“Timber Like Mapel What Browns Need” — The Sporting News, September 4, 1919
In his major league debut on August 31, 1919, St. Louis Browns left-hander Rolla Mapel held Ty Cobb hitless in five plate appearances. That turned out to be the highlight of his 12-day, four-game MLB career. But “Rollie” Mapel will forever be known in baseball lore for fanning 27 batters in a 1915 Denver semipro tournament game.
Rolla Hamilton Mapel was born on March 9, 1890, in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. He was the first of three children born to Mark Mapel, a horse dealer born in Pennsylvania, and Kentucky-born Mary (Hilligos) Mapel. The couple had wed a year prior. Rolla’s sister Lottie was born in 1895 and brother John (who would become a minor league player) in 1897. The Mapel family moved from Lee’s Summit to Kay County in northern Oklahoma, then to Fort Scott in southeastern Kansas early in the new century.
In 1907 in Fort Scott, “a youngster in high school, thin and pale-looking, with large, timid eyes…looking like a frightened rabbit, walked out to the mound. The laughing stopped quickly when the kid sent over an assortment of curves, fastballs and floaters that had the Clinton batters helpless.”1 Rolla, “the whirlwind kid pitcher,” quickly became the ace of Fort Scott’s amateur squad over the next two seasons.2 When not pitching, Mapel (spelled “Maple” in many articles worked as a teamster at M.L. Drake Construction and a salesman in the Drake wholesale fruit house in Fort Scott. 3
In the spring of 1909, Mapel reported to training camp with the Great Bend Millers of the Class D Kansas State League.4 He made the team, and went 14-13 on the year, as the Millers won the league. Returning to Great Bend for 1910, Mapel and Great Bend were no-hit by Levy “Chief” Williams of Newton in late May.5 In his next start, he struck out 14 in a one-hit shutout against Strong City.6 He won eight of his first nine games (with the no-hitter the lone blemish) as of late June,7 stumbled down the stretch to a 15-15 record, 8 but still made the writer-selected KSL “All-Star” squad.9
Mapel returned for a third year at Great Bend in 1911, but in mid-July was sent to Pueblo of the Western League for a tryout, and a week later wound up with the Kearney Kapitalists in the Class D Nebraska State League. He was “invincible” in a blowout victory over Columbus (Nebraska) in early August. In his next start, he struck out 19 Freemont batters, while also passing seven, in a 4-3 victory.10 To finish the month, he shut out Grand Island, 3-0, in Kearney’s home finale.11 Rolla was signed in September by the Cleveland Indians,12 but quickly discarded to New Orleans later that month without any major league action.13 Mapel traveled with the New Orleans contingent on a winter barnstorming trip to Panama, Costa Rica and Guatemala.14 During the beginning of the 1912 Southern Association season, he pitched in four games for the Pelicans with no record, then was sold to the Fort Worth Panthers of the Class B Texas League in May, where he posted an 11-14 mark. A woeful hitter, the lefty held “the record for strikeouts in this league in proportion to the number of times he has been at bat.”15
Fort Worth sent him back to Kearney, where he posted a 17-9 record for the league champs, and earned an endorsement of Tuxedo brand pipe tobacco.16 After the season, Mapel was sold by cash-strapped Kearney to the Muscatine (Iowa) Muskies of the Class D Central Association.17 However, just before the calendar turned to 1914, Mapel underwent an operation for “a severe attack of appendicitis.”18 Muscatine turned him back to Kearney in April when Mapel informed them that, due to his recovery, he could not report.19 He eventually stepped on a diamond in August,20 posting a 2-5 record over the final month.
Mapel spent most of 1915 pitching for a semipro team in Bridgeport, Nebraska, where he reportedly struck out 18 or more batters three times. By September he had moved on to Brush, Colorado, where. on September 21, he struck out 27 batters in a 12-ining game against the Lithia Water Bottling squad from Pueblo, in the inaugural semipro tourney21 hosted by the Denver Post.22 Over twenty years later, the annual Post tournament brought back memories of Mapel’s incredible feat.23
Mapel started 1916 back in camp with Fort Worth. In a March exhibition against the Detroit Tigers, Mapel, “a left hander with a finely developed balk motion, that he could not use in the (young Methodist) Epworth league if the umpires knew their business, and a curveball that he worked to death, proved troublesome for five rounds.”24 Released by Fort Worth, he signed with the McCallister (Oklahoma) Miners in the Class D Western Association.25 He started off 12-1, but finished with a 21-11 record.
For 1917, Mapel joined the Joplin (Missouri) Miners of the Class A Western League. On the mound, Mapel, Herb Hall, and Roy Sanders set an all-time Western League record by pitching in 140 of the 154 games. Mapel beat St. Joseph in a 20-inning complete game, and turned in a 19-10 mark. His war draft registration showed the single and “slender” 5’11 ½” Mapel with Fort Scott as his residence and claiming his mother and his siblings as dependents.
He returned to Joplin to begin 1918, but only pitched in eight games before Uncle Sam called. Mapel pitched for the Army team at Camp Funsten. When his Army service concluded, he returned to Joplin in 1919 for a third campaign, recording a sub-par 10-15 mark, while finishing second in the Western League with 133 strikeouts.26 Nonetheless, in mid-August, Joplin manager Rudy Hulswitt announced that Mapel and battery mate Pat Collins had been sold to the St. Louis Browns, for arrival in spring 1920.27 They actually joined the Browns on August 19, and Mapel made his debut 12 days later against the Tigers. The Detroit Free Press’s co-bylines read: “Recruit Pitcher Bothers Bengals,” and “Rolla Maple [sic], Southpaw, Makes League Debut; Faces Cobb 5 Times and Georgian Goes Hitless.”28 The same report claimed that “Rolla looks like [wrestler] Joe Stecher or Jack Dempsey, wide shoulders and an iron jaw,” and that “Maple was a surprise-a big surprise.”29 The St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote: “Recruit Rolla Maple Shows Big League Caliber on Hill, though beaten by Tigers, 4-1.”30 He was aided by the Browns turning a triple play in the second inning, and collected his one and only major league hit, a single off reliever Doc Ayers.
Writer Sid Keener of the St. Louis News and Times noted, “Holding Tyrus Cobb hitless in four swings is considered a notable pitching performance. … Mapel looked at Tyrus five times and laughed at the monarch of the pastime. Instead of becoming groggy and hanging on the ropes and losing control, Mapel laughed, snickered and held his own.31
Mapel even gained recognition nationally by the Sporting News, which printed “Timber Like Mapel What Browns Need,” and commented there were “no more excuses for using dead wood when material like new southpaw [Mapel] can be found.”32
Local sportswriter L.C. Davis penned an ode to the Brownies’ new recruit:
Maple, Maple, you’re a treasure, and this is no idle joke;
Though the Tigers took your measure, you have got a heart of oak.
Maple, Maple, make no blunder, you’ll be there or thereabouts,
When Jim Burke, the Goose Hill wonder, puts you through a course of sprouts.
Maple, Maple, you’ll unlimber and develop in the sun;
You’ll grow into big league timber, ere the sap begins to run.
Maple, Maple, you’re a comer, on that we can all agree;
When the boys face you next summer, you will have them up a tree
Maple, Maple, you’ll be grappling, with the boys who’ve made the grade;
Though you’re now a tender sapling, soon on them you’ll have a shade.33
Three days later, Mapel tossed a scoreless inning against Cleveland. Two days after that, the rookie started again for manager Jimmy Burke at Detroit, facing veteran Dutch Leonard. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat’s headline declared, “Rolla Maple and ‘Dutch’ Leonard Stage Pitching Battle in Opening Contest of Series in Detroit with the Browns Being Shut Out, 2 to 0.”34 Mapel pitched a complete game, surrendering only four to Leonard’s five hits, but his seven walks without a strikeout were his undoing. Ty Cobb did better against him the second time around, collecting an RBI double along with two walks and two stolen bases. However, Cobb, in the eighth inning, was “caught off the [third base] bag when he tried to worry Mapel by dancing up and down the line,” thrown out by catcher Hank Severeid.35
The intimation was that Mapel would take a regular turn in the rotation for the balance of the season for the Browns, well-settled in the second division in the American League. However, a week later, on September 11, he made his final major league appearance, starting against the Red Sox in Fenway Park in the second game of a doubleheader. It did not go well. He allowed six walks and three hits, resulting in six runs, in three innings of work, and took his third loss. Over 12 days, Mapel’s pitching line read: four games, 20 innings pitched, 12 runs allowed, 17 hits, 17 walks, two strikeouts, and three hit batters, resulting in an 0-3 record. He was released to Louisville of the American Association for 1920.
In October, Mapel played with a Kansas City “All-Star” squad, once facing the Chicago American Giants and John Donaldson, whom he considered “the greatest of all negro pitchers.”36 He also barnstormed with the Casey Stengel All Stars (later renamed the Babe Ruth All Stars after the Bambino joined) on the Pacific Coast and in Mexico.37
It was reported that Mapel and Urban Shocker had both signed contracts with the Browns for 1920.38 However, Mapel refused to report. Instead, in March, he “decided to quit Organized Baseball and play on an independent team at Brush, Colorado, where he intends to go into business.”39 He signed with Brush, in the outlaw Midwest League, as player/manager for $3,500.40 Brush also furnished him, along with his mother and sister, a $75 monthly housing allowance and a percentage of the grandstand gate receipts.41 In a letter to a friend back in Kansas, Rolla explained his decision: “St. Louis would not give me a major league salary so I gave them a “hopping.””42 As a result of Mapel’s jumping the Browns, Commissioner Landis banned him for five years. 43
For the next nine years, Mapel played for various independent and semipro teams. Reinstated by Landis in 1929 he signed with Louisville, but was released after posting a 2-7 record and finished the season with Mobile. From then until 1933 he appeared with various barnstorming and semi-pro teams, then in 1933 became a part-time scout for the St. Louis Cardinals and a clerk at his sister Lotte’s cigar shop in Casper, Wyoming. In 1950, Rolla and his brother John were visited in Casper by Ty Cobb and old Joplin and Browns teammate Pat Collins.44 In April 1958, he was admitted to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for a serious illness.45 Upon his recovery, he retired and settled in for a long-term residence at the Pickwick Hotel in San Diego, California.
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Norman Macht and checked for accuracy by SABR’s fact-checking team.
1 “Baseball Memories: National Sport in Clinton’s History,” Henry County Democrat (Clinton, Missouri), March 28, 1946: 6.
2 “Everybody Roots,” Evening Review (Garnett, Kansas), September 1, 1908: 1.
3 “Notes,” Mapleton (Kansas) Press, September 4, 1908: 3.
4 “Base Ball News,” Great Bend (Kansas) Tribune, April 5, 1909: 3.
5 “Newton 2, Great Bend 0,” Salina (Kansas) Evening Journal, May 21, 1910: 5.
6 “Notes,” Fort Scott (Kansas) Tribune, May 25, 1909: 5.
7 “Notes,” Fort Scott Tribune, June 22, 1909: 5.
8 Baseball Hall of Fame Player File: Rolla Mapel.
9 “All Star Team,” Hutchinson (Kansas) News, July 23, 1910: 3.
10 “Maple Strikes Out Nineteen,” Grand Island (Nebraska) Daily Independent, August 10, 1911: 2.
11 “Kapitalists Weak at Bat,” Grand Island (Nebraska) Daily Independent, August 31, 1911: 2.
12 “Maple Goes Up,” Great Bend (Kansas) Tribune, September 2, 1911: 1.
13 “Naps Release Youngsters,” St. Joseph News-Press, September 21, 1911: 8.
14 “Notes,” Fort Scott (Kansas) Tribune, February 6, 1912: 3.
15 “Austin Takes Last of Series; Score 5 to 1,” Austin American-Statesman, August 17, 1912: 3.
16 “Thousands of Pipefuls of Tuxedo are Smoked in Kearney Every Day,” Kearney (Nebraska) Daily Hub, November 5, 1913: 3.
17 “Kearney Players Sold,” Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln), January 22, 1914: 3.
18 “Operate on Rolla Maple,” Fort Scott Tribune, December 30, 1913: 5.
19 “Rolla Maple a Free Agent,” Fort Scott Republican, April 7, 1914: 1.
20 “Sunday Set Aside as Mapel Day,” Kearney Morning Times, July 31, 1914: 1.
21 For a discussion of the annual Denver Post Tournament held from 1915-1947, please see Alisa DiGiacomo, “Left on the Field: Colorado Semi-Pro and Amateur Baseball Teams,” History Colorado website, July 30, 2018. https://www.historycolorado.org/story/collections-library/2018/07/30/left-field-colorados-semi-pro-and-amateur-baseball-teams
22 “Belt to Maple,” Fort Scott Tribune, September 27, 1915: 3.
23 “Baseball Fans Recall Record Set by Maple,” Casper Star-Tribune, July 30, 1937: 4.
24 E.A. Batchelor, “Fort Worth Falls When Tigers Rally,” Detroit Free Press, March 23, 1916: 10.
25 “Put on Record,” Fort Worth Record-Telegram, April 26, 1916: 13.
26 “Mapel is Runner-Up for Strikeout Honors,” St. Louis Star and Times, January 6, 1920: 15.
27 “Two Miners to Browns,” St. Joseph (Missouri) News-Press, August 15, 1919: 20.
28 “Detroit Gains Another Game on White Sox by Trimming St. Louis Club,” Detroit Free Press, September 1, 1919: 11.
29 “Detroit Gains Another Game on White Sox by Trimming St. Louis Club.”
30 “Recruit Rolla Maple Shows Big League Caliber on Hill, Though Beaten by Tigers, 4-1,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 1, 1919: 16.
31 “Held Hitless,” Casper (Wyoming) Tribune, March 22, 1945: 8 (copied from Sid C. Keener, St. Louis Star and Times, date unknown).
32 “Timber Like Mapel What Browns Need,” The Sporting News, September 4, 1919: 1.
33 L.C. Davis, “Sports Salad,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 2, 1919: 24.
34 “Rolla Maple and ‘Dutch’ Leonard Stage Pitching Battle in Opening Contest of Series in Detroit with the Browns Being Shut Out, 2 to 0,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, September 5, 1919: 8.
35 “Brownie Recruit Holds Tigers to 4 Hits, but Loses,” St. Louis Star and Times, September 5, 1919: 16.
36 “All-Stars and Giants Again,” Kansas City (Missouri) Times, October 18, 1919: 14.
37 “Mapel Predicts Series to Go for Full Seven Games,” Casper Star-Tribune, October 7, 1949: 13.
38 “Pitcher Shocker and Mapel Sign Contracts with Browns for 1920,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 8, 1920: 8.
39 “Notes,” St. Louis Star and Times, March 23, 1920: 22.
40 “Brush Secures Rolla Mapel,” Greeley (Colorado) Daily Tribune, March 24, 1920: 1.
41 “Notes,” Fort Scott Daily Tribune, August 25, 1920: 7.
42 “Mapel at Brush, Colorado,” Fort Scott Daily Tribune, March 8, 1920: 7.
43 “Clean Slate to Players,” Kansas City Star, March 15, 1922: 16.
44 Jim Barnhill, “Rolla Mapel, Pitching Star of the ‘Roaring 20’s,’ Picks Player of Yesteryear,” Kenosha News, May 16, 1950: 10.
45 “News Briefs,” Fort Scott Tribune, April 29, 1958: 3.
46 “Pitcher Rolla Mapel Dies,” Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune, April 6, 1966: 1.
47 “Rolla H. Mapel,” Times-Advocate (Escondido, California), April 11, 1966: 2.