Joe Shaute, a sheriff after his baseball days ended, frequently handcuffed Babe Ruth. Ruth was the first hitter Shaute faced in the majors and he struck him out.1 Two innings later, he did it again. Overall, Shaute fanned Ruth 20 times in 82 big-league at-bats while holding him to just a .232 average. “Joe enjoyed greater effectiveness against the Babe than many of the top-notch pitchers of his period.”2
Overall, the six-foot, 190-pound lefty posted a record of 99-109 in the majors from 1922 through 1934. His career ERA of 4.15 was less than that or his contemporaries’ 4.43. Shaute peaked in 1924, when he was a 20-game winner for the Cleveland Indians.
Joseph Benjamin Shaute3 was born on August 1, 1899, to John and Hedwig (Kunkle) Shaute in Peckville, Pennsylvania.4 The family name was difficult to pronounce, earning him a captioned picture in the Baseball Player Pronunciation Guide reading, “Want to make some money? Convince someone to bet you he can correctly pronounce Joe Shaute’s name. Shaute insisted his name was pronounced SHAY-oot.”5
John Shaute, though born in Austria in 1864, was of Slavic extraction. The 1910 census lists Joe’s mother of Slavic descent. Joe had two brothers, Andrew and John, and three sisters, Sophie (Josephine), Verna, and Stella.
Joe was a star baseball player at Blakely High School, initially as a first baseman and then as a pitcher. At age 16, he struck out 15 batters in one game.6 Following graduation, he attended the Mansfield State Normal School (now Mansfield University), where he also played basketball and football. During a gridiron contest with a professional team in upstate New York, Shaute sustained a leg injury that left him unable to play any infield or outfield position regularly, even though he enjoyed batting. He said that he hoped to coach football or basketball at the college level someday.7
After earning his teacher’s certificate, Shaute continued with post-graduate courses at Mansfield. He became a substitute teacher in his hometown until a recruiter from Juniata College convinced him to accept a scholarship to continue pursuing his A.B. degree there. In a road game during the spring of 1922, Shaute pitched a 12-strikeout shutout against the University of West Virginia.8 The mayor of Morgantown – former major leaguer Charlie Hickman – was so impressed that he recommended Shaute to his former club, the Cleveland Indians.9 Cleveland catcher Steve O’Neill,– another Lackawanna County native, also brought Shaute to their attention.10 Six months shy of completing his degree, Shaute left school and signed with the Indians.
On July 6, 1922, Shaute debuted for Cleveland in the second game of a Thursday doubleheader against the Yankees at the Polo Grounds with 30,000 in attendance. The Indians had lost the first game, 10-3, with Babe Ruth blasting a grand slam for New York. Cleveland trailed the second contest, 8-2, in the bottom of the sixth inning when player/manager Tris Speaker called on Shaute with two outs, a runner on third base, and Ruth coming to the plate again. “I had been pitching out of holes in the ground in the Pennsylvania coal country, and the high mound made me feel all the more out of place,” Shaute recalled. “Ruth looked like a mountain, his bat like a wagon tongue. The Bam pulled one foul into the upper stand, fouled off another, and when he missed for the third strike, I stood frozen in the box. The infielders, patting me on the back, actually had to help me to the dugout.”11
In the next inning, Shaute allowed home runs to Bob Meusel and Fred Hofmann. But when he faced Ruth again with two outs in the eighth, the future Hall of Famer struck out swinging again. Shaute made just one more appearance for Cleveland before he was sent down to the Chattanooga (Tennessee) Lookouts of the Class A Southern League on August 3. After he went 7-2 with a 2.43 ERA in nine games for Chattanooga, the Indians recalled him. When Speaker started Shaute in an exhibition against the Pirates at Forbes Field on September 28, Pittsburgh’s Gazette Times reported, “Pitcher Shaute of the visitors took the game seriously. The youngster, who chucks the ball a la Wilbur] Cooper, achieved a shutout victory.”12 The next edition of The Sporting News reported, “Speaker now counts Shaute as one who can be depended on to bid strongly for a place next spring.”13
During spring training 1923, the Indians converted Shaute’s delivery from sidearm to overhand.14 Pitching coach Frank Roth was given much of the credit for Shaute’s progress, O’Neill helped him disguise his pitches. “Few pitchers in the history of baseball have developed with the rapidity of Joe Shaute, Cleveland’s husky and brilliant young southpaw,” the Cleveland Plain Dealer proclaimed in May. Shaute finished his rookie season with a 10-8 (3.51 ERA) record, including six victories in September. He allowed just four homers in 172 innings, the American League’s third stingiest rate. Shaute finished his rookie season with a 10-8 (3.51 ERA) record, including six victories in September. He allowed just four homers in 172 innings, the American League’s third stingiest rate.15
The injury-prone Shaute wrenched his hip in spring training 1924. He recovered quickly enough to make Cleveland’s Opening Day start on April 15 in Detroit and lost a 4-3 decision to Hooks Dauss. On August 30, however, Shaute became the AL’s first 20-game winner when he defeated the White Sox at Dunn Field. At the time, he was leading the circuit in pitching appearances and innings, but started just three more times. Still, while the Indians finished sixth, Shaute’s 20-17, 3.75 placed him in the AL’s top five in WAR, complete games and starts, as well as wins, losses, and appearances. To date, Shaute remains the only Lackawanna County native 20-game winner in a big league season. (Pennsylvanian Christy Mathewson was born in Wyoming County.)
Shaute was also recognized as one of the strongest-hitting pitchers in his era.16 His lifetime average was .258, with a career high of .318 in 1924. On May 20, 1925, Shaute delivered a three-run, pinch-hit single off future Hall of Famer Waite Hoyt with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to cap Cleveland’s come-from-behind, 10-9, victory. As is true of many good-hitting pitchers, Shaute was very proud of that skill and loved talking about it. Shortly before his death, he asked the Plain Dealer’s sports editor to republish the box score from the game in which he hit his only major league homer, against the Yankees on August 10, 1924. The paper complied with the popular aging ballplayer’s request.17
Lakeland, Florida, was the site of the Indians’ training camp during this period, but pitchers often started their training in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Shaute usually struggled with his weight, especially early in the season, and he reportedly swelled up to 230 pounds in 1925.18 He endured an injury-plagued year and did not pitch at all from mid-July until early September. Newspapers described his problem as a charley horse, but it seems likely that it was something more serious, misdiagnosed at the time. He generally pitched better in warmer weather and missing the warmest period of the year left him with a 4-12 (5.43) record, the worst of his career as a regular pitcher.
When Shaute reported to spring training in 1926, his weight was back down to 190 and the Indians looked forward to his healthy return to form. In one of the “little woman” stories popular at the time, the Plain Dealer staff filled space by claiming that Shaute’s wife, the former Mary Alice Ahern, criticized him for not throwing any curveballs in a game despite pitching three hitless innings. Shaute claimed that he had pitched curves, but Mrs. Shaute insisted she had not seen any. The story ended with his wife showing Shaute how to throw the pitch, pantomiming the “right” motion.19
Shaute and right-hander George Uhle were seen as the keys to a first-division finish. As it happened, both men helped that come true. Along with Dutch Levsen (16-13, 3.41), Uhle (27-11, 2.83 ERA) and Shaute (14-10, 3.53), helped Cleveland come from 10 games behind on August 22 to within two games of the Yankees entering the final weekend of the 1926 season. During a 20-8 run between August 25 and September 22 that lifted the Indians back into contention, Shaute struck out Ruth again in defeating New York, 5-1, on September 17 in Cleveland. The Indians finished second, however, three games behind the Yankees.
In 1927, Cleveland slipped to sixth place, and Shaute was much less successful, falling off to 9-16 with a 4.22 ERA. Nevertheless, he was sought by other teams. That December, when the Indians wanted to obtain first baseman Joe Judge, Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith demanded Shaute and $10,000 in exchange. Cleveland GM Billy Evans was outraged – he thought Griffith was insulting his knowledge of baseball talent by offering so little for Shaute. 20 The New York Giants were also rumored to be interested in Shaute at this time. Two decades later, O’Neill revealed, “The Cleveland club refused to trade [Shaute] to Detroit for Carl Hubbell. That would indicate he had something on the ball.”21
In August 1928, Plain Dealer sportswriter Gordon Cobbledick considered Shaute easily the Indians’ best pitcher, even taking into account his frequent injuries and weight issues.22 Despite going 8-16 after a promising 5-1 start, Shaute led the club in innings pitched (253 2/3) and ranked second on the staff in wins, with a 4.04 ERA.
Shaute held out prior to the 1929 season before he finally settled for a $1,000 raise, which the Indians said was their original offer. The previous year, his contract had included a bonus for earning more than 13 wins, but because he wound up with exactly 13, he did not get the bonus.23
Shaute made his second career Opening Day start and, temporarily shed his reputation as a slow starter by posting a 2.90 ERA through the end of May. He developed a sore arm that summer, however, probably resulting from excessive use during his early years, and was sent home to rest in September after being pulled from six games in a row from late July through mid-August. Shaute was offered for trade during the annual major league meetings, but only for another pitcher.
Shaute’s arm problems continued in 1930. A diet had kept him within 10 pounds of his playing weight but the forced idleness during the offseason meant he needed work to strengthen his muscles in spring training. He was called “the hardest worker in the field.”24 In the first exhibition game against the New Orleans Pelicans of the Class A Southern Association, he pitched well in the sixth and seventh innings, but was hit hard in the eighth.
In the later part of April, Shaute was hit in the foot by a line drive while pitching batting practice. He didn’t appear in a regular season game until May 5, lasting only two-thirds of the fifth inning in a game against the Red Sox. He was charged with six earned runs in an 18-3 blowout.
Shaute pitched in just four games for the Indians in 1930 and compiled only 4 2/3 innings. On May 25 he was sent down to the Pelicans, subject to recall.25 . On July 30, he was sent to the Toronto Maples Leafs of the Class AA International League, where he appeared in 15 games – six as a pitcher.
Shaute was said to have “had a fine tenor voice and studied for three years under the tutelage of the Orpheum choir” while with Cleveland.26 His daughter Susan inherited his musical talent.27 Described as a “statuesque lyric soprano, she sang in four Broadway musicals, one off-Broadway musical, and on network television” in a career that lasted 13 years. She took the stage name of Susan Terry, drawn from her middle name Theresa.28 On July 7, 1930 – after Shaute sang on a Cleveland radio station – he met with the Indians GM. “After telling me that he enjoyed my program of the night before, he handed me an envelope,” Shaute recalled. “Inside was my release from the Cleveland club. Evans added that I couldn’t sing my way through the league.”29
The National League’s Brooklyn Robins signed Shaute to a one-year contract for 1931. Six months after he couldn’t lift a cup of coffee to his lips, Shaute’s arm was said to appear in good condition during spring training.30 He made the club under manager Wilbert Robinson and went 11-8 (4.83) to tie for second on the team in victories. Between games of a doubleheader on August 23, Shaute was presented with a diamond ring by “his Scranton friends.” 31
The Robins became the Dodgers in 1932, and Shaute remained with the club for two seasons, making all but 13 of his 75 appearances out of the bullpen under skipper Max Carey. In December 1933, Brooklyn sold Shaute to the Cincinnati Reds when he refused to accept a pay cut.
Shaute made eight appearances for Cincinnati before he was released on May 28, 1934. He then joined the Scranton Miners of the Class A New York-Pennsylvania League, a club based near his Peckville birthplace. Shaute went 16-3 with a 3.80 ERA to lead the circuit in winning percentage and pitched twice for the Minneapolis Millers of the Class AA American Association at the end of the year.
In 1935 Shaute returned to Scranton as the team’s player/manager. The team finished first, and he posted a 21-7 (2.84) pitching record. A highlight of his managerial career was teaching a young Johnny Vander Meer to control his wildness – often in sessions at Shaute’s new home in the Scranton suburb of Clarks Summit. In 1938, Vander Meer achieved his unique signature feat of pitching back-to-back no-hit, no-run games.
In November 1935, Shaute embarked on his second career when he was elected the treasurer of Lackawanna County. While he did not continue to manage the Miners, he did pitch for the club – which had become a Pirates affiliate – and went 20-7 (4.03) in 1936. The Miners became a Boston Bees farm team in 1937, and Shaute went 9-9 (3.80). The Scranton franchise relocated to Hartford, Connecticut, as part of the renamed Eastern League (EL) in 1938, but Shaute did not go with them. To remain closer to home, he joined the EL’s Wilkes-Barre Barons and finished his career by going 6-11, 3.38.
When Shaute’s term as Lackawanna County treasurer expired, he successfully ran for sheriff in 1939. He served until 1944.32 The Pennsylvania constitution limited those positions to a single term until 1946. Holders of one office would frequently run for another position to remain an elected official.
After leaving the sheriff’s office, Shaute worked in sales for Zipay Motors in Peckville. Ed Zipay and Patrick Mellody were longtime County Commissioners in Lackawanna County and part of a Democratic Party machine led by Mike Lawler, who dominated local politics until his death in 1962.
In 1944 Shaute started his third successful career. With two other Scranton-area partners, John B. Kingsley and Abe Shapiro, he bought Reading Full Fashion Hose, and renamed it Pentagon Hosiery Company.33 There were branches in Scranton and Reading. He would sell his ownership in this firm in 195934 and retire to his home in Clarks Green, Pennsylvania.
Shaute was also known for his sense of humor and a storytelling style compared to Joe Garagiola’s.35 Because of his connections to Babe Ruth – in addition to his strikeout prowess, he surrendered the 30th, 40th and 52nd home runs during the Bambino’s 60-homer season in 1927– Shaute was frequently interviewed in 1961 as Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris pursued that record. When asked if he felt the lively ball was giving Mantle and Maris an advantage over Ruth, Shaute thought not. In his view, the narrower and lower strike zone gave a bigger advantage to batters of the later era, as did the frequent replacement of baseballs in a game. “The clean ball gives the batter a better view and is tougher for the pitcher to handle. . .it is easier for the pitcher to control a ball with the gloss removed or scuffed slightly. But as soon as this happens, there’s a new ball in play.”36
Shaute was also asked to opine on the spitball controversy. He said the spitball was a joke and that “its propaganda and psychological worth, since it was abolished, is more valuable than the pitch itself to bother the hitter mentally, providing you can make him believe he’s batting at a disadvantage.” He believed the knuckleball was the far more effective pitch; it added to the longevity of many pitchers who threw it. At the time of the controversy, Garagiola, then a prominent sportscaster, took basically the same position.37 Shaute did not give a direct answer when asked if he threw the “spitter” but was known to possess an effective knuckleball.
Joe Shaute died of cancer on February 21, 1970, at Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton. He was 70. He was preceded in death by his wife, in September 1968. At the time of his death, Shaute’s son, Joseph, Jr., was a major in the US Army, stationed at Fort Rucker, Alabama. A pilot who served in Vietnam, Joseph was later promoted to colonel. Joe’s daughter, Susan, with whom he resided, was a music teacher in the Abington Heights School District in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Shaute had two grandchildren, Joe (who became a Roman Catholic priest) and Michelle (owner of a market research company).
Shaute is buried in St. Catherine’s Cemetery in Moscow, Pennsylvania. Shortly after his death, Scranton sportswriter Chic Feldman observed, “Shaute always harbored the belief that he struck out Ruth more times than any other pitcher. [Dennis] Lustig [of the Plain Dealer) researched it and checked 33 times.” 38 Lustig’s count differs from Retrosheet’s tally, but whether he included exhibition games is unknown.39 Shaute and Ruth frequently played in numerous post-season barnstorming games. Shaute did so mainly with Northeast Pennsylvania teams.
A success in three distinct professions and admired for his singing talent and sense of humor, Joe Shaute brought honor to baseball, his family, and his community. Mansfield State College acknowledged him in June 1976 by naming its baseball stadium Joe Shaute Field.40
This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello, Malcolm Allen, and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Larry DeFillipo.
In addition to the sources shown in the Notes, the author used the following:
The John Price Clipping Collection. Joe Shaute was John Price’s favorite uncle and John compiled a collection of clippings and other documents covering family, baseball, professional and other events in Shaute’s life. At 82, John still works six days a week in the Price Insurance Agency, Carbondale, PA.
1 Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania), November 26, 2004: 9.
2 Chic Feldman, “Shaute Clears a Lively Ball,” Scrantonian, September 10, 1961: 39. From the John Price Clipping Collection.
3Despite Benjamin being cited as his middle name in dozens of newspaper articles, his WWI draft card identifies his middle name as Andrew.
4 Some sources spell her name Hedwiga. His mother’s first name is listed as Katie in the 1910 census. His mother’s maiden name was spelled ‘Konkol’ in his brother Andrew’s obituary in the Scrantonian, February 13, 1973: 13.
5 Page from The Baseball Player Pronunciation Guide in an otherwise undetailed clipping in the John Price Collection.
6 “Blakely on Top,” Carbondale Leader, May 2, 1919: 7.
7 Stuart M. Bell, “Terrific Tackle in Gridiron Game Ruins Joe’s Knees and Big Southpaw Takes Up Pitching,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 2, 1924: D-1.
8 “Mountaineers Couldn’t hit,” Wheeling Intelligencer, May 11, 1922: 7, and William C. Kashatus, Diamonds in the Coalfields, (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2002), 47.
9 Newspaper Enterprise Association, “Charlie Hickman is Squire,” Indianapolis (Indiana) Times, August 12, 1929: 13.
10 “Festus Higgins, ‘Minooka Blues’,” https://www.diamondsinthedusk.com/uploads/articles/34-img2-HIGGINS_Festus.pdf and Kashatus, Diamonds in the Coalfields.
11 Harry Grayson, “How Indians Refused to Trade Joe Shaute for Hubbell Cited,” Plain Speaker (Hazleton, Pennsylvania), June 7, 1948: 14.
12 Chares J. Doyle, “Tris Speaker’s Indians Gives Bucs Trimming in Joke Game, 7 to 0,” Gazette Times (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), September 29, 1922: 11.
13 Francis J. Powers, “Speaker Elated at Showing of Rookies,” The Sporting News, October 5, 1922: 1.
14 “Change of Styles to Benefit Shaute,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 10, 1923: 24.
15 Francis J. Powers, Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 29, 1923: 20.
16 Reading Times, February 25, 1970.
17 Dennis Lustig, “Whatever Happened to The Indians’ Joe Shaute?’ Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 13, 1970: 4-C.
18 “Cleveland Club Looks Better Than in 1925,” Mount Carmel (Pennsylvania) Item, March 26, 1926: 5.
19 “Shaute’s Wife Isn’t Satisfied; Tells Joe What Curve Should Be,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 12, 1926: 20.
20 Henry P. Edwards, “Indians’ Dicker to Joe Judge Collapses: Nats Demand Shaute and $10,000 Cash,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 15, 1927: 25.
21 Grayson, “How Indians Refused to Trade Joe Shaute for Hubbell Cited.”
22 Gordon Cobbledick, “Tribe Wins First from Yanks, 3-2, Loses Second 10 to 2,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 20, 1928: 14.
23 Sam Otis, “Shaute Signs on Dotted Line; Off for South Today: Southpaw Leaves Ranks of Holdouts by Agreeing to Terms Offered by Indians,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 1, 1929: 21.
24 Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 26, 1930.
25 “Pels Get Shaute; Bean is Recalled,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 25, 1930: B-2.
26 Doc Silva in Reading Times, February 25, 1970.
27 The census records her name as Suzanne.
28 Sid Benjamin “Sue Shaute Big Leaguer Like Her Late Dad, Joe,”, Sunday Times (Scranton, Pennsylvania), January 30, 1972: A-8, and “Theatrical Exposure New Teaching Tool,” Scranton Times, May 13, 1983: 18.
29 “Clymer Party Notes,” Times-Tribune, January 25, 1932: 18, and “Montague Back with Indians,” East Liverpool (Ohio) Review, July 8, 1930: 11.
30 Tommy Holmes, “Test Proves Robins Will Hit Southpaws,” The Sporting News, March 12, 1931: 1.
31 “Shaute Gets Ring and Beats Bucs for Robins,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 24, 1931: 15.
32 “Newly Elected Officials of County Assume Their Duties,” Scranton Times, January 3, 1944: 3.
33 “Joe Shaute obituary, Scrantonian, February 22, 1970: 26.
34 “The Sportsccope,” Scranton Times, March 25, 1959: 30.
35 Doc Silva, Reading Times, February 25, 1970.
36 Chic Feldman, Scrantonian, September 10, 1961.
37 Chic Feldman, “Shaute Rates ‘Knuckler’ Far More Valuable to Pitcher than ‘Splitter,” Scrantonian, August 7, 1956: 56 in clipping in the John Price Collection in section discussing Shaute’s impending posthumous induction into the Scrantonian-Tribune, Gibbons Sports Hall.
38 Chic Feldman, Scrantonian, March 1, 1970.
39 According to Retrosheet, eight pitchers struck Ruth out more than the 22 recorded by Shaute. Of those eight, however, only Lefty Grove (45 strikeouts in 135 at-bats), Bump Hadley (27 in 88 AB) and Urban Shocker (31 in 112 AB) fanned Ruth with greater frequency.
40 “Mansfield Names Ball Field in Shaute’s Memory,” Scrantonian, June 20, 1976: 53.