Charles C. Crabtree was born on January 31, 1888, in Farmersville, Texas. His father, Jim, was a carpenter, and his mother, Susie (Burns) Crabtree, was a housewife and helped with chores on their farm.1 When Charles died on March 30, 1943, at the age of 52 in Houston, his death certificate gave his name as Charles “Tex” McDonald; and yet his gravestone reads “Charlie C. Crabtree.” With some mystery surrounding the different names, in baseball they were the same person. In box scores, game accounts, or sports news, he was Charles, Charlie, Charley, or Tex – all were names he was known by.
Perhaps the best explanation for the different monikers came from Atlanta Constitution sportswriter Dick Jemison:
“Years ago – ‘Tex’ isn’t a youngster by any means – when McDonald or Crabtree was playing in the Texas tall grass, he is said to have carried the handle Crabtree. ‘Tex,’ it seems, occasionally, as all ball players will do, dropped a fly ball or something of that sort, and it always hurt him when he did.”
“Accordingly, ‘Tex’ would get a little huffy and sulk around. The result was instantaneous. Fandom decided that ‘Tex’ wasn’t really only Crabtree – they agreed he was a crab.”
“When the fans started calling him ‘Crab,’ ‘Tex’ resented it, and, though his contract was good for the remainder of the year, some claim he hopped it, landed in the western league, where he adopted the name McDonald. He has worn it ever since.”
“And ‘Tex’ won’t even agree that this is the correct story. So, there you are.”2
The article is not quite right: McDonald did not play in the Western League until 1923 with the Omaha Buffaloes, and he was McDonald when he signed to play for Dallas in 1910. The US Census in May of that year shows him listed as a pitcher on a baseball team, but a newspaper article that declared McDonald had signed with the Dallas Giants disagreed with his position: “The Farmersville amateur, recently signed by Dallas, has not yet shown up. The boy is a third sacker, and is said to be fast.”3
It appears he arrived just in time, as Dallas’s starting shortstop, W.L. McConnell, was diagnosed with a case of malaria.4 McConnell played his last game with the Giants on July 6 in Shreveport. The next day’s game was rained out. As his replacement, McDonald played every inning of both games of a doubleheader on July 7 and was errorless in the field. With a double in the first game and a single in the second, McDonald began his professional career with two hits in six plate appearances.
His 56 games with Dallas that season resulted in a batting average of .256. The team finished on top of Texas League standings with a record of 83-57.
In 1911 McDonald was the regular shortstop through spring training, but a story circulated that he would be sold or traded. On Opening Day that story was countered in the Galveston Daily News even though McDonald felt as if he might have liked it in Galveston:
“Charlie McDonald, the Giants shortstop, who was reported sold to Galveston, will not go in Galveston but will remain with Dallas. McDonald says he likes the Galveston team, admires Manager (Frank) Donnelly, and thinks he would like the city.”5
It would have been a bit of irony, should Crab have played for the Sand Crabs.
The Giants did not fare as well in 1911 and finished in fourth place although McDonald had an excellent season. In the team’s first 27 games he carried a .404 average on 46 hits.6 His hot streak did not last; by early August he had dropped to .320, and closed the season with 171 hits in 144 games for a .324 average. It was the second highest average in the league behind Oklahoma City’s Bill Yohe (.329). McDonald played right field in 15 games late in the season, but his defense in 129 games at short earned him second place in fielding at that position with a .924 fielding average behind Hunter Hill of Houston, who was barely better at .925.
Only a few days after the final games of the season, McDonald was sold to Cincinnati. The expectation was for him to be given a tryout at shortstop and third base by Reds manager Hank O’Day in the spring.7 Jack Ryder of the Cincinnati Enquirer gave McDonald a glowing report from the Reds’ spring home in Columbus, Georgia:
“McDonald handles himself in every respect like a natural infielder. He is very quick in all his movements, is a fast starter and can throw from any position. His hitting is known to be good. He will not be expected to bat .324 in the National League, as he did in Texas last year, but a man who can hit as hard as that in any company at all is some bingler, and will show a few swats at the end of the season even in the best company. Mac has an easy and natural stand at the plate and starts for first base very rapidly. Nor does he slow down on the way.”8
Assured that her husband had made the Reds roster, his wife, the former Eva Lina Carson, and 19-month-old baby daughter, Charle’ Juanita, made plans to join him, and he began seeking accommodations for his family in Cincinnati.9
Hope for a starting infield position was dashed when O’Day relegated him to the bench as a substitute fielder and pinch-hitter to begin the season. On Opening Day, April 11, with 23,500 fans on hand, the Reds faced Chicago in Cincinnati’s new, unnamed (but called Redland Field the next day by Reds president Garry Herrmann) steel-and-concrete ballpark that replaced the Palace of the Fans. McDonald was sent to the plate as a pinch-hitter for starting pitcher Frank Smith in the third inning to face Cubs starter King Cole, but made an out. Cincinnati pounded out 14 hits to win, 10-6.
McDonald got his first major-league hit on April 27 when O’Day made several substitutions after the Pirates took a 13-0 lead over the Reds in Pittsburgh. In the sixth inning McDonald replaced Jimmy Esmond at shortstop. Fanning in his first time up, he tripled off right-hander Howie Camnitz in the ninth to send Eddie Grant home, then scored the last run of the game on Hank Severeid’s single. The Reds lost the game, 23-4.10
McDonald continued to pinch-hit, getting into most games at shortstop and left field, until he started a string of games beginning on June 11, a 5-3 loss to the Phillies in the Baker Bowl. Reds third baseman Art Phelan had a tough day with three errors, but McDonald committed none and had a single and scored a run in three plate appearances.
The Cincinnati Enquirer gave another rousing approval: “Tex McDonald was sent to the short field in place of Jimmy Esmond, who has gone stale and will be given a good rest. McDonald had little to do in the way of difficult fielding, but got away with everything he could reach and secured his daily hit and a base on balls, which was the only one (Cliff) Curtis gave. It is likely that McDonald will continue at shortstop for a while, except that Esmond may be used when a left-hand pitcher is working against the Reds.11
The next day McDonald started again. He made two errors, on a dropped fly ball hit by Peaches Graham in the third inning and on a wild throw to first on Dode Paskert’s groundball in the sixth. Batting to open the seventh, he hit his first homer in the majors, off Phillies reliever George Chalmers.12
On June 13 O’Day stuck by his decision to put Esmond into the starting lineup against a left-hander. With Phillies lefty Ad Brennan named as starter, McDonald went to the bench and Esmond played the entire game at shortstop.13
In Boston to face the Braves on June 14, McDonald entered the game in the fourth inning after Esmond collided with Ben Houser at first base and a few minutes later was run into by Bill Sweeney at second. Both pileups took their toll on Esmond, who landed on his head in the second collision and was so groggy he could no longer play. McDonald negated O’Day’s theory that he could not hit lefties when he ripped a single off Otto Hess.14
The Reds manager kept McDonald in the starting lineup at shortstop through mid-July, but his batting average dropped sharply to below .300. On July 15 against Philadelphia at Redland Field, against left-handed future Hall of Famer Eppa Rixey, Esmond started. McDonald ran for Larry McLean in the ninth in the Phillies’ 2-1 victory.15
McDonald played sparingly the remainder of the season. A planned trade that would send him to the St. Louis Cardinals with Mike Mitchell in exchange for Miller Huggins and Rube Ellis was nixed by Cardinals owner Helene Britton.16
In an exhibition game on a wet field in London, Ohio, on August 28, while playing second base McDonald suffered a sprained ankle that kept him out of any games for the days ahead. Esmond did not get a chance to become the regular shortstop, either, as O’Day had become disappointed in their play and moved second baseman Eddie Grant to shortstop to close the season.17 The Reds finished fourth, 29 games behind the pennant-winning New York Giants.
O’Day was not retained for 1913, and Joe Tinker was hired to lead the club. He intended to play shortstop as player-manager, but was going to hold onto McDonald as a utility player and possibly trade bait.18 Before spring training began, rumors abounded about a trade involving McDonald, possibly to the Braves for catcher Johnny Kling.
“Tinker thinks that McDonald alone would be a fair trade for Kling as the Boston club needs a hard-hitting shortstop, whereas it is positive that Kling is worthless to that club, for he refuses to play there another season,” wrote Jack Ryder.”19 Kling had been displaced as manager by George Stallings, and there was an obvious bad taste in his mouth for it.
The Detroit Tigers joined the Reds in Mobile, Alabama, for a two-game set on March 9 and 10. When Tinker announced his lineup for the first game, McDonald was not in it, saying he would start at second base the next day.20
In that game he injured his ear when he was hit on the side of the head in practice on a pitch by George Suggs. The damage was not considered serious and McDonald played in a game in Spring Hill the next day. He drew the attention of Mobile’s manager, Carlton Molesworth, who made an offer for him, which Tinker refused.21
McDonald hung in with the Reds through the early part of the season, entering only one game at shortstop, but used as a pinch-hitter in 10 games. On April 27 he snarled so much at the umpire over a called third strike that Tinker sent him to the clubhouse.22 It appeared that McDonald was not going to be retained, and the trade that had been rumored earlier in the year finally happened on May 4 when he was sent by the Reds with Harry Chapman to the Braves for $4,000. The deal included a proviso that Johnny Kling would be released so the Reds could sign him. Stallings wanted McDonald to be his third baseman.23
He did not see action right away, but was used as a pinch-hitter in seven games and sent in at third in another before starting at third base for the Braves on June 4 at West Side Grounds in Chicago. Through August he hit very well, maintaining an average that hovered around .400, but then suffered a wrist injury that sidelined him.
In 62 games McDonald had a .359 batting average and it was evident that Boston was not going to be in the pennant race. Stallings, after a failed attempt to secure players from Buffalo and make the Bisons a Braves farm club, sent McDonald to Rochester along with Art Devlin for first baseman Butch Schmidt and pitcher Jack Quinn.24 Hustlers manager John Ganzel needed an outfielder, and the deal was made on September 2 after McDonald cleared waivers.25
“Ganzel plans to make an outfielder of him,” the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle wrote. “Besides being a corking good hitter McDonald also is speedy.”26
When the Hustlers lost a home doubleheader to Toronto, the season ended with Rochester in second place, four games behind the Newark Indians. McDonald departed for home after the fourth inning of the second game, and the crowd gave him a rousing goodbye.
“As he left the field the Texan was heartily applauded by the fans and he bowed his acknowledgments as he sauntered along in front of the bleacher and grandstands, doffing his cap to right and left,” the Democrat and Chronicle reported.27
McDonald had played very well in the last 17 games of the season to finish at .333 on 22 hits, and Rochester kept him on the reserve list for 1914. Ganzel was counting on him to fill an outfield position again.
The Federal League, coming off its inaugural season in 1913, was looking for players. Having finished last in the standings, Pittsburgh desperately needed players who could bring them out of the cellar for 1914. Tex McDonald was one of them.
After the first of the year there were rumors that he had jumped to the Federal League, but according to Ganzel a signed contract had already been received and it was tucked safely away in the Rochester club’s safe.28
In a list of players published by the Ithaca Journal on February 19, McDonald’s name appeared as one of 15 from the International League.29 On March 11 the business manager of the Pittsburgh Federal League team named players signed to play in 1914. One of them was “Charles McDonald, third baseman with Boston Nationals part of last season,” listed as an infielder.30
Ganzel thought he had an ace in the hole. “He has $400 advance money from the Rochester club,” the manager said.31
McDonald left home his home in Vernon, Texas, on March 12, and after a stop in Topeka, Kansas, to visit friends arrived for Pittsburgh spring training on March 20 in Lynchburg, Virginia.32
Manager Doc Gessler was replaced by Rebel Oakes 11 games into the season, but not before the team name became the Rebels.33 McDonald struggled at the plate with only one great game when he was 4-for-4 on May 7 against the St. Louis Terriers. Six days later the question of whether he belonged to Rochester or Pittsburgh was resolved.
On May 13 Federal League President James Gilmore arrived in Rochester after being subpoenaed in regard to McDonald’s signing with Pittsburgh. It was determined that McDonald had signed a contract with the Federal League club on November 10, 1913, and with Rochester on November 28. Gilmore promised that the $300 (not $400 that Ganzel had claimed) received in advance by McDonald would be returned.34
In the appeasement by both parties, there was no bearing on the case that the Rochester contract stated he had to report on Opening Day, and nothing about spring training. When the Hustlers season began, McDonald had already been playing for Pittsburgh.35
He showed his rough side, or at least his protective side, by beating up two men in a Pittsburgh public park in July. They had provoked him by making a remark about his inability to get a hit in key situations in both games of a doubleheader on July 18. All three were arrested but McDonald was released.36
On July 22 McDonald came through as a pinch-hitter for catcher Claude Berry when he slashed a single to score two runs in a win over Indianapolis, 2-1. But after the game he was traded to Buffalo for Frank Delahanty. It was expected that McDonald would be used as a pinch-hitter.37 He actually started in every game for Buffalo until the last games of the season, mostly in right field.
When he joined his new team, it was 7½ games out of first place, and didn’t make much headway, finishing fourth, seven games behind pennant-winning Indianapolis. McDonald had a .296 average for the team; combined with his .318 average in Pittsburgh, his season average was a respectable .307.
Buffalo manager Larry Schlafly had to decide if McDonald was valuable enough to remain with the team for 1915. The question was whether McDonald provided enough hitting power to overcome his less-than-satisfactory fielding.
“Tex McDonald himself admits that he is none too classy a fielder and for this reason was let out by the Boston club while he was leading the National League hitters,” the Buffalo Evening News commented. “Tex has held more jobs than any one player, but seldom served at any regular position, being kept on the payroll on account of his pinch hitting ability. He leads the world in this respect.”38
Spring training for the Buf-Feds in 1915 began on March 8, and in only a few days the entire team felt the effects of a long winter. McDonald noted that some of the players felt as if they were wearing corsets,39 and complained of soreness in his back. On Sunday he “went to church for excitement, he said, both in the morning and evening.”40
He showed signs of improvement in his fielding, apparently working hard to overcome this weakness. Competing with Del Young for the right-field job, McDonald had the best shot, because he hit better.41 In the last spring-training game, on April 6, playing for the regulars against the Yannigans he was 3-for-3. His double drove in a run as his team won, 4-3.42
With one more day of practice before the team traveled to Buffalo on April 7, McDonald got into a friendly wrestling tussle with teammate Nick Allen, injuring his right shoulder. He was able to start in right field for a few games before the pain in his shoulder sent him to the bench. He pinch-hit in several games with limited success, but by May 15 he was batting .405 and seemed to have regained his dependable hitting. His pinch-hitting ability won him the starting job in right field. (He occasionally played left field.
On June 4 in the second game of a doubleheader against Brooklyn, after hitting a double in the first game of a twin bill, McDonald smashed his first home run of the season, driving in two runs. Between games it was announced that Schlafly had resigned the day before, replaced by catcher Walter Blair for the day, then by Harry Lord to finish the season.43
McDonald’s average floated around .300 but he did not maintain it as the season wore on. The team played respectably under Lord, winning 60 of 109 games, but finished in sixth place. McDonald last appeared in a major-league game on August 14 against Kansas City, striking out in his only appearance. His final batting average stood at .271, and he spent a few weeks playing for a team in Ridgeway, Pennsylvania, with Buffalo teammates Art Watson and Rube Marshall.
In 1916 McDonald found a position with Birmingham in the Southern Association, and spent the next 14 years in the minor leagues with 17 different clubs. He returned for his final season with Tampa of the Southeastern League, but was released in May. The Tampa Times opined that he was not much use to the ballclub, writing, “McDonald, rated one of the most consistent hitters in minor league baseball today, has not been in condition to render the Smokers his best services. He has been handicapped by a sore throwing arm and Manager [Pop] Kitchens fears that he will be practically useless this season.”44
McDonald became a window cleaner in Houston later in life. When he registered for the World War II draft in 1942, he wrote that he was working as a “carpenter, R.R. Trainman.” On March 30, 1943, at age 52, he died in Houston’s Jefferson Davis Hospital after a few days’ illness. He is buried in Odd Fellows Cemetery in his birth home of Farmersville; his headstone makes no mention of “Tex” McDonald.45
In addition to Ancestry.com, baseball-reference.com, find-a-grave.com, newspapers.com, retrosheet.org, Sabr.org, Seanlahman.com, the author used the following references:
1910 United States Federal Census (for Charles Crabtree)
Alexander, Charles C. The Miracle Braves 1914-1916 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2015)
Caruso, Gary. The Braves Encyclopedia (Philadelphia: Temple Press, 2015)
Wiggins, Robert Peyton. The Federal League of Base Ball Clubs: The History of an Outlaw Major League 1914-1915 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2009)
1 His birth father may have been Richard D. Crabtree, per his application for Social Security. There is some uncertainty regarding the year of his birth. His Social Security application says it was 1889, as does his registration for the draft during World War II. He signed the registration form as Charles C. Crabtree “Alias McDonald.”
2 Dick Jemison, “‘Tex’ Crabtree or M’Donald, Which?” Atlanta Constitution, February 11, 1916: 8.
3 Horace H. Shelton, “Texas League Notes,” El Paso Herald, June 27, 1910: 5.
4 “Giants Ousted Pirates,” Houston Post, July 9, 1910: 4.
5 “McDonald with Giants,” Galveston Daily News, April 13, 1911: 5.
6 “Scandal Is Hinted in the Texas League,” El Paso Herald, May 19, 1911: 12.
7 “Charles C. M’Donald,” Cincinnati Enquirer, December 21, 1911: 11.
8 Jack Ryder, “No Chance,” Cincinnati Enquirer, March 7, 1912: 8.
9 “Baseball Gossip,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 11, 1912: 8.
10 Ralph S. Davis, “New Record for Season,” Pittsburgh Press, April 28, 1912: 22.
11 “Notes of the Game,” Cincinnati Enquirer, June 12, 1912: 8.
12 Edgar J. Wolfe (“Jim Nasium”), “Wee Willie Suggs Was Too Great a Problem for Phillies to Solve,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 13, 1912: 10.
13 Ryder, “Travesty,” Cincinnati Enquirer, June 14, 1912: 8.
14 Ryder, “Pork,” Cincinnati Enquirer, June 15, 1912: 8.
15 “Reds Helpless Before Rixey,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 16, 1912: 10.
16 “Friction in Managing Affairs of the St. Louis Club May Lead to a Change in Leadership,” Cincinnati Enquirer, August 16, 1912: 10.
17 “Reds Will Have a Hard Row to Hoe on the Coming Eastern Trip,” Cincinnati Enquirer, September 8, 1912: 44.
18 Ryder, “Tinker,” Cincinnati Enquirer, December 12, 1912: 6.
19 Ryder, “Fighting,” Cincinnati Enquirer, February 3, 1913: 8.
20 Ryder, “Ready,” Cincinnati Enquirer March 8, 1913: 8.
21 “Notes of the Game,” Cincinnati Enquirer, March 21, 1913: 8.
22 “Notes of the Game,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 28, 1913: 9.
23 “Stallings Frames Up a Double Trade,” Washington Evening Star, May 5, 1913: 13.
24 “Buffalo Had Chance to Be Boston Farm; Passed Honor (?) on to Rochester,” Buffalo Courier, September 11, 1913: 10.
25 “‘Tex’ M’Donald Not First Man Batting Above .300 to Be Sent Out to the Minors,” Buffalo Times, September 17, 1913: 10.
26 “Rochester Secures Player Who Has Hit Ball at .367 Clip,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, September 3, 1913: 19.
27 “Hustlers Beaten in Final Games of 1913 Season,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, September 21, 1913: 31.
28 “Comments on Life Sports Topic,” Buffalo Enquirer, February 5, 1914: 12.
29 “Players Claimed by the Federals,” Ithaca Journal, February 19, 1914: 8.
30 “Stars Are Signed for the Federals,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 12, 1914: 10.
31 “Old Sol Hits Home Runs Down There in Anniston,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, March 16, 1914: 15.
32 “Snow Keeps Feds From Practicing,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 21, 1914: 10.
33 James Jerpe, “Local Federals to be Known as the Rebels,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 26, 1914: 10.
34 “President Gilmore to Reimburse Rochester,” Buffalo Enquirer, May 13, 1914: 6.
35 “Gilmore’s Visit to Rochester Causes Flurry in B.B. Circles,” Buffalo Times, May 13, 1914: 10.
36 “Tex McDonald Wallops Fans Who Insult Him,” Washington Times, July 21, 1914: 11.
37 “Manager Schlafly Now Has Considerable Good Material to Work With,” Buffalo Evening News, July 23, 1914: 16.
38 “Schlafly Will Have Strong Team for 1915,” Buffalo Evening News, October 20, 1914: 15.
39 “Clyde Engle Now in Buf-Fed Camp; All Hitting Ball,” Buffalo Courier, March 11, 1915: 10.
40 “Schlafly Say Real Training Is to Come This Week,” Buffalo Courier, March 15, 1915: 8.
41 Frank G. Menke, “Menke Writes of Buffalo Federals,” Kingston (New York) Daily, March 23, 1915: 14.
42 “Ehmke and Smith Show Great Form in Snappy Game,” Buffalo Courier, April 7, 1915: 10.
43 “Harry Lord Named as Manager,” Buffalo Enquirer, June 5, 1915: 6.
44 “Cueto Reports to Smokers, to Rejoin Club Thursday,” Tampa Times, May 20, 1929: 7.