SABR

Harvey Smith

This article was written by David Nemec.

Harvey Smith was born on July 14, 1871, in Union Deposit, Pennsylvania, the son of Elizabeth Fetterhoff Smith and Dr. John K. Smith, who had been born in Union Deposit 27 years earlier and worked as a physician there until 1873 when he relocated with his family in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he remained in practice until 1903. Smith’s paternal grandfather was David Smith, a minister of the German Baptist faith who served as a bishop of that denomination during the last 25 years of his life. In addition to a brother Paul, Smith had three sisters: Cora, Laura, and Irene.

Arriving in Harrisburg when he was scarcely 2 years old, Smith went all through school there, graduating from the high school in 1888. He then enrolled at Millersville State Normal and completed its two-year program in 1890 before moving on to Bucknell University, where he played the infield on its baseball team for three seasons, batting left and throwing right.

After graduating from Bucknell in 1894, Smith decided to fulfill a boyhood whimsy before losing himself entirely in his studies at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. Whether he was a member of the Penn baseball team while he was there is still unclear, as there is no record of his participation even though he was said to have played. Likewise, he is believed by some researchers to have played briefly in 1895 for New Castle of the independent Iron and Oil League, but, again, the proof is lacking. What is known for certain is that about a month after his 25th birthday, Smith bargained his way onto the Washington National League team for the last six weeks of the 1896 season as a replacement for recently-traded third-baseman Bill Joyce. When his doctor father learned what he intended to do and informed him that he’d have to pay for the rest of his education himself if he embarked on so foolish a venture, Smith, to cover his bets, demanded a “salary…for the few weeks of the base ball season remaining…equal to that paid many young players for the entire season.”1 He nearly proved worth it. Described in local papers as a "nervy, heady…stockily built little fellow" (at 5-feet-8 and 160), who was "chain lightning in picking up grounders and lining the ball to first base,"2 Smith made his major-league debut on August 19, 1896, at Washington, playing third base and going 1-for-5 in a 13-6 loss to Cleveland’s Bobbie Wallace. Some three weeks later, on September 8 at Washington, in a doubleheader win against St. Louis, Smith started a triple play in the first inning of the opener and rapped a key double in the second game. Immediately popular in the Nation’s Capital, by the end of the season he was being given a rousing cheer in every game the first time he came to bat. His final appearance came on September 26, 1896, at Washington when he went 1-for-3 in a 9-1 loss to Boston’s Fred Klobedanz.

Assured that fall that the Senators’ third-base job the following year was his, Smith brazenly requested that he not be required to report to the club in 1897 until he finished his medical studies. It was a mistake. In the spring Charlie Reilly, who had been out of the majors since 1895, was hired as Smith’s interim replacement but did so well early in the season that Smith was farmed to Toronto of the Eastern League when it came time for him to rejoin the team after medical school graduation. (In the late 1890s the Maple Leafs served as a sort of Washington satellite until their manager, Arthur Irwin, took over the Nationals’ reins late in the 1899 season.) Minor-league life did not at all suit Smith, let alone his father, but he gave it a try, finishing the 1897 season in Toronto with a .301 batting average in 85 games. Once it grew clear that his commendable but hardly extraordinary showing would not be enough to earn an immediate trip back to the majors, he quit the game as a player but retained an avid interest in it by passing his spare time scouting new talent. His Penn Biography states: “Most notably, Smith is credited for discovering future hall of fame pitcher Christy Mathewson, a fellow Bucknell alumnus.”3 While others too have lain claim to discovering Mathewson, Smith may well have had at least a hand in his emergence.

Following an internship at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Philadelphia, Smith joined his father’s medical practice in Harrisburg on January 1, 1899, and took over their offices at 713 North Third Street upon his father’s retirement four years later. On July 31, 1901, he married Blanche Laverne McNeal, an 1898 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the daughter of Robert and Sarah Bennett McNeal; the couple then took up residence at 130 West State Street in Harrisburg.

Though raised in the Baptist faith, upon his marriage Smith became a lifelong member of Harrisburg’s Grace Street Methodist Episcopal Church where his wife’s father was an officer, and in Smith’s case at least it was a long life. He remained a highly respected surgeon in Harrisburg for over 60 years. In 1913 he became a charter member of the American Cancer Society; eighteen years later he founded a tumor clinic at Harrisburg Hospital. Smith was also a longtime fellow of the American College of Surgeons. Known as the “grand old man of Harrisburg medicine,”4 he performed his last surgery at the age of 89 and died at his Harrisburg home on November 12, 1962, at age 91. Smith’s death marked the passing of the last man to play against a National League team managed by Connie Mack.

 

Sources

This biography is an expanded version of one that appeared in David Nemec's The Rank and File of 19th Century Major League Baseball (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2012).

In assembling this biography I made extensive use of Sporting Life; The Sporting News; History of Dauphin County, Pennsylvania (vol. 3) by Luther Reily Kelker; University History: Baseball at Penn, and also Penn Biographies for details of Smith’s professional baseball career, 1896-1897 and of his family history, medical career, and later life. Smith’s major- and minor-league statistics came from www.baseball-reference.com.

 

Notes

1 The Sporting News, August 2, 1896.

2 The Sporting News, September 26, 1896.

4 Ibid.

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