SABR

Will Forman

This article was written by Phil Williams.

William Orange Forman, who pitched briefly for Washington in 1909 and 1910, was born on October 10, 1886, in Venango, Pennsylvania, the youngest of William (Billy) and Almira (Myra) Forman’s three children. The elder Forman came to northwestern Pennsylvania during its oil rush, and made a living drilling wells and refining their product. Young Will was raised on his father's oil lease in Bradford, and attended country schools in nearby Vrooman and Titusville. His mother, a “kind, gentle, Christian woman,” had been an instructor in music at Baker University in Kansas.1

By 1900 the family had moved downstate to Clarion, Pennsylvania. All three children – Alfred, Olive, and Will – attended the small city’s Normal School, which trained young adults for college and teaching. School papers reported Alfred managing the baseball team (unlike his younger brother, there is no evidence he ever played the sport) and Olive graduating (and soon off to Pittsburgh to teach), but no note of Will pitching.

Such mentions first occur on May 4, 1904. The family had moved still farther downstate, with the two boys enrolling at Indiana Normal School. The “Base Ball season opened auspiciously for the Normal team” as they defeated Pittsburg[h] College with the “feature of the game … the pitching of Foreman.”2 Positive reviews (often with last name misspelled, which would recur throughout his career) continued through the remainder of this season, and then into the next. In the spring of 1905, both boys graduated.

Then, for several years, the historical record yields little. Later in life he would mention teaching in Finleyville, Pennsylvania, after graduation. But 1906 Indiana alumni filings place the two brothers in Harrisville, West Virginia, with Alfred teaching, and William in business. And the May 1907 school paper mentions that William had been confined to his bed, in Rutherford, West Virginia, since the previous fall with rheumatism.

By the fall of 1908, however, Forman had returned to northwestern Pennsylvania, education, and baseball. He entered Allegheny College in Meadville that September. At the same time he started pitching for the company team of Meadville’s largest employer, the Spirella Corset Company.

“Essential to the wardrobe of every well-dressed woman” of this era, a local newspaper’s retrospective article noted, millions of corsets were manufactured each year.  Spirella’s famous “spiral stay” represented its modern evolution: past the unyielding “bone stay” of earlier generations, and promoting both physical health and flattering bodylines. The Meadville plant was one of Spirella’s largest, employing 600 people, and serving as a hub for the company’s “corsetiers” who traveled across the country, making house calls to personally fit customers.3

Spirella also promoted a wide range of social, cultural, and educational opportunities for its employees, forming “almost a self-contained community” within Meadville. A centerpiece of this life was the company baseball team. At home, parades would precede a big game, with a band leading the procession from the Spirella plant to the city’s overflowing Athletic Park.4 On the road for a weekend outing, the team and often hundreds of employees (“including,” noted a charmed newspaperman in a competitor's city, “at least 100 sweet Spirella girls who help make Spirella corsets and for all we know, wear ’em”) would board a special train to a nearby hamlet such as Corry, Warren, or – their most heated rival – Greenville to cheer their team on.5

“The wonder is how so many good players were secured as employees of the Spirella company,” marveled the local newspaper, so ostensibly Forman was a corset-maker or some equivalent in the fall of 1908.6 He pitched in at least two of the Greenville battles under his own name as the Spirella season wound down. Then he turned his attention toward his studies (mathematics and Latin, it appears), and the coming Allegheny College baseball spring season, with his eligibility intact.

During the school year, Forman met Lenore Lytle, Class of ’09 and a native of Warren, Pennsylvania. Their togetherness, per the collegiate winks of the school yearbook, quickly became a constant campus sight. One imagines that this companionship was particularly warming to Forman given losses in his tight family: Olive died suddenly in August 1908, then his mother several months later.

As Allegheny baseball arrived in the spring of 1909, Forman made an immediate impact, striking out 18 batters in a 6-5 loss to Washington & Jefferson. Several weeks and several starts later, the Allegheny season concluded, and the Spirella season began. In this uniform, he twirled several memorable games over the summer, striking out 17 against Warren on June 14, then turning in a handful of notable efforts against Greenville before humbling Cambridge batters in a September 10 shutout victory.7

At the core of Forman’s repertoire, according to contemporary reporting, was his curveball. Years later, in retirement, he wistfully recalled a spitter as well: “The batter could never tell when it was coming or which way it would break.”8 A pitching pose for the 1909 Spirella team shows a deliberate, perhaps awkward, windup. His body’s vertical core twists gradually as it rises from his right foot pointed toward the third base line to his chin looking toward the batter. To the core’s front, his left leg extends from his hip at a perpendicular angle, bent at the knee. To the core’s rear, his arms are tilted backward, elbows out, and (right) pitching and gloved hands behind his head.

A “good-looking, curly haired” youngster, Forman was often mentioned to be on the slight side, and perhaps not quite the 5-foot-11 Lenore would recall years later.9 According to family history, he was a low-key, soft-spoken man with a kind disposition. One looks in vain for any unflattering accounts of Forman’s behavior on the Pennsylvania ballfields of a century ago.

Yet the account of his arrival in Washington, days after his final Spirella start, colors both the man and his career in some mystery. According to a September 17, 1909, Washington Times report, Erie native Mike Donlin had recommended Forman to Senators manager Joe Cantillon. “The latest find played for a college team, and when the college season ended went with a professional club under an assumed name,” the paper said. “Somebody got next to him and the college racket exploded, whereupon Foreman came out in the open and has been pitching straight professional ball for some time”10

Whatever actually happened, Forman did not return to Allegheny College in the fall of 1909. Multiple sources, including Forman himself later in life, claimed he pitched for Erie in the Class C Ohio-Pennsylvania League – however, no Forman or Foreman can be found pitching for this team. Although this assumed identity may not have eluded his contemporaries, it seems to have had this effect in the present day.

Besides the Donlin article, only the 1909 Allegheny yearbook, in veiled references, addresses this matter, so one is left with little more than assumptions. One might start by reasoning that Forman would not have casually risked his eligibility and future at the college.  He was raised to appreciate the uplifting blessings of education and would eventually build an accomplished career in the field.  He was also courting a particularly well-educated young woman who, charmed as she may have been by his heroics on the diamond, likely preferred that he continue his studies rather than pitch professionally. 

Maybe, then, the Erie money was simply needed. Whatever opportunities he pursued after graduating from Indiana Normal had not taken hold, and an Indiana (Pennsylvania) newspaper reported him in town representing a soap company in November 1909. In between these two time points lay hard times – the Panic of 1907 and a lingering recession.

A calculation born of economic necessity? A moment of youthful naïveté? What seems plausible is by no means certain, and the 1909 Allegheny yearbook provides the truest conclusion to this affair: “As to the cause of the sudden disappearance, however, there is still much conjecture, and it is doubtful if the true cause will ever be known.”11

The Washington Senators had also drifted away from initial aspirations that year. Promising youngsters, among them Clyde Milan and Walter Johnson, had led the team to a 67-85 record in 1908, the franchise’s best mark in a half-dozen years. However injuries, discord, and disinterest enveloped the team in 1909. By the beginning of September Johnson was shelved with a sore arm, and a week later another starter, Charlie Smith, was traded to Boston for outfielder Doc Gessler. Forman stepped off the train on September 17 as an unknown, plugging an emergency need and facing minimal expectations. The team lay in a dismal 36-100 cellar. Ownership was determining Cantillon’s fate.

Forman was scheduled to pitch the next day against the St. Louis Browns. The “ambitious youngster” was the first to arrive at Washington’s Boundary Field that morning, “donned his uniform,” then played “with some of the boys around the park.” As his teammates filtered in, he then pitched to them “and was almost tired out when Cantillon arrived.” The embattled manager rested his young charge, and rescheduled his first start for the series finale on Monday September 20.12

In his major-league debut, Forman scattered four hits, only a couple of which were hard hit, through the first six innings. In the seventh, with Washington leading 2-0, second baseman Red Killefer botched a two-out grounder behind Forman, leading to an unearned run. In the eighth Forman retired the Killefer brother (Bill) playing for the opposition, issued walks to Chuck Rose and Ned Crompton, before Burt Shotton’s grounder advanced both runners, and put two outs on the board. Roy Hartzell then hit a high chopper sending Washington first baseman Bob Unglaub to the hole. “He handled the ball well, but had to wait for (Forman) to cover the bag. Hartzell beat the ball to the bag as a result, and while this was going on the two runs scored, which gave the visitors the game,” as the resulting 3-2 St. Louis lead held.13

The Browns were neither powerful nor seasoned opposition. They had only the Senators beneath them in the standings, and two-thirds of the lineup Forman faced was formed of rookies. Nonetheless, outside of his poor fielding play, his performance elicited favorable reviews. “Foreman has as good a curve ball as I ever caught,” said his catcher, Gabby Street, “and he has perfect control of it. It was his fast ball that gave him trouble, but I’ll predict right now that he will be a success in this league.”14 Behind Street that day, Big Bill Dinneen, the former pitcher just turned umpire, saw in Forman the apparent makeup of another Clark Griffith.

The most striking aspect of the debut, however, was “his habit of grinning at every batsman that faces him.”15 It perturbed several of the Browns, was observed (without apparent ire) by their manager Jimmy McAleer, and by Forman’s own teammates, who nicknamed him Smiles. It is not a characteristic one finds in accounts of his pitching before or after this game. Nor does his life’s history indicate any signs of cunning gamesmanship. Was 22-year-old Will Forman overcome by a bemused, joyous wonder that the same curveball delivered from a Meadville, Pennsylvania, mound was just as effective when released from a major-league one?

Forman took the ball again a week later, on September 27, this time against the visiting Chicago White Sox, and took an unpleasant step backward. Ring Lardner recounted his troubles from the onset:

“Messenger walked and Altizer sacrificed. Mess took advantage of Forman’s big windup and started out to set a stealing record. He got away with third base easily and came all the way home on [Senators catcher] Slattery’s bad throw. Cole was then passed and promptly stole second. Dougherty hit to Gessler, whose toss was muffed by Forman. This slip sent Cole in from second. Purtell singled to right and Parent’s scratch over Forman’s head filled the bases. Tannehill grounded to Schaefer and Parent dodged him long enough to allow Tannehill to reach first and Dougherty’s run to count. Payne forced Tannie for the third out.”16

Starting the second behind 3-0, Forman again struggled with his control and Chicago’s aggressive baserunning. One hit batsman, two walks, and three stolen bases later, the top half of the second concluded with the White Sox ahead 5-0 and Forman’s pitching day finished.

The White Sox were not the contenders they had been under Fielder Jones for the several previous years, but they were a veteran team with their first-division status at stake that September, and could pounce on the rough elements of Forman’s game and exacerbate his wild nerves, where the Browns could not. “Forman needs more seasoning than a ‘high’ pheasant before he will be serviceable in the major leagues,” concluded Thomas Rice in the next day’s Washington Times; “he is very much of a youngster, and there is no reason why he should not make good eventually, but he had better make up his mind to go to the minors and stay there for at least a couple years if he is going to follow baseball for a living and hopes to rise in the business.”17

The same day Chicago roughed up Forman, Cantillon’s fate was sealed. Washington ownership reached terms with Browns’ skipper Jimmy McAleer to lead the Senators in 1910. An awkward final week of the season played out without Forman having another chance to improve upon his 0-2 record.

Arriving in Washington in early November 1909, McAleer promised to retain the entire team so he might personally evaluate them when training began the next March in Norfolk, Virginia. On one pitcher with an intriguing sample size: “I want another peep at the smiling youngster Cantillon sent against us last fall. I refer to Forman. He caused St. Louis a lot of trouble, and that grin had us gaited. Whether or not he is a pitcher or not I couldn’t tell to save my life, but he is certainly worth experimenting with.”18 A month later, the team placed Forman on its reserve list. A registered letter with a contract was sent to Forman in Erie, and returned in February without its recipient being found. Wires then sent to Warren failed to find him either.

Forman was in both Meadville and Indiana that offseason. Friends were at the Allegheny campus, and Miss Lytle was nearby teaching Latin at Warren High School. He had retained a network in Indiana as well. And in February 1910 he was hired by his alma mater to coach athletics. He was to report to the position on April 1, with the Indiana Normal baseball season to begin on April 25.

Sometime in March both parties made contact, apparently without ill will, having already pursued independent courses of action. McAleer’s pitching staff was already in place, as was Forman’s immediate employment. With limited time before he was due back in Pennsylvania, Forman arrived in Norfolk for a brief visit on March 21, then returned home.

The Normal season ended with a pleasing 8-5-1 record on June 9. By this time, the Senators’ season had again drifted well south of .500, and it was agreed that Forman would report several weeks thereafter. He arrived on July 2. McAleer’s expectations were likely modest; during Forman’s absence from training camp, he mentioned that the youngster might only pitch batting practice. For a week during a steamy Washington summer, over the course of a lengthy homestand, Forman probably did just that.

Finally, in the first game of a doubleheader on July 9, with Washington down 5-0 to the Browns in the fifth inning, men on first and third with no outs, and fans yelling for starter Bob Groom to be yanked, “McAleer decided that the game was so far gone that he might as well look over some young talent” in game action.19 In went Forman. Frank Truesdale promptly singled in Pat Newnam, but Clyde Milan’s throw cut down Al Schweitzer trying to score on the same play. Forman got the remaining two outs of the inning to escape further damage. With a seemingly safe lead, Browns manager Jack O’Connor sent in a rookie of his own, Farmer Ray, to pitch to the Senators in the bottom of the fifth. Ray got the first out, but then walked Forman and proceeded to melt down. The Senators batted around, tied the game, 6-6, and when Forman’s spot came up again, McAleer sent Gabby Street in to pinch-hit for him. Street popped out and the Senators went on to lose the game. Three days later Forman was released. The news earned scant mention and the young man returned to western Pennsylvania.

A few weeks after his release, Forman signed with the McKeesport of the Ohio-Pennsylvania League. He appeared in six games, pitching without great impact upon the team’s fortunes, breaking even at 3-3. But this was not the beginning of an apprenticeship back to the majors. Forman’s position at Indiana Normal expanded that fall to include a teaching role, and he and Lenore were married at the Warren home of her parents on August 29.

By June 1911, as the Indiana Normal baseball season wound down, Forman joined the newly formed Indiana Trolley League. He first pitched with the Indiana team: “He certainly was there with the wing.”20 Then he moved on to the Heilwood squad. As this mining town was not itself accessible by trolley, he and (on occasion) Lenore joined other local players and families in weekend automobile journeys for league games during the summer.

That fall the young couple headed west, with Forman taking coursework at the University of Michigan. Briefly he pitched for Ann Arbor’s “Ineligibles” team, including – as he recalled years later – a shutout of Branch Rickey’s University of Michigan team. He then took a job teaching high-school mathematics in Bessemer, Michigan. As Forman combined additional studies and advancement in the field, he and Lenore would live in Oklahoma, Iowa, and New Jersey in rapid succession. Their only child, Mary Elizabeth, arrived in 1918.

From 1926 onward the family mostly resided in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, with Forman serving as the principal at Lafayette Junior High School and then as supervising principal of the Fayette County schools. He would occasionally take to the field in a Kiwanis game, or to manage a Little League team. As the years went by, he reminisced about his brief major-league experience from time to time, mostly to observe that for him a better future lay elsewhere.

After retiring in 1948, Forman shared with Lenore a family life that soon included four grandchildren. He fished, gardened, and practiced photography. He retained, from his childhood, a gift of charming visitors with improvised piano performances. But perhaps his greatest passion was reserved for the Educational Clinic he founded in Uniontown, where he treated local children with a variety of learning disabilities or impediments. He pursued the latest testing methods to identify hearing or visual problems, consulted with his widespread network of colleagues, and individually tailored reading programs for the boys and girls. “We musn’t give up on [such] children just because they don’t learn as quickly as other children do,” he said.21

After a decade in this role, an accomplished career as an educator, and several youthful days spent in a major-league uniform, William Orange Forman died on October 2, 1958, in Uniontown.  Lenore, Mary Elizabeth, and his four grandchildren survived him.  He was buried in Uniontown's Lafayette Memorial Park. 

 

Sources

I am grateful to Charles F. Eggers III and Rachel Eggers Shaffer for generously sharing personal memories of their grandfather. Additionally, I thank Annette Lynch of the Crawford County (Pennsylvania) Historical Society for her assistance in obtaining materials related to Will Forman’s pitching (for both Spirella and Allegheny College) in Meadville. Thanks also to Ron Kuzemchak for his insights into Heilwood, Pennsylvania, baseball, and for use of the photo that accompanies this article. Finally, SABR member Michael Grahek’s insights toward the era’s Washington Senators are appreciated as well.

William Forman’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York.

Forman, William O. New Measurements of Learning Progress in Education, Including Methods and Practices for Public Schools (Uniontown, Pennsylvania, 1956).

Annual Catalogues of the Indiana Normal School of Pennsylvania

Campus of Allegheny College

Mansfield (Pennsylvania) Daily Shield

(Clarion, Pennsylvania State Normal School) Normal Enterprise

Pittsburgh Press

Sporting Life

Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator

ancestry.com

baseball-reference.com

newspapers.com

Charles F. Eggers, III, telephone interview with the author, November 18, 2013.

Rachel Eggers Shaffer, email correspondence with the author, November 25-26, 2013, December 2, 2013.

 

Notes

1 The Normal Herald of Indiana, Pennsylvania State Normal School, Vol. XV, No. 2 (April,1909), 10. Two family-history notes: Forman was called Will by family and acquaintances; and based on personal connections, Billy Forman may well have associated with Colonial Edwin Drake, who is popularly credited with drilling the first oil well in the United States.

2 The Normal Herald of Indiana State Normal School, Vol. X, No.2 (May 1904), 26.

3 Michelle Shaffer, “Spirella Corset Co. Was Principal Employer in City at Turn of Century,” Meadville Tribune, November 4, 1959.

4 Charles R. Menold, “Oldtime Local Baseball Greats – the Spirellas,” Meadville Tribune, June 1, 1950.

5 “Lost by One Little Score,” Greenville (Pennsylvania) Record-Argus, September, 21, 1908.

6 “Spirellas to Open at Corry Saturday,” Meadville Tribune, May 22, 1909.

7 “Spirella Redeemed Herself on Friday,” Meadville Tribune, September 11, 1909.

8 Tod Trent, “Sports Standard,” Uniontown (Pennsylvania) Evening Standard, June 19, 1957.

9 “Pitcher Forman Reports to Manager McAleer,” Washington Herald, July 3, 1910.

10 “Cantillon to Use Veteran Players Against Leaders,” Washington Times, September 17, 1909.

11 The Kaldron, Allegheny College, Meadville, Pennsylvania, 1909, 159.

12 J. Ed Grillo, “Nationals’ Improvement in Hitting is the Result of Weak Pitching,” Washington Post, September 19, 1909.

13 J. Ed Grillo, “Fails to Cover First,” Washington Post, September 21, 1909.

14 “Jennings Still Confident,” Washington Post, September 21, 1909.

15 “Jennings Still Confident.”

16 R.W. Lardner, “Sox at Top Speed Crush Senators,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 28, 1909.

17 Thomas S. Rice, “Two on Wednesday; No Game Thursday,” Washington Times, September 28, 1909.

18 Thomas S. Rice, “McAleer Arrives and Tells Plans,” Washington Times, November 4, 1909.

19 Joe S. Jackson, “Third Victory in Four Games Results From Even Break with Browns,” Washington Post, July 10, 1910.

20 “Tables Turned in Saturday’s Ball Games,” Indiana (Pennsylvania) Evening Gazette, June 12, 1911. See also for details on Heilwood baseball, http://heilwood.com/people/sports/baseball.

21 Ralph Schulze, “Confidence Big Factor in Children’s Learning,” Uniontown (Pennsylvania) Evening Standard, October 28, 1954.

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