Clarence “Lefty” Russell was the most sought-after pitcher in the minor leagues during the summer of 1910. The Baltimore Oriole southpaw was the sensation of the Eastern League, baffling hitters with his crackling fastball, roundhouse curve, and elusive spitball. Russell’s domination of opposing batters quickly drew the attention of quite a few major league teams, including the Philadelphia A’s. Connie Mack, who was part owner and manager of the team, was so impressed with Russell that he purchased his contract from Baltimore in the middle of July for the exorbitant price of $12,000. This was the most money ever paid for any player up to that point in the history of professional baseball.
Russell eventually joined the A’s team at the conclusion of the Eastern League season. Lefty appeared in just one game for Philadelphia, on October 1, 1910, shutting out the Boston Red Sox by the score of 3 to 0, The following year, Russell injured his arm on the third day of spring training and never won another major league game.
The baseball scribes of that era were hard on Russell for his inability to live up to his lofty price tag. The daily newspapers dutifully chronicled Lefty’s poor pitching performances, disdainfully referring to him as the “$12,000 Beauty” while calling him Connie Mack’s great mistake.
Injuries are an unfortunate part of the game. Many a promising career was cut short due to an untimely misfortune on and off the ballfield. Continuing to play while injured is commendable, although usually disastrous, as it was in Russell’s case. However, this Baltimore native, with a strong constitution, did not let his ill-fated tenure with Mack’s White Elephants deter him from resuming his baseball career. Russell’s major league pitching days were over, but he was still an outstanding hitter, a swift runner, and a sure-handed defensive player. Lefty continued in that capacity, playing outstanding ball in the minors and on some of the best independent teams in the country. The heavily recruited pitching prospect, who had been thrust into the limelight at such a tender age, was able to leave organized baseball years later on his own terms and with his head held high.
Clarence Dickson “Lefty” Russell was born in Baltimore on July 8, 1890. He was raised in the Waverly section of the city. Young Lefty was an athletic boy who grew up swimming and fishing at nearby Herring Run Creek. The precocious lad was a crack shot with a rifle, practicing his skill by picking off frogs from great distances at a local brickyard pond. Russell was also an outstanding pool player and duckpin bowler during the formative years that he spent in the Waverly community.
The 1900 census lists Clarence, his five brothers, and three sisters living with their parents Charles A. and Mary K. Russell at 1906 York Road in Baltimore. (See also: Allen Russell.) A short time later, the Russells moved a few blocks north to 2650 York Road. The 1901 Baltimore City Directory lists Charles’s occupation as a carpenter.
The first baseball uniform that Lefty donned was that of a local nine called the Frisby Stars. The Stars held sway against teams like the Boone Rippers and Oxford Sluggers in battles that were waged across the sandlots of northeast Baltimore. The southpaw star in embryo later graduated to faster company with the 25th Street Christian Sunday School club. In 1906 and 1907, Russell led this aggregation to consecutive league titles. The 1908 season started out with more of the same for the teams in the circuit that was listed in the local newspapers as Sunday School League Number One. Russell, who stood six foot one and weighed 165 pounds, reportedly struck out 22 batters in one of those early spring games.
A few weeks into the season, things began to brighten up for the opposition when the Hagerstown team of the Sunset League began to make serious overtures in regard to acquiring the talented portsider. The club’s executives sent their second baseman, Eddie Coggins, to Baltimore in order to sign the eighteen-year-old prospect. Coggins, a neighbor of Russell’s, was well aware of the young man’s ability on the mound. Russell met with Coggins and gladly accepted the Hagerstown team’s salary offer of $75 a month. Lefty also tipped them off about his batterymate Will Callahan, who eventually joined the club.
The former Sunday school ace made his debut on June 6, 1908, at Athletic Park on West Lee Street in Hagerstown. The talented hurler shut out a college nine from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that day by the score of 15 to 0.
Unfortunately, the rookie pitcher was a bit inconsistent that first season and experienced only mixed success on the mound. When the Sunset League season ended, Lefty made his way up to the New York State League, where he pitched in a few games until that league shut down for the year.
The following winter, Hagerstown’s manager Charley Boyer recommended Lefty to the Savannah club of the Southern League. The Savannah team’s management sent Lefty a contract, which he did not immediately sign. A few days after receiving the Savannah offer in the mail, Russell had a chance encounter on a Baltimore street with Orioles Vice President Moses N. Frank. The local baseball executive asked Lefty if he would be interested in playing with Baltimore and if so, he would pay him $50 more a month than the Savannah club had offered.
Lefty found the terms of the contract agreeable and a few days later signed with his hometown Orioles. Lefty reported to the team in late March of 1909. The Birds were the defending champions of the Eastern League at this time. The Baltimore club was owned by future Hall of Famer Ned Hanlon and managed by former major league pitcher and infielder Jack Dunn.
The Orioles played their first intra-squad game of the 1909 season on March 29th at Oriole Park, located at the southwest corner of 29th Street and Greenmount Avenue in North Baltimore. Manager Dunn divided his Oriole squad into two teams, the Regulars and the Sodbusters. The Regulars came out on top by the score of 12 to 4. Lefty made his first appearance in an Orioles uniform that day, pitching good ball for Dunn’s Regulars and contributing a solid base hit at the plate.
For the next week or so, the Baltimore team played a few more intra-squad and exhibition games, and Lefty continued to perform well. On April 8th, John McGraw and his vaunted New York Giants came to town to play a two-game series against the Orioles. McGraw’s men had been down south practicing for a few weeks, and all of his players were in fine fettle. In the initial contest, the Birds and the Giants played 10 innings, and the game ended with the score tied at 3.
The following day, the Giants sent left-handed pitcher Rube Marquard to the mound, and Baltimore countered with Jim Maroney. Marquard had been purchased by New York for the princely sum of $11,000 the previous season. Up to this time, it was the largest price ever paid for a single player. The Giants’ high priced southpaw gave up three runs in the third and was eventually relieved at the beginning of the sixth inning by future Hall of Fame inductee Christy Mathewson. For the Orioles, Lefty Russell replaced Maroney in the sixth inning, after the latter had allowed two runs in the opening stanza and one more in the second frame. For the next six innings, the young rookie and the seasoned veteran combined to put on a classic pitcher’s duel, neither man giving an inch. The batsmen on both clubs were stymied by the two great pitching performances, and not a run was scored by either team. The game was eventually called at the end of the 11th inning with the score tied at three runs apiece. Russell allowed just one hit while striking out three Giant batters and did not walk a man. Lefty had held his own against major league competition, and the baseball world was beginning to take notice.
On April 12th, the National League Philadelphia Phillies played Dunn’s Birds at Oriole Park. Lefty Russell was the starting pitcher for the home team. Baltimore’s shortstop and third baseman made successive errors to start the bottom of the fourth inning, and their miscues rattled the young hurler. Russell worked his way out of the jam but not before allowing three unearned runs to score. Manager Dunn removed the young pitcher for a pinch-hitter in the top of the fifth, and the Orioles went on to win the game by the score of 4 to 3.
Lefty failed to impress Dunn for the remainder of spring training, and the Birds manager farmed him out to the Wilkes-Barre Barons of the Tri-State League. This ballclub was not an ideal fit for Russell, as the roster was loaded with veteran pitchers. The team’s manager Mal Kittridge could not afford to give an unproven rookie like Lefty very much playing time. It was during this period of inactivity that young Clarence began experimenting with his soon-to-be signature pitch, the spitball. As the days went by, Russell grew more and more despondent about his all-too-familiar position on the Barons’ bench. His frustration was apparent in the letter he wrote to a man named Johnny Frazier, who was affiliated with the Frederick, Maryland, ballclub.
Troy, New York June 15, 1909
Mr. John Frazier,
When I met you in Baltimore sometime ago you told me if I did not happen to make good with a club to let you know. You probably know I have been loaned out to Wilkes-Barre and they give me very little chance here to pitch. It seems they always take good care to pitch me against left-handed batters.
Now if you could make a place on your team, I should be glad to accept it even if I am compelled to take smaller wages than I receive here. I am getting $250 a month here and I will take $100 less, but if I do not prove worth that, I will take less, but I never felt better in my life.
Will be here in Troy until Sunday night and then go to Wilkes-Barre. Hoping to hear from you at an early date, I am
“C. Russell “
The Frederick team already had enough pitchers on their roster, and the club’s management had no choice but to pass on the young southpaw. Barons manager Kittridge was sympathetic to Russell’s plight and gave him permission to negotiate with the other clubs. A short time later, Lefty was able to secure a spot with his former team in Hagerstown.
The familiar surroundings of Athletic Park soon helped the southpaw slinger regain his confidence on the mound and in no time at all, he was mowing down the opposing batters. Lefty was also a very good hitter and a solid defensive player. The Hagerstown team played him in the outfield on the days that he did not pitch.
Oriole manager Jack Dunn was not happy when he found out that Russell had left the Wilkes-Barre team without notifying him. The Birds’ skipper sent two of Russell’s friends to Hagerstown in an effort to bring Lefty back into the fold. One of Dunn’s emissaries was Walt McAtee, a well-respected umpire, local amateur coach, and one of Lefty’s biggest supporters. The second man was Will Callahan, Russell’s former Sunday school catcher as well as a backstop with Dunn’s Birds during the previous spring training. Both men tried to convince Lefty to come back to Baltimore and rejoin the Orioles, but the young pitcher declined their requests. When Dunn learned of Russell’s decision, he had no choice but to suspend the headstrong hurler.
The Hagerstown team was playing in the independent Sunset League, so the suspension had no bearing on Russell’s status with that club. This loop was also referred to in some circles as the Wisdom, Hope and Friendship league. Russell went on to have a great year with Hagerstown. Lefty twirled a no-hitter against Winchester on August 24th, beating the Virginians by the score of 4 to 0. On August 30th, Russell tossed a two-hit shutout against the Frederick team. He finished the season with an outstanding pitching record of 18 wins and 2 losses. Nine of Lefty’s victories were shutouts. Due in part to their star hurler’s stellar accomplishments, the Hagerstown club came out on top against the Winchester and Frederick teams for the semi-professional championship of Maryland and Virginia. He even blanked Montreal’s Eastern League team in an exhibition game that season.
“The managers of two major league teams are now in correspondence with Russell,” reported the Baltimore Sun at that time.
When the Sunset League ended, Lefty traveled to Sykesville, Maryland, to pitch against a team representing the nearby town of Mount Airy. It was the fourth game of a five-game series between to the two Maryland clubs. A Sykesville victory would clinch the county championship as they were already up two games to one in the series. Fans of both of these Carroll County teams placed large amounts of money on the outcome of the game.
On September 5th, Lefty took the hill for the Sykesville nine and defeated the Mount Airy aggregation by the score of 4 to 2, clinching the series. Lefty struck out 16 batters that day and allowed just four hits while issuing two free passes. His Hagerstown teammate Harry Fanwell pitched well for Mount Airy and fanned 10 men in the tough two-run loss.
A few days later, Russell headed south, where he signed on with the Danville Red Sox of the Virginia League.
On September 8th, Russell pitched the first game of a doubleheader against Richmond at the latter’s home field. Neither team scored until the bottom of the tenth inning when the Richmond hitters finally got to Russell for the game winning run.
Just two days later, Lefty hurled the first game of a double header against the Lynchburg team. Danville won the game by the score of 5 to 1. Lefty tossed a three-hitter and fanned ten Lynchburg batters.
It didn’t take long for Jack Dunn to get word of Russell’s latest maneuver. The wily Oriole chieftain immediately contacted the owner of the Danville club, making him aware of his wayward lefthander’s contract situation. The following day, Lefty was dropped from the Danville roster. Undeterred, Russell made his way to Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he joined up with that city’s very talented semi-professional team. Lefty, who was still locked in on the mound, finished out the year with Fredericksburg in fine pitching form.
The following winter, Jack Dunn and Russell arranged a meeting at Dunn’s office at Oriole Park in Baltimore. The two men were able to work out their differences and the prodigal pitcher re-signed with his former team on February 25, 1910.
The Orioles held their first practice at Oriole Park on March 22nd. Dunn’s squad took some light infield practice while others worked out on the sidelines. The local newspaper noted that tossers Lefty Russell and Butcher Boy Schmidt played catch in front of a small but very enthusiastic crowd that had gathered in the left field bleachers.
After a few days of practice the Orioles played an exhibition game against a team from the Walbrook section of Baltimore. The Birds won the game 5 to 4. Lefty pitched three scoreless innings. He struck out four men, walked two, and did not allow a hit.
Later that week, Dunn’s Orioles defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in an exhibition at Baltimore by the overwhelming score of 14 to 2. Lefty was the starting pitcher for the Orioles.
“To Lefty Russell there is a great deal of credit due. Russell twirled in great shape. He was cold as ice and he had great command of the situation during the three innings he was on the firing line, despite the fact there were enough errors made behind him to set an oldtimer crazy,” observed the Baltimore Sun.
Lefty tossed four innings in a loss to the Philadelphia A’s on March 30th. He allowed two hits, one walk and one run.
On April 4th, Baltimore played the Frederick YMCA team at Athletic Park in Frederick. Maryland. There was a large parade that was held in the Orioles honor. Three bands led the procession, and both teams were driven to the ballpark in horse-drawn carriages. The Frederick team inspired by the enthusiasm of their hometown fans upset the favored Birds that day by the score of 2 to 0. Lefty pitched five innings against his former rivals. He allowed three hits, two runs, and struck out seven YMCA men.
Three days later, Russell pitched the first three innings and allowed two runs in a 6 to 3 loss to John McGraw’s New York Giants.
On April 13th, Lefty worked a scoreless inning in a 6 to 1 defeat against the Washington Senators. The next day, Lefty pitched against the Frederick YMCA ball club at Oriole Park in Baltimore. The Birds came out on top by the score of 2 to 0. Lefty allowed seven hits, two walks and he fanned nine batters.
Two days later, Russell and another Baltimore pitcher shut out a local semi-pro team called the Manhattens by the score of 4 to 0.
Lefty made his regular season pitching debut for the Orioles on April 22, 1910, in the first game of a double header against the Buffalo Bisons. Lefty allowed just one run on three hits while defeating the Bisons 3 to 1.
According to the Baltimore Sun of April 23, 1910: “The York Road boy was given his chance yesterday to show what he could do in fast company, and he did what was expected of him by Dunn and his followers in Western Maryland. He made good and furthermore, greater things are expected of him as the season blossoms forth. As has been said, he was the whole show and sideshow included. Two clean hits that came in the sixth that caused the production of a run and a scratch in the first were all that the Bisons could gather. He fanned a quarter, walked a brace and handled five chances himself.”
As the weeks went by, Lefty continued his winning ways on the mound for the Baltimore club. Word spread quickly, and soon scouts from a variety of major league teams were ensconced in the stands on the days that he pitched. The Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Giants, and Philadelphia A’s showed the most interest in acquiring the Orioles’ ace lefthander.
On July 18th, Philadelphia A’s owner and manager Connie Mack purchased Russell from Jack Dunn for what was then the astronomical price of $12,000. There were rumors that Dunn would receive some of that amount in players that would be sent to him at a later date.
Lefty’s pitching record at the time of his sale was 14 wins and 7 losses. Russell was not required to report to the A’s until after the Eastern League season had ended
The day after the deal, the A’s leader spoke to the Philadelphia Inquirer about his latest acquisition: “Russell is a remarkable southpaw. He has speed, a great spitball and a bewildering variety of curves. I have always been partial to southpaws and I have had great results out of men like Waddell, Plank and Krause. Pittsburg thought Russell was worth $15,000, so did Cincinnati. I consider myself fortunate to have landed him.
“Russell will join the Athletics at the close of the Eastern League season, September 10, and may help us out if we are hard pressed at that time. Russell is in the finest condition right now. Only today he won from Rochester, which team is leading in the race for the Eastern League pennant.”
Not everyone in the baseball world was as high on Russell as the well-respected Athletics magnate. Future Hall of Fame pitcher “Iron Man” Joe McGinnity noticed a slight hitch in Russell’s delivery and stated at the time that Russell would wear himself out in the not- too-distant future. Dunn, Mack, and a host of major league scouts disagreed with the Iron Man’s assessment. Representatives of the Philadelphia team had been on Russell’s trail for over two months before the deal was consummated. The A’s scouts had scrutinized Lefty’s every move during that time. They all agreed with McGinnity, in that Russell did display an unusual arm movement at the apex of his delivery. However, because of his smooth and effortless pitching motion, they did not foresee any future problems.
Lefty finished the 1910 Eastern League season with an outstanding pitching record of 24 wins and 14 loses. He worked in 337 innings while allowing 215 hits, 135 walks, 99 runs and he struck out 219 batters. Russell also had a decent year at the bat for the Birds, hitting .262 with 5 doubles, 3 triples, 1 home run and 18 runs scored. Even with Lefty’s great year, Baltimore could only muster up a third-place finish.
Lefty reported to the Philadelphia Athletics in the middle of September. Mack did not use his prized rookie pitcher until Saturday, October 1st. The A’s were going for their 100th win of the season that day. Before the game, Connie Mack pulled young Lefty aside and offered him an A’s contract for $2,100 annually. This presumably would have been prorated for the games he played at the end of the 1910 season and would have been his annual salary for the upcoming year. Lefty read over the contract thoroughly and to Mack’s dismay, declined to sign the document. Russell was already making close to that amount with Jack Dunn’s Orioles and believed he was a due a substantial raise. Mack and Russell talked things over in the clubhouse before the game and decided to address Lefty’s contract situation at a later date. Russell eventually took the mound at Shibe Park that Saturday sans contract.
Lefty was in great form from the start, and his vast array of sweeping hard curves and dancing spitters completely fooled the hard-hitting Boston club. When the dust cleared, the final score was Philadelphia 3, Boston 0. Russell scattered nine hits and held Boston’s big three of Larry Gardner, Harry Hooper, and Tris Speaker to one safe blow between them. The highly touted rookie worked out of tough jams on two separate occasions during the game. In the third inning, Russell induced a fielder’s choice groundout from future Hall of Famer Tris Speaker with the bases loaded and got the next batter to pop up to end the threat. In the sixth, with one man out, Duffy Lewis smacked a triple down the left field line. The next batter, Clyde Engle, hit a sizzling line drive back through the box that Russell reached out and snagged. The alert moundsman then fired the ball over to the third to double up the runner who had strayed too far off the bag for the last out of the inning. The cheering home crowd nearly spilled out of the bleachers in appreciation of the rookie’s clutch defensive play.
In regard to Lefty’s pitching that day the Baltimore Sun wrote, “Never in the history of baseball in Philadelphia did a young pitcher, just breaking in, get such a reception as was accorded the protégé of Johnny Dunn.”
Lefty told the press after the game about his financial negotiations with the A’s: “I talked for some time with Connie Mack before the game Saturday. He wants me to sign up this fall so he can use me in the exhibition games next spring. The Athletics’ manager said that he that he wants to get a line on my general work before he makes me a permanent offer and as I show him what I can do, my salary will increase.”
Russell never did sign his contract, so consequently, he did not appear in any more regular-season or post-season games. Mack’s Philadelphia club went on to win the World Series that year, but Lefty did not figure in any of the A’s World Series money. When asked by local newsmen about his share of the money, Lefty stated that he didn’t help the team in the Series, so he certainly didn’t deserve any of the winnings.
During the following off-season, Russell received a contract offer in the mail from Connie Mack for $2,200 a year, which he initially turned down. In early February, Lefty ran into Jack Dunn at the train station in Baltimore. Russell told the Baltimore magnate that he had just received a second contract in the mail from Mack and that he was totally satisfied with the new salary offer. The former Oriole ace told Dunn that he was never going to hold out and that all of the details of the contract would eventually be settled with the Philadelphia club.
There was evidently some miscommunication between Russell and Mack in regard to the young pitcher’s accepting the terms of his new contract. A few weeks later, Connie Mack went public with his displeasure over Russell’s failure to sign with the Philadelphia club in a timely fashion.
In an article that was printed in the Frederick Evening Post of February 21, 1911, Mack stated, “Russell appeared in one game last year and appears to want something. What it can be I don’t know and frankly I don’t care. I wrote Russell some time ago to come see me, as I did all of my players. By March 1 in acceptance with the rules I will send him a contract and he can do as he pleases.
This hold up game is a joke and a man must at least qualify before he even has a grievance. Our pitchers leave on March 7 for Hot Springs; it is now up to him.”
The following day, Lefty and his girlfriend Jessie F. Welsh of Hagerstown eloped to Wilmington, Delaware. The Reverend George Lewis Wolfe conducted the ceremony and for some reason, the young newlyweds decided to keep their matrimonial vows a secret. Jesse returned to the Hagerstown home of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. J.F. Welsh, and Lefty went back to Baltimore to make arrangements for the upcoming season. Upon his arrival, Russell soon got word of the bad blood brewing between him and his manager, so Lefty hastily boarded a train to Philadelphia to rectify the situation.
The newspapers reported the two men negotiated back and forth for over an hour before terms were eventually reached on February 26th. Russell received a raise in salary plus bonus stipulations for every game he won. Mack said that Russell would receive more money for his work than any other youngster breaking into major league company.
Lefty was anxious to prove himself to his new manager and teammates when the A’s spring training opened in Savannah, Georgia. In this particular situation, his over eagerness would be his downfall. The former pitching star of the Eastern League wanted everyone on the team to know that he belonged in the majors. In his haste to impress, the young pitcher did not warm up properly before cutting loose with his vast repertoire of pitches. Instead of pacing himself, Lefty threw too hard at the beginning of camp, and in less than a week he had seriously damaged the muscles of his highly sought left arm
In a newspaper article that appeared in the Kansas City Star on July 6, 1919, future Hall of Fame third baseman Frank “Home Run” Baker described Russell’s first three days in camp with the Philadelphia A’s in 1911: “Russell appeared to be a wonderful pitcher – just a kid and he had a great record with Baltimore. The first day we were out I saw him buzzing them to Ira Thomas. On the hill he showed me a wicked curve on the second day. I told him to slow up, that he was going entirely too fast. It was early and we had a month before us, but I guess he wanted to show Mack right from the start that he had everything. Russell strained his arm on the third day of spring training and he was through. His career was over.”
At the time, Lefty did not realize how severely his arm had been injured and figured with a little rest he would return to his former self.
The A’s treated Russell’s injury with care initially, and he did not see much action on the mound for the next few days.
By March 8th, Lefty was back on the diamond, playing center field for the Athletics in an exhibition game.
The Frederick Evening Post spoke of Lefty’s fielding prowess with the A’s in a spring training contest: “Lefty Russell, who everybody knows is a pitcher, played center field, but let the readers know from this article he is ballplayer through and through. He certainly did play the center field position as well as it was ever played.”
Russell continued to take it easy for the next few weeks while still holding out hope that his arm would eventually come back to life.
On March 24th, Lefty Russell took the hill for the A’s along with Cy Morgan. The two combined to pitch the Philadelphia A’s to a 14 to 1 victory over the Charleston Palmettos of the South Atlantic League. “Lefty Russell and Cy Morgan worked in the box for the Athletics and were invincible throughout,” noted the newspapers in their account of the game.
On April 3rd, Russell pitched three innings against the Philadelphia Phillies allowing two hits and one run in five innings.
Russell was the starting pitcher for the A’s on the 6th in an exhibition game against the Philadelphia Phillies. Lefty worked five solid innings, giving up five hits and one run.
On April 11th, a benefit game for former A’s shortstop Simon Nicholls was held at Oriole Park in Baltimore. Nicholls had been with Mack’s A’s for four years before being sold to Cleveland. The Indians dealt him to Baltimore at the beginning of the 1910 season. The twenty-eight-year-old Nicholls passed away on March 12, 1911, from typhoid fever. Both teams were playing the exhibition game that day to raise money for Nicholls’ widow and children. Russell was the starting pitcher for the Athletics. He allowed three runs in five innings of work Baltimore went on to defeat the Mackmen by the score of 3 to 2. The game raised over $ 2,700 for the Nicholls family.
On April 22nd, Lefty made his first appearance of the regular season against the Boston Red Sox in relief of A’s right-hander Jack Coombs. Lefty had not pitched in weeks, and his inactivity showed that day. He tossed six innings of ineffective ball, allowing thirteen hits and nine runs.
Two weeks later, Russell squared off against the Washington Senators and their ace Walter Johnson. Lefty allowed eleven hits and seven runs in seven innings of work. He walked four men and struck out three in a game that the A’s would eventually lose 7 to 6.
Unfortunately for Russell, his next few appearances in the box for the A’s were no better.
Mack told the press on May 16th: “I’m not saying that Russell isn’t worth the money. But he isn’t worth $13,000 to me. And in the future I will not be among the bidders when major league managers are attempting to set a new record on the purchase of a player. Some how or other the high priced fellows don’t make good. I might prove my point by citing Rube Marquard of the Giants as an example. I’m not saying that they aren’t worth the money. But the fact remains that they have not displayed their worth or rather they have not justified the large amount that was paid for them.
“It is my firm belief that the payment of a big price means that you are going to be disappointed. I do not know why it is or why it should be. But the fact remains that it is the truth. Take Collins on my ball club. Take Barry and a half a dozen others who helped to win the world’s championship. I didn’t pay a fancy price for those fellows.”
The annals of baseball history have dubbed Lefty Russell with the sobriquet of the “$12,000 Beauty.” The price paid for Russell has been quoted differently in various newspapers over the years, as low as $9,000 and as high as $15,000. The article above quotes Mack, who consummated the deal, stating that it was $13,000. The actual price is now hard to verify so many years after the fact, but the extra $1000 could have been the result of the “players to be named later” in the deal.
In early June, Lefty pitched against the Tigers in Detroit. After the game, Russell informed Mack that he was experiencing severe pain in his pitching arm and needed to see a doctor. The A’s manager advised Russell to wait until the ballclub returned home to Philadelphia so he could visit the team’s physician, Dr. Frank MacFarland. The A’s doctor tried various treatments on Lefty’s arm, but the injured salary whip would not respond. Finally, Dr. MacFarland took Russell to the University of Pennsylvania, where he used an x-ray machine to examine Lefty’s sore arm. The results showed there were no broken bones, but the muscles in Lefty’s arm were corded. The A’s physician prescribed more rest for the injured hurler.
When Connie Mack heard the prognosis, he said, “I am glad that Russell’s arm is in good shape as far as broken bones go. I am going to keep him. I guess a rest will pull him back on his feet. With Coombs, Bender, Krause, Plank, and Morgan going so well, I can afford to have Russell idle for a while.”
Russell hoped the rest prescribed by Dr. MacFarland would help his ailing arm and issued the following statement to the Philadelphia Press: “I have not been able to pitch near my form. I know it but when my arm recovers I’ll show some of these fellows I have a little in the way of speed and slants. I am glad I am with Manager Mack, for he has treated me fairly since my arm went bad.”
Around this time the A’s placed Lefty on the waiver list for the asking price of $1,200. The only major league team that could afford Lefty’s salary was the Chicago Cubs, and they made it clear that they were interested. After thinking it over, Connie Mack had a change of heart and decided to hold on to his underachieving phenom.
Lefty’s arm remained idle for the next few weeks, but he was showing no signs of improvement and was still in considerable pain. It was at this time that the injured southpaw contacted noted Cleveland Naps’ trainer Doc White, who had gained a national reputation for curing sore arms. Paddy Livingston, Dixie Walker, and Hub Purdue had all benefited from White’s ministrations. Lefty arrived in Cleveland in the middle of July and met with the well- respected sports physician. After a few days of treatment sessions with Doc White, Russell returned home stating that his arm had never felt better.
Jubilantly, Lefty returned to the A’s team and in his next workout on the mound was firing the ball into the catcher as hard as ever and more importantly, pain free. Russell informed Mack at this time that he was feeling good and was now available to pitch. Mack was a bit skeptical of Russell’s recovery so he sent the beleaguered portsider back to see Dr. McFarland for another examination.
To Lefty’s utter amazement and disappointment, the Philadelphia doctor stated that Lefty’s arm was still injured and that he would not clear him for mound duty. Mack then decided to send Russell back to Baltimore to sit out the rest of the season. The young pitcher was unhappy about being sent home. Lefty let it be known publicly that he felt that the A’s doctor was jealous of the fact that his arm had been brought back to life by another team’s trainer.
Lefty appeared in a total of seven games with Philadelphia in 1911. He worked in 32 innings while allowing 45 hits and walking 18 batters along with striking out 7 batters. Russell finished the season with an earned run average of 7.59. Lefty’s pitching arm was obviously not in true form, but he was still able to swing the bat well enough to compile a .385 batting average.
In September, newspapers were reporting that Russell’s arm was in bad shape and that he would never pitch again. “The doctors say the cords have become badly knotted brought on by the result of a cold which Lefty’s flinger caught while at spring training camp,” observed the Kansas City Star in regard to Russell’s injury.
Lefty was still on the A’s payroll but not on the team’s active roster. The Athletics captured the American League pennant and World Series for the second year in a row, but once again, Lefty did figure in any of the winning shares from the Fall Classic.
Whatever Mack’s misgivings were towards Russell, he still signed him to an A’s contract for the 1912 season. That spring, the A’s were playing Russell in the field, as well as on the mound.
On April 10th, Lefty played right field against the Charlotte team and connected for three hits and scored two runs. For the next few weeks, Lefty practiced with the A’s in the outfield, while still taking his practice sessions on the mound. When the regular season started, Lefty made a few cameo relief appearances for Philadelphia without much success.
Russell entered the record book on April 26th, serving up the first home run hit in the brand-new Fenway Park, a three-run poke in the bottom of the seventh inning to Hugh Bradley.
Russell made his first start for the A’s on May 18th. He walked 8 batters and hit two more in a 6 to 3 loss to the Detroit Tigers. Mack said Russell “was as wild as a March hare.”
Ten days later, Russell worked one ineffective inning against the Boston Red Sox. Mack had seen enough and felt that he could not afford to keep the hard luck pitcher on his major league roster any longer. A few days later he made his move. On May 31st, Mack sold the beleaguered tosser’s contract to the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association. Lefty’s pitching record at the time was 0 wins and 2 losses with a 7.41 earned run average. Russell failed to hit safely in four plate appearances with Philadelphia that year. The struggling hurler had appeared in only five games for the Athletics during the first two months of the season before being let go.
Even with all of Russell’s pitching woes, Connie Mack still had not totally given up on his slumping prodigy. The Atlanta Constitution noted that Lefty Russell was being farmed out on option and that Philadelphia still held the strings on the struggling pitcher. Mack hoped that a season under the watchful eye of Crackers manager Charles Hemphill would help Lefty regain his confidence on the mound.
Unfortunately, Jesse Russell took sick at this time. Lefty wired team president Frank Calloway of the Atlanta club informing him that he was going back home to Hagerstown in order to take care of his critically ill wife. Thankfully, Jesse recovered and Lefty eventually reported to the club. The struggling southpaw never got on track with the Crackers or manager Hemphill. He appeared in only three games with Atlanta before being released on June 21st. . He recorded 1 victory and 1 loss in 17 innings of work. He allowed 13 runs on 13 hits while issuing 10 walks and striking out 7 men. At the plate, Lefty went 1 for 6 during his short stint with Atlanta.
Upon his release, Lefty headed back home and by early August had signed on with the Shenandoah, Virginia, club under an assumed name. Lefty and his new team traveled to Woodstock, Virginia, to play that city’s highly touted ballclub. The Shenandoah fans bet heavily on the game in hopes that their newly acquired hurler could tame the bats of the favored Woodstock nine. “Everybody in Shenandoah was on and they bet money like water,” noted the local newspaper.
The former A’s twirler started out in good form, striking out the first two batters he faced, but things went south as the contest progressed. When the dust cleared, nine Woodstock runners had crossed the plate while the Shenandoah team could only muster up five markers.
Lefty returned back home once again to Jessie. By this time Connie Mack had severed all ties with the “$12,000 Beauty,” and the former mound sensation decided to sit out the rest of the year.
The following winter, Russell signed back up with Jack Dunn’s Baltimore Orioles, who were now members of the new International League. During this time Lefty began to make the switch from pitcher to position player. Umpire Walt McAtee, who had always been a big supporter of Russell’s, told a Frederick newspaper in early March of 1913, “Lefty is a natural ballplayer. He learns quickly and well and should he discover that his southpaw hasn’t the right ring. He could make good in the garden. He is as fast as a bullet, slides well and he can hit.”
A few weeks later, Russell headed south to Fayetteville, North Carolina, with the Orioles. He took his turn on the pitching mound that spring for Dunn’s Birds. Lefty was playing the outfield when he wasn’t on the mound and doing quite well. “Fine running catches were numerous and Cooper, Banker and Lefty Russell shared the glory,” wrote the Baltimore Sun of March 14, 1913, in regard to an intrasquad game played between Dunn’s Regulars and his Yanigan squads.
Lefty still looked good on the mound according to an article in the Baltimore Sun: “With the oldtimers of the club sitting on the fence watching every movement intently Lefty Russell started cutting them loose this morning. Also it must be admitted that Jack Dunn although apparently hitting to the outfield kept one eye on the $12,000 Beauty as he shot the ball over an improvised home plate.
“It was Lefty’s coming out party for heretofore he has gone unnoticed not attracting particular attention unless one was careful enough to follow his graceful movements in the outfield. But when he started warming up he wore that happy little smile that once was so familiar around Oriole Park.
“Slowly, carefully, Lefty applied more speed until toward the end he was whistling the ball and it had the same old jerk which stood many a batter in the old Eastern League on its head. Then too Lefty tried out his slow one, a couple of small hooks and they all worked all right but after it was all over Russell denied that he had actually cut loose.”
When asked about his former phenom’s workout Dunn told a reporter that Lefty looked great and he hoped that Russell would regain the form that had made him the most dominate pitcher in the league a few years earlier.
As the days went on, Lefty continued to play well in the outfield and hit the ball consistently. On March 21st, the Birds’ morning practice was rained out. The local newspaper noted that Russell, who always kept himself in great shape, and three other Baltimore players took a four-mile run before the afternoon workout.
Lefty performed admirably in the outer garden for the rest of spring training but didn’t figure in the Orioles’ plans for the upcoming season.
On May 5th, Dunn farmed Russell out to the Allentown Teutons of the Tri State League. Allentown picked up Russell to play first base even though Lefty had been exclusively playing the outfield for Dunn’s Birds.
With no previous experience in the infield, Lefty learned quickly and quickly settled in at his new position. On July 3rd, Lefty batted fifth in the Teutons’ lineup and blasted out two solo home runs in a 9 to 2 victory over the York White Roses. The pitcher, turned first baseman, recorded nine putouts and one assist without an error in the game.
Unfortunately, Lefty was severely spiked on July 13th. He contracted blood poisoning, a malady that would be a recurring illness for him throughout his career, and missed a number of games.
In the middle of August, the Allentown club with Jack Dunn’s permission sold Russell’s contract to the York team of the same league. Lefty reported to his new squad on August 19, 1913, and finished out the year with the White Roses. In the final game of the season, Lefty rapped out a single, double, and triple while recording 22 putouts at first base without an error.
Lefty played in 82 games combined between the two teams that season and hit for a sub-par .217 batting average. He managed to connect for 8 doubles, 4 triples, 6 home runs and 33 stole bases in what turned out to be an injury-plagued year.
The following season, Russell signed on with the Scranton Miners of the New York State League. Lefty started off the year with a hot bat and was playing the infield like a seasoned veteran.
“Russell is playing the best first base that has ever been seen in the New York State League,” noted the Frederick Post of July 1, 1914.
Lefty was hitting .315 at this time, and his overall play attracted the attention of scouts from the Boston Red Sox and the New York Giants. Patsy Donovan, who was representing the Red Sox, informed the owners of the Scranton team that he would purchase Russell for the right price.
Dick Kinsella, of the New York Giants, was also interested in signing Russell, but the Scranton front office, for whatever reason, was unable to come to terms with either major league club.
For the next few days, Lefty continued to pound the ball and his batting average climbed up to .327.
“Lefty Russell who changed himself from a pitcher to a first baseman is doing well at his new trade,” noted the Philadelphia North American, in regard to Scranton’s most consistent batsman.
On July 10th, Scranton traded Russell, who had been experiencing some nagging injury problems, to the Syracuse Stars of the same league for first baseman Jus Slattery. Lefty adapted quickly to his new surroundings by hitting safely in 15 of the first 17 games that he played for the Stars. During that time, he connected for 24 hits in 61 trips to the plate. His fielding percentage in those games was a respectable .983.
Exactly one month later, Russell hit for the cycle in a game against Utica. Lefty’s batting prowess that day accounted for six of the eight Syracuse runs.
“Manager Payne of Syracuse has received two offers from big league moguls for his release,” reported the Frederick News in its comments on Russell and the game.
The Stars’ front office decided not to sell Lefty to either major league team. The hard-hitting southpaw finished the 1914 season with a combined .287 batting average between the two teams along with 8 doubles, 4 triples, 6 home runs and 11 stolen bases.
At the conclusion of the 1914 season, the Syracuse club was financially in arrears to Lefty and a few other players in regard to their salaries from the past year. The franchise was being sold at this time, and the new owners didn’t consider themselves responsible for the previous management’s past debts. Lefty sent a letter to John Farrell, president of the International League, stating he would not sign a contract for the upcoming season until he was paid the $378 that was owed him. Farrell agreed with Russell, and the new owners were only allowed to purchase the Syracuse club after they agreed to pay out $1000 that the team owed in back pay.
A short time later, Lefty received his money and signed his new contract for the 1915 season. Russell went on to have a great year at the plate for the Stars. The sweet- swinging Baltimorean hit for an outstanding .331 batting average while swiping 23 bases and scoring 39 runs. He still was plagued by the same troublesome injuries and appeared in only 74 games.
On May 3rd of the following season, Jack Dunn purchased Lefty’s contract from the Syracuse Stars. It did not take long for the former Bird to make his presence known in the Baltimore lineup. Russell began to pay off Dunn’s investment four days later, when he connected for four hits against the Buffalo Bisons and on the 11th belted a grand slam and a triple against the Rochester club. Lefty stayed locked in at the plate, compiling 28 hits in his first 20 games with the Orioles.
Russell was spiked on the foot in early July and then developed blood poisoning on one of the fingers of his throwing hand. He was hospitalized in Toronto, laid up for quite sometime. The Baltimore first sacker’s infection was so severe, it appeared that the doctors would have to amputate the finger in order to stop the poison from spreading to other parts of his body. Luckily, Lefty was able to recover from the very serious illness without any drastic measures being taken.
A few weeks later, the left-handed first sacker returned to the Baltimore lineup. Despite the setback, Russell still managed to play in 112 games for the Orioles, who finished in third place that year. Lefty finished the 1916 season with a .305 batting average, 133 hits, 10 doubles,11 triples, and 2 home runs while scoring 68 runs and stealing 11 bases.
Lefty started off the 1917 season in a Baltimore uniform, but on April 17th, Jack Dunn sold Lefty’s contract to the Newark Bears of the same league. Although Russell was hitting the ball well in spring training, Dunn decided to sell him and replace him with former Washington Senator Alva Williams.
Russell started of the season hot at the plate but cooled off considerably as the summer wore on. It is possible that he may not have been fully recovered from his previous bout of blood poisoning.
Lefty anchored the first base position for Newark while another former Philadelphia A’s pitcher, Bruno Haas, patrolled the outfield for the Bears.
“Both men have won the fans over with their mighty hitting,” noted a local newspaper early in the year. Haas had pitched for Mack’s Athletics during the 1915 season. On June 23rd, he had the distinction of walking 16 New York Yankees in one game. He, like Russell, had found a new career as position player.
Russell appeared in 125 games for the Newark Bears and ended the 1917 International League season with an unusually low batting average of .227. Russell still played well enough to contribute 15 doubles, 6 triples, one home run and 14 stolen bases.
On March 20, 1918, Newark sold Lefty’s contract to Little Rock of the Southern League, but he chose not to sign. Russell decided to stay close to home and play ball with the Sparrows Point team in the independent Bethlehem Steel League. The United States had entered World War I in April1917. By the following spring, the majority of able-bodied men had either been drafted into military service or had taken jobs that contributed to the war effort. In July of 1918, Secretary of War Newton Baker issued his famous “work or fight” order to all American men between the draft ages of twenty-one and thirty-one. This edict required everyone, including men from all levels of professional baseball, to get an essential occupation that contributed to the war effort or join the military. Most players were allowed to finish out the year, but quite a few resigned from major and minor league teams during the season and scrambled to find jobs. Lefty fulfilled his patriotic duty by working at the Bethlehem Steel plant in Baltimore. This company supplied the military with steel for ships and guns along with many other wartime necessities.
The Bethlehem Steel Baseball League was formed by the company’s executives in the spring of 1918. The goal was to bolster their workers’ morale by hiring professional baseball players to work at the various plants and play ball for the company teams.
The men worked in the steel mills during the week and played baseball on Saturdays and holidays. All these games were well attended by employees of the various plants, as well as the local fans.
This circuit operated for one season and was considered one of the best independent leagues of all time. The loop was composed of ballclubs from Sparrows Point in Baltimore; Wilmington, Delaware; Steelton, Bethlehem, and Lebanon, Pennsylvania; and Fore City, Massachusetts.
Every club in the league had its fair share of major league players in their lineup.
Baltimore’s Sparrows Point team had Lefty Russell along with infielder Wilson “Chick” Fewster, who had previously played with Dunn’s Orioles and would later play with the Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, and Dodgers. Lefty’s brother Allan, along with teammate Ed Monroe, resigned from the Yankees in July and joined up with the Sparrows Point nine. Former Philadelphia A’s shortstop Runt Walsh and Yankee catcher Alec Smith were also members of the team.
The remaining clubs in the circuit had major league talent such as Wally Pipp, Dutch Leonard, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Eddie Plank, and a host of other players in their ranks that season. Babe Ruth and his Red Sox teammate Sam Agnew joined the Lebanon team after they had defeated the Chicago Cubs in the 1918 World Series. The Fall Classic was played in September that year because the regular season was cut short by a month due to the war in Europe. Ruth contracted Spanish influenza shortly after joining the Lebanon team and appeared in only a handful of games.
In addition to the major leaguers in the loop, all of the teams in the league had a multitude of standout minor league players on their rosters. The former big league players in the circuit received somewhere between $200 and $250 dollars per game for their services on the diamond. The men from the lower levels of professional baseball were paid slightly less.
Lefty started out the season playing good ball, and pretty soon organized baseball came calling once again.
In May of 1918, the Syracuse Stars let it be known that they were interested in Lefty’s services. Stars manager Patsy Donovan stated at the time that he was willing to buy out Lefty’s contract from the Little Rock club. A few days later, Lefty informed the Stars’ front office that he was content where he was, so the deal never came to fruition.
Later that summer an unusual situation involving Lefty occurred on the battlefields of Europe. An American soldier was wounded in the Lorraine Forest and sent to a field hospital outside of Paris. When the doughboy recovered from his severe head wound, he informed everyone that he was the former Philadelphia A’s high-priced pitcher Lefty Russell. Newspaper correspondents covering the war picked up the story, and in a few short days Lefty’s battle wound had made the headlines in most of the stateside papers. One can only imagine Lefty’s surprise when he read about being wounded on the Western Front in the local newspaper. The rumor persisted for quite some time, and to this day no one has ever found out what prompted the young soldier to tell such a tall tale.
The 1918 Bethlehem Steel League was a very competitive circuit all season with the Steelton team eventually coming out on top. Steelton clinched the pennant by defeating the Bethlehem club in a playoff series after the two teams had finished the regular season tied for first place.
When the Steel League season ended, the final batting averages were posted in the Baltimore American. Lefty hit for a sub-par .247 average that year. The paper noted that 20 major league players along with a host of minor league stars had played in the circuit. National League pitcher Al Mamaux compiled the highest batting average in the league. Al belted the ball at a .409 clip for the Fore River team while playing in the minimum number of ten games required for qualification. Joe Jackson hit a stellar .393 in 17 games with Wilmington.
The Bethlehem Steel League officially folded on March 23, 1919. The war ended, steel company executives were no longer interested in promoting baseball on such a grand scale. “The Bethlehem Steel League has gone the way of the Federal League,” announced the Baltimore American. The steel plants in the circuit kept their company baseball teams, but this particular league with its high priced players and big league atmosphere operated for just one season.
In late March of 1919, Clarence “Lefty” Russell was a witness in Federal court in Washington, DC, for Baltimore’s Federal League baseball club in its $ 900,000 antitrust lawsuit against organized baseball. Baltimore baseball magnates Ned Hanlon and Judge Harry Goldman believed that prejudicial statements had damaged their franchise’s credibility. They believed these statements had been directed at the Federal League by various baseball executives and American League president Ban Johnson, in particular.
Russell, along with former players George Maisel, Jimmy Priest, and Jimmy Walsh testified in court about the unfairness of baseball’s reserve clause in regard to players being sold to various teams without their consent. The Baltimore team’s lawsuit was eventually dismissed after years of legal wrangling.
Around that same time, Lefty signed on with the Baltimore Dry Docks baseball team. The club had been organized the previous season and was managed by former major league pitcher Sam Frock. The Dry Docks were an independent ballclub that played against teams from every level of organized baseball, as well as competing in the Delaware Shipyard League on the weekends. This loop consisted of aggregations from the New York shipyard, Hog Island, and Wilmington, Delaware; the two other teams competing in the circuit were from the Emergency Fleet and Merchant Shipyard.
The Dry Docks were made up of former professional players and on numerous occasions, they squared off against some of the best competition in organized baseball.
On July 13th, the Dry Docks played an exhibition game against the National League Cincinnati Reds at Oriole Park in front of 10,000 fans. Cincinnati was in first place at the time and would go on to win the National League pennant and defeat the Chicago White Sox in the tainted World Series of 1919. The Dry Docks won the contest that day by the score of 1 to 0 behind the stellar pitching of future big league pitching star Waite Hoyt. Lefty Russell went hitless in the contest but contributed defensively by starting a timely 3-6-3 double play that helped to preserve the shutout.
The Drydocks played great ball all through the summer of 1919 and established themselves as one of the best independent teams in the country.
In early September the Dry Docks played the Boston Red Sox at Oriole Park in front of 10,000 fans. The Sox came out on top by the score of 10 to 6. Hometown hero Babe Ruth belted out two monstrous home runs for Boston. One of the Bambino’s clouts cleared the right field fence by fifteen feet and landed on the roof of a house on Greenmount Avenue. The Sultan of Swat displayed his great athleticism that day by scoring all the way from first base on a bunt. Russell attempted to throw Ruth out at third on the play, but the ball got by the Dry Docks third baseman and the Babe trotted home easily. The Bambino finished out the day by taking the mound for the final two innings of the contest. Lefty connected for a RBI single in four trips to the plate against the visiting champs.
A few days later, the Dry Docks played a series against the International League champion Baltimore Orioles for the championship of the city. The winning team was slated to receive 60% of the gate receipts while the loser was awarded 40 %, after 20% of the total sum was taken off the top for expenses. The Orioles had just won the first of their seven straight International League championships, and the team was loaded with great ballplayers.
Baltimore’s lineup featured the International League batting champion Otis Lawry along with Fritz Maisel, Merwin Jacobson, Jack Bentley, John Honig, and a host of other talented hitters. The Birds pitching staff was no slouch either, with stars like Rube Parnham, Harry Frank, Cliff Hill, and Ralph Seibold leading the way.
The Dry Docks’ Dave Danforth shut out the Birds 3 to 0 in the first tilt. Danforth was a well-traveled player who had pitched for the Chicago White Sox earlier in the season. Dandy’s Dave’s signature pitch was the shine ball, but he possessed every type of legal and illegal pitch in his well-stocked arsenal. The crafty southpaw was known to incorporate them all into his repertoire, which he evidently did, with great effect on this particular day. Lefty Russell went one for four for the winners.
The two teams played a doubleheader the following day in front of 12,000 fans. Lefty took the mound for the first time in five years in the opening game. The lefthander was on his mettle from the start, scattering seven hits while shutting out the Orioles by the score of 9 to 0. The former A’s prospect struck out 4 men and walked two. At the plate, Russell went one for four and scored a run.
The Baltimore Sun of September 22 reported, “The opener of the twin bill was a pretty contest and one which pleased the fans, for on the rubber for the shipbuilders was Lefty Russell, once a $12,000 Beauty and he pitched with all his old cunning and much of his former speed. His spitter once so famous, broke as of old and the Orioles were lashed to the mast in that combat as a result.”
The Dry Docks won the second tilt 9 to1. Russell went two for four with a run scored and a stolen base.
The Orioles rebounded in the fourth game, coming out on top 12 to 1. Lefty connected for one hit in four trips to the plate. The Orioles also won the next game 3 to 2. Lefty went two for four in the loss.
Lefty once again toed the rubber in the sixth game of the series. He pitched well but ended up losing 4 to 3. The Waverly native struck out two men and walked two others in the tough loss. Russell hit safely once in four at bats. The Birds iced the contest in the eighth inning on a towering blast over the right field wall by first baseman Jack Bentley.
The Baltimore Sun of September 26 noted, “It was a mighty clout and even Lefty Russell the former famous $12,000 American Beauty congratulated the swatsmith, showing keen sportsmanship in the defeat.”
The Dry Docks captured the city Baltimore championship by winning the seventh game, 5 to 0. Dave Danforth struck out 15 of Dunn’s men. Lefty Russell’s clutch two-run single in the fourth inning with the bases loaded helped seal the win for the shipbuilders. He also contributed a sacrifice bunt in three official at-bats.
In late October of 1919, the Dry Docks traveled to Staten Island to play a two-game series that would decide the Shipyard Championship of the country.
Dry Docks ace Dave Danforth struck out eleven men while tossing a 1 to 0 shutout in the first game against a team called the Downeys.
Waite Hoyt started the second game for the Dry Docks and led the Baltimoreans to a 5 to 1 victory. The future major league star struck out nine batters while scattering seven hits.
“Zimmerman and St. Martin were the offensive stars of the first game while Lefty Russell, McNeil, Bates, Curry and Miller made timely hits in the second game,” commented the Baltimore American on the championship games.
After the game, the Dry Docks were presented with the league pennant, along with the $1000 Coxe trophy that was awarded to the loop’s winners.
Lefty enjoyed duckpin bowling in the off-season and was one of the best in Baltimore City. This type of bowling is common to only a few places in the United States. Oriole greats John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson are credited with being the first people to bring the game to Baltimore. Whether they actually invented the sport of duckpin bowling is up for debate. One of the differences between duckpin and traditional tenpin bowling is that the bowler is allowed to throw three balls instead of two. Duckpins are also much smaller than tenpins.
The Baltimore American of January 14, 1920, published the averages for the first half of the season for the Baltimore Dry Docks duckpin bowling league. Lefty Russell was the top bowler in the league with a 102.5 average. Modern duckpin bowlers have their own personalized bowling balls and benefit from oiled lanes along with automatic pinsetters. The bowling lanes and accessories in 1920 were quite primitive, which would account for what would be considered a low average today.
The Baltimore Dry Docks put together another great baseball team for the 1920 campaign and would prove once again that they were capable of playing with some of the best teams in professional baseball. They played a full schedule of games against a wide variety of teams.
In early April, the Dry Docks and Dunn’s International League champion Orioles squared off in another series. The games were held at Oriole Park, with the winner owning baseball bragging rights in Baltimore.
The Dry Docks won the first game 8 to 7. Lefty went hitless in five attempts.
The Shipbuilders came out on the winning end of the second game 15 to 6. Lefty went three for five with a double, home run, and sacrifice fly.
“Lefty poked one far over the right field fence for the circuit in the sixth, while he rattled the boards in right center in the next stanza with a two ply smash. His other safety was a single,” observed the Baltimore Sun.
On April 10th the Dry Docks lost to the Boston Braves by the score 7 to 4. Lefty connected for one hit in the loss.
The Orioles resumed their series with the Dry Docks four days later. Dunn’s charges defeated the Dry Docks 13 to 8. Lefty went one for four and stole a base.
The Dry Docks bounced back and beat the Birds the following afternoon to take a 3 to 1 lead in the series. The Shipbuilders came out on top that day 3 to 2 in ten innings. Lefty went two for three with a stolen base and a sacrifice. He scored the go-ahead run for the Shipbuilders in the top of the tenth inning
The next day’s matchup between the two clubs was rained out. Reports of any more games between the two teams have not been located. There may have been issues regarding players on the Dry Docks who were property of other clubs and therefore deemed ineligible by organized baseball.
A few days later, the Dry Docks defeated the Lebanon, Pennsylvania, team 9 to 1. Lefty garnered two hits and scored two runs.
On May 16th, the Detroit Tigers defeated the Baltimore Dry Docks by the score of 5 to 0 at Oriole Park in front of 4,000 fans. Former Oriole Hughie Jennings was managing the Tigers, and put on quite a show for the fans from the third base coach’s box during the game that day. All of Detroit starters, except Ty Cobb, were in the starting lineup. Lefty contributed one of the Shipbuilders’ four hits.
On July 17th, the Dry Docks defeated the Philadelphia Navy Yard team 21 to 1. Lefty went four for six with the willow and scored five runs. A week later, the Dry Docks defeated the House of David team at Oriole Park 13 to 2. Lefty had four hits in five trips to the plate.
The next day the Dry Docks played Lefty’s former team, the Philadelphia A’s, at Oriole Park. The A’s won the game 11 to 4 behind the pitching of Baltimorean Eddie Rommel and Bob Hasty. Lefty went two for four with a triple and a run scored. He recorded 10 putouts, three assists and threw a runner out at home plate on the back end of a double play.
The Shipbuilders played great ball all summer, and Lefty stayed hot with the bat.
The Baltimore American of September 7, 1920, published the batting statistics for the Baltimore Dry Docks. Lefty Russell was leading the team with a torrid .429 batting average. Russell had batted 229 times and scored 69 runs while poking out 93 hits. Ben Spencer’s .411 average was second in the club. Spencer had previously played with the Washington Senators, and his grandson Jim Spencer would later play in the major leagues.
A month later, the Baltimore American noted that Russell’s .420 batting average was still the highest on the club.
In the middle of October, the Dry Docks swept a three-game series from a traveling team of International League All-Stars. Lefty went 6 for 10 with a double, triple, and one run scored in the three-game set.
The Baltimore Dry Docks finished the 1920 season with a record of 102 wins and 29 losses. They won the Shipyard Championship and Coxe trophy for the second year in a row. By season’s end, Sam Frock’s men had taken on and defeated all of the best independent teams in eight states including the highly touted Allegheny Steel club.
A few months later, Jack Dunn purchased the contracts of Dry Docks players Lefty Russell, Johnny Bates, Tony Citrano, and Harvey Russell (no relation to Lefty) from the respective teams that held the contractual rights. Dunn perpetrated this magnanimous gesture in order to clear up any future problems the Dry Docks and the four men may have had to contend with in regard to their contractual obligations with other clubs. Dunn also did it because he’d been hit with a $1000 fine from the National Association of Professional baseball for playing against the Dry Docks and their disputed players earlier in the year in an exhibition series.
In late January of 1921, the Dry Docks team unexpectedly disbanded. On February 20, 1921, Dunn worked out a deal with the Baltimore Dry Docks executives in regard to purchasing the contracts of Lefty Russell and the three other players he had previously acquired for their organization. An arrangement was worked out with the Dry Docks’ front office that gave Dunn permission to sell the players and keep the cash.
The Montreal and Akron teams of the International League expressed a strong interest in obtaining Lefty Russell. Akron executives made an offer for Russell, but the southpaw turned them down. The Montreal deal fell through for presumably the same reason.
In an interview with the Baltimore American at the time Lefty said, “The contract is the big thing with me and I would be willing to play in Mexico, Cuba or China if the terms are satisfactory.”
In April of 1921, Lefty decided to stay home and play locally for the semi-professional Hamden Athletic Club. In his first game with the team, Lefty played left field and batted fourth in the lineup. Russell connected for three hits and stole two bases in a 7 to 1 victory over the Albans Athletic Club.
Lefty was also pitching and playing the outfield for another semi-pro team in Baltimore called the Oaks at this time.
In early August of 1921, Lefty made his way down to the independent Eastern
Shore League on the Delmarva Peninsula. He signed with the Laurel, Delaware, Blue Hens and in his first game with the team, shut out Salisbury by the score of 4 to 0.
The following season, Lefty received an offer to play independent ball with a team from Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, located in the coal mining regions of eastern Pennsylvania approximately 50 miles northeast of Reading. The April 16, 1922, edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer confirmed that Russell had signed a contract with the Mahanoy City Blue Birds. Former Detroit Tiger and New York Giant catcher Jack Onslow managed the Flock. The Blue Birds played in an independent league with other clubs from the coal mining cities of eastern Pennsylvania. In their ranks, they had University of Pennsylvania alumnus and former Chicago Cub, Pard Pierce, at shortstop. Tom Downey, who previously performed with the Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, and also Chicago in the Federal League, played third base. The Birds also had former Washington Senator pitcher Bert Gallia on the roster.
Lefty went on to have a good year for Mahanoy City, compiling a .340 batting average and playing solid defense at first base.
The next year, Lefty signed back on with the Blue Birds and eventually took over as player/manager when Jack Onslow left the team. However, Russell was relieved of his managerial duties in early August by former Pittsburgh Pirate Jake Pitler. Russell had done a credible job as the team’s acting skipper, but the club’s executives decided to give the job to Pitler.
It was at this time that bad luck found Lefty once again. While in the process of fielding a ground ball, Russell was struck in the head by a bad hop. Due the severity of the injury, Lefty was immediately rushed to the Mahanoy City hospital. During his stay in the hospital, he developed blood poisoning, and by early September, various newspapers were reporting that his condition was serious.
Russell eventually regained his health and resumed his baseball career on the sandlots of Baltimore. For the next season and half, he played for the Fairfield Farms Dairy team and a few other local, semi-pro, and amateur outfits in the area.
On June 25, 1925, Lefty signed on with the Sheboygan Chairmakers of the independent Wisconsin State League. Kenosha, Benoit, and Racine were the other teams that made up the circuit. Lefty immediately made a good impression with the hometown fans and sports writers. “Lefty Russell, Sheboygan’s new first baseman made a good showing at the initial sack handling some difficult throws with remarkable ease,” noted the Sheboygan Journal on Lefty’s first game with the team.
By the time August rolled around, Lefty’s .396 batting average was the second highest in the league.
By August 12th, Lefty’s torrid hitting had pushed his average over the .400 mark. “Russell has been clouting the ball at a terrific .404 clip and seems to be getting stronger all the time,” observed the local newspaper.
Lefty’s hot hitting tailed off considerably in the final month of the season, and he finished the year with 41 hits, 6 doubles, 1 home run, 3 stolen bases and a .270 batting average.
During the following winter, the representatives of the Sheboygan team offered Lefty the job as the player/manager of the team. Lefty accepted their offer on February 23, 1926. The club’s executives allowed Russell to hand pick the team, and Lefty immediately went to work, eventually assembling the best ball club that Sheboygan fans had seen in years. In an effort to strengthen the pitching staff, Lefty acquired his brother Allan from the Washington Senators on April 17th. Allan had previously pitched with Jack Dunn’s Richmond team in 1915 and later with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Senators. Lefty had another brother named Frank who had been a pretty fair pitcher. Frank had been signed by the Roanoke team of the Virginia League in 1911 but failed to win a spot on the roster.
Russell’s Sheboygan Chairmakers started out the 1926 season playing good ball and by early July had moved into first place.
The Sheboygan Press of July 31, 1926, wrote, “Manager Lefty Russell has gathered a collection of diamond stars for the Chairs. The veteran ball star, who performed at first base at Sheboygan last season, proved himself to be thoroughly familiar with every detail of the game, a man possessed of good judgment and keen executive ability, one who can stir up enthusiasm among the players and can keep up the proper morale, one who insists upon having orders carried out but is not severe and one who himself can whip the ball to any infield station and is handy with the willow. After considering a number of applications for the position, the directors of the baseball association decided in favor of Lefty whose shoulders rest the responsibility of giving Sheboygan the greatest baseball team of all time.”
On September 8th, the local newspaper published the batting averages for the Sheboygan team. At that time, Lefty was leading the club with a .368 batting average. He had batted 185 times while compiling 68 hits, 11 doubles, 6 triples, 1 home run along with 7 sacrifices, 9 walks, and 1 stolen base. In addition, he led the club in being hit by pitches 7 times. His brother Allan was leading the Chairmakers pitching staff with 14 victories.
A noteworthy situation involving Lefty and his brother occurred on the ball field that season. Allan was pitching at home against Kenosha with a one-run lead in the top of the ninth inning. Kenosha slugger Big Bill Rummler ripped a scorching line drive back through the middle that struck Allan on the bridge of his nose and knocked him unconscious. “Allan dropped in the box like a feld ox,” noted the local Sheboygan newspaper. A doctor was called from the stands, and after a few tense minutes Allan finally came to. When Allan was eventually able to compose himself and sit up, the stands erupted with cheers for their hometown hurler. At that time, Lefty walked over from his first base position to check on his younger sibling. When Lefty arrived at the mound, he leaned over and asked his brother if he was all right. When Allan nodded affirmatively, Lefty, who was never one to coddle his players, shouted loudly, “Well then, get in there and pitch!” With Lefty’s words of encouragement still ringing in his ears, Allan resumed his place on the mound and to everyone’s delight retired the side and won the game.
The Sheboygan club never relinquished the league’s top spot and by late September had sown up the pennant. The Kenosha team came in second followed by Beloit, Madison, Racine, and Logan Squares with the Niesens team finishing in last place.
On October 1, 1926, the club’s executives held a banquet at the Association of Commerce Hall in Sheboygan. The players were presented with a championship pennant, and each man was a given a team photograph along with a solid gold watch fob. The gold piece of the fob had a statue of a ballplayer that was mounted on suede leather. Engraved on the fob were the words “Sheboygan — Champions 1926 Wisconsin- Illinois Baseball League,” along with an inscription of each player’s name.
After a full-course dinner with all the trimmings, player-manager Russell was invited up to the dais to speak. Lefty addressed the Association on behalf of the team and thanked all who were responsible for a wonderful evening. Further along he stated, “I want to tell you that in all of my years of playing ball, I have never seen such loyal fans. This support is what gives a player that up-and-at-em, never say die spirit that makes him stick to the game until the very last out. You don’t see fans walking out until the game is over in Sheboygan, and I think that is why we won so many games by last minute rallies. I want to say to you that I hope we all can come back, but I want to impress upon you that it was not the work of one or two or three men that made us a pennant winning team. It was a case of fourteen men working as a unit that did it, as well as the hearty cooperation and backing of the Sheboygan baseball fans.” Lefty closed out his speech by once again thanking the Association for the banquet and the directors for the pennant and watch fobs.
The rest of the banquet featured more speeches and community singing that incorporated tributes to all of the players. It was truly a great night for baseball in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
Lefty returned as the Chairmakers’ manager the following season, and the team resumed its winning ways. During this season, Lefty made his final mound appearance in organized baseball. It occurred on May 29 against the Kenosha club in Sheboygan. All of the pitchers on the Chairmakers’ roster were either injured or unavailable that day except Bud Herche, who was given the starting assignment. In the third inning, Herche was ejected from the game after disputing the home plate umpire’s non-call on a runner’s interference play. With no other options on the table, Russell had little choice but to take over the pitching duties for his team. The crafty thirty-seven-year-old southpaw took the mound without any warm-up tosses and immediately went to work. Harkening back to his glory days, Lefty tossed a dizzying array of curves and slants at the Kenosha hitters while mixing in an occasional spitball or two. After allowing a two-run homer in the fourth, Russell settled down, and the Chairmakers went on to win the game in extra innings by the score of 3 to 2. In the seven innings that Lefty worked, he allowed two runs and six hits while striking out two men and issuing two free passes.
When asked about his success that day, Lefty stated, “Knowing what the other batters don’t like and being able to put it there usually wins for any pitcher. I knew their batting habits and was lucky enough today to have the control to put them in the right places.”
The Sheboygan club, bolstered by their enthusiastic fans, captured the Wisconsin League for the second year in a row. The Chairs closed out the 1927 season by sweeping both ends of an exhibition doubleheader against the Two Rivers Goodsmen team from the Lake Shore League. Lefty went a combined three for six in both tilts with a double and two stolen bases. In between games, there were a number of contests held for the entertainment of the crowd. Russell took part in the 100-yard dash and finished a respectable third.
The Chairmakers ended the 1927 season with an outstanding record of 33 wins and 17 losses along with a 10 and 1 record in exhibition games. Beloit finished in second place followed by Madison and Kenosha.
Lefty appeared in 41 games for Sheboygan in 1927. His final statistics were 40 hits, 9 doubles, 2 triples, 2 home runs, 27 runs scored, 9 stolen bases, and a .292 batting average.
The Sheboygan team held its annual postseason banquet at the Association of Commerce Hall. Once again, all of the players and directors spoke before the large crowd that had assembled that evening. “Lefty Russell, who had been the playing manager of the team and whose unassuming way has made him an idol here, gave a few remarks followed by C. F. Pratt who entertained with stories and songs,” noted the local Sheboygan paper in regard to the festivities that evening.
At the conclusion of the 1927 season, Clarence “Lefty” Russell decided it was time to hang up his spikes and spend more time with his family in Baltimore. The well-respected ball player returned to his job on the waterfront in the Sparrows Point section of the city. Lefty’s job title was Ship’s Trimmer, and he supervised a crew of stevedores who loaded various materials onto cargo vessels that were docked at the Port of Baltimore.
The Russells were listed as living at 1350 Homestead Avenue in Baltimore at this time. In the years that followed, Connie Mack’s former “$12,000 Beauty” remained a dedicated fan of the national game, attending major and minor league games whenever possible.
Lefty had truly enjoyed the time that he spent in Sheboygan and made an effort to stay in touch with his former teammates out in the Midwest. Every so often, he and his wife Jesse would take an extended vacation and travel to Wisconsin to spend time with his old friends from Sheboygan.
The Russells also made frequent trips to Hagerstown to visit with Jesse’s family. While in town, Lefty always stopped at Harry Martin’s barbershop to talk baseball with the local fans.
In later years, Lefty and Jessie made their home at 706 Overbrook Road in Baltimore. Russell retired as a supervisor for the Jarka Company in 1958. Sadly, just a few short years after Lefty’s retirement, his wife Jesse Russell passed away on January 2, 1962. Lefty, still mourning the death of his wife, passed away less than three weeks later on January 22. His son Dixon and two daughters, Phyllis Fanzler and Doris Russell, along with five grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews survived him. Lefty and Jesse are buried at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens Cemetery, located near Timonium, Maryland.
Clarence “Lefty” Russell should be remembered as one of Baltimore’s best all-around ballplayers. Lefty’s two injury-plagued seasons with the Philadelphia A’s should not define his well-traveled career on the diamond nor minimize the great natural talent that he possessed.
I would like to thank Ray Nemec for sharing his statistical information on Lefty’s major and minor league career.
I would also like to thank John DiBlasi for his help with the 1900 census.
I would like to thank Philadelphia’s Athletics’ historian Bob Warrington for sharing with me with the first name of the A’s team doctor, Frank MacFarland. Mr. Warrington was also kind enough to give me the page number and reference information from Norman Macht’s book on Connie Mack that mentions the doctor’s first name for the reference section of this article.
Norman L. Macht, Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007) p.568
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