Tod Sloan

This article was written by Chris Rainey

Tod Sloan batted left-handed and earned the reputation in the minors of being able to handle lefty pitchers better than righties. He only played 143 major-league games, but his statistics bear out those beliefs. According to Baseball-Reference he batted .257 in games with a left-handed starter and .227 when a righty started.1 He was also known for standing his ground and getting hit by pitches more often when facing lefties. That made events of August 22, 1917, an anomaly. Facing the Washington Senators in a doubleheader he was struck three times by right-handers. Walter Johnson plunked him in the opener before George Dumont and Bert Gallia nailed him in the nightcap.

The Sloan family had been farming in Monroe County, Tennessee, near the North Carolina border for a couple generations when Yale Yeastman Sloan was born. The second son born to William Robert and Emma (Ghormley) Sloan he was nearly a Christmas baby, joining the family on December 24, 1890. William and Emma took pride in the selection of children’s names. Yale’s brother was Xen Xerxes and his sister Zoe Zephyr. Another son died as a toddler.

Emma passed away in the mid-1890s and Sloan remarried to Eddie May Kelley in December 1901. They welcomed Lucy Elizabeth to the family. The children attended school in Madisonville, the county seat. Yale listed himself with two years of high school on the 1940 census. Some sources list him as playing at King College in Bristol, Tennessee.2

Yale’s nickname of “Tod” came from a famous jockey. James “Tod” Sloan revolutionized the sport in the 1890s by crouching forward and becoming more aerodynamic, and was also the inspiration for George M. Cohan’s “Little Johnny Jones.” Jockey Sloan returned to the public eye in 1912-13 with a salacious divorce trial. When Yale started his professional career, the Sporting Life and other sources referred to a pitcher at Keokuk, Joseph Sloan, as “Tod.” The use of “Tod” referring to Yale began after he made the majors and became commonplace in 1914.

Details of Sloan’s days as an amateur are elusive. Longtime scout Pop Kelchner lists him among his signees. Sloan would have become a semipro around 1908 before entering the Appalachian League in 1911. In August 1912 the St. Louis Browns purchased him. Kelchner was headquartered in eastern Pennsylvania until 1912 when he became a full-time Browns scout. Had Sloan traveled east and played in the Tri-State area where Kelchner spotted him or was he one of the first players Kelchner signed after joining the Browns?3

Sloan began his professional career in Bristol, Tennessee, in the Class D Appalachian League in 1911. Known as the Boosters the club struggled and barely won a third of their games. Sloan, a right-handed arm, went 4-8 as a pitcher. He also patrolled center field. At the plate he led the team with .336 average, 13 doubles, and eight triples.

The following season Bristol added catcher/manager Red Munson, infielder Bruno Betzel, and pitcher Roy Walker to go with holdovers Nick Cullop and Sloan, who shifted to right field. They went from worst to first thanks to strong pitching and Sloan’s .326 hitting and .453 slugging. He led the league with 11 triples and placed second in slugging. Following the regular season, they took on Roanoke, champions of the Class C Virginia League, beating them handily. The Bristol fans reveled in the victories, presenting Betzel and Sloan with gold watches and Munson with a purse of gold and silver.4

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch heralded Sloan as the next Joe Jackson when he signed his first contract in January 1913. The paper reported that manager Johnny Dodds of Montgomery, Alabama, had sent the Browns a telegram saying simply “Buy Sloan of Bristol, Tenn. He’s a second Joe Jackson.”5

Sloan joined the Browns for spring training in Waco, Texas, in 1913. Burt Shotton and Gus Williams were assured of outfield jobs, but manager George Stovall brought in Tillie Walker and a bevy of minor-league outfielders. Sloan played center field in the early exhibitions and displayed his hitting talent. There were questions about his fielding however. He had good speed but lacked grace and finesse. Writer Clarence Lloyd described him as “a crude fly-chaser.”6

In late March Sloan faced pitcher Mack Allison during batting practice and took a curve ball to the head. He was knocked unconscious and suffered from headaches for a while after. The timing of his injury gave Jimmy Johnston the upper hand in the battle for a roster spot. Sloan was sent to Montgomery in the Class A Southern Association.

The Montgomery Rebels finished in the second division in 1912 but manager Dodds hoped the addition of Sloan and Ernie Walker would lead to a big improvement. Sloan led the team in batting and slugging, but the Rebels barely moved up in the standings.

Sloan gave Dodds the occasional headache. One day Sloan came to bat with runners on first and second with none out. Dodds gave him the sign to bunt, but Sloan swung away. Dodds repeated the sign and again Sloan swung, hitting a lazy popup. Dodds confronted Sloan after the game. “Didn’t they teach you to bunt up at Bristol?” asked Dodds. Sloan shot back, “Why land sakes no, we had little guys to do the bunting. They were only hitting .180 or .190.”7 Dodds worked the rest of the year to correct Sloan’s bunting deficiency.

The Browns recalled Sloan and he debuted on September 22, 1913, against Washington. Branch Rickey had assumed the manager’s role and was testing out his young players. Sloan batted fifth and played right field. His error on a Chick Gandil line drive gave the Senators a 2-1 lead in the fifth. In the seventh he doubled down the left-field line and advanced to third on a ground out. Sloan scored when Eddie Foster threw high to home after grabbing a grounder. That opened the floodgates for a five-run inning leading to a Browns win, 7-5.8

He was one of five late-season call-ups used in the postseason series versus the Cardinals. Both St. Louis franchises had finished last and the papers claimed the series would determine the worst team in baseball. After eight games featuring “foul language, wrangling and even fist fights” that got so bad the umpires threatened to quit, the series ended with each team claiming three wins and posting two ties. After being promised a share of the receipts, when the pay off came, each Brown received a mere $77.22. Sloan and his rookie teammates had an even ruder awakening. They were voted half-shares, even Buzzy Wares who batted .360 in the series.9

For the season Sloan batted .269 in seven games. In the Cardinals series he went 1-for-10. In the offseason he returned to Madisonville to assist his father who, in addition to farming, served as postmaster.10 The postmaster job also belonged to Sloan’s maternal grandfather on occasion. In January he inked a three-year contract with the Browns.

Spring training in 1914 boiled down to a battle between Sloan and Ernie Walker for the fourth outfield spot. Walker earned the job and Sloan was sent back to the Southern Association, this time with the Nashville Volunteers. Once again, he led the team in batting and slugging, but they finished in fifth. In 1915 he was farmed out as the last cut. This time he went to Birmingham in the Southern Association. They finished in second place. Sloan led the team with a .300 average and led the league with 185 hits.

In 1916 he was sent to the Rochester Hustlers in the International League. Managed by veteran Tommy Leach, the Hustlers finished in seventh place. Sloan again batted .300 but was well behind the pace set by teammate Walter Holke (.344).

The Browns had an overabundance of left-handed hitting outfielders the previous seasons. In 1917 they found a better mix with holdover Burt Shotton and Sloan batting from the left, and with Baby Doll Jacobson, Armando Marsans, and Bill Rumler batting right-handed. The Browns had high hopes for Sloan who had paid his dues in the minors. Branch Rickey noted, “He has wonderful speed, knows how and when to steal; is a long hitter and can hit to all fields; has a remarkable arm, and he’s as good a bunter as I’ve ever seen.”11 Johnny Dodds’s work in 1913 had obviously paid dividends. The only nagging question on Sloan was his ability to chase down the ball.

Sloan served as mainly a pinch-hitter to start the season. Finally, on June 26 Shotton was benched and Sloan got a start in left field in Cleveland. In the third inning he launched a drive over Tris Speaker’s head for a two-run homer, but the Browns dropped the game, 5-2. Manager Fielder Jones stuck with him for 16 games in the leadoff spot. Sloan responded going 19-for-61. On July 7, Jones moved him to the middle of the lineup and he stayed there until his hitting tailed off in August.

His bat kept him in the lineup for those two months despite the word “boner” being applied to his baserunning, fielding and throwing. One day writer L.C. Davis wrote a poem about a base running gaff and the headline read “Y Sloan’s Initial Move Should Be to Y’s Himself Up On The Bases…”12 Despite the mistakes, Jones eventually returned Sloan to the top of the order, but an 11-for-55 performance sent him to the bench for the last three weeks of the season.

On August 2 while the Browns were in New York, Sloan and Jacobson went to a navy recruiting office and enlisted. The navy had a backlog of enlistees and put the pair on a waiting list which allowed them to finish the season. That fall Sloan reported to basic training. Upon completion he was stationed at the Norfolk, Virginia, Naval Shipyard.

Sloan’s application for a headstone lists him as a storekeeper third class. He played baseball at Norfolk for the electrical school team. They did not win the base championship but did claim a victory over Rabbit Maranville’s Atlantic Fleet team. During the hostilities Sloan did not serve in France, however a news report stated that he played baseball with the ship team from the SS George Washington.13 The Washington took President Woodrow Wilson to Europe for postwar negotiations. The journey, a first for a sitting president, lasted from November 14 to February 24.14 A listing of enlisted men attached to the Washington does not show Sloan’s name making it uncertain if he was on the journey.15

Sloan reported to training camp late, but in good condition. He was one of six outfielders on the Browns’ roster. He made a pinch-running appearance on April 29, then was one of six players left behind when the team went on its first road trip. Sloan got his first start on May 10 when Ray Demmitt was benched. Manager Jimmy Burke stuck with him for 20 games batting him fifth or sixth in the lineup. After the June 2 game, Sloan was batting .220 and had scored only six times and driven in four. Burke sent him to the bench. On July 17 he was released to Columbus in the AA marking the end to his major-league career.

Sloan closed out the year with the second-division Senators. They sold his contract to Memphis in the Southern Association in mid-February 1920. Sloan was auditioned in center field during training camp. He cemented his position by throwing out Tris Speaker at the plate in an exhibition game. Sloan had to sit out a few games early in the season. In a freak occurrence he spiked himself going for a fly ball in the gap. Upon his return he was shifted to left field and inserted in the middle of the lineup.

On May 22 the Chicks played the New Orleans Pelicans. A close play on a pickoff in the second ignited a major argument and the league office eventually suspended Memphis manager John McCloskey for five days and fined six Chicks. Sloan was hit the hardest; assessed $35 for his actions.16 On July 12, Memphis swapped him to Chattanooga for pitcher Rube Marshall.

Sloan returned to center with the last-place Lookouts. He quickly became a fan favorite by stealing home for the victory over Nashville on July 20. His season turned sour in August. First, he was benched because of an unspecified illness that had sapped his strength. Then he got into a fist fight with umpire “Cy” Pfirman after a profanity-laced argument over balls and strikes. Sloan was suspended five days for the incident. According to the Spalding’s Official Base Ball Record he batted a career low .251 in 116 games. He managed only one assist in the field.

The Lookouts reserved Sloan for 1921 but began to regret the decision in March when he held out. His salary demands were too much for a player coming off his worst season. It was reported that he was given permission to find his own deal. When nothing materialized, Chattanooga released him.17 Kid Elberfeld with the Little Rock Travelers signed him in mid-April.

Sloan served as a backup for the first month but moved into the starting lineup when Bob Bescher was sold. He appeared in 56 games and batted .306 before entering Elberfeld’s doghouse. His demise came on June 30 when he was on second in a bases-loaded situation. On a single Sloan took his time jogging home and a runner was thrown out at third before Sloan scored. He was immediately benched and then suspended.18 He was released to Meridian in the Class D Mississippi State League. Little Rock reserved him and then placed him on the suspended list when he would not sign a contract for 1922.

Sloan turned to semipro baseball. In 1922 he most likely played in Tennessee. The following year he made his way to the Mid-West League which featured teams in Ohio and Wisconsin. He joined the Massillon Agathons as leadoff hitter and left fielder. In 1924 he went east to join Shamokin in the Anthracite League. York of the New York Pennsylvania League lured him away but dropped him after he made three errors in a game on June 2. The Shenandoah Braves in the Anthracite League wanted his services and eventually paid Shamokin $100 to get him. Sloan played center and batted fourth, but the franchise was unstable and called it quits a week early.

In 1925 Sloan returned to the professional ranks with Knoxville of the South Atlantic League. On June 7 the Smokies gave him his release. A few days later he signed with Macon, also of the South Atlantic. He went on a hitting tear with the Peaches. From July 12 to August 16 he went 57-for-115, an amazing .496 pace.19 He closed out the season with career highs in doubles (33), home runs (10) and batting (.358).

Sloan’s turnaround in 1925 may have been a result of his marriage to Ruth Emma Mitchell. Born in Michigan, Ruth was from a nearby town in Tennessee and was the daughter of a mining engineer. The couple had seven children. The first, Dorothy Helen, was born in Tennessee, the rest in Ohio.

Sloan returned to the Peaches in 1926. He was batting .306 after 49 games but was suffering from back pain. He finally went to management and asked to be released because he did not think he could play out the year. He was released on July 10. In August the Montgomery Lions had injury issues and coaxed him into playing in the Southeastern League. In 11 games he batted .212.

Sloan moved the family north in 1928. He took a job with Goodyear Tire in Akron. The family found a home in nearby Tallmadge for a few years before moving to Akron. Sloan played for the company team for a couple of seasons and managed them in 1929. He left the diamond after that and concentrated on his duties first as a foreman and later as a supervisor. The family added five daughters and a son from 1928-1939.

Sloan retired from Goodyear after 25 years. He and Ruth moved out of the city to nearby Cuyahoga Falls. Sloan passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage on September 12, 1956. He was buried in Chestnut Hills Cemetery in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Phil Williams and fact-checked by Alan Cohen.

 

Notes

1 https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/split.fcgi?id=sloanto01&year=Career&t=b

2 Dana McMurray from King University checked school records and found no mention of Yale Sloan. However, there is a yearbook picture that shows a player named Sloan playing with pitcher Nick Cullop.

3 “Pop Kelchner Had Role in 50 Years of Baseball,” Lebanon (Pennsylvania) Daily News, February 21, 1951: 122.

4 “Members of Bristol Team Remembered by Friends,” Richmond Times Dispatch, September 13, 1912: 6.

5 W. J. O’Connor, “Y.Y. Sloan, the 2d J. Jackson, Now a Brownie,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 26, 1913: 18.

6 Clarence F. Lloyd, St. Louis Post Dispatch, March 23, 1913: 36.

7 “Johnny G. Dodds Tells Yarns; No Dope,” Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser, September 21, 1913: 15.

8 J. Ed Grillo, “Fight for Second Place All That’s Left to 1913 Race,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), September 23, 1913: 14.

9 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 14, 1913: 16.

10 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 27, 1913: 17.

11 J.W. O’Connor, “Rickey Thinks He Has Genuine Star in Yale Y. Sloan,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 26, 1917: 16.

12 L. C. Davis “Sport Salad,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 19, 1917: 16.

13 “Yale Sloan Arrives from Foreign Service,” St. Louis Star and Times, April 24, 1919: 19.

14 https://history.state.gov/departmenthistory/travels/president/wilson-woodrow

15 Captain Edwin J. Pollock and Lieutenant Paul F. Bloomhardt, The Hatchet of the United States Ship “George Washington” Volumes 1-9 (New York: printed by author, 1919), 238-252. Found as a Google book. https://books.google.com/books?id=tD8TAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA241&dq=Crew+of+SS+George+Washington+on+Wilson%27s+visit+to+france&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=   Accessed April 2, 2018.

16 “McCloskey is Handed Suspension of Five Days,” The Tennessean (Nashville), May 26, 1920: 15.

17 “Nicklin Has Quartet of Wild Holdout Men,” The Tennessean, March 14, 1921: 7.

18 “Sloan Goes Home; May Go Elsewhere,” Daily Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock), July 3, 1921: 33.

19 The statistics came from weekly totals published in the Macon Telegraph.