Merle Settlemire

This article was written by Bill Nowlin

The 1928 Red Sox, very anxious to work their way out of the American League cellar, used 17 pitchers in the course of the season. Only five of the 17 won a game, and the team featured a 25-game loser in Red Ruffing. There were also five pitchers with decisions who had nothing but losses: Pat Simmons and Hal Wiltse were both 0-2, Herb Bradley and Marty Griffin were both 0-3, and then there was Merle Settlemire, who outdid them all with an 0-6 won-loss record.

The left-hander was with the team the full season and appeared in 30 games, starting nine of them. He worked 82⅓ innings and finished with a 5.47 earned-run average. It was his only season in the major leagues.

The Red Sox, under manager Bill Carrigan (who had led them to back-to-back World Series wins in 1915 and 1916) finished with a 57-96 record, last again in the American League. It was the sixth time in seven years the team had finished in last place. Only in 1924 had they bumped up – just barely – to seventh place, only to descend once more. They were 43½ games out of first place in 1928.

Settlemire was a left-hander who spent at least 15 seasons in the minor leagues, first with the Greeneville (Tennessee) Burley Cubs (Appalachian League) in 1924 and last with the Eastern League's Hartford Laurels during the World War II year of 1944.

He'd been born as Edgar Merle Settlemire on January 19, 1903, in the small unincorporated township of Santa Fe in west-central Ohio. His parents, Pearl (Metz) and Clinton Settlemire, were farmers, both Ohio natives. Merle was the oldest of three boys in the family, followed by Walter and – seven years after Walter – Charlie.

He was not a large man – listed as 5-feet-9 and 156 pounds. He won 10 games and lost 14 in his 1924 season with Greeneville. The team finished fourth in the six-team Class-D Appalachian League. Settlemire had a 3.55 ERA. Remaining in Class-D ball, he pitched in 1925 for the Laurel (Mississippi) Lumberjacks of the Cotton States League. There he was 14-13 for another sub-.500 team, one that went through four managers in the course of the season and finished fifth in an eight-team league. In 1926, on a Mobile contract, Settlemire was farmed out to Meridian, another Cotton States League team. He was recalled to Class-A Mobile (Southern Association) at the end of June. In a midsummer game against Birmingham, he hit Sammy West with a pitch and fractured his skull. Though it was thought West would lose a portion of his vision, the Birmingham outfielder recovered and went on to enjoy a 16-year career in the majors. We don't know Settlemire's final record for the year but he stood at 7-8 in mid-September. That's where he worked in 1927, too – for Mobile. He had a losing record, 13-17, with an ERA of 4.10. His manager at Mobile was Milt Stock, who had ties to the Boston Red Sox. On September 15 the Red Sox announced the purchase of three players from the Mobile ballclub: outfielder Danny Williams, right-hander Ed Morris, and left-hander Settlemire.1 In December the Red Sox shipped four players to Mobile in partial payment.2 The Boston Herald said, "Settlemire is a long southpaw and this is the era of high value southpaw in the majors."3

Settlemire "showed plenty of stuff" in 1928 spring training at Bradenton and made the team. His debut came on Friday, April 13, as he worked the final three innings against the visiting Washington Senators, giving up just one run on three hits. The Boston Globe said Settlemire "looked good, showing plenty of confidence in himself."4 Three days later he faced the New York Yankees and worked four innings, again giving up just one run. This earned him a start, against the Yankees. That didn't go as well. He pitched six innings and was tagged for six runs on 13 hits. The Red Sox actually won the game, 7-6, thanks to four runs in the bottom of the eighth, and it was reliever Slim Harriss who got the win.

All Settlemire lacked was a little more run support on May 1 when he got his first decision, a 5-3 defeat by the Philadelphia Athletics. Four of the runs were his responsibility, in the 6⅓ innings he worked, but the fans at Fenway Park gave him a "remarkably generous ovation, token that it appreciated his good work and realized he had been a victim of circumstances."5 Settlemire’s fourth and fifth starts resulted in 3-0 and 3-1 losses. He was now 0-3 on the season.

Settlemire went to 0-4 on June 13 at Sportsman's Park, St. Louis, when he came in as the fourth pitcher in a game that was tied at 8-8 after the Red Sox scored twice in the top of the seventh. He worked the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings without letting in a run. In the bottom of the 10th, Fred Schulte doubled off the right center-field wall, took third on a groundout, and had to hold at third on an infield hit. Settlemire threw two balls to the next batter, Larry Bettencourt, and Bill Carrigan brought in Ed Morris in relief. Browns manager Dan Howley countered by calling on a pinch-hitter, Guy Sturdy. He walked, loading the bases. Then Wally Schang singled on a groundball to second baseman Bill Regan, who slipped in fielding and was unable to make a throw as he watched Schulte cross the plate with the winning run.

Settlemire lost a June 28 start, 4-3 to Washington, and a 9-2 game to Philadelphia on July 2. From that point, he neither won nor lost a game, though he pitched in 17 more games, all in relief save for a four-inning one-run start in his very last game. The Red Sox won that September 28 game with a come-from-behind three-run ninth inning, but Settlemire was long gone.

In 1929 Settlemire started the season back with Mobile but on May 28 he was purchased by the Chattanooga Lookouts, and worked there very briefly. On June 14 the Lookouts traded him to the Dallas Steers for Hack Miller. He was just 0-1 with Dallas in four games before he was turned back to Chattanooga on July 10. Miller had apparently never shown up in Dallas and perhaps the Steers weren't impressed enough with Settlemire to work out another arrangement.6 He had a disappointing record on the year overall, 1-9 in the Southern Association. With the loss in Dallas that made him 1-10 for 1929, and a combined 1-16 for the '28 and '29 campaigns.

Settlemire seemed to have almost as many wives as he had decisions in the major leagues – four, the first being Delma Jean Settlemire, who died in 1930. He married another unnamed woman in 1931, and divorced in 1945. His third wife was Regina Mary Connhir, married in October 1946, and finally Bessie L. Baker, whom he married in 1978.

The lefty started 1930 with the Lookouts and was 6-8 until June 29, when he was optioned to the Montgomery Lions (Southeastern League).7 Back with Chattanooga after the season, Settlemire was one of three Lookouts sold in a housecleaning to Charlotte (Piedmont League) on December 6.8

The Charlotte Hornets played in the Class-C league and Settlemire had the best record of his career in 1931: 18-8, his team winning the pennant under manager Guy Lacy.

That was followed by a 13-10 year in 1932, when the Piedmont League had been upgraded to Class B – and again Charlotte finished first in the standings, though this year the team lost in the playoffs.

It was Wilkes-Barre in 1933, but another losing record: 8-16 despite a 3.68 ERA and a third-place team with a winning record in the Class-A New York-Penn League.

We find no record of Settlemire’s activities for the next three seasons, 1934-36. They were tough years for most, in the heart of the Depression, and perhaps he left baseball or eked out a living with semipro clubs or with teams outside what was known as Organized Baseball. Neither his Hall of Fame player file nor a search of historical newspapers in several databases yielded a clue.

In 1937 he was back, though, in Class D with the Landis Senators in the North Carolina State League (6-4). In 1938 he played ball in Nova Scotia for the Sydney Steel Citians in the Cape Breton Colliery League and enjoyed a successful 13-5 season.

Settlemire turned to managing in 1939, in Lima, Ohio (Class-D Ohio State League), taking over on May 27 in place of the prior manager, William Ward.9 Even though the team finished fifth in the six-team league, with Settlemire pitching a little (4-4), they somehow managed to win the playoffs, beating first-place Findlay, four games to three.

With such a successful conclusion to the 1939 season, Settlemire was retained for 1940 as well. That year Lima finished first and won both rounds of the playoffs as well. He'd helped his team's cause immensely, with a 15-0 record. The Lima Pandas were 85-34 on the season.

Settlemire was hired for 1941, the Newport (Arkansas) Dodgers, a Brooklyn farm club. There were only four teams in the Class-D Northeast Arkansas League, and Settlemire saw his team to his third consecutive pennant, with a 71-46 record. He pitched in 12 games and was 3-1.

The Dodgers asked Settlemire to manage in the Appalachian League in 1942, for the Kingsport (Tennessee) Dodgers. It was a six-team league and Kingsport finished 55-51, in third place.

Settlemire is again unaccounted for in 1943 but pitched and coached in 1944 for the Eastern League's Hartford Laurels, a Boston Braves affiliate. He worked in 28 games and had an 8-5 record. The next year, 1945, he became the manager of the Hartford club – now named the Bees – and, his pitching days now behind him, finished in fourth place, with a 68-67 record.

Settlemire had two more years of managing - for the Braves in 1946, leading the Richmond (Indiana) Roses in the Ohio State League to a third-place finish. And in 1947, back in Lima where had made his home, but to a discouraging last-place finale. Per the Baseball Blue Book, he scouted for Brooklyn from 1947-1950, and is credited with signing Ron Negray. He subsequently worked in scouting for a number of minor-league teams. He also became a real-estate salesman living in Lakeview, Ohio, working for the C.O. Porter Realty Co. Settlemire died of a heart attack at home on June 12, 1988, in Russells Point, Ohio.10

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Settlemire's player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Bill Lee's The Baseball Necrology, The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com. Thanks to Rod Nelson and Mike Lackey.

 

Notes

1 Dallas Morning News, September 16, 1927.

2 Boston Herald, December 8, 1927.

3 Boston Herald, December 25, 1927.

4 Boston Globe, April 14, 1928.

5 Boston Herald, May 2, 1928.

6 Dallas Morning News, July 11, 1929.

7 New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 27, 1930.

8 New Orleans Times-Picayune, December 7, 1930.

9 The Repository (Canton, Ohio), May 28, 1939.

10 USA Today, June 17, 1988. The real-estate work was self-reported on his Hall of Fame player questionnaire.