This article was written by Brian McKenna
Southpaw submariner Ike Van Zandt was a rarity at the turn of the twentieth century. The motion was deceptive to batters simply because it was uncommon. Van Zandt, variously known as Isaac, Ike or Izzy, played in organized baseball for a decade beginning in 1898. Despite his unique pitching motion, he mainly played in the outfield. He appeared in a few games for the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs before landing with the St. Louis Browns in 1905, his only fulltime gig in the majors. In September 1908 Van Zandt was expelled from a Massachusetts semi-pro club for suspected game-fixing. Two weeks later, he committed suicide while his wife was reading his final note in the other room.
Charles Isaac Van Zandt was born in February of 1876 in Brooklyn, New York. As a teenager, he followed in his father’s footsteps working as a cabinetmaker and carpenter. On the weekends and evenings he played baseball as much as possible, first making a name for himself in Harlem and Brewster, New York. Van Zandt was both a pitcher and position player, playing mostly in the outfield when not on the mound. The Lowell Sun noted the lefty’s unorthodox pitching style: “Van Zandt pitches the old fashioned underhand ball which is wearing on a pitcher and seldom seen of late.”
In 1898 Van Zandt turned professional, joining New London in the Connecticut State League, a team that included longtime pro Gil Hatfield and emerging stars Mike Lynch and Wid Conroy. The Sporting Life hailed the professional debut of the “famous Staten Island player”; however, they confused him with Frank Van Zandt, a renowned amateur, who had been playing since the 1880s. Ike played for the club from May to August, appearing in sixty games with a .235 batting average. He also won eight games for the club. In July his arm became sore and he didn’t pitch well thereafter. At the end of August he refused to travel with the club to Williamantic and the club suspended him. New London asked the league officials to do the same, and they complied. With that Van Zandt returned home to ply his carpentry trade. He eventually made amends with New London but not until a year and a half later. He played for the club for about three weeks in June 1900, appearing in fifteen games.
In 1899 Van Zandt played semi-pro ball for New York’s Suburban team. In 1900 and ’01 he played for the West New York semi-pro club. Manager George Davis of the National League New York Giants added Van Zandt to his roster for three games in 1901 to help out during doubleheaders. He made his major league debut in the first game of the day on August 5 at the Polo Grounds versus Philadelphia, replacing Kip Selbach in left field in the ninth inning after the latter was ejected. Christy Mathewson was on the mound. After nine innings the score was tied. Van Zandt and Sammy Strang committed key errors in the eleventh, and Mathewson allowed a couple hits and walks as well, ultimately leading to a 6-3 victory for the Phillies. The Giants tapped the West New York player again on September 4 and 6 during a series of doubleheaders against the Pittsburgh Pirates at home. He pitched in the second game each day, making his first major league mound appearances. On the 4th Van Zandt relieved Charlie Hickman after the first inning and completed the game. He immediately hit a batter and forced in a run with a walk. At the plate he had a hit and scored, but the Giants lost 10-3. He again relieved after the first inning on September 6, replacing Bill Phyle. Van Zandt was batted hard, giving up eight runs before the game was called with two outs in the sixth inning, Pittsburgh winning 13-4. In 12⅔ innings Van Zandt gave up 10 earned runs, 5 more unearned runs, 8 walks, and a hit batsman.
Van Zandt joined Nashua, New Hampshire, of the New England League in June 1902. In late July he decided to retire from the club and baseball altogether; he wanted to return to his family in New York and work as a carpenter. It was a short retirement, though. A week or two later he rejoined the club as captain. By the end of the month he was named manager. In total he appeared in 76 games for Nashua, posting a .367 batting average and a 1-2 record. On September 7 it was announced that Van Zandt would join Worcester in the Eastern League for the remainder of the season, replacing outfielder Jimmy Sebring, who was called up by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He appeared in twelve games for the club, batting .255. Van Zandt returned to Nashua for spring training in 1903. On the roster that year was a man who would have a fleeting major league career but garner a great deal of interest anyway, Moonlight Graham. Future major league star Larry McLean also played for Nashua in 1903. Van Zandt and teammate Garry Wilson, a longtime minor leaguer with brief major league experience, opened a pool hall in Nashua. Van Zandt also ran a basketball squad during the winters. On June 2 Van Zandt was fined $100 and suspended by the club for instigating a rebellion. Per the Portsmouth Herald, “He led a ‘strike’ the day before and came near getting three others to join. As it was, the play of the team was so loose that the game was lost when it ought to have been won…He and McManus (also suspended) were outfielders and they seldom made an error.” In 22 games with the club Van Zandt hit .242. He immediately joined Woonsocket Gyms, a popular Providence-based semi-pro club. He also appeared in seven games for Utica in the New York State League. At the end of the year he re-signed with Nashua.
Van Zandt rejoined Nashua for spring training in 1904. Starting in July manager Jack Carney received offers for Van Zandt from Frank Selee of the Cubs, Connie Mack of the Athletics and Hugh Duffy of the Phillies. For three games in mid-August Van Zandt joined the Chicago Cubs while they were playing in Boston, filling in for injured players. He appeared in the outfield on August 16 and for a doubleheader the following day, going hitless in eleven at-bats. Selee didn’t take his new outfielder on the return trip home; instead, Van Zandt returned to Nashua. In early September Mack drafted the outfielder/part-time pitcher for his Philadelphia club. Van Zandt refused to join the A’s unless Nashua met a few demands first, probably financial remuneration, a piece of the sale. On September 8 Nashua suspended him. Mack waived his claim to the player and he was reinstated by Nashua. Mack did so to clear the way for the St. Louis Browns who had been in negotiation for Van Zandt’s services before the draft. He was promptly sold to the Browns. After Nashua’s season, Van Zandt joined Leominster, a Worcester-based semi-pro club. He batted .311 in 119 games for Nashua, leading the league with six home runs.
Van Zandt enjoyed his only full major league season in 1905; it was also his last. He performed well in training camp and made the Browns’ roster. In 94 games for St. Louis, mostly in right and center fields, he batted .233 with only 17 extra-base hits. He did, however, set the American League record for most pinch-hit at-bats with 18 and tied for the league lead with four pinch hits. He pitched in only one contest, a stint in long relief without a decision. In November St. Louis asked and received waivers on Van Zandt. Then he and Emil Frisk were sent to St. Paul, the club’s new farm team. St. Louis subsequently inserted their second baseman Dick Padden as St. Paul’s manager. Van Zandt spent the entire 1906 season with St. Paul. He appeared in 128 games in the outfield, batting .285.
At the end of 1906 Ed Ashenback was named St. Paul’s manager. He didn’t care for Van Zandt personally and shipped him with pitcher Cy Parkin to Binghamton of the New York State League in January 1907. On April 29 Van Zandt married Nashua native Margaret O’Toole. In early May he joined Vancouver in the Northwestern League instead of complying with the Binghamton trade; however, his arm was sore and he didn’t pitch well. He finally joined Binghamton in mid-May. Van Zandt again jumped the club, returning to the Northwestern League with Butte for two weeks beginning on July 16. Vancouver was particularly upset that Van Zandt returned to the league and pitched well for Butte. In a total of ten games, all on the mound, in the Northwestern League he notched a 5-4 record. Once again he returned to Binghamton. In mid- August, though, he ran afoul of manager Bob Drury and was suspended. Van Zandt was disregarding the manager’s orders, blatantly defying them, and was also belligerent. On September 17 the Daily Kennebec Journal announced, “Izzie Van Zant [sic] made his peace with Binghamton and got back into the game.” In 117 games in the outfield for the club he batted .246. In December Jack Carney, now with Trenton of the Tri-State League, purchased Van Zandt.
The Trenton deal fell through in February. Van Zandt joined Binghamton in April and played a few games. On April 28 Hartford of the Connecticut State League traded Frank Swayne to Binghamton for Frank Burke and Van Zandt. The Hartford Courant for one was happy with the trade, declaring “Van Zant [sic] is another first-class man, an experienced fielder, daring base runner and good batsman.” The trade was voided two weeks later in arbitration. He then joined Vancouver for a few games before appearing in the lineup for Albany in the New York State League on May 18. Van Zandt joined Scranton of the same league from June 10 to the 18th after being released by Albany. He then rejoined Albany. The Syracuse Herald referred to Van Zandt as a “dark-skinned southpaw” with “a most deceptive delivery.” Albany released him again in early August. Sporting Life magazine noted that he was dropped the first time for not producing as a right fielder and the second time for the same reason as a pitcher. It flatly stated, “The team has carried him along for about a month and as Ike has seen his best days in baseball, the management decided to let him go.” In total for Albany in 1908 Van Zandt appeared in 55 games, hitting a meager .210.
On August 12 the North Adams Transcript announced that “Pitcher Cooper of the New York State League will pitch for North Adams in this city.” Cooper was Van Zandt; he joined the Massachusetts semi-pro club using an alias. He played his first game for the club on the 13th against the Cuban Giants and was designated as the club’s captain. North Adams manager John Flaherty expelled Van Zandt and five others on September 4 for alleged game-fixing. The group also included catcher Lester Sebastian, first baseman Buck Shaw, catcher Davy Bascon described as a local boy, Hennan noted as kid pitcher from Worcester and a guy using the alias “Cook” who the Boston Globe identified as “McDonald, the big league third baseman” perhaps future major leaguer Ed McDonald. Flaherty sent a messenger to the six with a note stating, “I have no further use for you. Bring your suit to the office.” The controversy surrounded the game on September 2 versus Bennington, Vermont, which North Adams lost 3-0. The men were alleged to have formed a pool against their own club. Rumors of a fix were rampant almost immediately. Flaherty took a couple days to investigate and then released the alleged offenders.
Van Zandt returned home to Nashua the following week. He lived at 15 Tyler Street with his wife and her family. They owned and operated an attached grocery store. On September 14 the couple planned to travel to New York to visit Van Zandt’s mother. He went out early in the morning and purchased supplies for the trip, returning home around 11 a.m. Upon returning, he secluded himself in the bedroom and wrote a two-page letter to his wife. It explained that he was having serious stomach troubles and didn’t want to become a burden to his wife. He also asked for her prayers. Van Zandt emerged from the bedroom, asking his wife to read the letter in the bathroom. She did, running for the bedroom as she discovered his intent. It was too late; he was lying on the bed shot through the heart with a 32-caliber revolver. Van Zandt’s doctor was aware of his stomach troubles, which included fits of vomiting, but didn’t believe them to be serious. He believed somehow that they sparked melancholy, which led to his actions. Isaac Van Zandt, about age 32, was interred in Woodland Cemetery in Nashua.
The minor league statistics provided by Ray Nemec were immensely helpful.
Daily Kennebec, Maine
Fitchburg Sentinel, Massachusetts
Logansport Reporter, Indiana
Nashua Telegraph, New Hampshire
New York Times
North Adams Transcript, Massachusetts
Portsmouth Herald, New Hampshire
Shalhoup, Dean, “Mystery of Athlete’s Life Lives Buried in Nashua,” NashuaTelegraph.com, October 21, 2006.
Votano, Paul. Stand and Deliver: A History of Pinch-hitting. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2003.