This article was written by Bill Nowlin
Pitcher Ted Olson played in parts of three seasons for the Boston Red Sox, but recorded only a career record of 1-1 in the 57? innings he worked.
Olson was the eldest child of Peter and Esther Olson, Swedish natives who both came to the United States in 1891 when he was about 15 and she was about 12. They married, and Peter worked as a house painter living in Quincy, Massachusetts, just outside Boston. Theodore Otto Olson was born in Quincy on August 27, 1912. He was baptized as a Methodist in 1913. Siblings Roy and Ruth later joined the family.
Young Ted attended the Squantum School, Squantum being a part of Quincy extending into the Atlantic and connected by a causeway to Quincy itself. He then went to Quincy High School and Thayer Academy, a prep school, graduating there in 1932, and then on to Dartmouth College for four years. He earned his bachelor’s from Dartmouth in 1936.
Olson began appearing in news stories as a “sophomore twirler” for Dartmouth in 1934, learning more about the craft of pitching from coach Jeff Tesreau, a two-time 20-game winner with the New York Giants who was 1-2 in the 1912 World Series against the Boston Red Sox. In both 1934 and 1935, Dartmouth won the Eastern Intercollegiate Baseball League title. Olson won nine games for the Green, surpassing the previous record of seven wins in a season, and struck out 75, topping the prior league total of 70.
Olson credited Tesreau with mentoring him. The former Giants pitcher “used to have me out early, would take me one side and work on me specially. He was always stressing the value of control, and would go over what things to do, or to try to do, in certain spots.”1
During summers, while college was out of session, Olson played for Barnstable in the Cape Cod League.
It’s no surprise that Olson’s progress was followed by teams in Boston and beyond; he’d beaten Harvard all four times he faced them in 1935 and 1936. (The same was true in the four games against Yale.) On the eve of his graduation from Dartmouth, Olson announced that he had signed with the Red Sox. Boston GM Eddie Collins said, “We sincerely believe that Ted will be able to take his place on the mound with additional experience in professional baseball. He will remain on trial with the team for a month, during which time we will be able to decide whether he needs to ‘farm out’ for his own benefit or whether he can develop faster here with the club.”2
Red Sox scout Hugh Duffy was credited with signing Olson.3
On June 18, Olson joined the team and pitched batting practice that day. The Boston Globe observed, “Although a trifle wild from lack of recent activity, Ted displayed plenty of natural stuff.”4 The right-hander was listed as 6-feet-2 and weighing 185 pounds.
Olson’s debut came in the second game of a June 21, 1936, doubleheader at Sportsman’s Park, in St. Louis. Wes Ferrell threw a two-hitter in the first game, and the Red Sox beat the Browns, 3-0. A total of five Red Sox pitchers worked in the second game, a 6-3 loss. Jack Wilson started, threw three innings and gave up four runs (taking the loss). Fritz Ostermueller worked the fourth and part of the fifth; Jack Russell finished the fifth and pitched the sixth. Olson started the seventh and, despite a leadoff double, recorded a scoreless inning. In the eighth, he gave up another leadoff double, got an out, then left, replaced by Rube Walberg. Though Walberg struck out two, he also gave up a double, which drove in the inherited runner, charged to Olson.
It was Olson’s only appearance before he was farmed out, optioned to the Minneapolis Millers. With Minneapolis, Olson started seven games and relieved in 14. He put up a 2-3 record with a 5.34 ERA. Apparently manager Donie Bush of the Millers hadn’t been that excited to get Olson, having preferred a more established major leaguer, but – once there – both Bush and Millers club president Mike Kelley were later reported to have “expressed appreciation for Olson’s ability. They both said that they’d like to have him back there.”5 Eddie Collins added, “Bush said that he had never seen a lad just out of college show the poise and the nerve on the rubber.” Olson credited former major-league pitcher Rosy Ryan for working with him in Minneapolis.
In late August Olson was one of 11 minor leaguers who were recalled to the Red Sox. He threw a scoreless one-hit inning (another leadoff double) on September 12, then was given a start on the 16th in Cleveland. He was hammered for four runs in the first inning, two of them on a Hal Trosky home run, then started the second with two singles and a base on balls. That was enough for manager Joe Cronin. Johnny Marcum replaced Olson with the bases loaded and nobody out. All three inherited runners scored, and Olson was charged with seven earned runs, taking the loss.
He got two more starts, one on September 20 and again a week later, on the 27th. The game on the 20th saw him yield four runs in six innings, with a no-decision. (There was a 9-3-6 triple play executed behind him at one point.) On the 27th he threw a complete nine-inning game against the visiting Athletics and won, 5-4, thanks to a tie-breaking hit in the bottom of the eighth by Joe Cronin. The win was accompanied by “audible delight of the large delegation from Quincy present to root for their youthful townsman.”6
Olson thus finished the 1936 season with a 1-1 record; his earned-run average was 7.36. In October his engagement to Dorothy McKenna of Wollaston was announced.7
On March 6, 1937, the Red Sox party left Boston’s South Station to take the train to Sarasota for spring training. A party of 17 boarded the Orange Blossom Special to head south, led by team secretary Phil Troy. The only player on the train leaving Boston was Ted Olson. Other players joined en route, while others were either already there or made their separate ways to Florida. Much of the party was made up of newspapermen and “vacationists who annually have made the tour of the Boston clubs’ training camps in Florida.”8
Olson made the team and stuck with the Red Sox throughout 1937, but was pitching batting practice more than anything else. He worked 32? innings in 11 games scattered throughout the season, appearing in a game or two in every month but April (when he suffered a serious case of laryngitis just as the season was about to get under way), and four in September. None of his appearances resulted in a decision. His ERA was not promising: 7.24.
Olson and Dorothy McKenna married on June 18.
Once again Olson left Boston for Florida as the only player among the party that left Boston for Sarasota in 1938. He struggled some in spring training, one report describing him as “wild as a March hare.”9 At the very beginning of April, Olson was optioned to the Toronto Maple Leafs (International League), for whom he compiled an 11-13 record (3.79 ERA) in a full season, rejoining the Boston team in time to appear in two September games. He gave up five runs in five innings on September 10, and then worked a perfect two innings on September 13. Those were the last batters Olson faced in the big leagues.
He was not taken to spring training in 1939, Cronin explaining the decision to farm him out right away: “I think Olson will do better on a club where he will get plenty of work, which will be better for him than irregular work with us.”10 He placed Olson with Donie Bush, now managing Louisville. In a March 27 exhibition game between the Colonels and the Red Sox at Arcadia, Florida, Ted Williams homered off Olson in the first inning and Joe Cronin homered off him in the second. Boston won 24-2, with the first 11 of the runs charged to Olson.
In 1939 Olson pitched for Louisville (12-10, 4.23). In 1940 he once more entrained to spring training with the Red Sox party. This time he was joined by Tony Lupien and, surprisingly, Ted Williams.11 Olson was said to be “ticketed for Scranton” but would train with the Red Sox. He did, but on April 14, his contract was sold outright (for an amount thought to be $10,000) to the International League Baltimore Orioles, an affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies.12 At first he declined to report, but relented after a fruitless appeal (that he had not been given a fair trial by Boston) to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. He later characterized it as “an unhappy situation.”13
For Baltimore Olson was 4-7, 6.55, and he said, “I came up with a sore arm. … I quit baseball at the end of ’40.”14
Olson naturally wasn’t pleased with the way his career ended, but it was time to move on. In February 1941 he announced his voluntary retirement. “I certainly hate to pass up the old ball game,” he said, “but pulling up with a sore arm after winning four straight last year caused me to make the decision. I must say in all sincerity that I enjoyed every minute of my altogether too short professional career. I formed a lot of friendships and acquaintances and I don’t think my insurance business is going to suffer by it.” He added, “I may do a little pitching Saturday and Sunday afternoons this summer, Billy Weir and I having received an attractive offer from Laconia, N.H., where they are sponsoring one of the fastest semipro clubs in New England. Other than that, insurance is the best policy, will be my favorite axiom.”15
In 1942 Olson entered the US Navy and served into 1946, doing LST duty in the Pacific Theater.16 He returned to work as an insurance broker after the war, apparently first working with New England Mutual Life and then independently.
On December 9, 1980, Olson was felled by a heart attack at home in Hingham, Massachusetts, and was declared dead at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth. Dorothy Olson wrote that he died at home: “Ted dropped dead. … (H)e had suffered from a severe heart condition for 6½ years. He was right here with me.”17
The couple had three sons – David, Peter, and Theodore. He was also survived by a brother and sister, and three grandchildren.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Olson’s player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.
1 Burt Whitman, “Olson Has Chance To Make Sox; Ex-Green Hurler Is Squantum Native; Was Out On Option in 1936,” Boston Herald, December 27, 1936: 25.
2 “Ted Olson Signed to Sox Contract,” Boston Herald, June 15, 1936: 12.
3 Edwin Rumill, “Ted Olson Another Hub Player Destined to Become Big Leaguer,” Christian Science Monitor, March 29, 1937: 6.
4 Gerry Moore, “Whitehead Limits Red Sox to 3 Hits,” Boston Globe, June 19, 1936: 24.
5 So said Red Sox GM Eddie Collins in December 1936. See Burt Whitman, “Olson Has Chance To Make Sox.”
6 Gerry Moore, “Red Sox Win To Close Their Season,” Boston Globe, September 28, 1936: 10.
7 “Their Engagement Announced,” Boston Herald, October 7, 1936: 5.
8 James C. O’Leary, “Red Sox Group Leaving Today,” Boston Globe, March 6, 1937: 7.
9 James C. O’Leary, “Red Sox Sweep By Kansas City,” Boston Globe, March 22, 1938: 19.
10 James C. O’Leary, “Joe Cronin on Tour From Maine to Gulf of Mexico,” Boston Globe, February 1, 1939: 8.
11 “Williams To Travel South With Writers,” Hartford Courant, February 28, 1940: 13.
12 “Olson Will Report,” Christian Science Monitor, May 3, 1940: 11.
13 Handwritten note in Olson’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
15 “Ex-Sox Pitcher Olson Retires From Baseball,” Boston Traveler, February 18, 1941: 26.
16 Letter from Dorothy Olson to baseball researcher Bill Haber, dated June 28, 1981, and in Olson’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.