This article was written by Charlie Weatherby
Described by Sporting Life as “an all-around athlete of more than ordinary ability”i at age 20, Buck Washer nonetheless had an inflated sense of his value as a prospective professional baseball player. At 5’10” and a stout 175 pounds, the right-handed hurler played only four games in the high minors in addition to his sip-of-coffee with the 1905 Phillies, for whom he pitched three innings and posted a 6.00 ERA. For five years thereafter, he bounced from one low minor league team to the other and eventually became an outfielder.
A native of Akron, Ohio, William B. “Buck” Washer was born on October 11, 1882. His parents, William H. and Alice (nee Smith) Washer, were born in England; Buck was the fourth of their six sons. His father was a well-known saloonkeeper and restaurateur who later owned Akron’s Hotel Buchtel, the city’s finest inn.
According to the Akron Daily Democrat, “little Buck learned to toss the ball in the Summit County Court House yard. Years ago the elder Washer met Barney Dreyfuss [who became owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates], and the two became firm friends. ‘Tis said that Barney used to dandle wee Buck on his knee and tell him he would be a great ball player some day.”ii Washer was an all-around athlete as a schoolboy, competing in baseball and football at Buchtel Academy and participating in Akron high school track and field day events in 1901. He also played baseball for such local amateur and semi-pro teams as South End Athletic Club and Kirkwood. On July 22, 1900, Washer fanned 13 Kirkwood batters in a 7-6 South End victory. The Daily Democrat said he “was a star of the first magnitude. He played the whole game and the victory is due to his splendid work.”iii
In 1901, Washer played for Buchtel College (now the University of Akron). On May 19, while playing shortstop, he was 3-for-5 with a double, triple, and two runs in an 8-3 win over the University of Wooster. He was also captain of the school’s track team. At about the same time, Sporting Life reported that he had offers to sign with a number of Western League teams, although there’s no evidence that he did. By this time, the Daily Democrat was calling him “one of the best all-around athletes in the city.”iv The Canton Repository said he was “regarded as the best pitcher on any college team in the state.”v
In January 1902, Washer signed a contract with Pittsburgh, and Dreyfuss asked him to report to Dayton of the Southern Ohio League, an assignment he refused, apparently believing that he was ready for the majors. Meanwhile, in late March, Washer reportedly signed a Cleveland contract that would give him a chance to demonstrate his worth. By April, the Daily Democrat was calling him “The Jumper”vi for his shenanigans. Finally, with Dreyfuss’s help, Washer went to West Virginia University, where he received his tuition and $75 a month to play baseball. Buck paid immediate dividends in a season-opening 17-3 rout of Waynesburg College on April 19, pitching five strong innings. Thereafter, he was undefeated for the Mountaineers (22-7), pitching them “to championship honors,”vii according to the Washington Evening Star.
In early July, on his way home to Akron, Washer and his older brother Charles stopped in Pittsburgh to meet with Dreyfuss, where young Buck told him of his ambition “to shine in the big league.” Dreyfuss told him to “curb such a desire for the present and try another start in the minors.”viii Washer refused to consider such an option and declined an assignment in Providence. Dreyfuss’s bottom line: “We have all the pitchers we want and cannot use him.”ix A day or two later, Washer changed his mind, followed Colonel Barney’s counsel and joined the Eastern League’s Providence Grays.
Buck Washer made his professional debut on July 6, 1902, against the Montreal Royals, surrendering one scratch hit in the first five innings, then allowing seven hits and eight runs in the last four frames while hanging on to a 9-8 victory. He helped his own cause at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a run. Thereafter, Washer and manager Billy Murray’s personalities clashed to the point where Murray consigned him to the bench, released him within two weeks, and threatened to withhold his salary, which was ultimately paid by the club president. Once again finding himself in the hands of Colonel Dreyfuss, Washer was sent to the American Association’s Toledo Mud Hens, where he made one appearance on August 9, losing 7-3 to Minneapolis, giving up seven hits and seven walks, again going 2-for-4 with a run. At this point in his brief professional career, he was hitting better than he was pitching.
Back in Akron, Washer bided his time playing for the local East End club. By early September, he was back in Morgantown, where he pitched in a series of games for the West Virginia championship and a purse of $1,500. On September 8, he defeated the Canton-Wheeling team, 8-7 in 11 innings. In the Daily Democrat’s opinion, “Washer is more than holding his own, and has hosts of friends in West Virginia.”x He also played for the university’s football team. On October 24, while playing right end, Washer scored a touchdown and two goals in the Mountaineers 12-6 win over Marietta. Sporting Life raved about him, concluding that he “made the hit of the season. Ed Young, of Cornell fame, said he never saw a better end, and for several days the newspapers here made favorable comments upon his playing.”xi
In 1903, Washer pitched for the independent Homestead, Pennsylvania, team, which released him in early September. He returned to Akron, where he played for the East Akron club. In September, a Cleveland newspaper reported that Washer played for the Youngstown football team. During the winter, he stayed in shape by playing center on East Akron’s basketball club.
Washer moved to West Chester, Pennsylvania, in 1904 when he signed with the Brandywine baseball club, one of the region’s top independent teams. Coached by former major leaguer Dan Coogan, Brandywine had a powerful lineup that featured three other future major leaguers, infielders Bayard “Bud” Sharpe, Raymond “Chappy” Charles and John “Schoolboy” Knight. The club posted an unofficial record of 40-25-3 (in scores reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer) and played a widely publicized game for $1,000 against Wilmington A. A. of the Tri-State League at Philadelphia’s Columbia Park on September 21, winning 7-3 behind Washer’s pitching and four Wilmington errors. As was the case the previous year, Washer again played football in September, this time for the Akron club.
No longer under contract with Pittsburgh, Washer signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in mid-January 1905. At the time, Sporting Life noted that “He is an all-around player, having filled most every position on the diamond last year for Brandywine.”xii During spring training in March, the magazine said “Washer is showing up well in practice. He uses a fast ball with a sharp shoot.”xiii To amuse themselves during off-hours, Washer and six other Phillies organized a glee club and orchestra.
On April 25, 1905, Buck Washer made his only major league appearance in the seventh inning of a game against the New York Giants in Philadelphia, an 8-1 loss. Pitching in relief of Togie Pittinger, he walked and stranded three runners, only to return and give up a run in the eighth on a walk and a double, and another in the ninth on three singles. He fanned in his only at-bat, against Hooks Wiltse in the eighth. The Inquirer, assessing his performance, said, “As soon as Washer is able to locate the plate with any degree of certainty he will be a valuable man for [manager Hugh] Duffy.”xiv Apparently Duffy didn’t agree. Washer and two others were left behind when the Phillies traveled to Brooklyn for a series on May 1, and Washer was released a few days later. By way of explanation, the Harrisburg Patriot said that Washer “had a bad arm and was prevented from showing his best with the league team.”xv
After a brief stint with the Coatesville, Pennsylvania, independent team, Washer was given a tryout by the Eastern League’s Newark Sailors. On May 21, he pitched a complete game in a 5-3 exhibition loss to the New York Giants. In the opinion of Sporting Life, Washer “outpitched [Claude] Elliott, but his support was poor.”xvi His effort earned him another start five days later against the Toronto Maple Leafs, a 4-3 loss in which he surrendered five hits and five walks. His only other appearance was on June 8 when he relieved Larry Hesterfer in a 12-10 loss to Rochester. Washer was released a week later, “owing to wildness and inexperience,”xvii according to Sporting Life.
Buck Washer’s last 1905 stop was with the Lancaster Red Roses of the independent Tri-State League. Newspaper accounts show him compiling a record of 3-10 during his two month stint. In early August, the Williamsport Gazette and Bulletin, quoting the Altoona Times, said, “If bases on balls were eliminated, Buck Washer might be a wonder. He gets sea sick every time he looks at the wobbling plate.”xviii When he was released on August 8, the Patriot concluded that he “could not deliver the goods in able enough fashion.”xix
In 1906, Washer was unsuccessful in tryouts with Savannah of the Sally League and A. J. G. of the New York State League. He eventually played some games with the Gloucester, New Jersey, independent team, primarily in a series with Camden for the South Jersey championship; on June 23, he lost 4-1 when he couldn’t throw strikes.
A year later, Washer was with Scottdale of the Western Pennsylvania League, where, according to Sporting Life, he “gave up pitching for outfielding…became a star, leading the league in batting and fielding.”xx After playing with a Frostburg, Maryland, club in the George’s Creek League, Washer returned to the Pennsylvania-West Virginia League in 1908 where he played for Grafton, served as team captain, and hit .211 in 19 games. Later that season, he played 66 games with the Ottumwa Packers of the Central Association, hitting .197.
Washer’s minor league career stalled in 1909. He signed with Schenectady in the new independent Eastern Association in April, but the league collapsed in early June after 11 games due to poor attendance and unevenly matched clubs. Sporting Life said he signed with Lincoln of the Western League in early September, but there was no further mention of him. He was on Lincoln’s roster in 1910 but left for Billings, Montana, in May, where he played for the city’s first professional team, a club that posted a 19-4 record against in-state competition. The Billings Daily Gazette called him “a spectacular fielder and a hard timely hitter.”xxi Washer, the most experienced player on the team, endured a season-ending hip injury in July caused by a slide to the plate. Perhaps the injury ended his career; he vanished from professional baseball thereafter.
On July 13, 1912, Buck Washer married Lena Yeager in Akron. They had two daughters, Alice Elizabeth (married name Willrodt, 1920-1984) and Helen Margaret (1922-1995). Buck and Lena lived in the Cleveland area in 1920, where he worked as a tire repair vulcanizer. Ten years later, he worked as a plasterer in the building construction business. Washer died in Akron from arteriosclerotic heart disease on December 8, 1955. He is buried in that city’s Glendale Cemetery.
Akron Daily Democrat
Repository (Canton, OH)
Patriot (Harrisburg, PA)
Billings Daily Gazette
Daily Gazette and Bulletin (Williamsport, PA)
Washington Evening Star
i “ Pittsburg Points,” Sporting Life, November 1, 1902, 6.
ii “Good For Buck,” Akron Daily Democrat, June 10, 1902, 6.
iii “Thirteen Batters Struck Out: Washer’s Work Won Game for South Ends,” Akron Daily Democrat, July 23, 1900, 2.
iv “Timely Hitting, Repository (Canton, OH), September 6, 1903, 4.
v Repository, September 6, 1903, 4.
vi “The Jumper Has Jumped to College, Patriot (Harrisburg, PA), April 5, 1902, 9.
vii “Base Ball Notes,” Washington Evening Star, July 2, 1902, 9.
viii “Mr. Washer’s Case,” Sporting Life, July 16, 1902, 9.
x “Buck Pitched A Great Game, Akron Daily Democrat, September 11, 1902, 6.
xi “Pittsburg Points,” op. cit.
xii “Philadelphia Points,” Sporting Life, January 21, 1905, 3.
xiii “Philadelphia Points, Sporting Life, March 25, 1905, 5.
xiv “Passed Balls,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 26, 1905, 15.
xv “Coatesville’s New Twirlers,” Patriot, May 17, 1905, 10.
xvi “National League News,” Sporting Life, May 27, 1905, 5.
xvii “Late News By Wire,” Sporting Life, June 17, 1905, 26.
xviii “Bingos For The Fans,” Daily Gazette and Bulletin (Williamsport, PA), August 8, 1905, 3.
xix “Buck Washer Released,” Patriot, August 8, 1905, 1905, 6.
xx “Washer’s Way, Sporting Life, November 30, 1907, 2.
xxi “History Of The Team That Has Made Clean Sweep In State Baseball Field, Billings Daily Gazette, August 21, 1920.