This article was written by Bob Boynton
Richard William Bass was born in Rogersville, Tennessee, on July 7, 1906. His height is listed in Total Baseball as 6 feet 2 inches and his weight as 175 pounds (they were listed as 6 feet 1 inch and 210 pounds in 1954 when he applied for a position in the Recreation Department at Kingsport, Tennessee). Right-handed all the way, Bass graduated from Miami University of Ohio in 1932, where he was named to the All-Buckeye baseball teams during his junior and senior years. He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals organization and remained in professional baseball through 1947 with the exception of four years during World War II.
In total, Bass pitched for eight different teams in fourteen minor league seasons and compiled a record distinguished primarily for durability. His reputation as an “iron man” began in college at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) when he pitched an entire 21-inning game against the University of Cincinnati and he was still going strong in 1939, his second season with Chattanooga, where he pitched 261 innings before making his only major league appearance. In an average professional season, Bass appeared in 36 games, won 10, lost 11, and allowed 86 earned runs in 178 innings for an ERA of 4.68.
Although known for his fastball in college, Bass was basically a control and knuckleball pitcher in the minors. He walked approximately one batter every four innings, and on average he required three innings to get a strikeout. The 1936 edition of the American Association Who’s Who shaved two years from his age and noted that he had brown hair and blue eyes. It also revealed his marriage the previous year to Margaret Stewart Blake of Dayton, Ohio. The former Miss Blake turned out to be the first of Dick’s four wives, and in 1938 she gave birth to his only child, a son they named Richard Keith.
At Griffith Stadium on Thursday, September 21, 1939, the Washington Senators hosted the Cleveland Indians. Cleveland was in a dogfight with Boston and Chicago for second place money, whereas Washington had clinched sixth place. The starting lineups:
Lou Boudreau, ss
Roy Weatherly, lf
Ben Chapman, cf
Sammy Hale, 2b
Bruce Campbell, rf
Ken Keltner, 3b
Oscar Grimes, 1b
Rollie Hemsley, c
Al Milnar, p
Eddie Leip, 2b
Hal Quick, ss
Alex Pitko, rf
Taft Wright, lf
Charlie Gelbert, 3b
Mickey Vernon, lb
Elmer Gedeon, cf
Rick Ferrell, c
Dick Bass, p
For Washington, Leip, Quick, and Pitko would finish their big league careers by participating in an average of only 16 games each. This was the only year in the big leagues for Gedeon, who appeared in only five games and was killed in France during World War II. Although they were destined to have long and solid careers, Mickey Vernon was playing in his first season and Taft Wright, only his second. Cecil Travis, Buddy Lewis, and George W. Case — veterans who were collectively batting over .300 — warmed the bench all afternoon. By contrast, the eight Cleveland position players eventually completed an average of 13 years in the major leagues.
The next morning, the following account of what happened to Bass was provided by Gordon Cobbledick in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
“The game was a scoreless pitching duel between Al Milnar and a 31-year-old [actually 33] rookie named Dick Bass for six innings and then things began to happen.
“Taft Wright led off the Washington seventh with the Nats’ fourth hit, a single to right. Charlie Gelbert, the old National Leaguer, caught one on the nose and drove it toward the left field corner.
“The blow was ticketed for two bases, but Roy Weatherly had other ideas. In a desperate effort to make the catch, Roy hurled himself headlong toward the foul line at the point where the field boxes come out to meet it. He got his hands on the ball just as his head crashed into the concrete boxes. He was knocked cold and Gelbert made the circuit of the bases, scoring behind Wright, and the Nats were two runs to the good.
“Milnar retired them without further damage and the Indians came to bat in the eighth, with Weatherly leading off.
“Just to prove that a little thing like a knockout was nothing in his life, he slammed Bass’ first pitch to left for a single and before the rookie pitcher could get an Indian out the tribe had scored four runs and had the game put away.
“Ben Chapman followed Weatherly’s blow with another that put Roy on third. Sammy Hale’s reliable bat, the greatest single factor in the Indians’ sensational spurt in the east [they won nine of eleven games] then boomed again, stroking a single to center that put Chapman on second base. A curve ball that cracked Bruce Campbell on the shins filled the bases.
“And then Keltner whacked one against the top of the bleacher wall in left center, nearly 400 feet from the plate, for a double, scoring Hale and Chapman and putting the Indians in the lead.
“An intentional pass to Oscar Grimes loaded the bases again. Rollie Hemsley laid down a bunt, which scored Campbell, and because first baseman Mickey Vernon fumbled it, the bases were still jammed and no one was out. Fielder’s choices by Milnar and Lou Boudreau sent in two more runs before Bass got Weatherly to end the inning.”
An unusual feature of this game is that a recording of the radio broadcast of the last 51/2 innings has survived. Although Cobbledick didn’t mention it, the broadcast makes it evident that no visit to the mound was made (or ordered) by manager Bucky Harris as Bass labored through the unfortunate eighth inning, throwing 33 pitches. The broadcast reveals that from the fifth through the eighth inning, Bass threw 62 pitches. At the start of the broadcast, announcer Walter Johnson (the former Big Train himself) commented that Bass (who had walked five and given up two hits) “has gone 3 and 2 on most of the batters.” Assuming, conservatively, four pitches per batter for the first four innings, when the Indians batted around twice, he would have thrown 134 pitches by the time Weatherly flied out to terminate Bass’s major-league career. Had he been removed after seven innings, with the Senators leading 2-0 (after throwing about 100 pitches), or even
after his first two pitches in the eighth were hit for singles, Bass could have emerged as the winning pitcher.
At Chattanooga of the Southern Association in 1939, Bass had won 19 games and lost 10 with an ERA of 3.21. He evidently had expected to be retained on the Senators’ major league roster after 1939, because he filed a protest with Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis when this did not happen. There is no record of what Bass wrote, but Landis replied that his transfer to Washington had been disapproved “because it exceeded Washington’s player limit.” Instead, Bass’s contract was sold to the Chicago Cubs and in 1940 he went with them to spring training on Catalina Island, off the Southern California coast. But Bass didn’t make the team and was sent to Montreal of the International League, where he appeared in only five games before being returned to Chattanooga, where he won a total of 21 games and lost exactly the same number during 1940 and 1941, his last pre-war seasons.
During the war years, Bass was employed by Acme Aluminum Alloys, of Dayton, Ohio, as a purchasing agent. He also assisted in the company’s recreational program for employees. He managed their Class A amateur baseball team from 1942 through 1945, winning the city championship every year. In 1944, their team won the World’s Amateur Championship at Youngstown, Ohio.
In 1945, with the war ended, Bass was hired to manage and pitch for the Gainesville G-Men of the Class D Florida State League. During the first part of the season, his wife kept a scrapbook which she later abandoned as the G-Men sank deep into the standings, eventually finishing last. From there Bass went to Kingsport of the Appalachian League. Joe Engle, one-time president of the Chattanooga Lookouts, who was known as the “Baron of Ballyhoo and the Barnum of Baloney,” probably planted the following gem
in the Chattanooga Times-News:
“Bass, a former Chattanooga Lookout, is being sent to Kingsport highly recommended by Joe Engle, President of the Chattanooga Lookouts with whom the Cherokees have a working agreement. ‘I believe Bass will make a good manager,’ Engle told Joe Hagins, President of the Kingsport club, after assigning the 33-year-old manager to Kingsport. ‘He has a good record as a manager as well as a player.’”
In 1947 at Kingsport, the allegedly 33-year-old manager, who was actually 41, was still pitching in what turned out to be his last minor league season. For the Cherokees he won 16 and lost only 3, easily the best winning percentage of his long minor league career. But Kingsport of the Class D Appalachian League was a very long way from major league baseball. Once again, his wife optimistically began a scrapbook, and once again she quit in midseason as the team finished sixth with a .454 record.
Bass’ career in baseball was not quite over. In 1948, he managed the Fort Wayne Daisies of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball league (a team earlier managed by Jimmie Foxx). After a disappointing season during which the Daisies finished eighth among the league’s ten teams, Bass’ career as a manager nevertheless concluded on a relatively high note. The league had been split into two divisions and despite finishing fourth in the five-team Eastern Division, the Daisies qualified for the playoffs. However, in the showdown series, they were defeated by the Western Division winners, the Rockford Peaches. Although the league continued for a few more years, this was Bass’ only season as a manager of a girls’ baseball team.
According to a resume he prepared while seeking employment in 1954, Bass described postwar jobs as a bowling alley manager and as an assistant to his father in the operation of the Lake Santa Fe fishing camp in Earleton, Florida. He stated: “I feel that I am best qualified by education, training, experience, personality, and temperament to work in industrial recreation.” Sadly, according to his son, he was unable to fulfill this ambition.
Dick Bass died at the age of 82 on February 3, 1989, in Graceville, Florida. He had been in a convalescent home for two years after suffering a broken hip in a fall.
Most of what is reported above is taken, some of it verbatim, from an article I published in NINE in 1994 (Vol. 3, No. 1, 189-203) where nineteen endnotes fully document my sources. My interest in Dick Bass began with the radio broadcast, which was inadvertently part of the electrical transcription of an entire broadcast day of station WJSV in Washington, D.C., created as a historical document. I purchased the tapes in 1989 from a WIRELESS catalog without having any idea that a baseball broadcast was included. The cassettes carry a copyright by GREATAPES in Minneapolis, Minnesota. According to Paul Brennecke, a GREATAPES archivist with whom I spoke in 1990, the master transcription had become part of a private collection from which reel-to-reel tapes were made and it was from these tapes that the cassettes were manufactured.
The broadcast is notable for several reasons. It is one of the earliest regular-season broadcast for which a recording exists. The date of the recording was chosen because President Roosevelt was scheduled to speak to a joint session of Congress that afternoon; his speech is included. The primary announcer of the baseball game, Walter Johnson, was near the end of his only season in the booth. Dick Bass’ first name was never mentioned during the broadcast and the only statistic reported, Bass’ won-and-lost record at Chattanooga that season, was incorrectly given. It is unclear why the broadcast of the ballgame did not begin until 4 o’clock, by which time the last half of the fourth inning had begun. Some other aspects of the radio broadcast are described in endnotes 5, 6, and 8 of my article in NINE.
For the statistics on one-game players, I am indebted to Wayne McElreavy who sent me a list through 2002 a day or two after I had issued a SABR-L request. Baseball Almanac (http://www.baseball-almanac.com) was consulted for 2003 data. I also thank Bob Hoie, who supplied Bass’s minor league record, and Barbara Gregorich, who provided information about the Fort Wayne Daisies’ post-season play.
I thank SABR member Dennis VanLangen who, in response to my SABR-L request, cited the following radio broadcasts of regular-season games that were made earlier in the 1930s and for which audiocassette tapes exist.
Sept. 20, 1934. New York (AL) 11, Detroit 7. Oldest known game broadcast. Announcer: Tyson.
July 30, 1936. Chicago (AL) 7, Philadelphia (AL) 4. A vintage old-timers game featuring Connie Mack’s A’s. Announcer: Totten.
Aug. 2, 1936. Chicago (AL) 9, Boston 1. Oldest known Red Sox broadcast. Announcer: Totten.
I am especially indebted to Dick Bass’ son, Keith, and his wife, who welcomed me into their home in Greenwood, Florida, in May, 1991, where they encouraged me to peruse the scrapbooks that Dick Bass’ wife had kept during his father’s two seasons as a minor league manager. Keith Bass also provided information about his father’s occupation during the war, his stint as manager of the Fort Wayne Daisies, and his life after baseball.