Right-handed pitcher Bob Spade had one notable season in the majors (17-12 with 2.74 ERA) with the 1908 Cincinnati Reds but it almost never happened. An ill-advised trade attempt and paperwork nightmare necessitated the Reds ownership formulating a deal for Spade even while he was still in uniform with them. Spade had two more lackluster seasons after that and was out of professional baseball by 1913 thanks to a fondness for drink and a sore arm.
John Ganzel had replaced Ned Hanlon as manager of the Cincinnati Reds in 1908. He opened the season with a well-defined, four-man pitching rotation that left Bob Spade as a reliever and fifth starter on the few occasions his services were needed. Spade had looked strong early in camp, but a sprained finger slowed his progress.1 By mid-June Spade had made only seven appearances including two starts and it was suggested that Ganzel had lost faith in him. Meanwhile team president Garry Herrmann had been in negotiations with the Harrisburg Senators of the Tri-State League about their holdout left-handed hurler — Jack Doscher. Herrmann was finally able to come to terms with the Senators and with Doscher. The plan was to send the seldom-used Spade to Harrisburg as payment, but Spade would first have to clear waivers. It was agreed that the waiver process would begin after Doscher had appeared for Cincinnati.2
No doubt management thought that Spade would easily pass through the waiver process and the deal could be completed. Fate intervened when tired arms forced Spade into a starting role on June 20, June 23, and June 26. He looked average in his first three starts posting a 1-2 mark. Meanwhile, Doscher had joined the Reds, making his first appearance on June 29, a 5-3 win over Chicago.
As agreed, Spade was placed on waivers but continued to pitch for Cincinnati. Starting June 30, with his name on the waiver list for all teams to see, he reeled off four straight complete-game victories against Chicago, New York, St. Louis, and Boston. Not surprisingly, John McGraw of the New York Giants, and the management of the Boston Doves, submitted waiver claims. National League president Harry Pulliam awarded the rights to Spade to the New York Giants.3
Spade was the talk of the town on the Ohio River and Herrmann could not bear to lose him for the mere $1,500 waiver price. He contacted McGraw and a deal was worked out to keep Spade in Cincinnati. Ultimately the Reds sent left-hander Jake Weimer and infielder Dave Brain to New York. In return the Reds kept Spade and received $5,000. Manager Ganzel rationalized the deal by saying that with Billy Campbell and the newly-arrived Doscher they had enough left-handed pitching. He also mentioned that the Giants had offered Spike Shannon in lieu of money, but Cincinnati opted for the cash.4
Calvin Spade, Bob’s father, was born into a large (eight siblings) farming family in Summit County, Ohio. When he became an adult, he opted out of agriculture and instead went into the clay works. He was a potter before taking on the task of kiln supervisor. Spade married Louisa Myers and raised an even larger family, as Louisa gave birth to 10 children. Robert Spade was their third child, born on January 4, 1877. Akron, Ohio is commonly listed as his place of birth, but the Spades were residents of Springfield Township, which lies southeast of Akron.
The family eventually moved to Akron but how much schooling Spade received is unknown. He did grow up with a strong, athletic physique with blue eyes and wavy black hair. He grew to be 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds in his prime. Right-handed at the plate and on the mound, he was first mentioned in the local press at age 16 pitching for a team of 19-year-olds called the Eclipse which represented the Sixth Ward of the city.5
The next two seasons found Spade playing for a variety of established semipro clubs in the area. In 1895 he was listed as manager of the team representing the Markle & Inman pottery company where he worked along with his father.6 On October 16 of that year, he married Carrie M. Bowling. They would welcome a son, Glenn, in 1897 and a daughter, Vera, in 1906.
In 1896 Spade was preparing to play for the East Enders in Akron when the Youngstown franchise of the Interstate League recruited him along with three other Akron players in mid-April.7 Spade earned a roster spot as a pitcher and emergency outfielder. From existing box scores and line scores his results were erratic, leading to his release in August. He was quickly signed by the first-half champions from Ft. Wayne. His first appearance for them came on August 26, when he turned in eight innings of one-run relief against his former mates.8 The franchise folded about three weeks later, sending Spade back to his family and work at Markle & Inman.
Family obligations forced a suspension of Spade’s professional baseball aspirations. The local paper reported that “in deference to the wishes of his wife [he] retired from the professional ranks.”9 In 1897 he played for a top Akron team before joining the semipro team from Kent, Ohio (about 12 miles from his home). He pitched and played outfield for Kent from 1898 through 1904.
The Kent team improved steadily over the years as Spade refined his skills and was joined by other talented players. The team reached its peak in 1901-03 when they had Spade and Jack Bracken on the mound teamed with Paddy Livingston at catcher.
The years with Kent allowed Spade to hone his craft and develop “perfect control, whirlwind speed and his assortment of curves.”10 His talent did not go unnoticed as he received tryouts with the New York Highlanders in 1903, the Chicago White Sox in 1904, and St. Louis Cardinals in 1906. Finally, in 1905, he was lured back into professional baseball at the age of 28. Bob Pender of Youngstown knew of Spade’s outfield and hitting skills and took him to Jacksonville, Florida to play for him in the Class C SALLY League. He also had Bracken in tow to anchor the pitching staff.
As the season approached, Pender realized he had too many outfielders and Cuban Juan Viola was yet to report.11 Consequently, he entertained offers for Spade, who was sold to the Macon Brigands. Spade debuted in left field on April 28 and banged out two hits in a 7-4 loss to Augusta and Eddie Cicotte.12 On May 9 he cleared the bases with a double to give Macon the win over Columbia, 4-3.
The Brigands pitching staff was struggling and manager Billy Smith turned to Spade. He made his first relief appearance on May 13, then lost his first start on May 17, 2-0. His first win came on May 23 when he shutout Jacksonville, 3-0. Joined by Sylvester Loucks, the duo led Macon to the pennant. Loucks was 16-3 to lead the league in win percentage. Spade led the league in wins with 25 against just eight losses. At the plate he posted a .255 batting average in 69 games. Not regarded as a strong fielder on the mound, he recorded a .983 fielding percentage in 28 games in the outfield.13
The Macon team was under. 500 when Spade joined the pitching staff. The Cleveland Leader claimed they won 29 of the next 31 to climb into first place.14 The report was a bit overzealous. The team had been 12-17 on May 27.15 Over the next 30 days they went 20-4 to move into first place on June 26.16
Smith had won consecutive pennants with Macon and was hired to lead the Atlanta Crackers in 1906. He made plans to add both Spade and Loucks to the Atlanta roster. Meanwhile Spade returned to Ohio and pitched for whomever met his asking price. On October 5 he teamed with Bracken to pitch for Kent in a loss against Baltimore of the Eastern League.
The St. Louis Cardinals muddied Smith’s plans by drafting Spade.17 When the Cardinals decided to release him, Macon retained his rights. Spade went 16-7 for Macon in 1906 then joined Akron in the Ohio & Pennsylvania League after the SALLY season closed. That winter Smith drafted Spade for Atlanta. Spade spent the winter working for a rubber company in Akron making tires. In the spring, he had a brief squabble over salary before inking his contract with Smith.18
Spade joined Russ Ford and Roy Castleton as the workhorses on the staff. The Crackers spent most of the season in second place until they caught fire in September and won 10 straight to capture the pennant.19 Spade led the team with 18 wins, which placed him in a tie for fourth-most in the league. He batted .296 in 142 at-bats, the highest average on the team for anyone with over 100 at-bats. Smith usually batted him ninth but on occasion Spade would hit in the top of the batting order.
At the end of the season, the fans staged a benefit for the team and the proceeds netted about $270 per player. Soon after, Spade and teammate Dode Paskert boarded the train for Cincinnati where they debuted with the Reds.20 Spade’s first start came on September 22 against the Giants. The 30-year-old rookie was spectacular as he thrilled the 9,000 fans by besting Joe McGinnity, 1-0. Spade allowed just four hits and poked a single himself. He tossed two more complete games after his debut, losing 1-0 to Philadelphia and 4-3 to Pittsburgh.
In the Pittsburgh game he smashed a double in the second inning to drive in two runs and give himself the lead. A Pirates rally in the eighth was aided by a muffed flyball and sent the Reds to a 4-3 loss. Soon after Spade was resigned for $2,100 with the stipulation that he would earn an additional $300 if he won 20 games.21
What did Carrie Spade think of her husband now playing ball professionally? If there was a story there, none of the writers choose to investigate. She now had two children to care for and her health became an issue. Bob left the team during an August road trip to spend some time at home while she dealt with an attack of appendicitis.22 Their marriage lasted the duration of Spade’s major-league career but dissolved in divorce in 1912.23
The Giants were granted the rights to Spade on July 8, 1908 and the trade to keep him in Cincinnati was finalized on July 10. At the time Spade was 5-3. The winning streak he had during the waiver span was his longest of the season. He posted 17 wins, tying him with Bob Ewing for the team lead. At the plate he batted .195 and led the pitching staff in runs scored (9) and RBIs (8).
Following the regular season, the Reds did some barnstorming before sending the players home for a week’s visit. They were to return October 25 to prepare for their trip to Cuba. The trip was scheduled for 12 games and would coincide with a visit to the island by the black Brooklyn Royal Tigers squad. The Reds took three pitchers with them — Spade, Campbell, and Jean Dubuc.24 With a 12-man roster, Spade was also expected to play some outfield on the trip.
Spade pitched the first game of the series, beating Havana, 3-1. Later in the trip he lost to the same squad, 6-4, when they pitched Charles (aka Frank) Earle of the Royal Giants. The Reds took four of five from Havana.25 They also played a series against Almendares.26 Almendares unveiled their newest find — a “scrawny black kid” with a “mean fastball and snappy curve” — 23-year-old Jose Mendez.27 Mendez tossed a one-hitter to beat Dubuc, 1-0, then closed the series with a 3-0 win, again over Dubuc. In all, Mendez tossed 25 scoreless innings and had two wins. Mendez entered the Cuban Hall of Fame in 1939 and the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
Spade took two losses against Almendares as the Cubans won four of five matches.28 The Reds sailed back to New Orleans and then traveled by train to Cincinnati in time for Christmas.
Manager Ganzel was replaced by Clark Griffith. The former hurler let it be known that he expected Spade, Ewing, and Ed Karger to go to Hot Springs, Arkansas for vapor baths. Why he did not mention 35-year-old Billy Campbell or some of the other hurlers is unclear.29 Griffith had bigger issues than vapor baths, however. He and Spade soon found themselves far apart in terms of contract amounts. Griffith was offering a $300 raise to $2,400 while Spade sought a $3,500 contract. Spade’s hometown newspaper questioned his stance noting that other players supported him but that he did not “know a good thing when it blows before him.”30
Spade was threatened with a $100 per day fine if he did report by April 1. In response he suggested that he would join an outlaw league. A Cincinnati Enquirer writer sided with Griffith and chastised Spade for not negotiating or even communicating. “Spade’s persistent silence” was labeled the cause for the stalemate.31
As contract talks dragged, newspapers floated rumors of possible trades. One popular one had the Cubs sending their recalcitrant holdout catcher Johnny Kling to Cincinnati for Spade and others. Rumors of a swap with Pittsburgh were the next hottest topic for writers. Finally, in May Spade broke his silence with a letter to the Cincinnati Post. He reached out to the fans and explained he wanted to play in Cincinnati, but he was entitled to more money. Letters from fans published in the Post seemed to agree. 32
Finally, on June 29 the Post ran a front-page announcement that Spade had signed.33 The Reds stood at 31-29 when Spade signed. He had been to Hot Springs then worked out with the Akron team while holding out. The Post was quick to announce that “Curley Bob” was in top shape and weighing less than the previous season.34 The exact terms of the agreement have proven elusive. Some papers reported the salary would be prorated without mentioning the amount.35 Others suggested the contract was for $2,400 with the team rescinding any fines.36
Spade made his first appearance on July 4 at home versus the Pirates. Honus Wagner touched him up for three hits, but Spade held Pittsburgh scoreless until the ninth and walked off with the win, 4-2. Griffith used him sparingly and by mid-August he had made only five appearances and held a 1-1 record. Spade developed a sore arm and was sent home to Akron for two weeks of rest.
Spade returned to action on August 28 with four innings of relief in Boston. Griffith placed him in the rotation, and he made eight starts over the remainder of the season, tossing seven complete games while closing the year with a 5-5 record for the fourth-place Reds.
Spade’s name appeared in trade rumors over the winter, but he was still on the Reds’ roster in February when he joined Griffith and trainer Mike Martin on the train ride to Hot Springs.37He was in good shape and played some outfield as well as pitching in exhibitions. When the season opened, he earned his first start in the seventh game, but walked three against the Cardinals and was lifted in the third, down 3-0. St. Louis won, 8-3, hanging the loss on Spade.
Spade’s next appearance came on May 21 when he took the mound in Cincinnati against Boston. He had to shake the rust off his arm and struggled at times but he “had his curve ball working pretty well with men on base and got out of more holes than a high-tariff lecturer.”38 He surrendered 12 hits but only allowed three runs for the win, 6-3.
The Reds’ players were known to frequent the Latonia raceway as well as some other establishments that had considerably less savory reputations. Spade and outfielder Sandy (aka Swat) McCabe drew Griffith’s wrath for “an escapade in a questionable resort” early in the morning of May 27.39 For his part in the affair, Spade was fined $200. McCabe was fined, suspended, and appeared in court on disorderly conduct charges.40 Spade’s next start came May 30 versus the Pirates and he surrendered 19 hits for 13 runs. The Reds placed him on waivers without any remorse.
The St. Louis Browns signed Spade and made it clear that he would have to earn his keep. They handed him the ball on June 18 to face the Washington Senators, a team with twice as many wins as St. Louis. Spade responded with a brilliant three-hit shutout while getting a hit, scoring twice and driving in a run for the win, 9-0.
In his next start, Spade was crushed by the bats of the Detroit Tigers, who smashed 13 hits in a 10-4 Tigers victory. Spade would make just seven appearances with the Browns and worked 34 2/3 innings. In August it was announced that the Browns had traded Spade and Rube Waddell to the Class A Eastern League Newark Indians for catcher Joe Crisp, who would have a two-game major-league career. Sports editor Billy Murphy suggested that Spade was a hard-liver and enjoyed the bottle as much as Waddell.41
Spade and Waddell arrived in Newark while the town was in the midst of a festival. The streets were decorated and filled with revelers. Supposedly Rube turned to Spade and said, “What do you think of all this celebration for us. Why, I didn’t even have the faintest idea that they knew we were coming.”42 Spade went 1-4 on the hill and batted .375 in the final weeks of the season.
Spade went west after the season and played in the Southern State League in California. Games were played in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Santa Monica, and the surrounding area. It was suggested by one reporter that on his way west he had stopped to see Bonesetter Reese for treatment on his sore arm. In addition to pitching in the league he reportedly helped coach an unspecified college team.43
Spade rejoined Newark on May 3, 1911. The following day he pinch-hit in the ninth inning.44 On May 10 he tossed two innings of scoreless relief against Montreal.45 It was clear that he had lost the snap and speed on his pitches and was released. It was reported that he went south to Mississippi and the Cotton States League. He supposedly had signed with Meridian but no box scores could be uncovered with his name.46 It was later reported that he became an umpire in the league but a search of box scores once again did not reveal his name.
Spade retuned to Cincinnati and purchased a bar on the west end of the city. In March his name was prominently featured in headlines following an altercation that left Spade in a Cincinnati hospital recovering from a knifing.47 Despite serious wounds he recovered rather quickly. In April he spent a few weeks in Greenville, Ohio as manager of their team in the independent Indiana and Ohio League. In August the Mt. Sterling, Kentucky team in the Blue Grass League underwent a reorganization. Newspapers in the Cincinnati area reported that Spade would become the new manager.48 An article in the Mt. Sterling Advocate reported the reorganization but listed J. McBrayer as captain and Earl Harris as business manager.49 In the succeeding weeks there was no mention of Spade in the Mt. Sterling paper.
Spade’s name had a way of popping up in newspapers around the country. In 1914 the rumor was that he might join Chicago in the Federal League. One aspect of Spade’s life that did not receive press coverage was his second marriage. Spade’s obituary and death certificate both list his wife, Viola. In the 1920 census Viola Spade lived in Dayton, Ohio and was the head of the household and still married. Her sons were Robert, born in California, and Fred, born in Illinois.
Spade left his bar behind and moved the family to Dayton in 1915 for work in a tire factory. During the war years he switched over to work at the Delco factory. In 1918 he organized a high-quality semipro team for the Dayton Rubber Company. His star pitcher was former Cincinnati teammate Jack Rowan.
The storyline of Spade’s life becomes muddled after 1918. He apparently separated from Viola and moved back to Cincinnati. He umpired local and college baseball for a few years, but his health began to fail. His name became familiar to the local police and he found himself in court from time to time often for the sale of bootleg whiskey. When he died on September 7, 1924 it was first reported that he was destitute and had no family. Spade had made every effort to hide his downturn from his relatives and had ceased communication with them.50
Cincinnati fans rallied upon hearing of Spade’s death and collected funds to provide a burial for him. His brother Ira was eventually notified, traveled to Cincinnati, and arranged to transfer Bob’s remains back to Akron. Spade’s family thanked the Cincinnati fans for their support in the hour of need and suggested that money that had been raised could be given to the hospital where Bob died “in recognition of the kindness” shown him.51
His funeral was held at Calvin Spade’s home, followed by burial at the Springfield Center Cemetery. While later stories of his death included mention of Viola and his sons, they did not mention Carrie, who had remarried, nor their children Glenn and Vera.52
This biography was reviewed by Bill Nowlin and Joel Barnhart. It was fact-checked by Alan Cohen.
Baseball Reference and Retrosheet were used for statistics and game details when available. Seamheads was consulted for black players.
1 “Consternation in Red Camp,” Cincinnati Post, March 23, 1908: 6.
2 Charles H. Zuber, “New Giants,” Sporting Life, July 18, 1908: 3.
3 Zuber, Sporting Life, July 18, 1908.
4 “Notes of the Game,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 11, 1908: 3.
5 “Juveniles,” Akron (Ohio) Daily Democrat, July 12, 1893: 1.
6 “Accept the Challenge,” Akron Daily Democrat, August 16, 1895: 1.
7 “Local Sports,” Akron Beacon Journal, April 16, 1896: 3.
8 “A Tie Game,” Ft. Wayne (Indiana) Daily News, August 27, 1896: 2.
9 “May Join New York,” Akron Beacon Journal, June 24, 1903: 5.
10 “Kent Again Loses a Game to Akron,” Akron Beacon Journal, June 24, 1904: 5.
11 “Doings in Kent,” Cleveland Leader, April 19, 1905: 8.
13 “South Atlantic League Averages for Past Season,” Augusta Chronicle, November 5, 1905: 8.
14 “Macon’s Great Work,” Cleveland Leader, July 18, 1905: 8.
15 “Relative Standings,” Charleston (South Carolina) Evening Post, May 27, 1905: 3.
16 “Relative Standing,” Charleston Evening Post, June 26, 1908: 3.
17 “Atlanta May Get Pitcher Bob Spade,” New Orleans Item, May 10, 1906: 6.
18 “Spade Goes to Atlanta This Week,” Akron Beacon Journal, March 5, 1907: 5.
19 Alex Lynn, “Locals Finish 34 Good Points Ahead of Babb,” Atlanta Constitution, September 15, 1907: 1.
20 “Players Dust the Burg with Nice Sum in Hand,” Atlanta Constitution, September 18, 1907: 9.
21 “Bits of Sport Gathered from the Sporting Arena,” Tennessean (Nashville, Tennessee) October 7, 1907: 8.
22 “Red Notes,” Cincinnati Post, August 14, 1908: 6.
23 “Charges Failure to Amply Provide,” Akron Beacon Journal, October 18, 1912: 9. Spade did not return to his family after the 1910 season and the couple were separated for two years leading to the divorce plea.
24 The trip has some historical significance because it was the first visit by a National League team rather than a composite, all-star squad.
25 An article by Gary Ashwill has the Reds winning five of six from Havana. He also lists seven games with Almendares. https://agatetype.typepad.com/agate_type/2006/05/cincinnati_reds.html
26 Jorge S. Figueredo, Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2003), 76-77.
27 Peter Bjarkman, A History of Cuban Baseball, 1864-2006 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2007), 86.
28 Figueredo, 76-77.
29 “McAleer After Conroy and Burns, According to Outside Reports,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, January 26, 1909: 4.
30 “Bob Spade a Loser,” Akron Beacon Journal, March 18, 1909: 5.
31 “All Sorts,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 4, 1909: 42.
32 “The Fan’s Corner,” Cincinnati Post, May 15, 1909: 6.
33 “Spade Signs,” Cincinnati Post, June 29, 1909: 1.
34 “Spade Glad of Chance to get Back in Game,” Cincinnati Post, June 30, 1909: 6.
35 “Spade Gained Naught by Holding Out,” Akron Beacon Journal, July 1, 1909: 5.
36 “Chat of the Game,” Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), July 3,1909: 11.
37 “Red-Legs Leave,” Chillicothe (Ohio) Gazette, February 16, 1910: 2.
38 “Perfect,” Cincinnati Enquirer, May 22, 1910: 18.
39 Dayton (Ohio) Herald, May 28, 1910: 6.
40 Bob Spade is Fined $200 by “Reds” Management Sat.,” Akron Beacon Journal, May 28, 1910: 12.
41 Billy Murphy, “John Barleycorn Best Strikeout Pitcher,” St. Louis Star and Times, August 9, 1910: 8.
42 “Good One on Waddell,” Oroville (California) Daily Register, April 25, 1911: 6.
43 “M’Ginnity Seeks Battery and an Infielder from M’Graws Giants,” Newark (New Jersey) Evening Star and Newark Advertiser, May 3, 1911: 25.
44 Sporting Life, May 13, 1911: 12.
45 Sporting Life, May 20, 1911: 12.
46 “Bob Spade in Cotton States,” Dayton (Ohio) Herald, June 16, 1911: 19.
47 “Bob Spade Stabbed Four Times in Cincinnati Grill,” Akron Beacon Journal, March 18, 1912: 10.
48 “Bob Spade Lands,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 31, 1912: 8.
49 “Change Hands,” Mt. Sterling (Kentucky) Advocate, August 7, 1912: 2.
50 “Bob Spade, Once a Hero of the Fans, Dies Friendless,” Zanesville (Ohio) Times Signal, September 14, 1924: 9.
51 “Bob Spade, Once a Hero.”
52 “Baseball Figure Dies,” Cincinnati Enquirer, September 9, 1924: 11.