Bob Lawrence

This article was written by Larry DeFillipo

In his one and only year of professional baseball, Bob Lawrence pitched for a pair of minor-league teams before hurling one and only one inning for the 1924 Chicago White Sox. After spending a month back in the minors, Lawrence finished the year playing semipro ball in Brooklyn. He declined to sign a White Sox contract offered for the following season, content with a job he already had. ­­

As he pursued what became a lifelong career in the tobacco industry, Lawrence played semipro baseball in the New York City area for the next half-dozen years. Fading from public view once his playing days were over, Lawrence passed away at the age of 83.

Robert Andrew Lawrence was born on December 14, 1899, in Brooklyn, New York to Samuel and Margaret Lawrence, two native New Yorkers. Samuel was listed as working at a printing press in the 1910 census and as a printer for a magazine company in the 1920 census.1 Robert was the family’s second child, after an older sister, Gertrude. Younger siblings Albert and Minette later joined the fami­ly. Lawrence attended Bushwick High School2 but didn’t play for the school’s baseball team.3

By 1918, young Robert had realized the dream of many young and upwardly mobile Brooklynites: a job in “the City,” Manhattan. He worked on Fifth Avenue, four blocks south of the iconic Flatiron Building, for the American Tobacco Company.4 In control of virtually the entire American cigarette market in the early 20th century,5 American Tobacco’s offices were located in the midst of Manhattan’s “go-to shopping mecca.”6 Within a short walk were the original stores of Lord & Taylor, Arnold Constable, R. H. Macy (which had relocated north to Herald Square in 1902), B. Altman & Co., and Siegel-Cooper.

As Lawrence’s career got underway, World War I was winding down but far from over. On September 12, 1918, the day that General John Pershing’s American Expeditionary Forces began their first major offensive operation in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, Lawrence submitted his draft registration card.7 Fortunately for Lawrence and men of military age the world over, an Armistice ending the war was signed fewer than two months after he’d registered.

Years later, when completing the Baseball Hall of Fame questionnaire for former ballplayers, he indicated that he served in the military. However, it’s unclear when he served.

In the spring of 1919, Lawrence began playing for a Brooklyn semipro baseball team, the Erie Athletic Association. He pitched, also playing first base and in the outfield. In the first game where Lawrence’s name appeared in a newspaper box score, he was the hitting star,8 and fanned 14 in another.9 The following year, Lawrence’s cousin, Joe Lawrence, took over as club manager and installed Bobby (or Robby, as he was also then being called), as the team’s primary starting pitcher.10 According to the 1920 census, he was still employed in the tobacco business, as a clerk, while continuing to live at home with his parents and his siblings, Albert (age 13), and Minette (age 9).11 In 1921, Lawrence once again pitched for Erie A. A., identified as Robbie in at least one newspaper story.12 (Newspaper accounts of his baseball exploits variously referred to Lawrence as Rob, Robby, Robbie, Bobby, or Bob. Yet when asked his nickname on a Hall of Fame ballplayer questionnaire years later, he said Larry.13)

During baseball offseasons, Lawrence was drawing notice as a basketball player. In one December 1920 contest for a team in the Industrial League of New York, he earned the game’s first assist and led all scorers with 18 in a blowout win.14 The following year, Charles Segar of the Brooklyn Citizen noted how Lawrence’s southpaw skills on the diamond had benefited his hardwood game. “Very few left-handers can show the class of this bird.” Soon after, he joined Eddie Wallace’s basketball All-Stars, who hosted games at the Brooklyn Labor Lyceum, a popular meeting place in the early 20th century.15 For the 1922-23 season, Lawrence and several of his All-Star teammates formed another team, the Lyceum Quintet.16

Lawrence continued to play semipro baseball in the metropolitan New York area in 1922 and 1923. In August 1922, Lawrence fanned 13 in one game for Erie A. A.; later that month, he played shortstop for another semipro team, the Klebs, hitting a grand slam in a come-from-behind victory.17 Erie finished the 1922 season with a record of 27–9–1, one of the best of any “traveling team” in the city.18 Lawrence, the team’s ace, fanned 12 in their last reported game of that season.19

The 1924 season began as Lawrence’s fifth with Erie A. A. He was scheduled to pitch in the club’s season opener on April 1320 but instead reported to manager Tom Downey and the Wilkes-Barre Barons of the Class B New York-Pennsylvania (NYP) League. 21 Lawrence had been assigned to the Barons after signing a contract with Brooklyn Robins scout Larry Sutton.

Lawrence appeared in three regular season games for Wilkes-Barre, allowing seven runs in 7⅔ innings, with a loss in his only start.22 Playing shortstop in each of those outings was John Cavanaugh, who five years earlier had become the first player born in the 1900s to appear in a major-league game.23

In late May, with the team 5–11 and struggling to stay out of last place, the club’s owners fired Downey. His replacement released Lawrence and several other “imported men,” intending to replace them with “local boys.”24

Within a month, Lawrence caught on with the Montreal Royals of the Class B Quebec-Ontario-Vermont League. “Radiating confidence,” he earned a complete game victory over the Outremont Canadiens in a holiday debut, allowing one unearned run and “handcuffing Canadien batsmen with a baffling repertoire of shoots and benders, fast ones and slow ones.”25 After Lawrence had compiled a 3–2 record, with 20 runs allowed in four complete games and two relief outings (totaling 40-plus innings), the Robins sold him to the Chicago White Sox.26

Lawrence joined a White Sox team during a 20-game road trip. The team had played .500 ball through July 18 and was sitting in fourth place. Johnny Evers was the team’s first-year skipper, after having a storied playing career and brief managerial stints with the Cubs. Looking to challenge the front-running New York Yankees, owner Charles Comiskey had recently been overturning the back end of his pitching corps. In July he brought on several unproven pitchers to shore up the starting rotation, anchored by Sloppy Thurston, headed for 20 wins in his second season; young Ted Lyons, in his first full season; and longtime ace Red Faber, by then past his prime. Soon after joining the team in Philadelphia, Lawrence became the fourth of seven pitchers to make their major-league debut with the 1924 White Sox.27

Lawrence appeared in the second game of a July 19 doubleheader against the Athletics at Shibe Park. Down 7–4 going into the bottom of the eighth inning, Evers inserted Lawrence in place of righty Dixie Leverett, after he’d worked five innings in relief of starter Sarge Connally.28 Lawrence walked leadoff hitter Harry Riconda, who advanced to third on Cy Perkins’ one-out groundout. The Athletics starting pitcher Dennis Burns then singled to right field to drive in Riconda, for the first RBI of his career. Lawrence, identified as R. A. in the Chicago Tribune game summary, struck out Jimmy Dykes to end the inning.29 The White Sox failed to score in the ninth, losing by a final score of 8–4. A week later, Lawrence was back in Montreal, sent back for seasoning according to the local press.30

His reunion with the Quebecois was not a happy one. In his first game back, he was “given a terrible trouncing,” allowing 14 runs and 19 hits in a complete-game loss to the Ottawa-Hull Senators.31 “He should have been dragged out, feet first, around the fourth inning,” asserted the Montreal Gazette. The mocking tone continued; outfielders were “given some respite” by the outfield fence that prevented them from having to chase drives hit out by the opposition. In his next start, Lawrence held the Quebec Bulldogs hitless through the first four innings on his way to a four-hit, 1–0 shutout.32

After allowing two runs in one-third of an inning on August 28,33 he returned to Brooklyn to finish the season how he began: playing semipro ball. The Brooklyn Standard Union announced Lawrence would return to pitch for the Erie Athletic Association, but instead he signed on with the Hackensack-Bogota (New Jersey) Indians.34 His outings included one in which he “tossed up a slow ball” that was hit into a tree for a two-run triple,35 and another where he plunked, three times, one of the runners who’d scored on the earlier triple.36

When The Sporting News published a list of players reserved for the 1925 season across the minor leagues, Lawrence was one of nine players included on Montreal’s list.37 After he received a contract for the season, the Brooklyn Standard-Union reported Lawrence “decided to stay at home and rejoin the semi-pro ranks . . . owing to having a good position.”38 It’s unknown what Lawrence’s specific job was at the time, but it was apparently more attractive to him than the uncertainty of a professional baseball career.

In 1925, Lawrence pitched for the Farmers, a semipro club that played its home games at Farmer’s Oval in Glendale, Queens.39 The following year he pitched for the Queens Baseball Club.40

On the day before Thanksgiving 1926, Lawrence married Frances J. Starcick, a New York-native of Polish descent.41 The couple had a daughter, Dolores J., 12 months later.

Lawrence returned to the Farmers semipro club for the 1927 and 1928 seasons. In July 1927 he was listed as a possible starter against the Harrisburg Colored Giants, headlined by future Hall of Famer Oscar Charleston.42 There’s no sign, however, that the game was ever played. With the Farmers, Lawrence pitched alongside Boston Braves southpaw Bunny Hearn (after the 1927 major-league season was over) and 19-year-old Jimmy Pattison (before Pattison joined the Brooklyn Robins in 1929).43

In 1929, Bobby Lawrence spent time as “a crack . . . hurler” for a “a fast semi-pro team” in Norwich, Connecticut.44

The last mention of Lawrence’s baseball career was in July 1931, when he was listed as a possible starter in a match with the Black Yankees of New York.45 Managed by future Hall of Famer John “Pop” Lloyd, the Black Yankees squad won the contest, with Lawrence on the sidelines.46

Beyond scattered newspaper accounts of his semipro baseball career, the U.S. census provides the only source of information about Lawrence after the 1924 season. The 1930 census lists Bob, Frances, and Dolores living in Ridgewood, Queens along with Bob’s brother, Albert.47 Lawrence is described as a clerk in a publishing house, perhaps with the firm that employed his father as a printer in 1920. By 1940, Lawrence was a wholesale tobacco salesman. His growing family had relocated to the Utopia neighborhood in eastern Queens and added a son, Robert Jr., born in 1932.48 In 1950, Lawrence was still working as a salesman, his employer the same as he’d listed on his World War I military registration card 32 years earlier: American Tobacco.49 The Lawrence household included his married but separated daughter, then named Dolores Christenson, and her infant daughter, Cheryl.

According to his daughter, Dolores Thomas, remarried, Lawrence died on November 6, 1983, in Jamaica Hospital, Jamaica, New York.50 No obituary announced the passing of this one-time major leaguer who took a pass on continuing to pursue one dream for another he realized.51

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Howard Rosenberg and fact-checked by Dan Schoenholz.

 

Sources

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

 

Notes

1 1910 U.S. census, Kings County, New York, Brooklyn ward 28, sheet 11-A, Family 257; 1920 U.S. census, Kings County, New York, Sheet 3-B, Family 76.

2 Ballplayer questionnaire.

3 Based on the author’s review of Bushwick HS baseball game box scores from 1915 through 1919, published in the Brooklyn Eagle, Brooklyn Citizen, Brooklyn Times, Brooklyn Standard-Union, and (Brooklyn) Chat.

4 Robert A. Lawrence military registration card, dated September 12, 1918.

5 “American Tobacco Company,” Britannica website, https://www.britannica.com/topic/American-Tobacco-Company, accessed April 27, 2022.

6 The 28-block shopping district has since been called the Ladies’ Mile. “Ladies’ Mile Marks 25 Years as Historic District,” Flatiron 23rd Street Partnership website, https://www.flatirondistrict.nyc/discover-flatiron/flatiron-history/15, accessed April 27, 2022.

7 Robert A. Lawrence military registration card.

8 “Eries Pound Their Way to Easy Victory,” Brooklyn Citizen, May 8, 1919: 4.

9 “Eries Win in First; Ridgewood Takes Final,” Brooklyn Standard-Union, June 16, 1919: 10.

10 See for example, “Eries Defeat St. Mary’s; Lose to Lincoln Nine,” Brooklyn Times, September 9, 1920: 7; “Rockville Centre’s Winning Streak Ended by Erie,” Brooklyn Union-Standard, September 23, 1920: 9.

11 1920 U.S. census.

12 “Eries vs. Ozone Park,” Brooklyn Union, September 28, 1921: 12.

13 Ballplayer questionnaire from Robert Lawrence Hall of Fame file.

14 National A.C. Wins an Easy Game, 61-26,” Brooklyn Union, December 8, 1920: 16.

15 The Lyceum was a favorite meeting place for New York area socialists. Amy Plitt, “See where the labor movement took shape in New York City,” Curbed New York, September 2, 2016, https://ny.curbed.com/maps/labor-day-nyc-historic-sites, accessed April 27, 2022.

16 “Basketball News,” Brooklyn Standard-Union, January 12, 1923: 21.

17 “Great Twirling of Lawrence Brings Victory to Eries,” Brooklyn Union, August 14, 1922: 12; “Three Runs in Ninth Win for Park A.C.,” Brooklyn Union, August 30, 1922: 9.

18 “Erie A.A. Seeks Baseball Games,” Paterson (New Jersey) Morning Call, April 4, 1923: 17.

19 “Erie Beat Hicksville on Single by Coxie,” Brooklyn Union, September 17, 1923: 13.

20 “Eries Play Flatbush B.B.C.,” Brooklyn Union, April 12, 1924: 9.

21 “Barons To Take the Field To-day,” Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) Record, April 16, 1924: 27.

22 Statistics are based on author’s review of Wilkes-Barre box scores and game summaries published in the Wilkes-Barre Record and the Harrisburg Telegraph.

23 Larry DeFillipo, “Point Men,” National Pastime, 2005: 119.

24 “Baron Club Owners Oust Manager Downey,” Wilkes-Barre Record, May 30, 1924: 17.

25 June 24 was St. Jean Baptiste Day, a local Quebec holiday. “Royals Win Twice from Canadiens,” Montreal Gazette, June 25, 1924: 16; “Holidays and Observances in Canada in 2022,” timeanddate website, https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/canada/, accessed April 29, 2022.

26 Statistics are based on author’s review of Montreal box scores, line scores, and game summaries published in the Montreal Gazette. The Robins reportedly received $5,000 and a player to be named later. However, the many errors in the Brooklyn Standard-Union story reporting that number (incorrectly listing Lawrence as a right-hander, Quebec as the team from which he was purchased, and his having tossed two shutouts in two starts versus actually having two games with no earned runs out of four starts) call into question the accuracy of that figure. “Mayler and Brown Gave Royals Two,” Montreal Gazette, July 16, 1924: 14; “White Sox Sign Bobby Lawrence, ex-Brooklyn Semi-Pro Pitcher,” Brooklyn Standard-Union, July 22, 1924: 12.

27 To that point of the season, no team had debuted more pitchers than the White Sox had.

28 A spot starter prior to late June, Connally’s two-plus inning stint in this game may have enabled him to pitch a 14-inning complete game in his next start, a loss to the Yankees on July 26.

29 Irving Vaughn, “White Sox Get Even Break in Pair with Macks,” Chicago Tribune, July 20, 1924: 21.

30 “Manlove in Demand,” Montreal Gazette, August 15, 1924: 14.

31 “Canadiens Scored Double Over Aces,” Montreal Gazette, July 28, 1924: 18.

32 “Air Tight Pitching by Lawrence, Blanks the Quebec Gang, 1-0,” Montreal Daily Star, August 8, 1924: 19.

33 “Quebec Gave Royals Sound Trouncing,” Montreal Gazette, August 29, 1924: 14.

34 “Milford Red Sox to Meet Eries,” Brooklyn Standard-Union, September 4, 1924: 13; “No Action is Taken by Baseball League to Decide Protest,” Bergen (New Jersey) Evening Record, September 5, 1924: 12.

35 “Hillsdale Downs Indians by Late Inning Rallies; Tommy Tilson Saves Game,” Bergen Evening Record, September 8, 1924. 10.

36 The batter’s last name was Ott. It’s unlikely that he was related to the young Louisianan who joined the New York Giants two years later, future Hall of Famer Mel Ott. “Tommy Tilson Outpitches Bob Lawrence at Oritani and Hillsdale Nine Wins,” Bergen Evening Record, September 15, 1924: 10.

37 “Twenty-Five Minor Leagues List Reserve Players for Next Year,” The Sporting News, November 13, 1924: 6.

38 “Bobby Lawrence Signs with the Farmers,” Brooklyn Standard-Union, March 22, 1925: 23.

39 “Bobby Lawrence to Pitch for Farmers This Year,” Brooklyn Eagle, March 29, 1925: 44.

40 “Queens Defeat Franklin Square,” Brooklyn Standard-Union, May 9, 1926: 17.

41 Ballplayer questionnaire; 1930 U.S. census, Ridgewood, Queens, New York, Enumeration district 41-618, Supervisor’s district 35, Sheet 13-B, Family 292.

42 “Farmers to Meet Harrisburg Today,” New York Daily News, July 17, 1927: 76.

43 “Semi-Pro Series Under Way Today,” Brooklyn Times, October 23, 1927: 129; “Farmers Engage Corona Club Nine,” Brooklyn Times, May 10, 1928: 16.

44 Bergen Evening Record, June 21, 1929: 32.

45 Also known as the New York All-Stars and Harlem Stars, the team had financial backing from New York Yankees management. “Black Yankees at Farmer Oval,” Brooklyn Times, July 9, 1931: 39; Thomas Kern, John Henry “Pop” Lloyd biography, /bioproj/person/pop-lloyd/

46 “Farmers Beaten by Black Yankees,” Brooklyn Times, July 12, 1931: 80.

47 1930 U.S. census.

48 1940 U.S. census, Queens County, New York, Enumeration district 41-996B, Supervisor’s district 45, Page 4B, Family 86.

49 1950 U.S. census, Queens County, New York, Enumeration district 41-1446, Sheet 72.

50 Index card in Robert Lawrence Hall of Fame file.

51 Lawrence’s decision to forego playing professional baseball after playing a single major-league game was not uncommon for the time. Of the 12 ballplayers who debuted in a 1924 major-league game and never played in another, four never played professional baseball past that season: Pat Burke, Bub Kuhn, Joe Green, and Lawrence. How many did so of their own choice versus injury or other circumstance is unclear. At the other end of the spectrum, two players spent another 10 years in professional baseball after getting their cup of coffee in 1924: Paul Fitzke and Buckshot May, who was born the day before Lawrence was.

Full Name

Robert Andrew Lawrence

Born

December 14, 1899 at Brooklyn, NY (USA)

Died

November 6, 1983 at Jamaica, NY (USA)

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