SABR

Urbane Pickering

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

It was the bottom of the ninth inning of the second game in a Pacific Coast League doubleheader on September 27, 1925, in Oakland, California. The Oaks were hosting the Seattle Indians, and the visitors had won the first game, 5-1. In the second game, Seattle had built up a 10-4 lead after four innings. Oakland chipped away in later innings, scoring four in the sixth, one in the seventh, and two in the eighth. With the Indians having added on in the top of the eighth, the Oaks had pulled even. It was 11-11 going into the bottom of the ninth. With one out, Buzz Arlett tripled and then – in his only at-bat of the game – Urbane Pickering singled him in to win the game, 12-11.  

It was Pickering’s first year in professional ball, catching for the Oaks, about 100 miles from home. Before the season had begun, the April 2 Sporting News let readers know: “A youth named Pickering also expects to break in as a backstop.” He was right-handed, and stood a stocky 5-feet-10, 180 pounds. In that first season, Pick hit .264 with seven homers. He played for Oakland in 1926 as well, but in the outfield and only for 27 games in August and September. He hit .289. Most of the year he was with the Quincy (Illinois) Red Birds in the Three-I League, to which he had been optioned by Oakland at the start of the season. Before breaking a small bone in his foot at the end of the season, Pickering played the outfield there, too, and hit 22 homers and batted .339.

Sophisticated, suave – or at least urbane – was this native of Hoxie, Kansas, the county seat of Sheridan County, and a town of around 1,200 inhabitants in the northwestern part of the state, nowhere near any sizable city. Urbane Henry Pickering came from a family that moved around. The 1930 United States Census shows his father, Devolson, as a grain farmer in Waterford, California (about 13 miles east of Modesto). Devolson was born to a father from Ohio and a mother from Ireland. Devolson and Sylvia (Blatchley) Pickering had two children – Valentine, born in Nebraska around 1893, and Urbane, born on June 3, 1899. Valentine was listed as a farmer, too, but Urbane as a farm laborer. In fact, in 1930, Urbane was a professional baseball player for most of the year, in the second of two seasons for the Birmingham Barons and looking ahead (though he didn’t know it at the time of the census) to his first year in the major leagues.

After his first two seasons with Oakland and Quincy, Pickering played 1927 and 1928 back in the Class B Three-I League, both seasons with the Decatur Commodores. He hit .263 the first year, but poured it on in ’28, hitting .329 and increasing his homers from eight to 14. (He also homered to drive in the only two runs in Decatur’s 3-2 loss in a June 27 exhibition game against the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates. Decatur took the Three-I League pennant that year. Pickering earned a promotion to Class A and spent 1929 and 1930 with Birmingham in the Southern Association (.278 and then .343). His second year at Decatur, he had become the team’s third baseman and both years in Birmingham were at third, too.

In 1929 the Barons were league champions, and Pickering played a role in some of the key games. Nicknamed The Brute, he tied for the team lead in RBIs. [Atlanta Constitution, March 2, 1930] On September 30, the New York Giants selected Pickering in that year’s draft. The Barons were hoping to get him back from the Giants for 1931, but on April 17, he was sold via waivers to the Boston Red Sox. (One of the Associated Press stories incorrectly reported that it was the New York Yankees who had made the sale.)

The very next day, Pickering made his major-league debut, wearing No. 1 for the Red Sox. It was the first year the Sox had worn uniform numbers and, late to the team when he joined them at Yankee Stadium, Pick didn’t even have a number. Bill Sweeney wore No. 1, but he was in bed with a fever so Pickering slid on his No. 1 jersey

After Sweeney’s fever broke, Pickering was assigned one of the highest numbers, 34. He went through four numbers in two years. By May 4, he was wearing No. 8 and hit a three-run homer, the first No. 8 to ever homer for the Red Sox. He was also the first No. 7 to homer for the Sox, in Shibe Park, on June 27, 1932. All 11 of his career home runs were hit on the road; he never hit one at home, at Fenway Park.

On April 25 against the visiting Yankees, Pickering scored from third base in the bottom of the 10th with some heads-up baserunning. It was a good first year. Even though Pickering wasn’t a starter, he got into 103 games, mostly at third base but 16 at second, hitting .252 with nine homers and 52 RBIs (more than five of the regular starters).

Pickering became the starting third baseman in 1932, playing in 132 games and batting .260. He knocked in only 40 runs, though, with two homers, even as he doubled 28 times to 1931’s 13. He even set a major-league record on August 14, for most assists by a third baseman in a game (9). As of 2010, the record is 11, set by Damon Phillips of the Boston Braves in 1944, tied by Ken McMullen and Mike Ferraro. But Pickering wasn’t in the Red Sox’ “immediate plans” for 1933 and was released to Kansas City of the American Association on January 13. Boston still had a string on him, however, and on February 22 the Red Sox traded Pick and two others, with additional consideration, to the Montreal Royals for pitcher Walter Brown. The trade was almost certainly made with the approval of Tom Yawkey, who assumed ownership of the Red Sox four days later, and his general manager, Eddie Collins.

Pickering played for Montreal for the first part of the season, and Toronto for the second part, batting .251. The May 18 Sporting News reported that Royals club president Jules L. Trudeau made an offer of 25 Canadian dollars for any Royal who homered in a game. On his very first day in front of the Montreal fans, Pickering “smacked the ball over the 345-foot left-field fence.” He added two singles in the game.

The Red Sox recalled Pickering from Toronto, and then passed him through to Kansas City. [The Sporting News, February 15, 1934]

Pickering left baseball and joined the police force in Modesto, California, where he achieved a little notoriety in 1936 by issuing a speeding ticket to World War I hero General John J. Pershing. [Hartford Courant, April 7, 1933] On March 13, 1941, Pickering was named Modesto’s chief of police. He made national headlines in 1948 when he helped round up four alleged kidnappers of a prominent Modesto family some 14 months after the fact.

Pickering married Alice E. Major and was retired from law enforcement, lastly for the Stanislaus County’s sheriff office, at the time of his May 13, 1970, death. He had lung cancer, but the immediate cause of death was a cerebral vascular accident.

Sources

In addition to the sources cited above, the author relied upon the online SABR Encyclopedia, retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com. Thanks to Lyle Spatz for additional information.

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