led to the dismissal of Phillies manager Jack Coombs. Shortly thereafter, Phillies president William Baker levied fines on Packard and two other players for going into the bleachers in street clothes and engaging in rowdy conduct that was perceived as a protest against the firing of Coombs.20 In early August, Packard gave the Phillies ten days’ notice of his intention to leave the club to pitch for a steel mill team in Massillon. Ohio.

On August 14, 1919, Gene Packard pitched his final major league outing, a complete game 4-1 loss to St. Louis. He ended his Phillies tenure at 6-8, with a career-high 4.15 ERA in 134 innings pitched. Nonetheless, the pitching-poor Phillies missed him on their way to a woeful 43-90 last-place finish. In taking his farewell, Packard allowed that he would have liked to remain with new Phillies manager Gavvy Cravath, but the Massillon offer “will not hold over until the season is over. It’s not only a baseball job, it’s something for the future and I can’t let the opportunity go by unheeded.”21

Over the winter of 1919-1920 the Phillies transferred Packard’s rights to the Boston Braves, who tendered him a contract for the upcoming season, but Packard preferred to remain in Massillon. The Braves then returned the Packard rights back to Philadelphia who placed him on the club’s ineligible list.22 As late as November 1921, the Phillies’ list of reserved players included the name Gene Packard, but he never attempted a comeback.23 His major leagues career was complete. In eight seasons with five different teams, Packard had gone 85-69 (.552), with a 3.01 ERA in 1,410 innings pitched, striking out 488 batters while walking 356. But while Packard’s connection to the big leagues was severed in August 1919, he later assumed a minor role in a baseball drama being played at a different location: the Cook County courthouse in Chicago.

On the morning of August 31, 1920, Chicago Cubs president William E. Veeck, Sr., was disturbed by a rash of telephone and telegram messages warning him that the day’s Cubs-Phillies game had been rigged for Chicago to lose. Veeck promptly contacted Cubs manager Fred Mitchell, who replaced scheduled starter Hendrix with staff ace Grover Cleveland Alexander. Promised a sizable bonus for a winning performance, Alex pitched well but dropped a 3-0 decision to the Phillies’ Lee Meadows. Several days later, Veeck made the fix reports public, triggering a flurry of investigative activity.

One party stirred to action was Judge Charles A. McDonald, the chief justice of the local criminal courts and an ardent Chicago baseball fan. On September 7, 1920, Judge McDonald convened a Cook County grand jury to probe the game fix reports. Little substantiation of the fix was presented to the panel and soon the proceedings were engrossed in reports that the previous season’s World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds had been corrupted. Nonetheless, the suspect Cubs-Phillies game was not entirely ignored.

In his third and final appearance before the grand jury, American League president Ban Johnson revealed intelligence about the Cubs-Phillies contest supplied to him by Otto Floto, sports editor of the Kansas City Post. According to Floto, there had, in fact, been a plot to fix the August 31 Cubs-Phillies game. The scheme’s principals were scheduled starting Cubs pitcher Claude Hendrix and Kansas City gambler H. A. “Frock” Thompson. It was alleged that Hendrix had wired Thompson the instruction to bet $5,000 on the Phillies. Similar instructions were also sent to Thompson by Hal Chase, the just-released major league star suspected of involvement in any number of game fix schemes, and by “Eugene Packard, a former major league player.”24

As soon as the Johnson testimony was published in the press, Thompson and Hendrix, a Kansas City-area resident, issued protestations of innocence, each maintaining that he did not even know the other. But nothing was heard from Packard, still a resident of Massillon, Ohio. In the end, it did not matter. Fixated on the Black Sox scandal, the grand jury was no longer interested in the possible fix of an inconsequential Cubs-Phillies game. When the panel returned indictments on October 29, 1920 and a formal report on its work a week thereafter, the suspect game that had prompted the grand jury probe in the first place went unmentioned.

Having escaped his brush with the Cook County grand jury unscathed, Gene Packard lived the remainder of his life in quiet obscurity. According to the player questionnaire submitted to Cooperstown by Lutye Packard, Gene’s post-baseball occupations included “sales, cars, and real estate.” By 1930, he was residing in Alliance, Nebraska and working as a taxi cab driver. He and family later relocated to California, where Packard spent 11 years working as a stock clerk for a men’s clothing store in San Francisco. He then retired to Riverside. Long suffering from heart disease, Packard suffered a heart attack and died at Riverside Community Hospital on May 18, 1959. He was 71. Following funeral services, Eugene Packard was buried in Evergreen Memorial Park in Riverside. He was survived by his wife, three children, and sister Florence.

Six years after Gene Packard went to his grave, The Hustler’s Handbook hit the nation’s book shelves.25 Essentially a memoir, the book regaled readers with Bill Veeck Jr.’s many adventures in the game.26 But one chapter, entitled Harry’s Diary – 1919, was different. In it, Veeck summarized and commented upon diary excerpts written by longtime White Sox club secretary Harry Grabiner at the time of the Black Sox scandal. These excepts were presumably based on the work of detectives engaged by White Sox owner Charles Comiskey in the aftermath of the 1919 World Series. According to Veeck, the Grabiner diary, the text of which Veeck did not reproduce verbatim, contained the name of 27 corrupt players, including Hall of Famers Grover Alexander and Rabbit Maranville, boyhood idols of the author. But, Veeck added, “the most interesting name of all is one nobody would recognize: Packard … a pitcher who had knocked around from club to club, ending with the Phillies in 1919. Opposite Packard’s name are the chilling words: 1918 Series fixer.”27

It is almost impossible to assess the accuracy of the above statement because the Grabiner diary was never produced for third party inspection and is now lost. The notion that Veeck, an engaging storyteller but essentially an honest man, invented the diary is far-fetched, particularly given its incrimination of a player (Gene Packard) whom Veeck had apparently never even heard of. But while diarist Grabiner is generally held in esteem by baseball historians, the work of the detectives which likely formed the basis of the Grabiner diary entries is not.28 Perhaps it is more telling that almost 50 years after The Hustler’s Handbook was published, no evidence of Packard involvement in the purported fixing of the 1918 World Series has been uncovered. There has only been theorizing by Sean Deveney and other fix buffs, unsupported by anything resembling hard fact. Gene Packard may not have been a paragon of baseball virtue, but the charges of corruption lodged against him remain unproven.

 

Notes

1. Sources for the biographical details contained in this profile include the Gene Packard file at the Giamatti Research Center, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown New York; US Census data, and several of the newspaper articles cited below. Baseball-Reference and other authorities list Packard’s full name as Eugene Milo Packard, but at birth he was given no middle name. According to his widow, Packard assumed the middle initial M. as an adult, as per the player questionnaire contained in the Packard file in Cooperstown. Gene Packard’s siblings were Frederick (born 1881), Joseph (1884), Florence (1895), and Milo (1898).

2. According to an unidentified February 1915 news item in the Gene Packard file at the Giamatti Research Center. It had earlier been reported that Gene Packard’s father “was a star southpaw in his ball playing days.” See Sporting Life, October 12, 1912.

3. Packard’s baseball salaries through 1914 are noted in his file at the Giamatti Research Center.

4. As reported in Sporting Life, February 8, 1908.

5. As per Sporting Life, August 8, 1908. Six years later, the Packard perfect game was recalled in a syndicated column by sportswriter Ernest Lanigan. See Los Angeles Times, March 22, 1914.

6. As subsequently reported in Sporting Life, January 23, 1909.

7. Sporting Life, February 8, 1913.

8. As reported in Sporting Life, October 20, 1913.

9. As quoted in Sporting Life, January 3, 1914.

10. As circulated by the Associated Press. See e.g., Los Angeles Times, January 10, 1914.

11. Two years later, Lee Magee compared Packard’s defensive work to that of Hooks Wiltse, a high compliment (Sporting Life, March 18, 1916), while Joe Tinker called Packard the best fielding pitcher in the National League. See Baseball Magazine, October 1916.

12. As reported in Sporting Life, July 10, 1915. See also, Sporting Life, May 11, 1915, which had related that the younger Packard “was to be given a chance in the major leagues next Spring.”

13. As per the Chicago Tribune, February 25 and 27, 1916.

14. According to Black Sox scandal expert Gene Carney, Knabe was indicted on bookmaking charges by a Philadelphia grand jury in 1937. See Gene Carney, “Notes from the Shadows of Cooperstown,” No. 479, March 10, 2009.

15. As reported in Sporting Life, February 3, 1917.

16. At one time, Packard was the only starting pitcher in major leagues history to give up 12 runs in a game without suffering a loss. Packard was later obliged to share this dubious accomplishment, duplicated by Scott Feldman of the Texas Rangers in 2008

17. See e.g., David Pietrusza, Rothstein, The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2003), 159-160; Susan Dellinger, Redlegs and Black Sox: Edd Roush and the Untold Story of the 1919 World Series (Cincinnati: Emmis Books, 2006), 178.

18. Cicotte first made this revelation in the office of White Sox corporation counsel Alfred Austrian and it is preserved in notes of the Cicotte interview taken by Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Hartley Replogle, now maintained in the Black Sox file at the Chicago History Museum. A speculative and wafer-thin case that the 1918 World Series may indeed have been fixed is offered in Sean Deveney, Original Curse: Did the Cubs Throw the 1918 World Series to Babe Ruth’s Boston Red Sox and Incite the Black Sox Scandal? (New York: McGraw Hill, 2010).

19. The Cardinals sent Packard, Doug Baird, and Stuffy Stewart to Philadelphia in exchange for Milt Stock, Pickles Dillhoefer, and Frank Davis.

20. As per e-mail of Bob Hoie to the writer, dated October 25, 2012. The incident occurred on July 9, 1919 and cost Packard $200. The other two were fined $100 each.

21. As per an unidentified August 16, 1919 news clipping in the Packard file at the Giamatti Research Center. Bob Hoie advises that Packard subsequently claimed that the Phillies had not paid him for his final ten days with the club but the National Commission denied his petition for payment.

22. As per Bob Hoie.

23. See The Sporting News, November 24, 1921.

24. Chicago Herald Examiner, October 30, 1920. Accord, Chicago Evening American, October 29, 1920. Packard had spent the 1914-1915 seasons pitching in Kansas City, while he and Hendrix had been teammates on the 1916 Chicago Cubs.

25. Bill Veeck, with Ed Linn, The Hustler’s Handbook (New York: Fireside Books, 1965).

26. Memoirist Veeck was the son of 1920 Cubs president William E. Veeck, Sr.

27. Veeck, 296. Note: To this day, Gene Packard is the only player in major leagues history to bear the surname Packard.

28. Following the trial of a civil suit brought by Joe Jackson against the White Sox, the jury foreman stated that the panel thought that the work of the detectives retained by club owner Comiskey was more designed to cover up player wrongdoing than investigate it, as reported in the Milwaukee Evening Sentinel/Milwaukee Journal, February 15, 1924. For a more detailed look at the matter, see Gene Carney, “Comiskey’s Detectives,” Baseball Research Journal, Vo. 38, No. 2, Fall 2009, 108-116.

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