Rudy Sommers

This article was written by Bill Nowlin

The first thing one notices when looking at the statistical record of left-handed pitcher Rudy Sommers is the 11-year gap between big-league appearances. And if you don't count the Federal League as a major league, there were 13 years between stints in the majors. Sommers began with the Cubs in 1912 (just one game), then pitched for the Federal League's Brooklyn Tip-Tops (23 games) in 1914, but then didn't pitch again in the majors until 1926, with the Boston Red Sox. He did manage to pitch in all three leagues.

Rudolph Sommers was born to German immigrant parents Rudolph and Barbara Sommers, who both arrived in the United States in 1880 with their young son Charles, born just the year before. By the time of the 1900 census, they were living in Louisville, Kentucky, and had nine children in the household along with Rudolph’s father Joseph and Barbara’s mother Annie Gump. Rudolph Sommers was a tanner. Rudy was the fourth-born child, born on October 30 in either 1885 or 1886. Both the 1900 census and his Commonwealth of Kentucky death certificate provide the year 1885.

Rudy started work early. At the time of the 1900 census, he was 14 and working as a tobacco stripper, as was his older brother Tony, 17. Their sister Katie, 15, was employed as a cigar maker.

He'd put in time in the minors even before the Cubs–the first record we have of him shows him pitching in the Texas League for the Waco Navigators in 1907. Sommers had a 7-24 record. The Class C team finished in seventh place, with a record of 53-86. One Texas paper described Sommers as a "hoodoo" pitcher–suffering bad luck. Describing a 3-1 loss to Temple on July 11, in which all three runs scored on errors, the Dallas Morning News wrote of his five-hitter, "Whenever he pitches, his support wobbled at the wrong places."1 On July 20, he allowed just two hits in the game against visiting Fort Worth–and he lost, 1-0.

In 1908, he pitched much closer to home–for the Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, Distillers in the Class D Blue Grass League. It was the one and only year that Lawrenceburg had a team. Right near the beginning of the season, he married Mary Agnes Schultz on April 27 in Jeffersonville, Indiana. He was, wrote the Lexington Herald, "considered by many to have been the best southpaw in the Blue Grass League."2

Sommers spent the next three seasons in the Class B Central League. Once more, he was pitching for teams that struggled. For the 1909 Terre Haute Hottentots (65-73) he was 8-11, and despite a name change to the Stags, the 1910 team finished with an almost-identical 63-74 record, with Sommers finishing 14-17.

The Dayton Veterans won the Central League pennant in 1911, and a big part of their success was reflected in Sommers's 21-8 season. His WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) was very similar in 1910 and 1911: 1.082 and 1.047.

By season's end, Sommers was under contract to the Brooklyn Dodgers. They optioned him to Nashville in November for the 1912 season.3 He was 13-7 for the Southern Association's Nashville Volunteers but hadn't gotten in as much work due to a bout with malaria.4 He was given his official release by Brooklyn on August 26.

Sommers did squeeze in one appearance with the Chicago Cubs, however, on September 8. He was the second of three pitchers used by manager Frank Chance as his Cubs lost to the Cincinnati Reds, 10-8. Sommers was "not only hit hard but was wild," wrote the Boston Globe.5 He'd come into the game during the third inning and left during the sixth, working three full innings and retiring nine of the 15 men he faced; he surrendered four hits and two bases on balls and gave up one run. The first batter he'd faced, however, struck a bases-loaded double, scoring all three inherited runners. The next day's Chicago Tribune said he was "terribly wild."6 His first time at the plate, the bases were loaded and Chance let him hit. Sommers was a switch-hitter. He drew a walk and recorded a run batted in. His only other time up, he reached on a Reds error.

He trained with the Cubs in 1913, but didn't make the team and was farmed out to Chattanooga. He was 17-13 for Chattanooga, with a 1.201 WHIP, the highlight a one-hit 1-0 shutout on July 22.

Sommers signed with the Federal League team in Brooklyn for 1914. He appeared in 23 games, eight of them starts, working a total of 80 2/3 innings, with an official record of 2-7 and an ERA of 4.06.7

In 1915, he played independent league ball–in the Colonial League–splitting time between New Haven and Pawtucket, with a record of 13-7.

The Western League beckoned in 1916 and he pitched an extraordinary 350 innings for the St. Joseph Drummers, with a 3.06 ERA and a record of 16-20.

During the decade, Rudy and Mary were producing a number of children–Louise (born 1910), Ruby (1912), Vera (1914), and Doris (1915). Sommers himself worked as a molder in a Louisville foundry, a trade that he relied on at least through the time of the 1940 census. In June 1935, he entered a second marriage, to Stella Sommers.

Minor-league records are far from complete for all teams in all seasons. The SABR Minor League database does not show Sommers as playing in the years from 1917 through 1925. He is recorded pitching some semipro ball for Indiana teams in 1919 and 1920.8 Beyond this, it's possible that, in the other seasons in this span, he played independent ball, semipro ball, or simply worked hard at the foundry in order to support his family.

In 1926, Sommers joined the Red Sox during spring training at New Orleans and the Boston Herald explained that he "had been playing independent ball in the vicinity of Louisville for a couple of years."9 Rudy Hulswitt had recommended him to Red Sox owner Bob Quinn. The New Orleans Times-Picayune observed that Sommers "was pitching minor league ball twelve years or more ago and has been out of organized ball so long everybody has forgotten him."10

On April 13, Sommers (in relief of starter Howard Ehmke) was one of six Sox pitchers used against the Yankees on Opening Day. He pitched the fifth and walked Mark Koenig, got an out, but then saw Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig hit back-to-back doubles–both to Fenway's left field. He got through the inning, but gave up three runs on three hits and two walks. The Sox lost the game, 12-11. On April 27, he pitched a scoreless bottom of the eighth in a Griffith Stadium game the Senators were already winning, 9-1.

As Sommers wasn’t getting much work, the Sox sent him down to the Columbus Senators of the (Class A) American Association.11 Columbus finished the 1926 season at 39-125. One might have thought there was no return from the Senators.

In 1927, however, there he was again, back with Boston for spring training. And he made the team again (a perennially last-place team in this era, the Red Sox often needed help wherever they might get it). Sommers stuck with the team into mid-July, appearing in 14 innings over seven games, with no decisions but an ERA of 8.36. On July 19, he was given his outright release. He signed on with the Atlanta Crackers, but only for a couple of weeks; manager Bert Niehoff "thought Sommers was a little too far gone for service in the Southern."12

Sommers was 40 years old at this point. He pitched for the Louisville Colonels in 1928, but even at Double A could only manage a 2-8 record. To be fair, the team gave him little support. His ERA was more mediocre than bad, at 4.36. He had a WHIP of 1.423.

It was perhaps time to work in the foundry full-time. He did work as a scout for the Red Sox and played some ball with Louisville's American Legion post team.13

Sommers died of leukemia on March 18, 1949, at Central State Hospital in Louisville. He had also suffered from psychosis attributed to cerebral arteriosclerosis.14

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Sommers's player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

1 Dallas Morning News, July 12, 1907.

2 Lexington Herald, October 11, 1908.

3 Evansville Courier and Press, November 19, 1911.

4 Cincinnati Post, September 9, 1912.

5 Boston Globe, September 9, 1912.

6 Chicago Daily Tribune, September 9, 1912.

7 Federal League records are less than ideal, but the two wins are the current official total–subject, of course, to adjustment through further research.

8 Logansport (Indiana) Pharos-Tribune, June 16, 1919; Logansport (Indiana) Pharos-Tribune, May 24, 1920.

9 Boston Herald, February 21, 1926.

10 New Orleans Times-Picayune, March 25, 1926.

11 The Sporting News, May 13, 1926; Milwaukee Sentinel, August 19, 1926.

12 Macon Telegraph, August 7, 1927.

13 Lexington Herald, May 18, 1930.

14 Commonwealth of Kentucky death certificate.