This article was written by Bill Nowlin
Tex Vache was a reasonably sizable ballplayer for his era who performed well at the plate during his one year in big-league ball, with the 1925 Boston Red Sox. Even though the Red Sox of the day were in no position to be too selective with their signings, one can reasonably guess that Vache’s poor fielding doomed his chances to return in 1926. After all, he was, 35 years old when he finally made the majors, and the Red Sox let him play the outfield in fewer than half of his games (53 of 110) despite his .313 batting average. Vache (whose name surname means “cow” in French) committed nine errors in 98 chances, for a dismal .908 fielding percentage.
Born Ernest Lewis Vache on November 17, 1888 in Santa Monica, California, Tex had a playing weight of an even 200 pounds, standing one inch over six feet tall. He hit and threw right-handed, and began his minor-league career at an advanced age, 31, as an outfielder for the 1920 Regina Senators in the Class B Western Canadian League. He would not hit below .300 until he turned 40 in his final professional season, kicking off with a .335 in 94 games for Regina.
Vache’s family background is unknown. He turns up in the 1900 Census as a ward of the Catherine Orphan Asylum on Palm Street in Anaheim Town, California. His mother is listed as a California native and his father as from France. The same census shows 65-year-old French native Adolph Vache, a baker in Santa Monica. Was he Ernest’s father, grandfather, or other relative? A 1904 news story described a former baker with a 15-year-old son who forged a note from his father that asked for $7.50 to buy a bicycle. After 11 forged notes totaling $71, the boy was arrested but the father’s pleading saw him set free. Ernest Vache, 15, was arrested on May 28 with two other boys, charged with grand larceny (stealing a bicycle from a barn). Ernest was named as the same boy previously involved with the forgeries. These initial brushes with the law were put behind him, and eight years later he is found serving as a policeman.
Also in the 1900 Census, a 16-year old milliner named Marcelina Vache lived with her 13-year-old sister Madeline in the home of another Santa Monica family, both listed as having fathers from France and mothers from California. The two were named sisters-in-law in relation to the head of the family, who appears to be saloon keeper Jesse Yoakum, married to 24-year-old Emily – whose parents were from France and California respectively. One is left with the suspicion that something happened to the Vache parents, and the two girls taken in by their older sister, while Ernie was placed in an orphanage.
The 1890 Census records are missing, but 1880 records show a Vache family from France in Los Angeles. The head of family is identified only by the initial “E” with a wife Zedora, 10 years his senior, and two children, son Theofile (40) and daughter Emily (21). The ages don’t match up well. A Theophilus Vache, 66, is listed as a farmer in San Benito, the only other Vache in the state. Adolphe and Madeline turn up in Santa Monica in the 1910 Census with Adolph having a son of 29 whose name is undecipherable.
As he grew up in the early years of the 20th century, Ernie Vache was a star athlete at Santa Monica High School at both baseball and football, and in college football for one year at St. Vincent’s College in Los Angeles, but then entered the business world working on commission for his brother-in-law Joseph Hall, a fruit dealer. He seems to have joined the police force, and played some amateur ball on the side. The first Vache who shows up in connection with baseball was a pitcher who threw for a police team on February 4, 1912, helping beat the fire department ball team, 7-3, in Washington Park. This appears to be our man, since Police Officer E. L. Vache is noted just six months later, a crossing officer being reassigned to a night beat. In July 1913, E. L. Vache turns up as one of three incorporators of The Napoleon Club of Los Angeles.
In 1916, a friend, former Boston Braves catcher Bert Whaling wrote him and urged him to come play independent league baseball in Bisbee, Arizona. Under Whaling’s management, Vache hit over .400 in 1916 and 1917, wrapping up the 1917 season in Lewiston, Montana after the Bisbee team disbanded. The Lewiston team wound up in a playoff, beating Casey Stengel’s Kansas City club. [Boston Globe, April 28, 1925] The First World War was on, and Vache joined the Navy after the 1917 season, serving two years on a mine sweeper which made five trans-Atlantic crossings. In 1918, the ship on which he was serving struck a mine and sank, but Vache survived. He didn’t play baseball in the service, but coached both baseball and football teams of sailors. Vache rose to the rank of chief petty officer, before being discharged in the fall of 1919. [Ibidem]
His first foray into organized baseball was in 1920 with Regina Senators in the Western Canadian League. Vache hit .335 and Regina won the first-half championship, but the team then disbanded and he headed back to Los Angeles. In 1921, Vache played independent league baseball again, playing for Hanford; the May 23 Los Angeles Times noted him hitting his second home run of the season in a game against Tulare.
In 1922, he was signed by Beaumont but broke his ankle after a productive five games–he’d won three of the five games with home runs. After the ankle healed, he signed on with the South Atlantic League Charleston Pals. On August 17, 1922 Vache hit two homers for Charleston in a 28-5 victory over Greenville. The Pals won again the next day, and this time it was Vache’s fielding that earned him the distinction of being the only player mentioned in the brief dispatch. The “mighty Vache” hit .328 and finished in second place in the Sally League. Charleston won the league playoffs.
On January 23, 1923 Ernest appeared in an exhibition game in Los Angeles, playing for Ping Bodie’s All-Stars. That year he was taken to spring training by the St. Louis Browns and manager Lee Fohl gave him a careful look, but elected not to keep him, instead sending him to Dallas. The first time Vache turns up in the Boston Globe was in April 1923, listed as likely to battle Bill Whaley and Herschel Bennett for the reserve outfield berth with Dallas. At season’s end, he had hit .347 for the Steers with 14 homers and was named as center fielder on the Texas League All-Star team. He stole a league-leading 40 bases in 1923. “Ernie Vache of the St. Louis Browns” played some winter ball for Joe Pirrone’s All-Stars in January 1924. [Los Angeles Times, January 11, 1924]
Vache played right field for the Wilmington Merchants that winter, batting cleanup and having a 3-for-5 day on January 20. Playing for the Hollywood Merchants, March 1 was his last game before heading to spring training. He hit .354 for Dallas in 1924, with 22 homers and 135 RBIs.
On October 8, 1924, Vache was selected in the minor league draft by the Boston Red Sox, the only player they selected. He played for the Gilmore Oilers later in the month, taking on (among others) the touring St. Louis Colored Giants ball team. Vache was well-known in Los Angeles, frequently referred to in advance stories about upcoming games. The November 24 Los Angeles Times, for instance, said “the husky fly chaser is beyond the question of a doubt one of the best sluggers of the circuit.” The article noted, as did several others, that he would be playing for the Boston Red Sox in 1925.
When the Red Sox turned up for spring training in New Orleans, one of the Globe’s first dispatches dubbed Ernie Vache as a “giant outfielder from the Texas League.” It was no doubt around this time that Ernie began to become known as “Tex” – perhaps a natural after three seasons of play in the Lone Star State. He was the “heaviest man” on the squad, but “in good trim” and said to impress Lee Fohl, now manager for the Red Sox. On March 2, veteran Globe sportswriter Melville Webb reported that “for a man of his weight, his legs are long and trim.” He was featured more than many in the paper’s headlines and subheads, though getting beaned on March 8 may not have been worth it. “Vache Shows Lots of Class” read a Globe headline on March 10, suggesting he might be in the lead to take over left field for Boston. He “thinks, talks, eats, sleeps, and plays baseball” and “though no spring chicken…packs a mean wallop in his war club.” After the short-lived lookover by the Browns a few years earlier, he knew this was his last chance to make the big leagues and he was “bound that nothing will keep him from winning a regular berth in the fast set.”
Ira Flagstead, Bob Veach, and Ike Boone were told in late March that they’d be the starting outfield for the team. “Ernie Vache Fine Prospect” said the Globe. He “has impressed all at the training camp down here.” He and Denny Williams were seen as Boston’s backup outfielders. The Sox brought them both north. In his first workout at Fenway Park, on April 9, he hit a home run over the left-field wall.
Vache watched from the bench as the Red Sox dropped the first two games of the 1925 season in Philadelphia, then got his first chance to help out on April 16 – pinch-hitting for starting pitcher Rudy Kallio in the top of the seventh. Boston was down by one run, 4-3. Vache was retired. In his first start the following day, batting fourth and playing left field, he collected his first two big-league hits, including a two-run single in the fourth as the Sox beat the Athletics, 4-3. Vache also committed his first error, allowing the last of the Philadelphia runs to score.
“Vache’s Hitting A Big Feature in Fenway Opener” read a Globe subhead on April 23. It followed his best day in the majors, when he hit a three-run homer, two singles and a double, and walked once, too. But Boston lost the game 6-3 to the Athletics. This game was free from miscues, but Vache committed three errors in the first five games he played in the field. The Red Sox only won two of their first 12 games.
Tex hardly ever made the headlines again, but he wound up with a strong .313 batting average for the year, well above the team’s .266 average.
The last game he played in the field was on September 2, the only time he played in right field (as opposed to his usual left field), and he committed an error against the Yankees – one of five (three by Homer Ezzell) in the loss. Tex’s season ended with seven pinch-hitting appearances, failing to hit any of the seven times. His final, fruitless game at the plate was on September 22.
Having hit over .300, the future may have looked bright, but the Sox had their eyes on third baseman Fred Haney and on December 9 swapped both Ezzell and Vache to Detroit to acquire him. Both former Red Sox players were assigned to the Fort Worth ballclub in exchange for two players sent to the Tigers. Vache played with Fort Worth during the spring season, but before long found himself on the Mission Bears in the Pacific Coast League, the former Vernon Tigers ballclub.
Vache appeared in 88 games for Mission, hitting .302, then split 1927 with two teams – the Beaumont Exporters again (.302 in 33 games) and then the Western League Lincoln Links (.338 in 94 games). Vache was out of baseball in 1928, then appeared with three teams (the Canton Terriers, Columbus Senators, and Milwaukee Brewers) in 1929, hitting for a combined .287 – now age 40, it was the first time he’d hit under .300 in his eight years of pro ball.
He was playing left field for Seattle in the spring of 1930 but was gone from baseball before the regular season began. He would turn up from time to time at a celebrity golf tournament but by then he’d gone to work in Hollywood. The Los Angeles Times said he’d “given up baseball for the past few seasons to work in pictures at Universal.” [Los Angeles Times, December 26, 1935] Lest it seem misleading, the work he’d taken on was a return to law enforcement – for 20 years he worked as the chief of police at Universal Studios.
In 1938, he played at Wrigley Field in L.A. for an old-timers’ game benefit to raise money for the widow of the star he’d idolized, Rube Ellis. When he died at home of a heart attack on June 11, 1953, he left behind his wife, Jewell Vache. No children were noted in his obituary.
In addition to the sources cited above, the author relied upon the online SABR Encyclopedia, retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff’s Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball.