Carl Ringdahl Sumner played a brief 16 games with the 1928 Red Sox, at first glance a last-place team not in a position to be too selective about its ballplayers. Despite batting .276 in limited duty, Sumner, an outfielder, was sent to the minors and never returned.
The problem for Sumner was that offense in the outfield wasn’t the Red Sox’s problem. The problem lay in the pitching staff; this was the year that Red Ruffing was a 25-game loser for the club. All in all, there were better years for the Red Sox — for example, almost every year in the history of the franchise. The Red Sox finished in last place, 43 1/2 games behind the league-leading New York Yankees, with a record of 57-96, a winning percentage of .373.
Despite the dismal record of the team as a whole, the Red Sox outfield featured Ken Williams in left (.303), Ira Flagstead in center (.290), and Doug Taitt in right (.299). Sumner was a notch or two below them in batting, though his .382 on-base percentage was better than any one of the three.
Sumner was a local boy, born on September 28, 1908, in Cambridge, adjacent to Boston, and still only 19 years old when he made his major-league debut. He was the son of John T. Sumner, a shipper who lived on Eustis Street in Cambridge with his wife, Elin, a Swedish immigrant naturalized in 1886. The couple had two older daughters, Helen and Ruth, 7 and 6 at the time of Carl’s birth. By the time Carl was 12, the family had moved to nearby Arlington, where John had taken up work as a plumber, and added two younger daughters, Alice and Anna.
Carl attended Arlington High School and lettered in baseball, but his first appearance in the Boston Globe came in March 1925 — as a musician. He was part of the school’s double quartet that performed at a high school concert. Arlington High won the Mystic Valley League series in baseball, with Sumner playing right field and also serving as one of the backup pitchers. A team photo that ran in the June 26 Globe shows Carl as the smallest player on the team. He played halfback for the football team.
Carl was short, even for the era, at 5-feet-8, but stocky at 170 pounds. He batted and threw left-handed. His record would indicate that he came out of nowhere, straight into the major leagues two months before he turned 20. He had been playing for Easton, Maryland, in the Eastern Shore League, before the league broke up. The Sporting News informed readers that “the lad was working out with the Red Sox and looked so good to Manager (Bill) Carrigan that he was given a contract.”
Sumner’s debut came in Detroit, in the first game of the July 28, 1928, doubleheader. The Red Sox were losing, 7-1, after seven innings. Carrigan sent Sumner in to bat for the shortstop, Wally Gerber, but he did not hit. The very next day, July 29, Sumner got a starting assignment, playing center field and batting leadoff. The second time he batted, he found the bases loaded. His double drove in two, part of a four-run rally, and Boston beat the Tigers, 5-2. That turned out to be two-thirds of his total output for runs batted in. He went 1-for-3 the following day and scored the only run as the Tigers beat Boston, 2-1. On August 1, playing left field, Sumner had a 3-for-4 game and his only triple, but neither scored nor drove in a run.
He pinch-hit successfully on August 6, and came around to score as part of a four-run seventh inning in St. Louis, ultimately a losing effort in a 9-4 defeat. The one error of his career (in 13 chances) came the next day. He was 0-for-4 at the plate, and Red Ruffing pinch-hit for him (unsuccessfully) in the top of the ninth as Boston was beaten again by the Browns, 6-5.
Sumner’s final major-league appearance came on August 21. He had pinch-run in a couple of games near the middle of August, but then was not used for a week until he was inserted as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning of a Fenway Park game against the Tigers. Batting for pitcher Slim Harriss, he failed to reach base. And failed to get the call again. The Tigers won that final game, 4-3.
Sumner attended 1929 spring training with the Red Sox, one of 11 outfielders trying out. Sumner was listed as one of the “promising youngsters” in The Sporting News, but right at the end of the camp, on April 12, he was packed off to Pittsfield along with seven other players to the Eastern League club managed by Shano Collins. The collection of talent was such that the paper called it “a consignment … that would almost make up a team.” Ed Connolly, Frank Bushey, and Joe Cicero were among the bunch. Sumner played in 28 games for the Pittsfield Hillies, accumulating 95 at-bats and compiling a .305 average, with his first home run as a professional and nine RBIs. Later that year, he played right field for Springfield in the Central League, though not very well: He batted just .188 in 64 at-bats. He did, however, hit his second career home run. It was also his last, as Sumner drove in only two runs for the Springfield club. And then he was out of professional baseball completely.
Sumner married Helen Terhune, a marriage that lasted for 65 years. The couple lived in Lexington, and for many years Carl served as plant manager for Cambosco Scientific Company of Cambridge and Boston, which manufactured electromagnetic and other scientific instruments. They had no children, but many nieces and nephews. Sumner retired in 1960 and moved to Harwich Port, on Cape Cod, then moved once more to nearby Chatham in 1967. He was active in the Chatham Retired Men’s Bridge Club and with the Chatham Congregational Church.
Sumner died at home in Chatham on February 8, 1999.
Obituary in the Cape Cod Times, February 12, 1999, courtesy of Amy Andreasson, reference librarian at the Eldredge Public Library in Chatham. Boston Globe, Cambridge Chronicle, and The Sporting News, passim.