Diminutive Texan outfielder Joe “Goobers” Bratcher had only one big-league at-bat in four games with the St. Louis Cardinals in late August 1924. Yet that was just one small facet of a baseball career spanning three decades. The happy-go-lucky outfielder played on seven pennant-winning minor-league teams in a five-year period. And no one could ever take away his 9-for-9 day at the plate in 1923. The “Babe Ruth of the minors” later belted an astounding 20 minor-league home runs over seven magical weeks playing for Peoria during the summer of 1925.1
Joseph Warlick Bratcher was born on July 22, 1898, in Grand Saline, Texas, to William Paxton Bratcher, a Kentucky-born farmer, and Amanda Jane (Everidge) Bratcher, William’s third wife and 16 years younger, born in North Carolina.2 Joseph was the last of William’s 13 children; Amanda gave birth to the final five. William died in 1901 at home in Fruitdale, Texas, leaving three-year-old Joseph without a father.3
By the age of 12, Joe lived in Forest Hill in Tarrant County, Texas. He later was sent by his mother to live at the Masonic Home and School in Fort Worth. By1915, the teenager was playing for the Masonic Home baseball team, making the county championship that year and the finals of the Fort Worth Interscholastic League in 1916.4 That summer, Bratcher, who threw right and batted left, led off and played third base for the Railroad Mail Service (RMS) squad in the Railroad League.5 He also played left end on Masonic Home’s football team in the fall of 1916.6 The 1917 baseball squad went undefeated.7
Bratcher still played for the Masonic baseball squad early in 1918, but the “star third sacker” withdrew from school in March to go to work for the Armour & Co. meatpackers8 That summer, he played semipro ball with Armour & Co. and Libby, McNeill & Libby in the Fort Worth Major City League.9 His war draft registration that fall listed him as an electrician installing meters for Fort Worth Power and Light. Bratcher played for the Power & Light team in 1919, with pitcher Jack Enright as a teammate.
For 1920, a new organized baseball circuit developed, the Class D West Texas League. Bratcher, standing 5-feet-8 and weighing but 140 pounds, latched on with the Eastland Judges, later transferring to Cisco to play for the Scouts. The lefty swinger hit a composite .320 in the WTL for the season, with his 126 hits leading the circuit by one over teammate C.L. Taylor and Rangers’ Jim Galloway.10 The phone directory stated that Joe also worked as a clerk at a Fort Worth Chevrolet assembly plant and lived in Handley just east of Fort Worth.
Bratcher began the 1921 season back at Cisco before being purchased by the Fort Worth Panthers of the Class A Texas League in July after the Cisco franchise disbanded. Fort Worth loaned Bratcher to the Abilene Eagles of the WTL, then sent him to the Paris Snappers of the Class D Texas-Oklahoma League on option. Before month’s end, Bratcher was recalled by the Panthers to fill an outfield need after an injury to Ziggy Sears.11 Bratcher filled a hole in the Panther outfit “better than a hunk of gold in a hollow tooth,” hitting .273 in 19 games.12 With the Panthers simply having “too many players,”13 Bratcher was again shipped out, back to Abilene. Fort Worth, Paris, and Abilene coincidentally all won their leagues.14 Bratcher hit .318 in 25 games for Abilene,15 which defeated Sweetwater to repeat as champions.16
Still property of Fort Worth, Bratcher attended 1922 training camp with the Panthers, but was sent back at the beginning of the regular season to Paris, which again took the TXOL crown. Bratcher hit .328 and paced the league in hits with 138 and runs with 100 during a season cut short due to a railroad strike.17 After capturing the pennant with Paris, Bratcher was promoted to Fort Worth, along with Wilcy Moore, Sam Gray, C.L. Taylor and Roswell Higginbotham.
Bratcher returned to Panthers camp for 1923, when the first mention appeared of his nickname of “Goobers,” from his penchant for peanuts and presumably his “peanut-sized” stature.18 The Fort Worth press also tagged him “Lovey” Joe Bratcher.”19 This time Bratcher was shipped by the Panthers to the Ardmore (Oklahoma) Snappers of the Class C Western Association, reuniting with his former Paris manager Earl Snapp. Snapp even tried Bratcher out at third base in a failed attempt to fill that void.20 On July 1, Bratcher collected three home runs, three doubles, and three singles, going a perfect 9-for-9 in a doubleheader for Ardmore against Enid, setting “a world’s record.”21 At the end of the month, Bratcher went 5-for-5, including a home run, in a victory over Springfield.22 Bratcher ended with 27 home runs and a .327 average, as Ardmore won the league title.
For 1924, Fort Worth, still owning Bratcher, sold him within the WA to the Okmulgee (Oklahoma) Drillers.23 He went 5-for-6 with a homer, two doubles, and five runs scored in a 20-4 August walloping of his former Ardmore team.24 Bratcher hit .383, good for third in the circuit, with 23 homers for Okmulgee. He was soon sold to the St. Louis Cardinals.25 As Bratcher left for St. Louis, an Okmulgee writer said, “Santy Claus does exist. As far as the Okmulgee club is concerned, the old gentleman is represented by the Fort Worth Panthers who made us a Christmas present of Joe Bratcher.”26 Even after Bratcher’s departure, Okmulgee went on to win the WA crown.
Upon arrival in St. Louis, Bratcher was immediately employed as a pinch-runner in his first game with the Cardinals, on August 26 against the Brooklyn Robins. He then traveled with the Cardinals to Chicago to face the Cubs. Bratcher lined out to second base against Vic Aldridge in his only plate appearance, as a pinch-hitter for reliever Jesse Fowler in the first game of a doubleheader on August 28, before pinch-running for catcher Verne Clemons and scoring a run in the nightcap. The next day, he finished up in center field in the bottom of the ninth inning of a Cardinals blowout.
However, after four days in the majors, Bratcher was part of the answer to the “SOS” call from the Oakland Oaks of the Class A Pacific Coast League. The Oaks required reinforcements after a multitude of injuries in their attempt to stay in the pennant race. They were assisted by Cardinals scout Charley Barrett, who also helped secure infielder Jake Flowers,27 Thus, Bratcher was optioned out west.28 The early reports from Oakland found Bratcher to be “a real class AA outfielder even if he was picked up from a class C league.”29 He hit .265 in 49 games for Oakland to finish the lengthy PCL season, after which he was recalled by the Cardinals
Returning to Oakland in 1925, Bratcher hit .281 in 55 games, with no home runs, and lost a starting spot. In July, he was optioned to the Peoria Tractors of the Class B Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League, and was content in that he’d get regular playing time, 31 as Peoria starting outfielder Harry Layne had just landed on the disabled list.32 Manager Bill Rodgers batted Bratcher eighth in his first Peoria game on July 19.33 Bratcher finally hit a home run in his ninth game, then two more the next day against Quincy.34 He later hit seven home runs in a five-game span.35 Bratcher was labeled the “Babe Ruth of the minors” after hitting 20 homers in 55 games and batting an otherworldly .444.36 Bratcher and Frank McGee clouted their 20th home runs, to tie for the league lead, in Peoria’s pennant-clinching victory over Bloomington on September 7.37 However, it took McGee 136 games to accomplish the feat, 81 more games than the seven-week short-timer Bratcher. A syndicated story making the national rounds in mid-September proclaimed: “Another Ruth: Joe Bratcher of Peoria Making Name as Home Run Hitter.”38 He was recalled in mid-September by the Oaks.39 Peoria was Bratcher’s seventh pennant-winning team over the previous five years.40 After returning to Oakland, Bratcher hit .328 down the stretch to raise his season average in the PCL to .297.
In offseason correspondence with Oakland Tribune sportswriter Eddie Murphy, Bratcher admitted that he didn’t have any hunting stories to share “because he is a poor boy and poor boys do not have time to hunt, but work.”41
Heading into the 1926 season, Bratcher had gained a reputation as being weak on fielding fly balls and had to fight to win a spot with the Oaks.42 He did break camp with Oakland as a backup, before again cracking the lineup and hitting .324, second on the team to Buzz Arlett’s .382. Upon his return to Texas for the off-season, Bratcher married Ethel Hovenkamp on Valentine’s Day, 1927.
Bratcher hit .321 as the starting outfielder in 171 games for Oakland in 1927, as the Oaks won the PCL pennant.43 It was the eighth pennant-winning team in Bratcher’s professional career. Unfortunately, he slumped to begin 1928, hitting .238, and was released outright in late May to the Denver Bears of the Class Western League. After reluctantly reporting to Denver, Bratcher proceeded to hit safely in every one of his first 20 games.44 He suffered a concussion and was hospitalized in August after being beaned by Harry “Herb” Sanders of Wichita, sitting out the rest of the season.45 Nonetheless, he still hit .348 in 71 games for the Bears.
Returning to the Mile High City in 1929, Bratcher hit .362 in 154 games, then was drafted in October by the National League’s Boston Braves.
In camp with the Braves in 1930, Bratcher lost a battle for left field with Wally Berger and Randy Moore. He was sold to the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern Association and manager Joe Engel in late April.46 Bratcher was cut in early June,47 becoming a free agent, before re-signing with Denver,48 hitting .334 over 81 games in the thin air. The 1930 census said that Joe and Ethel lived in the offseason in her mother’s home back in Fort Worth.
Bratcher was seeking a managerial role in a lower league, so he asked for and received his release from Denver in spring training of 1931.49 Bratcher signed with the Galveston Buccaneers of the Texas League for 1931, but after a 4-for-54 start to the season, he was let go in May. Shortly after signing with the Omaha Packers of the Western League, he was laid up in a local hospital with a bad flu, then given his release in early June after appearing in eight games.
Bratcher was still looking for a baseball job in 1933, lamenting “they tell me I’m too old to play, too young to manage and not experienced enough to manage.”50 Bratcher did find a job, signing with the Henderson Oilers of the newly-formed Class C Dixie League, reuniting with old Fort Worth manager Art Phelan.51 However, Bratcher never appeared in a game for Henderson. On August 23, son Joe Jr. was born in Fort Worth.
Bratcher tried his hand at umpiring in 1934, being assigned to the Class C West Dixie League, even earning a postseason assignment.52 The next year, Bratcher was a field rep for the Federal Housing Administration. Bratcher transitioned to the managerial and ownership ranks in 1937 for the Lake Charles (Louisiana) Skippers of the Evangeline League.53 He owned the franchise for five straight seasons, and managed from 1937-1939 and then again in 1942 during a partial season (the league disbanded in late May). Bratcher’s Skippers made the finals in 1937, falling to Opelousas, then won the league in 1938 in a seven-game playoff against Abbeville.
Bratcher returned to organized ball in 1947 as the business manager of the Gainesville Owls of the Big State League in 1947. He held the same role with the Greenville Majors in 1948 and the Sherman-Denison Twins in 1949, also in the BSL, and then with the Tyler Trojans in the East Texas League in 1950.54 He brought Joe Cambria, famed scout for the Washington Senators, to Sherman in February 1949 to distribute players for Bratcher’s team and others.55 His final field boss role came in 1951, when Bratcher, already the business manager, was named temporary manager of the last-place Sweetwater Swatters of Longhorn League for nine games in June 1951.56
After his baseball career, Bratcher worked as a dining car server for the Fort Worth and Denver Railroad. His wife Ethel worked as a cafeteria manager at a junior high school and eventually as the superintendent of dietitians for the Fort Worth public schools. She died in 1972 in Fort Worth.
Joe W. Bratcher Sr. died on October 13, 1977, in Fort Worth from cardiac arrest.57. He is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery alongside his wife in Fort Worth. Bratcher was survived by his son Joe Jr., who studied music as an accomplished pianist and later taught at the University of Texas in Austin. Joe Jr. had two daughters and a son, Joe W. Bratcher III. Joe Sr. was also survived by two sisters: Fannie and Jewell.58
This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and David Bilmes and fact-checked by John Watkins.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted:
MyHeritage.com Birth, Marriage, and Death Records
1 “Joe Bratcher Leading Three-I League Batter,” Evansville (Indiana) Press, September 13, 1925: 14.
2 MyHeritage.com listed Bratcher’s middle name as Warlick, while Baseball-Reference.com lists it as Warwick.
3 William married Laura Lucinda Curtis (1844-1879) in 1865, and they had 7 kids. Laura died in 1879, and William married Fannie Elizabeth Hoard the same year. They had one child. Fannie died in 1883, then William married Amanda Jane Everidge on Valentine’s Day 1884. They had five children, with Joe being the last. A niece, Hallie, also lived with them in the 1900 census.
4 “Central Champions of School League,” Fort Worth Record, May 30, 1916: 8.
5 “R.M.S. Scores Victory on Frisco Nine,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 16, 1916: 39.
6 “Masons Beat Central High in Opener,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, October 7, 1916: 2.
7 “Masons Claim North Texas Title When Sherman Forfeits,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, May 20, 1917: 15.
8 “Waxahachie Lads Trim Orphan Team,” Fort Worth Record-Telegram, March 30, 1918: 9. The article stated that Bratcher went to work for Swift & Co., but he was soon playing ball for Armour & Co, the other main meatpacking company in town.
9 “Phone Men and Libbys Win in Sunday Games, Fort Worth Star Telegram, June 24, 1918: 6.
10 “Final Averages for West Texas League Players,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, October 24, 1920: 35.
11 “’Lefty’ Phillips of Paris to Join Staff; Bratcher to Report,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 27, 1921: 10.
12 Billy Bee, “1922 Cats Look Better than Any Previous Outfit,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, March 5, 1922: 26.
13 “Abilene Eagles After Second Half of Season,” Marshall Messenger, August 27, 1921: 6.
14 Billy Bee, “Buzzin’ Around,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, September 28, 1921: 12.
15 “23 Men Finish in .300 Class,” San Angelo (Texas) Daily Standard, September 13, 1921: 5.
16 “Eagles Win the Championship of West Texas,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, September 14, 1921: 12.
17 “T. and O. League Winds Up Season, Starting its Play-Off Games Tuesday,” Dallas Morning News, August 7, 1922: 8.
18 Pop Boone, “Pop’s Palaver,” Fort Worth Record, February 25, 1923: 6.
19 Billy Bee, “Bratcher’s Wallops Wreck Crabs Chances,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 29, 1921: 14; Ned C. Record, “Fanatic Fancies,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, March 25, 1924: 12.
20 “Red Snapp Gives Credit to Club for Winning Flag; Is Off to See Dixie Series,” Ardmore Daily Press, September 26, 1923: 2.
21 “Joe Bratcher Established a World’s Record,” Oakland Tribune, September 7, 1924: D3; “Snappers Take Pair,” Springfield (Missouri) Leader and Press, July 2, 1923: 7; “Bratcher’s Hitting Featured Sunday’s Game with Blues,” Ardmore (Oklahoma) Daily Press, July 3, 1923: 2.
22 “Snappers Face About and Win Third Game of Series 11 to 6,” Ardmore (Oklahoma) Daily Press, July 29, 1923: 2.
23 “Fence Buster Joe to Join Drillers,” Okmulgee Daily Times, February 26, 1924: 6.
24 “Okmulgee Knocks Middleton All Over the Lot for Easy Victory 20 to 4,” Okmulgee Daily Times, August 14, 1924: 6.
25 “Okmulgee Has Easy Time with Owens – Bratcher is Sold to St. Louis,” Okmulgee Daily Times, August 26, 1924: 6.
26 “Singles and Slants,” Okmulgee Daily Times, August 26, 1924: 6.
27 “He is a Regular Scout,” Oakland Tribune, September 17, 1924: 14.
28 “St. Louis Cards Answer S.O.S. of Crippled Oakland Baseball Club and Will Send Needed Help Immediately,” Oakland Tribune, August 29, 1924: 33.
29 Eddie Murphy, “Oaks are Center of Interest in Western Baseball,” Oakland Tribune, September 14, 1924: 2D.
30 Eddie Murphy, “Branch Rickey Will Deliver Two Players to Oakland Club,” Oakland Tribune, January 18, 1925: 69.
31“Bratcher is Satisfied to Play for Peoria,” Oakland Tribune, July 15, 1925: 16.
32 “Trax Take 7th Straight from Red Birds 11-3,” Evansville (Indiana) Journal, July 28, 1925: 10.
33 “Quincy Crushed by Peons Twice,” Evansville (Indiana) Press, July 20, 1925: 8.
34 “Trax Take 7th Straight from Red Birds 11-3,” Evansville (Indiana) Journal, July 28, 1925: 10.
35 “Here’s a Fellow Who Can Pickle the Onion,” Kenosha (Wisconsin) Evening News, September 2, 1925: 10.
36 “Joe Bratcher Leading Three-I League Batter,” Evansville (Indiana) Press, September 13, 1925: 14.
37 “Trax Cinch Flag by Beating Pats in Doubleheader,” Decatur (Illinois) Herald, September 8, 1925: 10; “1925 Pennant Assured Peoria,” Evansville Journal, September 8, 1925: 5.
38 “Another Ruth: Joe Bratcher, of Peoria, Making Name as Homer Hitter,” Brooklyn (New York) Citizen, September 14, 1925: 9.
39 Eddie Murphy, “Oakland Lining Up Plenty of Outfield Material,” Oakland Tribune, September 7, 1925: 9.
40 “Bratcher Helped Win 7 Pennants,” Tacoma (Washington) Sunday Ledger, October 11, 1925: C3.
41 Eddie Murphy, “Douthit and Mails Boost for Shinners,” Oakland Tribune, January 25, 1926: 11.
42 Eddie Murphy, “Arlett and Shinners in Race for Theft Honors,” Oakland Tribune, March 11, 1926: 23.
43 Eddie Murphy, “Ivan Howard Has Successful Career with Oaks” Oakland Tribune, September 23, 1927: 37.
44 “Hetherly Stars as Omaha, Bears Split Twin Bill,” Omaha Morning Bee-News, June 21, 1928: 16; Walter Judge, “Losing Streak of Bears Ends as They Split Doubleheader,” Denver Post, June 21, 1928: 21.
45 “Bliss’ Homer Wins Game,” Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln), August 9, 1928: 10
46 “Engel Announces Purchase of Slugging Outfielder from Boston Nationals,” Chattanooga News, April 28, 1930: 10.
47 E.T. Bales, “Engel Starts Genuine House-Cleaning – Bratcher and Sanders Released,” Chattanooga News, June 10, 1930: 12.
48 “Bratcher Will Return to Bears,” Denver Post, June 19, 1930: 30.
49 “Anfenger Signs Three New Denver Players,” Denver Post, March 15, 1931: Section 5:2.
50 Leroy Menzing, “This Morning Fare for Fans,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 5, 1933: 10.
51 “Dixie League Teams to Open Season Today,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 27, 1933: 10.
52 “Jacksonville Jax Win First Contest of Play-Off Series,” Longview (Texas) Daily News, September 6, 1934: 6.
53 Francis Guchereau, “Evangeline Chatter Box,” Daily Advertiser (Lafayette, Louisiana), April 17, 1937: 8.
54 “Bratcher Named Sweetwater Pilot,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, June 12, 1951: 13.
55 “Cambria to Distribute Players at Sherman,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, February 15, 1949: 13; Cambria Supplies Cubans to Baseball Clubs in Southwest,” Tampa Tribune, April 21, 1949: 19.
56 “Bratcher Named Sweetwater Pilot.”
57 From Bratcher’s death certificate in his Baseball Hall of Fame player file.
58 “Death Notices: Joe W. Bratcher Sr.,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, October 14, 1977: 13D.