SABR

Bill Rodgers

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Bill Rodgers played for three major-league teams in his first year in the leagues, but he only played in four games in his second – and last – year. He played for Cleveland and the Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds in 1915, swiftly moving from one team to another, and then appeared in a handful of early-season games for Cincinnati in 1916.

“Rawmeat Bill” was a 5-foot-9, 170-pound middle infielder who batted left-handed and threw right-handed. He was born Wilbur Kincaid Rodgers on April 18, 1887 on the Rodgers Farm at Pleasant Ridge in Sycamore Township, Ohio. His father Charley Erastus Rodgers was a farmer in Hamilton County, Ohio, with him and his wife Jessie both natives of the Buckeye State. In 1900 the family lived in Sycamore, Wilbur the middle boy of three in the family. Roland was the older brother and Thomas the younger. Living on the farm were Margaret Kincaid, Charley’s aunt, Mary Moore, a white domestic servant, and boarder John Kuhn, who worked as a farm laborer.

He attended the Amity School for grades one through six; he listed his high school as Madisonville - Norwood - Pleasant Ridge, which are all communities in the area. He then completed a course at the Miller School of Business.i There he became an expert stenographer who “saw service” in the offseasons “with several big corporations.” ii

At the time of the 1910 census, he was living with his wife Magdalena Dallman Rodgers in her parents’ home at Columbia, Ohio. William Dallman was a real estate agent of German parents. Magdalena’s mother Anna, William’s wife, was an immigrant from Germany. Wilbur was employed as a stenographer for Rodgers and Meslow, a daily market.

He entered the ranks of Organized Baseball with Waterbury in 1909, batting .302 in 115 games. And Waterbury won the Connecticut State League pennant in 1910. Rodgers hit .283 in 124 games.

He was drafted by Portland’s Walter McCredie in September 1910, and worked as second baseman for the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League from 1911 through 1914. He made an immediate impression, the Oregonian writing, “This clever youngster is heart and soul in every game. He plays his best all the time, and is not a grandstand player looking for an average. … It is players like Rodgers who make championship teams.”iii

In June 1911, he fractured his ankle and missed a couple of months. He’d hit well for Portland, with averages of .265, .306, .305, and .292 in the four years. He was considered a speedster, and was a pretty lively teammate, even heading out to go coyote hunting while the Beavers were in spring training at Santa Maria, California, in 1911. He ended up killing a jackrabbit instead. And he was a natural leader, named team captain for 1912 even before 1911 was over. He would have played more than the 99 games he did, but for breaking his leg in a game on June 14.iv Portland won the 1911 Pacific Coast League pennant. Walter McCredie said in December, “I look for Bill Rodgers to be the star of the league next season.”v

In the offseason, Rodgers spent a great deal of time hunting and trapping and apparently becoming quite good at it. There were dangers involved, though, and a newspaper story told of how he was saved from an attack by a mountain lion which had crouched and appeared ready to spring when a shot from one of his companions went right through the skull of the animal.vi This wasn’t just a week in the woods. He spent four months in the Cascades and emerged looking like a true mountain man in need of a haircut and a shave. That could be where he picked up the nickname “Rawmeat Bill.” He told it this way, though: “My mother used to give me a slice of raw meat when she was cooking. Later when I would eat in a restaurant or hotel I would tell them to let me look at my steak before it was cooked, then I would eat the lean meat raw. The sports writers gave me the nickname.”vii

The colorful nickname prompted headlines, such as 1941’s “Manager Eats Raw Meat, Takes Team to Church” in the April 14 Washington Post.

The Beavers had fallen short in 1912, but won the pennant again in 1913 and 1914. Cleveland drafted Rodgers in the fall of 1911, even as he planned another winter in the wilds. He’d initially intended to go to Alaska, but had several baseball friends who wanted to go for a two weeks’ trip in Oregon, and so did so in November. In the end, Cleveland took Elmer Lober in lieu of Rodgers.

In 1913, there were several times when Rodgers’ hitting proved clutch and Capt. Rodgers featured in headlines, sometimes for his defense. During the 5-0 win over the Vernon Tigers, the Los Angeles Times wrote in a subhead, “Cap Rodgers Is the Big Star, Pulling Off All Kinds of Plays” and then elaborating: “He was here, there, and everywhere over the field, manipulating some of the greatest plays of the season. Bill handled ten chances around second base, and full half of that number were near impossible plays.” viii

His speed was a big factor in his game, both allowing him to cover more ground out of the second-base position, and on the basepaths as well and in his ability to beat out infield hits and stretch singles into doubles. The L.A. Times devoted a story in 1914 saying he was “one of the greatest second sackers that ever palmed a grounder on the Coast” and rhapsodized about his coverage on defense. It also noted that in August he already had 60 stolen bases and led the league by a wide margin.ix

The Federal League approached him in mid-1914 and he admitted he was tempted by the offer, but he stuck with Portland, and Cleveland offered McCredie a reported $5,000 for his 1915 contract.

Over the winter, on another hunting trip with his wife, 2- to 3-year-old son, and others, he came close to disaster, their boat coming within a couple of hundred yards of the 25- or 30-foot drop at Celilo Falls, after which followed maybe 10 miles of dangerous rapids. Their boat struck a rock and was damaged beyond repair but there were no injuries.x

Rodgers started the 1915 season for Cleveland and was hitting .311 after the first 16 games, with seven RBIs. He’d committed three errors, however, and perhaps for that reason, Cleveland released him unconditionally on May 15. Rodgers was expected to return to Portland, but wired Walter McCredie saying that he’d had an offer from another big-league club in the East and wanted to stay on; McCredie consented – if he wanted to buy his own release for $2,500.xi

The team that was interested was the Boston Red Sox, and on May 25 McCredie sent a telegram to Boston owner Joseph Lannin that he could have Rodgers on a free trial, with payment to be made if Rodgers performed well enough that the Red Sox wanted to keep him. Neither the amount nor the length of the trial period were initially disclosed.xii The next day, however, Lannin said, no, he didn’t want to pay the full $2,500 draft price. On June 4, with Rodgers waiting for a decision, McCredie agreed to $1,250 – half the draft price. “McCredie has about lost patience with Rodgers,” muttered the June 5 Boston Globe. Rodgers felt he “got an unfair deal” from Cleveland.xiii He detailed his thoughts in a lengthy letter he made public, in which he slammed Cleveland manager Joe Birmingham, saying among other things, “Birmingham has no knowledge of human nature whatever, and he does not know common sense baseball. Consequently he cannot run this team or any other organization successfully, but you have to give him credit for one thing. He has established a reputation as the best wrecker the game has ever produced. How he gets away with it is a mystery…Get busy and kill the snake.”xiv Remarkably, the letter had been written on May 12 and Birmingham was fired from his position on May 19 and never returned to managing in the majors. It appears as though Rodgers’ critique was on the mark, and taken as such by Cleveland owner Charles Somers.

The Globe explained that he’d done pretty well with Cleveland and looked like a prospect, particularly based on his record in the Coast League, but that Cleveland just had too many men and he was let go.xv The paper seemed not to be aware of the bitterness between Rodgers and manager Birmingham. He didn’t work out for the Red Sox; though he did walk three times in pinch-hitting situations, they were the only times he reached base. In nine plate appearances, he was otherwise 0-for-6. As a utility fielder, he made one error in ten chances. But he didn’t want to go back to Portland, despite his popularity there, saying, “I believe that any player who doesn’t made (sic) good in the majors shouldn’t return to the minor league city from which he came. The fans all think that he is a bum and won’t forget it whenever he makes an error.”xvi

He didn’t return to Portland – at least not directly. On July 8, his contract was sold to the Cincinnati Reds. For the Reds, Rodgers got in some work, playing in 72 games. He hit for a .239 average (with a .299 on-base percentage). He scored 20 runs.

There was word in the offseason that he was being considered as the manager of the Los Angeles Angels, and Cincinnati let its option expire, which would have the effect of returning him to Portland. There was some confusion at the National Baseball Commission, however, and for whatever reason, he remained with the Reds. Several of the other Reds took up his preferred diet of raw meat during spring training.xvii

Rodgers opened the 1916 season with the Reds, but only appeared in four games, the last one on May 15, without a hit in four at-bats. He was then returned to the minor league city from which he came. He resumed his role as field captain and on June 10, Portland held “Bill Rodgers Day” and he received a stickpin and then hit into a double play his first time up. (Later in the game, he took part in the winning rally.) He played two steady years with the Beavers, hitting .258 in 140 games in 1916 and .263 in 158 games in 1917.

The Oregonian ran an article he wrote about wild boar hunting in Hawaii and another on shark hunting two days later.xviii He added the job of automobile salesman to his portfolio during his time off, but seemed unable to keep from being a little rambunctious at times. In Tulsa on July 16, he pled not guilty to charges of loitering in a “choc joint” and carrying a concealed revolver.xix Five days later, he was touting the beneficial properties of hot mud baths. He was undergoing treatment for a lame shoulder. In early December, he announced his retirement.

In early 1918, Rodgers was named manager of the Sacramento Senators in the P.C.L. He was a playing manager and didn’t miss a game – playing in all 96 games in a 48-48 fourth-place season until the league suspended operations on July 14 due to World War I. Rodgers returned for three more years, 1919 through 1921, playing in a decreasing number of games each year. Only in 1921 was he close to winning a pennant, falling just a game and a half short.

In 1922, Rodgers was the last of three managers for the Denver Bears (Western League), and hit .288 in 46 games as a player.

For the two years 1923 and 1924 he managed some other Senators – the Albany Senators in the Eastern League. He played in 91 games in 1923 (hitting .299), but he was replaced partway through the ’24 campaign.

Peoria became his home club in 1925, and Rodgers led the team to the Three-I League pennant. He led the team again in 1926, falling 2½ games short, and in 1927, effectively tied for first place but behind Danville .632 to .630 on percentage points.

In 1928, he managed two teams – first, Little Rock, and then – for a third time – Portland, when he took over from Ernie Johnson during the year. Portland, it was again in 1929. He was highly regarded locally, the Portland Oregonian writing, “This man Rodgers has a way about him that just naturally seems to create good fellowship in the clubhouse and on the field.”xx He never held a grudge. If he criticized a player, he did it privately. He resigned in October, and in November was named manager in Chattanooga. He was a hustling manager, who also quickly developed a reputation for “yipping” on the field. He seemed to associate vocal enthusiasm with good play on the field, and the Los Angeles Times observed, “Rodgers starts his players to yelling in the clubhouse and you’d think it was a madhouse instead of a dressing-room if you heard the Beavers exercising their vocal cords just before they come out on the field. And the boys never quit yipping and hustling until the game’s over.”xxi

Continuing his travels, Rodgers managed the Southern Association’s Chattanooga Lookouts in 1930 and he managed off and on through 1951, according to SABR’s admittedly incomplete records. Rodgers’ Hall of Fame player file was unable to provide any additional information. Stops along the way include:

  • Des Moines – 1931 and 1932 (though he’s also shown as playing in 106 games for Peoria in 1931, his last year as a player)
  • In 1933 and 1934 he served as secretary and business manager of the Kansas City Blues.xxii
  • Panama City and Peoria – 1935 (he was manager for part of the season for both teams)
  • Sanford – 1936 through 1938, though he is also listed as managing part of the 1937 season in Charlotte, and then went on to manage Chattanooga, taking over for the ailing Clyde Milan in June.
  • Deland - 1940
  • Thomasville – 1941 into mid-June (and he was still eating raw meat)xxiii
  • As of July 1941, he was scouting for Joe Engle’s Chattanooga, and in 1942 became a coach for the Lookouts.
  • In 1946, Rodgers managed in Peoria again – this time as manager of the Peoria Redwings in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, though he was replaced midseason due to the team’s lackluster performance on the field.
  • Texas City - 1951

He may well have managed after 1951, too. We do know that he scouted for the Cleveland Indians from 1954-57. On his player questionnaire, Bill Rodgers listed his last year in baseball as 1959. As early as 1943, he was reported owner of a 1,365-acre ranch in Berclair, Texas, which remained his residence until his death. His next-door neighbors were Chattanooga’s Joe Engle and ballplayer Kiki Cuyler.xxiv

He died at the age of 91, on December 24, 1978, at a nursing home in Goliad, Texas, after a lengthy illness.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Rodgers’s player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

i Player questionnaire at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

ii Sporting Life, April 19, 1913.

iii The Oregonian, April 30, 1911.

iv Sporting Life, July 1, 1911.

v The Oregonian, December 11, 1911

vi The Oregonian, February 7, 1913.

vii Player questionnaire at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

viii Los Angeles Times, September 17, 1913.

ix Los Angeles Times, August 10, 1914.

x The Oregonian, January 23, 1915.

xi Hartford Courant, May 20, 1915 and Washington Post, May 21, 1915.

xii Boston Globe, May 26, 1915.

xiii The Oregonian, May 20, 1915.

xiv The Oregonian, May 23, 1915.

xv Boston Globe, June 7, 1915.

xvi Los Angeles Times, June 23, 1915.

xvii Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), March 15, 1916. See also the March 22 Oregonian, which said the team unanimously adopted that as their slogan.

xviii The Oregonian, March 26 and 28, 1917.

xix Tulsa World, July 17, 1917.

xx The Oregonian, March 29, 1929.

xxi Los Angeles Times, September 9, 1928.

xxii The San Diego Union of January 28, 1933 announced his hire and said that he had a financial interest in the Blues.

xxiii San Francisco Chronicle, April 14, 1941.

xxiv Omaha World Herald, December 4, 1943.

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