Raleigh Aitchison

Raleigh Aitchison

This article was written by Terry Bohn

Raleigh Aitchison (Library of Congress)Lefty pitcher Raleigh Aitchison had a modest major-league career, posting a 12-12 record over 34 games with Brooklyn between 1911 and 1915. He showed flashes of brilliance but control problems and various injuries and illnesses limited his opportunities for a longer career. It was once said, “Aitchison is one of those peculiar ball players who lead good judges to think they are always on the verge of developing into stars, but never come through. The woods are full of such.”1

However, one would think that the talented 5-foot-11, 175-pounder merited more chances. In five different minor-league seasons, he won 21, 20, 18, 17, and 17 games, and he posted a major-league ERA of 3.01. Perhaps the answer lies in how Aitchison twice butted heads with Brooklyn owner Charles Ebbets over money and won both times. He successfully got Ebbets to pay him a major-league salary in minor-league outposts such as Chattanooga, Beaumont, and San Antonio. Did other club owners take heed and decide that he was not worth the financial risk?

Raleigh Leonidas Aitchison was born on December 5, 1887, in Tyndall (Bon Homme County), South Dakota. His mother was Minnie (Burdett); his father, John, worked in law enforcement, He had a sister named Mabel, two years older. The family, of Scottish ancestry, moved to Columbus, Kansas when he was about three years old. Little is known of his childhood other than he attended Columbus public schools and that he must have been an enterprising young man. When he was 12 years old, Cherokee County issued a payment of $1 to him for “taking down chimney from jail.”2 As he grew, he developed his speed and control by constant practice throwing rocks and [dirt] clods at birds and rabbits, in addition to his schoolmates, on occasion.3

In 1903 Raleigh is listed as one of the “baseball boys”4 (presumably his high school team) traveling to a neighboring town for a game, and later with Columbus and other area town teams. His record in Baseball-Reference shows him beginning his professional career with the Leavenworth (Kansas) Oilers of the Class C Missouri Valley League in 1904. The following season, 1905, he was briefly with Tulsa and Vinita, Oklahoma, also in the Missouri Valley League. He was with Fort Scott (Kansas) for a time in 1906. He played in the Western League with the Hutchinson (Kansas) Salt Packers in 1907. He didn’t stay with any of these clubs for a full season, preferring to pitch for various semipro teams near his home when the opportunities arose.

Aitchison returned to Hutchinson in 1908, this time for a full season, and went 17-14 in 36 games. In June his hometown newspaper picked up a lengthy profile that first ran in the Hutchinson News. It called him “the sterling young larboard battery artist,” and described his pitching style as “fast ones and slow ones, mixed with many and varied sorts of curves.”5 That August, Hutchinson sold him to Kansas City of the American Association for $500.6

He was released by Kansas City the following spring but landed with the Wichita Jobbers of the Class A Western League. In July there were reports of some sort of friction between Aitchison and Wichita manager Frank Holland.7 When he and fellow pitcher Ad Brennan failed to board the train after a series in Kansas City, it was assumed he had jumped the club.8 When he could not be located for several days, Holland suspended him. It turned out that he had simply missed the train, so the suspension was lifted and he rejoined the team at their next stop in Omaha. Aitchison had an excellent season for Wichita, winning 18 games.

Aitchison returned to Wichita in 1910 and had an even better season, winning 20 games. He began to attract attention from personnel at major-league clubs, particularly Larry Sutton, a scout for the Brooklyn Dodgers.9 In September, upon the recommendation of Sutton, Brooklyn drafted Aitchison from Wichita. The Brooklyn Eagle ran a profile providing more detail about the new acquisition. Aitchison was noted to “have a quick delivery and watches his bases well,” and that he “fields his position well … backing up all bases to cover up on bad throws.” Though not a strong hitter, he “bunts well for a sacrifice.”10 (Aitchison was one of the rare players to bat right and throw left.)

Another Brooklyn newspaper first gave him one of his nicknames – “Red Skin” – for the many animal pelts he would bring home from offseason hunting trips with his coon dogs.11

In 1911, Aitchison attended the Brooklyn spring training camp at Hot Springs, Arkansas, where he showed plenty of speed but a lack of control. Veteran Nap Rucker took him under his wing and Aitchison showed some improvement, but by the end of camp it was reported, “He is hardly ripe enough, however, for major league company, and will likely be sent to the minors for another year’s seasoning.”12

Nonetheless, he made the Dodgers’ opening day roster and made his major league debut on April 19 against the Giants. The game was played at Hilltop Park because of the recent fire at the Polo Grounds. Elmer Knetzer started for the Dodgers; New York’s Red Ames had Brooklyn shutout 2-0 through seven innings. Aitchison replaced Knetzer in the bottom of the eighth and retired the Giants in order. The Dodgers scored three runs in the top of the ninth inning and Aitchison was sent back out in the bottom of the inning to protect the 3-2 lead. Fred Merkle led off with a single. After Al Bridwell popped out, Art Devlin walked, putting runners at first and second. George Bell then came in to relieve Aitchison. Both runners later came around to score and Aitchison was charged with the loss in a 4-3 Giant victory.13

He stayed with the club for the next month but didn’t get into any more official games. He pitched in an exhibition match against the semipro Marquettes on May 2114 but was mostly used as a batting practice pitcher. On May 31 Brooklyn released him to Sioux City of the Western League.15 He stayed with the club about a month16 before joining the Nashville (Tennessee) Volunteers of the Southern Association in July. He went 9-4 for Nashville.

In 1912 Aitchison moved to another SA club, the Montgomery (Alabama) Rebels. That summer he showed that he may have had a bit of a combative streak, or that he was a supportive teammate, depending on one’s point of view of the incident. The Rebels were in Atlanta to play the Atlanta Crackers in July. A history of bad blood existed between Montgomery manager John Dobbs  and Atlanta third baseman Pryor “Humpty” McElveen (who’d previously played for Dobbs at Montgomery). One evening Dobbs and three of his players – Kid Elberfeld, Joe Bills, and Aitchison – sought out McElveen at his hotel. When he was located Elberfeld kicked his chair out from under him and Dobbs inflicted a severe beating. Police arrived and all four Rebels were arrested. After court appearances the following morning Dobbs and Elberfeld were both fined but charges against Bills and Aitchison were dropped.17

Aitchison won 18 games for Montgomery in 191218 and his .750 winning percentage was the best in the league among qualified pitchers. In 1913 Brooklyn, which still held his rights, promoted him to Class AA by turning him over to the Newark Indians of the International League. Having matured as a pitcher and solved the control problems that plagued him early in his career, Aitchison now “works the corners with the ease and precision of Al Mattern,” said the Newark Evening Star.19 By late July he had won 16 of 19 decisions (he ended up 21-5),  was regarded as the best pitcher in the International League, and was one of the hottest prospects in all the minor leagues.

Brooklyn had not sent him to Newark on an option agreement. If it had, Aitchison could have remained with Newark until that team’s season ended and then been recalled by the Superbas.  However, because the big club had sent him to Montgomery the previous season on option, baseball rules that prevented clubs from exercising options on players a second time were applicable.20 This became important because Aitchison’s situation now fell under a clause in the new National Agreement that stated that players bought from Class AA clubs (Newark) must report to the purchaser (Brooklyn) at least 20 days before the drafting season opened on September 15.21 Therefore, Aitchison needed to be recalled by Brooklyn by August 25 or be subject to the draft.22

Ebbets owned both the Brooklyn and Newark franchises and Newark was in a tight race with Rochester for the International League pennant.23 Meanwhile, the 1913 Superbas, under first-year manager Bill Dahlen, had a winning record and remained in the first division in the National League standings over the first half of the season. However, starting on June 30 Brooklyn lost 17 of its next 21 games, including a 10-game losing streak, dropping the club into fifth place. Ebbets faced a dilemma. The Superbas were in dire need of pitching reinforcements – but if he recalled Aitchison with more than a month of Newark’s season remaining, he risked jeopardizing Newark’s pennant chances and the ire of manager Harry Smith, as well as alienating fans. If the Indians fell out of the race and attendance dropped, Ebbets’ profits would be impacted. If he did not recall Aitchison, Brooklyn fans would be upset that he was sacrificing the fortunes of the big-league club for a minor-league team.

To make things more difficult for Ebbets, several major-league scouts – namely, representatives from the Philadelphia Phillies, the New York Yankees, and the St. Louis Browns – began buzzing around Indians games. They claimed they were looking at several IL prospects but their real interest was Aitchison.24 Finally, as the deadline approached, Ebbets struck a compromise. To mollify Newark fans, in mid-August he sent veteran pitcher Cliff Curtis to Newark, purchased Aitchison for $3,000, and ordered him to report to Brooklyn for the season’s final month.

Another rule in the National Agreement was that when a player advanced from the minor leagues to the majors, his salary could not be increased by more than 25 percent. This only applied to the balance of the current season (45 days) or until October 1. Aitchison originally signed with Newark for $300 a month ($1,500 for the season). After his strong start he was given a raise to $350 a month. Ebbets offered him a contract for $375 a month, a 25 percent increase on $300, but Aitchison contended that he was entitled to an increase on the $350 monthly salary he was currently making, which calculated to $437.50 a month.25 Aitchison refused to sign for the lower figure and Ebbets promptly suspended him.26 Rather than report to Brooklyn for the rest of the season Aitchison went home to his native Kansas and went hunting.

The 1913-1914 offseason was a game of chicken between Aitchison and Ebbets. Aitchison brought his case to the Baseball Players fraternity and was advised by David Fultz to “accept Ebbets’ figures without delay.27 However, a report circulated at the same time that Charles Murphy of the Chicago Cubs had offered Ebbets $15,000 for Aitchison,28 further increasing his sense of worth and leverage. Aitchison had another advantage in the negotiations. In 1914 the Federal League was recognized as a major league and several of the circuit’s clubs – namely, Buffalo, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh – began making contract offers to him.29 He went so far as to meet personally with manager Rebel Oakes in his Pittsburgh offices.30

In December, Ebbets offered Aitchison and outfielder Herbie Moran to Cincinnati owner Garry Herrmann for $20,000, but Herrmann declined the offer.31 Finally, in January 1914, “management having conceded him all the points in question,”32 Aitchison signed a one-year deal with Brooklyn for $3,500. He went to spring training and made Brooklyn’s opening day pitching staff.33 New manager Wilbert Robinson used him mainly as a spot starter and in long relief – and Aitchison responded with an excellent season. In 26 games, 17 of them starts, he had a record of 12-7 with a 2.66 ERA. Aitchison recorded three shutouts and allowed 156 hits in 172 1/3 innings. After the season, to prevent continued flirting with the Feds, Ebbets signed Aitchison to a two-year deal.34 In hindsight, that was a deal that the Brooklyn owner would come to regret.

That offseason, Aitchison signed another contract. On November 24, 1914, he married Ida Wolf at Pulaski, Arkansas. One of the reasons for the attraction may have been that Ida loved the outdoors nearly as much as Raleigh did. Raleigh conceded that his wife was a better marksman than he. “Mrs. Aitchison is said to be a regular sharpshooter and has taken part in several rifle tournaments on the east.”35 After the 1915 season they went on a hunting trip in Arkansas and then traveled overland by covered wagon to Kansas where they spent the winter.36 The couple never had any children but did raise a son from Ida’s previous marriage. After the boy had grown, Ida opened a beauty parlor in Columbus.37

Aitchison was almost married another time before meeting Ida. When he was a boy, he was infatuated with a girl in town who later moved away, and he did not know where. It turned out that she was in Colorado; when Aitchison traveled to Denver with his Wichita team in 1910, she remembered Raleigh and called him. He arranged for her to be transported to Denver, where he had hastily arranged a wedding. When she arrived, she said that her father was in hot pursuit. The driver demanded a $15 fare which Aitchison refused to pay, so the angry father collected his daughter and the wedding never took place.38

Aitchison was hampered by a severe cold much of the spring of 1915 and never seemed to round into form. In June he was sidelined with a condition called an “ulcerated jaw.” As a result, by mid-June he had appeared in only seven games and absorbed loses in four of them without a win. On June 20, in what would turn out to be his final major-league appearance, he surrendered three home runs in a 6-1 loss to the Cubs in Chicago. A couple of weeks later Ebbets released him to the Chattanooga Lookouts in the Class A Southern League. Aitchison was actually pleased with the move because Elberfeld, his former teammate at Montgomery, was the manager there.

He had a less than impressive 9-10 record in 20 games over the rest of the 1915 season in Chattanooga. Elberfeld contended that part of the reason for Aitchison’s struggles was that Robinson tried to change his pitching style. Ebbets had no interest in having Aitchison return to Brooklyn, but he was coming into the second year of the two-year contract he signed, so the front office again had to make a decision about what to do with him. In January 1916, Brooklyn released him to the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association39 and again Aitchison fought with Ebbets over salary.

His Brooklyn contract called for an annual salary of $4,000 but the contract offered in Milwaukee was for $1,375. Aitchison contended he was due the amount in his Brooklyn contract and took his case to the National Commission. They ruled that his release to Milwaukee did not abrogate his original contract and ordered that Brooklyn pay him the difference between the $4,000 and the amount of the Milwaukee contract. In addition, the commission ruled that Brooklyn also needed to retroactively pay him the difference ($1,500) between his 1914 Brooklyn contract and what he earned after his release to Chattanooga.40 Later Brooklyn and Aitchison agreed to an undisclosed lump sum settlement.41   

Aitchison posted a 2-1 record in seven games for the Brewers but was released in May. He pitched for both Beaumont and San Antonio of the Class B Texas League during the rest of 1916, with Brooklyn still on the hook for part of his salary. He joined the Tulsa (Oklahoma) Producers of the Western Association in 1917 but by June had left the club and went “back to the farm” in Columbus.42 The local paper, the Columbus Light, reported on various hunting and camping trips on which he and Ida went over the rest of that summer and fall.

Aitchison registered for the draft during World War I but no evidence could be found that he was in the armed services. He listed his occupation as farmer on the 1920 U. S. Census. Aitchison’s record in Baseball-Reference shows him pitching in two games with Oklahoma City in 1920, but actually he was with Omaha. He surrendered four hits, four runs, and four bases on balls in just one inning pitched but managed to get a win in his only decision.43 He made one more attempt at a comeback, playing in six games for High Point (North Carolina) of the Piedmont League in 1921 before retiring from professional baseball.

In 1936 Fred Brendel, long-time sportswriter for the Evening News in Newark, selected his All-Time Newark Bears team. Aitchison and Sherry Smith were chosen as the two left-handed pitchers. The righties selected were Big Ed Walsh and Joe McGinnity.44

It is not known how long Aitchison farmed but at some point, he began a career in law enforcement. His occupation is listed as deputy sheriff in the 1930 U.S. Census and “night police” in 1940. Aitchison worked for 18 years for the Columbus, Kansas, police department and later was a deputy sheriff for Cherokee County, Kansas. He also worked from 1948 to 1955 for Spencer Chemical Company before he retired. He was also widely known as an expert handler and trainer of bird dogs and was said to possess “the most extensive kennels in the state.”45

Raleigh Aitchison died on September 26, 1968, in Columbus, Kansas, at the age of 70 after a two-year illness. The cause of death listed on his death certificate was an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Raleigh was survived by his sister Mabel, wife Ida, a stepson, and two grandchildren. He was buried in the Columbus City Cemetery. Ida died in 1973.



This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.



Unless otherwise noted, statistics from Aitchison’s playing career are taken from Baseball-Reference.com and genealogical and family history was obtained from Ancestry.com. The author also used information from clippings in Aitchison’s file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.



1 “Aitchison Turned Back,” Brooklyn Eagle, December 10, 1915: 20.

2 Columbus (Kansas) Advocate, January 24, 1900: 1.

3 “The Sage of Columbus, Raleigh Aitchison, Pitcher,” Columbus Advocate, September 22, 1910: 1.

4 Columbus Advocate, October 4, 1903: 4.

5 Compliments for Raleigh,” Columbus Advocate, June 18, 1908: 2.

6 Columbus Advocate, August 20, 1908: 5.

7 “Has Aitchison Jumped?” Topeka (Kansas) State Journal, July 9, 1909: 9.

8 See “Has Aitchison Jumped?”. above.

9 The Dodgers were still sometimes called the Superbas, so the two team names are used interchangeably throughout the text.

10 “Here is Raleigh Aitchison,” Brooklyn Eagle, September 24, 1910: 23.

11 “‘Red Skin’ Aitchison, Pitcher and Trapper,” Brooklyn Times, January 16, 1911: 5.

12 “Recruits Look Promising,” Brooklyn Eagle, April 2, 1911: 17.

13 “Rain Postpones Season’s Opening Here by Dodgers,” Brooklyn Standard Union, April 20, 1911: 10.

14 “Dodgers Swamp Marquettes,” Brooklyn Standard Union, May 22, 1911: 5.

15 “Giants Again Lead League; Win Nine from Superbas,” Brooklyn Standard Union, May 31, 1911: 10.

16 This partial season is not included in Aitchison’s Baseball-Reference record.

17 “McElveen Declares he will get Dobbs; Billiken Manager Fined,” Atlanta Georgian, July 6, 192: 7.

18 Baseball-Reference shows a won-loss record of 17-7 with Montgomery but the local paper said he was 18-8. See: “Aitchison is Premier Hurler of the Southern League,” Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser, August 25, 1912: 13.

19 “Fresh From Savanah,” Newark (New Jersey) Evening Star, March 14, 1913: 19.

20 “Pitcher Aitchison Forced to Return to Dodgers’ Fold,” Newark Evening Star, August 2, 1913: 1.

21 “Aitchison Causes Ebbets to Worry,” Brooklyn Eagle, July 24, 191: 8.

22 “Brooklyn Club Will Grab Aitchison,” Bridgeport (Connecticut) Farmer, July 20, 1913: 7.

23 Newark would finish in first place, four games ahead of Rochester, with a 95-57 record.

24 “Three Major League Scouts Watch Tigers Trim Hustlers in Double Bill,” Newark Evening Star, August 1, 1913: 3.

25 “Small Sum Cost Brooklyn Services of Crack Pitcher,” Bridgeport Farmer, November 20, 1913: 7.

26 “Sport Topics of the Hour,” Newark Evening Star, August 29, 1913: 10.

27 “What Money Will Do,” Buffalo Enquirer, November 18, 1913: 8.

28 “Sport Topics of the Hour,” Newark Evening Star, August 29, 1913: 10.

29 “Aitchison Sought by Outlaw Clubs,” Newark Evening Star, November 5, 1913: 14.

30 “Feds After Dodger Pitchers,” New Britain (Connecticut) Herald, May 28, 194[?]: 11.

31 “Offers Aitchison to Get Joe Tinker,” Newark Evening Star, December 12, 1913: 26.

32 “From Monday’s Daily,” Columbus Advocate, February 5, 1914: 6.

33 The team was sometimes now called the Robins, after new manager Wilbert Robinson.

34 “Aitchison Signs Up for Two Years More,” Brooklyn Times, October 17, 1914: 10.

35 “Traveling Overland,” Fort Scott (Kansas) Republican, December 18, 1915: 1.

36 See “Traveling Overland,” above.

37 “Personals,” Columbus Advocate, November 30, 1923: 2.

38 See “The Sage of Columbus, Raleigh Aitchison, Pitcher,” above.

39 “Dodgers Release Aitchison,” Fargo (North Dakota) Forum and Republican, January 26, 1916: 8

40 “This Kick Paid Big Returns,” Columbus Advocate, March 8, 1916: 1.

41 “Aitchison Tears Up Contract When Paid,” Washington (DC) Times, July 17, 1916: 10.

42 “Aitchison Departs,” Tulsa (OK) Democrat, June 6, 1917: 6.

43 “Official Western League Pitching,” Oklahoma City Times, November 22, 1920: 6.

44 Randall Cassell, “McQuinn Only Player of Ruppertian Era on All-Time Newark Team, Baltimore Sun, February 26, 1936: 25.

45 See “The Sage of Columbus, Raleigh Aitchison, Pitcher,” above.

Full Name

Raleigh Leonidas Aitchison


December 5, 1887 at Tyndall, SD (USA)


September 26, 1958 at Columbus, KS (USA)

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