Who Wore Uniform Number 16 for the Tigers—Before Prince Hal?
This article was published in the Fall 2010 Baseball Research Journal.
Since January 2001, I’ve been engaged in a baseball-research endeavor that has been fascinating and challenging and sometimes frustrating—the determination of the uniform numbers for Detroit Tigers players, managers, and coaches. In an article in The National Pastime in 2006, I described some of my findings for the uniform numbers retired by the Tigers.1 One of the then unresolved items is the subject of this article.
In my 2006 TNP article, in the discussion of uniform-number 16, retired in honor of Hal Newhouser, I wrote the following:
It is also noted that, according to a number of official 1939 Detroit Tigers scorecards covering the period from June 4 through September 10, a person with the surname Jackym (perhaps former minor league pitcher Joe Jachym?) wore number 16 (perhaps while serving as a batting practice pitcher?). We have not yet been able to find out anything about “Jackym.” [Note the spelling difference—the fourth letter in the scorecard surname is k, and the fourth letter in Joe’s surname is h.]
In returning to the Jackym/Jachym situation, I first reexamined The Sporting News. Just as I had found four to five years ago, using the Paper of Record (POR) search engine affords no hits for “Jackym.” Similarly, using the POR search engine for “Jachym” again yielded four hits:
January 22, 1931, page 22: The final 1930-season batting, fielding, and pitching averages for the Mid-Atlantic League—a Jachym played for Wheeling;
January 26, 1933, page 2: A brief article about the Texas League for the upcoming 1933 season— Joe Jachym was included in a group of players on the reserve list from the homeless TylerShreveport franchise;
February 2, 1933, page 5: A short article about a new investor for the Fort Worth club of the Texas League—Jachym was included in a list of pitchers who could possibly be added to the team’s roster;
October 25, 1934, page 6: The final batting, fielding, and pitching averages for the New York– Pennsylvania League for the 1934 season—a Jachym played for Wilkes-Barre.
There was nothing about a Jachym with the 1939 Detroit Tigers. (I had also gotten no hits on Jackym/ Jachym from searches of the ProQuest newspapers.)
Now, however, just to be certain that the POR search engine was comprehensive, I decided to check each of the weekly articles on the Detroit Tigers in The Sporting News (usually written by Sam Greene of the Detroit News) for the entire 1939 baseball season. That was a tedious process. Essentially I went through each issue of TSN page by page. But it was worth the effort. I hit pay dirt: In the June 8 issue (page 14) was the following item in the article on the Tigers:
The Tigers have a new batting practice pitcher in Joe Jachym of Boston. He joined the team in the East after the trade with the Browns had reduced the mound laborers to a point where extra help was needed for pre-game chores.
That’s exactly the information I was seeking. And, just to make sure I hadn’t made an error in my POR searches for ”Jachym,” I repeated it specifically for the TSN of June 8, 1939. Again, the POR search engine yielded no hits.
So, there’s an important takeaway here: The results from the POR search engine may not be reliable in terms of comprehensiveness. Just because a search does not come up with a hit for what you were searching for, a specific term or person, that does not mean it is not in a given issue of TSN; the POR search may have missed it.
Having found out that the wearer of uniform number 16 prior to Newhouser’s arrival was indeed Joe Jachym, I wanted to check the Detroit newspapers for any additional information. Accomplishing that would be relatively easy. Since I would be visiting my Mom in Michigan for Mother’s Day, it would be a snap for me to make a trip to the Detroit Public Library and go through the microfilm versions of the Detroit News, the Detroit Free Press, and the Detroit Times.
While waiting for my plane to take off for Detroit, I had two booklets in my hands—Bobby Plapinger’s Baseball Books Catalog number 50 and the spring 2010 issue of The SABR Bulletin. The passenger seated next to me asked me if I liked baseball. I replied that I did and that I had done some writing and research on baseball. I also asked him, “What about you; do you follow baseball?” Here’s how the conversation between him (John) and me (Herm) proceeded (not verbatim, but reasonably close):
John: Yeah, I love baseball. My Dad used to play baseball.
Herm: Really. Professionally?
John: No, not professionally; just in industrial leagues back in the forties. My uncle played baseball professionally.
Herm: Cool. What’s your uncle’s name?
John: Joe Jachym.
John: Joe Jachym: J-a-c-h-y-m; pronounced yahkim.
Herm: This is amazing! You’re not going to believe this. [I reached down to my briefcase and pulled out my Jackym/Jachym notes and a copy of my 2006 TNP article.] Wait till you see this. This is amazing. Here, please read these couple of sentences about your uncle in this article I wrote a few years ago.
John: Yeah, that’s him. Wow!
Herm: This is amazing! Is your uncle Joe still living?
John: No, he died several years ago. But his son, my cousin Jim, is still living. He’ll love this.
John then proceeded to tell me some more about Joe Jachym. That he played basketball and baseball at Notre Dame and had some interaction with Knute Rockne, and that he was a longtime high-school coach in Westfield, Massachusetts, and that there’s a baseball field named Jachym Field in Joe’s honor.
When I got to my Mom’s, I did some checking on the Internet and found out that Joe Jachym was captain of the Notre Dame basketball team for the 1927–28 season and cocaptain for the 1928–29 season. He was also a pitcher for the Notre Dame baseball teams from 1927 through 1929, compiling a 14–6 won–lost record.
My trip to the Detroit Public Library was also successful—the Detroit Free Press had the following item in the issue of May 25, 1939, in the column “Tiger Notes” by Charles P. Ward (with the dateline New York, May 24):
“The Tiger touring party was increased today by the addition of Joe Jachym, a batting practice pitcher. Jachym succeeds Charley Eckert, who has been promoted to the managership of the Fulton club, of the Kitty League.”
Since none of the Detroit Tigers scorecards included Eckert with the list of uniformed personnel, it’s strikingly curious that Jachym was issued a uniform with a number.
During this time, Joe’s nephew provided me with contact information for Jim Jachym, who, as John had told me on the plane, also had played for a year in the minors in the Houston Astros organization before an arm injury curtailed his career.
A few weeks later I visited Jim Jachym at his home in Westfield, Massachusetts. Jim’s sister Ann and his brother Tom were also there to talk about their father’s baseball coaching career. Here’s a summary of some of the interesting things I learned about Joe Jachym, the person who wore uniform-number 16 for the Detroit Tigers just before Hal Newhouser.
Joe Jachym graduated cum laude from Notre Dame University in June 1929. In the fall, he returned to the Fighting Irish campus to serve as the coach of the freshman basketball and baseball teams. During that time, he interacted with Knute Rockne. In a visit with Rockne at his home, Jachym was asked by the legendary football coach what he intended to do with his life. Jachym replied that he thought he would give professional baseball a try and, if that didn’t pan out, he would go into coaching. Rockne wished him well in his quest to become a professional baseball player; he also cautioned him about pursuing a coaching career, pointing out that to be a long-term successful coach is difficult.
As it turned out, Joe’s professional baseball career lasted but four seasons: 1930, Wheeling (Class C, MidAtlantic League); 1931, Wheeling (again) and also Evansville (Class B, Triple-I League); 1932, both Beaumont and Tyler (Class A, Texas League); and 1934, Wilkes-Barre (Class A, New York–Penn League). Overall, according to Baseball-Reference, Jachym compiled a 43–30 won–lost record (.589) during his minorleague career.2 However, Baseball-Reference did not include any biographical information for Joe. Fortunately, Joe’s kids, Jim, Ann, and Tom, were able to provide me with that, which can now be incorporated into SABR’s Minor Leagues Database:
Joe Jachym – Joseph John Jachym (Jake)
Height: 6' 1"
Weight: 175 lb.
Born: November 17, 1906, Westfield, Massachusetts
Died: July 19 1991, Westfield, Massachusetts
Buried: St. Mary’s Cemetery, Westfield, Massachusetts
Following his stint with the Wilkes-Barre Barons, Jachym returned to his roots in Westfield, Massachusetts, and, after playing in local semipro leagues for a few years, embarked on a coaching and teaching career at Westfield Trade School in the fall of 1939. He coached there for a quarter of a century, through 1964.3 He continued teaching (general physics, history, and physical education) until he retired in 1972. That Joe Jachym achieved a highly successful coaching career is clearly demonstrated by the following honors he received.
In 1974, Jachym was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Massachusetts Baseball Coaches Association (MBCA).4
On September 1, 1988, the athletic field at Westfield Vocational School was named Joe “Jake” Jachym Field in Joe’s honor. A bronze plaque featuring Joe’s likeness bears the following inscription:
“His standards and professionalism were exemplary— He has inspired and left his mark on all of us who have known him.”
In November 1988, Jachym received the Edward J. Hickox Award in recognition of his substantial contributions to amateur athletics.5
So, although not to the same degree as Knute Rockne, who achieved legendary status, Joe Jachym did indeed establish a sterling reputation as a longterm successful coach.
OK, so now we’ve learned some interesting things about Joe Jachym before and after 1939. What about the 1939 season, when he became the Tigers’ batting practice pitcher? How did that come about? And, why did Jachym wear uniform-number 16? Here are the answers.
While hurling for the Beaumont Exporters in 1932, he made a favorable impression on his manager, Del Baker; they became good, lifelong friends. So, when Detroit needed a batting-practice pitcher shortly after the 1939 season began, Baker, now the Tigers’ manager, called on his friend to help him out. Jachym joined the Tigers in Boston for their May 21–23 series against the Red Sox.
With respect to why Jachym ended up with uniform-number 16, the likely answer is—“It was available; and it fit.” Here are the relevant height and weight numbers to support that hypothesis:
Charley Eckert (the BP pitcher immediately before Jachym) was 5' 10" and weighed 165 pounds.
George Gill (the player who wore number 16 immediately before Jachym) stood 6' 1" and weighed 185 pounds; Gill had been traded to the St. Louis Browns on May 13 (just a week before Jachym joined the Tigers).
Joe Jachym (as indicated above) was around 6' 1" and weighed about 175 pounds.
Hal Newhouser is listed as having been 6' 2" tall and weighing 180 pounds.
So, everything fits.
Finally, to wrap up this story, here’s another tidbit about Joe Jachym’s time with the 1939 Tigers—he and Hank Greenberg were roommates. Having previously been teammates at both Evansville and Beaumont, they too became good, long-term friends, corresponding with one another from time to time over the ensuing years. In a letter of September 19, 1954, to Jachym, Greenberg, then the general manager of the Cleveland Indians, wrote, “I, too, hope that your boy will be playing with the Indians someday.”
The answer to the question posed in the title of this article has been determined—Joe Jachym, as the Tigers’ batting-practice pitcher, wore uniform-number 16 right before Hal Newhouser first donned that flannel jersey on September 9, 1939; Prince Hal kept it for the next fourteen and a half years as he amassed his Hall of Fame credentials. And it was further learned that Joe Jachym, thanks in part to his interactions with Notre Dame’s Knute Rockne, also carved out his own hall-of-fame career as a high-school coach.
It is a pleasure to thank Joe Jachym’s nephew, John, and Joe’s kids—Jim, Ann, and Tom—for their kindness and cooperation.
HERM KRABBENHOFT, a retired research chemist, is a lifelong Tigers fan. His current baseball research is focused on establishing accurate runs-scored and runs-batted-in statistics on a game-by-game basis for each Tigers player—in order to ascertain their longest consecutive-games streaks for scoring or batting in at least one run.
- 1. Herm Krabbenhoft, “Fascinating Aspects About the Retired Uniform Numbers of the Detroit Tigers,” The National Pastime (2006): 77–84.
- 2. Examination of the statistics, at Baseball-Reference, for the 1932 Texas League reveals that important team-specific information is lacking. Thus, for Beaumont, Joe Jachym is shown with a question mark after his name in both the lists for both team batting and team pitching. Likewise, for Shreveport/Tyler, Joe Jachym is also shown with a question mark after his name in the lists for team batting and team pitching. For each team-batting list, Jachym’s full-season statistics are given, as they are for each team-pitching list. In order to separate Jachym’s full-season statistics into specific team statistics, I examined the box scores, in The Sporting News, for each game played by Beaumont and Shreveport/Tyler in 1932. Here’s the pertinent information: For Beaumont, Jachym appeared in 13 games from April14 through June 14. As a pitcher, he started four games and relieved in nine; his overall won–lost record was 2–1. As a batter, he had seven hits (including one double) in 18 at-bats (for a .389 average). For Shreveport/Tyler, Jachym played only for Tyler (see below). Jachym appeared in 22 games from June 23 through September 11. As a pitcher, he appeared in 20 games, starting 15 and relieving in five; his overall won–lost record was 7–8. As a non-pitcher, he appeared in two games, one as a pinch runner, and one as a pinchhitter. As a batter, he collected eight hits (including two doubles) in 45 at-bats (for a .178 average). Combining his box-score statistics for his tenures with Beaumont and Tyler yields a pitching ledger of 9 wins and 9 losses, which agrees with the full-season statistics at Baseball-Reference. Jachym’s combined box-score batting statistics yield 15 hits (including three doubles) in 63 at-bats (for an overall average of .238). These numbers differ from the batting statistics given at Baseball-Reference, which show Jachym with 14 hits (including three doubles) in 59 at-bats (for a .237 average). With regard to the Shreveport/Tyler situation, here’s the relevant information. From The Sporting News (May 19, 1932, page 2): “There will be no more games played by the Sports at Shreveport this summer, as O. L. Biedenharn, owner of the park, has stated he will not rebuild the stands destroyed by fire, May 4. . . . The Caddo Association, owner of the franchise, following Biedenharn’s decision, decided to play the remainder of the Sports scheduled home games in Tyler.” Again, from The Sporting News (May 26, 1932, page 2): “With a new park in a new town and in new uniforms, the Shreveport Sports, now housed at Tyler, Texas, for the rest of the season, will be known as the Tyler Trojans. The same official and player personnel, however, is retained.” Finally, the following information is provided regarding Jachym’s transfer from Beaumont to Tyler. From The Sporting News (June 30, 1932, page 7): “Joe Jachym, young right-handed pitcher, was traded by Beaumont to Tyler last week in payment for Rabbit Benton, recently acquired, following the injury of second baseman John Holley. Jachym formerly hurled for Notre Dame University.”
- 3. D. L. Genovese, The Old Ball Ground (West Coshocken, Pa.: Infinity Publishing, 2007), 231–44.
- 4. The MBCA was founded in 1968 with the mission to promote high-school baseball and academics, to foster the highest level of professionalism and ethics among its members, to recognize excellence, and to maintain strong contacts with national, state, and local baseball organizations.
- 5. The Edward J. Hickox Award is named for Edward J. Hickox, who coached basketball at Springfield College from 1926 to 1941 and later worked for the Basketball Hall of Fame as an executive into the mid-1960s; he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, as a contributor, in 1959.