Al Yeargin (TRADING CARD DB)

Al Yeargin

This article was written by Bill Nowlin

Al Yeargin (TRADING CARD DB)Right-hander Al Yeargin’s first game in the big leagues was at the Polo Grounds on Sunday afternoon, October 1, 1922. Working for the Boston Braves, he started the second game of a doubleheader against the reigning World Series champion New York Giants. The Giants had already clinched the 1922 National League pennant and held a seven-game lead over second-place Pittsburgh. The Braves were in last place, 39½ games behind the Giants. The Braves won the first game, 3-0, a two-hit shutout by rookie Tim McNamara, bringing his record to 3-4. Yeargin pitched well in the second game, a seven-inning game, limiting the Giants to five hits and two walks. One of the hits was an inside-the-park two-run home run by rookie Mahlon Higbee, and Yeargin and the Braves came up on the short end of another 3-0 score. Three Giants pitchers worked in sequence, just getting a little work in preparation for the World Series. Art Nehf (19-13) got the win. The Boston papers took little notice, but the New York Daily Tribune observed, “The Giants didn’t do much with Yeargin, a big chap with a free overhand swing.”1

Yeargin did go to spring training with the Braves in St. Petersburg in 1923, but his next major-league start wasn’t until May 16, 1924, in Cincinnati. He won that one, a complete-game 8-3 win – but then lost his next 11 decisions.

Though he pitched in the minors through the 1931 season, Yeargin never won another game in the major leagues.

Yeargin was born in Mauldin, South Carolina, on October 16, 1901.2 He died quite young, at age 35. Yeargin was born into a farming family as James Almond Yeargin to parents Isaiah and Anna (King) Yeargin. He was the fourth of seven children, his oldest and youngest siblings being girls; the other four were boys. Two other children in the family had died, perhaps in childbirth or at a young age.

Isaiah Yeargin was a carpenter in Greenville at the time of the 1900 census, but was listed as J.B. Yeargin, a farmer engaged in general farming in 1910. His wife was listed as Narcisy A. Yergan. (That was the spelling of the surname used by the census enumerator.)3 Both parents were native South Carolinians. The family lived in the community of Austin, in Greenville County, at the time of the 1910 census.

His listed height and weight show that Al Yeargin stood 5-feet-11 and weighed 170 pounds.

Before joining the Boston Braves, Al was a “recruit from Mauldin” who had pitched locally in 1922, in Greenville for the Class-B Southern Atlantic Association (Sally League) Greenville Spinners under manager Cliff Blankenship.4 The team finished last in the six-team league with a record of 50-82. Yeargin appeared in 29 games with a record of 10-12 in 173 innings and an earned-run average of 3.23. On July 24 the Braves announced the purchase of his contract and their plan to bring him up, as they did, in September.5

Fred Mitchell and the Boston Braves finished last in 1922. The October 1 game was their last of the season.

It was reportedly Yeargin’s choice to play the 1923 season in Greenville. He had impressed Mitchell and coach Duke Farrell, and Mitchell promised him before the season began that the Braves would keep him all year and not farm him out. As spring training wore on, Yeargin became “sad and low in his mind,” dubbed “the man who never smiled.” Farrell diagnosed the problem and Yeargin admitted it: he was homesick for his young bride – the former Noette Hawkins.6

Al Yeargin played again for Greenville in 1923 and had a good year, with a record of 18-3 and an ERA of 3.65 over a very full 281 innings in 42 games. One of the losses was a 16-inning 3-2 loss to Charlotte. On August 10 he pitched 17 innings in a game ending in a 2-2 tie with Augusta. The Spinners manager was Zinn Beck. The team finished in second place. Not surprisingly, Yeargin’s winning percentage was the best in the league.7

Yeargin spent the full 1924 season with the Braves. Dave Bancroft was the team’s manager. Perhaps Yeargin was quiet and kept to himself; the Boston Herald’s Burt Whitman often referred to him as Jim Yeargin. Whitman wrote, “If he has more self confidence and aggressiveness he may stick with the Tribe this year.”8 Two days later, Whitman suggested that Farrell was getting “Yearg” – as he was called – to become more outgoing: “He actually is blooming. He has been seen smoking, going to movies and staying out after 10 o’clock at night.”9 A news story circulated nationally said he was pitching to make the big leagues and suggested, “Somehow or other a year or so in the Matrimony League seems to make a difference.”10

Yeargin’s first three appearances were in relief. He worked the final four innings in a 9-1 loss to the Giants on May 1, allowing the final two runs. He pitched two scoreless innings against the Robins in Brooklyn on May 4. On May 13 against Pittsburgh, he again closed the game, working two innings without allowing any of the Pirates to reach base.

Bancroft gave Yeargin a start on May 16. If Yeargin had the chance to see the next day’s Boston Herald, the headline beginning “Rookie Jim Yeargin Is Hero” might well have been pleasing.11 The game this day in Cincinnati proved to be his one major-league victory. The opposing pitcher was Dolf Luque, who in 1923 had built a record of seven wins and no losses against the Braves. His streak had been snapped the day before, when he was banged out of the box early. Luque was a veteran righty in his seventh season with Cincinnati. He had led both the NL and AL in 1923 in wins (27) and ERA (1.93).

The Braves got on the board with a run in the first, but Yeargin gave up a run to the Reds in the bottom of the second. In the fifth, the Braves got to Luque again, scoring four runs and knocking him out of the game for the second day in succession. Leading off the inning was Yeargin himself, who doubled to left field (his first base hit in the big leagues). The last batter Luque faced was center fielder Casey Stengel, who doubled to right and drove in Boston’s fourth and fifth runs.

The Braves added one run in the seventh and two more in the top of the ninth. Yeargin yielded solo runs in the eighth and the ninth. Though tagged for 11 hits in all, he gave up only the three runs and won a complete game, 8-3.

Nine days later, on May 25, Yeargin was himself battered by the Cubs for six runs in 5⅔ innings, and the headlines weren’t as kind.12

He was “Jim Yeargin” all year long in the Herald. The paper treated him like any other pitcher, not commenting negatively as the losses began to mount. Indeed, as it happens, his season ERA of 5.09 wasn’t that much worse than the team ERA of 4.46, and better than two of the regular starters – Joe Genewich (10-19, 5.21) and Tim McNamara (8-12, 5.18). He showed up well at times; after he dropped a 3-2 game to the Pirates on August 23, the Herald headline read, “Jimmy Yeargin Pitches Well but Braves Drop Pittsburgh Final, 3 to 2.”13

A couple of stories that ran nationally noted that Yeargin had won his first game, but then lost 11 straight. The Boston newspapers made little of the fact. On December 3, however, the Braves dealt him to the Seattle Indians of the Pacific Coast League. They were after outfielder James D. Welsh and sent Seattle both Yeargin and pitcher Sterling Stryker as well as the very sizable sum of $50,000.14

Both Stryker and Yeargin reported to Santa Maria, California, in late February for spring training with Seattle. One sportswriter called Yeargin “a clever kid, who seemed always on the point of breaking into the elite, but never quite made it,” adding, “He has a good chance to grow up out here in the West.”15 He was, after all, still only 23 years old. As late as March 8, however, Yeargin – called “Jim” by the Seattle papers, too – was reportedly “as weak as a cat” with influenza.16 As late as April 21, it was still uncertain when he might be ready to pitch. A week later, though, he had developed a sore arm and wasn’t expected to be ready for another week. On May 8, Seattle sold Yeargin’s contract to the Atlanta Crackers of the Class-A Southern Association. Baseball-Reference.com shows him as having pitched three innings in one game for Seattle.

Yeargin next turned up back in Greenville in 1926, earning headlines with a 1-0 five-hit victory over Augusta on May 12.17 A brief note at the time indicated that Commissioner K.M. Landis had reinstated Yeargin from the voluntarily retired list of the Boston Braves.18 Perhaps he had been returned on paper from Atlanta to Seattle, and from Seattle to Boston. No record of him pitching for Atlanta turned up in the press. Yeargin pitched again and lost on May 21, in Greenville, but then he disappears from the newspapers.

His younger brother Russell “Rush” Yeargin from Greer was a shortstop who appeared in some games for the Waycross (Georgia) team in 1926 and tried out for the Alexandria (Louisiana) Reds in 1927. He made the Class-D Cotton States League team and hit .300. Rush Yeargin played through 1933 for Evansville, Mobile, and Des Moines, never getting higher than Class-A baseball with Des Moines, where he played his final three seasons. The Des Moines Demons won the Western League championship in 1931.19

In 1927, 1928, and 1928, Al Yeargin (he was typically called Alvin or Al in regional newspapers) put in three full seasons for the Greenville Spinners.

His 1927 record was 19-7 with a 3.75 ERA in 32 games. The Spinners were Sally League champions and played against the Virginia League champion Portsmouth Truckers in a postseason matchup. Yeargin held Portsmouth to just two hits in the second game of the series on September 17. He did it again a week later, on the 24th, a 1-0 win over the Jacksonville Tars – another two-hitter – in a game for the “Class B championship of the south.”20 Jacksonville prevailed in the series.

Yeargin’s 1928 season started out with a shock. Pitching against the Knoxville Smokies on April 19, he threw four pitches and gave up four runs: a double, a single, a double, and a home run. Smokies manager Gabby Street had instructed his batters to swing at Yeargin’s first pitches and Yeargin seemed to have put them all right over the plate.21 They were the only four pitches he threw in the game, but the Spinners won the game in the end.

Yeargin was never much of a hitter. From such batting averages as are available, his best season may have been 1928, when he hit .267 for Greenville. In one home game, on June 26, he won the game for himself with a double in the bottom of the 10th inning against Columbia. It was his second RBI of the game.22

On July 10 the Atlanta Crackers announced that they had purchased Yeargin’s contract from Greenville. This was Atlanta’s second attempt to acquire him. He pitched for Atlanta on July 22, and again a few times in the days that followed. He lost a complete game to Birmingham on the 25th, then pitched the final 6⅔ innings of a game against Chattanooga the very next day, getting the win. By August 17, however, he was back in Greenville box scores. His record was 2-1 for Atlanta. His record for Greenville is shown as 10-9 (5.08).

Yeargin had one fine stretch in early August 1929. He threw a five-hit 1-0 shutout against Charlotte on August 2, then lost a 1-0 four-hitter against Columbia on August 6, and won a 4-0 five-hit game in Charlotte on the 10th. On the 14th, he shut out Spartanburg, allowing just four hits. His record for the year shows as 15-11 (3.28), at age 27 the best season of his career.

He might have gone elsewhere. Realizing his team had no realistic shot at the second-half title, manager Frank Walker offered around the services of some of his best players. On August 17, he gave Shreveport an option to buy Yeargin’s contract.23 Yeargin was not summoned and played out the season with the Spinners.

Yeargin began the 1930 campaign with Greenville once again. On April 25 he allowed Augusta just four hits while seeing his teammates rack up 22 hits and humiliate Augusta, 20-1, in Augusta. Yeargin was the only one on the Spinners not to get a base hit. On May 12 he threw a three-hitter in Columbia. On June 22 the Augusta Wolves signed Yeargin, as part of a push at the second-half title. There’s no indication that his acquisition directly helped and, in any event, Augusta finished fourth with a 68-70 losing record.

Yeargin’s record for the year was 11-13 in 180 innings of work for the two teams combined and an ERA of 4.45. He struck out 93 and walked 55.24

Yeargin was with the Raleigh Capitals in the Class-D Piedmont League in 1931, finishing the year with a record of 10-9 in 26 games.

It was his last year in professional baseball and he was only 29 years old.

Yeargin had apparently struggled for some time with stomach pains and other internal problems. He lent his name to an advertisement for a medicinal product named Malva, which ran in the Henderson (North Carolina) Daily Dispatch. The advertisement said that “Honest Al” Yeargin praised this new medicine, giving it full credit for restoring his health: “Pitcher Yeargin almost had to give up baseball for good. He was bothered with stomach pains, gas bloating, heavy feeling after eating, constipation, sour stomach and poor appetite. His blood was bad, pimples and boils broke out on his face and body.” He walked into a Greenville drugstore and “treated himself to a bottle of Malva. The result was instantaneous. He went back for more. And now Yeargin, feeling once more like the old ‘Mauldin Marvel’ who mowed them down in the Sally League, in the Piedmont League and for the Boston Braves, is again proving that he still has ‘the stuff’ in him that makes big leaguers and in time will give a good account of himself.”25

Yeargin did not return to baseball, however. He went back to farming. He and his wife, Noette, lived in Butler, South Carolina.

On May 8, 1937, Al Yeargin died, at the young age of 35. He took ill and died a week later, after a couple of days in Greenville General Hospital. The cause of death was given as general peritonitis and he had been said to have suffered a ruptured duodenal ulcer. His occupation at the time of death was given as “farmer and ret. base ball player.”26

Al and Noette Yeargin had two children, shown in the 1940 census as Dorothy, 8, and Alton, 5, and living in Butler. Noette died in 1976.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and SABR.org.

 

Notes

1 W.B. Hanna, “Giants Tune Up for Big Series While Dividing Double Bill with Braves in Season’s Final Games,” New York Daily Tribune, October 2, 1922: 11.

2 His gravestone shows 1902 as his birth year. His name in the 1910 census was rendered as Almont Yeargin, and he was said to be 9 years old.

3 The two eldest children, born before 1900, match up – Shirley and Avery.

4 Jacob H. Monte, “Greenville Spinners Are Anxious for Sally to Open; Blankenship Will Pilot the Club this Season,” Augusta Chronicle, April 16, 1922: 5, 6. Monte called Yeargin the “Mauldin Marvel” in a May column. Jacob H. Monte, “Yeargin in Form and Greenville Defeats Spartans,” Augusta Chronicle, May 9, 1922: 6.

5 Burt Whitman, “Braves and Cubs to Mingle Today,” Boston Herald, July 25, 1922: 8. Several stories of the day called him Alvin Yeargin. He left for Boston the night of September 1.

6 “Pitcher Bridegroom Preferred Carolina to Major League Berth,” Omaha Morning Bee, March 1, 1924: 9.

7 Baseball-Reference.com shows Yeargin with a record of 18-3, but the September 16 Augusta Chronicle shows him as 19-10, with four shutouts and 22 complete games. Confusingly, he is listed as Rush Yeargin, with a record of 18-9, in the Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball. Rush was the nickname of his younger brother, Russell. At least as confusingly, the playoffs were shown as between first-place Charlotte and fifth-place Macon.

8 Burton Whitman, “Fred Lucas Prominent as Dick Rudolph Shows the Youngsters How It’s Done,” Boston Herald, March 4, 1924: 10.

9 Burton Whitman, “Condition of Tribe Box Staff Surprising and Gratifying, Says Banny,” Boston Herald, March 7, 1924: 20.

10 NEA Service, “Al Yeargin Courts Fame,” Charleston (South Carolina) Evening Post, April 1, 1924: 9.

11 Rookie Jim Yeargin Is Hero of Braves’s Third Straight Win over Reds,” Boston Herald, May 17, 1924: 9.

12 “Cubs Hammer Yeargin and Cooney and Trounce Banny’s Braves, 11 to 0,” Boston Herald, May 26, 1924: 8.

13 Boston Herald, August 24, 1924: 14.

14 “This sum far exceeds any that the Boston Nationals have expended for a player in recent years.” See Burton Whitman, “Braves Give $50,000 in Players and Cash for Coast Outfielder,” Boston Herald, December 4, 1924: 1.

15 John B. Foster, “Salt Lake Is Paradise for batters,” Washington Evening Star, February 27, 1925: 31.

16 Cliff Harrison, “Homer Nearly Wrecks Tribe in Hot Battle,” Seattle Daily Times, March 8, 1925: 21. Harrison also wrote, “Yeargin hasn’t shown as much as Stryker because of his physical condition.” See Cliff Harrison, “Seattle Stronger in Defensive Way,” The Sporting News, March 26, 1925: 7. Another correspondent added, regarding spring 1925, “Yeargin arrives in no condition to pitch.” Ed Danforth, “Niehoff Upholds Great Record in Southern with Atlanta Team,” The Sporting News, November 12, 1925: 5.

17 The headline in the Augusta Chronicle spanned seven of the eight columns on the page. See “Yeargin Whips Tygers in Last Game, 1 to 0,” Augusta Chronicle, May 13, 1926: 6.

18 Rockford (Illinois) Register-Gazette, May 15, 1926: 13.

19 Russ Yeargin is shown in the team photograph on page 5 in the November 19, 1931, issue of The Sporting News.

20 “Spinners Open with Victory,” Charleston (South Carolina) Evening Post, September 24, 1927: 6.

21 Bob Wilson, “Smokes and Spins Play Two Games This Afternoon,” Knoxville News-Sentinel, April 24, 1928: 14.

22 Associated Press, “Yeargin Doubles to Win His Own Game from Comers,” Augusta Chronicle, June 28, 1928: 6.

23 Carter Latimer, “Greenville Farms Out Stars,” Augusta Chronicle, August 29, 1929: 21.

24 “Pitching Records for 1930 of the South Atlantic League,” The Sporting News, November 6, 1930: 8.

25 Advertisement for Malva in Henderson (North Carolina) Daily Dispatch, November 25, 1932: 4.

26 Standard Certificate of Death, State of South Carolina. Thank to SABR member Dr. Stephen D. Boren for providing thoughts regarding Yeargin’s death.

Full Name

James Almond Yeargin

Born

October 16, 1901 at Mauldin, SC (USA)

Died

May 8, 1937 at Greenville, SC (USA)

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