This article was written by Bill Nowlin
In the course of three decades, Doc Moskiman went from medical school to retailing athletic goods. In between, he appeared in five major-league games with the 1910 Boston Red Sox, playing first base and right field. He hit safely once, drove in one run, and scored one run. He made no errors in 18 chances. He spent parts of 13 seasons playing minor-league and independent-league ball, pitching more often than not and quite often with considerable success.
Doc was born as William Bankhead Moskiman in Oakland, California, on December 20, 1879. Moskiman’s father was Australian by birth (of Scottish ancestry) and his mother, Elizabeth Bankhead, was a native Californian, but of them we know nothing – and, in case of his father, not even his first name. Young William attended Jefferson Grammar School for eight years, and graduated from Oakland High School.
Because he was a medical student at Cooper Medical College in Oakland, newspapers like the Los Angeles Times bestowed his degree on him in advance by frequently referring to him as “Dr. Moskiman” and crafting such headlines as “Dr. Moskiman Comes in for His Medicine” (when Los Angeles beat Oakland on May 26, 1901) and “Moskiman a Bad Doctor / His Medicine Was Far from Effective” (after Los Angeles drubbed Oakland again on September 14.) The game story of his May 10, 1902, shutout was titled “Moskiman’s Bad Pills / All Looloos Killed Off by Doctor.”
Cooper Medical College had been founded in 1882. At the time of the 1900 census, Moskiman was a medical student living in Oakland with his uncle, Hugh Bell, a carpenter, and Hugh’s wife, Agnes. “Doc” never truly became a doctor, but it wasn’t because the lure of the diamond held more appeal than the sphygmomanometer. It was romance.
Moskiman had met Catherine Sarsfield at college; she also had medical training. They met and married in November 1900. Moskiman told writer Dave Houser they “were ready to start their residencies when they were married, and that wasn’t permitted for interns at that time. Both were dismissed from school, without ever receiving medical degrees.”i
In a player questionnaire submitted later to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Doc’s son William Sarsfield Moskiman put it this way: “Prior to internship, Dad dropped out of college.”
Moskiman had been playing baseball for pay since at least the age of 17, when he played in 1897 for the Alameda Bushnell Alerts and in December for the Oakland Reliance team. He may well have played as early as 1895; an article in Sporting Life named him as one of the players in the Examiner League that year.ii He would have been 15, turning 16 at the end of the year.
In 1898, Moskiman played in the California League for the Oakland Reliance; the PCL had no classification until the following year (1899), when the team was first named the Oakland Oaks. We lack statistics from the seasons 1898 through 1900, though Sporting Life said Moskiman led the league’s in pitchers’ fielding percentage in 1898.iii How precisely that measured only his work in fielding while pitching is uncertain; sometimes he would either come into a game from the outfield and pitch later in the game, or leave pitching and move to the outfield. Moskiman did pitch a two-hit shutout against San Francisco in the March 26 opening game of the 1899 season.iv
He was already drawing some notice for his work with the bat, and may have played some for Sacramento in 1900. The November 10, 1900, issue of Sporting Life noted in passing that he was a “graduated physician” and that he had been claimed by Detroit for the 1901 season. Claimed he may have been, but he never played for Detroit. Just two weeks earlier, the same publication cited Moskiman as the premier pitcher with Oakland, so we suspect the Sacramento attribution is incorrect.
In 1901, Doc Moskiman was a 29-game winner for the Oakland Commuters, the renamed team in the California League. He started off with a three-hit shutout of Los Angeles on Opening Day, and for the season was 29-20, and said to have batted for a .221 average. There were the occasional oddities in the early years of play in the league. Moskiman also played right field and in a game on April 29 in Oakland, a ball hit by Householder of Los Angeles “lodged in a small tree, and while Moskiman was trying to shake it out Householder ran around the bases.”v Near the end of the 1901 season, the Los Angeles Times reported that one of the major-league clubs had “offered (him) a tempting salary.”vi
In 1902 the team changed its name once again, to the Oakland Clamdiggers. Moskiman began with Oakland, but on April 27 was fined $25 for “indifferent work” – not doing his best to win –and he was laid off without pay “until he can get into condition to pitch.”vii In his “return to grace,” on May 10, he shut out Los Angeles.
Moskiman is said to have also played for the Denver Grizzlies (no records have been located), but if he did (he certainly pitched for Oakland at least through July), he resurfaced with Oakland once more in 1903. He’d improved at the plate and hit .316 in 455 at-bats (even occasionally drawing the unusual – for that time – intentional walk), but had hard luck on the mound: Despite a 3.03 ERA and the best WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) of any pitcher on the Oaks, his record was 14-24. (He was one of three pitchers on the team with ten or more losses than wins.) Apparently a good all-around ballplayer, he also played shortstop at times.
An improvement in ERA (2.69) helped Moskiman to a 19-14 season in 1904, though his batting fell off, to .260. At the end of the 1905 season – when he was 9-13 with a 1.99 ERA for Oakland (and played very briefly for Sacramento), he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates.viii Team owner Barney Dreyfuss was impressed by Moskiman during spring training at Hot Springs, Arkansas, but he loaned him out to the Jersey City Skeeters in the Eastern League, where Moskiman was lucky enough to miss the San Francisco earthquake in April 1906. He recorded a 15-13 season. He was brought up to Pittsburgh late in the season but was “well tired out” after the season, wanted to head back to the Bay Area, and was given permission to do so.ix
Pittsburgh sold Moskiman’s contract for 1907 to Louisville on January 8, but Doc elected to stay in the West and captained the Stockton team in the California League, considered an “outlaw” league at the time by Organized Baseball. The life of an outlaw may have appealed to him. So might have staying closer to home. And for several of the outlaws, there were “better inducements than they could secure elsewhere.”x
Doc played for the Stockton Millers again in 1908, winning 22 games (22-12), and had a 31-13 season for the Oakland Commuters in 1909, pitching an impressive 399 innings. With a more favorable climate, teams in California leagues tended to play quite long seasons in those days. In the Pacific Coast League itself, the Oakland Oaks recorded an 88-125 record in 1909. But Moskiman was playing in a league outside the realm of Organized Baseball and because he had “jumped” the contract assigning him to Louisville, he was banned from O.B. (as it was sometimes called.)
As one would expect, anyone winning that many games was going to attract attention and the Boston Red Sox – who had begun to sign a significant number of players from California – were interested enough to make him an offer. On July 2, 1910, Red Sox owner John I. Taylor announced that Moskiman’s contract had been purchased from Louisville for $1,500 and that he would travel east to join the team. The Red Sox knew he was on the ineligible list but applied and on July 23 were granted temporary permission to effect the purchase of his contract from Oakland. Moskiman was said to have been restored to good standing.
Red Sox manager Patsy Donovan gave Moskiman his debut as a pinch-hitter on August 23 against the visiting St. Louis Browns, batting for Eddie Cicotte in the sixth inning. He drew a base on balls. Doc advanced on a single by Harry Hooper and then scored on an unusual play, described thusly by the Boston Globe: “Purtell put a fast one that jumped as it reached the third baseman, caroming off Griggs’ head into the bleachers, good for a home run, with two men ahead.”xi
Two days later Moskiman was given the same assignment with the same initial result: Batting for pitcher Charlie Smith in the third inning, he walked again. This time there was no freak homer hit into the Huntington Avenue Grounds bleachers off a fielder’s head; Purtell walked behind him and the bases were loaded but the Red Sox were unable to score. They did win the game, beating Cleveland, 7-4.
On September 6 the Red Sox took advantage of an offday to go to Worcester and play an exhibition game against Jesse Burkett’s team there. Moskiman played second base, getting a double. On September 8 Hooper was “indisposed” and Donovan gave Doc his first start, playing right field and batting leadoff in a game against the visiting Philadelphia Athletics. “He did some clever outfielding, and hit the ball safe his first time up,” wrote Tim Murnane.xii Moskiman’s single actually came in the third inning, according to Murnane’s detail of the game. He was 1-for-4, with his first (as it turned out, his only) hit in the major leagues. The game was a 3-2 loss, dropping Boston into a tie with the New York Highlanders for second place, both teams 13½ games behind Philadelphia.
On October 8, the final day on the schedule, Moskiman appeared in both games of a doubleheader in New York. There was nothing at stake for Boston; they were set for fourth place. A Tigers loss on October 7 guaranteed second place to New York. In the first game Moskiman came in to play first base in place of Hugh Bradley. He was 0-for-1 at the plate. In the top of the ninth inning of the second game, Doc secured a run batted in, driving in Larry Gardner, who had tripled, on a grounder to second base. He was 0-for-4 in the game.
In the course of his five appearances for the Red Sox, Moskiman had one hit, one run scored, and now one run batted in. With his two walks, he had a .273 on-base percentage. Though he had been a pitcher in most of his time in the minor leagues and independent ball, with a cumulative 139 wins in the seven seasons for which we have records, Manager Donovan never used him other than at first base and in right field, aside from having him play second base in the exhibition game. Moskiman had handled all 18 chances in the field without an error.
After the month and a half of his play with the Red Sox, explanations followed as to how he’d been permitted to play. Sporting Life devoted several column-inches to the case. President Ban Johnson noticed his name in a box score and told the umpires that if this was the same Moskiman who had played in the California State League, he was an “outlaw” and was not to be allowed to play. Red Sox President Taylor wired Johnson that Moskiman had been reinstated by Secretary John H. Farrell of the National Board of the National Association. Farrell explained to Johnson that it had been a temporary reinstatement (“at the earnest solicitation of Tim Murnane, a member of the National Board” – and also a Boston Globe sportswriter). Johnson rescinded the order, which had provided the opportunity for Moskiman’s debut. The temporary reinstatement ended when the season schedule ended, so Moskiman was now ineligible once more.xiii
The Red Sox argued that he was not a contract jumper at all. He’d never signed any contract with Louisville and simply chose not to leave California: “He was in charge of a sanitarium in California, his father-in-law having died that Spring, and he could not afford to come East.”xiv Given that he’d never signed a contract, the Red Sox now began to think of asking Louisville to return the $1,500 they’d paid for him.
On February 8, 1911, Catherine Moskiman and her husband welcomed their son, who was given her maiden name as his middle name: William Sarsfield Moskiman. Their first child, Elizabeth, had been born about six years earlier; she later pursued a career in the medical field her parents had both once studied. Elizabeth Moskiman became a nurse, known after her marriage as Betty White, one of the first school nurses in the town of San Leandro.
Shortly after his son’s birth, Doc joined the Red Sox for part of their extensive cross-country spring-training tour of 1911, and in March he applied to the National Commission for reinstatement. But the Red Sox deemed him not good enough to make the team, and he was dropped. He pitched in the Pacific Coast League for San Francisco, with a record of 5-13 (3.35 ERA) in 134? innings. He hit .258 in 124 at-bats.
In 1912 Moskiman finally played for the Louisville Colonels, the team to which his contract had been assigned five years earlier. He was not particularly successful, with a 5-6 won-loss record and a .247 batting average in 43 games, 24 of them as a pitcher. He was acquired by Nashville, but never saw action. He was a holdout in March 1913, seeking an increase in salary. He retired from the game and returned to the work that he’d been trained for and kept his hand in over the winters: as a physician and surgeon in Oakland. He may have worked for a while as an umpire in the PCL, but that has not been confirmed. He did manage and play for the San Leandro town team, giving up on pitching in his mid-30s and concentrating on first base.
What we do know, thanks to census information, is that in 1918, when Moskiman registered for the draft during the World War, he was working as a traveling salesman for the sporting goods manufacturer A.G. Spalding & Bros. In 1920 Moskiman working as assistant manager in a store, while living in San Leandro, California, with his wife, Catherine, and their children, Elizabeth, 14, and Sarsfield, 8. In 1930 he was the retail manager of an athletic-goods store, which his son said was Spalding. Dave Houser of the San Leandran explained that working sales on both sides of San Francisco Bay was costing Doc too much in ferry fare and so he took a position with a sports shop in Alameda. During the Second World War, he worked at the Kaiser shipyards.
Doc Moskiman died of lung cancer on January 11, 1953, at his home in San Leandro.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Moskiman’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.
i Dave Houser, “’Doc’ Moskiman, an Outlaw Baseball Man,” The San Leandran, June 12, 1985.
ii Sporting Life, February 8, 1913.
iii Sporting Life, December 31, 1898.
iv Los Angeles Times, March 27, 1899.
v Los Angeles Times, May 4, 1901
vi Los Angeles Times, October 8, 1901
vii Los Angeles Times, April 28, 1902.
viii Los Angeles Times, December 9, 1905. The writer called him the “gigantic right-handed pitcher of the Oakland Club” – but Moskiman stood only 6 feet tall and weighed 170 pounds.
ix Los Angeles Times, October 13, 1906. There had been no damage to his family’s home in Oakland.
x Washington Post, October 26, 1907.
xi Boston Globe, April 24, 1910.
xii Boston Globe, September 9, 1910.
xiii Sporting Life, February 18, 1911.
xiv Sporting Life, February 18, 1911.