SABR

Hank Olmsted

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Boston president John I. Taylor enjoyed traveling and signing players for the team. In August 1904, he signed up Henry Olmsted, a right-handed pitcher who’d played for Milwaukee in 1902 and Peoria in 1903. We don’t have a record of his height, but he had a playing weight of 147 pounds. The Globe noted that “a great future is predicted for him” and, though his signing from the Columbus club was contested, his was one of several the national baseball commission decided to allow.

Olmsted was a native of Sac Bay, born in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on January 12, 1879. His father Frederick was the county sheriff in 1900 and his mother Hannah (or Hanna) was at home. Frederick became superintendent of the county hospital later in life, and Hank had two older sisters and a younger brother Fred, who played professional baseball (though he is not the major leaguer who spelled his name Olmstead). Henry was listed as a stenographer in the 1910 Census. He attended both Notre Dame and Valparaiso University and played 11 seasons of professional baseball but only appeared in three major-league games, starting pitcher in all three, which were bunched in a 12-day stretch from July 15 to July 26 in 1905. The Boston Americans were the reigning champions in the American League, having won the pennant in 1903 and again in 1904. The Red Sox were in a virtual tie for third place on the eve of his debut but were 13½ games behind the league-leading Detroit Tigers.  

In August 1904, Boston owner John I. Taylor traveled to the Midwest on a scouting trip and signed up the pitcher. Olmsted had pitched for the independent Milwaukee Brewers in 1902 (2-4 in 14 games) and then for the Peoria Distillers in 1903 (his record is unknown). In 1904, he pitched for the Columbus Senators and that’s where he caught Taylor’s eye. His record seems mediocre, at 13-14 and allowed 101 runs in 268 innings, though presumably a number of them were unearned runs. His batting average was a career-high .160, but he had won over the fans in Columbus and Taylor as well. The August 28 Boston Globe called him “one of the best pitchers of the American Association. He is a prime favorite with the home fans, who are inconsolable at his sale to the Boston Americans. He has very few personal acquaintances in this city, but his work has always been clean and of a kind to win the sympathy of the rooters.” He’d tied a record of 12 strikeouts in one game, which impressed. Manager Tom Bryce said, “What makes him a valuable acquisition to any club is the fact that he can change his pace and fool the shrewdest of them. He has excellent curves and he fools many by the fact that he is much more speedy that his physique would seem to indicate. He was married to a girl near his home, I believe, last year, and he is well liked by everybody around here.” [Boston Globe, August 28, 1904]

Olmsted had been pitching for the Jersey City Skeeters, under agreement with the Boston ballclub. It was his fourth year in organized ball. He didn’t have that strong a record (8-12, for the season), but on July 9 manager Jimmy Collins decided to recall him from the Skeeters “as the team is short on pitchers, with [Norwood] Gibson showing no disposition to get to work.” [Boston Globe, July 10, 1905] The Globe added, “Olmstead has been doing fine work for Jersey City and is a fine batsman. He in anxious to get back with the champions.” The young pitcher joined the team in Chicago on the 11th.

“Young Olmstead Proves A Puzzle” read the Globe game story headline on July 16. The paper ran a good-sized photograph, too, helping highlight his five-hit debut against the Browns in St. Louis. It was a crisp 2-1 win, a “close call, but young Olmstead delivered the goods.” The paper spelled his surname with an “a” and even called him Ned Olmstead at one point. Apparently, he had a deceptive delivery, with his “slow ball” hard to hit squarely and hence a puzzle for Browns batters. “Olmsted had them at his mercy,” declared the paper. He struggled with his control, four times walking the leadoff batter. At the plate, he was 1-for-3 with a single.

His next start came four days later, in Cleveland, and he gave up just seven hits in a complete game effort, but lost the game, 5-1. He “pitched well, but failed to field his position,” concluded the Globe correspondent. No errors were charged to the young right-hander, but he exhibited a “failure to keep his eyes open” which we can conclude must indicate that he simply never got to balls he should have.

Columbus, Ohio, was hoping to become a major-league city and had built a first-rate ballpark, and somehow enticed the Detroit Tigers to play a pair of regularly-scheduled “home games” against Boston in the Ohio capital. Local fans asked that Olmsted get a start; as we have seen, he was a local favorite after his 1904 season in Columbus, but he was held back in the rotation until the two teams had decamped to Detroit. There he started the second game of the July 26 doubleheader. He held the Tigers to just six hits, but walked five and gave up four runs. Since Boston didn’t score even one, he lost again, though this time the Globe allowed that he “looked pretty good.”

Not good enough, though. The long western road trip over, the fans back home never got to see Hank Olmsted play. His ERA was 3.24, with a 1-2 W-L record. He played out the rest of the season with Jersey City, and then, in January 1906, Taylor paid big money ($3,000) to purchase an outfielder named Clay, and “threw in pitcher Olmsted for good measure.” [Boston Globe, January 25, 1906]

He played quite a few more years in the minor leagues, in 1906 appearing in a handful of games but not pitching for Kansas City. From 1907 through 1911 he played for the Western League’s Denver Grizzlies and enjoyed three excellent seasons from 1908 through 1910 (18-13, 24-8 even though the team was 69-82, and 22-12). Hank and his wife Jennifer, a Michigan native, resided in Denver. His last two seasons were in the Pacific Coast League with the Oakland Oaks, with a combined 5-5 record in a relatively few games.

Olmsted then put his college background to better use and became a chiropractor who practiced in Jackson, Michigan, for 32 years. He kept in the game on the side, though, serving as a scout for both the Tigers and the Indians. He had remarried by the time of the 1930 Census to Helen D. Olmsted, who worked as a clerk for an insurance company. Hank Olmsted died on January 6, 1969, in Bradenton, Florida.  


Sources

In addition to the sources cited in this biography, the author consulted the online SABR Encyclopedia, retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, Bill Lee’s Baseball Necrology and the Lloyd Johnson/Miles Wolff Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball.

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