Uninvited and unannounced, “Harold Emerich” traipsed into the 1920 Philadelphia Phillies training camp in Birmingham, Alabama, and made a credible showing before being shipped out to the minors. However, “Harold Emerich” was actually Michigan contract jumper Herrick “Spoke” Emery. Fast forward four years, and the speedy Emery actually donned a Philadelphia uniform in five July games for the seventh-place Phillies, collecting two hits in three at-bats.
Herrick Smith Beebe was born on December 10, 1896, in Bay City, Michigan, to Elmer and Louisa Beebe. He was later adopted by John Herman and Catherine Emery. John was a Pennsylvania-born commercial salesman who later worked as a building contractor, and Catherine was born in Canada. Emery was a four-sport athlete at Detroit’s Central High and Culver Military Academy in Indiana, playing quarterback on the football team, forward in basketball, outfield in baseball, and ran the 100- and 220-yard sprints on the track team.1 By the summer of 1915, Emery was batting leadoff and playing left field for the Detroit Free Press “Sports Section” team in a win over the Detroit Fire Department, stealing home to win it in the bottom of the 10th inning.2 Records show that Herrick attended Western State Normal School (now Western Michigan University) in Kalamazoo before serving in the Army until 1918. After his discharge, Emery returned to the greater Detroit area and latched on with the strong Maxwell Auto semipro team in a local auto manufacturers’ league.3
By the spring of 1919, Emery, who batted right-handed and threw left-handed, was the Opening Day left fielder for the Saginaw (Michigan) Aces in the brand-new, Class-B Michigan Ontario League.4 By June, he manned center field and batted cleanup for a wretched London (Ontario, Canada) Tecumsehs squad, which started out 1-17 on the season.5 The next month, he was with the Kitchener (Ontario, Canada) Beavers, still in the MIOL, before returning to London in August.6 Emery posted a composite .301 batting average on the season. After returning to the Detroit area, Emery and the Maxwells beat the Toledo (Ohio) Rail Lights to lay claim to being “the best white semi-pro club in Michigan and Ohio.”7
In March 1920, Emery was traded by London to the Moline (Illinois) Plowboys of the Three-I League for pitcher Oscar Delotelle.8 However, Emery never reported, claiming he was a free agent since the London club failed to answer one of his letters.9 Instead, the brash 5’9”, 165-pound youngster, with one year of pro ball under his belt, arrived unannounced and on his own nickel to spring training for the Philadelphia Phillies in Birmingham, Alabama, under the assumed name of Harold Emerich. In late March, the Phillies released “Emerich” to the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association, although Phillies manager Gavvy Cravath predicted “a bright future for the plucky youngster [who] has shown a tendency to wallop the old pill while here.”10
In late May, “Emerich” left Indianapolis and joined St. Joseph (Missouri) of the Western Association, with newspapers now listing his last name as “Emerick.”11 “Emerick” was tied for the Western League lead in stolen bases heading into August, having stolen 29 bases in 32 attempts.12 Later that month, Emery was finally exposed, and begrudgingly reported to Moline.13 Nonetheless, Emery, who batted .308 in 24 games, “played such dazzling ball in the Western League after leaving Indianapolis that the fans dubbed him ‘Spoke,’” one of the nicknames ascribed to Cleveland star Tris Speaker.14
After the season, Emery returned to his home in Wayne, Michigan, then participated in the Florida Winter League where he met Tom Gallagher, who recommended he play for the Birmingham Barons. Emery negotiated an arrangement with Moline on option to sell his services to Birmingham if he made the roster, which he did.15 Emery started 1921 as the opening day center fielder for the Birmingham Barons of the Class-A Southern Association. In July, Emery, “the sweetest outfielder in Dixie, [got] credit for saving the old ball game” in a 3-1 win over New Orleans.16 The Birmingham News declared “Herrick (Spoke) Emery is one of the hardest working, most conscientious ball players in the Southern League.”17 Emery collected 40 stolen bases by mid-August, and ended the season with 52 and a .304 average in 150 games.18
Emery stayed within the Southern Association for 1922, but signed with the Nashville Volunteers. He hit .278 and stole 27 bases in 145 games, and broke up a no-hit bid by Chattanooga’s Ted Wingfield in late August.19 After the season, Spoke spoke up, complaining that the local Nashville press was trying to run him out of town. Stunningly, Emery penned an open apology to Nashville fans for loafing during the season, claiming “I was in a h— of a frame of mind all past summer owing to baseball troubles from a money standpoint… I want to apologize to… the Nashville fans in general.”20
Unsurprisingly, Emery was cut in the training camp of 1923 by Nashville after “bad teeth and the removal of his tonsils hampered his training.”21 He was snapped up by the Chattanooga Lookouts via the waiver route, with the Lookouts faithfully remembering him from his Birmingham days as a base stealing “thief” who would “show up” Chattanooga’s catchers.22 Unfortunately, after only three days, manager Les Nunamaker made up his mind “that ‘Spoke’ was not in good enough physical condition to travel with the Lookouts.”23 Emery was shipped to the Hartford (Connecticut) Senators of the Eastern League, but soon returned home as no outfield job was available.24 He finally found work in May with the Wilson (North Carolina) Tobacconists of the Virginia League, managed by Rube Oldring.25 By June, Emery had moved on to the Rock Island (Illinois) Islanders of the Class-D Mississippi Valley League, and to complete his vagabond season, Emery signed with the Memphis Chickasaws, back in the Southern Association, in late August, after “Doc” Prothro was promoted to the Washington Senators.26 After hitting .160 in 17 late-season games for Memphis, Emery’s baseball future looked dim. Emery headed to Florida, which soon became his full-time home, to play winter ball.
Emery attempted a return to Memphis for 1924, with the report being that “he broke into a thousand pieces last year and will have a tough time making a comeback.”27 He was cut by the Chicks and landed with the Muskogee (Oklahoma) Athletics of the Class-C Western Association (listed as Emory in Baseball-Reference). Emery hit but .224 in 16 games and was dropped to eighth in the lineup in May by manager Gabby Street. He moved within the Sooner State in June to the Duncan Oilers of the Class-D Oklahoma State League, but unfortunately, that league disbanded on July 8.
Somehow, Emery was promoted to the Philadelphia Phillies over the next 10 days, and made his major-league debut as a pinch-runner for manager Art Fletcher on July 18. The next day, Emery collected hits in his first two times at bat in the first game of a doubleheader against the Chicago Cubs, while also playing in the outfield for the only time. He pinch-ran again two days later. On July 22, as a pinch-hitter in the top of the ninth inning, he reached first when second baseman Rogers Hornsby dropped a throw (ruining Emery’s perfect batting average). He later scored the second of his team’s four ninth-inning runs in a 5-2 win over St. Louis. He scored the Phillies’ only run on July 26 in a 5-1 loss during his third pinch-running appearance. That was the extent of Spoke Emery’s major-league career, which he finished with two hits in three at-bats. Emery spent the early fall playing in a local Philadelphia semipro league before returning to Florida for more winter ball.28
In 1925, Emery made the opening day roster for the New Orleans Pelicans, another Southern Association team, but was cut in early May after reports he had suffered from rheumatism the previous two seasons.29 Soon thereafter, Emery was picked up by the Mobile Bears, also in the Southern Association. Emery continued to be “an extremely pestiferous party to home heavers” during a road series against Nashville.30 He spent the end of the season with the Meridian (Mississippi) Mets of the Class-D Cotton States League, where he hit .324 in 67 games. After the season, Spoke once again plied in the Florida winter league. Also, during that off-season, he married Madeline Lott, eight years his junior, on December 28, 1925, in Meridian, Mississippi. They later welcomed daughters Katherine and Margaret and then sons William and John.
For the 1926 season, Emery was hired by Meridian to also be the manager.31 In early August, he got into an altercation with his first baseman, Frank Brazill, after a doubleheader. Emery apparently insulted Brazill in the dugout, and Brazill took a wild swing at Emery, who then fled the field and park. Both parties were fined $12.50 in city court for fighting and disturbing the peace.32 After the season, Emery organized an all-star squad in Miami to face a team from the Everglades area.33
Returning to Meridian for 1927, Emery kept his squad in it for the first half, then had a big fight in early July with pitcher Reggie Brown after a doubleheader loss. It was reported that “Battling Brown packed a ‘rawther’ fancy wallop.”34 Emery was suspended for 20 days, Brown for 10.35 Soon after, Emery was dismissed by Meridian, and landed with the Hattiesburg (Mississippi) Pinetoppers of the Class-D Cotton States League. A week later, he was hired to manage the poor Cedar Rapids Bunnies team of the Class-D Mississippi Valley League for the remainder of the season. Team president Harry Johnson, in response to impatient fans’ early critique of the skipper, offered this endorsement of Emery: “Emery did exceptionally well with a bunch of misfits that were demoralized when he took hold of them last summer, and in view of this and what he previously accomplished in the Cotton States League I believe it is only fair that everybody should pull for him until he has had a chance to demonstrate his ability.”36
Emery played winter ball out on the West Coast in 1927-28 with the Ventura contingent in California before driving himself to Cedar Rapids for the 1928 season.37 By June, with Cedar Rapids mired in fifth place, Emery was fired as manager and replaced by Bob “Ziggy” Hasbrook. He took the news “in true Southern fashion. He did not make a peep of protest, but on the other hand did everything possible to assist his successor, Bob Hasbrook, in getting started.”38 The Moline Dispatch wrote: “In demanding Spoke Emery’s head, the Bunny fans removed from their city a clever general of the diamond, a daring base runner, a brilliant fielder and a splendid sportsman.”39 Emery soon signed to play for new manager Bobby Schang with the Laurel (Mississippi) Cardinals of the Class-D Cotton States League, who were saddled with a 3-12 record so far in the second half.40 By month’s end, Emery left and was soon toiling for a semipro team in Hanford, South Dakota.41 However, by August, he was batting leadoff for the Scranton (Pennsylvania) Miners in the Class-B New York-Penn League.
Heading to the northeast for 1929, Emery played in the New England League, first with the Lewiston (Maine) Twins, then with the seventh-place Nashua (New Hampshire) Millionaires, where he led the league in stolen bases.42 By month’s end, he slid over to the Goldsboro (North Carolina) Goldbugs of the Class-D Eastern Carolina League. He was released in early August, then “re-engaged” two days later, given the title of manager as well.43 Emery guided Goldsboro into the Eastern Carolina League finals against Wilmington.44
The 1930 census shows that Emery, still listed as a ballplayer, and Madeline lived in Miami. Emery was named manager of the Brantford (Ontario, Canada) Red Sox of the Class-C Ontario League, after prior manager Dixie Walker left town.45 The league disbanded in late July and Emery then moved to the Bloomington (Indiana) Cubs team in the Class-B Three-I League. After hitting .222 in 19 games, he left, then played center field for the Chrysler industrial league team around Detroit.46 By 1932, the Emerys lived in Detroit and Herrick (now sometimes referred to as Harry) was a line inspector at Chrysler Corporation, working there until he retired in 1971. Upon his retirement, Henry and his wife moved to Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Herrick “Spoke” Emery died on June 2, 1975, at age 78, in Cape Canaveral, Florida. He is buried at an unidentified cemetery in Mount Clemens, Michigan. He was survived by wife Madeline and four children.47
This biography was reviewed by Bill Nowlin and Michael Tow and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted:
MyHeritage.com Birth, Marriage, and Death Records
1 “Herrick Emery Hasn’t an Equal as Fielding Phenom on Baron Squad,” Birmingham (Alabama) News, March 20, 1921: 50.
2 “’Lefty’ Emery’s Steal of Home Decides 10-Inning Battle,” Detroit Free Press, July 13, 1915: 13.
3 “Herrick Emery Hasn’t an Equal as Fielding Phenom on Baron Squad.”
4 “Saginaw Pitcher Hurls One Single Game in Opener,” Detroit Free Press, May 16, 1919: 15.
5 “Battle Creek is Tied for Second Place in League,” Battle Creek (Michigan) Enquirer, June 5, 1919: 9.
6 “Saginaw Takes Overtime Game from Kitchener,” Detroit Free Press, July 18, 1919: 21.
7 “Maxwells Play Rail Lights in First of Series,” Detroit Free Press, September 27, 1919: 10.
8 “Notes,” Dispatch (Moline, Illinois), March 4, 1920: 18.
9 “Herrick Emery Hasn’t an Equal as Fielding Phenom on Baron Squad.”
10 “Manager Cravath Releases Harold Emerich to Indianapolis Club,” Birmingham News, March 27, 1920: 3.
11 “Rose Gives But 3 Hits, Saints Win,” St. Joseph (Missouri) Gazette, May 28, 1920: 7; and “Plows Hot on Scent of Emery,” Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), August 3, 1920: 14.
12 “East Top Man in Western,” Lincoln (Nebraska) Star, August 7, 1920: 3.
13 “Bunnies Take Wild Battle from Plows,” Daily Times, August 19, 1920: 12.
14 Zipp Newman, “Thirty-Six Men Have Reported to Boss Moley,” Birmingham News, March 11, 1921: 20.
15 “Herrick Emery Hasn’t an Equal as Fielding Phenom on Baron Squad.”
16 Zipp Newman, “Barons Make It Four Straight from Pels,” Birmingham News, July 6, 1921: 11.
17 “Spoke Emery’s Brilliant Playing at Bat and Afield Helps Barons,” Birmingham News, July 31, 1921: 20.
18 “Notes,” Birmingham News, August 16, 1921: 9; and Blinkey Horn, “Vols Buy Emery,” (Nashville) Tennessean, April 1, 1922: 10.
19 “Spoke Emery Robs Wingfield of No-Hit Game with Single,” Nashville (Tennessee) Banner, August 28, 1922: 7.
20 “Emery Admits He Loafed with Vols Last Season,” Chattanooga Daily Times, January 30, 1923: 8; and “Spoke Emery Makes Open Apology; Plans to be Bigger and Better,” (Nashville) Tennessean, January 29, 1923: 6.
21 Blinkey Horn, “Likely that Spoke Emery and Ben Smith Will be Sold to Cut Down Vols to Eighteen Men,” (Nashville) Tennessean, April 17, 1923: 10.
22 “Locals Claim ‘Spoke’ Emery,” Chattanooga Daily Times, April 19, 1923: 11.
23 “’Spoke’ Emery Turned Back to Nashville-Gossip of Ball Game,” Chattanooga Daily Times, April 23, 1923: 9.
24 “Notes,” (Nashville) Tennessean, May 12, 1923: 11.
25 “Notes,” Tennessean, May 19, 1923: 11.
26 “Three Straight Errors Costly to Thomasons,” Rock Island (Illinois) Argus, June 12, 1923: 12; and “Doc Prothro Sent to Nats; Chicks Sign Spoke Emery,” Tennessean, August 26, 1923: 27.
27 “Spoke Emery to Attempt Comeback with Memphis,” Chattanooga Daily Times, March 9, 1924: 7.
28 “South Phils Lose Free Hitting Game,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 11, 1924: 10; and “Winter Game Draws Stars to Florida,” Chattanooga Daily Times, December 22, 1924: 8.
29 “Pelicans Release Outfielder Emery,” Shreveport (Louisiana) Journal, May 5, 1925: 10.
30 Blinkey Horn, “Home Run into Left Field Stands by Lewis Helps Vols Win from Bears,” Tennessean, May 29, 1925: 11.
31 “’Spoke’ Emery Gets Post as Manager of Meridian Club,” Birmingham News, March 16, 1926: 17.
32 “Spoke Emery Speaks to Big First Sacker and Flees from Park,” Town Talk (Alexandria, Louisiana), August 7, 1926: 1.
33 “Spoke Emery’s All-Star Booked to Battle Everglades Nine,” Miami (Florida) Herald, December 4, 1926: 17.
34 “Pradat and Berry in Hurling Duel,” Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi), June 29, 1927: 8.
35 “Fines are Assessed Against Two Players,” Clarion-Ledger, June 30, 1927: 10.
36 “Notes,” Dispatch (Moline, Illinois), March 3, 1928: 20.
37 Earl Coughlin, “Emery Arrives to Make Preparations for Piloting Bunnies,” Gazette, March 30, 1928: 12.
38 “Emery Assists Hasbrook in Assuming Management of Buns,” Gazette, June 26, 1928: 9.
39 Pat Patten, “The Sport Spotlight, Moline (Illinois) Dispatch, June 26, 1928: 16.
40 “Bunching Bingles Brings Runs Over; Rip’s Star Catch,” Clarion-Ledger, July 8, 1928: 8.
41 “Valley League Notes,” Rock Island Argus, July 30, 1928: 14.
42 “Lehman Continues His Batting Lead,” Boston Globe, July 13, 1929: 11.
43 “Changes at Goldsboro,” unknown newspaper, August 8, 1929 (included in Herrick “Spoke” Emery: National Baseball Hall of Fame player file).
44 “Bugs and Goldbugs Clash for East Carolina Honor,” News and Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina), September 2, 1929: 8.
45 “Ball Manager Charged,” Calgary (Alberta, Canada) Herald, July 25, 1930: 23. Dixie Walker, ex-manager of the Brantford team, had an arrest warrant issued on him, with eleven players alleging non-payment.
46 “Chrysler and Inland Will Meet Sunday,” Dayton (Ohio) Daily News, September 14, 1930: 40.
47 “Herrick Emery,” Florida Today (Cocoa, Florida), June 4, 1975: 3B.