SABR

Carlton Molesworth

This article was written by Bill Lamb.

In one of the Bill James books, contributor Jim Baker has some fun at the expense of an obscure late-19th-century pitcher named Carlton Molesworth. Combing his faintly humorous name with historically dubious statistical entries that list Molesworth as 5-feet-6 and 200 pounds, Baker presents a vignette that casts Molesworth as the portly butler of a condescending industrialist. Retiring to his bath, the master informs Molesworth that he is free for the evening, but not without first cautioning him against “raid[ing] the larder on the way out, as has been your custom of late.” “Very good, sir,” replies Molesworth impassively, accepting, as a servant must, the casually-dispensed disdain of his employer.i

Had Baker taken a closer look at his comic foil, he might not have been so dismissive of Carlton Molesworth. Although his major-league career consisted of no more than four pitching appearances for the 1895 Washington Nationals, Moleworth was a career baseball professional. In his early years he was a standout minor-league outfielder, capturing the 1905 Southern Association batting crown. More significantly, Molesworth then developed into a highly regarded minor-league manager, being deemed a particularly astute cultivator of young playing talent. After a long tenure in the dugout, notably as manager of the Birmingham Barons, Molesworth thereafter became a longtime scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates. All told, the butt of Jim Baker’s little satire spent some 53 years associated with the game.

Carlton Molesworth was born in Frederick, Maryland, on February 15, 1876, the younger of two sons born to local farmer Thomas Molesworth (1841-1896) and his wife, the former Sarah Druscilla Browning (1845-1925).ii Carlton attended local schools, apparently completing high school.iii He then married early, taking 17-year-old Mollie Bruchey for his bride in 1894. Daughters Eva (born 1895) and Mabel (1898) followed. For the next decade and beyond, Carlton would often leave his wife and children in the care of his mother and/or older brother Vernon as he tried to make a living as a professional baseball player.

After playing amateur ball in and around Frederick, Molesworth, actually an unremarkable for the era 5-foot-7, 162-pound teenager but with a round face that made him appear somewhat chubby,iv hooked on as a left-handed pitcher with a faster nine in Taylorsville, Virginia. A 19-strikeout performance in early August 1895 against a club from Waterford gathered the young lefty some attention,v and within days thereafter, he was a professional, having been signed by an independent team playing in Winston, North Carolina. as reported in the Frederick Daily News, August 8, 1895. But somewhere along the line, manager Gus Schmelz of the National League Washington Nationals had seen Molesworth pitch and had been favorably impressed. By the following month, the youngster was in a major-league uniform. On September 14, 1895, the 19-year-old made his big-league debut against the Philadelphia Phillies.vi Molesworth got through the first inning unscathed, but was pounded thereafter. By the time he was removed in the sixth inning, the Nationals were down 13-4 (and on their way to a 21-9 drubbing). Molesworth was equally ineffective in his next two outings, one a start, one in relief, but drew a decision in neither. Molesworth’s final major-league game came on September 30, 1895, when he pitched the nightcap of a season-ending doubleheader against Detroit. He managed an eight-inning, called-due-to-darkness complete game but was on the losing end of a 10-8 score. Although he would go on to play professional ball for another 20 seasons, the major-league career of Carlton Molesworth was now over. In four appearances, he had gone 0-2, with a whopping 14.23 ERA. In 16 innings pitched, Molesworth allowed 33 hits and 15 walks, and hit 4 batters, while striking out 7. Clearly, he did not belong on a major-league pitching mound.

The Washington club had no difficulty grasping the obvious, but saw potential in Molesworth nonetheless. A midwinter preview of the 1896 Nationals projected Molesworth as the Opening Day left fielder.vii But the start of that campaign found Molesworth as a pitcher-outfielder for Rockford Forest City of the Class B Western Association. The long minor-league odyssey of Carlton Molesworth got off on the wrong foot when the Rockford club folded on July 25, still owing him $85 in unpaid salary that he would never collect.viii Still determined to make his living as a professional ballplayer, Molesworth then bounced around, playing for lower minor-league teams in Shamokin, Palmyra, and Johnstown, Pennsylvania, as well as in upstate New York places like Cortland and Binghamton. Baseball-Reference provides no individual Molesworth statistics until the 1899 season in Binghamton, the year that an injury to his throwing arm transformed Molesworth into a full-time outfielder. The batting talents of the lefty-swinging now 23-year-old are reflected in that year’s numbers. In 110 games, Molesworth batted .337, with 40 extra-base hits, and scored 108 runs. No individual statistics are available for the following season, one that Molesworth first split between teams in Elmira and Schenectady. But midway through the 1901 campaign, Molesworth reached the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern Association, a quality minor-league circuit where he would remain a fixture for the next 21 seasons.ix

After batting a solid .285 for Chattanooga in 1902, Molesworth moved on to the Montgomery Black Sox, a new Southern Association entry. There, Molesworth hit his batting stride, hitting comfortably over .300 in each of the next three seasons and winning the 1905 SA batting crown with a .313 mark. Destiny, however, awaited Molesworth in another Southern Association venue: Birmingham. Joining the Barons in 1906, he was the everyday center fielder until August 1908, when he also took over the managerial reins of the last-place team. His installation as field boss was applauded by the Birmingham Age-Herald, the paper adding that the new Barons manager “on account of his ability as a ballplayer and his gentlemanly conduct at all times and under all circumstances, is warmly congratulated. That he will have the support of the fans is a certainty.”x Moley, as he was called by local sportswriters and fans, was unable to revive club fortunes immediately, but with the backing of dynamic new Birmingham owner A.H. Woodward, he slowly turned the Barons in the right direction.xi In August 1910 a now pennant-contending Birmingham team inaugurated Rickwood Field, a handsome new concrete and steel stadium, with a stirring 3-2 victory, the winning margin achieved by four consecutive ninth-inning bunts ordered by skipper Molesworth.xii Now in his mid-30s, Molesworth continued playing as a Barons regular, having often led his club in offensive categories during previous seasons: hits (1906, 1907, 1910), batting average (1908), and runs scored (1906 and the SA league leader in 1908). Early in the 1911 season, the New Orleans Times-Democrat observed that “the Birmingham manager is one of the most popular men in the Southern League. He is a star outfielder, always hits near the top of the heap and has every qualification for a major league player except for a throwing arm. That’s what [has] kept him out of the big belt.”xiii

After hitting a substandard .245 in 1911, manager Molewsworth removed himself from the Barons lineup. Apart from sporadic appearances in the 1914 and 1915 seasons, his playing career was finished. For the 16 minor-league seasons for which Baseball-Reference has statistical data for Molesworth, he posted a .298 career batting average, mostly against Class A competition. Now self-confined to the dugout and concentrating entirely on his managerial duties, Moley brought a Southern Association championship home to Birmingham in 1912, the Barons’ 85-51 (.625) log good for a 6½-game edge over second-place Mobile. Afterward the self-effacing manager attributed the triumph to “the excellent men well-tried in the Southern League” who had played for him.xiv Following a disappointing third-place finish in 1913, Molesworth’s Barons were again Southern Association champions in 1914, the satisfaction of that achievement diminished only by the loss of the postseason Minor Leagues Championship to the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association, four games to two.

During the early years of his minor leagues existence, there had been many changes in the Molesworth household. Sadly, wife Mollie had died in 1900, only 23 years old and leaving Moley two young children – who would often end up being cared for by relatives in Frederick while their father boarded in Southern minor-league cities. Molesworth remarried in March 1903, taking a Baltimore woman, Ethel Irene Harris, as his second wife. The union produced daughter Pauline (born 1903), but did not last. By the time the 1910 US Census was compiled, the couple had divorced. Sometime thereafter, Molesworth was married a third time, to Sarah Phleeger, a local Frederick-area woman who would later bear him sons Carlton Jr. (1918) and Thomas (1919). Meanwhile, patriotic duty called. Too old for military service himself when America entered the World War, Molesworth did his part for the war effort by serving as a physical training instructor at Camp Sevier in Greenville, South Carolina, during the 1917-1918 offseason. Thereafter, he returned to his post with the Birmingham club.

Although his Barons teams were often Southern Association pennant contenders after the 1914 season, Molesworth could not bring another championship to Birmingham. Still, he remained highly regarded, particularly esteemed as a developer of young talent. Pittsburgh Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss was a singular admirer, impressed by the way Molesworth had molded future Pirates stars (and later Hall of Fame members) Burleigh Grimes and Pie Traynor. Once, the Pirates even purchased Barons players en masse, acquiring Traynor, plus pitchers Earl Whitehill and Johnny Morrison, catcher Johnny Gooch, outfielder Clyde Barnhart, and several other Molesworth charges for a reported $87,000.xv Ever the teacher, Molesworth also tried to impart understanding of the game to those in his hometown, authoring a series of how-to play articles for the Daily News of Frederick.xvi

In April 1922 Carlton Molesworth began his 15th season at the helm for Birmingham. But the club’s lack of recent success had taken its toll. With the Barons standing at 40-44 and out of the pennant chase by early July, Molesworth resigned as Birmingham manager, and was replaced by Joe Dunn. The constant gentleman, Molesworth took his leave gracefully, commending his players for their efforts and thanking club officials for their fair treatment. His resignation was simply “in the best interest of baseball in Birmingham,” Molesworth said, “as I believe that I have been here too long.”xvii During his tenure at the Barons helm, he had posted a 1,098-977 (.529) record, winning two Southern Association pennants while developing a host of future major leaguers. And he was not leaving baseball permanently. Although he had no definite plans, Moley’s Birmingham farewell address hastened to add that he would definitely “manage somewhere next year,” assuring his fans that “I will still be in the game” in 1923.xviii In the meantime, Molesworth undertook scouting assignments for Pittsburgh.

True to his word, Molesworth began the following season as manager of the American Association Columbus Senators. But his three-year term in Columbus would not be a happy one, ending with the 1925 Senators in the American Association cellar. A 215-288 (.429) log in Columbus reduced Molesworth’s minor-league managing record to the near break-even point: 1,313-1,265 (.510) over 19 seasons. He retained, however, the regard of Pirates owner Dreyfuss, and was promptly re-engaged as a talent scout for Pittsburgh. For the next 21 years Molesworth would scour the countryside looking for prospects. At home recovering from a head injury suffered in an August 1944 fall at a York, Pennsylvania, hotel, he reflected on the futility of trying to find baseball talent while World War II raged. Moley had not signed a single player for Pittsburgh that year, “as the Army and the Navy seem to have all the good young prospects.”xix At the close of the 1947 season, 71-year-old Carlton Molesworth retired, having spent the previous 53 years as a player, manager, and scout in professional baseball.

A widower since the death of third wife Sarah in May 1939, Molesworth spent the early years of his retirement bird-hunting and fishing in and around home in Frederick. Later, his health began to fail. Entering a Frederick nursing home in 1956, he died there five years later, on July 25, 1961, age 85. Following funeral services, Carlton Molesworth was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Frederick. He was survived by daughters Eva Summers, Mabel Krantz, and Pauline Stickell, sons Carlton Jr. and Thomas Molesworth, eight grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren. xx His $90,000 estate would be divided equally among his five children.xxi

In 2005 a committee of Birmingham media, area baseball historians, and Barons team executives convened to select the inaugural class of the Birmingham Barons Hall of Fame. Prerequisites for induction included outstanding achievement as a player, manager, or official for the Birmingham Barons or Negro Leagues Black Barons, good character and reputation, and faithfully upholding the ideals of sportsmanship. The candidate pool was deep, and included Cooperstown enshrinees Pie Traynor, Burleigh Grimes, Satchel Paige, Mule Suttles, Reggie Jackson, and Rollie Fingers. But each of these worthies would have to await a later year for induction. But not Carlton Molesworth. Although 80 years removed from the Birmingham baseball scene, he had not been forgotten. For contributions to the 1906 to 1922 Barons clubs, Carlton Molesworth joined the incomparable Willie Mays, Negro Leagues star Piper Davis, and early Barons owner Rick Woodward as a premier member of the Birmingham Barons Hall of Fame. Not bad for someone whose name summoned only the image of a portly butler to a baseball humorist.

 

Notes

i Bill James, The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (New York: The Free Press, 2001), 58.

ii The biographical details of this profile have been drawn from US Census data and various of the newspaper articles cited below, particularly the Molesworth obituary published in the Frederick (Maryland) Daily News, July 26, 1961. Older brother Vernon Molesworth (1866-1924) was a local farmer who never married. Molesworth, by the way, is a fairly common surname in Maryland.

iii The Molesworth obituary relates that young Carlton received his education at “the old South Street School, and the old Academy from which he graduated.” Frederick Daily News, July 26, 1961.

iv Total Baseball, 7th edition, lists Molesworth as 5-feet-6, 200 pounds, while Baseball-Reference lists him as 5-feet-7, 162 pounds (although its Bullpen entry on Molesworth uses the 5-foot-6, 200-pound stat). To the writer’s eye, photographs of Molesworth do not depict a person weighing anywhere near 200 pounds. Nor would a player that heavy likely be taking turns in the outfield at 39 years old, as Molesworth did on occasion. His moon-shaped face, however, suggested a rotund appearance while one of Molesworth’s childhood nicknames was apparently Chubby, according to his obituary.

v See e.g., Frederick Daily News, August 5, 1895.

vi As reflected in the box score published in Sporting Life, September 21, 1895. The Baseball-Reference debut date for Carlton Molesworth (September 15, 1895) is a day off.

vii Frederick Daily News, August 6, 1896.

viii Sporting Life, December 21, 1895.

ix At the time, the circuit was customarily referred to as the Southern League, but present day baseball references call it the Southern Association, to distinguish the league from the Southern League later descended from the South Atlantic (Sally) League. During Molesworth’s time, the Southern Association was a Class A minor league, two rungs below the major leagues.

x As reprinted in the Frederick Daily News, June 6, 1908.

xi For more on the early Molesworth career in the Southern Association, see Clarence Watkins, Baseball in Birmingham (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2010), 22-24.

xii Allen Barra, Rickwood Field: A Century in America’s Oldest Ballpark (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2010), 36. As the book’s title connotes, Birmingham’s Rickwood Field is the oldest ballpark still in use in professional baseball.

xiii Reprinted in the Frederick Daily News, May 17, 1911.

xiv Frederick Daily News, September 12, 1913.

xv As recalled in the Frederick Daily News, July 26, 1961.

xvi Published weekly in four parts in the Frederick Daily News, starting February 21, 1922.

xvii Frederick Daily News, July 7, 1923.

xviii Ibid.

xix Frederick Daily News, August 31, 1944.

xx Frederick Daily News, July 26, 1961.

xxi Frederick Daily News, August 11, 1961.

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