This article was written by John F. Green
Romer “Reddy” Grey made his major-league debut on May 28, 1903 at Boston, wearing the uniform of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The 5’-11’, 175-pounder played left field for a club that included future Hall of Famers Honus Wagner and Fred Clarke. Veteran Beaneater southpaw Wiley Piatt faced the Pirates that day, and Pittsburgh was victorious, 7-6. A left-hand batter and thrower, Grey was one-for-three at bat; he scored a run, knocked in another, drew a walk, and caught the only ball hit his way in the outer garden.
The circumstance leading to Reddy’s appearance in Boston that afternoon was described briefly in the May 29, 1903, issue of the Worcester Daily Spy: “President P.H. Hurley of the Worcester club visited in Boston yesterday, being a spectator at the Boston-Pittsburgh National League game. Earlier in the day President Dreyfuss telephoned for an outfielder and Reddy Grey was sent. He showed well.” Due to the absence of several regulars, including standout Tommy Leach, who left the team when his young son died, Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss acquired the Worcester player “on loan.”
Pittsburgh went on to defend its National League championship in 1903, beating out John McGraw’s Giants. Wagner clubbed .355 to win the batting crown, player-manager Clarke hit .351, and Grey averaged .333. Unfortunately, May 28 was both his first and last day in the big leagues; he returned to Worcester following the May 28 contest, and finished the season, as well as his baseball career, back in the Eastern League.
Over nine minor-league seasons (1895-1903) Grey posted good numbers; he played in 838 games and averaged .318 (1124 hits in 3540 at-bats), with 154 doubles, 85 triples, 49 home runs, and 170 stolen bases. With Fort Wayne of the Inter-State League in 1896 he batted .374, and on May 9 that season scored eight runs. Reddy played at Toronto in 1898, and led the Eastern League with 174 hits. In 1901 he paced that circuit with 12 homers and pilfered a career-high 38 bags. In regard to his swiftness, the Newark News of May 20, 1902, reported: “Reddy Grey is the speediest man on the Rochester team, and has but few superiors, if any, in the Eastern League.”
When he broke in as a rookie professional in 1895 with the Findlay, Ohio, club in the independent Inter-State League, Grey hit .343, stole 19 bases, and led the league in runs scored (64), hits (80), and home runs (14). He played in only 52 games, however, as the league disbanded on July 15. A month before, on June 15, Reddy hit a bases-loaded homer. One of the runners scoring ahead of him was an outfielder making his professional debut: Pearl Zane. Appearing in 21 games, the newcomer batted .295, and was playing under the name of “Pearl Zane” to protect his college eligibility and scholarship at the University of Pennsylvania’s dental school. The real name of the outfielder was Zane Grey, the future western novelist. He was also Reddy’s older brother!
Romer Carl “Reddy” Gray (surname spelling to be explained later), was the last of five children born to Lewis M. Gray and Josephine Alice Zane Gray in Zanesville, Ohio. Born on April 8, 1875, he was preceded by Ellsworth, Ella, Ida, and Pearl Zane. Mrs. Gray was a descendant of an 18th century road builder, Ebenezer Zane, for whom the town of Zanesville was named. Lewis Gray came from a long line of farmers, a livelihood in which he was engaged at the time of his marriage. According to family history, “Lewis hated farming so much that he quit to become a dentist.” Trained under John Hobbs (a former gunsmith), he opened an office in Zanesville and remained there for 30 years.
Romer was just three years younger than Zane, and the two spent their growing years in the outdoors. Lewis Gray was a woodsman and hunter, and passed on the skills to his sons. The brothers also learned to fish, and spent endless hours trolling the rivers and lakes surrounding Zanesville. And later, as they grew in size and strength, they took to the game of baseball. Early on, Romer was called “Reddy” for his flaming red hair.
Years later, in a book introduction, Zane described a nine-year-old Reddy: “Well, I can see him now, in memory’s wonderful eye. He was a rugged urchin, round and freckled of face, with bright dark eyes and bright red hair, strong and slim, with legs already giving promise of the fleetness that was to earn him fame on the baseball field as a young man.”
One of Zane Grey’s biographers, Frank Gruber, wrote: “In 1890, disaster struck the Gray family. Dr. Gray had invested a substantial sum of money, had gone to Washington, D.C. to retrieve it, and had lost everything. He did not want to return to Zanesville, where news of the calamity had traveled. He arranged for the family to move to Columbus, Ohio, where he intended to start a new dental practice and a new life.” Regarding the family name, Thomas H. Pauly, another biographer, stated: “This would explain the related facts that Lewis left Zanesville with little money from the sales of his property and that he immediately changed the spelling of his name from ‘Gray’ to ‘Grey.’”
After the move to Columbus, the boys landed jobs to help support the family. Reddy, now 15 years old, drove a delivery truck for a grocer, and 18-year-old Zane worked as a theater usher. Columbus was a baseball hotbed, and initially, the brothers joined the Town Street School team, followed by billets with the semi-pro Capitols in the City League. In 1893 the Greys were recruited by George Kihm to join his hometown team in Delphos, Ohio. Kihm had played against the brothers in Columbus, where Reddy was an outfielder and Zane a pitcher. The Greys played with Delphos for two seasons, and by 1895, Reddy, with a powerful swing and speed to burn, signed a professional contract with Findlay.
Zane’s work as a pitcher with Delphos attracted the attention of college recruiters. The University of Pennsylvania, with a fine dental school and a good baseball program, offered Zane an athletic scholarship. Dr. Grey, having enlisted Zane to assist him in his dental practice as a tooth puller, encouraged his son to accept Penn’s offer. Unfortunately for Zane, the pitching distance from the pitching box was moved from 50 feet to 60’-6” in 1893. The curveball was his best pitch; he was unable to control the breaking ball from the longer distance, however, and was switched to the outfield at Penn.
When the Inter-State League folded in July 1895, most of the Findlay players, including Reddy and Zane, moved on to play at Jackson in the Michigan State League for the remainder of the summer. The Grey brothers blistered the pitching in Michigan; Reddy swatted .454, with 69 hits in 31 games, while Zane, still playing as Pearl Zane, batted .398 in 27 games.
After graduating from college, Zane moved to New York City with the dual purpose of opening a dental practice and pursuing an ultimate career as a writer. Unable to gain certification as a dentist until 1897, Zane could develop only a modest practice that allowed him to join and become active in the Orange Athletic Club in New Jersey, where he was able to gain some additional income by playing for its semi-pro baseball team. In 1898 he played briefly again as a professional with Newark of the Atlantic League, but the team experienced financial problems and he bowed out after hitting .277 in 38 games.
Reddy visited Zane in New York whenever his baseball schedule permitted. It was a tough time for Zane Grey, D.D.S., whose baseball career was over. He was working in a profession he didn’t particularly enjoy, while at the same time striving to become a published writer. Reddy’s visits helped, and in 1899, they began their campouts at Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, located at the confluence of the Delaware and Lackawaxen rivers. They fished and hunted together as they had done earlier in Ohio.
Zane wrote a memoir about their fishing trips, and called it “A Day on the Delaware.” It became his first published writing, and appeared in the May, 1902 issue of Shields’Recreation. In 1900 at Lackawaxen, Zane met Lina Roth, a young college student on holiday, and they developed a lasting relationship which resulted in marriage. Reddy also met his future wife, Rebecca Smith, at Lackawaxen. Called “Reba,” she was seven years old than Reddy, and came from a wealthy family who owned coal mines around Blairsville, Pennsylvania. According to biographer Thomas Pauly, money from Reba’s trust funds financed Zane’s first published novel in 1903: Betty Zane, an ancestral story of the Zane family’s battles with Indians in the Ohio Valley.
In 1904 Zane became interested in a three-acre parcel of land at the confluence of the Delaware and Lackawaxen rivers, and arranged its purchase with the help of funds from Lina, now affectionately called “Dolly,” and Reba. On the property was a two-story cottage that became the home of Zane and Dolly. A year later, Reddy and Reba began construction of an adjoining residence.
In another portion of the introduction Zane wrote for the book authored in 1930 by Reddy (The Adventures of a Deep Sea Angler), he describes the early years of their lives at Lackawaxen: “In time, when childhood years were long since passed, we had two cottages on the Delaware River, at Lackawaxen, in the mountains of Pennsylvania. It was a wild and beautiful region, abounding in game and fish. R.C. here had ample opportunity to roam the hills with dog and gun. He loved hunting. He took after our father, who had always been a remarkable hunter, and nothing of a fisherman. But the mountain brooks were full of trout and the river of bass. R.C. would not let me fish alone, and as the years passed he learned the labor, the patience, the endurance, the skill, and then the joy and beauty that came from fishing inland waters.” (Note: Here Zane Grey refers to Reddy as “R.C.” When Dolly and Zane had their first child in 1909, they named him Romer, and from then on Reddy was addressed often by those initials. And Zane was referred to as “Z.G.” by family and friends.)
On September 20, 1905, Reddy and Reba were married in New York City, and two months later, on November 21, the wedding of Zane and Dolly took place. Reddy had taken up dentistry during his last years as a ballplayer, but never pursued it as a profession. With Reba’s inheritance, he was set for life. Zane, on the other hand, gave up dentistry after 1904 to concentrate on his writing. His efforts were rewarded when two popular Western novels were published: Heritage of the Desert, in 1910, and Riders of the Purple Sage, in 1912. According to biographer Frank Gruber, “If it had not been for loans from Reddy, the entire Grey clan would have fared badly in 1907. Dolly’s money was gone. She had given the last of it to finance Zane’s trip to Arizona. Reddy’s faith in the eventual success of his brother was as great as Dolly Grey’s.”
The writings of Zane Grey included several baseball stories: The Young Pitcher, The Shortstop, and The Redheaded Outfield. Written for juvenile readers, incidents in the books resembled the real-life baseball experiences of the Grey brothers. For example, a passage from The Redheaded Outfield describes a fictionalized Reddy Grey: “Reddie Ray was striding to the plate. There was something about Reddie Ray that pleased all the senses. His lithe form seemed instinct with life; any sudden movement was suggestive of stored lightning. His position at the plate was on the left side, and he stood perfectly motionless, with just a hint of tense waiting alertness.”
After gaining financial success as a prolific writer, Zane was able to pursue his passion for deep sea fishing. He once held world records for bluefin tuna (Nova Scotia); yellowfin tuna and Pacific sailfish (Mexico); yellowtail (New Zealand), broadbill swordfish (Santa Catalina Island); Pacific dolphin, silver marlin, and striped marlin (Tahiti); and tiger shark (Australia). He wrote several books about his fishing adventures, and his serial articles were widely published in periodicals, including Outdoor Life, American Magazine, and Field and Stream. R.C. was along on many of the trips, and became a worthy competitor while fishing or hunting in Nova Scotia, Mexico, the Galapagos Islands, New Zealand, Tahiti, Arizona, Oregon, Colorado, and Florida.
Biographer Stephen J. May aptly describes the relationship of the brothers: “Whether he was helping Zane cut bait on the Rogue River or land a swordfish in Avalon or a shark in the South Pacific, R.C. was Grey’s shadow. R.C.’s wit, his earthy nature, and his similar belief in the vigorous life soothed and challenged Zane throughout his life.”
After their marriage R.C. and Reba resided in Middletown, New York, as well as well as the cottage at Lackawaxen. When Zane and Dolly built a home on Catalina Island, R.C. and Reba also constructed a residence there. The waters off Catalina were prime fishing grounds, and the brothers became well known for their record catches there. When the movie industry discovered Zane’s stories of the West could be turned into action films, he and Dolly moved from Lackawaxen to Los Angeles in 1918 to be closer to the filming. They settled permanently in nearby Altadena in 1920, and R.C. and Reba soon followed, purchasing property just blocks away.
R.C. became an accomplished angler, and with the insistence of his brother, wrote a book chronicling his own fishing career, Adventures of a Deep Sea Angler, first published in 1930. The dedication read: “I gratefully dedicate this book to my brother, Zane Grey, who made these adventures possible.” In the waters between California’s Santa Catalina and San Clemente Islands, R.C. once caught seven Marlin swordfish in one day. He recorded the deed as follows: “Once the ordeal was over, though I was tired beyond words, muscle-bound, and aching in every joint, I was heartily pleased that Z.G. had bullied me into the very exceptional achievement of catching seven Marlin swordfish in one day.” The seventh fish caught was the largest, weighing 328 pounds.
R.C. and Reba, who never had children, traveled to New Zealand as part of Z.G.’s party in early 1927, but when foul weather prevailed they left the group and returned to California. R.C. spent the summer of 1927 fishing off Catalina, using his brother’s vessel, the Gladiator, as well as its crew. He related in his book, “My fishing season started June 25 and closed on September 1, a total of 67 days. In all I ran 3,450 miles, making a daily average of 50 miles. I saw 79 broadbill swordfish, had twelve strikes and caught seven fish.” His fish averaged 407 pounds, and the largest, at 588 pounds, bested the world-record 582-pounder Z.G. landed the previous year.
The New Zealand excursion was R.C.’s final long-distance trip with Z.G.; he was content fishing the Rogue River and the waters off Catalina. Gardening became a new diversion, and he tended the grounds regularly around the Altadena residence. His health began to deteriorate in the early 1930s, and on November 8, 1934, he died at home. According to the obituary, “he succumbed to heart dilation following a sudden attack of indigestion.” Romer C. “Reddy” Grey: hunter, fisherman, author, and a career .333 hitter in the major leagues, was buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena, California.
Grey, R.C. Adventures of a Deep Sea Angler. Lanham, MD: The Derrydale Press, 2002.
Grey, Zane. The Young Pitcher. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1911; and New York: Beech Tree Books, 1992.
Grey, Zane. The Redheaded Outfield. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1920.
_____. The Shortstop. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1909.
_____. The Young Pitcher. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1911; and New York: Beech Tree Books, 1992.
Gruber, Frank. Zane Grey. Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1970.
Johnson, Lloyd, and Miles Wolff. Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball. 3rd ed. Durham, NC: Baseball America, 2007.
Lee, Bill. The Baseball Necrology. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2003.
May, Stephen J. Maverick Heart: The Further Adventures of Zane Grey. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2000.
McKenna, Brian. George Kihm BioProject for SABR (Society for American Baseball Research), Cleveland, Ohio.
Pauly, Thomas H. Zane Grey: His Life, His Adventures, His Women. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press 2005.
Special thanks to Mary Lou Langedyke, Altadena Historical Society, Altadena, California.
Thanks to SABR member Ray Nemec.