This article was written by Jim Sandoval
“He was a missionary extraordinary for the game itself. … Wherever he went … Barrett talked and preached baseball.” i He was referred to as the King of Weeds, a play on words about scouts who “beat the bushes” for prospects. He signed the second most major-league players in baseball history, second only to his colleague Pop Kelchner.
Charles Francis Barrett was born on June 14, 1871, son of John Barrett, an immigrant from Canada, and Mary (Dolan) Barrett. It was a large family, with at least nine children, according to the 1880 census. According to The Sporting News, John served as a member of the St. Louis Fire Department. With so many mouths to feed, Charley left Jefferson school at the age of 14 to work for the St. Louis Messenger Service. A year later he was promoted to the job of clerk. He later worked for the Mound City Livery Company as a telephone operator and director of the company’s nighttime messenger service. The nighttime job allowed Charley to play baseball during the day. As a member of the Emerald Cadets, a Catholic organization, Barrett organized a baseball team.
Barrett began playing semiprofessional ball in his native St. Louis for the Fairs ballclub and then played for the George Diel club until he was signed to a professional contract by Lou Whistler for his Chattanooga club in 1901. In 1902 Barrett played for Sedalia of the Missouri Valley League and Colorado Springs in the Western League. Longtime baseball man Joseph J. Quinn had seen Barrett play on the sandlots of St. Louis. He recommended him to millionaire gold-mine owner Thomas Burns, who was starting a club in Colorado Springs.
In 1903 Barrett played with Dallas and Fort Worth of the Texas League. In 1904 he moved on to Houston of the South Texas League. In 1905 he played for Beaumont/Brenham, San Antonio, and Galveston of the South Texas League. An outfielder, Barrett could run but not hit, compiling a lifetime batting average under .200.
After his minor-league career Barrett returned to St. Louis to work in a sporting-goods store. For a time he managed a team in the local semipro Trolley League. He also informally scouted, recommending St. Louis-area players to minor-league clubs. His official scouting career began in 1909 when he attempted to persuade St. Louis Browns president Bob Hedges to open a ticket office in the sporting-goods store. Hedges knew Barrett’s name from his minor-league playing days as someone who had recommended players and offered him a job as a scout with the Browns. Barrett accepted, beginning his long ivory-hunting career that would last until his death in 1939. Barrett also managed the Houston club in the Texas League for part of the 1909 season.
Barrett stayed with the Browns through 1916, developing a close relationship with Browns front-office magnate Branch Rickey. Offered more money, Barrett worked as a scout for the Detroit Tigers in the 1917 season. In 1918 he returned to St. Louis to again work for Rickey, who had moved over to the Cardinals. Considered by some to be Rickey’s right arm, he helped the executive develop the famous Cardinals farm system.
Barrett referred to it as chain-store baseball. The idea was to have a large number of farm clubs allied with the Cardinals, playing at different levels so prospects could work their way through the system, theoretically gaining experience and improving until they were ready to be major leaguers. The excess players could then be traded or sold to other organizations. Rickey often referred to it as gaining quality from quantity.
It is interesting how little changes in baseball over time. Teams today have different philosophies in player development. Some move players slowly through their system, wanting them to have success at a level before promoting them. Others will move top prospects through the system faster, wanting to “challenge” them. In 1935 Barrett was quoted as saying the Cardinals wanted more D and C level teams (in a system topped by A and AA). He said they liked to send players as low as they could, so that they could be big frogs in little puddles.
Barrett frequently led or helped with Cardinal tryout camps, a favored way for the Cardinals to scout talent. In his career it was estimated he traveled over 500,000 miles, by car, bus, train, airplane, and even a tractor. At one point in his career Barrett ordered a special license plate for his Lincoln Zephyr car, bearing the words “Cardinals scout” with the Redbird logo upon it. He said he wanted people to know who he was so they might tip him off to local prospects.
Charley often went to great lengths to sign a player, even signing three players out of Cuba. The Sporting News told the story of Barrett traveling down a muddy road on his way to scout a player. His car got stuck but he was able to reach a phone to call the father of the prospect, who promptly sent a man with a tractor to pick Barrett up and bring him to the tryout spot. The player wasn’t signed.ii
Charley related another unusual signing story, that of pitcher Tim McCabe. Barrett stopped off at Farmington, Missouri, to visit the local county fair. He paid his 50 cents to get in to the fair and soon discovered a ballgame was one of the attractions. Ever the sharp-eyed scout, Barrett wandered over to watch the game, paying 25 cents for a seat in the grandstand. He quickly spotted McCabe’s work on the mound, signing him immediately after the conclusion of the contest.iii
Even the great ones sometimes get it wrong. A story was told on Barrett that he was scouting at the University of Oklahoma and spotted Colonel Buster Mills. He didn’t have a roster so he asked a player who the good outfielder was. The player replied Wahl. Barrett sent a contract back to Oklahoma and Wahl duly signed. A Cleveland scout then came in and signed Mills and Barrett later made a minor-league deal to get Mills into the Cardinals system. The story may be apocryphal but Mills did have a teammate at Oklahoma in 1930 named Tifford Wahl.
Scouting right up to the end, Barrett died on July 4, 1939, at his home on Wabada Avenue in St. Louis. The Cardinals team physician, Dr. Robert Hyland, signed the death certificate. He was survived by three sisters and a brother. He was buried in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis. He never married, The Sporting News saying “For even a woman of the Mrs. Roosevelt type hardly could keep up with him.”
Barrett’s 66 signings include: Mack Allison, Bill Beckman, Les Bell, Ray Blades, Jim Bottomley, Bunny Brief, Bud Byerly, Ray Cunningham, Jumbo Elliot, Homer Ezzell, Rick Ferrell, Max Flack, Art Fletcher, Rube Foster, Jesse Fowler, Ival Goodman, Bert Griffith, Charlie Grimm, Don Gutteridge, Chick Hafey, Andy High, Charlie High, Hugh High, Walter Holke, Al Hollingsworth, Joe Jenkins, Syl Johnson, Johnny Keane, Bob Keely, Billy Kelly, Bill Killefer, Bob Klinger, Grover Lowdermilk, Pepper Martin, Tim McCabe, Heinie Meine, Walt Meinert, Benny Meyer, Bing Miller, Heinie Mueller, Buddy Napier, Earl Naylor, Mickey O’Neil, Fritz Ostermueller, Bill Pertica, Rube Peters, Cotton Pippen, Hub Pruett, George Puccinelli, Art Reinhart, Pete Reiser, Flint Rhem, Muddy Ruel, William Rumler, Lou Scoffic, Hank Severeid, Ray Starr, Allyn Stout, Homer Summa, Jeff Tesreau, Frank Truesdale, Elam Vangilder, Gus Williams, Jim Winford, Ab Wright, and Johnny Wyrostek.
Missouri death certificate
The Sporting News: various issues
Newspapers including the Anaconda (Montana) Standard
www.ancestry.com including censuses of 1880, 1910, and 1930
SABR Scouts committee databases
i The Sporting News, July 13, 1939
ii The Sporting News, January 24, 1935
iii Jackson Citizen Patriot, November 25, 1915
Charles Francis Barrett
June 14, 1871 at St. Louis, MO (US)
July 4, 1939 at St. Louis, MO (US)
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