Debuting in the second game of a double-loss doubleheader on June 17, 1927, John Edward Freeman was a pinch-hitter for Slim Harriss with two out in the bottom of the ninth, officially in the game but seeing no actual action. On June 27, he took over in center field for Ira Flagstead and collected his two career at-bats, without a hit. He appeared in two other games, but — all told — it was no runs, no hits, no errors.
Freeman is one of only a small number of Red Sox players (there have been 22 through 2014) to have actually been born in the city of Boston, on January 24, 1901. His parents were immigrants. Mother Mary A. (Horan) Freeman was born in what later became known as the Irish Free State. Father John J. Freeman, despite a surname that sounds like it came from the British Isles, was a native of Denmark. He was a freight handler at the time of their son’s birth. By the1910 census, he had become a policeman on the Boston force. A couple of years after their son was born, the couple saw the arrival of a daughter, Mary.
The younger John played professional baseball, but not for long. His entire big league career began and ended inthe spring and summer of 1927. There was a Freeman who spent spring training with the Red Sox in New Orleans, but he was a pitcher, A. V. Freeman, who failed to make the team.
Freeman was sometimes given the nickname “Buck,” perhaps recalling the Buck Freeman who had been a Boston baseball star at the turn of the century. After playing freshman baseball at Columbia, he transferred to Holy Cross, where he was the team’s left fielder for three years before graduating in 1926.1 While there he also assisted the coach, Jack Barry, a former Red Sox player and 1917 manager.
After college, he played in the summer of 1926 for the Eastern League’s Pittsfield Hillies.2
Freeman made his major league debut on June 17, 1927, Bunker Hill Day, more accurately Evacuation Day, in Boston– hence a holiday, with a doubleheader scheduled against the Cleveland Indians. It was only mid-June but the perennially last-place Red Sox of the 1920s were already 21½ games behind the league-leading Yankees. Manager Bill Carrigan, who’d been enticed back into harnessafter a decade away from his championship years with the Red Sox, saw his Sox drop the first game, 6-3. In the second game, the Red Sox had scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth to nearly match the Indians’ 4-0 lead. Then came the bottom of the ninth. There were two Boston runners on base, but the Sox were down to their last out. Pitcher Slim Harriss was due up. Carrigan decided to send in Freeman to pinch hit. The Boston Herald said that Freeman was “looking quite dangerous up there” – whatever that meant – but then the Red Sox tried to execute a double steal to tie the game. It didn’t work. And Freeman was left having officially entered the game, but not having done a thing except perhaps look dangerous in the batter’s box.
Had his career started and ended there, it might have made for a better story. But he got into three more games.
The Red Sox dropped a doubleheader to the Yankees on June 21 at Fenway, 7-3 and 7-1. It was Tony Lazzeri Day, and the Yankees shortstop was presented a diamond ring before the game by admirers among the 1,000 Italians from Boston who came to the game. The Yanks scored three times in the top of the first and had a 6-0 lead after four innings in the first game, so Carrigan decided to give some of his regulars a rest. Marty Karow was put in to play shortstop and Freeman took Ira Flagstead’s place in center field. Freeman got his first two at-bats in the big leagues but was unable to get a hit off future Hall of Fame pitcher Herb Pennock. The two plate appearances were, as things played out, not only his first but also his last.
Flagstead had recorded two putouts while he was in center. Freeman recorded none. In fact, in the games he played, he never had a fielding chance.
His third game appearance came on June 25, with Washington in town. Freeman was the third left fielder in the game for Boston, brought in for defense in the top of the ninth after Cleo Carlyle was lifted for a pinch hitter.
In the first game of the July 4 doubleheader, with the Athletics in town, Freeman saw another inning of work, again playing the final inning of the game, this time in center field.
The 10-2 first-game loss was the 15th loss in a row for the Red Sox, who won the second game of the twin bill, 11-3. The only game the Sox won from Freeman’s June 17 debut through his final appearance was a 5-0 shutout of Cleveland on June 18. The club was 1-17 during the stretch that embraced his playing career. He finished with a .000 batting average, .000 on-base percentage, and .000 fielding percentage. And had seen his team do almost nothing but lose. It was a tough few weeks.
On July 7, Freeman was optioned to Atlanta, where he appeared in 34 games for the Crackers. We do not have batting statistics but do know that he handled 50 chances in the outfield without an error. Freeman left baseball and took a coaching position.
He also became a sportswriter for a while, working for the Boston American and, after a move to the nation’s capital to serve as secretary for Senator David I. Walsh of Massachusetts, the Washington Times Herald.3
At the time of the 1930 census, he was living in Boston working as a traveling salesman in the automobile business. Ten years later he and his wife, Mary, were living in Washington D.C., with their five-year-old son, Jeremy. After his stint with Senator Walsh, John worked for 10 years as an executive assistant in the Federal Housing Administration. To some extent reflecting the times, they had a Negro servant living with them.
In 1945 he began working in the building supply business and was general manager of a military housing project at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. He worked in that field until he died in Washington on April 14, 1958. The cause of death, according to the District of Columbia certificate of death, was bronchopneumonia following an esophageal hemorrhage a day earlier. He had also suffered from cirrhosis of the liver. His body was brought back to Boston for burial at St. Joseph Cemetery in West Roxbury.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Freeman’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.
1 Springfield Republican, April 3, 1927.
2 Trenton Evening Times, July 13, 1926 and Boston Herald, July 8, 1927.
3 Freeman’s obituary in the April 17, 1958 Boston Globe contained the information about Sen. Walsh and the business in New Jersey. Bill Lee’s book The Baseball Necrology (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2003), mentioned the sports writing and tells about his work with the FHA (see Lee, 137).