Arlie Tarbert first made headlines in his native Cleveland as the center and captain of the East High basketball team, a catcher on the baseball team, while playing semipro ball for the Abel Undertakers.
Wilbur Arlington Tarbert was born September 10, 1904. He was six feet tall and listed at 160 pounds by the time he made the major leagues with the Boston Red Sox.1 Tarbert attended East Madison elementary school in Cleveland for his first eight years of formal education.
He and Marty Karow were on the same freshman basketball team at the Ohio State University in 1924. The Abel Undertakers were a team nearly without peer. The year before Tarbert joined them, they had won 24 consecutive games. Unfortunately, his studies suffered and he found himself ineligible during his sophomore year “because of being behind in his scholastic work.”2
By the spring of 1925, he’d gotten back into good standing and had begun playing outfield for Ohio State (and the Abels during the summer). He’d actually been something of a jack-of-all-trades, playing every position on the basketball team and all but three positions on the baseball team. In 1924-25, he was part of the Buckeyes team which won the Western Conference in basketball.
His parents must have taken some pride in his accomplishments. Harry Tarbert was a teamster working for a Cleveland steel mill. He and Ella Margaret Cathcart had the one son and head of family Harry had six stepsons named Sullivan living in the household. Tarbert claimed Scotch-Irish ancestry.3
Boston Red Sox president Bob Quinn and Dr. Robert Drury of Columbus (one of the group of investors who had purchased the Red Sox from Harry Frazee) were cited as having signed Tarbert right after he graduated Ohio State.4 The Boston Herald described Arlie Tarbert as a “tall, stylish-looking athlete [who had] received all the athletic honors there are at Ohio State, including a diploma.”5 Red Sox manager Bill Carrigan had put him to work almost as soon as he arrived in Boston, and his first game was against visiting Cleveland on June 18, 1927. Tarbert acquitted himself well from the start: “He made two catches, played a rebound off the high left field fence with remarkable poise and dash, was credited with driving in the first run of the afternoon in the first inning on a long sacrifice fly to Left Fielder Charley Jamerson, and waited out two bases on balls.”6 The Plain Dealer said he might have saved the game in the ninth, playing the ball off the left-field wall so quickly that the runner heading from first base to second barely made the bag.
In his second game, on June 21, he collected his first base hit and his second run batted in, but neither came in quantity. Though he played in 34 games, more in right field than any other position, and occasionally pinch hit or pinch ran , he only drove in five runs total. He only hit safely 13 times, all of them singles save for one double, and only walked once more after his first game. He did, however, strike out 12 times. His batting average for the season was .188 and his on-base percentage (thanks to being hit three times by pitches) was just .253. These weren’t statistics that were bound to impress.
In late September, he returned to Columbus to go to law school at Ohio State.
Tarbert looked to be in good position to claim a berth in the Boston outfield despite his anemic hitting, largely because the perennially last-place Red Sox didn’t seem to have anyone better. He’d actually never hit that well; his batting average at OSU was said to have been .250.
There had been a lot of turnover, though, and Tarbert and Ira Flagstead were the only two outfielders who started 1928 spring training with the Red Sox in Bradenton who had actually played at Fenway in 1927.7 A 2-for-3 day with the game-winning homer on March 24 in Savannah certainly helped his cause. Carrigan said he was pleased with the all-around play of both Tarbert and Doug Taitt, the ground they covered, the arms they displayed, and their work with the bat.8
On the other hand, the very next day a freak incident occurred when Tarbert backed up and seemed poised to catch a long fly ball at the wall in Augusta. “Just as he was about to pull it into his glove he backed rather forcefully into a barred gate…he bumped the gate with sufficient force to swing it open momentarily and before it closed back again, the ball had hopped through to the outside of the fence for a home run.”9
Tarbert opened the season with the Red Sox, appearing in five April games and a game on May 1. He was hitless in the first three games, and got one hit each in the last three, with a .176 batting average and two RBIs. His lifetime batting average was .186.
The May 1 game was his last one in the major leagues, as it turned out. He’d made three errors in 46 chances, for a .935 fielding percentage. In the May 1 game, he’d forgotten to take his sunglasses with him to right field “and was blinded by Old Sol on a drive that really swung the pendulum to the Athletics.”10 That may have been the final straw for Bill Carrigan.
The next day he was sent on option to the Pacific Coast League to play for the Hollywood Stars. President Quinn, however, said he wanted to make it clear that he was not punishing Tarbert for his inexperience in the field, saying that the deal with Bill Lane of the Hollywood club had been arranged a couple of days earlier, as a favor to Lane to compensate Lane for the fact that outfielder Cleo Carlyle, sold to Hollywood by the Red Sox, had been unable to play due to stomach troubles.11
Tarbert had hardly arrived in Hollywood (he’s listed as playing in six games without a hit) when he was recalled to Boston on May 23, when Sox outfielder Ken Williams was injured. Tarbert didn’t get into another game, and on June 1 was released to the Salem (Massachusetts) club.
That assignment didn’t last long, either. On June 15, Tarbert had to leave the game in progress and was rushed to Brockton Hospital with appendicitis.12
He left the professional game, though he’s seen occasionally in the Cleveland papers playing semipro ball back home. On September 8, 1927, he had married Margaret Helen Sizelan. They had two children – Arlie W. and Ella Sue. By the time of the 1930 census, he was working in advertising for an area rubber company and living in Cuyahoga Falls. The marriage did not hold, however, and in October 1936 Tarbert married again, to Pauline Smith. In 1940, the couple lived in Cattaraugus, New York where Tarbert worked as a salesman. The New York Times said he had been the New York representative for B.F. Goodrich before World War II and that after war broke out, he became employed in the training-within-industry program.13
Margaret and their two children still lived in Cleveland, where she worked as a physical director at a recreation center.
After an 18-month illness, Tarbert died of a coronary thrombosis at Hanna House hospital in Cleveland at the very young age of 42, in Cleveland. 14 He is buried at Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Tarbert’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. Thanks to Rod Nelson.
1 He is described as 6-feet-3 by his sister Ivy, who responded to aplayer questionnaire for the Hall of Fame.
2 Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 14, 1925.
3 His sister noted the ancestry when she completed the player questionnaire for the Hall of Fame.
4 Boston Globe, June 7, 1927. This was the group of investors largely financed by Palmer A. Winslow.
5 Boston Herald, June 19, 1927.
6 Boston Herald, June 19, 1927.
7 Boston Globe, February 19, 1928.
8 Boston Globe, March 26, 1928.
9 Boston Herald, March 27, 1928.
10 Boston Globe, May 2, 1928.
11 Boston Globe, May 3, 1928.
12 Boston Herald, June 16, 1928.
13 New York Times, November 28, 1946.
14 Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 28, 1946.