Diminutive Andy Oyler — listed as 5-foot-7 and 140 pounds on his contract card from The Sporting News1 and recalled as having “very large” hands by a boyhood friend of his grandson2 — was known more his fielding than his hitting. Nevertheless, Oyler is best remembered for a home run he never hit.
Andrew Paul Oyler was born May 5, 1880, in Newville, Pennsylvania, to William Bashore Oyler, an owner of farmlands in the area and an active member of the Newville school board,3 and Sue Hursh Oyler. He had two brothers, Bill and John, and three sisters, Nell, Helen, and Sarah. Andy and Bill went on to professional baseball careers, and they often played together on Newville’s town team around the turn of the 20th century.
Oyler attended Newville Academy and Chambersburg Academy (about 25 miles from Newville). He then earned a degree in civil engineering from Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania, and was on the baseball team in 1900 and 1901, team captain in his final year. His contract card lists Syracuse as a professional team for him in 1900 although no record of him playing there has been found. The only mention of Oyler playing baseball during the summers was with teams in Newville and Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.4
After the 1901 season, Oyler received an offer from John McGraw, manager of the Baltimore Orioles of the American League, for a 1902 trial.5 He impressed McGraw, who said, “I never saw a young fellow handle himself more like an experienced player than he. He seems to be a natural born player from the way he handles the ball and the quickness with which he gets it away from him. He is stronger than his build would indicate and is a fast and accurate thrower. Unless I am greatly mistaken, we have run across a prize in him.” The Valley Times-Star of Newville, Pennsylvania, which reported McGraw’s praise through a Baltimore Sun dispatch, added, “At the bat Oyler’s work was not so encouraging. He has much to unlearn in that respect before he can hold his own with a big league team.”6
Oyler made the Orioles in 1902, playing mostly third base and in both the infield and outfield, but his fielding wasn’t enough. With a batting average of only .221 with one home run in 27 games, he was released near the end of July. He returned home and was reunited with Bill in playing on amateur teams. He also used his college degree, taking a job with an engineering corps in eastern Pennsylvania for the winter.7 By the following spring, he had another job in baseball, with the minor league Minneapolis Millers.
Oyler held down the shortstop position for a number of years and drew comments for his glove work (if not his batting, which produced only one home run in nearly 1,000 games) from Minneapolis writers decades later. In 1940, George Barton, who had covered the Millers since 1904, wrote that Oyler “was a brilliant fielder, but lacked a strong throwing arm and was a weak hitter.”8 William J. McNally, who described himself as a “full-fledged, no-foolin’ kind of fan,” called Oyler “the neatest and fanciest shortstop.”9
Oyler’s baseball career was in limbo in 1906. The Minneapolis Journal reported before the start of the season, “Andrew Jackson10 Oyler, for two years shortstop of the Minneapolis baseball team, will not play with the Millers in 1906. The little chap had signed a contract, but at the urgent request of his parents, who objected to his playing baseball on Sunday, and to take care of an uncle who is an invalid, Oyler will quit the greensward, and so informed Magnate [Mike] Kelley yesterday.
“Oyler’s ball playing was always a matter of choice and not necessity, as his parents and relatives are well to do. They have objected to Andrew J. playing baseball for several years, but he has heretofore had his way and was, everywhere on the circuit, regarded as one of the coming players. Yesterday afternoon President Kelley received a letter from Oyler, written from Red Creek, N. Y., in which the shortstop announced his intention of quitting. He said he was in New York state with his uncle, who was very ill, and that the uncle had finally prevailed upon him to quit baseball and remain with him this summer. Oyler has a business chance under this relative and this, coupled with the wishes of his parents, brought about the decision. . . . Oyler was one of the most popular professional baseball players who ever worked on a Minneapolis team and was a star performer. He was lightning fast in the infield work, had a whip that was as sure as a rifle shot and used his head all of the time in play.”11
Fred Oyler, Andy’s son, said his dad was “pretty religious”12 but that he was talked back into baseball by the Millers. Oyler returned to Minneapolis in April on the condition that he not be expected to play on Sundays.13
Late in the 1909 season the Millers were in the pennant hunt, in third place and only 1½ games behind league-leading Louisville. Disaster struck in several ways in a September 22 doubleheader in Columbus. The Millers lost both games — and more. In the first game, Minneapolis player-manager Jimmy Collins suffered a season-ending injury; in the eighth inning of that game Oyler was beaned by Clyde Goodwin.
“He [Oyler] stood rigid for a second or two and then seemed to wilt before even Catcher James of the Columbus club could grab him,” reported the Minneapolis Tribune. “Minneapolis players hurried up in a moment, but Oyler lay on the ground several minutes before he fully regained consciousness. He was then assisted to the bench, Quillen taking his place, and at first it was thought the accident was not serious. Shortly after reaching the bench, however, blood began to rush from Oyler’s injured ear and he was then taken to the Northern hotel, accompanied by his brother, Will, who had met Andy in this city and was watching the game. At the hotel Oyler was quiet for a few moments, but was out of his head and shortly began to vomit quantities of blood.”
Oyler was taken to a hospital and his family summoned to Columbus from Pennsylvania. The Valley Times-Star, in its September 30 edition, said Oyler “had been lying in a hospital ever since the accident in an unconscious state.”14 After the injuries to Oyler and Collins, Minneapolis lost four of its last six games and finished 4½ games out of first.
Oyler recovered and returned to the Millers the next year but was never the same. He left the Millers early in the 1910 season after 14 appearances.15 The Minneapolis Tribune reported on May 15 that Oyler was “despondent because of failure to get into the right shape and declares he will play no more baseball. He quit the team yesterday. His troubles started last year when Pitcher Goodwin of the Senators hit him in the head.”16
The May 26 Tribune said Oyler was going to leave for home in Newville the following week with a stop in Chicago to see the Gotch-Zbyszko wrestling match.17 However, the June 5 Tribune reported he was in Minneapolis after a fishing trip in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, and that he would leave for Newville soon.18
In February 1912, the Tribune reported that Kansas City had bought Oyler for the waiver price. Oyler initially indicated he didn’t want to play and asked for the cash value of his release. A little more than a week later, he said he would report to Kansas City.19 He played just four games for Kansas City of the American Association in 1912 closing his professional career.20
In the fall of 1912, Oyler married Mary Grace Davidson.21 They had four children: Andy (born in 1913), Evelyn (1915), John (1921), and Fred (1927). During the 1914 season, Oyler became head coach at Dickinson College in Carlisle22 and held that position through 1917, even though the school dropped baseball and track in May that year because of the Great War.23
After the war, Andy worked as a civil engineer for the Pennsylvania Highway Department and later the state Turnpike Commission. Fred said his dad was a “weekend commuter,” working in various parts of the state until he retired in 1956. Other than his journeys in baseball, Oyler lived his entire life in central Pennsylvania, in different towns to the west of Harrisburg. He died in 1970 at the age of 90 and is buried in Rolling Green Cemetery in Camp Hill, where he lived at the time.24
The Home Run
In April 1911 a story appeared in the Buffalo Enquirer about a home run Oyler had hit into the mud in front of home plate at Nicollet Park in Minneapolis.25 The tale about Oyler circling the bases as the opposition searched in vain for the ball spread via telegraph and appeared in hundreds of small-town newspapers. Eventually it made its way into other publications, and Oyler himself told the story to family members and newspaper reporters. It became the “Puzzler” on the back of a baseball card in 1955: What was the shortest home run ever hit in baseball?” Answer: “2 ft. Andy Oyler, Minneapolis, 1900, hit the ball into the mud in front of the plate and lost it.”26
Research shows that the only homer Oyler hit for the Minneapolis Millers was on August 2, 1904, in Milwaukee, not against the St. Paul Saints in Minneapolis, with no mention of it being anything out of the ordinary. Nevertheless, the legend had too much steam to be stopped. Michael G. Bryson used it as the title story in a 1990 book, The Twenty-Four Inch Home Run,27 a collection of stories from his late dad, Bill Bryson, a long-time sportswriter in Iowa.
In January 2020, Oyler’s alleged ball turned up on Antiques Roadshow.28 Ted Oyler told appraiser Leila Dunbar the story of his grandfather’s home run and how Andy then sent the muddy ball to his family, scrawling an address on it, affixing a stamp, and putting it in the mail. “And then he followed it with a letter, explaining what it was,” said Ted. “We have a letter, I don’t have it on me, but there is a letter and it’s been rolling around in a desk drawer for a hundred years.”
Other family members, including Fred Oyler — Andy’s son and Ted’s dad — said no such letter existed. In March 2020, Fred stated that the story behind the ball may be “folklore or fact.”29 Three months later, after discovering an article by the author of this article, Fred said he was convinced that the story “is definitely [just] a legend.”
Fred had no problem with the truth and indicated skepticism he had always had about the story. He plans to donate the ball to the Cumberland County Historical Society along with other items and papers regarding his dad. “I think we’ll put the story to bed . . . finally,” Fred concluded. “It will be in the historical society for people to enjoy that way.”30
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Paul Proia.
1 The Sporting News Baseball Players Contract Cards Collection, https://digital.la84.org/digital/collection/p17103coll3/id/157729/rec/3.
2 March 30, 2005 email from Bob Kotanchik a boyhood friend of Johnny Oyler. Kotanchik wrote, “I met ‘Mr. Oyler’ and shook his hands which I remember as being very large, compared to other adult hands that I have shaken.”
3 “William B. Oyler Dies as Result of Auto Accident: Aged Man Struck by Car Driven by Paul Wagoner — Was in 86th Year,” Valley Times-Star (Newville, Pennsylvania), September 15, 1932: 1.
4 “Base Ball,” Franklin Repository (Chambersburg, Pennsylvania), July 10, 1900: 3.
5 Valley Spirit (Chambersburg), July 31, 1901: 8; The Sentinel (Carlisle, Pennsylvania), August 22, 1901: 3; “Has an Offer,” Star and Enterprise (Newville, Pennsylvania), October 30, 1901: 5.
6 “McGraw Is Pleased with Oyler,” Valley Times-Star, April 2, 1902: 3.
7 “Personal and Society Mention,” Valley Times-Star, September 18, 1902: 5.
8 “Sportographs” by George A. Barton, Minneapolis Tribune, May 30, 1940: 16.
9 William J. McNally, “More or Less Personal: A Salute to Baseball,” Minneapolis Tribune, April 17, 1942: 4.
10 Despite being identified with the middle name of Jackson, Oyler’s middle name was Paul.
11 “‘Andy’ Oyler Lost to Miller Team,” Minneapolis Journal, March 18, 1906, Sport Section, 2.
12 Telephone conversation with Fred Oyler, June 20, 2020.
13 “Oyler: Red Shortstop Promises to Return, But Will Not Play Baseball on Sunday,” Minneapolis Tribune, April 15, 1906: Sporting Section, 1.
14 “Two Reds Hurt in Bad Double Defeat: Oyler Hit in Head and Lies in Critical Condition at Hospital,” Minneapolis Tribune, Thursday, September 23, 1909: 10; “Andrew Oyler Hurt,” The Valley Times (Newville, Pennsylvania), September 30, 1909: 5.
15 Game stories in the Minneapolis Tribune from April 16 though May 13 were used. Weekly stats published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press verify the 14 games and show him with four singles and a .111 batting average.
16 “Notes of the Game,” Minneapolis Tribune, May 15, 1910: 1, Sports.
17 “Baseball Dope” by Fred R. Coburn, Minneapolis Tribune, May 26, 1910: 15.
18 “Oyler Home from Fishing Trip,” Minneapolis Tribune, June 5, 1910: 1, Sports.
19 “Andy Oyler Wants to Buy His Release from the Blues,” Minneapolis Tribune, February 12, 1911: 1, Sports; “Andy Oyler Will Report,” Minneapolis Tribune, February 19, 1911: 2, Sports.
20 Game stories from the Kansas City Star show him playing from April 10 through April 15.
21 “Baseball Player Becomes Benedict,” Harrisburg Telegraph, September 27, 1912: 2.
22 “Oyler Coaches Dickson [sic],” Pittsburg Press, April 28, 1914: 23.
23 “Dickinson Abandons Track and Baseball,” Carlisle (Pennsylvania) Evening Herald, May 16, 1917: 6.
24 The Sentinel, October 26, 1970: 6.
25 “Made a Home Run on a Bunt,” Buffalo Enquirer, April 20, 1911: 9. It’s possible that the story appeared elsewhere earlier, but this is the first account of it found.
26 1955 Topps card, number 114, of Lou Ortiz.
27 Bryson, Michael G., The Twenty-Four-Inch Home Run (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1990), 21-23.
28 Antiques Roadshow, aired on PBS, January 20, 2020.
29 Telephone conversations with Fred Oyler, May 5-6, 2020.
30 Telephone conversation with Fred Oyler, June 20, 2020.