SABR

Ralph Pond

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

A native of Eau Claire, Wisconsin (born on May 4, 1888, according to both the 1900 Census and his World War I draft registration), Ralph Benjamin Pond became a star  baseball player for the University of Maine, and seems to have joined the Boston Red Sox on the road in Chicago in 1910 right after completing the school year. His parents were lumberman Edward W. Pond and Emily Shute Pond. Ralph had a younger brother, Harold, born in 1897. Pond’s father went on to become a merchant in a general store in Altoona, Wisconsin, and Emily a bookkeeper in a store (perhaps the store was family-owned). The elder Pond seems to have had varied talents; before marrying, he had been listed in the 1884 Eau Claire city directory as an inventor.

Ralph Pond was an outfielder, and the very day he joined the Red Sox he saw service. The Sox had likely been impressed when, on May 28, Pond won the state intercollegiate championship for his team in Orono with a big three-run homer in the first inning of the deciding game, beating Colby 3-0. June 8, 1910, was a big day for youngsters joining the Boston team – not only did Ralph Pond come up that day, but so did fellow UMainer Marty McHale and Hap Myers, a first baseman.

Pond’s debut (and swan song, as it turned out) was a rough outing, not just for the 5-foot-9 Pond but for the team in general. It may have been an imposing task to be asked to fill in for Tris Speaker for the day. Our man Pond started in center and failed to get a hit off veteran White Sox hurler Frank “Piano Mover” Smith. He struck out his first time up, leading off in the second, though the Red Sox scored later that inning when Duffy Lewis drove in Larry Gardner. Chicago came back with two runs in the bottom of the third, taking the lead. With one away, Red Sox shortstop Harry Lord booted pitcher Smith’s grounder. White Sox leadoff hitter Charlie French flied to center but Pond misjudged it and the ball got by him, enabling Smith to scamper all the way around from first. Pond threw the ball in to Lord, covering second, but Lord mishandled the ball and French took third, scoring when the next batter, Doc White, flied to Harry Hooper in right. (White, one of the White Sox’ regular starting pitchers, was playing center field that day.)

In the fourth, Pond slapped a hot shot back to the mound, but Smith snared it and fired to first for the out.

In the fifth, the Red Sox took the lead back with two runs of their own. Lord made his third error of the game in the sixth and French was safe. He made it all the way from first to third on a 5-3 sacrifice by White, because Red Sox pitcher Charley Smith, who had run over to cover third, dropped the ball, then fired back across the diamond. French scored by taking a huge lead off third, and when catcher Carrigan fired down to third base to pick him off, French dug for home and the third baseman threw the ball back in the dirt as French ran for the plate. Dougherty hit a double into center, and Pond chased after it, inadvertently kicking it all the way out to the center-field wall in the process. Pond singled in the sixth and stole a base -- qualifying him for momentary membership in that year’s “Boston Speed Boys” -- but that was about all he had to show for the day. When he came up to bat for his final time in Boston's eighth, the Red Sox had already scored one run and had Hugh Bradley on second. Pond, unfortunately, lined to Chick Gandil at first base and Bradley was doubled off second base in an inning-ending double play. Charley “Sea Lion” Hall –  a pitcher – replaced Pond in center for defensive purposes when the White Sox came up in the bottom of the eighth. Pond was “given the G.B.,” (given the grand bounce), wrote the Boston Post. If so, it proved to be a permanent G.B. from major-league ball.

“Weird Fielding Lost Game for Red Sox,” headlined the Post. Final score Chicago 5, Boston 4. Commenting on Pond’s performance that day, the Boston Globe presciently noted, “Just at the present the sturdy collegian won’t do, for he loomed up sadly deficient in the fine points of middle fielding.” He wasn’t alone in the miscue department; the Sox made seven errors that day. The Chicago Tribune was a little rougher on him. “A bum finger kept [Tris] Speaker out of the game and a recruit named Pond started to fill his shoes. The youngster may be a Pond in Maine but he was hardly a puddle in center field. In fact, he did not cover much more ground on fly balls than a good sized raindrop. After he had misjudged two which went for hits, pitcher Hall was sent out there in the eighth.” One of the misjudgments was counted an error for Pond; it was the only fielding chance he ever had. He’s one of the 43 major leaguers (and the only one on the Red Sox) who fielded a ball in the 20th century and left baseball with a lifetime fielding average of .000.

Unlike Pond, McHale had to bide his time and did not make his first appearance in a game until September 28, right at the end of the year. McHale squeezed in two starts and lost them both. The next year, though, McHale was back and Pond was not. McHale pitched in 64 games for the Red Sox, the Yankees, then the Red Sox again, and finally the Indians -- a career that lasted into 1916, though not once did he have a winning record (11-30 lifetime, despite a 3.57 career ERA). Hap Myers had been with the team in April very, very briefly but rejoined it on June 8. He, too, stuck for a few years, appearing in three games for the Red Sox in 1910 and 13 more in 1911 (after seeing 11 games of duty with the St. Louis Browns earlier in 1911). After 81 at-bats, he had a .333 average and joined the Boston Braves for the 1913 campaign, where he got a chance to play full time, racking up a .273 average in 597 plate appearances.

After his day with the Red Sox, Pond played right field for the rest of the season with the Brockton Shoemakers (New England League). He hit .286 in 255 at-bats, placing him ninth in the league in hitting (and tops on his team – the Shoemakers finished in last place). Pond homered once. In 1911, he appeared in 21 games for the Providence Grays but hit for only a .189 average and found his time in baseball was over when he was given his release on July 17. “Pond showed no signs of hitting,” the Hartford Courant reported. It was as simple as that. [Hartford Courant, August 8, 1911]

Pond went to work in a steel mill in Ohio and worked for Allied Products until sometime around 1922, when he formed his own road construction company. The 1920 Census found him married to the former Bertha Grannis and in Middletown, Ohio, with two sons, Ralph Jr. and John.

Pond’s lifetime major-league average stands at .250 -- he had a major-league hit (and that stolen base) to reminisce about for the next 37 years until his death from a heart attack at his home in Cleveland on September 8, 1947.

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the text, the author used the online SABR Encyclopedia, retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and Bill Lee’s The Baseball Necrology (McFarland & Co., 2003).  Thanks to Maurice Bouchard for valuable assistance with Pond’s genealogy.

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