SABR

Claude Hendrix

This article was written by Jonathan Dunkle.

A tremendous all-around athlete who was one of the Deadball Era's best at fielding his position, Claude Hendrix was a spitball pitcher who posted three 20-win seasons, each with a different team, en route to a lifetime 144-116 record and 2.65 ERA. With a batting average of .241, 13 home runs, and 97 RBIs over the course of his 10 seasons, the 6', 195-lb. right-hander was also good enough with the bat to be used frequently as a pinch-hitter. Hendrix is best remembered today, however, for his apparent attempt at throwing a game in 1920, an event that spawned the investigation that eventually led to exposure of the Black Sox Scandal.

An only child, Claude Raymond Hendrix was born in Olathe, Kansas, on April 13, 1889. His father, Price, was a prosperous bank president who became the first Democrat to be elected sheriff of Johnson County. Refining his athletic skills under the tutelage of his father, Claude excelled in sports and eventually pitched in 1908 for Fairmount College, the predecessor of Wichita State University. Fairmount had a powerful baseball team while Hendrix was there, producing four players (including Hendrix) who went on to play professionally, and in one game that spring the collegians beat the Wichita team of the Western Association. Wichita became interested in signing Hendrix, but he ended up that summer with Lincoln, Nebraska, of the higher-level Western League, compiling a 6-5 record in 13 games.

In 1909 Hendrix moved down a few rungs on the minor-league ladder to Salina of the Central Kansas League, going 12-8 for a team that finished second with a 40-28 record. His breakout season came in 1910 when he pitched for an independent team in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Hendrix was 17-4 with 208 strikeouts and only 117 hits allowed in 204.1 innings. Making the jump from semipro ball directly to the majors, Claude debuted with the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 11, 1911, and soon befriended Honus Wagner, with whom he often joined on business deals. Hendrix finished the season with a 4-6 record, but his 2.73 ERA and 85 hits allowed in 118.2 innings provided a hint of the performance that was soon to come.

In his first full season in Pittsburgh, Hendrix emerged as one of the National League's premier pitchers in 1912, placing second in the NL in strikeouts (176) and leading the league in winning percentage with a 24-9 record to go along with a 2.59 ERA. He also was spectacular at the plate, hitting .322 with a .529 slugging percentage, which would have placed him second in the NL to Heinie Zimmerman if he had batted a sufficient number of times. Audacious enough at age 23 to hold out during spring training, Hendrix returned in time to put together another strong campaign in 1913, posting a 14-15 record with a 2.84 ERA and finishing second in the NL with 5.15 strikeouts per game. He even came in for praise from Pittsburgh society columnist Agnes Wedgewood, who described him as "single, and oh so handsome."

Hendrix didn't remain single for long. In January 1914 he married his childhood sweetheart, Mabel Wilson, settling down with her in Kansas City, Missouri. In part to be closer to his new wife, though a substantial pay increase undoubtedly affected his decision, Claude elected to sign that winter with the Federal League's Chicago Whales, for whom he enjoyed the best season of his career in 1914. The 25-year-old spitballer led the Federal League in wins (29), games (49), complete games (34), and base runners per nine innings (8.6), and his 1.69 ERA was best in the league. Hendrix's Chifeds lost both ends of a doubleheader in Kansas City in late September, however, and finished second to the Indianapolis Hoosiers. Things were reversed in 1915— -- Hendrix was a mediocre 16-15 with a 3.00 ERA despite pitching a no-hitter on May 15, and the Chi-Feds rallied at the end of the season to claim the last FL pennant.

The Federal League folded after 1915, and it appeared at least for a couple of seasons that so too had the once-promising career of Claude Hendrix. Joining the Chicago Cubs, a team that had fallen on hard times since its last pennant in 1910, Hendrix posted an 18-28 record over the next two seasons despite posting ERAs of 2.68 and 2.60. In fact his ERA actually rose to 2.78 the following season, but the Cubs turned around to win the pennant and Hendrix posted a 20-7 record to lead the NL in winning percentage. In the 1918 World Series, manager Fred Mitchell elected to alternate left-handers Hippo Vaughn and Lefty Tyler against the predominantly left-handed Boston Red Sox lineup. Hendrix was used as a pinch-hitter, singling in his lone plate appearance, and pitched the final inning for the Cubs in the sixth and last game of the Series.

Hendrix struggled over the next two seasons, going 10-14 with a 2.62 ERA in 1919 and 9-12 with a 3.58 ERA in 1920. He remained out of the spotlight until September 4, 1920, when the Chicago Herald & Examiner reported that the Cubs-Phillies game on August 31 had been fixed in favor of the last-place Phils. The newspaper revealed that Cubs President Bill Veeck Sr. had received six telegrams and two phone calls informing him that gamblers were wagering heavily on the Phillies. Veeck pulled the starting assignment from Hendrix, who had supposedly placed a bet against the Cubs with Kansas City gambler Frog Thompson, and replaced him with star pitcher Pete Alexander, but the Cubs ended up losing anyway, 3-0. A grand jury was convened on September 7 to explore not only the tainted Cubs-Phillies game but the entire issue of baseball gambling, and the focus quickly shifted from Hendrix to the 1919 World Series. The incident involving Hendrix was never resolved, but the Cubs nonetheless released him at the end of the season.

Claude Hendrix returned to Kansas City where he sold cars and played semipro ball. After his wife died in 1923, he moved to Pennsylvania to continue playing outside of Organized Baseball, first in Emmaus and then in Allentown. Hendrix purchased a successful restaurant in 1926 and lived in Allentown for the rest of his life, passing away of a cerebral thrombosis on March 22, 1944, just shy of his 55th birthday.


Note: A slightly different version of this biography appeared in Tom Simon, ed., Deadball Stars of the National League (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, Inc., 2004).

Sources

For this biography, the author used a number of contemporary sources, especially those found in the subject's file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.


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