Larry Pratt of the 1914 Boston Red Sox may not have been asked to be part of the team that won the World Series in 1915 (and again in 1916), but he never found out. Instead, he jumped his contract and played for the Tip-Tops and the Pepper.
That may sound a little comic but it was reality. Pratt was a catcher who stood an even 6 feet tall. He’s listed with a playing weight of 183 pounds. He was born in Gibson City, Illinois, a small city in Ford County about 120 miles southwest of Chicago and 75 miles east of Peoria. on October 8, 1887. Larry’s father was Robert B. Pratt, an Illinois native of whom we have been able to learn nothing. His mother was the former Alvina D. Allendorff, whose parents came from Wurtemberg, Germany; she herself was born on board a ship traveling from Germany to the United States in 1860. Their fourth-born son was given the name Lester John Pratt, and became known as Larry. The 1900 Census showed Alvina and her four sons still living in Ford County. Arthur, the eldest, worked as a newspaper agent, William as a salesman of china, and 15-year-old Henry as an elevator boy. Lester was still in school, but he left after completing eight years of elementary and middle school at the Lincoln School in nearby Peoria, Illinois.
Pratt self-reported beginning professional baseball in 1905, but first turns up in available records catching for Duluth in 1908.i The June 27, 1908, issue of Sporting Life mentioned his first big game, against Fargo, in which he collected eight total bases on five hits, and stole four bases, too. Playing in the Class D Northern League, Pratt appeared in 60 games and hit for a .256 average.
Where Pratt spent 1909 has not been determined, but he signed on for Tommy Dowd’s 1910 New Bedford Whalers (Class B, New England League). He hit .203 in 77 games. Records in this era are far from complete. We find that he was “one of the first to sign and return his contract to Manager [Bill] Bernhard” of the Nashville Volunteers for the 1910 season.ii Nonetheless, he’d played for New Bedford, and in late September or early October, the Birmingham Barons purchased his contract from New Bedford for the 1911 season. Pratt is listed as appearing in only 15 games for the Barons and batting .176. He was released in May and returned to New Bedford. The New Bedford club traded Pratt to the “Hannibal” team in the New England League in early 1912.iii Sporting Life had it close; the club was the Haverhill club in the Massachusetts city of that name. He hit .244 in 80 games.
After the season was over, an unusual situation occurred. Pratt had been owed a salary adjustment of $124.66 and was given a note, rather than actual payment. The September 7 note said it was payable on October 20 at Haverhill. Pratt neither presented himself at Haverhill nor arranged for his bank to process the note, and then tried to claim he was entitled to become a free agent since it had not been paid. He filed a complaint saying he’d not been paid, so the Haverhill club mailed him a replacement check in November, adding another $3 to the check to cover any additional costs Pratt might incur. On December 9 the National Commission ruled against Pratt, saying in part that “the player was wholly responsible for the delay in its collection by his failure to use due diligence.”iv He was thus bound to Haverhill for 1913, but on November 8 Haverhill sold his contract to the Springfield Ponies of the Eastern Association.v
Both 1913 and 1914 were spent in Springfield for the Ponies. Pratt played in more than 100 games each season, batting .251 in 1913 and (thanks in part to a couple of four-hit games) .271 in 1914. A couple of his five home runs won games, and he was earning headlines as late as September 10: See, for instance, the Hartford Courant’s “Larry Pratt Does Timely Hitting.” He debuted for the Boston Red Sox on September 19, 1914.
There had been concern before the season that Pratt would succumb to the temptations of the newly formed Federal League. He had been the “object of a bit of gum-shoeing” by Federal League folks.vi
Pratt’s debut came in Cleveland, as a defensive replacement in the bottom of the eighth after Boston catcher (and manager) Bill Carrigan lifted himself for a pinch-runner. Two days later he came in for Pinch Thomas, after Pinch had been pinch-hit for in the seventh. Pratt was hitless in his first at-bat, and committed one error in four chances on defense. He appeared in five late-season games, and was 0-for-4 at the plate. The team expected him to report at Hot Springs in March 1915, and report he did, making it all the way to the final cutdown day. Carrigan went with Ray Haley as the fourth catcher on the staff. The Boston Globe explained: “Pratt is a first-class workman, but Carrigan chose Haley…as he looks to be the stronger hitter of the two.”vii
Pratt was one of three players sent to the Providence Grays. There was some arrangement here. As Sporting Life said, “Providence will take care of all the surplus Red Sox players.”viii Pratt reported to Providence and was one of four catchers on the staff when the team began to play.
Pratt jumped his contract and signed with the Federal League’s Brooklyn Tip-Tops on May 13. A May 23 dispatch showed that Pratt pleased his manager, Lee Magee. “The youngster has shown great hitting ability in the few chances he has received thus far to break into the game with the Tip-Tops. Yesterday, in Chicago, he was shoved into the fray and on his first appearance at bat hit Miner Brown for a homer.”ix It proved to be the only homer Pratt ever hit in the major leagues. After 20 games in a Tip-Tops uniform, he was batting .184 and was given ten days’ notice on July 2. He wasn’t the only one. In fact, William J. Grainger wrote in Sporting Life on July 11, “(T)he big shakedown of the Brooklyn team is now well under way. Players have been released right and left and still more changes are to follow.” For Pratt’s part, he objected: “Catcher Pratt is said to be considering suing the Brooklyn Club under the Employee’s Disability Law. Pratt claims he was injured while performing his duties as an employee of the Brooklyn Club, and for that reason the Brooklyn Club cannot release him.”x But they did.
In late July, the Newark Pepper signed Pratt, after his release from Brooklyn.xi He appeared in only five games and was 2-for-4 at the plate. With the collapse of the Federal League after the 1915 season, Pratt was assigned to the ballclub that had last held rights to his contract. However, he signed with Salt Lake of the Pacific Coast League.xii He didn’t last long and was released.xiii Pratt joined the Baseball Players’ Fraternity and wound up with the Columbus Senators in the American Association. With the 1916 Columbus team, Pratt appeared in 54 games and hit only.145, too low to keep their interest. It was nearly the end of his time in baseball.
The Omaha club in the Western League purchased Pratt’s contract from Columbus in January 1917, but it was reported that he didn’t know if he’d report, being in business in Peoria and possibly ready to quit the game.xiv He’s not listed as playing for Omaha.
When Pratt registered for the draft at the time of the First World War, he was listed as a collector for Palace Livery of Peoria. He did not serve in the armed forces. On May 1, 1919, Pratt married Stella Mae Scott, a native Illinoisan whose parents had both come from England.
By the time of the 1930 Census, Pratt was working in Peoria as an investigator for the state’s attorney’s office. He may have gotten the job through his brother Henry, the former elevator boy who had a position with the office as early as the 1910 Census. At one point in his career, Henry was the city treasurer of Peoria.
Pratt began to suffer from arteriosclerosis and bore it for five years before his death on January 5, 1969. He was survived by his wife, Stella.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Pratt’s player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.
i Pratt’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
ii Sporting Life, February 19, 1910.
iii Sporting Life, February 3, 1912.
iv Sporting Life, December 14, 1912.
v Hartford Courant, November 9, 1912.
vi Sporting Life, February 28, 1914.
vii Boston Globe, April 12, 1915.
viii Sporting Life, April 17, 1915.
ix Sporting Life, May 29, 1915.
x Sporting Life, July 17, 1915.
xi Sporting Life, July 24, 1915.
xii Sporting Life, February 5, 1916.
xiii Unattributed July 1916 newspaper clipping in Pratt’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
xiv Sporting Life, April 7, 1917.