Louisianan Paul Sentell finished second to Ty Cobb in the 1905 South Atlantic League batting race. As a major-league rookie infielder, Sentell broke his hand in a fistfight with John McGraw. As a minor-league manager, he became a renowned umpire-baiter. Finally, Sentell became a skilled arbiter himself, ascending back to the major leagues in three short years. Tragically, at age 43, he collapsed on a major-league diamond, dying in a Cincinnati hospital a week later. Paul Sentell literally gave his life to the game he so deeply cherished.
Leopold Theodore Sentell was born on August 27, 1879 in New Orleans, Louisiana, the second of nine children to Jean (John) Sentell (1850-1907), a carpenter from Spain, and Sylvia (Barre) Sentell (1849-1920), born in France. Leo’s siblings were John Eugene, Ignatius, Lucille, Mathilde, Sophie, Isabelle, Henry, and Charlotte. Not much background is available regarding Sentell’s primary years, except that his given first name was transformed from Leo to Paul.
In 1899, Paul married Georgian Diana Estelle Hastings, four years his junior. In April 1900, Paul and brother Eugene (who was also the manager) pitched on a local amateur Gattis squad.1 Paul and Estelle welcomed a son Paul Alexander Sentell (Paul Jr.) in December 1900.
In April 1901, Paul played third base and pitcher for Algiers in the semipro New Orleans Coast League.2 In one relief appearance, he strolled to the mound from the hot corner and “broke slow benders around the plate for the remainder of the game.”3 In the summer of that year, Sentell hooked up with the semipro Monroe (Louisiana) Babies team.4 Later in the season, he played shortstop for the unaffiliated Vicksburg, Mississippi contingent (they would play in the Cotton States League beginning in 1902). Sentell played more semipro ball in and around New Orleans in 1902, for teams such as Crowley5 and Morgan City.6
In 1903, Sentell started his professional career as the shortstop for the Baton Rouge (Louisiana) Red Sticks in the Class D Cotton States League.7 In July, Sentell was released by the league-leading Red Sticks and picked up by the league cellar-dwellers Monroe Hill Citys, also known as the Ouachitas.8 In August, Sentell, Monroe’s regular shortstop, pitched. He “had (Baton Rouge’s manager) Pender’s pennant winners at his mercy,” throwing a no-hitter against Baton Rouge. Nevertheless, he only earned a 1-1 tie.9 “’Montjo’ (loosely defined as French for ‘war cry’) Sentell, the ex-Cajun,”10 lost as pitcher to Vicksburg 3-1 in the first game of a season-ending doubleheader.11 He hit .216 in 430 at-bats in the CSL in 1903.12
In 1904, “Montjo” moved up in rank, signing with the Macon Highlanders of the Class C South Atlantic League.13 Sentell hit .263 in 108 games. He returned to Macon, now known as the Brigands, for the 1905 season. At .315, he finished second in the league batting race to 18-year-old Ty Cobb, who batted.326. Sentell did, however, better Cobb in stolen bases, swiping 50 to Cobb’s 40.14 The Philadelphia Phillies signed Sentell in the summer and put him on their reserve list heading into 1906.15
Sentell made Hugh Duffy’s Phillies squad out of spring training, starting at third base and batting third in their opener against the New York Giants. Sentelle was quickly identified as one of the top 25 rookies in the National League.16 (Sentell and Sentelle were used interchangeably in newspapers during these years.) He, along with manager Duffy and catcher Red Dooin, was suspended for a game in April by National League President (Harry) Pulliam for “quarreling with umpire (Bill) Klem.”17
On June 22, after a game at the Polo Grounds against the New York Giants, the Phillies’ Sentell was “the victim of a cowardly assault after yesterday’s game by Manager John McGraw and a half dozen assailants.”18 Apparently, Sentell had already beaten up one opposing player who attacked him, and was fighting McGraw and the rest, when teammate “Kid” Gleason broke it up. The Evening Star account asserted that McGraw “was coward enough to keep in the background the whole time.”19 Unfortunately, Sentell suffered a swollen hand. It proved to be a dislocation and a break, putting him out for nearly a month. When Sentell returned in mid-July, his batting average sank from .193 to a low of .164 as August began. The youngster did very well to get his average up to .229 by season’s end. He hit his only major-league home run in the last week of the season against the Chicago Cubs’ Ed Reulbach.
Sentell unfortunately ended up with the lowest fielding percentage at both second base and third base in the National League for 1906, with a .924 FA in 19 games at second base and an .887 FA in 33 games at third base.20 However, Sentell stole 15 bases in 63 games. He was labeled as “a rash baserunner, but frequently gets away with his bold blunders.”21
Returning to the Phillies in 1907, Sentell played in three April games. He subbed for Mickey Doolin at shortstop on April 15, then went hitless in a start in right field two days later. He played in his last major-league game April 27 after Doolin had been ejected.22 In early May, he was farmed out by the Phillies to the Jersey City Skeeters of the Class A Eastern League, replacing Walt Woods at third base.23 Sentell hit just .217 in 81 games for the Skeeters.
In 1908, he signed with Mobile, playing in 123 games at shortstop, the only player in the league with over 100 games at the position. Unfortunately, he had the third-worst batting average of any league regular, .243.24
The next year was a completely different story. Sentell, now a team captain,25 was in the top– three in the league batting column at .297 as of mid-July.26 There was also chatter of their shortstop and captain taking the managerial reins for Mobile in 1910. However, none other than Sentell himself quashed that story, in a dig at president and majority owner Dr. H.T. Inge, Sentell said, “He’s too hot-headed, and they tell me I’m hot-headed, too, so we couldn’t hit if off together a bit. This is my last season as a Mobile player. I want to get my release and hope to have some other team buy me. I like the town, but there’s an element that comes to the games for no other purpose than to knock. They nearly drove me out this spring. As to managing the Gulls, not for (me). There’s not enough coin back of the association to enable a manager to strengthen when he’s weak, and I’ll let someone else do the worrying that goes with that job.”27
Sentell was named the best shortstop in the league for 1909.28 After the season, Mobile sold Sentell to Brooklyn for pitcher George Bittrolff and catcher Joe Dunn.29 But Sentell lost a spring training roster battle with Tommy McMillan and was shipped out to the Atlanta Crackers of the Class A Southern Association.30
Soon upon arrival in Atlanta, Sentell found himself in another battle, this time a shortstop position battle with Charlie Seitz. The Atlanta Constitution commented that “Paul Sentell, who carries a Bible, talks religion and discusses Halley’s Comet, must have received a tip that Seitz is being groomed for shortstop, for it was his walloping that won the second game.”31 In July, it was reported that Sentell and manager Dutch Jordan got into a fistfight, with Jordan “almost beating the life out of Sentell” after a Sentell error cost them a game at Mobile.32 Sentell didn’t play for a week “on account of illness,” which was “generally understood that it is his feelings that are hurt,” and Sentell soon left the team for good.33
The 1910 census rolls curiously counted Paul, Estelle, and Paul Jr. twice. Once, as boarders in Atlanta, where Paul was playing; secondly, as living with mother Sylvia and siblings Sophie, Henry (a tobacco salesman), Isabelle, Charlotte, and Mathilde in New Orleans. Paul continued to play off-season New Orleans semipro ball with players such as Joe Martina and Larry Pezold.
Around the minor league circuit, Sentell was being advertised as a hard hitter, fair fielder, yet a “bad actor.”34 Still, in 1911, Sentell signed with the Chattanooga Lookouts, and hit .262 in 141 games. For the 1912 season, Sentell returned to Chattanooga, narrowly making the Opening Day roster in a utility role.35 He played poorly, causing fans to petition Lookouts president Oliver Andrews for Sentell’s release. In July, the “clever little ball player,” all 5-feet-7 of him, was finally let go.36
In 1913, Sentell started the season with Des Moines but was released in mid-May.37 He returned to Mobile, assuming utility and third-base coaching roles for manager Mickey Finn. It was stated that Sentell “knows baseball all four ways, and can play both in and outfield. And no one ever accused Paul of being a poor hitter. Looks like Finn pulled a good move when he grabbed our old side kick.”38 Sentell batted .285 (47-for-166) for the Gulls.39
Nonetheless, he was granted an unconditional release after the season by Mobile so he could accept the managerial position for the floundering Galveston Pirates of the Class B Texas League.40 Two of Sentell’s first moves were to sign Doc Newton and Rudy Baerwald, both former Mobile teammates.41
After umpire-baiting throughout a series in June, Sentell was arrested in Beaumont after losing a three-minute on-field fight with arbiter Miller. The arbiter “rained short jabs and uppercuts to Sentell’s jaw.”42 Sentell was fined $50.43 He hit .297 in 64 games,44 and also played 27 games at shortstop without committing an error.45 Tragically, on August 16, a devastating hurricane ravaged South Texas. Over 100 people were killed. Galveston’s ballpark was destroyed, ending the Pirates’ season.46
To make things worse, just days later, tragedy personally befell Sentell with the death of his new-born child and illness of his wife.47 Back in New Orleans for the winter, his off-season job was as a pipefitter for New Orleans Gas and Light.
Back helming Galveston for 1916, Sentell had another on-field physical encounter. Umpire Vitter hit Paul over the head with his mask during an argument.48 In the summer, Sentell got into an in-game argument with his own catcher Eddie Noyes. After the disagreement, Noyes quit the team.49
In spring training 1917, an “outbreak of the ancient feud between John J. McGraw and Paul Sentell” resurfaced, as Galveston faced the mighty New York Giants in Texas in a St. Patrick’s Day exhibition.50 Sentell was playing first base. After a disputed Giants homer, he argued with the young local umpire, performing “a series of acrobatic stunts entirely worthy of a professional in trying to show the youth his error, but without avail.51 McGraw came out, made some unsavory remarks to Sentell, after which Sentell “rushed at him, clamoring for a chance to punch the Giants manager.”52 Sentell and McGraw had to be separated by players. In the end, “the affair was smoothed over with the substitution of another umpire.”53
In July 1917, Sentell fought Houston manager Pat Newnam, and “lost handily.”54 Galveston soon disbanded. Sentell became a league umpire, with his initial work “pleasing to players and patrons alike last season.” He was offered a position as a full-time Texas League umpire in April 1918, but elected to play for the Houston Buffaloes, managed by former nemesis Newnam.55 Paul started the season off with a bang, going six-for-13 in limited duty through early May. Unfortunately, he ended the season with a batting average below .200. Wartime concerns caused the league to disband on July 7. Sentell, along with teammate and New Orleans friend Joe Martina, left Houston and went back to work at the Moss Point (Mississippi) shipyards.56 His September war draft card said he was a caulking machine operator at the Dantzler Shipyard, but didn’t list his wife or child as dependents.
Sentell accepted a Texas League umpiring position in 1919,57 yet his occupation in the New Orleans telephone directory was listed as carpenter. In the winter of 1920, Sentell helped coach the Texas A&M University baseball team in the preseason.58 He then returned to umpire in the Texas League for 1920, although he was already highly-sought for higher-class leagues,59 such as the Southern League.60
Sentell, at 175 pounds, continued his pugilistic ways on the diamond, only now behind the mask. In May, he fought Fort Worth pitcher Dick Robertson, after Sentell ejected him. The Fort Worth Record-Telegram account declared that Sentell “seemed to have a shade on his lighter opponent, but in the in-fighting Dick took care of himself and got in at least one beautiful swipe in the umps eye.”61 On July 4, Sentell fined Galveston third sacker Art Phelan $25, then ejected him, after the player “howled long and uproariously over a decision at third and made a pass at Paul.”62 Less than a week later, Sentell caused an uproar when he declared a July extra-inning game a forfeit against San Antonio in Houston’s favor.63 After a July 21 game, Sentell “resented certain accusations of a spectator … with his fists, and the match held up the discharge of the crowd from the stands for several minutes.64 To cap a tumultuous month, on July 30 Sentell “fined four Shreveport players and chased five,” with the aggregate fines totaling $160.65 Still considered the best umpire in the Texas League, he was assigned the postseason series between Little Rock and Fort Worth.66 Back home in New Orleans, Sentell worked the off-season as a pipefitter and carpenter.
In 1921, Texas League president J. Doak Roberts appointed Sentell to the position of umpire chief of staff for the league.67 After the season, he was selected by National League President John Heydler to be a major-league umpire. In spring training, Sentell “came through with flying colors, with not a kick of any sort being registered along the way” in a game between Brooklyn and Louisville of the American Association.68 Even Brooklyn manager Wilbert Robinson commented that “Sentell’s all right and will make a good umpire.”69 In June, the new arbiter, working the bases, ejected McGraw’s Giants cleanup hitter Irish Meusel. 70
Sentell began his second year as a National League umpire in the spring of 1923. On April 21, Sentell suddenly took ill just before a game in Cincinnati. He collapsed on the field and was rushed to a hospital. Sentell underwent an emergency appendectomy.71 He initially rallied after the procedure but suffered post-surgery complications on April 26. Tragically, Sentell died the next day, at the age of 43 in a Cincinnati hospital, with his wife Estelle at his bedside.72 He was buried at the St. Louis Cemetery #3 in New Orleans. American flags of all National League and Southern League ballparks were ordered flown at half-staff, with games delayed a few minutes in Sentell’s memory.73 One of his closest friends was Pat Newnam, Sentell’s former foe and later manager, who declared, “He and I were the closest of friends and the news of his death is a great blow to me.”74 Former Galveston team president R.P. Williamson declared, “there never was a fairer, squarer man in baseball than Paul Sentell.”75
The Southern League decided to pass the proverbial hats during the league’s July 4 doubleheaders and visiting teams’ next home contest, to present a financial gift to Sentell’s widow back in New Orleans.76 In a perfect ode to Sentell, Fort Worth Star Telegram sportswriter Billy Bee wrote, “As a player, Sentell was dashing. As an umpire, he was fearless and fair. As a man, Sentell was a boy at heart, friendly with everyone and generous to a fault.” 77
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Bruce Harris and fact-checked by Karen Holleran.
In addition to the sources shown in the notes, the author used:
Baseball Hall of Fame Files: Paul Sentell
1 “Notes,” Times-Democrat (New Orleans), April 15, 1900: 8.
2 “Coast League Rosters,” Times-Democrat, April 28, 1901: 13.
3 “The Coast League Contests,” Times-Picayune (New Orleans), April 22, 1901: 8.
4 “Mr. Leo Sentell,” Banner-Democrat (Lake Providence, Louisiana), July 27: 1901: 3.
5 “An Afternoon of Pleasure at Baseball Park,” Crowley (Louisiana) Post-Signal, June 23, 1902: 5.
6 “Maroons Play Three Games with Morgan City,” Weekly Iberville South, August 2, 1902: 3.
7 “Doyle Held the Locals at His Mercy,” Vicksburg (Mississippi) Evening Post, May 21, 1903: 4.
8 “Monroe 1, Baton Rouge 3,” Times-Democrat, July 13, 1903: 4.
9 “Monroe and Baton Rouge Play a Tie Game,” Times-Democrat, August 17, 1903: 4.
10 “Last at Home,” Vicksburg Evening Post, September 10, 1903: 4.
11 “Green Stockings Close Local Season by Winning Another from Monroe,” Vicksburg (Mississippi) Herald, September 10, 1903: 6.
12 “Cotton States League Averages,” Vicksburg Evening Post, October 10, 1903: 4.
13 Pine Bluff (Arkansas) Graphic, March 11, 1904: 5.
14 “Former Turtles May Help Sentell’s Galveston Club,” (Nashville) Tennessean, January 11, 1914: 36.
15 “National League Players for 1906,” Wilmington (North Carolina) Messenger, September 23, 1905: 1.
16 “New Players in Major League,” Buffalo Courier, May 5, 1906: 10.
17 “Review of the Season in Both of the Big Leagues,” Boston Globe, October 28, 1906: 32.
18 “Ball Player Assaulted,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.) June 23, 1906: 8.
19 “Ball Player Assaulted.”
20 “National’s Fielding Averages,” Philadelphia Enquirer, November 12, 1906: 11.
21 “National League News,” Jennings (Louisiana) Times-Record, October 29, 1906: 3.
22 “Lush’s Wildness Gave Beaneaters the Game,” Pittsburg Press, April 28, 1907: 18.
23 “Baseball Notes” Chicago Tribune, May 4, 1907: 6.
24 “Official Averages of the Southern League for 1908,” Nashville Banner, December 7, 1908: 12.
25 “Sentell Will Lead the Mobile Squad,” Nashville Banner, March 2, 1909: 12.
26 “Cranston Still Leads Hitters,” Atlanta Constitution, June 18, 1909: 4.
27 “Paul Sentell Will Not Manage Mobile Team,” Brooklyn Eagle, August 25, 1909: 11.
28 “History of the Southern Baseball Association,” Evening Chronicle (Charlotte, North Carolina), October 2, 1909: 6.
29 “Brooklyn Gets Sentell,” Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) Times Leader, November 30, 1908: 13.
30 “Atlanta Gets Sentell,” Arkansas Gazette, April 2, 1910: 12.
31 Dick Jemison, “Seitz Fighting Sentell for His Job,” Atlanta Constitution, May 6, 1910: 6.
32 “Jordan and Sentell Had a Fist Fight?” Chattanooga News, July 16, 1910: 14.
33 “Sentell Says Jordan Must Get Another Short,” Chattanooga Times, July 19, 1910: 7.
34 “Paul Sentell Set Adrift,” Chattanooga Times, July 21, 1912: 10.
35 “Squad Down to Eighteen,” Chattanooga Times, April 7, 1912: 10.
36 Jack Nye, “Sporting Snap Shots,” Nashville Banner, July 23, 1912: 14.
37 “Sentell Released by Des Moines,” Des Moines Register, May 11, 1913: 5.
38 “Back Again,” Atlanta Constitution, May 22, 1913: 10.
39 “Welchonce Wins Batting Honors,” Tampa Tribune, September 15, 1913: 4.
40 “Paul Sentell to Lead Galveston,” Chattanooga News, September 9, 1913: 10.
41 “Former Turtles May Help Sentell’s Galveston Club,” (Nashville) Tennessean, January 11, 1914: 36.
42 “Sentell is Loser in Fist Fight; Pirate Boss and ‘Ump’ Jailed,” (Shreveport) Times, June 3, 1915: 8.
43 “Half Century Fine for Paul Sentell,” Houston Post, June 6, 1915: 18.
44 “Official Averages of the Texas League Season Ending 1915,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, September 19, 1915: 17.
45 “Statistical Review of Season,” Houston Post, September 19, 1915: 19.
46 Statscrew.com: 1915 Texas League Regular Season Standings, https://www.statscrew.com/minorbaseball/standings/l-TL/y-1915.
47 “Sentell Called Home by the Death of His Child,” Houston Post, August 22, 1915: 18.
48 Hot Springs (Arkansas) New Era, May 23, 1916: 6.
49 “Noyes Quits Galveston,” Arkansas Gazette, August 26, 1916: 10.
50 “Jawn M’Graw Gets into Warm Debate,” New York Times, March 18, 1917: 34.
51 Innis Brown, “Giants Triumph in Burlesque Contest,” Sun (New York, New York), March 18, 1917: 18.
52 “Giants are Pushed by Galveston Nine,” Brooklyn Eagle, March 18, 1917: 33.
53 “McGraw Figures in Near-Feud at Training Camp,” Salt Lake Herald-Republican, March 18, 1917: 31.
54 Houston Chronicle, July 2, 1917: 8.
55 Shreveport Journal, April 15, 1918: 12.
56 “Buff Players Gone Their Way,” Houston Post, July 10, 1918: 4.
57 “Breakfast Food for Panther Fans,” Fort Worth Record-Telegram, July 30, 1919: 6.
58 “Sentell Arrives to Umpire Local Exhibition Games,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, March 16, 1920: 16.
59 Fort Worth Star-Telegram, March 16, 1920: 16.
60 “Martin After Paul Sentell,” Chattanooga Times, February 4, 1920: 8.
61 “Zinn Refuses to be Dipped in a Baptism of Fire,” Fort Worth Record-Telegram, May 8, 1920: 9.
62 “Pirates and Buffs Open New Season by Dividing Holiday Double-Header,” Galveston News, July 5, 1919: 4.
63 “Umps Reverse Decisions and Finn Takes Team from Field; Game Forfeited 9 to 0,” San Antonio Evening News, July 9, 1919: 8.
64 “Cats Win Game in Mud,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 21, 1919: 10.
65 “Split Double Header,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 31, 1920: 3.
66 “Nightmare Finish Gives Fort Worth the Series,” Arkansas Gazette, September 29, 1920: 10.
67 “Paul Sentell to Head Texas League Umpires,” Paris (Texas) Morning News, December 29, 1920: 6.
68 Abe Yager, “On One Freak Play Per Day; Make Five Outs in an Inning,” Brooklyn Eagle, March 21, 1922: 26.
69 Abe Yager.
70 W.O. McGeehan, “Meusel’s Home Run Clears the Bases,” New York Herald, June 13, 1922: 12.
71 “Umpire Sentell Undergoes Operation,” Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania), April 24, 1923: 19.
72 “Former Crab Manager Dies After Operation,” Galveston News, April 28, 1923: 1.
73 Baseball Hall of Fame File, Paul Sentell.
74 Galveston News, April 28, 1923: 1.
75 Galveston News, April 28, 1923: 1.
76 “Texas League Teams Plan July 4 Benefit for Sentell’s Widow,” El Paso Times, June 26, 1923: 7.
77 Billy Bee “Buzzin’ Round,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 3, 1923: 12.