Around the turn of the 20th century, the emergence of strong college baseball programs in the East – and the success of those who had played college ball – prompted major-league owners to sign stars from those ranks and bring them directly to the top level. After a successful career as one of the top collegiate pitchers in the country at Georgetown University, Bob Blewett was signed by the New York Giants in 1902 and immediately brought to the majors. He had an unsuccessful five-game trial and followed that up with a dismal 8-22 won-loss record in two minor-league seasons.
Blewett’s lack of success is partly explained by being rushed to the major leagues before he was ready. He also likely felt pressure to duplicate the success of another college pitcher brought to New York not long before: Christy Mathewson. Later Blewett found more success in an administrative role in baseball. A practicing attorney, he served as president of the Northwestern and Pacific Coast International Leagues after retiring as an active player.
Robert Lawrence Blewett was born June 28, 1880, in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin to Edward Blewett, an attorney, and Margaret (Casey) Blewett. He grew up with an older brother named Edmond and a younger sister, Kate. Robert started out with local sandlot and amateur teams and briefly pitched for Beloit (Wisconsin) College.1 During the summer of 1899 he pitched for a semipro team in Webster, South Dakota before enrolling in law school at Georgetown University in Washington, D. C. that fall. He joined the Georgetown baseball team, where teammates included future major-leaguers Art Devlin and Doc White.
The 5-foot-11, 170-pound lefthander quickly became the ace hurler of the Georgetown staff and was considered one of the top collegiate pitchers in the East. In April 1901, his work was described as “admirable”2 as he dropped a 3-1 decision to the Washington Senators in an exhibition game. One of Blewett’s more memorable games was a 6-2 win over Princeton in March 1902, the first win for Georgetown over their rivals in two years.3 During the summers he returned to South Dakota, where he was joined by Georgetown teammates Lew Drill and Charles Moran along with brothers Art and Homer Hillebrand, star players at Princeton.
By the spring of 1902 one publication noted Blewett’s “remarkable speed and a curve ball which has been a puzzle.” The article called him “the greatest pitcher in the college baseball world.”4 He intended to join his father’s law practice back in Fond du Lac after graduation in June.5 However, his pitching at Georgetown that spring attracted the attention of at least three major-league teams.6 In early June, Horace Fogel, manager of the New York Giants, signed Blewett to a contract “at a larger salary than has ever been paid to a collegian, Blewett being permitted to name his own terms.”7 A few days later, before reporting to the Giants, Blewett received his Bachelor of Laws degree.
Blewett made his major-league debut on June 17 in the second game of a doubleheader against the Beaneaters at Boston’s South End Grounds. His baptism could hardly have gone worse. He committed two errors and was pummeled for 17 hits in eight innings and absorbed an ugly 13-2 loss. Blewett fared much better in his next outing, pitching four innings of shutout ball, allowing just one hit in relief of Luther “Dummy” Taylor in an 8-1 loss to the Brooklyn Superbas on June 23.
His next appearance was a start against the Phillies on June 28. Blewett was on track for his first major-league win when his Giant teammates staked him to a big lead with five second-inning runs. However, Blewett surrendered four runs in the bottom of the inning and was lifted for pinch-hitter Hal O’Hagan in the top of the third inning. In the bottom of the inning O’Hagan took Jack Dunn’s place in right field and Dunn came in to pitch. Blewett did not figure in the decision, as Dunn was charged with the loss in an eventual 12-inning 9-8 New York setback. Incidentally, the game was the first in which Christy Mathewson played a defensive position other than pitcher, filling in at first base.
The Giants took on the Cardinals in the first game of a July 4 doubleheader in St. Louis. New York starter Tully Sparks was knocked out of the box, allowing four runs in the first two innings, and Blewett was called in to replace him. He pitched well, allowing three runs, only two of them earned, over six innings, but the Giants could not overcome the early deficit, and dropped the game 7-5. Blewett’s next and final big-league appearance came on July 14 against the Reds in Cincinnati; he dropped a 6-0 decision. The following day the Giants released him. In five games with the Giants, three of them starts, Blewett had a record of no wins and two losses. He surrendered 39 hits and 15 earned runs in 28 innings pitched for an ERA of 4.82. He struck out eight and walked seven.
Although his brief five-game trial was not particularly successful, he was still considered a bright prospect. The New York World wrote, “Bob Blewett will find no great difficulty in making good in the National league. He is certainly as clever and heady a pitcher as ever broke from the amateur to professional ranks.”8 However, Blewett’s departure from New York coincided with the arrival of John McGraw, who brought several stars from his former team, the Baltimore Orioles. Blewett’s release stemmed in part from being “crowded out” by the new players brought in by McGraw.9 He was part of a general housecleaning by McGraw, who dispensed with six other players in addition to Blewett upon joining the Giants as part of his “unlimited authority to improve the team.”10
After his release, Blewett played briefly with both Montreal and Toronto of the Class A Eastern League, compiling a 1-7 combined won-loss record. That off-season he joined a Washington D.C. law firm and at that point it appeared that Blewett’s baseball career might be over. It was reported in January 1903 that his former Georgetown teammate Lew Drill had opened a law practice in Seattle, Washington, and that Blewett was expected to join him as a partner that summer.12
However, just a month later, Blewett was given another opportunity when he was signed by Charles Ebbets of Brooklyn and invited to spring training.13 Citing the need for more experience, manager Ned Hanlon released him before the season. Likely prompted by the proximity to Drill’s Seattle law office, Blewett then relocated to the other side of the country and accepted terms with the Tacoma (Washington) Tigers of the Pacific National League.14
In addition to Tacoma, Blewett also played for Olympia of the Southwest Washington League and the Seattle Siwashes of the independent Pacific Coast League in 1903. After brief stints with both Seattle and Boise, Idaho early in 1904, Blewett had “had enough of baseball.” He retired in June and returned to his law practice in Seattle.15
Years later, another explanation was suggested as to why Blewett’s career, despite his talents, was so brief and unsuccessful. Some might recall modern left-handed pitcher Jon Lester’s inexplicable inability to throw to first base. It seems Blewett was afflicted with the same issue. It all started back in college during a game against Yale. Blewett fielded a bunt and while hurrying his throw to first, threw wildly, costing his team the game. Once he joined the professional ranks opposing batters learned of this and began to bunt on him, often resulting in a Blewett throwing error. “After that, his decline was swift and sure, for the more he thought about it the worse his aim became.”16
A few years after leaving baseball Blewett met Ernestine White and they married on October 22, 1908, in Seattle. She achieved some prominence of her own, being elected senator to represent the American Women’s League of the state of Washington at the national congress of the American Women’s Republic.17 The couple was still married at the time of the 1920 US Census but by 1930 Bob listed his marital status as single and widowed by 1940. No divorce record could be found, but Ernestine had the last name Imhoff when she died in 1930, so she may have remarried. The couple had no children.
The Northwestern League was established in 1905 with two teams from the state of Washington, Everett and Bellingham, and two from British Columbia, Victoria and Vancouver. If nothing else, some of the league members had creative nicknames; the Everett franchise was known as the Smokestackers, and the Vancouver entry had the moniker, Horse Doctors. The league was in operation until 1917, when it was renamed the Pacific Coast International League. Its brief history was marked by instability and numerous franchise shifts, additions, and subtractions.
During his time in Seattle Blewett had become well acquainted with Dan Dugdale, owner of the Seattle franchise in the Northwestern League. In 1911 the league, by then a six-team circuit, was looking for a new president; Dugdale put Blewett’s name forward as a candidate.18 He had the support of Seattle and Tacoma but Walter McCredie of Portland backed Fielder Jones, former manager of the Chicago White Sox. Vancouver, Victoria, and Spokane fell in line behind McCredie’s candidate and Jones was elected to the post.19
Jones served as league president for nearly three years, but in August 1914 he resigned to manage the St. Louis Federals. Edward “Shorty” Hughes, sporting editor of the Seattle Times, was chosen to replace him.20 Hughes resigned that off-season and at the league’s annual meeting that December directors elected Blewett as president.21 One of his earliest successes was convincing the National Association to increase the salary limit from the standard $2,000 per month for Class B leagues to $2500, which allowed teams to attract and retain better players.22 Blewett also convinced league directors to increase the budget for umpire salaries, enabling the league to attract more competent officials. The following year he was re-elected to a three-year term.23
However, during his tenure, Blewett had to negotiate several challenges. To replace failed franchises and to develop the league, teams from Butte and Great Falls, Montana were admitted in 1916. This decision angered teams in the Pacific Northwest because it meant increased travel distance and expense and the need for an open date in the schedule (no Monday games) to allow for travel. That season he also had to fine and suspend Butte manager Joe “ Iron Man” Joe McGinnity. Things got so heated at the league’s year-end meeting that Blewett offered his resignation (which was not accepted) and Dugdale threatened to remove his Seattle team from the league.
America’s impending entrance into World War I created more problems for the league and for President Blewett. With so many young men enlisting in the armed services, many minor leagues did not complete their 1917 schedules and the Northwestern League ceased play on July 15. At the time the National Commission canceled all player contracts; later that fall, at the minor-league meetings in Louisville, Blewett was informed that all Northwestern League players were declared free agents.24 Blewett took a positive view of this development because he thought that the signing of all new players would increase fan interest.
The league reorganized under the name Pacific Coast International League for 1918 and the return of the Portland franchise had Blewett “oozing optimism” for the upcoming season.25 Yet despite Blewett’s hopes, the war was too big an obstacle to overcome – the season was doomed from the start. President Woodrow Wilson issued his “Work or Fight” order in May, meaning that more players were either enlisting or taking defense-related jobs.26 In addition, the independent shipbuilding baseball leagues that sprung up around Seattle siphoned attendance from league ballparks. Spokane and Tacoma disbanded on May 26 and the league limped along for another six weeks before finally ending play on July 7. At the time only four minor leagues remained in operation: the International, Pacific Coast, Eastern, and American Association, with the International League the only circuit to complete the 1918 season.
Now out of baseball, Blewett did his part for the war effort by taking a job at the Ames Shipbuilding plant in Seattle. While working there he was involved in an amusing incident. Some years earlier, in his role as league president, Blewitt fined Vancouver catcher Harry Cheek $25 for some infraction. Blewett now found himself working at the same shipyard as Cheek but didn’t remember him. Cheek oversaw a tool room, and at the end of each shift workers, including Blewett, had to check in their tools with him. Even though all the tools were returned, Cheek recorded that Blewett had lost tools over several days in a row and deducted the amount of the loss in his next paycheck. When Blewett complained, Cheek laughed and said, “Remember that $25 you fined me in Vancouver?” Then Cheek turned and walked away.27
After the war, Blewett returned to his law practice in Seattle, and he worked as an attorney until his retirement. He died March 17, 1959, at the age of 77 at the Northern State Hospital in Sedro-Woolley, Washington, a small town north of Seattle. Prior to his admission to the hospital Blewett had been living at the St. Vincent’s Home for the Aged in Seattle. His death certificate listed pneumonia, secondary to generalized and cerebral arteriosclerosis, as the cause of death. He was buried at Union Cemetery in Sedro-Woolley.
This biography was reviewed by Darren Gibson and Rory Costello and checked for accuracy by SABR’s fact-checking team.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics from Blewett’s playing career were taken from Baseball-Reference.com and genealogical and family history was obtained from Ancestry.com. The author also used information from clippings in Blewett’s file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
1 “Tales Tersely Told,” Portage (Wisconsin) Daily Democrat, August 8, 1899:3.
2 “Senators Play Fast ball,” Washington (D.C.) Times, April 23, 1901: 3.
3 “Princeton Goes Down in Defeat,” Washington Times, March 30, 19032: 12.
4 “Blewett Joins New York,” Boston Globe, June 8, 1902: 4.
5 At the time law students were able to receive their diploma after three years of study.
6 In addition to the New York Giants, with whom he eventually signed, Blewett also reportedly had offers from Boston and Philadelphia (see “Blewett Joins New York”).
7 “He Gets Big Money,” Bradford (Ontario, Canada) Expositor, June 27, 1902: 9.
8 “Double Plays,” Boston Herald, July 15, 1902:4
9 “Robert J. Blewett”, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 12, 1903: 49.
10 Clifford Blau, “John McGraw Comes to New York,” Baseball Research Journal, Society for American Baseball Research (2003): 7-8. The other six players released included three pitchers (John Burke, Tully Sparks, and Roy Evans), as well as position players George Yeager, Hal O’Hagan, and Heinie Wagner.
11 Seattle Daily Times, February 10, 1907: 40.
12 Apache (Oklahoma) World, January 22, 1903 :6.
13 “Brooklyn Signs Blewett,” Buffalo (New York) Courier, February 20, 1903: 11.
14 “Blewett’s Long Trip,” Tacoma (Washington) Daily Ledger, May 29, 1903: 2.
15 “Bob Blewett Leaves Boise,” Spokane (Washington) Chronicle, June 2, 1904: 5.
16 “Bobby Blewett Missed Being Big Leaguer Because of Mean Bunters,” Spokane (Washington) Spokesman-Review, December 6, 1914: 17.
17 “Mrs. Blewett, Senator,” Seattle Daily Times, October 5, 1911: 11.
18 “Blewett for N. W. President,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, December 6, 1911: 17.
19 “Fielder Jones is League President,” Portland Oregonian, December 21, 1911: 11.
20 “Shorty Hughes Becomes President of N. W. League,” Tacoma (Washington) Times, August 20, 1914: 2.
21 “Bobby Blewett New N. W. League President,” Tacoma (Washington) Daily Ledger, December 14, 1914: 24.
22 “The Northwestern League,” Sporting Life, January 1, 1916: 3.
23 “Pilot For Three Years,” Tacoma Daily Ledger, December 19, 1915: 24.
24 “All Northwest Stars Are Free Agents But 1918 Outlook Is Good,” Tacoma Daily Ledger, November 25, 1917: 17.
25 “Prexy Blewett Is Oozing Optimism,” Portland Oregonian, April 28, 1918: 30.
26 “Organized Ball Not to Stand in Road of Victory, Says Blewett,” Seattle Daily Times, May 23, 1918: 4.
27 “Shipping Board Exonerates Players Men Are Working Hard, Says Report,” Seattle Daily Times, September 8, 1918: 22.