This article was written by Maurice Bouchard
It was to be Harvey Bluhm’s big day, his first major league start. Regular Red Sox first baseman John “Stuffy” McInnis had been suffering from a bad case of boils on his neck and was going to miss at least one game. Boston manager Ed Barrow called on the recently-acquired Bluhm to start at first. Barrow would not have been concerned about a weakening of the defense by Bluhm, because Red Bluhm was known to be a slick fielding first sacker. Cleveland Indians scout, and former big leaguer, Bob Gilks once said, “Bluhm is the best fielding first baseman I have ever laid my eyes on.” Bluhm, for his part, must have been anxious to play. He’d gotten close with Cleveland in 1915. He had been practicing with the Sox regulars and, other than one pinch-hitting assignment on July 3, he had yet to see major league action. On the morning of July 9, 1918, Barrow convened a meeting with his team while the day’s opponent, the Cleveland Indians, was taking infield practice. Barrow read the starting line-up including Bluhm playing first base. Babe Ruth wanted to know what was wrong with Stuffy. When Barrow told him about McInnis’ medical problems, Ruth said he would play first. Ruth proceeded to convince Barrow and Bluhm sat on the bench. Harvey Bluhm never got his chance to start and never played in another major league game.
According to official baseball records, Harvey Fred Frank Bluhm was born in Cleveland, Ohio on June 27, 1894. The year of his birth is in doubt, however. Bluhm’s draft registration card from 1917 records his birth date as June 27, 1891. Census records from 1920 and 1930 have his birth year as 1892 and 1895 respectively. Earlier census records indicate he could have been born as early as 1889. Not much is known for certain of Bluhm’s early life. Bluhm’s parents were John Bluhm and the former Mary Saas. John was likely born in Germany. Mary was born in New York state. Harvey Bluhm may have had as many as 11 siblings and half-siblings. Sometime in 1915 or 1916, Harvey Bluhm married. His wife, Margaret Ann, came to the United States from Ireland in 1913 at age 17 or 18 and was a naturalized citizen by 1916. The two had a son, Richard James (b. 1917) and a daughter, Mae Irene (b. 1920).
How Harvey Bluhm got his early baseball education is not known. By 1912, the right-hand hitting, right-hand throwing first baseman was playing for the Duluth (Minnesota) White Sox of the Central International League. It was the inaugural year for the four-team, Class-C circuit. Duluth won the league title in 1912 with a 59-41 record. Statistics are incomplete but Bluhm played in at least 30 games, achieving a .342 batting average while playing first base. The following year, the 5’11”, 165-pound Bluhm was secured for the Toledo Mud Hens of the American Association, a very high minor league at that time. The Mud Hens were owned by Charles Somers, who also owned the Cleveland Indians. It is possible the Indians secured Bluhm for the Mud Hens. Bluhm had 478 at-bats in 132 games for Toledo, batting .220 with a home run, six triples, 17 doubles, and 17 stolen bases. The Mud Hens, managed by 14-year major league-veteran Topsy Hartsel finished sixth in the eight-team league.
In 1914, Bluhm was transferred to the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association, a very good minor league, equivalent to the modern Double A level. The Pelicans, owned in large part by Charles Somers, were a powerhouse in the second decade of the 20th century. Managed by former major leaguer Johnny Dobbs, the Pels finished no lower than third in the eight-team league between 1914 and 1922. Bluhm was with the team for most of those years, playing five seasons for the Pelicans.
In 1914, Bluhm played in 131 games, batting .229, with a homer, four triples, 13 doubles, and seven stolen bases in 449 at-bats. The following season, 1915, Bluhm had his finest season as a professional, hitting .293 (second highest on the team) with two home runs, 11 triples, 17 doubles, and 10 stolen bases. He set career highs in batting average, triples, total bases (184), runs (61), at-bats (475), games (137), and hits (139). Bluhm produced a .987 fielding percentage in 1915, good enough for third best among Southern Association regular first basemen. He was an integral part of the Pelicans’ success on their way to a 91-63 record and the 1915 Southern Association crown. In fact, Bluhm’s season was good enough to arouse the notice of the Cleveland Indians. Thanks to Indians scout Bob Gilks, who later told Cleveland sports reporter Henry P. Edwards that Bluhm would be “a sensation in the American League”, the Indians purchased the contract of native son Red Bluhm on August 24, 1915.
Bluhm was to join the big club at the end of the Southern Association season, but the Pelicans were involved in a pennant race and Bluhm played for New Orleans until at least September 26. Bluhm apparently did join the Cleveland club (photos show him wearing a 1915 vintage Indians uniform), however, he did not appear in a major league game in 1915. Unfortunately for Harvey Bluhm, Charles Somers sold the Indians during the offseason. The new owners had cash to spend and on February 15, 1916 purchased Arnold “Chick” Gandil from the Washington Senators. Gandil was a good-fielding, good-hitting, every-day first baseman. Bluhm, who had been touted by The Sporting News as “just the thing to round out the Indian infield”, was back with the Pelicans at the start of the next season. Bluhm tailed off in 1916 as did the Pelicans (they finished second in 1916 and 1917). Bluhm again played in 137 games but hit only .224. In 1917, Bluhm bounced back a little, hitting .266 with four home runs, eight triples, and 17 stolen bases in 121 games. In 1918, Bluhm was starting his fifth season for the Pelicans.
He had played in more than 500 Pelicans games and his spectacular play at first base and his shy demeanor made him popular with the Crescent City fans. A three-run, inside-the-park home run to break a 3-3 tie at the home ball yard (Heinemann Park) only increased his popularity with the locals. According to a New Orleans newspaper account, the Pelicans were playing the Birmingham Barons. With the score tied 3-3 in the eighth inning, Barons pitcher Perryman intentionally walked Pelicans outfielder Brittle to pitch to Bluhm. Bluhm responded with “perhaps the hardest hit ball of the season at Heinemann Park”. The report went on to say it was “the cleanest home-run ever hit inside the park–and doubtless the best hit Bluhm ever made”.
Red Bluhm was so popular in New Orleans in 1918 he was given his own “day”, the first Pelicans player so recognized. One newspaper report discussed at length Bluhm’s bashfulness and his reluctance to be in the limelight, and wondered whether the red blooms the lady fans would be wearing would come closer to matching the shade of Bluhm’s carrot top locks or his sure-to-be red face. Bluhm hit .267 in 69 games (the Pelicans played only 70 games in 1918) with one home run, three triples, nine doubles, and 12 stolen bases. The Pelicans finished with a 49-21 record, good enough for first place in the shortened season.
The 1918 season was an unusual one throughout professional baseball. The nation was at war. A “work or fight” order was in effect, and draft-age men either had to enlist in the armed forces or show they were working in an essential industry. Was playing professional baseball essential work? That was an open question during most of the 1918 season. With no firm federal guidance, local draft boards were left to their own devices. Between players voluntarily enlisting and various draft boards ruling baseball was not essential (and consequently enforcing the “work or fight rule”), major-league rosters were in tatters. Big league teams looked to the minors for players to fill their depleted dugouts. Further, attendance was down throughout professional baseball. With their demographic mainstays in the service or working long hours, baseball teams could not keep their turnstiles turning. Most of the minor leagues decided to end their seasons early. The Southern Association was no exception. The league voted to cease operations on June 28. On June 25, New Orleans Pelicans president A. J. Heinemann announced the sale of three infielders to the Boston Red Sox, namely Walter Barbare, Jack Stansbury, and Red Bluhm. The three players would join the Sox when the Southern Association ended the following Friday. Bluhm was about to get a second chance at playing in the big leagues.
Red Bluhm joined the Boston club, likely June 29 or June 30, while the Sox were on the road in Washington. Bluhm’s chance to play came against the last-place Philadelphia Athletics on July 3. The Red Sox were in a statistical first place tie with New York and Cleveland, but the team could be excused for looking past the lowly Athletics because Boston’s big star, Babe Ruth, had quit the team after an argument with manager Barrow. The Red Sox sent Lore “King” Bader to the mound at Shibe Park that day. The Athletics countered with southpaw Vean Gregg. The Athletics got to Bader in the second, third and fifth innings but the Sox could do nothing with Gregg. With the Mackmen leading 5-0 in the eighth inning, Bluhm got his opportunity.
The July 4, 1918 edition of the Boston Globe described the visitor’s half of the eighth like this: “…when McInnis and Whiteman both hit safely. Gregg disposing of the next man [Everett Scott], made short work of pinch hitters Barbare and Bluhm, Southern recruits”. Bluhm had been sent into the game to hit for the pitcher Bader and made the final out of the inning. The Athletics went on to win the game, 6-0. That was it, Bluhm’s only major league appearance.
Other than playing in some exhibition games on off days, Bluhm never got in another game with the Red Sox or with any other major league club. After the Red Sox beat Detroit at Fenway on July 19, 1918, Red Sox president Harry Frazee announced he had optioned first baseman Bluhm to Jersey City (NJ) of the International League. Bluhm played in 53 games for the Skeeters in 1918, hitting .291 with two homers, four triples, 10 doubles, and nine stolen bases. In 1919, Bluhm apparently played for the St. Paul (Minnesota) Apostles. His contract was sold to New Orleans for the 1920 season but Bluhm refused to report.
The Bluhms were renting a flat on White Avenue in Cleveland in 1920. They moved to Flint, MI in 1927 to work for Buick. While employed at the automaker, he played for the highly regarded Buick Majors. He was considered one of the finest first basemen to ever play on a Flint diamond. By 1930 the Bluhms owned their own home at 2840 Begole St in Flint. Bluhm went to work for Fisher Body in 1930 and played on their baseball team for four or five seasons. After his playing days were over, Bluhm remained actively involved in Flint baseball. He helped organize the City League in the mid-1930s and managed teams from Fisher Body and Citizens Bank. Bluhm succumbed to a heart attack while watching the Chuck Davey-Chico Vejar welterweight fight, shortly before 10pm on May 7, 1952. He is buried in Sunset Hills Cemetery in Flint. He was survived by his wife, two children, and grandson, James Edward Bluhm.
Interestingly, Bluhm’s participation in the July 3, 1918 contest was lost to official records for 44 years. While at least three Boston papers had Bluhm in the text of the account of the game and in the box score (additionally, the New York Times showed Bluhm’s name in the box score for that game), the official score card of the game sent to the American League did not include the pinch-hitting appearance of Red Bluhm. In the November 17, 1962 issue of The Sporting News, sportswriter Lee Allen titled his “Cooperstown Corner” column “Mystery Man Bluhm–Phantom of the ’18 Hub Hose”. He posed the question about Bluhm’s participation in the form of a limerick:
There once was a player named Bluhm.
To pitchers he symbolized doom.
He belongs on the list.
But just when did he play, and for whom?
The question was answered by Bostonian Paul Doherty. Doherty went to the library, did the research, and reported to Lee Allen (Doherty’s letter is in Harvey Bluhm’s folder at the A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center, National Baseball Hall of Fame). In the December 15, 1962 issue of The Sporting News, Allen reported Doherty’s findings and declared the mystery solved.
The Sporting News
New York Times
Waterman, Ty and Springer, Mel. The Year the Red Sox Won the Series. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1999.
Wood, Allan. Babe Ruth and the 1918 Red Sox. Lincoln, NE: Writers Club Press, 2000.
Harvey Bluhm’s folder at the A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center, National Baseball Hall of Fame contains copies of scrapbook pages. The pages have newspaper clippings with pictures and stories of Bluhm’s baseball career. Unfortunately, most of the clippings have no attribution.
Two small articles about Bluhm in The Sporting News (November 25, 1915, page 1 and July 25, 1918, page 4) claim Bluhm had his first professional experience with Youngstown in 1911. If true, the team was probably the Youngstown Steelmen of the Ohio-Pennsylvania League. More research is necessary to verify this claim.