Growing up in the early 1900s, southpaw Joe Giard was a pitching phenom on the sandlots of central Massachusetts. After four successful years with minor-league teams, Giard made his major-league debut in 1925 with the St. Louis Browns. He compiled a middling ERA of 5.04, but won 10 games against five losses, for a commendable winning percentage of .667. Following a second season with the Browns, Giard joined the formidable 1927 New York Yankees. Although he made scant contribution to the Yankees’ success that year, he did receive a World Series ring as a member of the 1927 championship team.
Joseph Oscar Giard was born in the mill town of Ware, Massachusetts, on October 7, 1898.1 He was one of six children of Albert and Aurelie (Thibodeau), one child having succumbed to measles at age two. Both his parents were immigrants from Canada who worked in Ware’s textile mills, as did at least three of his siblings. When moving pictures arrived in Ware, Albert took a job as janitor in the local movie theater.2
Joe was 5-foot-10, and, in his professional days, weighed around 170. In 1925, the Brooklyn Eagle described him, then 26 years old, this way: “He is constructed along the lines of a pugilist, thin legs, good waist, thick chest, broad shoulders, bull neck, rugged face, bushy eyebrows and closely cropped hirsute adornment. A quiet fellow … but a ready talker when approached, his bass voice carrying a tincture of the Canuck.”3 He acquired the nickname “Peco” in his youth (some early press reports mistakenly referred to him as “Pickles”), and it stuck with him the rest of his life.4
Peco was developing his baseball skills from an early age. When he was a schoolboy in Ware, his ability to strike out opposing batsmen with little apparent effort made him a sensation.5 By the age of 12 he was sought after by local teams needing a pitcher who could win.6 A newspaper report remarked that when he was pitching the postgame chatter centered not on the score but on the number of strikeouts Joe had made.7
Giard’s prowess on the mound earned him a spot on a semipro team from Palmer, Massachusetts, the Spencer-Wickwires. He continued to dazzle. In 1920, his only season with the Wickwires, he averaged 14 strikeouts per game, once reaching as many as 19, and won 41 of the 47 games in which he appeared.8 He soon caught the attention of major-league scouts, and he was called to tryouts in Boston for two big-league clubs, the Detroit Tigers and the New York Giants. He was offered contracts by both but ended up signing with Detroit in early 1921. To season him for performance at the major-league level, the Tigers farmed him out to a minor-league club in the South Atlantic League, the Spartanburg (South Carolina) Pioneers.9
Joe succeeded admirably with Spartanburg, where he was the mainstay of the team’s pitching staff. In his one season with the club, he earned the win in 20 of his 32 decisions, a winning percentage of .625. He beat one team, the Augusta (Georgia) Georgians, eight times—the most wins by a Southern League pitcher against any one club. His performance with the Pioneers earned him a promotion to a club in the high-powered American Association, the Toledo (Ohio) Mud Hens.10
In his first season with the Mud Hens, 1922, Giard made a respectable showing, although playing in a “faster” league—the American Association—he did not reach the heights of his performance with lower-level Spartanburg. He posted an ERA of 4.54 in 50 appearances and was credited with wins in only nine of the 27 games (.333) in which he was pitcher of record.11 But he steadily improved over two additional years with Toledo. In 1924, his final season with the club, he worked 328 innings over 49 games and finished with a winning record, 20–17, for a .541 winning percentage. He also lowered his ERA to 3.62, placing him seventh among the 43 pitchers in the American Association with at least 30 appearances.12 Sportswriters in the Midwest deemed him “unsurpassed in the southpaw class.”13
Then came his break into the majors. In December 1924, Giard was part of a complicated, triangular, multiplayer transaction involving the Toledo Mud Hens, St. Louis Browns, and New York Yankees, that would have been admired by any modern-day general manager. In the deal, New York reacquired from St. Louis the Browns’ star pitcher—and spitball specialist—Urban Shocker , whom the Yankees had traded to the Browns seven years previously. In return, the Yankees sent two of their pitchers, Joe Bush and Milt Gaston , to St. Louis. To complete the deal, the Yankees purchased Giard from the Toledo club for $15,000 in cash and turned him over to the Browns. As additional compensation for Giard, Toledo received three players from St. Louis: Bill Bayne, George (Tony) Lyons , and Dutch Schliebner .14
The story of how Joe Giard ended up being included in that transaction extends back to the previous summer, when Joe was still with the Mud Hens. Both the Yankees and the Browns had been interested in acquiring him, but neither club was able to put together a package of talent that satisfied Toledo. Then, as the Shocker-Bush deal was taking shape, Giard was added to the mix to induce St. Louis to part with their ace.15 It is a testament to Giard’s value that the Browns required that he be made part of the deal for Shocker, and that Toledo demanded and received, as compensation for releasing Giard, a total of five players and a substantial amount of cash.
Following a promising spring training with the Browns, Joe made his big-league debut on April 18, 1925, pitching two innings in relief against the Chicago White Sox. His first start in the majors was on June 16 against the Washington Senators. He began strong, holding the defending World Series champion Senators scoreless through six innings, but gave up three late runs to finish with a 3–0 loss.16
Toward the end of the 1925 season, Giard was putting to rest any remaining questions that might have lingered from the Shocker-Bush trade as to whether he could perform at the major-league level. According to The Sporting News on August 20, he had risen to the top ranks among Browns pitchers. By early September he was referred to by the Philadelphia Inquirer as a “pitching phenom” and later that month was praised by the same paper as “one of the pitching finds of the season.”18 He finished his rookie year with a 10–5 record (.667) and was one of two pitchers in the league who tossed four shutouts; the other was Sam Gray of the Philadelphia Athletics. Giard and Gray were second only to Ted Lyons of the Chicago White Sox, who had five shutouts.19 The two young pitchers who had played only supporting roles in the Shocker-Bush trade the previous winter—Joe Giard and Milt Gaston—ended up being lauded by Browns manager George Sisler as the two best prospects in the league. He went so far as to foresee these two hurlers as leading the Browns to a pennant the following year.20
Peco’s 1925 season was cut a bit short due to an injury to his pitching arm. He spent the winter in Ware, keeping in shape with road and gym work and snow shoveling. He then headed down to Tarpon Springs, Florida, to join his teammates at the Browns’ spring training facility.21
Giard’s record for 1926 compared poorly with that of his rookie year. Hampered by injuries,22 he appeared in fewer games and pitched fewer innings than in 1925. He ended the season in the losing column, winning only three against 10 losses (.231), with a significantly higher ERA—7.00, compared to 5.04 a year earlier. His team failed to meet Sisler’s preseason anticipation of winning the American League pennant—far from it; the Browns finished next to last, just ahead of the cellar-dwelling Boston Red Sox.
The win-loss record of the Browns’ pitching staff overall in 1926 was well below average for the league.23 Following the end of the season, the club was in a mood to trade. On February 8, 1927, it acquired from the Yankees a veteran pitcher, “Sad” Sam Jones , who had a solid record over his (then) 13-year major league career; in return, the Browns sent Joe Giard to New York, together with outfielder Cedric Durst .24 Yankees manager Miller Huggins had been looking to add a third left-handed pitcher to his roster, and he got him in Giard.25 Plus, with a salary of only $5,000, he came relatively cheap.26
Joe was used by the Yankees as a relief pitcher, never working more than three innings in 1927. His first appearance for the club was on May 5, at Washington. He faced eight batters, giving up two hits and a run, and striking out two. His second outing was five days later, on May 10, against his old team, the Browns. It was not perfect, but not a disaster, either. Pitching one inning in relief, Joe allowed one base hit—a triple to center fielder Fred Schulte —and one walk. He was responsible for two runs scored by the Browns, but his team emerged victorious, 8–7. A few days later the New York Herald Tribune reported that Huggins, who prior to the season had been gloomy about his pitching staff, brightened up a trifle once he saw what Giard and two other young Yankees pitchers could do.27
The Yankees finished the 1927 season winning the American League pennant by a large margin, 19 games. However, Giard’s contribution to that achievement was, to be generous, modest. He made only 16 appearances during the year and was credited with no wins or losses, reaching an unenviable ERA of 8.00. Harvey Frommer, in his book about the 1927 New York Yankees, Five O’Clock Lightning, attributes Joe’s negative statistics to his being rusty as a result of insufficient work and his coming into games that were already lost causes.28
New York went on to win the World Series by defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates in four straight games; Joe did not pitch in any of them. Nevertheless, he received the full $5,782 World Series winning player’s share, thus more than doubling his $5,000 regular 1927 player’s salary.29
After the festivities following the Yankees’ World Series championship had subsided, the club turned its attention to pruning its roster. Based on his performance during the season, Joe Giard was expendable. On New Year’s Eve, 1927, he and rookie infielder Ray Morehart were released to a minor-league club, the St. Paul (Minnesota) Saints. The influential Sporting News proclaimed St. Paul’s pitching staff, now augmented by Giard, one of the best in the American Association.30 One New York paper, the Herald Tribune, attributed the move to the Yankees’ need to reduce salary, particularly in view of the likely compensation demands of Lou Gehrig.31 Gehrig received $8,000 for his services in 1927. However, his performance during the year, and his being voted the American League’s Most Valuable Player, increased his value considerably. In 1928 the Yankees ended up paying him $25,000. Cutting Joe Giard, whose salary in 1927 was $5,000, and Morehart, who earned $4,000 that year, saved the club something to put toward Gehrig’s ballooning paycheck.
Joe was then only 29, but the baseball deities had plotted a downward course for this stage of his career, and they were not to be defied.
After a disappointing start to the 1928 season with St. Paul, where he was 3–3 with a 6.24 ERA over 15 games, Giard was purchased in mid-July by the Hartford (Connecticut) Senators, who sought to bolster their pitching staff. But in September, he was back with St. Paul, having to accept a large cut in salary.32
Giard began the 1929 season with the Saints; by June, he was on the move again, although it was unclear where he would end up. Quite unwillingly, Joe got caught up in a tangle among baseball club magnates and had to cool his heels while it was sorted out. The confusion originated with negotiations between Clark Griffith , owner of the big-league Washington Senators, and Rell J. Spiller, owner of the minor-league Atlanta Crackers, for the purchase of the Atlanta franchise by Washington. Griffith, who wanted to use the Crackers as a farm team for his Senators, inked a contract to purchase the club and its properties for $650,000.33
At that point in the season, the Crackers were dubbed by the Atlanta Constitution the weakest team in Atlanta baseball history. Griffith, expecting to take over the club, sought to strengthen it by adding Joe Giard to its roster. To do so, he signed an agreement with the St. Paul Saints for a three-cornered swap: St. Paul would transfer Giard to Atlanta, and in return Washington would assign pitcher Archie Campbell to St. Paul. Griffith met his part of the bargain: he instructed St. Paul to ship Joe down to Georgia to join the Crackers.
Then the Senators owner learned from the leadership of the Southern Association (the league in which Atlanta played) that the sale of the Atlanta franchise to Washington would have to be approved by the owners of the league clubs, and that the owners were opposed to the sale. On receiving that news, Griffith announced that he was pulling out of the deal, giving rise to objections, remonstrations, protests, and threats of a lawsuit by Spiller.
Although, as far as he was concerned, his purchase of the Atlanta club was a dead letter, Griffith maintained that he had the rights to Joe Giard, whom he had bought and paid for from the St. Paul Saints. But Joe was already en route to Atlanta. When he arrived, he went straight to the ballpark, where he was handed a wire from Griffith ordering him to report to the San Antonio Indians. That did not sit well with Spiller, who insisted on keeping Giard. Joe, ordered by Spiller to stay put in Atlanta, suited up in a Crackers uniform and began playing for the team.
The acrimonious affair soon found its way to the desk of the baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis . Landis immediately nixed the entire Washington-St. Paul deal, including the assignment of Giard to Atlanta. He reasoned that the assignment amounted to an indirect transfer from St. Paul to Atlanta via Washington and thus an end run around the rules stipulating that transfers of players between clubs must be made directly. The commissioner awarded Joe to the Washington Senators, who, with Landis’s approval, subsequently dispatched him to the San Antonio Indians.
And there he stayed … for a while.
Joe’s first outing for San Antonio, on July 21, 1929, did not go as he must have hoped. After he gave up eight runs in four innings to the Shreveport (Louisiana) Sports, his afternoon on the mound was finished. With few exceptions, including a shutout two weeks later against the club from Dallas, things did not get much better.34 He ended the season recording only one win against eight losses in the nine games in which he appeared.
In early April 1930, the San Antonio club’s front office was enthusiastic about the prospects for its team in the coming season. A preseason rundown in the local newspaper offered that, despite Giard’s performance the previous year, there were grounds for hope that he would make a better showing in 1930.35 Joe’s first outing of the season put an end to any such thoughts. In the very first inning, his propensity for wildness reached historic proportions: in what the Dallas Morning News derisively referred to as his “alleged pitching,” he gave up four earned runs, issued five walks, hurled four wild pitches, and hit one batter.36 After failing to retire the leadoff man in the second inning, he was lifted before he could do further damage. Following that debacle, the club gave him his unconditional release.37
Joe’s career was coming to an end. In June 1930, he appeared briefly for another Texas League club, the Waco Cubs. At the end of the month, he was purchased by the Omaha Packers, for whom he appeared in five games, winning two and losing one.38 He began the 1931 season back in his home state, Massachusetts, pitching for the Springfield Hampdens, and in May went south to the Norfolk (Virginia) Tars.39 Between those two teams, he appeared in eight games, with four losses and no wins.
His playing days effectively over, Joe returned to Massachusetts. For a few years in the 1930s, he was living in Springfield, much of the time with his father and his brother, Albert Jr., and working at a Works Progress Administration job. By 1940, he had moved to Worcester and was earning his living as a machine operator at the Wright Machine Company. Later, he managed a bowling alley. Meanwhile, he remained active in Worcester County baseball.40
In his post-playing years, Giard lived as a bachelor. He had been married. On November 6, 1926, he wed a woman named Marie Harty at the New Cathedral (today’s Cathedral Basilica) in St. Louis.41 But the marriage did not last long. Joe’s listings in the Springfield city directories in the 1930s do not refer to a wife, and the 1940 United States census gives his marital status as divorced. No record of any children of the marriage has been found by the author.
Giard passed away in Worcester on July 10, 1956, and was brought back to Ware for burial at Mount Carmel Cemetery.42
This article was adapted from the more detailed chapter on Joe Giard in Stephen Robert Katz, Ware’s Boys of Summer: The Stories of Seven Major League Baseball Players from One Small Central Massachusetts Town (2017).
This biography was reviewed by Eric Vickrey and Tara Krieger and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
1 Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Births Registered in the Town of Ware for the Year 1898 (Massachusetts Archives, Boston, MA).
2 1910 United States Federal Census, Ware, Hampshire County, Massachusetts, ED 719, sheet 4B; 1920 United States Federal Census, Ware, Hampshire County, ED 187, sheet 3B; Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Deaths Registered in the Town of Ware for the Year 1897 (Massachusetts Archives, Boston, MA).
3 “Joe Giard May Make Ruppert Mourn,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 13, 1925.
4 See, e.g., “Valley Boys Trying for Big League Jobs,” Springfield (MA) Republican, February 20, 1921; “Giard Moves In to Fast Company,” Springfield (MA) Republican, August 18, 1920; “Giard of Ware Goes to Toledo,” Springfield (MA) Republican, August 18, 1921; “Hillies to Play at Ware Today,” Springfield (MA) Republican, October 5, 1921; “Joe Giard Married to Mound City Girl,” Springfield (MA) Republican, December 29, 1926; Springfield (MA) Republican, February 19, 1929.
5 “Valley Boys Trying for Big League Jobs.”
6 “Giard Moves In to Fast Company.”
7 “Valley Boys Trying for Big League Jobs.”
8 ”Valley Boys Trying for Big League Jobs.”
9 “Giard May Join Red Sox is Rumor,” Springfield (MA) Republican, July 20, 1920; “Giard Moves In to Fast Company”; “Valley Boys Trying for Big League Jobs.”
10 “Spartans Invade Augusta Tomorrow; Joe Giard Has Won Eight Straight Games,” Spartanburg (SC) Herald, August 21, 1921; “South Atlantic Records at the Bat and on Slab,” Charleston (SC) Evening Post, October 1, 1921; “Giard of Ware Goes to Toledo,” Springfield (MA) Republican, August 18, 1921.
11 “‘Pecco’ [sic.] Giard to Train with Giants,” Springfield (MA) Republican, February 11, 1923.
12 Based on figures extrapolated from baseball-reference.com.
13 “‘Pico’ Giard Goes Big for Toledo,” Springfield (MA) Republican, August 3, 1924.
14 “Urban Shocker Comes Back to Yankees in Deal Which Sends 3 Pitchers to St. Louis Browns,” New York Herald, New York Tribune, December 18, 1924; “Joe Bush is Stunned over Trade to Browns,” Baltimore Sun, December 18, 1924.
15 “Urban Shocker Comes Back to Yankees in Deal Which Sends 3 Pitchers to St. Louis Browns”; “Bush, Acquired in Trade, Beat Them 17 Straight Games,” The Sporting News, December 25, 1924; “Pitcher Joe Giard,” The Sporting News, January 1, 1925.
16 “Johnson Wins His Tenth Victory of ‘Season’; Runs Shutout Mark to 109,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 17, 1925.
17 S. Lee Kanner, “Question Box,” New York Times, July 18, 1983.
18 “Browns Beat Sox, Camp Right on Foe,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 6, 1925; “Giard’s Shoots Too Much for Mackians,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 23, 1925.
19 “Pennock is Most Effective Pitcher in American League With Coveleski Runner-Up,” Evansville (IN) Courier, December 3, 1925.
20 “Sisler Hopes for Fine Year with Brownies,” Illinois State Journal (Springfield, IL), December 14, 1925.
21 “Shoveling Snow is Giard’s Training Stunt,” Springfield (MA) Republican, February 18, 1926; “Giard Welcomed at Tarpon Springs,” Springfield (MA) Republican, March 10, 1926; “Former Ware Cityizen Boosts Giard and Team,” Springfield (MA) Republican, April 9, 1926.
22 “Browns Get Jones,” Reading (PA) Eagle, February 9, 1927.
23 Extrapolated from figures in baseball-reference.com.
24 “Yankees Trade Jones to Browns for Pitcher Giard and Durst,” New York Herald Tribune, February 9, 1927; “Honors Even in Deal Between Yanks-Browns,” Milwaukee Journal, February 9, 1927.
25 Steve Steinberg and Lyle Spatz, The Colonel and Hug (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2015), 257.
26 Harvey Frommer, Five O’Clock Lightning: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and the Greatest Team in Baseball, the 1927 New York Yankees (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2008), 51.
27 “Pipgras, Giard, Thomas Prove Value to Team,” New York Herald Tribune, May 15, 1927.
28 Frommer, 125.
29 Frommer, 180 and 229. The $5,782 figure for the 1927 World Series winning players’ share is from Reach Official American League Base Ball Guide for 1930 (New York: A. J. Reach, Wright & Ditson, 1930), 143.
30 “A Great Year Thus Far, Says Connery,” The Sporting News, January 12, 1928.
31 “Yanks Send Giard and Morehart to St. Paul A. A. Club,” New York Herald Tribune, December 31, 1927.
32 “Giard Bought by Hartford Club to Strengthen Staff,” Hartford (CT) Courant, July 17, 1928; “Allen Through as Saints’ Manager?” Milwaukee Journal, September 9, 1928; Springfield (MA) Republican, March 19, 1929.
33 The account of this affair in this and the next two paragraphs is based on the commissioner’s ruling of July 15, 1929 (“In re Player Joe Giard and Washington–Atlanta Disputes”), and the following newspaper reports: “Stewart Joins Crackers Saturday. Engel Also Signs Giard, A Southpaw,” Atlanta Constitution, June 13, 1929; “League President Bares Office Record in Muddled Deal,” Atlanta Constitution, June 14, 1929; “Spiller Operates Club but Insists Griffith is Owner,” Atlanta Constitution, June 15, 1929; “Cracker Dispute Still Unsettled,” Macon (GA) Telegraph, June 15, 1929; “Giard Awarded to Washington,” Macon (GA) Telegraph, July 16, 1929; “Spiller would Call Off Griffith Deal if Given Players,” Tampa Morning Tribune, June 18, 1929; “Southern Pulls In its Welcome Mat?” The Sporting News, June 20, 1929; “Atlanta Club Ahead a Player in Griffith Tangle,” The Sporting News, June 27, 1929; “Griffs Awarded Giard,” The Sporting News, July 18, 1929; “Landis to Probe Status of Giard,” Dallas Morning News, July 2, 1929; “Joe Giard on Bench per Order of Landis,” Springfield (MA) Republican, July 6, 1929; “Joe Giard Awarded to Washington Club,” Springfield (MA) Republican, July 16, 1929.
34 “Sports Baptize Giard in Winning 14 to 6 Game,” Dallas Morning News, July 22, 1929; “Visitors Bunch Blows off Glazner; Southpaw Giard Baffles Locals,” Dallas Morning News, August 9, 1929.
35 “San Antonio Dares Dopesters to Pick Redskins Down,” Dallas Morning News, April 3, 1930.
36 George White, “The Sports Broadcast,” Dallas Morning News, April 27, 1930.
37 White, “The Sports Broadcast”; “Joe Giard Ha Sido Dado de Baja por los ‘Indios’,” La Prensa (San Antonio, TX), April 29, 1930.
38 “Spudders Clean Up Bill with Wacoans,” Dallas Morning News, June 9, 1930; “Burch Purchases New Battery from Texas Loop Teams,” Omaha World–Herald, June 28, 1930; “Bondurant Nears the Top of Packer Batting Lists,” Omaha World–Herald , July 9, 1930; “Pueblo Defeats Packers by 7 to 1; Giard is Routed,” Omaha World–Herald,, July 11, 1930.
39 “Moore, Jenkins and Giard Hurl Springfield Club to fourth Win in Five Exhibition Games,” Springfield (MA) Sunday Union and Republican, April 26, 1931; “Byrds Score 17 to 8 Win over Tars,” Richmond (VA) Times–Dispatch, May 26, 1931.
40 Springfield Directory 1935 (Springfield, MA: Price & Lee, 1935), 279; 1940 United States Federal Census, Worcester, Worcester County, Population Schedule, ED 23–109, sheet 1B; Worcester City Directory 1941 (Boston: R. L. Polk, 1941), 408.
41 Affidavit of License to Marry, Joseph Giard and Marie Harty, November 5, 1926, Missouri State Archives; Jefferson City, MO, Missouri Marriage Records; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 7, 1926.
42 “Giard Started Career in Ware,” Springfield (MA) Union July 12, 1956; “Ware News Briefs,” Springfield (MA) Union, July 13, 1956.