This article was written by Bill Nowlin
Catcher Bill Moore played in five games near the end of the 1926 Boston Red Sox season and 44 games in 1927. It was an era of last-place finishes for the Red Sox. They were 46-107 in 1925 and 51-103 in 1926. Last-place finishes were nothing new for Bill Moore.
Not a lot is known about Moore. His son William Jr. completed a form for the Hall of Fame in 1975, three years after his father had died, and wasn’t even sure of the year his father had first played pro ball, or which year had been his last. That we know now – he began in the Southwestern League with the 1923 Independence (Kansas) Producers. The team finished last that year in the eight-team Class C league, though Moore hit .278 over the course of 241 at-bats in 78 games. He was the only one of the team to make the majors.
In 1924 Moore caught for the Topeka Senators, also a Class C team, in the Western Association. He seems to have seen duty in only 18 games, though this is perhaps a function of incomplete records. He hit .245 in the limited action. Topeka finished in seventh place, 50½ games out of first. Moore was back with the Independence Producers in 1925, though in what may have seemed like a trade of franchises, the Producers had moved to the Western Association, now a six-team league, while Topeka had gone over to the Southwestern League. The league didn’t make a difference in where the Producers finished in the standings; they placed last again.
On the advice of Boston Red Sox scout Steve O’Rourke, the American League team had purchased Moore’s contract in July 1925.i He played out the rest of the season with Independence, hitting .258 with nine home runs.
It’s hard to know what to make of an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on March 14, 1926. The article claimed that Moore had been the “iron man” of the Independence team for the past three seasons (perhaps conflating his year at Topeka with the two seasons at Independence that bracketed his time with Topeka) and that he’d been the only catcher on the team for all three years, working every single game. Available statistics show him with only the 18 games in 1924, but perhaps these records are indeed incomplete.
One thing is certain: This Bill Moore was not the Bill Moore who was the pitcher with the ERA of infinity; William Christopher Moore had appeared in one game for the Detroit Tigers the year before (1925), faced three batters, walked them all, and never returned to the big leagues.
Our subject is William Henry “Willie” Moore, a 5-foot-11, 170-pounder who batted left and threw right-handed. His major-league debut was September 7, 1926. He was 24 at the time, having been born in Kansas City, Missouri, on December 12, 1901. He’d attended the Horace Mann School there for seven years but had no further education, though the Los Angeles Times account has him starring in basketball and football at an unnamed college.ii We’ve been unable to trace his family background, and other than his son describing him as of Irish descent, we don’t know about his parents or circumstances growing up, or what he did before baseball.
Moore was on the Boston roster early in 1926 and opened the season with the Red Sox. He was with them for the first three weeks of the season, though he saw no action. He was optioned to the Portland Eskimos of the New England League on May 5 and played most of the year for Portland, going 2-for-3 in the home opener, the first in the team’s brief two-year history. (An interested spectator was Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, present for the launch of the Portland team.)
It was Class B baseball, a step up for Moore. And Portland finished in seventh place, a half-game ahead of the Nashua Millionaires, barely escaping last place. After the New England League season concluded, Bill Moore had his first days in the majors. He had hit .296 in 203 at-bats, and that earned him a September call-up back to Boston. He was 1-for-4 in his first game, on September 7 against the New York Yankees. He appeared in five games, collecting three singles in 18 at-bats (.167), scoring two runs, but not driving in any. Unsurprisingly, given that he played in only five games and that the Red Sox won only 30 percent of their games, each of Moore’s five games was a loss. The Red Sox, under manager Lee Fohl, finished last once again.
Moore rejoined the Red Sox for 1927 spring training in New Orleans, playing for manager Bill Carrigan, back for his second stint as manager for the Red Sox after ten years away from the game. Carrigan, a former catcher, used Grover Hartley as his primary catcher in 1927 but Moore was used in 44 games. He collected four RBIs while batting .217.
The most significant moment of Moore’s major-league career came in front of a huge crowd at Fenway Park on September 5, 1927. Even though the Red Sox were in last place, 49 games behind the first-place New York Yankees (who held a 17-game lead at the time over second-place Philadelphia, more people crammed into the park than had been to a Boston baseball game for at least a dozen years. Some 36,000 fans crammed into the park, and a reported 15,000 or more couldn’t get in for the Labor Day doubleheader against the Yankees.iii Those who secured a spot inside, either in a seat or standing (even deep in the outfield), saw a first game that was tied 8-8 after nine innings. The teams played on, with neither team now able to score. Finally, the Yankees scored three times in the top of the 17th inning, and looked to have the game wrapped up – but the Red Sox battled back, with Bill Moore pinch-hitting and doubling in the third and tying run for Boston in the bottom of the 17th. The Red Sox scored again in the 18th and got the win, with Moore catching reliever Hal Wiltse (Red Sox starter Red Ruffing had left the game after 15 innings). The Yankees won the second game, 5-0, in five innings before darkness came. Wiltse pitched the second game, thus getting a win and a loss on the same day; Moore caught the second game, and was 0-for-2 at the plate.
One of Bill’s most disappointing games was the September 26 game against the visiting Washington Senators, the second game of a doubleheader. The Red Sox lost 2-1, committing ten errors in the game (two of them by Moore.) He’d been hitting quite well, batting .306 through the game on September 21 – but then failed to get a hit in what proved to be his final seven games in the major leagues, going 0-for-25 and seeing his average plunge to .217.
On December 7 Moore was part of a large deal that saw the Red Sox send four players to the Mobile Bears and get three back (Ed Morris, Merle Settlemire, and Danny Williams.) Joining Moore on the move to Mobile were Wally Shaner, Elmer Eggert, and pitcher Tony Welzer.
Mobile was home for both 1928 and 1929. In his first season he hit .306 in 356 at-bats in Southern Association play. The Bears used him again in 1929, though his average dropped to .258, still a solid average for a catcher in the era. Mobile finished sixth in the eight-team league in 1928; the Bears were seventh in 1929.
The Nashville Vols had Moore working for them during spring training in April 1930, and he played part of the season for Nashville and part for the Little Rock Travelers, batting only .187 in 50 games. The fifth-place finish for Little Rock was the highest in the standings Moore ever saw. In 1931 he played for the Mobile Marines, and then for the Knoxville Smokies after the Marines moved the franchise to Knoxville on July 22, ending his career in Organized Baseball with a .242 season in 47 games.
After baseball, Moore continued to live in Kansas City. He married Clara A. Hoffman in April 1936. He had taken up work with the Kansas City Fire Department, becoming a captain with the department before he retired after 32 years of service in 1966. He worked at least part-time as a parking-lot attendant in the year before his death, which came of a heart attack at the age of 70, in Kansas City, on May 24, 1972.iv He was survived by his son, William Jr., who also worked for the fire department; two daughters; and two sisters. He is buried in the city’s Calvary Cemetery.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Moore’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com. Thanks as well to Dr. John Horner of the Kansas City Public Library.
i Boston Globe, July 26, 1925
ii Los Angeles Times, March 14, 1926
iii New York Times, September 6, 1927
iv City directory for Kansas City, 1971, and obituary from the Kansas City Times May 25, 1972