There are many Moonlight Grahams. One is a quasi-relative of mine who signed a contract with the Cleveland Indians and made their roster but never got into a major-league game. Carter Hamilton was from a small town in Iowa. He was a pitching star at the University of Iowa and was signed to an Indians contract in 1920. He was my uncle’s sister’s husband. My Aunt Frances was the second wife of Dr. Lloyd B. Jensen, whose sister Ruth married Carter Hamilton.
Hamilton was from the tiny town of Thornburg, Iowa (population 84 in 2000), between Des Moines and Iowa City. His parents were Dr. Charles Marion Hamilton and Althea Caroline (Sheriff) Hamilton. He had two brothers, Cecil and Carleton. He was originally named Charles Carter Hamilton, but when Cecil gave that name to his son, brother Charles switched his names around to Carter Charles. Carter’s father wanted him to be a physician like himself, so Carter went to the University of Iowa to study medicine. He was a gifted athlete, the star pitcher on the university’s baseball team from 1918 to 1920, and also a tackle on the football team in 1918. That team was coached by Howard Jones, who later became famous at USC,1 and featured one of the early African-American stars, tackle Frank “Duke” Slater. Jones was also the baseball coach.
Hamilton, whose nicknames were Fox and Alexander the Great, first receives notice in the Iowa papers in beating Coe in the 1918 season opener, 8-3. On April 27 he struck out 13 in a 10-3 win over the University of Chicago. The Iowa team had a 7-5 record, so Hamilton had at least two of the wins. He also was beaten by Iowa State, 3-1. In 1919 he was clearly the ace of the staff and was a good hitter, playing center field when he didn’t pitch. The record of the Iowa team was 10-6; Hamilton was at least 5-2. On May 16 he beat Cornell College 9-0, striking out 20 and giving up only two hits. During the summer he pitched some semipro baseball, which evidently did not affect his eligibility. For the following year he was elected president of the “I” (monogram) Club and captain of the baseball team.
When the 1920 season began it was reported that Hamilton was working on a submarine pitch like that of Carl Mays.2 In a preseason exhibition he was beaten, 5-0, by Moline of the Three-I League. He had at least three of the eight Iowa wins for the year. One particularly interesting game was his last for Iowa, a 3-2 loss to Notre Dame at the end of May. The winning pitcher was Johnny Mohardt, whose path would cross with that of Carter and his family on several occasions, as we shall see.3 The number-two pitcher for the Hawkeyes was Vance McIlree, who appeared in one game for the Washington Senators in 1921. Hamilton’s college eligibility was now used up, but he had two more years of med school. It was reported that Cedar Rapids and Moline of the Three-I League were interested in him, but he chose to play semipro ball instead, appearing with local teams for a month or two. Then, at the beginning of August, he signed with the Armour, South Dakota, team of the Sunshine League for the princely sum of $700 per month.4 He did return to pitch for the Iowa City Independents around Labor Day.
At this point we encounter the problem of squaring anecdotal evidence with reported fact. The family story was that Carter wore the Cleveland uniform and played for the Indians.5 I naturally assumed he joined the Indians in 1921 before being sent to the minors. As we shall see, that doesn’t seem possible within the time constraints. The Ruth Hamilton notes clarify this – he joined the Indians in the fall of 1920 – and there is newspaper corroboration of this, albeit very slight. Ruth’s notes state:
On August 16, 1920 Carter received a wire from Cleveland:
Mr. Carter Hamilton
Armour, South Dakota
I have your letter of August 9 and will be glad to have you report to Manager Speaker in Cleveland, Sept. 7 as you suggested. We will refund your transportation on your arrival in Cleveland. The Club will be in Cleveland Sept. 3 and will be home about the entire month.
Yours very truly,
We don’t know exactly when Hamilton joined the Indians – sometime between September 7 and the 18th, when he signed a contract for $350 a month.6 Carter’s roommate was Joe Sewell, who had been called up to replace Ray Chapman. Carter and Sewell, being college boys, hit it off right away. Carter did not play in a league game, and for official corroboration of his existence, we have this note in the Cleveland Plain Dealer of October 3, 1920: “Pitchers Odenwald, Cykowski, and Hamilton, who were in Indians uniforms the last weeks of the season, have been dismissed until next spring.” So he was sent home prior to the World Series. That means he was with the team about two weeks, at most three. The family lore is that Hamilton pitched in the major leagues, so (assuming he was eligible), why didn’t he? The answer is obvious – they were in a pennant race, and Speaker was not going to use an inexperienced rookie in that situation.
Looking at the standings from September 18, the day Hamilton signed, the Indians were in a three-way race. After the day’s games they led the White Sox by 1½ games and the Yankees by 2½. This held up until the White Sox came in on the 23rd for a three-game series. Chicago took two of three to cut the lead to a half-game. Four straight wins at St. Louis, however, enabled the Indians to regain a game. The season ended with four games at Detroit; the Yankees were already done, and out. On October 1 the Indians split a doubleheader while the White Sox lost, going down two with two to play. Then Jim Bagby won 10-1 on the 2nd to clinch. There was one game left in the season. Between September 18 and October 2, Cleveland used only six pitchers – Jim Bagby (31-12), Stan Coveleski (24-14), Ray Caldwell (20-10), Walter Mails (hot hand during stretch, won seven in September), Guy Morton (seven-year veteran), and George Uhle (promising young pitcher, would win 200 games). After the pennant was clinched, Bob Clark, who had 42 innings pitched for the season, was used in the last game. Another college pitcher, George Ellison of California, appeared in a game on August 21 but was sent home before Hamilton.
It appears that it was too late for Carter to enroll in the fall semester, but he did resume his studies in the spring. He was on the Indians roster (Galveston Daily News, March 19, 1921, p. 7) and due to report eventually. He worked out with the Iowa team and pitched in three exhibitions against Three-I League teams, one of which Iowa won (against Moline, as Carter hit a home run). In late April Hamilton was secretly married to Ruth Jensen. She was a teacher in the town of Colfax, where teachers were forbidden to marry.7 About April 23 Hamilton took a train east. Again, it is unclear how long he was in Cleveland, or whether he spent any time there. It was reported8 that he had been farmed to Rock Island of the Three-I League.9 Hamilton’s first game appears to have been on May 13, a complete-game 6-3 loss at Evansville. By May 26 he had been moved to Moline, where his manager was Earl Mack. The Spalding Guide doesn’t have his record, so I present the following estimate from newspaper accounts:10
Hamilton spent about six weeks in the Three–I League and then left to join the New Hampton, Iowa, semipro team on June 27. The reason appears to be money; as noted above, the semipros paid better.11 At the end of August Hamilton joined the Sigourney team (near Thornburg) for the state semipro tournament.
He went back to school in the fall to finish his medical education and worked out with the college team in the spring of 1922. He probably pitched some semipro ball. But he was not through with the pros. He got another opportunity when on May 22 he was signed by Chief Bender for his Reading International League team. This was Double-A, then a step below the majors. Bender had a (sixth-place) team and appeared to be desperate for pitching. Around the beginning of June he signed five players (The Sporting News, June 1, 1922).12 Presumably Hamilton was recommended by Earl Mack, whom Bender obviously would have known.
It appears that Hamilton appeared in two games.13i On June 17 he relieved against Rochester in a 9-6 loss, giving up two hits in three innings. That was sufficient to deserve another outing, and Carter got it on June 22 against Buffalo. In a 14-10 loss he was the third pitcher, working in relief and in 3⅔ innings giving up four hits and was wild, walking six. There is no record of his pitching subsequently, and he must have been released.
That was the end of Carter Hamilton’s professional career. Back again to Iowa and medical studies, with some semipro pitching. In 1923 he finished his medical studies at Iowa, worked out with the college team again, and pitched for the Iowa City Independents and Sigourney. He did his internship at Miller Hospital in St. Paul, and then returned to Iowa, buying a practice in Wilton, near Iowa City. He later moved to a better practice ten miles away in Durant; in all he spent about eight years as a country GP.
Carter Hamilton became tired of his pedestrian practice and wanted a specialty. In 1931 he received a residency in Roentgenology (radiology) at the prestigious Brigham Hospital in Boston. The Hamiltons later lived in Albany and New Hampshire, and finally in Philadelphia. They adopted a son, Peter (1935-2005). It is believed that radiologist Hamilton was a victim of radiation, as he incurred pulmonary problems and died, a month short of his 52nd birthday, on March 29, 1949. There was an obituary in the New York Times of March 30. Carter remained an avid baseball and sports fan throughout his life.
Ruth Jensen Hamilton was herself a most interesting person. She originally got a degree in education at Iowa State. She taught for several years and then ran a tea and antique shop in Grinnell.14 She studied with Grace Miller in Boston, learning the system of “correct English.” She taught that in a radio program on WOKO, Albany, and also appeared in plays. In 1940 she was the first woman elected to the New Hampshire state legislature, serving two terms. After Carter died she spent some time in Hollywood teaching correct speech to stars like Bette Davis and Jane Withers. She traveled widely around the world and was a popular lecturer. She was 109 years old when she died on April 12, 1998, in Orlando, Florida.
Gagnon, Cappy, Notre Dame Baseball Greats, From Anson to Yaz (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia, 2004).
Hamilton, Ruth Jensen, “The Hamilton Saga,” unpublished manuscript. An account by Ruth of her life, including being married to Carter Hamilton. The principal source for the personal information herein. There is supposed to be a copy of this in the archives of the University of Iowa.
Johnson, Lloyd and Miles Wolff (eds.), The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, 2nd ed. (Durham, North Carolina: Baseball America, 1997).
Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, 1919-21.
Cedar Rapids Republican, 1921-23.
Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1920-21.
Cleveland Press, 1920-21.
Davenport Democrat and Leader, 1922-25.
Des Moines Capital, 1919-22.
Des Moines Daily News, 1918-21
Elyria (Ohio) Chronicle Telegram, 1921.
Galveston Daily News, 1921.
Iowa City Citizen/Press-Citizen, 1919-23, 26.
Joplin (Missouri) Globe, 1921.
Lima (Ohio) News, 1921.
Muscatine (Iowa) Journal and News-Tribune, 1919-20.
New York Times, 1949.
Oelwein (Iowa) Daily Register, 1920-21.
The Sporting News, 1920-22.
Syracuse Herald, 1921.
Waterloo (Iowa)Evening Courier, 1918-23.
Waterloo Times-Tribune, 1918-21.
(The local newspapers can be found on the Newspaper Archive website)
Testimony from Ruth’s brother, my uncle Dr. Lloyd B. Jensen. Also his daughter, my cousin Roalda Jensen Alderman.
1 Jones, brother of Yale’s Tad Jones, moved from Iowa to Southern California, where he and Knute Rockne initiated the football series which has continued to this day.
2 The irony of this is that he would join the Indians in September, after Ray Chapman was killed by a pitch—thrown by Carl Mays. Information is from Waterloo Times-Tribune, April 13, 1920.
3 Mohardt was a football star at Notre Dame, playing from 1918 to 1921 with such luminaries as George Gipp and Curly Lambeau.
4 This was double the amount of the contract he signed with Cleveland in September – which explains why players such as Hamilton might prefer semipro over professional ball. Hamilton was engaged to be married and still had to pay for his medical education.
5 Uncle Lloyd even told a story about meeting Babe Ruth through Carter.
6 The contract is for the season of 1921, which raises the question, “Does that mean Carter wasn’t eligible to play in 1920?”
7 When she got back from Des Moines, where the marriage took place, she confessed that she had gotten married. The school board generously relented and altered her contract.
8 Elyria (Ohio) Chronicle Telegram, May 16, Lima (Ohio) News, May 29.
9The Indians had a few young pitchers like Hamilton in 1920-21. The one having the most immediate success was Ted Odenwald, who pitched for the Indians before being shipped to Kansas City.
10Mainly the Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette.
11 The New Hampton team is of special interest. SABR member Cappy Gagnon, a Notre Dame alumnus who is closely acquainted with the university’s sports lore, said that in the year before, 1920, they were a team of “ringers.” The Notre Dame baseball team played for the town, using aliases to protect their eligibility. Johnny Mohardt used the name “Cavanaugh.” In 1921 Carter Hamilton joined the team with his Iowa teammate Vance McIlree, and also on the team – under their real names – were Mohardt and Kline. On at least one occasion Hamilton faced Cy Slapnicka, an ex-big leaguer pitching for Oelwein (Oelwein Daily Register, July 14, 1921).
12 The others were the famous Babe Herman, pitcher-clown Al Schacht, pitcher Dick Niehaus (also with Cleveland in 1920, 201 minor-league wins), and infielder Bill Barrett. Barrett, who was also with Moline in 1921, had a pretty good major-league career, mainly with the White Sox.
13 Not only did the Spalding Guide for 1923 fail to give the “less than 10’s”; it didn’t have any International averages for 1922. For the games see The Sporting News, June 22, June 29, 1922; also Syracuse Herald, June 23.
14 Among the college alums who stopped in were Gary Cooper and James Hall (Mutiny on the Bounty). The Maytags of Newton were also patrons.