This article was written by Charlie Bevis
During his brief eight-day career as a major leaguer in 1915, outfielder Kemper Shelton played in ten games for the New York Yankees. Shelton collected just one hit in 40 at-bats to post a .025 lifetime batting average, the standard of futility in the major leagues for players that produced at least one base hit in their career.
Andrew Kemper Shelton was born on June 29, 1888, in Huntington, West Virginia. Shelton was the younger of two sons of Joseph and Anna (Poage) Shelton; his brother Harvey was four years older. Shelton’s father was a real estate broker in Huntington, a city located on the Ohio River at the confluence of the states of Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia. The Shelton family prospered in Huntington, a transportation hub in the late nineteenth century that facilitated the transport of goods between river boats on the Ohio River and railcars on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway whose western terminus was in Huntington.
Shelton, who went through life known by his middle name Kemper rather than his given name of Andrew, graduated from West Virginia University in the spring of 1909. He played quarterback on the school’s football team and was an infielder on the school’s baseball team. Shelton still holds the school’s record for triples in a game, with the three he hit in a 1908 game with the University of Cincinnati, according to the 2007 edition of the West Virginia University Baseball Guide.
Following his college baseball career, Shelton played minor league baseball for several years (his occupation in the 1910 federal census was listed as “Ball Player”). He played for ball clubs in his hometown of Huntington in the Class D Mountain States League as well as several other ball clubs within a 250-mile radius of Huntington, including Maysville, Kentucky, in the Class D Blue Grass League; Youngstown, Ohio, in the Class C Ohio-Pennsylvania League; and Wheeling, West Virginia, in the Class B Central League. In the off-season during 1910-1913, Shelton coached football at Robert Morris College in Charleston, West Virginia, about 30 miles east of Huntington. He compiled a career 9-8-2 coaching record on the gridiron for Robert Morris, which is now known as the University of Charleston.
By 1912, Shelton had worked his way up the minor league ladder to play for Columbus, Ohio, in the American Association, a Class AA league that was then the highest level of minor league baseball. As a result of his speed on the basepaths and in the field, Shelton acquired numerous nicknames related to this feature of his game. While the nickname “Skeeter” has stuck with him, this was hardly the only nickname that he had. “Outfielder Shelton, known more familiarly as Rabbit or Spider, is rated as one of the speediest men in the league,” The Sporting News reported during the summer of 1912. “Although not a hard hitter Shelton manages to get on base frequently and makes the most of the hits of the men that follow him.”
Shelton was a regular outfielder for Columbus for four years from 1912 through 1915. “The speedy Shelton led the team in stolen bases all four years he played in Columbus (averaging 36 per season) and scored over 100 runs three times,” James Tootle wrote about Shelton in his book Baseball in Columbus. With the Federal League operating as a third major league during 1914 and 1915, Shelton’s speed enabled him to maintain a steady job with Columbus at the highest level of the minor leagues despite a mediocre batting record.
In August 1915, an injury to New York Yankee outfielder Roy Hartzell during New York’s series in nearby Cleveland provided the opportunity for Shelton to display his wares at the major league level. New York manager Bill Donovan sent for Shelton to make the 150-mile trip from Columbus to Cleveland to play center field in the Yankees’ August 25 game with the Indians.
“Bill Donovan produced a new outfielder to-day in the person of Shelton, recently acquired from the Columbus club in the American Association,” the New York Tribune reported on Shelton’s arrival in the big leagues. “Shelton failed to get one of the six hits made by the Yankees, but he fielded in grand style, accepting seven chances without faltering.” Shelton went 0-for-4 in New York’s game with Cleveland on August 25. He scored a run in the first inning of the August 26 game with Cleveland, after drawing a walk, but went 0-for-4 the remainder of the game.
In five games in Detroit over the three days August 27 to 29, Shelton went 1-for-19 while playing strong defense for New York. In the first game on August 27, the New York Times reported that “Shelton robbed Bobby Veach of a three-base drive by leaping high in the air and pulling down the ball with his glove hand” to stop a rally in the first inning. Shelton collected his only major league hit in the second game of the August 28 doubleheader, when he reached Harry Coveleski for a single.
After Shelton went hitless in New York’s first three games in Washington, Donovan had seen enough. He shipped Shelton back to Columbus and installed Elmer Miller in center field for New York’s September 2 game in Washington. As for Miller, the New York Times quipped the next day, “He didn’t look any more impressive than did Shelton, who is slated for a return trip to Columbus.” Shelton played ten games with the Yankees in 1915 all on the road and never donned the pin-striped uniform for a home game at the Polo Grounds. Shelton fielded flawlessly for the Yankees, compiling a 1.000 fielding average with 20 putouts and two assists. But it was hard to overlook his .025 batting average in 40 official at-bats, especially when ten of those at-bats resulted in a strikeout.
“Shelton, the Columbus outfielder, who at the solicitation of Bobby Quinn [Columbus business manager], was given a trial over the weekend at the cost of only railroad fare, hotel bill and a little salary,” The Sporting News reported on September 9. “He proved himself much too weak with the bat in this company, though he is a splendid fielder and one of the fastest runners I have ever seen. But nowadays players who can not hit effectively are not wanted in the majors.”
Shelton actually collected one additional base hit, which is not reflected in his major league totals, for the Yankees during his short tenure with the ball club. On the way from Detroit to Washington, the ball club stopped in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for an exhibition game on August 30. Shelton went 1-for-3 in the exhibition game and scored New York’s only run in a 4-1 loss to the Harrisburg club of the International League. “Shelton singled, went to third on Boone’s drive to right and scored on Nunamaker’s sacrifice fly,” the New York Tribune reported of Shelton’s one moment of batting glory for the New York Yankees.
Finishing out the 1915 season with Columbus, Shelton compiled a .255 batting average in 122 games and recorded 37 stolen bases. Shelton played with hometown Huntington in the Ohio State League in 1916 and then retired from the game in 1917 to coach the baseball team at his alma mater, West Virginia University.
This quick departure from professional baseball following his brief trial with the New York Yankees may have been related to another of Shelton’s off-season activities, as it appears that Shelton obtained some legal training. His World War I draft registration card listed his occupation as attorney at law. A 1914 article in Baseball Magazine listed Shelton as a member of the Board of Directors of the Baseball Players’ Fraternity, a labor society organized by ballplayer-turned-lawyer David Fultz. Since Shelton was one of the lesser-known players serving on the Board, which included the likes of Ty Cobb, Max Carey, and Johnny Evers, Fultz likely recruited Shelton because of his legal skills. The existence of the Federal League had advanced the cause of the Players’ Fraternity, but when that league disbanded after the 1915 season, Shelton probably determined that he’d never get a fair deal as a ball player and set his sights on a post-baseball career.
Shelton coached baseball three years at West Virginia University, compiling a 38-18-1 coaching record from 1918 through 1920. His .675 winning percentage is the fourth highest in school history among baseball coaches that coached at least 50 games. After the 1918 season, with World War I still being fought in Europe, Shelton entered the army and served in France with an engineering division. He returned from the war to coach two more years at West Virginia University, including a highly successful 1919 season when the team posted a 14-3-1 record.
Before the 1921 season began, the school replaced Shelton as baseball coach with Ira Rodgers, who was the school’s first consensus All-American selection as a football player in 1919. Rodgers, who was also captain of the West Virginia baseball team during his playing tenure there, went on to serve as baseball coach for 23 years. Shelton moved on to coach baseball and football at Marshall College in his hometown of Huntington, West Virginia. He coached at Marshall for two years from the fall of 1921 through spring of 1923, when he compiled a 4-13 record on the baseball diamond and 10-6-1 record on the football gridiron.
After his coaching stints at West Virginia University and Marshall College, Shelton settled down to a regular life in Huntington, living with his mother and brother at the family’s homestead at 1207 Fifth Avenue, about five blocks from Marshall College. He seems to have held a number of jobs in his post-sports life. His occupation listed in the 1930 federal census was “insurance agent,” his World War II draft registration card listed him as being employed by the Elks Club, and his obituary in The Sporting News noted that he had a position with the West Virginia State Liquor Commission.
Kemper Shelton died on January 9, 1954, in Huntington. According to The Sporting News, he “died of what police said was a self-inflicted gun wound at his home,” where he was recovering from a heart ailment and was “very despondent” according to his widow. Shelton married late in life (probably following his mother’s death), so he left no children as survivors at his death, just his wife and older brother Harvey.
Bevis, Charlie. “Major League Short Stories,” Baseball Quarterly Reviews, Vol. 2 No. 4 (1987).
Fultz, David. “The Baseball Players’ Fraternity,” Baseball Magazine, September 1914.
Marshall University athletic department.
New York Times. “Shelton to Coach W. Va.,” March 10, 1918.
New York Tribune. August-September 1915.
The Sporting News. “Obituary,” January 20, 1954.
Tootle, James. Baseball in Columbus, Arcadia, 2003.
U.S. census, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930.
U.S. draft registration cards, World War I, World War II.
West Virginia University Baseball Guide (2007).
“West Virginia University Baseball Players Who Made it to the Major Leagues,”
West Virginia University football statistics,