SABR

Fred Lake

This article was written by Don Hyslop.

Fred Lovett Lake was born on October 16, 1866, in the Township of Cornwallis, Nova Scotia. This area today is located in the district that can be found between the towns of Kentville and Canning in the Annapolis Valley. In 1866, Nova Scotia was a colony of Great Britain. Canada would be formed in 1867, with Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the colony of Canada, which split into Ontario and Quebec forming the young Dominion.

Young Fred was the fourth child of Wesley and Julia Lake. As best can be determined, his father Wesley was born in Nova Scotia around the year 1831. His mother, Julia, was born in Nova Scotia in 1833. The 1860 Census lists Wesley Lake as single and living in Boston, Massachusetts. He is in his late-twenties and his occupation is listed as "seaman." There are no other family members listed as living with him.

Sometime in the next year Wesley and Julia were married and living in Boston, and gave birth to their first child, Edgar James, while residing there. Shortly afterwards, they moved back to Nova Scotia, where they soon had three more children: son Rupert in 1863, daughter Alice in 1864, and son Fred in 1866. By 1868, the family was back in Boston where another son Walter was born, followed by daughter Nellie in 1870 and son Charles in 1872. In the 1870 Census, the occupation of Wesley Lake was now listed as household carpenter. Sometime between 1872 and 1879, Wesley died, and Julia resided with her seven children in East Boston.

Though born in Nova Scotia, young Fred quickly settled into life in East Boston. With his father dead the young teenager Fred was now dependent not only on his mother but his older brothers who both had jobs in a local pottery factory. Their income helped the family survive. Fred meanwhile had attended the local elementary and high schools, where he also learned to play baseball.

In 1887, at the age of twenty, Fred Lake joined the Salem (Massachusetts) Baseball Club, beginning a lifelong career. He soon moved on to teams in Dover, New Hampshire, and Hingham, Massachusetts. An article in the Hingham Journal from November 9, 1888, summarized the success of the team that year:

"The Club unlike many of the surrounding towns has been composed of local boys and no money has been spent hiring players. Much credit is due to the work of Fred Townsend and
Fred Lake whose work between the points has been the best Hingham has ever had."

The Hingham team won 17 of 22 games, and according to the Hingham Journal it was the best season the team had had up to that time.

In 1890, he returned to Canada and joined the Moncton team in the New Brunswick Provincial League. He was hired to captain and manage the Moncton nine and by one account (Boston Globe, 11/28/09) he did a wonderful job with the New Brunswick squad.

At the end of his season with Moncton, the major leagues came calling when Boston Beaneaters' skipper Frank Selee convinced Lake to join his National League club for the 1891 season. Apparently Selee wanted Lake as insurance against injury on his team. Lake had experience both as a catcher and a first baseman. In the 1891 season, he was not needed very often as he played in only five games, getting 1 hit in 7 at bats. The team captured the National League pennant with an 87-51 record.

Following his brief stop in the National League, Fred began a tour of minor league cities. He was in Milwaukee in 1892 and Wilkes-Barre in 1893. The major leagues called again in 1894, and Lake joined the Louisville Colonels, a National League team at the time. During that season, Fred again served as a backup, playing in 16 games, and finishing 12 for 42 with a fine on-base-percentage of .473. He also had three extra base hits including two doubles and a home run, but the Colonels had a miserable season as a team finishing with a 36-94 record.

Despite this success in a limited role, in 1895 Fred was back in the minor leagues, with Toronto, followed by a season in Kansas City in 1896. The following year he was back with the Boston Beaneaters, playing 19 games as a catcher, and accumulating 15 hits in 62 at bats. The Beaneaters had a typically great season, finishing 93-39 and winning another pennant. In 1898, he played with the Pittsburgh Pirates, getting in just five games that summer, all at first base. In such a limited role, he finished just 1 for 13 for an average of .077.

After his stint with the Pirates, in 1899 he played semi-pro ball in Lowell, Massachusetts, helping lead the Lowell team to the New England League Championship that year.

By the time of the 1900 census Fred had married Lydia Griffin, and had four daughters. Shortly thereafter, Lydia gave birth to a son, Fred Jr. completing their family.

The next several years kept him the New England area. He played in Lowell until midway in the 1905 season, moved to New Bedford, then to Lawrence and finished up back in Lowell in 1906. During the 1907 season, he was playing in Little Rock, Arkansas, and was also scouting for the Red Sox. The Coshocton (Ohio) Daily Tribune in its February, 18, 1911, issue credited Lake for helping to discover a number of future Red Sox greats including Tris Speaker, Smokey Joe Wood, Harry Hooper and Bill Carrigan.

In 1908, Lake returned to Massachusetts where he attempted to revive the Atlantic Baseball League. On March 17 the Fitchburg Sentinel reported that the League had been formally organized in Boston with six cities: Lewiston, Portland, Taunton, Newport, Pawtucket and Woonsocket. Hugh McBreen of the Boston Red Sox was to be the President with Fred Lake, the League's promoter, filling the roles of Secretary and Treasurer. That seems to be the extent of the League as it never really got off the ground.

By the middle of the 1908 season, the 41-year-old Lake's career had taken a very dramatic turn. At that time the American League Red Sox were floundering below .500, under manager James "Deacon" McGuire. On August 28, Sox owner John L. Taylor hired Lake to replace McGuire. Lake took over the team for the last 39 games and finished up with a 22-17 record, almost getting the Red Sox back to .500 as they finished 75-79, in fifth place. There were some very good players on the 1908 team, including pitchers Cy Young and Smokey Joe Wood.

When the 1909 season began, Lake made some decisions that had an important impact on the future of the team. Even though the young Tris Speaker had hit only .224 in limited appearances in 1908, Lake decided he would be his full time centerfielder. Speaker responded with a .309 average that year beginning a string of seasons that would lead him to a place in Cooperstown. Lake also introduced rookie and future Hall of Famer Harry Hooper to the lineup.

In 1909 the Red Sox improved their record to 88-63, advancing to third place. Hopes were high for the 1910 season with many scribes and fans predicting the team would challenge for the pennant. Following the 1909 season, Lake approached team owner John Taylor and asked for a raise. Taylor claimed that it was not Lake's managing which had led to the team's improvement and refused the manager's request. The two men became very stubborn over the issue, and the result was that on November 1 the owner replaced Lake as manager with former Washington skipper Patsy Donovan.

Lake, however, did not remain without a position in the major leagues for long, as in February he took over the National League Boston club. Lake saw this move as a chance to redeem himself, but the Doves did not have the talent that the Red Sox did. The 1909 team had finished 45-108.

Before the season began, Lake was claiming that first base was becoming a problem as many good minor leaguers were not making good in the majors because they were afraid to keep their foot on the bag. Lake said, "The sight of one of these players with a reputation for reckless and daring base running tearing pell-mell into first is enough to disconcert many a hardy player much less a rookie and consequently numerous errors will occur."

By the beginning of the season, Lake had done something to try and make the plight of the first baseman much easier. He had invented what was nicknamed the "Glove." This device was to protect the ankle and lower leg from the spikes of a careless base runner. The Mansfield (Ohio) Daily News on April 26, 1910 described the device as follows: It was made of pliable felt with a strap being worn under the foot and fastened like a ski strap. It would extend from the toe of the shoe half way up the calf. It was designed to be fastened around the leg with a clip similar to the pant guard worn by a cyclist.

By early June of 1910, the Braves' record was a discouraging 14 wins and 27 losses. This Dove team was proving to be no better than their immediate predecessors. A report in the June 14 edition of the Newark (Ohio) Advocate reported that there was pressure on Lake to sell off some of his players, including pitcher Kirby White, to either Pittsburg or New York. Lake responded that the team needed instead to acquire more players like him. Ownership was not going to make that happen and the season continued on a downward spiral. One interesting sidelight is that Lake himself appeared in three games, drawing a walk in one of his two plate appearances. This was his first major league action since 1898.

Near the end of the 1910 season an interesting story appeared in the October 4 edition of the Mansfield (Ohio) News:

"In New York the other day, several hundred orphans were guests at the Polo Grounds. The Giants were facing the Doves and the score was close. Lake became upset with an umpire's call
and told the umpire how wrong he was. He was ejected from the game. The orphans cheered this and then said some unkind words to Mr. Lake. The manager did not become angry. He smiled, walked over to where the orphans were. He opened his traveling bag and began to throw baseballs up to the kids. The jeers turned to cheers and the children turned their insulting comments towards the umpire."

When the 1910 season ended, the Doves had actually won 8 more games than they had in 1909, but this still meant a record of 53-100 and an eighth-place finish. What transpired over the next couple of months is not totally clear, but it appears that Lake was trying to get out of his contract with the Doves. On December 15, 1910 Fred Tenney was hired to manage the club, though they would not release Lake, who had resigned.

Within a week Lake's name was being mentioned as the possible new manager of the St. Louis Browns. Just after Christmas on December 29, 1910, the Syracuse Post-Standard was reporting that if Lake assumed the management of the Browns he would ask the new owners to "buy up minor league talent without regard to cost. That is the only way a team can be made to win."

By early 1911, Lake had not been able to escape from his contract with the Doves, and he had been hired as Chief Scout with the Browns. On June 2 the Williamsburg (Pennsylvania) Gazette-Bulletin reported that Lake was still trying to get out of his contract with the Doves saying that Lake would accept a buyout from the Doves for $3,500. This was not going to happen.

At the end of the 1911 season, Lake summarized his scouting for the season by saying that there had been very few good players in the minors that year. He had spent over a month scouting players in the Eastern and New England Leagues. He then traveled to the Carolinas, the Virginias and the Central West. In the course of that time only three of the players Lake had scouted were signed by the Browns. Lake's own words from the October 18, 1911, edition of the Colorado Springs Gazette sum up his frustration with scouting that year:

"The low quality of minor league players is a result of the early picking of players a year ago. The promising players of 1910 were taken too early and the result is this year's crop is way below the big league standard. My idea of scouting is to stay off men who you know will not prosper in the big leagues and buy up only the players who you feel will make good when tried out. I have worked with that idea in view. There are many players who are hitting and fielding well in the minors but they lack the qualifications necessary for a major league player. For that reason there is little reason for lining up a player of that stripe."

Lake went on in the same article to comment on the tribulations of a scout, talking about the many nights spent in the sleeper car of a train with temperatures that often hovered near 100 degrees even at night. Lake and the Browns predictably went their separate ways at the end of the season.

In 1912 Lake managed the Providence team in the International League, followed by a year running and managing the New Bedford club of the New England League. Attendance was so poor there that Lake moved the team to Fitchburg (Massachusetts) in 1914, after Street Railway in Fitchburg promised to fix up the ball grounds and build a new grandstand and bleachers, and offered free rent.

On July 28 the team finally played its first game on the new grounds in Fitchburg, winning this game 6-5 over Lynn in 12 innings. Unfortunately, within days the team was moved to Manchester (New Hampshire) because of poor attendance, leaving the good people of Fitchburg understandably bitter. A reporter from the local paper reported that, "there would be no stealing of baseballs from Fred Lake [since] he traveled all the way to the bleachers to get a ball back." The scribe also complained that Lake showed more enthusiasm and ambition in Manchester than he had in Fitchburg. The club ended the season in last place.

In early 1915 Lake sold the club to Tom Keady, former Dartmouth athlete and the coach of the Lehigh University squad. Lake instead became the league's Supervisor of Umpires. In 1916 Lake was hired coach Colby College in Maine, and a few years later coached at Tufts University in Boston, and by 1925 he was hired to coach the Harvard University Seconds.

Lakes' restless nature raised its head again in 1926, as the 61-year-old took over the new Nashua franchise in the New England League. He managed the club for a while, but in June turned over the reins to Walter Keating, while staying on as Vice-President and Scout for the team.

This hectic life that Fred Lake led, seemingly always on the move, caught up to him in November of 1931, when he was admitted to New England Deaconess Hospital in Boston. On November 24, he died of heart problems. He was laid to rest in Oak Grove Cemetery in Medford, Massachusetts. The Fitchburg Sentinel announced his death on November 24 with the headline, "Fred Lake Former NE League Manager In Fitchburg Dead--Known As The Baseball Tourist"

In stature, Fred was only ordinary in size. He stood 5' 10" tall and weighed 170 pounds during his playing days. He both batted and threw right handed. Despite his ordinary size, he left a strong mark on baseball in the New England area.

Lake's wife Lydia survived him for another 13 years and passed away at home on September 25, 1944. Fred Lake's son Fred Jr. is listed in the 1930 U.S. Census as living in Quincy with his wife Myrtle and a young son by the name of Fred Lake III. The grandson was just short of a year old at the time. At this writing the author has been unable to find a living descendant.

The nickname "Baseball Tourist" was an apt one for Fred Lake, with his continual movement across the baseball landscape searching for the experience that would satisfy him. Perhaps it would have happened with the Red Sox, if it had not been for the stubbornness of owner John Taylor and the immense pride of Fred Lake. The Boston club was on the verge of tremendous success, largely with players Lake helped nurture, but he would not be there when they achieved their glory.

Author's Note

As a longtime Red Sox fan and a Canadian, I thought I knew all the Canadian-born people that have been involved with the team, but I learned otherwise. While reading Tim Gay's recent book, Tris Speaker, in preparation for an interview, I came across a name I was unfamiliar with until then. The name was Fred Lake. He was a Nova Scotian who managed the Red Sox the last 28 games of the 1908 season and the entire 1909 season. This new information sparked an interest in me to find out as much as I could about this man.

I owe thanks to numerous groups and individuals for their assistance. They include Cliff Otto from the Sons of Sam Horn on-line user community, posters at www.redsoxnation.net, people at SABR, the Baseball Hall of Fame Research Library, University of Lowell Library, the website newspaperarchives.com and the Nova Scotia Archives.

There are still a lot of mysteries about the life of Fred Lake that remain unanswered but I hope to have shed some light on his story.

Sources

www.baseballalmanac.com

Boston Globe, August 28,1908

Coshocton Daily Tribune, Coshocton, Ohio. February 18,1911.

The Daily Review, Decatur, Illinois. December 15 and 19, 1910.

Fitchburg Sentinel, March 13, 1900. August 10, 1913. March 16, July 31, August 1, 5, 14, 23, 1914. April 23, 1915. January 31, 1916. May 5, January 2, 1917.

The Gazette and Bulletin, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, January 21, 1911.

Kennebec Daily Journal, Kennebec, Maine. January 28, February 12, 1926.

Mansfield News, Mansfield, Ohio. April 11, 26, 1910.

Newark Advocate, Newark, Ohio. 1910.

Syracuse Post Standard, Syracuse, New York. February 2, 9, December 29, 1910.

Wichita Daily News, Wichita Falls, Texas. August 16, 1911.

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