This article was written by Bill Nowlin
Billy Bayne, a bricklayer’s son, started playing ball in the Pittsburgh area with the Aspinwall Independents in 1917 and the American Bridge Company team of the Steel League in 1918. He’d been born in Hoboken, Pennsylvania, on April 18, 1899. The town is now named Blawnox, and is situated about 10 miles up the Allegheny River from downtown Pittsburgh just past Aspinwall. He became a southpaw, a left-handed pitcher who appeared in 199 big-league games over nine seasons from 1919 through 1930, and continued pitching in organized ball through 1937, appearing in another 398 games in the minors (143-103, with earned run averages that are not always complete but largely unimpressive). In the majors, he held a 31-32 record and an undistinguished 4.84 earned run average.
His father Elmer was indeed a bricklayer. His mother was named Estella and William Lear Bayne was one of four children born to the couple. The Bayne family lived in the O’Hara Township of Allegheny County, six miles northeast of downtown Pittsburgh. Had Billy (newspapers of the day invariably referred to him by that nickname) not turned to baseball, he might well have joined his brother in steel-mill work – Frank Crane was a craneman. The boys had two sisters, Merna and Edna. After Elmer Bayne died, his wife married Joseph Alms and the children were raised in the Alms household.
For the past couple of decades, baseball encyclopedias have attributed the nickname “Beverly” to him, but no search of contemporaneous news stories turns up the nickname and Baynes grand-nephew Chuck Mellon says that no one in the family ever knew him by this name. Mellon adds, “As an active ballplayer, Billy was known by several “nicknames” throughout the league. His nicknames included, ‘Billy,’ ‘Lefty,’ and ‘Will.’ However, the family also had a nickname for him that he kept private and away from the media of the day. Family lore is that Billy’s uncle, Tom Bing, Sr. (Estelle’s brother-in-law), had said that when Billy was born he looked like a real ‘Binger.’ The name stuck, and ‘Binger’ is what he was always referred to by the family when we spoke of him – my father’s Uncle Binger.”1
Bayne completed high school at Aspinwall. The Tulsa Oilers were the first team in organized ball to take him on. He threw 231 innings in the Western League (Class A) in 1919, winning 18 games and losing 8. It was a strong enough start that the St. Louis Browns brought him up to the big leagues in September, and he debuted on September 20. It wasn’t a good start, the second game of the day’s doubleheader. St. Louis beat Philadelphia, 4-0, in the first game, but the Athletics took a 3-2 lead in the third inning of the nightcap and when it was Bayne’s time to bat in the fourth, he was taken out for a pinch-hitter. He’d singled the first time up, so he did leave with a 1.000 batting average, but had given up six hits and three runs and walked a batter. He bore the 7-2 loss.
In his only other appearance, on the last day of the season, he walked five. He let in two Cleveland runs in the first and two runs in the second, but then settled down and only allowed one more run the rest of the way, while his teammates hit well and often and won the game for him, 8-5. He was 1-1, with a 5.25 ERA.
For the next four seasons, “Lefty” Bayne was part of the Browns pitching staff. He was small of stature, standing 5-foot-9 and weighing 160. In his first full season Bayne was 5-6 with a 3.70 ERA. His two best games were on July 16 when he threw a no-hitter through six innings against the Yankees, winning it 5-2, and on September 23, a 3-0 shutout he administered to the Tigers in Detroit.
He was never anything other than below average in terms of run prevention. That 3.70 was his best earned run average. Entering the 1921 season Bayne pitched well in the preseason City Series against the Cardinals and manager Lee Fohl had “a feeling” that Bayne would “be a star southpaw.” 2 As it happens, his best won/loss percentage came in 1921, 11-5. He appeared in 47 games, mostly in relief (he started 14 games, the best of which was a 3-2 two-hitter at Chicago on August 31.) The Browns finished 17 ½ games out of first. Bayne’s 11 wins ranked him tied for third on the team, but his 4.72 ERA was below team average.
The best finish he saw with the team was in 1922, when everything came together for the Browns and St. Louis finished just one game behind the Yankees (plunging to 24 games behind the year after that). Bayne hadn’t risen to the occasion in ’22, though, winning four but losing five with a 4.56 ERA on a club which posted a team ERA of 3.38.
Bayne saw much less work in 1923, just 46 innings and only two starts. He was 2-2, and the Sporting News correspondent covering St. Louis baseball cited him as someone who had been “held on to long after they should have been discarded.” 3 Columnist John D. Sheridan wrote that Bayne “should have three seasons in the minor leagues. I have been told that [owner] Phil Ball intervened personally to keep Bayne with the Browns and out of the minor leagues. If Mr. Ball did this he made one grand and glorious blunder. Bayne can’t win in the American League, not because, so other players say, he lacks “stuff,” but because, so they say, he lacks confidence. The way to inspire Bayne with confidence is to put him where he can win right along.” 4
That’s just what transpired in 1924, though it took the Browns until after his August 7 appearance to make the move. Otherwise, it was more of the same (1-3 in 50 2/3 innings). The Browns had reverted to their middle-of-the-standings form, and Bayne had finished the year back with Tulsa. The Oilers were thrilled to get him, though they finished in third place. With the team a second time, he finished the Texas League season with a 9-2 record. Just a couple of weeks after being sent to Tulsa, he married Ellen Mary Anderson on August 24.
He split 1925 between Tulsa and Toledo, getting a lot of work but not particularly impressive work due to some arm problems he developed with the Oilers. Dropped to the Class B Greenville Spinners in the South Atlantic League in 1926, he won 15 but lost 12. Settling in with the Spinners in 1927, however, he had a very good year, 26-10 with a 2.67 earned run average. He was on a Toronto contract after the season, but unprotected and he was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the Rule 5 major-league draft that October 4. The New York World-Telegram suggested Cleveland took a chance on Bayne because of Wilcy Moore’s performance with the Yankees. Moore, a 30-year-old rookie, had won 19 games. Moore’s success, albeit for a great Yankees team, “served to open the eyes of big league scouts and owners to the possibilities that might repose in the persons of other veteran recruits,” the World-Telegram wrote. 5 There was no doubt that Bayne was seen for a secondary role.
This was the opportunity Bayne needed to get back to the big leagues, and he worked 108 2/3 innings in 1928. He didn’t have a lot to show for it, however, with an ERA of 5.13 and a 2-5 record. The Indians as a team, it should be noted, had a 4.47 ERA.
Bayne moved to Boston for the $7,500 waiver price in November 1928, but his 1929 ERA (6.72) went south, more than two runs worse than the team average on the last-place Red Sox. He appeared in one game for Boston in 1930, a bit of a lost-cause affair against the Yankees on April 26, before he was released unconditionally on April 30 to the minor leagues. He won 26 games with the Class A Chattanooga Lookouts, against 10 losses, in spite of a poor 5.02 ERA.
Bayne spent 1931 and 1932 with AA Kansas City, and 1933 and 1934 with Class A Memphis (after contractually moving to Chattanooga again and then to Knoxville during the offseason), but none of the four seasons stood out as anything other than serviceable years which kept him working during a deepening Depression. His best game bar none was the no-hitter he threw for the Memphis Chicks on May 24, 1933, against Birmingham. A second-inning error when the left-fielder dropped a fly ball was all that stood in the way of a perfect game. 6 Memphis won the Southern Association pennant, but lost to New Orleans in the best-of-five playoffs. Bayne won the second game, 3-1.
Bayne was lucky to be alive after a horrific incident that prematurely ended his 1934 season. He was pitching against Nashville when Phil Weintraub hit a liner right back to him. “Billy Bayne never had a chance. Before he could get his hand up, the drive hit him in the forehead,” Nashville Banner sports editor Fred Russell said. “It was a vicious drive. The ball struck Bayne between the eyes and bounced back into the stands. You may realize the full significance of it by noting the distance from the [pitcher’s] box to the stands.” He missed the rest of the season and all of 1935. 7
He tried out again with the Chicks in the spring of 1936, but there may have been a disagreement as to salary. He asked for, and was granted, his release and on March 21, the Southern Association’s Atlanta Crackers announced that he would be joining them at their spring training facility in Gulfport Mississippi. “Bayne may or may not be the pitcher the Crackers need,” sagely observed the Atlanta Constitution of March 22, 1936. 8 There was some fascination with him in the newspaper, and “Elaine” – a handwriting analyst – studied his “Billy Bayne” signature and concluded any number of things about him, among them great perseverance, tenaciousness, energy, resolution, love of personal freedom, a love of action, courage, force, “a well-rounded personality and a finely balanced brain,” and a splendid sense of humor. 9
There wasn’t a lot of time left in his playing days. It didn’t seem he was the pitcher the Crackers needed – but they did exceptionally well nonetheless, apparently only out of first place for one day all season long. 10 Bayne didn’t finish the season with Atlanta. He turned 37 that year and pitched for two teams: the Crackers (2-5) and the Williamsport Grays (2-3). To make room for Emil Leonard, the Crackers let Bayne go. His final season was with the Grays again in 1937. He won three and lost five and put up an unfortunately typical 5.09 ERA. He’d enjoyed his playing days. When he completed a player questionnaire for the Hall of Fame in 1963, he was asked, “If you had it all to do over, would you play professional baseball?” His answer was succinct: “With pleasure.”
At the time, he was enjoying his second marriage (in 1954) to Stella Louise Gibbins and working for the U.S. Army Transportation Materiel Command in St. Louis, where he described his job as “standardization of general supplies for cataloging.”
After a long illness, Bayne died in St. Louis on May 22, 1981.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed the online SABR Encyclopedia, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.
1 E-mail from Chuck Mellon on September 30, 2011.
2 Chicago Tribune, March 15, 1921 and The Sporting News, April 15, 1921
3 The Sporting News, October 11, 1923
4 The Sporting News, November 1, 1923
5 New York World-Telegram, February 17, 1928
6 Atlanta Constitution, May 25, 1933
7 Atlanta Constitution, April 27, 1936. He was officially with Wilkes-Barre in 1935.
8 Information regarding his release from Memphis appeared in the April 27 issue of the Constitution.
9 Atlanta Constitution, June 2, 1936
10 Atlanta Constitution, July 6, 1940