After a major league career that consisted of one inning pitched for the 1926 Philadelphia Phillies, Rusty Yarnall embarked on a 45-year career as a teacher, athletic coach, and administrator at Lowell Textile Institute, now part of the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Waldo Ward Yarnall was born on October 22, 1902, in Chicago, the youngest of three sons of Edwin and Julia (Cole) Yarnall. His father, a native of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, was part of an old and distinguished family that descended from Quakers who came to America in 1683. Yarnall’s father headed a hospital supply company in Philadelphia and after World War I was an intermediary for several Philadelphia banks transporting checks to the New York Clearing House. On September 16, 1925, the New York Times reported that Yarnall’s father was shot by bandits who tried to attack him on the job, but were unsuccessful in stealing the $500,000 in checks that Yarnall was transporting.
Born in Chicago while his father was working there, Yarnall grew up in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, an affluent suburb of Philadelphia, where he attended Swarthmore High School. While his older brother Russell went to local Swarthmore College and became a football star there, Yarnall initially attended the University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth College before settling in at the University of Vermont, from which he graduated in 1926.
Yarnall played football at Vermont in the fall of 1923 and 1924, basketball during the winter of 1923-1924, and one year of baseball in the spring of 1924. He starred on the gridiron as a halfback, making less of a splash as a pitcher-outfielder for the baseball team. During the baseball team’s Southern trip in April 1924, Yarnall pitched several victories, including the team’s 9-6 win on April 8 against Swarthmore. Yarnall was less successful in Vermont’s Northern schedule, which included a 5-0 loss to Dartmouth on May 21.
In the 1920s, there was little future in professional football with the fledgling National Football League, but a living could be garnered in professional baseball. After the 1924 college baseball season, Yarnall played professional ball that summer with the York, Pennsylvania, team in the Class D New York-Penn League, where he compiled a 5-2 record in 11 games pitched. Forgoing the college game, Yarnall pitched in the spring of 1925 for the Crisfield, Maryland, team in the Class D Eastern Shore League.
Between stints in 1926 with Martinsburg, West Virginia, in the Class D Blue Ridge League and Jeannette, Pennsylvania, in the Class C Middle Atlantic League, Yarnall got a one-game tryout with the Philadelphia Phillies. The historical influence of the Yarnall name in early twentieth century Philadelphia may help to explain how Yarnall, with experience only in the lower minor leagues, got his brief opportunity to pitch at the major league level with the Philadelphia National Leaguers.
On June 30, 1926, in a game against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field, Yarnall took the mound in the bottom of the fourth inning, with the Phillies behind 5-2, and held the Robins scoreless. After Philadelphia rallied in the top of the fifth inning for four runs to take the lead, 6-5, Yarnall was in position to gain a victory. However, Brooklyn reached him for two runs in the bottom of the fifth inning before he could retire a batter, and he was removed from the game. When Philadelphia went on to lose, 11-9, Yarnall was charged with the loss, thus creating his lifetime 0-1 won-loss record in the major leagues.
In 1927, Yarnall played in the Class B New England League with the Portland, Maine, team, where his baseball career hit a roadblock. On July 1, Portland manager Duffy Lewis handed Yarnall his release. As reported by the Portland Press-Herald the next day, “Yarnall started the season in spectacular fashion … and hurled another shutout later in the season but in between times he was being bumped around the lot and could not seem to find his stride.”
Lacking a paycheck, Yarnall searched in eastern New England for employment outside of baseball, and found his post-baseball career opportunity at Lowell Textile Institute. While Lowell didn’t have a franchise in the New England League in 1927, Portland did play teams near Lowell in the Merrimack River Valley cities of Lawrence, Haverhill, and Nashua, where quite possibly someone associated with those teams alerted Yarnall to the coaching opportunity at Lowell Textile.
In September 1927, Yarnall assumed his first coaching position at Lowell Textile, taking over the football team. In the winter of 1927-28 he coached the basketball team and in the spring he succeeded Joe Duffy as baseball coach. “This is Yarnall’s first year to handle Textile’s baseball destinies and if he is as successful as he was with the football and basketball teams, Textile should have a new lease of life on the diamond,” the Lowell Courier-Citizen wrote in March 1928. Yarnall coached football and basketball at Lowell Textile until 1948, but his real love was baseball; he coached the team for nearly 40 years (with time out for military service in World War II) until his final season in 1966.
When Lowell entered a team in the New England League for the 1929 season, Yarnall not only made the team but also started the opening game of the season, an 8-3 victory over Manchester. “Rusty Yarnall pitched effectively,” the Lowell Courier-Citizen reported. “He revealed real control, not a pass issuing from his starboard wing. His strike-outs numbered six.” Yarnall also hit a bases-loaded double in the first inning to score three runs as Lowell jumped out to a 6-0 lead.
Poor attendance at Lowell games, even with the attraction of players, like Yarnall, with local connections, couldn’t support the team’s finances. By mid-June the team had packed its bags and relocated to nearby Nashua, New Hampshire. Attendance was even worse there, so the team finished the season as an orphan team, playing all its games on the road. Yarnall’s fortunes weren’t much better, with a 2-8 record in 14 games pitched.
With his professional baseball career seemingly over, Yarnall focused on his coaching duties in three sports at Lowell Textile. He also played some semipro football with the St. Albans team in Boston and semipro baseball for the Sargent Athletic Association team in the Middlesex County League.
In addition to settling down in his work life, Yarnall also settled down in his personal life, marrying Lillian Ryder in the spring of 1930. But even his personal life had a crossover to sports, as the marriage took place on the baseball field before one of Lowell Textile’s games that season. Rusty and Lillian raised four children – Dorothea, Jane, Virginia, and Raymond.
During the early 1930s at Lowell Textile, Yarnall coached a prodigious hitter named Jerry Savard. When the New England League was revived for the 1933 season after being disbanded in 1930, Lowell once again placed a team in the league. Owner Vic LeCourt poured money into the team, building a new field (Laurier Park) as well as signing Savard to play and Yarnall to manage the team. Savard played his last Lowell Textile game on May 20 and the next day was in uniform for the Lowell Lauriers.
While Savard led the league with 24 home runs that season, Yarnall had a short-lived reign as manager, resigning on June 8 after just 20 games with the team mired in next-to-last place with an 8-12 record. Jesse Burkett took over as manager, while Yarnall stayed on as a pitcher for the team.
One game not reflected in Yarnall’s managerial record was a June 6 exhibition game against the Philadelphia Phillies, the team for whom Yarnall had pitched his one inning of major league service. Perhaps still yearning for another shot at the big time, Yarnall pitched eight innings of that game for Lowell, an 11-7 loss at Laurier Park. Yarnall kept Phillies slugger Chuck Klein in check by retiring him three times, but gave up three home runs to light-hitting Harry McCurdy.
Yarnall’s professional baseball career ended with the 1933 Lowell team, as he posted a 6-8 record in 22 games pitched. Yarnall concentrated on coaching after 1933, his three teams at Lowell Textile and a variety of semipro assignments. For instance, in the summer of 1936, Yarnall coached baseball at Alton Bay on Lake Winnipesaukee in a New Hampshire resort league, and in the fall of 1936 he coached the Lowell Pros football team. In 1935, Yarnall also made progress in his teaching career when he was added to the faculty at Lowell Textile to teach economics.
Because Lowell Textile was a small, academically oriented school, Yarnall ran into difficulty playing a top-notch schedule with his sports teams. The result was especially dramatic in football, where the team lost 22 straight games during a stretch from 1935 to 1938 before defeating the University of New Hampshire on September 25, 1938.
“Our beating New Hampshire was, on the whole, unintentional. The boys even fooled me. I was in a daze for a couple of hours – just like the rest of the city,” Yarnall expressed surprise after the game. “We just can’t figure out whether New Hampshire is really that bad or whether we actually have something ourselves.” With only 16 players on the team and only 45 minutes of practice time each day because of heavy classroom work, Lowell Textile was operating at a huge disadvantage. “We don’t offer any football scholarships and we don’t get any Lowell boys here because the big colleges all grab them off,” Yarnall lamented in an article about the end of the losing streak that was distributed nationally by the Associated Press.
World War II interrupted Yarnall’s teaching and coaching careers, as he served in the U.S. Navy from 1942 to 1946, attaining the rank of lieutenant commander.
When he returned to Lowell Textile after the war, he coached three sports for only a few more seasons, forgoing basketball after the 1947-48 season and football after the 1948 season. He continued to coach baseball, his first love, for almost another 20 years. In the postwar years, Yarnall focused more on his family and his golf game. The family left city life for the suburbs, moving from a house on Wentworth Street in Lowell to live near a lake in the Nabnasset section of suburban Westford, where he was close to the golf course at the Nabnasset Country Club.
Yarnall continued as an economics professor at Lowell Textile until 1960, when he became the athletic director at the school, which had been renamed in 1953 to be Lowell Technological Institute to reflect a broader curriculum in materials and engineering beyond its textile manufacture roots.
In 1966, after 39 years and nearly 200 wins as baseball coach, Yarnall retired from active coaching and, as athletic director, named as his successor Jim Stone, assistant coach for the previous two years. Stone went on to nearly replicate Yarnall’s longevity mark by coaching the Lowell school’s baseball team for 37 years, retiring in 2003 with 801 victories.
One win not credited to Stone as coach occurred in 1966, Yarnall’s last year as baseball coach, when the team traveled to Springvale, Maine, for an early spring doubleheader with Nasson College. “Before the second game, it gets real cold and begins to snow,” Stone related to Boston Globe writer John Vellante on the occasion of his 600th career victory in 1997. “Rusty turns to me and says, ‘It’s too cold for me. I’m going back to the bus. You coach the team.’ We win 3-2 and when I get back to the bus, Rusty says, ‘That’s your first, start counting.’ I didn’t see it that way. It was Rusty’s team and his win. I knew my day would come.”
Yarnall served as athletic director at Lowell Tech until his retirement from the institution on June 30, 1973. Two years later, in 1975, the school merged with nearby Lowell State College to form the University of Lowell. Then in 1991, the school became part of the five-campus system of the University of Massachusetts.
Yarnall is a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame at both the University of Massachusetts Lowell and his alma mater, the University of Vermont. He was inducted into the Helms Athletic Foundation Hall of Fame in 1960 and the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1970.
On October 9, 1985, Yarnall died at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Lowell at the age of 82. He is buried in Fairview Cemetery in Westford, Massachusetts.
Boston Globe. “Waldo Yarnall, a 1920s Athlete Who Became Professor and Coach,” October 11, 1985.
Lowell Courier-Citizen. 1927-1936.
————–. “Textile Baseball Players to Report,” March 13, 1928.
Lowell Sunday Telegram. “Licensed to Wed: ‘Rusty’ Yarnall Among Prospective Benedicts,” March 23, 1930.
New York Times. “Ehrhardt Attains a Victory at Last,” July 1, 1926.
————–. “First Victory Since ’35 For Lowell Textile,” September 26, 1938.
Portland Press-Herald. “Yarnall Is Handed His Walking Ticket,” July 2, 1927.
University of Massachusetts Lowell, Athletic Hall of Fame.
University of Vermont, Athletic Hall of Fame.
Yarnall Family, Philadelphia Historical Publication Society, 1948.