Doc Lavan (TRADING CARD DB)

Doc Lavan

This article was written by John J. Watkins

Doc Lavan (TRADING CARD DB)In the long history of professional baseball, almost 100 major-league players were nicknamed “Doc.” About half of them were medical professionals: physicians, dentists, an optometrist, a pharmacist, and even a veterinarian. Among the physicians was John Lavan, a graduate of the University of Michigan medical school who also earned a doctorate in public health. Lavan practiced medicine throughout most of his career as a major-league shortstop, served in the US Navy Medical Corps, and in the public health arena had a national leadership role in the fight against polio.

Lavan’s best seasons were with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1920 and 1921 under manager Branch Rickey, who had coached him on the Michigan varsity and brought him to the major leagues in 1913 with the Browns. In 1920 Lavan batted .289 and posted a 3.0 WAR, both career highs. The following year he drove in 82 runs, a franchise record for shortstops that stood for more than 80 years, and his 2.2 defensive WAR was the best of his career.

Although Lavan had the dubious distinction of leading shortstops in errors for four seasons, twice in each league, he was considered one of the top defensive players of his era.1 That contemporary assessment was later confirmed by statistics – his range factor per game for his career ranked 26th all-time among shortstops. Lavan “makes a flock of errors,” explained James M. Gould of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “So does Ty Cobb, and for the same reason. They both try for everything hit in their general direction.”2

Gifted with a strong arm, Lavan could “get the ball away from any position.” He was also considered by many to be “the fastest man around the keystone sack in working double plays,”3 consistently ranking among the league leaders in turning twin killings. He was also particularly adept at the art of tagging baserunners.4 As one sportswriter claimed, Lavan made “the phantom tag so deftly that he always got the umpire’s nod.”5 He was said to have no equal in another area: his “copyrighted trick” of trapping runners off second base for the pickoff play.6

Lavan was not known for his bat; he hit .245 over his major-league career with only seven home runs. However, he was “recognized as a clever bunter and a splendid hit-and-run man”7 and had a reputation as a “timely clouter”8 — in modern parlance, a clutch hitter. “The lads who bat .250 to .280 or thereabouts but who hit as well with men on bases as the .300 division . . . aren’t feared like the Ruths and Speakers and Hornsbys, but often in times of stress are quite as deadly,” wrote William B. Hanna in The Sporting News. He put Lavan in that category.9

***

John Leonard Laven was born on October 28, 1890, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Willem and Abla (Kelder) Laven. Willem, whose name was anglicized as William upon immigrating from the Netherlands at age 15, was a cigar manufacturer. Abla, known as Abbie, was a homemaker whose parents were Dutch immigrants. John, the oldest of three children and the only son, later changed the spelling of his surname.10

At Central High School in Grand Rapids, Lavan failed to make the baseball team in three attempts.11 However, he blossomed into a three-sport star at Hope College, a small liberal arts school in nearby Holland founded by Dutch immigrants in 1851. In his three years there, Lavan quarterbacked the football team, played forward on a basketball squad that defeated the likes of Notre Dame and Michigan State, and pitched and played shortstop for the baseball team.

After Lavan completed Hope’s 1910 spring term, his last at the college, he joined Holland’s minor-league club, the Wooden Shoes, in the Class D Michigan State League, playing shortstop and hitting .225 in 75 games. He returned to the team in 1911 upon completing his first year as a student in the Department of Medicine and Surgery at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. However, he was soon sold to the rival Muskegon Reds and helped that team make a strong but unsuccessful run for the pennant. Overall, he batted .282 in 71 games and ranked first in fielding percentage (.897) among shortstops who played at least 50 games.12 It was his last season in the leagueThe following summer Lavan played semipro ball in Montana, stashed there by the Browns.13 He then purchased his own release from Muskegon for $400.

At the University of Michigan, Lavan played his first season of varsity baseball in 1912 under Branch Rickey, who was coaching baseball while pursuing a law degree. His professional experience did not seem to be a concern, as rules about amateur standing were then treated rather casually. As the starting shortstop, Lavan led the Wolverines in hitting with a .337 average and attracted the attention of two major-league managers: Connie Mack of the Athletics and Detroit’s Hughie Jennings.14 A scout for the New York Highlanders went so far as to tell Rickey that Lavan could go directly to that club.15

Lavan was again at shortstop for the Wolverines when the 1913 season began. He got off to a strong start but was spiked in the hand in mid-April and missed the rest of the season. Two months later, he made his major-league debut. Rickey, who had again coached at Michigan that spring on leave from his new job as business manager of the St. Louis Browns, signed his former player for a reported $2,400.16 On June 22, Lavan was 0-for-4 in a 2-0 win over the White Sox at Comiskey Park, but was impressive on defense, “playing so clever a game at shortstop that he was constantly cheered by the big crowd.”17

Browns owner Robert Hedges was as enthusiastic as the Chicago crowd about Lavan. “He is the fastest player with his hands I have ever seen,” Hedges told the St. Louis Star. “There seems to be no limit to what he can do with the ball.”18 The question was his hitting. The press speculated that, because of his defensive ability, Lavan would be the Browns’ regular shortstop if he could manage a .225 average, but after 46 games he was batting only .141. Frustrated manager George Stovall told Rickey to get rid of the rookie shortstop.19

Rickey and Hedges believed that Lavan had great potential and did not want to part ways with him. In August, they prevailed upon Connie Mack to take Lavan at the waiver price and allow the Browns to repurchase him after the season; in effect, the Browns loaned him to the Athletics. Mack was happy to oblige because his shortstop, Jack Barry, was nursing an injured shoulder.20 Barry rapidly improved, however, and Lavan appeared in just six games. He was on the World Series roster but watched from the bench as the A’s dispatched the New York Giants in five games. With his full winner’s share of $3,246,21 Lavan paid for medical school and bought his father an automobile.

Lavan returned to Ann Arbor after the World Series, completed the requirements for his M.D. degree the following June, and then joined the Browns. He was greeted by a manager more to his liking: his former mentor Rickey, who had replaced Stovall the previous September. After a month, Lavan was batting a paltry .132. But in a 17-game homestand from July 28 through August 16, he hit .407 with two doubles, three triples, and a home run to cement his position in the starting lineup. He finished the season with a .264 batting average and .916 fielding percentage in 75 games.

In October Lavan again returned to Ann Arbor, serving as intern at the university hospital. There he met Hazel Seibert, a nurse, and the two were soon engaged. On February 16, 1915, they were married in her Ohio hometown. Two weeks later, the bride accompanied the groom to Houston for spring training.22 In the ensuing season he appeared in a career-high 157 games, hitting .218 and leading the league with 83 strikeouts. Defensively, he committed the most errors in the league, with 75, but his 5.30 range factor per nine innings was fourth among AL shortstops, and he turned more double plays than any of his peers.

The Browns staggered to a 63-91-5 record and saw a 40 percent drop in attendance to 150,358, worst in the league. In December Hedges sold the club to Philip De Catesby Ball, owner of the Federal League’s St. Louis Terriers, as part of the settlement agreement ending the war between the Federals and the two established major leagues. Under that agreement, Ball controlled the rights to all Terriers players, and he replaced Rickey in the dugout with Terriers manager Fielder Jones, although Rickey remained with the club as business manager.

Speculation began early that Ernie Johnson, the Terriers shortstop, would assume that role for the Browns in 1916. As it turned out, injuries to both Lavan and Johnson largely determined their playing time, with Lavan getting almost two-thirds of the starts. He had one of his best seasons for a much-improved Brownie team that finished 79-75. His 2.7 WAR ranked second among the league’s shortstops and his 2.1 defensive WAR third. In 106 games at shortstop, he led the league in range factor per nine innings (5.94) and range factor per game (5.69) while posting a career-best .950 fielding percentage. At the plate, he improved his batting average to .236 with a .305 OBP.

During the 1916 season, Lavan devoted some of his free time to medicine, serving as a visiting surgeon at St. John’s Hospital. When baseball play ended, he began what became his off-season routine: working as a physician. He joined the medical staff of the St. Louis City Dispensary, where he treated indigent patients. As it happened, his work at the clinic had an impact on his other job. A week before the Browns were to depart for spring training, Lavan broke a finger on his right hand while subduing an unruly patient.

The broken finger still bothered him when the 1917 season began, yet Lavan started all but three of the Browns’ first 38 games. On May 27, however, he was badly spiked on the wrist and did not return to the starting lineup until July 5. The injuries affected his performance; he said in September that he had at times “played ball when it was almost physically impossible.”23 His .239 batting average was essentially unchanged from 1916, but his defensive WAR dropped to 0.3, and he slipped in fielding percentage and the two range factor categories, although both ranked second among AL shortstops.

For the Browns, the season was a disaster, ending with a 57-97 record and acrimony between the owner and the players. After a 13-6 loss to Chicago on September 4, Ball told a reporter for the St. Louis Republic that some of his players were “laying down” and would face salary cuts as a result. He did not identify those players but said that only first baseman George Sisler, third baseman Jimmy Austin, and catcher Hank Severeid were giving the club their best efforts.24 Confronted the next day by Lavan, second baseman Del Pratt, and left fielder Burt Shotton, Ball attempted to walk back his comments – which could be read as accusing the players of throwing games – by claiming that the reporter misquoted him.25

Lavan and Pratt were not mollified. On September 7 they sued Ball for slander in state circuit court, each seeking $25,000 for reputational injury plus $25,000 in punitive damages.26 In mid-December, Ball shipped Lavan and Shotton to Washington for pitcher Bert Gallia and $15,000. Pratt was traded to the Yankees in a multi-player deal in January 1918, three days after the circuit court ruled that the cases must proceed to trial.

On March 28, however, the players’ lawyers issued a statement that the dispute had been resolved “to the satisfaction of all concerned.”27 The amount was not disclosed, but in an affidavit later submitted as evidence in a New York case, Ball stated that each player received $1,350 and was responsible for paying his own attorneys’ fees and other litigation expenses.28 Ball did not specify who paid the players. Shortly after the settlement was announced, however, he was quoted as saying that it “didn’t cost me anything,” leading to speculation that the American League picked up the tab.29

In January 1918, a month after his trade to Washington, Lavan announced that he had enlisted in the Navy and had orders to report for duty on 24 hours’ notice. He was commissioned as a lieutenant junior grade – a rank equivalent to an Army first lieutenant – in the Naval Reserve. On September 1, the Navy ordered him to report on September 10 to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station north of Chicago. The baseball season, cut short by World War I, ended on September 2. The Senators placed third, four games behind the champion Red Sox.

Lavan batted .278, best among the league’s shortstops, and his 2.2 offensive WAR was the second highest of his career. According to the Washington Star, manager Clark Griffith helped him improve as a hitter. In St. Louis, the shortstop had “ironclad orders” from Fielder Jones to take pitches until there were two strikes in an attempt to work pitchers for walks. Griffith freed him “to swipe at any offering that looks good,” regardless of the count, and persuaded him to stop pulling the ball and instead hit to all fields.30 On defense, Lavan led the league in errors but won praise from the local press. “Always a spectacular fielder, Lavan outdid himself in brilliant fielding plays from the time he put on a Washington uniform,” said the Washington Post.31

When Lavan reported to the Great Lakes training station as ordered, he was quickly named manager of the Bluejackets baseball team. He apparently avoided the so-called “Spanish flu,” which arrived at Great Lakes two days after he reported for duty, infecting 9,623 sailors and causing 924 deaths in 30 days.32 He was at the training facility waiting to go to sea when the armistice ending the war was signed on November 11. When Lavan departed for sea duty in December, the base newspaper described him as “one of the most popular officers and universally liked men [who] was ever attached to Great Lakes.”33

Assigned to the U.S.S. Mississippi, Lavan was the battleship’s assistant surgeon through April 1919, his last month of active service. On this tour he was promoted to full lieutenant, a rank equivalent to that of an Army captain. The Mississippi remained in North American waters, conducting training exercises in the Caribbean. In March, during a stop at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba, Lavan suffered a fracture in his leg, just above the ankle, sliding into second base in a game between the ship’s crew and Marines from the station.

The Cardinals purchased Lavan’s contract from the Senators on May 14. He assured Rickey, then president of the club and field manager, that the fracture had completely healed, and he would be ready to play upon joining the team June 1. Nonetheless, the leg hampered his play at the outset, but as the limb grew stronger, he steadily improved. Lavan finished the season with his best overall defensive numbers since 1916, including a 1.2 defensive WAR, and rebounded from his slow start to hit .242 in 100 games. The Cardinals, in rebuilding mode, finished seventh.

Lavan’s busiest day of the season was surely September 16 when the Cardinals split a doubleheader with the visiting Braves. He was hitless in the first game, an 8-4 loss, but was 2-for-4 with the game-winning RBI in the second. Out of uniform, Lavan performed surgery on Browns pitcher Urban Shocker, removing a “fatty tumor,” presumably a lipoma, from his side. According to the St. Louis Star, the doctor reported Shocker was “resting easily” and that “the operation, while necessary, was not a dangerous one.”34

In the off-season, Lavan again worked as a physician. In addition to his own practice, he was assistant surgeon for the United Railways Company of St. Louis, which operated the city’s streetcar system. The company’s chief surgeon was Dr. Robert F. Hyland, who like Lavan was a Grand Rapids native. Lavan introduced Hyland to Branch Rickey, and it was through this connection that Hyland became the Cardinals’ longtime physician.

In 1920 Lavan had his best overall season in the major leagues. In 142 games, 138 at shortstop, he batted a career-high .289 with 63 RBIs and posted a 3.0 WAR, also the best of his career. Defensively, he again made the most errors of the league’s shortstops but also ranked among the top four in putouts (327), assists (489), double plays (77), range factor per nine innings (5.89), range factor per game (5.91), and fielding percentage (.942).

The Cardinals improved to fifth place with a 75-79-1 record as second baseman Rogers Hornsby rose to superstar status with a league-leading .370 batting average. Hornsby and Lavan figured in one of the season’s more memorable plays, one that is not adequately reflected in a box score. It occurred on June 15 at the Polo Grounds, shortly after the Cardinals had turned down an offer from the Giants to purchase Hornsby’s contract for $250,000.35

With two out in the seventh, Dave Bancroft was at second base and Ross Youngs at first when Benny Kauff grounded sharply to Lavan, the ball deflecting off the shortstop’s glove toward second base. Lavan ran it down, turned, and whipped a quick throw toward first just as Hornsby crossed in front of him, having stepped across the second base bag to avoid the sliding Youngs. The ball hit Hornsby above his right ear, knocking him unconscious. As it turned out, he was not seriously hurt, suffering only a small cut and a throbbing headache.36

“But it was a mighty dangerous accident — and a very lucky escape from great injury,” Lavan said after the game. “If the ball had struck him a few inches further forward, on the temple, it would in all probability have killed him.”37 Two weeks later at the Polo Grounds, a fastball from Yankees submariner Carl Mays struck Cleveland’s Ray Chapman on the temple. Chapman died early the next morning.

In 1921 Lavan had another solid season as the Cardinals rose to third place, seven games behind the champion Giants. In 150 games, all at shortstop, his batting average fell to .259, but he drove in 82 runs, 12th in the league and a club record for shortstops in the modern era that stood until Edgar Renteria had 100 RBIs in 2003. On defense, he had the highest dWAR of his career, 2.2, as well as career bests in range factor per game (6.15, second in the league by .01), range factor per nine innings (6.23), and double plays (88), while equaling his career-best .950 fielding percentage.

The 1920 and 1921 seasons proved to be the high-water mark. Lavan had a difficult spring training in 1922, followed by his worst season in seven years. He developed a sore arm at camp and then came down with a debilitating case of the flu, losing almost 20 pounds from his 5-foot-7½, 152-pound frame and all of what he called his “reserve strength.”38 The club was training at Orange, Texas, which experienced a major influenza outbreak. With local doctors in the small town overwhelmed, Lavan helped treat the sick, perhaps contracting the disease as a result. He was limited to 89 games, 79 of which he started at shortstop. Playing “mainly on his nerve,” as one sportswriter put it,39 he hit .227 with a fielding percentage of .934 as the Cardinals finished in a third-place tie with Pittsburgh.

After the season, Lavan was feeling well enough to join a group of major-leaguers on a goodwill trip to Japan that also included stops in Korea, China, the Philippines, and Hawaii. During the three-month tour, Lavan, who was accompanied by his wife, put on 15 pounds. Back home in St. Louis, he proclaimed that he was fully recovered. “I am strong and really fit for a hard campaign,” he said.40

At spring training in 1923, Rickey said he had never seen Lavan in better physical condition, and one sportswriter considered him on track to open the season at shortstop.41 But on April 4 he badly injured his left shoulder evading the catcher’s tag in an exhibition game against the Cardinals’ Rochester farm club. Rookie Howard Freigau started at shortstop on Opening Day and ultimately received most of the playing time. Lavan, who was hurt again in May during a pregame workout when a ball struck him in the face, started only 30 games at the position; all told, he appeared in 50 games and hit .198 in 128 at-bats. The highlight of his season was what proved to be his last major-league home run, a long drive off Bill Hubbell into the center field stands at Philadelphia on May 8.42

In 1924, after Lavan had another good training camp, one sportswriter noted how “the impression grows that Lavan is the best shortstop on the Cardinal roster.”43 However, rookie Les Bell started the season at that spot, with Freigau shifting to third base. When Bell’s play proved unsatisfactory, Rickey acquired the more experienced Jimmy Cooney from Double-A Milwaukee. Two days later, on May 8, Lavan was unconditionally released. He had played four games, started three, and recorded no hits in six at-bats.

Thereafter Lavan was a player-manager in the minors for three seasons – 1924-1925 at Double-A Kansas City44 and 1927 at Class A Lincoln, Nebraska – but focused primarily on his medical career. Between his two seasons at Kansas City, he worked in the contagious disease department of the Kansas City General Hospital. Upon resigning as manager following his second season, Lavan was city epidemiologist for the Kansas City Health Department and a clinical instructor in dermatology at the University of Kansas Medical School in neighboring Kansas City, Kansas. Following his season at Lincoln, he maintained a private medical practice in Kansas City and was briefly a flight surgeon for Universal Aviation Corporation, an airline company that became part of what is today American Airlines.

In January 1930, Lavan became health commissioner for the City of Toledo; he then held the same position at Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids before returning to Toledo in 1940. Along the way he worked toward a doctorate in public health from the University of Michigan, receiving his degree in 1942. He was certified by the American Board of Preventive Medicine and Public Health and was a fellow of the American Public Health Association.

Lavan remained in the Naval Reserve and held the rank of commander, the equivalent rank to an Army lieutenant colonel, when the United States entered World War II. In February 1942, he was called to active duty and served at the Brooklyn Naval Hospital. His service ended with his retirement for medical reasons on September 1, 1942.

Later that month, Lavan was named director of scientific research at the National Foundation of Infantile Paralysis in New York City. The foundation, known today as the March of Dimes Foundation, was established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 to combat polio. Part of Lavan’s work took him to various cities around the country experiencing polio outbreaks, where he assisted local public health officials. He also spoke at conferences of physicians and public health officials and was involved in the fund-raising efforts of the Foundation’s March of Dimes campaign.

Lavan worked for the foundation through 1945. He was then a district health officer for the City of New York. There he married his second wife, Myrtle Ingeberg Iverson, in January 1950 (his first marriage had ended in divorce). Later that year, Lavan assisted Rabbit Maranville in coaching the Journal-American All-Stars in the annual Hearst Sandlot Classic, a youth all-star game.45 He and Mildred relocated to Milford, Connecticut, in July 1951 when he was named the city’s health officer. However, Lavan resigned in mid-October, citing “a problem of personal health.”46 On January 1, 1952, he became director of social hygiene for the health department of Wayne County, Michigan, which includes Detroit.

Five months later, on May 29, Lavan died from a gastrointestinal hemorrhage at Detroit’s Harper Hospital. He was 61 years old. In addition to his wife, he was survived by his mother, two sisters, two daughters from his first marriage, and four grandchildren. Lavan is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.47

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Darren Gibson and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Russ Walsh. The author also would like to thank the library staffs of the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis and Hope College in Holland, Michigan for their assistance.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources mentioned in the notes, the author relied on the following:

Gordon M. Brewer, “. . . But How You Played the Game!” A History of Intercollegiate Athletics at Hope College (Holland, Michigan: Hope College, 1991);

Michigan Daily Digital Archives, University of Michigan; Michiganensian (University of Michigan yearbook, 1913 and 1914);

Register of Staff and Graduates, July 1, 1941-June 30, 1942 (University of Michigan, 1942);

André Sobocinski, “A Look Back at Navy Medicine’s Curious Baseball Heritage,” Naval Air Station Patuxent River Tester, May 20, 2021;

Navy Directory: Officers of the United States Navy (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office): April 1, 1918, and May 1, 1918;

Naval History and Heritage Command, “Mississippi III, Battleship No. 41,” Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/m/mississippi-iii.html;

Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps (Washington, D.C.: U.S. GovernmentPrinting Office): October 1, 1941;

Register of Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office): July 1, 1943;

“Medical School Notes,” Journal of the Kansas Medical Association, vol. 26, no. 11 (November 1926);

“Medical News,” Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 120, no. 7 (October 17, 1942);

“Medical News,” New York State Journal of Medicine, vol. 50, part 1 (January 1-June 15, 1950);

“In Memoriam,” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 42, no. 12 (December, 1952);

Retrosheet.org; Newspapers.com; and GenealogyBank.com.

 

Notes

1 E.g., MacLean Kennedy, “Great Shortstops from 1915 to 1926,” Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee), January 27, 1927: 14 (“the doctor played the position equal to any player in the game”); James M. Gould, “Fans Are Hoping John Lavan Will Stay in Baseball,” St. Louis Star, November 2, 1920: 17 (Lavan “has reached a point where he could be justly called one of the greatest shortstops in the game”); “Dreyfuss May Block That Nice Three-Cornered Trade,” Boston Globe, March 15, 1919: 8 (“Lavan [is] one of the best shortstops in the American League”); “Shortstop Lavan Has Played His Last Game,” Buffalo Evening News, October 18, 1918: 9 (“Lavan has long been regarded one of the best fielding shortstops in baseball”).

2 Gould, “Fans Are Hoping John Lavan Will Stay in Baseball.” Another sportswriter agreed: “Lavan took chances going after balls that other shortstops would not have touched for fear of lowering their fielding percentages.” Harry F. Pierce, “Cardinals Fail to Show Fielding Leader in Official Averages,” St. Louis Star, December 12, 1921: 17.

3 “Lavan Agrees to Join Rickey for Another Campaign,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 11, 1921: 24.

4 James M. Gould, “Lavan Decides to Stay in Baseball for Another Year,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 17, 1919: 11.

5 J. Roy Stockton, “Extra Innings,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 8, 1952: 1E.

6 W.J. O’Connor, “Lavan Only Brown Holdout Who Has Sympathy of Fans,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 24, 1917: 9.

7 James M Gould, “Lavan Decides Not to Retire and Signs His Contract with Cards,” St. Louis Star, February 11, 1921: 19.

8 “Lavan Agrees to Join Rickey for Another Campaign.”

9 William S. Hanna, “Timely Hitters Not Always High in List,” The Sporting News, March 2, 1922: 7.

10 His surname is spelled various ways in accounts of his early baseball exploits, e.g., Laven, Levan, Le Van. At Michigan and in his early days with the Browns, he was usually referred to as Lavans.

11 Robert J. Schichtel, “Searching for Doc Lavan,” Grand River (Michigan) Times, vol. 36, no. 7 (April 2015): 4, 5.

12 There is a discrepancy regarding Lavan’s batting average. According to The Sporting News and a local newspaper, he had 73 hits.in 259 at-bats for a .282 average. “Michigan Figures,” The Sporting News, October 12, 1911: 7; “Averages of Michigan State League,” Muskegon (Michigan) News Chronicle, September 27, 1911: 10. Other sources agree that he hit .282 but also state that his 73 hits came in 250 at-bats. “Michigan State League,” Sporting Life, October 21, 1911: 12; Spalding’s Official Baseball Record (New York: American Sports Publishing Co., 1912), 133. However, that would result in a .292 average, the figure shown in Baseball-reference.com. It seems likely that the number 250 in the Sporting Life compilation is a typographical error that was reproduced in the Spaldings’ Record. No such confusion exists as to Lavan’s fielding record. He played 59 games at shortstop, leading the league’s shortstops in putouts (133) and assists (214) as well as fielding percentage. In nine games at third base, his fielding percentage was .894. 1912 Reach Official American League Baseball Guide (Philadelphia: A.J. Reach Co., 1912), 412; “Michigan State League,” Sporting Life. Lavan appears only in the fielding records for shortstops in Spalding’s Record; only the league’s batting records are provided in The Sporting News. Oddly, he does not appear among the hitters in the Reach Guide. It should be noted that these sources refer to him as “Le Van” and do not consistently show that he spent part of the season with Holland.

13 After Lavan joined the Browns in June 1913, a St. Louis newspaper reported that the team had “outmaneuvered two other clubs” by “hiding [him] for a summer with a semi-pro club in Montana.” “Johnny Lavans is 22 Years of Age — Is M.D. From U. of M.,” St. Louis Star, June 27, 1913: 10. According to a Montana newspaper, Lavan played under the name “Clark” in 1912 for a team in Dillon, a small town about 65 miles south of Butte. “Dillon Offers Regular Team,” Butte (Montana) Miner, July 19, 1919: 14; see also “Game Today to be Classy Exhibition,” Butte (Montana) Miner, July 14, 1912: 20 (describing Clark, the Dillon shortstop, as a “college boy” known for his “sensational fielding” who was “already signed up by a big-league club”).

Baseball-reference.com erroneously states that Lavan hit .214 at Muskegon in 1912, going 12-for-56 in 22 games. Those statistics belong to a different player, Fred Nebal, an outfielder and catcher with Muskegon. “May Run Excursion to Manistee Game,” Muskegon (Michigan) News Chronicle, June 10, 1912: 6; 1913 Reach Official American League Baseball Guide (Philadelphia: A.J. Reach Co. 1913), 395, 397-98; “Michigan State League,” Sporting Life, November 2, 1912: 14; 1913 Spalding’s Official Baseball Record (New York: American Sports Publishing Co., 1913), 188-190; “Platte a Big Bear,” The Sporting News, October 31, 1912: 8 (Michigan State League averages).

Another point of confusion is a statement on Lavan’s Sporting News player contract card that he played six games for Ludington’s Michigan State League team in 1912. This error apparently stems from an entry in both the Reach Guide and Sporting Life for “Lavens” at shortstop for Ludington. This player was Henry “Heinie” Lavens, whom Ludington acquired from Saginaw of the Southern Michigan League. “Lavens is Sold,” Lansing (Michigan) State Journal, June 12, 1912: 8.

14 “Levan Watched by Big League Scouts,” Muskegon (Michigan) News Chronicle, May 29, 1912: 6; “American League,” The Sporting News, May 23, 1912: 5.

15 “College Men Make Good in Major League Games,” St. Petersburg Daily Times, December 11, 1912: 5.

16 Billy Evans, “Baseball: The Game and its Players, Part 5 — The Collegian in Baseball,” St. Nicholas, vol. 41, no. 10 (August 1914): 903, 905. The Browns did not mention the amount when announcing Lavan’s signing. “Barrett-Rickey Scouring Minors; Browns Land Laven,” St. Louis Star, June 16, 1913: 9.

17 “Season’s Strike-Out Record for Scott,” New York Times, June 23, 1913: 8.

18 “Walsh and M. Balenti Will Go Back,” St. Louis Star, June 27, 1913: sec. 2, 2.

19 J. Roy Stockton, “Extra Innings,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 8, 1952: 1E; Harry F. Pierce, “Branch Rickey’s Collegians and an Army of War Correspondents Depart Friday Night for Training Headquarters at St. Petersburg, Fla.,” St. Louis Star, February 13, 1914: 7.

20 “Lavan’s Sale to C. Mack Shows Athletics’ Flaw,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 20, 1913: 7 (noting that the A’s paid the $2,500 waiver price for Lavan on August 19; also mentioning Barry’s injured shoulder); “Browns Get J. Lavan; Will Report June 15,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 13, 1914: 8; Stockton, “Extra Innings”; Pierce, “Branch Rickey’s Collegians.” Lavan’s player page at Baseball-reference.com dates the 1913 transaction as August 24, but on August 23 Lavan was playing shortstop for the A’s at Chicago.

21 “The Financial Result,” Sporting Life, October 18, 1913: 11 (“The 25 Athletic players received 60 percent of the players’ share, which amounted to $135,264,19, gave them $81.158.51 to divide, this netting each Mackman $3346.46 for his week’s work.”); “World’s Series Melon Cut Up Liberally by the Mackmen,” Buffalo Evening Times, November 11, 1913: 15 (because there were no partial shares on the Athletics, Lavan “got his $3,246, the same as the stars”).

22 “Seven Medical Graduates Are Hospital Internes,” Michigan Daily (Ann Arbor), October 18, 1914: 4; “Cupid Wings Johnny Lavan,” St. Joseph (Michigan) Daily Press, October 31, 1914: 2; “Society: Seibert-Lavan,” Hicksville (Ohio) Tribune, February 18, 1915: 8; “Hamilton, Lavan and Leverenz Join Squad Already at Houston,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, March 1, 1915: 10.

23 “$50,000 Damages Asked by Pratt and John Lavan,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 8, 1917: 10.

24 Wilbur Wood, “Brown Magnate Will Slice Salaries of Players $100 for Every $1,000 He Loses,” St. Louis Republic, September 5, 1917: 8; “Phil Ball Accuses Players of Laying Down on F.A. Jones,” St. Louis Republic, September 5, 1917: 8.

25 “John E. Wray, “Brownie Revolt Ends; Ball Says He Was Misquoted,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch,” September 6, 1917: 24; “Browns Quitting Is Charge as Big Series Draws Near,” Los Angeles Times, September 6, 1917: 6.

26 “Lavan and Pratt Bring Suit Against Phil Ball,” St. Louis Star, September 8, 1917: 7; “$50,000 Damages Asked by Pratt and John Lavan.” The petition in Pratt’s suit is reproduced in the record on appeal in a New York case brought by the Yankees against American League president Ban Johnson in 1919. Papers on Appeal, American League Baseball Club of New York, Inc. v. Johnson, New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division (1920), 143, 145-146. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Supreme_Court/yIlVC2tc1lQC?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=143%20petitition%20derrill%20b.%20pratt.

27 “Pratt and Lavan Call Off Slander Suit in Ball Case,” St. Louis Star, March 28, 1918: 9.

28 Rebuttal Affidavit of P.D.C. Ball on behalf of Defendants-Appellants, Papers on Appeal, American League Baseball Club of New York, Inc. v. Johnson, New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division (1920), 480-481,

https://www.google.com/books/edition/Supreme_Court/yIlVC2tc1lQC?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=480%20sworn%20p.d.c.%20ball. Pratt also submitted an affidavit in this case; he provided a slightly different figure, $1,327 for each player, but did not mention litigation expenses. Papers on Appeal, 141-142, https://www.google.com/books/edition/Supreme_Court/yIlVC2tc1lQC?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=141%20sworn%20pratt. Wildly inconsistent reports of the sum received by the players appeared in the press. The St. Louis Star, citing an unidentified friend of the players, said they divided $2,700 “after their attorneys had been paid.” “Lavan and Pratt Get $2,700 in Settlement of Suit Against Ball,” St. Louis Star, April 9, 1918: 15. The quoted phrase suggests, contrary to Ball’s statement, that they each netted $13,500. Other newspapers put the amount much higher. E.g., “Pratt and Lavan Settled Their Suit for $2,700 Each,” New York Sun, April 12, 1918: 15; “Pratt and Lavan Get $5,400 Damages Each,” New York Tribune, April 10, 1918; 15.

29 Louis A. Dougher, “American League Almost Halted as Ball Suit Neared,” Washington (D.C.) Times, April 11, 1918: 16.

30 “Lavan’s Great Work,” Washington (D.C.) Evening Star, June 29, 1918: 11.

31 J.V. FitzGerald, “The Round-Up,” Washington (D.C.) Post, October 21, 1918: 8.

32 Naval Department for the Fiscal Year 1919 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1920), 2428, 2431. The influenza pandemic began in February 1918 and lingered until early 1920, killing 675,000 people in the United States and more than 50 million worldwide. John M. Barry, The Great Influenza (New York: Penguin Books, 2018), 397.

33 “Baseball Leader Detached from Station,” Great Lakes (Illinois) Bulletin, December 11, 1918: 7.

34 “Pitcher Urban Shocker Operated on for Tumor,” St. Louis Star, September 17, 1919: 12.

35 In December, New York sportswriter Dan Daniel reported that the Giants had made three $250,000 offers during the season, one “only three hours before Hornsby was knocked out.” Dan Daniel, “Hornsby on Market; Giants Decline to Review Offer,” New York Herald, December 21, 1920: 14. On June 12, three days before the game, Cardinals president Sam Breadon had announced that the club had rejected an offer from the Giants of $200,000 and two players. “Cardinals Refuse $200,000 Offer for Pep Hornsby,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 13, 1920: 7.

According to J. Roy Stockton, longtime sportswriter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Rickey met with McGraw, Giants owner Charles Stoneham, and other club officials the night before the game, which Stockton erroneously placed in “the summer of 1919.” Stoneham offered $350,000, Stockton wrote, and Rickey responded by offering to purchase Frisch’s contract for $100,000 or trade Hornsby for Frisch and $200,000. McGraw vetoed that deal. J. Roy Stockton, The Gashouse Gang and a Couple of Other Guys (New York: A.S. Barnes & Co., 1945), 13-15. Stockton’s account is repeated in later books. E.g., Peter Golenbock, The Spirit of St. Louis (New York: Avon Books, 2000), 85-87; Lee Lowenfish, Branch Rickey: Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2007), 116-117.

36 C.A. Lovett, “Janvrin’s Double in Ninth Inning Gives Cardinals Victory, 8 to 7,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 16, 1920: 9. This report appears to be the most detailed account of the play.

37 Charles Somerville, “Only Joy in Giant Camp Over Cardinal Visit Comes When They Pack Up and Git,” New York Evening World, June 16, 1920: 18.

38 “John Lavan, with 15 Added Pounds, Back from Orient,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 9, 1923: 30. Lavan himself listed his height as 5-foot-7½ on his passport application in 1922, when he toured Asia with a group of other major leaguers. This document is available on Ancestry.com. His entry in the 1916 issue of Who’s Who in Baseball also listed him at that height and his weight as 152 pounds. Contemporary press reports also used these numbers. E.g., “Senators’ Infield is Good,” Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington), April 14, 1918: sec. 3, 3. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Lavan stood 5-foot-8 and weighed 151 pounds.

39 Herman Wecke, “Everything’s Wrong with Our Cardinals, Including the Loss of 3 Regular Stars,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 12, 1922: 19.

40 “John Lavan, With 15 Added Pounds, Back from Orient.”

41 James M. Gould, “Rickey Chooses His Team to Face Phillies in First Real Struggle,” St. Louis Star, March 9, 1923: 20.

42 “Cardinals Slaughter Hubbell and Beat Phillies in First, 11 to 3,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, May 9, 1923: 15; “Cards Spank Hubbell, Grab 19 Blows,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 9, 1923: 22.

43 “Lavan Will Likely Play Short and Freigau Third in Spring Series Opener,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 11, 1924: 44.

44 In 1924, the Blues signed Lavan as a player in mid-June. The following month he took on managerial duties as well when Wilbur Good was fired. “The Blues Release Good — Johnny Lavan Made Manager of Ball Team,” Kansas City Times, July 11, 1924: 1. In 1925 Lavan badly fractured his ankle in a spring exhibition game. He played only nine games during the season, all in September and most of necessity after second baseman Bobby Murray was injured. A review of the box scores shows that he was 13-for-32 (.406) with one error. The published American Association statistics for 1925 did not include players with fewer than 15 games. Eg., “Eddie Murphy Hits .397 to Lead American Association Batters,” The Sporting News, January 14, 1926: 8.

45 Andrew Dugo, “Maranville Manager of Hearst N.Y. Nine,” Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, August 11, 1950: 23.

46 “Dr. John L. Lavan Resigns as Town’s Health Officer,” Bridgeport (Connecticut) Telegram, October 18, 1951: 44.

47 “Death Takes Dr. J.L. Lavan,” Grand Rapids Press, May 31, 1952: 2; “Dr. Lavan, Health Aide, Dies at 61,” Detroit Free Press, May 31, 1952: 7; Death Certificate of Dr. John L. Lavan, Michigan Department of Health (copy in Lavan player file, National Baseball Hall of Fame Library).

Full Name

John Leonard Lavan

Born

October 28, 1890 at Grand Rapids, MI (USA)

Died

May 29, 1952 at Detroit, MI (USA)

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