SABR

Steve Brodie

This article was written by William Akin.

Walter Scott "Steve" Brodie, player, scout, and coach is best known as the center fielder of the swashbuckling Baltimore Orioles of the 1890s. The most durable player of his era, his streak of playing in 727 consecutive games established the nineteenth century record.

His father, Alexander Marr Brodie, an immigrant from Scotland, named his son after the most famous author of his native soil, Sir Walter Scott. His mother, Jennette LaMarque was a Virginia native of French heritage. The elder Brodie was a tailor by vocation and a Shakespearean actor by avocation. During his adult years, the younger Brodie enjoyed reciting lengthy passages from the Bard to the surprise of teammates and fans. Brodie was born September 11, 1868, in the Shenandoah Valley town of Warrenton, Virginia.

As a teenager, Walter moved to the bustling railroad center of Roanoke, Virginia, in 1885 to play ball on semi-professional teams in the local industrial leagues. Teams found jobs for him, but they were secondary. He began as a catcher and sometime outfielder. He acquired the nickname "Steve" after a famous daredevil named Steve Brodie gained fame by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge and surviving in the summer of 1886. The sobriquet seemed to fit and never left him.

Brodie turned professional in 1887, at the age of 18, when he went north to play for Altoona of the Pennsylvania State Association. A left-handed hitter who threw right, he soon gave up catching and shifted to the outfield where his speed was better suited. He made a mark batting .338 before the team disbanded. He finished the season with Canton in the Ohio State League. The following season he played the entire season with the Wheeling (West Virginia) Nailers of the Tri-State League where his teammates included Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty. He showed good speed and range in the outfield and batted .272. In 1889 he stole 50 bases, hit 21 triples batted .302 for Hamilton, Ontario, of the International Association.

With his baseball career underway, Scott married fifteen-year-old Caroline "Carrie" Amanda Henry of Roanoke in 1887. They subsequently had two children, a son and a daughter. The couple made their home in Roanoke until 1912, when Brodie's playing career came to an end. He enjoyed being called "The Duke of Roanoke."

In 1890 Frank Selee took over as manager of the Boston Beaneaters of the National League. Almost all of the players, however, had jumped to the Players' League. Selee filled his roster with numerous minor league prospects including Kid Nichols, Linc Lowe, and Herman Long. Brodie was one of the rookies. Listed as 5 foot 9 inches and 175 pounds when he came up, he grew to 5'-10" and 180 pounds in the next few years. The team fared poorly in 1890, but Brodie hit a solid .296.

Augmented by several returning veterans from the Players' League, Selee's club won the National League crown in 1891. Brodie took over as the center fielder. He established himself as tough, durable, and swift player. His rookie season began a string of seven years of finishing among the top five batters in being hit by a pitch. More importantly, he began a stretch in which he played in 727 consecutive games. He, also, developed a reputation for being fun loving, "One of the premier clowns of the game" (New York Times, 10/30/1935). Perhaps that was why Selee dealt his center fielder to St. Louis after the 1891 season.

An adequate batter with Boston, Brodie became an outstanding hitter with the St. Louis Browns in 1893. He was hitting .318 after 105 games when St. Louis sold him to Baltimore. Ned Hanlon, like Selee in Boston, was building a powerhouse in Baltimore. Earlier he had acquired Joe Kelley to play left field. Brodie, whom he bought for $1,000, filled the gap in center. For the remainder of the season Brodie hit .361. He finished the year with a career high 49 stolen bases, and ranked among the top ten National League hitters in hits, walks and stolen bases.

Hanlon put the final touches on the Orioles in 1894.Willie Keeler took over in right field completing one of the great outfields of all time. Charles Faber rates the outfield of Kelley, Brodie, and Keeler one of the top three nineteenth century outfields both in fielding and all-around. Between 1894 and 1896 the trio averaged .338 with 334 RBIs.

An outstanding fielder, Brodie tracked down more fly balls and participated in more double plays than any outfielder in the 1890s. Three times he led National League outfielders in fielding average.

The Orioles collectively batted .343 as they captured the 1894 pennant. Brodie hit .366, scored a career-high 134 runs, batted in 116 runs, and collected 210 hits, the only time he reached the 200-hit plateau.

Brodie enjoyed his finest season in 1895 as the Orioles won their second title. Batting third behind Keeler and Hughie Jennings, he batted .348, drove in a personal-best 134 runs, which tied him with Kelley for second in the league, and slapped 27 doubles, the most he would collect in a season.

Following the 1895 season, the Orioles held a special Field Day for their fans. Players participated in various contests of hitting, throwing, and running. Brodie won the silver cup for best all-around performance.

By then, Brodie's flamboyant style had made him a crowd favorite. He was the only southerner on the team, but unlike Ty Cobb in a later time Brodie got along with everyone. He often carried on conversations with himself in the outfield, quoted Shakespeare while at bat, and delighted spectators by catching balls behind his back (never in a game). John McGraw's biographer labeled Brodie "a flake--a player who delights in zany behavior." (Alexander, p. 38)

Baltimore swept to its third straight pennant in 1896 and crushed Cleveland in the Temple Cup series. Brodie's production dropped that year. His batting average slipped below .300, and in the Temple Cup series he managed only one hit.

Hanlon traded Brodie to Pittsburgh following the 1896 season for Jake Stenzel, who had batted .361. Brodie voiced his displeasure at the trade and at the prospect of moving to the Smoky City. In an effort to placate him, Pittsburgh shifted its 1897 spring training site to Roanoke. Stenzel out hit Brodie in 1897 .353 to .292 but Boston nosed out the Birds for the NL flag. In 1898 Hanlon reacquired Brodie even though he was batting only .263 at the time of the trade. His swing returned in Baltimore, where in 1899 he batted .306 and led the club with 87 RBIs.

When the National League dropped Baltimore following the 1899 season, Brodie jumped to the fledging American League signing with Chicago. The White Sox captured the 1900 pennant, Brodie's fifth championship team, but he batted only .262 with little power. The following season John McGraw brought Brodie back to the AL Baltimore club where he hit .310 as the O's center fielder. When McGraw jumped to the National League New York Giants, Brodie went with him. In his final major league season he hit .281.

After thirteen seasons in the majors, Brodie had a lifetime batting average of .303 with 900 RBIs, 800 runs, had batted over .300 five times, had played for five championship teams, and established the record for consecutive games played.

Brodie continued playing in the minor leagues into his forties through 1910. He made stops in Baltimore, Montreal, Providence, and Newark of the Eastern League, Birmingham of the Southern Association, Roanoke, Portsmouth, and Norfolk of the Virginia League, and Wilmington in the East Carolina League. Only in Roanoke in 1907 did he manage to hit over .300. By 1910 when he finished up at Newark he could only manage to hit for a weak .214 average.

Following his playing career he coached at the college level until World War I. He had stops at Rutgers (1912-1914), Princeton (1915), and the U.S. Naval Academy (1916-1917). During World War I he went to France with the American Expeditionary Force as YMCA secretary and athletic director. Following the war, Ned Hanlon, who had been a power on the Baltimore Parks Board since 1916, hired Brodie, and when Baltimore's Memorial Stadium was constructed in 1922 Hanlon tapped Brodie to be superintendent of the new facility. He served in that capacity until his death.

Brodie died of heart problems in Baltimore on October 29, 1935. He was buried in that city, in Woodlawn Cemetery.

In 1992 the Salem-Roanoke Sports Hall of Fame inducted Brodie with its first group of members.


Sources

Akin, William E., "Walter Scott Brodie," Baseball's First Stars (Cleveland: SABR, 1996), 10.

Alexander, Charles C., John McGraw. New York: Penguin Books, 1988.

Bredy, James H., Baseball in Baltimore. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

Faber, Charles, Baseball Pioneers: Ratings of Nineteenth Century Players. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co., 1997.

Lieb, Frederick G., The Pittsburgh Pirates. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1948.

Lieb, Frederick G., The St. Louis Cardinals. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1944.

New York Clipper, February 9, 1895.

Roanoke Times and World News, February 3, 1992, July 2, 1992.

Shiner, David, "Another Look," National Pastime 21 (2001), 28-31.

The Sporting News, November 7, 1935.

"Walter S. Brodie, Old Ball Star Dies," New York Times, October 30, 1935.

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