Paul Strand had a dream season in 1923. Playing for the Salt Lake City Bees in the Pacific Coast League, Strand won the Triple Crown, and, in so doing, set the PCL record for home runs in a season with 43 and the Organized Baseball record for hits in a season with 325. A former pitcher with the 1914 Miracle Braves, now nine years later turned into a power-hitting outfielder, he was called another Babe Ruth.
However, 1924 turned into a nightmare season. After Connie Mack paid $35,000 and sent three players to Salt Lake City, the much-hyped Strand played only 47 games for the Philadelphia Athletics, batting .228 before Mack traded him in disgust to Toledo of the American Association. Worse yet, his name would become synonymous with the word “flop” in the nation’s sports pages for years to come.
Strand’s is a remarkable story. Well before his incredible 1923 season, he was signed by the Boston Red Sox after pitching in only four games in his minor-league career. He was reputed to have been the youngest player in the major leagues for two straight seasons, 1913 and 1914. And he pitched a perfect game in the minor leagues. Yet it was for his failure to produce in his brief time during the 1924 major-league season that he was best known.
Paul Edward Strand was born on December 19, 1893, in Carbonado, Washington, a coal-mining town southeast of Tacoma, to parents Gustav and Hannah (Wickman) Strand. He was the second of five children. Gustav and Hannah were born in Sweden and had immigrated to Washington in the 1880s. Gustav was a coal miner when he first came to the United States but by 1930 worked as a laborer in a lumber mill.1
When Paul was 3, his family moved to South Prairie, a few miles from Carbonado, where he grew up. He attended Buckley High School, playing football and baseball. In the summer when he wasn’t working as a clerk in a grocery store, he played for a number of town teams including South Prairie and neighboring Wilkeson.2
While pitching for the Buckley town team in 1910 the 16-year-old Strand was spotted by Spokane Indians owner Joe Cohn. Fifty years later, Strand told the Salt Lake Tribune that he had gone to Spokane, a team in the Class B Northwestern League, and asked for a tryout but all contemporary stories claim that Cohn discovered Strand.3
Whatever the story, Strand was in spring training with Spokane in 1911. Standing an even 6 feet tall and weighing 190 pounds, the broad-shouldered Strand was an imposing left-handed power pitcher. In his first game in spring training, he defeated the Gonzaga College team to rave reviews. “Strand’s speed was terrific,” wrote the Oregonian.4
When the regular season began, Strand continued to blow away the competition. He won his first three games easily, striking out 30 in 25 innings of work. The newspapers loved the big blond local boy. The Tacoma Times ran a headline after his first minor-league win that read, “Kid Strand Real Thing.” The Seattle Times, after his third win, called him the “most-talked-of young ball player in three leagues.” Even The Sporting News got into the act, writing that Strand was “said to be a Walter Johnson and a Vean Gregg combined” and that he “appears to be a real find.”5
Cohn, a wheeler and dealer with players, jumped at the chance to peddle Strand. He started contacting major-league teams offering them Strand. The Brooklyn Dodgers passed on the17-year-old but, on May 11, Boston Red Sox owner John I. Taylor, sight unseen, offered Cohn $5,000 for the rights to Strand with the understanding that he would finish out the season with Spokane and be Red Sox property in 1912. So incredible was the offer, “the largest price ever paid for a Northwestern League ballplayer” according to Cohn, that many local papers though it was a publicity stunt.6
However, things started to go downhill for Strand. He lost a game right before he was sold to the Red Sox. Then from May 14 to June 27, he went 2-3 and was quite unimpressive. After a relief appearance on June 30, he was sent home and shut down for three weeks. When he returned in late July, he lost one game and then left his next game in the second inning with a sore arm. He didn’t pitch another game the rest of the season.7
In the meantime, the Red Sox sent superscout Ted Sullivan to get a look at Strand. But with Strand injured, Cohn put Sullivan off. Sullivan later claimed that Cohn hid Strand from him. Cohn finally sent Strand home for good in late August, ending his 1911 season.8
It’s unclear what transpired next. One story said that the Red Sox paid $2,500 and were to pay the rest upon delivery after the 1912 season. Strand was to play for Spokane again during that time. However, Cohn dealt Strand to the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League before spring training. Things didn’t go well for Strand. His arm still bothered him. Strand “pitches like he has a kink in his arm,” wrote the Oregonian. Then in a practice game, he gave up nine runs in one inning. On April 3 he was on his way back to Spokane.9
While Strand claimed his arm was fine, telling the Seattle Times, “My arm is in great condition and I am fit as a fiddle,” he didn’t pitch well in spring training. As a result, Cohn sent him to Walla Walla in the Class D Western Tri-State League. Strand responded by “burning up the bushes” and made it back to Spokane by July 14.10
He continued to pitch well for Spokane. By season’s end, he accumulated an 8-7 record for the Indians, which included a one-hitter against Vancouver. Somewhere, along the line, the Red Sox dropped their claim on Strand. Sporting Life wrote, “For some reason, the deal was never completed. Perhaps the change in ownership of the club [Taylor had sold a half-interest in the team to James McAleer] caused Strand to be lost in the shuffle.” So, on September 16, the Boston Braves drafted the unprotected Strand at the National Base Ball Commission meeting in Cincinnati. It cost the Braves $1,200, a bargain compared to what the Red Sox had offered the year before. Strand wasn’t the only player from the Northwestern League drafted by the Braves. Boston manager George Stallings took eight players in all from the league.11
Strand was still attending high school when he had to leave in March 1913 to travel to the Braves’ spring-training camp in Athens, Georgia. Stallings tutored the young pitcher on the finer points of the game. “This rookie is coming along nicely and shows unusual aptitude in getting sense of instructions given him and following them,” wrote Al E. Watts of the Boston Herald & Traveler. Strand also began to try new pitches. Watts wrote that he had the best “hook” of any of the rookie pitchers. He also threw what was called a “typical Matty fadeaway,” a reference to the screwball Christy Mathewson threw. In addition, Bill James taught Strand the spitball, though press reports claimed it to be a “dry spitball” pitch.12
Despite all the pitches he was cultivating, Strand saw very little action in 1913. He pitched in seven games with no wins or losses and an ERA of 2.12. He was wild, walking 12 in 17 innings. His future was uncertain with the Braves when he went back to high school in October. There were questions about Strand’s maturity and commitment. Bill James, a rookie pitcher himself with the Braves in 1913, told the Seattle Times, “If Paul Strand only had a little “pep” and “ambish” he would be a sensation in the National League. … But he’s just an overgrown kid and does not seem to take much interest in the game.” In December Stallings decided to give Strand another chance and invited him to spring training in Macon, Georgia, in 1914.13
On March 3 Strand arrived in camp eager to prove to Stallings he belonged on the team. He was, for the most part, sharp and the Boston Journal noted that he “looks better than a year ago.” Strand made the team as a reliever and spot starter. He pitched in only 16 games but when he got into a game, he pitched well, with a 6-2 record and a 2.44 ERA. He walked 23 and struck out 33 in 55 innings. Fred Mitchell, who was listed on the Braves roster as a catcher but was the team’s de facto pitching coach, helped Strand with his control.14
Perhaps Strand’s best game was on June 25, against the New York Giants. He pitched six innings in relief, getting the 7-6 win and driving in the winning run with a double. The victory lifted the Braves momentarily out of the cellar of the National League, but a doubleheader sweep by the Giants the next day put the Braves back in last place. However, it wasn’t long before the Braves made their incredible trip to the top of the standings and a World Series win. Despite his season, Strand did not get into a game during the astonishing four-game sweep of the Philadelphia Athletics. Nonetheless, like all the Braves, Strand was awarded a full share of the winners’ money and a gold medal with a “monster diamond” and the words “World’s Champion, 1914” engraved on it.15
Going into spring training in 1915, with Strand finally finishing high school, expectations were high. Stallings told the press that he “will be a wonder this year.” When Strand wasn’t pitching, Stallings was trying him out in the outfield, “where he is showing great,” wrote the Boston Journal, which added, “He is very fast and covers ground like a shadow. If Paul does not become a great pitcher – and that is what he gives promise of – a first class outfielder might be made of him.” But first and foremost to Stallings, he was a pitcher. “Paul Strand impresses me as the best young left-handed pitcher I have ever had,” said Stallings toward the end of spring training.16
Stallings was counting heavily on Strand when the season began. But by May, he had developed a sore arm. It was an injury that Strand pointed to years later as the beginning of the end of his pitching career. The Braves kept him on the roster, however. He was used as a pinch-hitter in 16 games and as an outfielder in five. By July 13, with the Braves struggling, Stallings decided to shake things up. He sent outfielders Ted Cather and Larry Gilbert to the minor leagues and suspended Strand for “failure to get in condition.” The press said it was his “rheumatic shoulder” that caused the suspension. On July 26 Stallings lifted the suspension when Strand claimed his arm was feeling better. But Strand pitched only sparingly. For the season he pitched in six games, a total of 22 innings, with a 1-1 record and 2.38 ERA. It wasn’t exactly the season Stallings had hoped for from Strand.17
Still, Stallings was willing to give Strand another chance in 1916. He arrived in camp in Miami early knowing that, as the Boston Journal wrote, it was “practically (his) last chance to hang on.” While Strand pitched fine in camp, Roger Bresnahan, manager of the American Association’s Toledo Iron Men, made it clear he wanted Strand for his team. Strand made the Braves out of training camp, but six games into the season, before he had had a chance to pitch for the Braves, he was shipped to Bresnahan’s club with the caveat that he could be recalled by the Braves. The Braves never called.18
Strand had trouble with his control in Toledo. He finished the season pitching in 24 games with an 8-5 record. But because of injuries, he also saw some significant time in the outfield. He got into 37 games as a nonpitcher. Sporting Life wrote that Strand “has the earmarks of a future pasturer when he tires of pitching.” That day was coming sooner rather than later. Strand gave it one more season before he moved to becoming an everyday player.19
Toledo reserved Strand for the 1917 season but in February Bresnahan cleaned house, releasing five pitchers including Strand. The press reported that Strand was headed to Memphis of the Class A Southern Association but when spring training camp began, he was with Seattle Giants of the Class B Northwestern League.20
With Seattle Strand started having success he hadn’t had as pitcher since 1912. On May 13 he pitched a perfect game against Spokane, striking out five and so thoroughly dominating Spokane that “not a single play in the field by the Giants could be called sensational.” He finished the season with a 9-7 mark in 19 games. Again, because of injuries to his teammates, he played a number of games in the outfield, and hit .285.21
In 1918, with the United States fully involved in the World War, Strand joined the Navy and was stationed at the Bremerton (Washington) Navy Yard as a radio operator first class. In his spare time, he played baseball for the Navy Yard. As was typical during the war years, Bremerton had an excellent baseball team, headed by Strand and Bill Cunningham, a minor leaguer who eventually made it to the major leagues with the New York Giants and Boston Braves. The Navy Yard team was so good that it defeated Strand’s old team, the Seattle Giants, 6-3, in April.22
That year in the Navy, Strand moved from pitcher to full-time outfielder. He played so well that he was picked for an all-service team for the Northwestern US. So when the war ended, Strand decided he’d start all over again and try to work his way back as an outfielder.23 In 1919 he started with Peoria of the Class B Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League and then moved to Joplin of the Class A Western League. He was back on the West Coast in 1920, first playing with the Yakima Indians of the Class B Pacific Coast International League, where he led the league in hitting at .339, then finished up with Seattle in the Double-A Pacific Coast League. He started 1921 with Seattle but on April 30 he was sold along with pitcher Monroe Swartz to Salt Lake City. It was there that Strand really made a name for himself.24 Strand finished 1921 batting .314 but he was just warming up. The next two years were, arguably, the greatest two hitting years in minor-league history. In 1922 Strand won the PCL Triple Crown, pounding out 289 hits in 178 games, setting Organized Baseball’s record for the most hits in a season (and was widely claimed as the “world’s record” for hits). He batted .384 for the season with 28 home runs. He had a hitting streak of 33 games during the season. The longest he went hitless was a four-game streak toward the end of the season. By late July Strand was hitting over.400, propelled to that level by an astounding .481 in 37 games in the month. He especially liked hitting at home, batting .436. Yet despite these gaudy numbers, Bees manager Duffy Lewis had trouble finding a major-league buyer for Strand. So when 1923 rolled around, Strand was still with Salt Lake City.25
The press suggested several reasons for the snub. One was that he had already had his shot in the majors. Another blamed his poor fielding. A third reason given was his awkward batting style (though he threw left-handed he batted right-handed) which was “devoid of anything approximating form or grace.” Whatever the reason, Strand took out his frustrations in 1923 on the Pacific Coast League pitchers.26
Incredibly, Strand had a better season in 1923 than in 1922. On April 28, in a 5-3 game with two outs in the ninth, Oakland pitcher Harry Krause intentionally walked Strand with the bases loaded, though it brought the tying run to third base. The strategy paid off as Krause got the next out to win the game. On May 13 against Vernon, Strand and teammate Oscar Vitt hit two home runs each in the same inning, the 12-run third. By July, major-league clubs finally took notice of Strand. The White Sox sent scout Danny Long to take a look at him. But it was Connie Mack who showed the greatest interest. By August the Athletics were looking for some power in their outfield so they sent Harry Davis to scout Strand. Davis liked what he saw, offering cash for Strand. Bees owner H. William Lane insisted on players instead of cash, so Strand continued to play for Salt Lake City.27
On August 25 he tied the PCL record for home runs in a season with 33 and set a new record the next day. In late August Mack took matters into his own hands and traveled out to Salt Lake City to talk to Lane. It was speculated in the press that Mack had offered anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 for Strand but Lane turned him down.28
On September 15 Strand broke his year-old “world’s record” for hits in a season. Six days later he broke his PCL home-run record when he drove a ball through a hole in the left-field fence in Los Angeles. At the end of the season, he won the PCL Triple Crown. He batted .394 with 43 home runs and 187 RBIs. In the process he also set league records for runs scored in a season (180) and total bases (546). He even set marks in the field: the most chances (612) and the most caught flies (599). He was the most talked-about minor leaguer in the land.29
Finally, on December 12, 1923, at a baseball meeting in Chicago, Lane sold Strand to Connie Mack for an estimated $35,000 and three players: infielder Clarke “Pinky” Pittenger and pitchers Hank Hulvey, and Harry O’Neill. Some papers claimed the price was as high as $150,000. It wasn’t Mack’s only high-profile purchase that winter. He also bought Al Simmons from Milwaukee of the American Association and Max Bishop from Baltimore of the International League. After the purchase of Strand, Mack told the press, “I don’t expect Strand to do wonders, but I do believe he will give us the needed punch.”30
In the offseason, when talk came around to the Athletics, it almost always centered on Strand. Expectations for him and the A’s were high going into spring training. But Strand couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start. He initially held out for more money from Mack, and was one of the last players to report to camp. Then Mack and the Athletics coaching staff started tinkering with his batting stance and swing.31
Yet when the season started, it appeared that Strand was fine. Though he didn’t show any power, he was getting his share of hits for the first week or so. But from April 24 to May 14, Strand went 7-for-52, and his average dropped to .197. He also showed no power – five doubles and one triple to that point. He was benched for almost two weeks in the middle of May. When he got back into the lineup, Strand started to hit a little. He eventually raised his batting average to .256 on June 7 but then went into another extended slump. By the end of June, rumors started that Mack was looking to trade Strand.32
On June 28, just 47 games into his career with the A’s, Mack traded Strand and pitcher Rollie Naylor to Toledo of the American Association for outfielder Bill Lamar. While it was no secret that Strand was struggling, it still came as a shock when Mack unloaded him. The Sporting News wrote that “his release came as a big surprise to many fans.” Strand never made it back to the major leagues.33
While there were many conjectures on why Strand failed, probably the most widely held was that he was under enormous pressure to produce. Strand himself told the press, “I was pressing, trying too hard.” Fellow rookie and future Hall of Famer Al Simmons agreed. “Many a newcomer into the league has failed because of an overdose of publicity,” Simmons told The Sporting News years later. “And that was the fate of Paul. He tried too hard to live up to the expectations of the fans.”34
Of course, when Strand got to Toledo, he tore up the American Association pitching. Playing with Toledo for the rest of 1924 and all of 1925, he batted .323 and .300 respectively. But by then no major-league team would touch the “flop.”
Before the 1925 season, Strand married Esther Elizabeth Carbis of Salt Lake City on January 16. Now that he made his home in Salt Lake City, he pushed to get back to the Pacific Coast League. Not only was it home but he had his most success as a player playing on the West Coast.35
During Strand’s season and a half with Toledo, there were many rumors that he was headed back to the PCL and more specifically Portland. But Toledo wanted too much money and it wasn’t until the 1926 season that Strand finally returned to the Coast League.36 But first he was traded by Toledo to the league rival Columbus Senators for catcher Luke Urban. He played 47 games with Columbus before Portland finally purchased him on June 8. Strand had “been homesick for the West Coast” wrote the New York Evening World-Herald.37
Strand was relieved to be back in the PCL. “I have been thinking about nothing much else for two years than returning to the Coast league,” he said. He finished 1926 batting .326. In 1927 he had another excellent season, batting .355 for Portland. That season also marked his last mound appearance in Organized Baseball when he pitched for one inning. But by 1928, with no major-league teams interested in him, Strand was sold to the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association. He again struggled away from the West Coast. He was benched on June 12 and Atlanta traded him to Little Rock. He finished the 1928 season batting just .273. After 16 seasons in Organized Baseball, Strand retired at the age of 34.38
After his baseball career, Strand took a job with his father-in-law’s company, K&K Plumbing & Heating Company. He worked there for the rest of his life and eventually became the owner.39
For several decades after Strand’s “flop” in 1924, the press pointed out the problems with counting on players who excelled in the minor leagues. When the Yankees signed Joe DiMaggio after his tremendous 1935 season in the PCL, The Sporting News warned that what happened to Strand could happen to DiMaggio.40
Strand’s wife, Esther, died on August 20, 1946. Two years later, he married elementary school teacher Loraine McCormick. In 1970, he was elected to the Utah Hall of Fame. Four years later, on July 2, 1974, at his home in Salt Lake City, Strand died of natural causes at the age of 80. He was buried at Salt Lake City Cemetery. He was survived by Loraine. He had no children with either wife.41
In 1999, the Salt Lake Tribune ranked Strand as 43rd of Utah’s 50 greatest athletes of the 20th century – a tribute to those spectacular seasons he had in 1922 and 1923.42
This biography is included in “The Miracle Braves of 1914: Boston’s Original Worst-to-First World Series Champions” (SABR, 2014), edited by Bill Nowlin.
1Strand wrote his full name as Paul Oscar Edward Strand on his World War registration card. Otherwise, all other sources list him just as Paul Edward Strand.
2 Seattle Times, May 1, 1911, July 31, 1921; Hobart (Washington) Republican, May 17, 1911.
3 Tacoma Times, April 3 and May 4, 1911; Salt Lake Tribune Home Magazine, October 28, 1962.
4 The Oregonian, Portland, March 27, 1911.
5 Tacoma Times, April 22, 1911; Seattle Times, May 1, 1911; The Sporting News, May 18, 1911.
6 Seattle Times, May 5, 1911, May 12, 1911; Denver Post, May 12, 1911; The Oregonian, May 14, 1911.
7 The Oregonian, July 23, 1911; Tacoma Times, July 31, 1911.
8 The Oregonian, August 17, 1911; Seattle Times, August 24, 1911, September 18, 1911.
9 Seattle Times, January 22, 1912; Oregonian, February 3, March 12, and April 4, 1912; Watertown (NY) Daily Times, May 4, 1912 .
10 Seattle Times, April 10, April 18, and July 15, 1912; Oregonian, July 5, 1912.
11 Boston Journal, September 17, 1912; Sporting Life, September 21, October 5, November 16, and November 23 1912; Trenton (New Jersey) Times, December 4, 1912. The other seven players were Win Noyes, Bill James, Cecil Thompson, Lucien “Lefty” Gervais, Bert Whaling, Rex Devogt, and Hap Myers. Incredibly, all but Thompson played for the Braves in 1913.
12 Sporting Life, January 4 and March 22, 1913; Boston Journal, March 6, 1913; Springfield (Massachusetts) Daily News, March 18, 1913; Trenton Times, May 12, 1913; Salt Lake Tribune, August 18, 1960.
13 Seattle Times, December 30, 1913, and January 1, 1914; Sporting Life, December 20, 1913.
14 Tampa Morning Tribune, March 4, 1914; Boston Journal, April 6, 1914; Sporting Life, August 29, 1914; Anaconda (Montana) Standard, January 7, 1917.
15 Boston Journal, June 26, 1914; The Oregonian, January 8, 1915.
16 The Oregonian, January 8, 1915; Seattle Times, February 4, 1915; Boston Globe, March 6, March 9, and April 14, 1915; Macon (Georgia) Telegraph, March 6, 1915.
17 Boston Globe, May 30 and July 27, 1915; Gerry Hern, “Strand’s Story of Record Flop,” Baseball Digest, September 1951, 83-85; The Oregonian, June 27 and July 14, 1915; Springfield Daily News, July 14, 1915;
18 Richmond Times-Dispatch, October 1, 1915; Miami Herald Record, March 6, 1916; Boston Journal, March 11 and April 22, 1916; Denver Post, April 22, 1916; Boston Globe, April 23, 1916.
19 The Oregonian, August 15, 1916; Sporting Life, July 8, 1916.
20 Sporting Life, November 4, 1916, April 14, 1917; Duluth (Minnesota) News-Tribune, February 19, 1917; Oregonian, April 1, 1917.
21 Seattle Times, May 14 and July 12, 1917.
22 The Oregonian, January 17, 1918; Canton (Ohio) Repository, June 6, 1924; Bellingham (Washington) Herald, April 6, 1918; Lawrence Perry, Our Navy in the War (New York: C. Scribner & Sons, 1996), 256; Seattle Times, April 21, 1918.
23 Seattle Times, July 26, 1918.
24 Wilkes-Barre Times, May 15, 1919; Rockford (Illinois) Register-Gazette, August 25, 1919; Seattle Times, May 19, September 11, September 21, 1920, and February 9 and March 6 1921; Salt Lake Telegram, April 30, 1921.
25 The Sporting News, December 21, 1922, January 25, 1964; Seattle Times, October 14, 1922; Salt Lake Telegram, July 21 and July 23, 1922; uncredited chart in Strand’s Hall of Fame file; Louisville’s Jay Kirke had set the previous record of 282 hits in 1920.
26 San Jose (California) Evening News, December 30, 1922; Seattle Times, April 8, 1923.
27 Oakland Tribune, April 29, 1923; Salt Lake Telegram, May 14, 1923; Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 22, 1923; New York Evening World-Herald, August 16, 1923; The Sporting News, August 9, 1923.
28 San Diego Union, August 26, 1923; The Oregonian, August 27, 1923; The Sporting News, August 30, 1923; Seattle Times, September 3, 1923.
29 San Diego Union, September 22, 1923; Canton (Ohio) Repository, January 20, 1924.
30 Riverside (California) Daily Press, December 12, 1923; Springfield Republican, December 16, 1923; The Sporting News, December 20, 1923. The amount Mack paid for Strand was disputed in the press. Strand years later told the press he didn’t know how much Mack paid for him but had heard up to $150,000. Mack, 25 years after the fact, claimed he paid $40,000. Retrosheet (www.retrosheet.org) lists the price at $35,000.
31 Tampa Morning Tribune, March 5, 1924; Gerry Hern, “Strand’s Story of Record Flop,” Baseball Digest, September 1951, 83-85; Salt Lake Tribune, March 25, 1962.
32 The Oregonian, June 23, 1924, Oakland Tribune, July 5, 1924.
33 The Sporting News, July 3, 1924.
34 Gerry Hern, “Strand’s Story of Record Flop,” Baseball Digest, September 1951, 83-85; The Sporting News, November 5, 1942.
35 Ogden (Utah) Standard-Examiner, January 15, 1925.
36 The Oregonian, January 22 and February 17, 1925; The Sporting News, January 22, 1926.
37 Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 24, 1926; New York Evening World-Herald, June 8, 1926.
38 Dallas Morning News, December 9, 1927; New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 13, 1928.
39 Salt Lake Tribune, August 21, 1946, July 3, 1974.
40 The Sporting News, December 26, 1935.
41 Salt Lake Tribune, August 21, 1946, July 3, 1974.
42 Salt Lake Tribune, December 26, 1999.