Tony Boeckel (TRADING CARD DB)

Tony Boeckel

This article was written by Steve Hatcher

Tony Boeckel (TRADING CARD DB)A latecomer to the game, Tony Boeckel was 19 years old before he first handled a baseball.1 But he rose to become one of the better third basemen in the early 1920s before his life was tragically cut short at the height of his career.

Norman Doxie Boeckel was born in Los Angeles, California, on August 25, 1892, the younger of two living children born to Samuel L. Boeckel and Amanda Boeckel.2 His father was a second-generation German-American who worked almost all his life at the Los Angeles Soap Company, eventually rising to foreman.3 His mother, the former Amanda Doxie, was a housekeeper born in Virginia whose parents came from Pennsylvania and New York.4

A lifelong bachelor, Boeckel was fair-haired with blue eyes, a medium build standing 5 feet, 10½ inches, and tipping the scales at about 175 pounds.5 He batted and threw right-handed and was quick and aggressive on the base paths. His insouciant behavior was not always appreciated or understood.

After high school, where he confined his competition to football, basketball, and track, Boeckel played baseball for St. Vincent’s College (now Los Angeles College) in 1911.6 With his education behind him, he ventured into professional baseball in 1912 as a shortstop with the Porterville Orange Pickers of the San Joaquin Valley League, a six-club circuit..7 Unfortunately, the team disbanded in early July, and Boeckel, described as one of the best shortstops in the league, finished the season with the Visalia Pirates.8

Boeckel usually stayed in shape playing winter ball in the Los Angeles area. In the spring of 1913 he was signed by the Stockton Producers, the eventual pennant winners of the Class D California State League.9 In May, he and five teammates experienced a chilling accident in the elevator of the Hotel Fresno when it plunged from the third floor to the basement. Boeckel came out the worst, suffering a severe cut from broken glass.10 Nicknamed “Emil” or “Em,” he was a good fastball hitter, but weak on breaking pitches, hitting a respectable .268 over 115 games. Manager Jack Thomas had moved him from his familiar shortstop position to the keystone position where his defensive skills suffered considerably; he committed 49 errors. He was retained by Stockton for 1914 with a promotion to field captain.11

When the California State League folded in early July, he was leading all batters at .364. Tacoma of the Class B Northwestern League quickly scooped him up to play second base. Now known as Tony, he returned to Tacoma for the 1915 season.12 Unexpectedly, after just 14 games, he was grudgingly fired by manager Russ Hall. His dismissal was forced by player/owner Joe McGinnity, despite the manager’s investigation that found charges against him were “malicious and untruthful.”13 It was a move that “demoralized” the Tigers.14

Boeckel then signed to play shortstop for Juneau, Alaska, competing in a three-city league in the Gastineau Channel to finish out the summer season.15 He returned to California in August and was signed by the Los Angeles Angels of the Class A Pacific Coast League for the upcoming 1916 season, but was released beforehand by Manager Frank Chance in late February.16 He then joined the Hayden Smelters of the independent Tri-Copper League in Arizona,17 before joining the Great Falls, Montana, Electrics, who were mired in last place of the Northwestern League as a third baseman. In 60 games he batted .313 with six home runs.

Boeckel returned to Great Falls in 1917 and was hitting .299 when the Pittsburgh Pirates purchased the 24-year old for $1,500. He made his major league debut at the sweltering Polo Grounds playing third base against the New York Giants on July 23 and collected his first major league hit off Giant ace Ferdie Schupp in the second inning before retiring from the consuming heat and humidity.18 Three days later, he was struck on the forehead while fielding a hard bounder at third. He required stitches and missed three starts.19 Considered a good hitter and a fast runner, Boeckel hit .265 with 11 doubles, one triple, six stolen bases, and nine sacrifice hits over 64 games.

Unbeknownst to manager Hugo Bezdek and the Pirates, who expected Boeckel to play third base for the 1918 season, he chose instead to enlist in the U.S. Navy. He often played for San Diego’s Naval Training Center team against area opponents before being assigned to the Navy’s ship building yard as a second class ship fitter.20

After his discharge from the Navy, Boeckel prepared to return to the Pirates as the starting third baseman for 1919. After 45 games, however, Bezdek and owner Barney Dreyfuss became dissatisfied with his play and made placed him on waivers.21 The 26-year-old was promptly picked up by manager George Stallings of the Boston Braves to replace slumping Red Smith at the hot corner for 93 of the final 95 games.22 He began well with his new club, recording his first major league home run during a ten-game hitting streak on June 28, a smash over the right center field fence at Braves Field.23 On July 21, he was moved to the leadoff spot for the next two months, and his average steadily decreased. For the entire season, he batted .250 but topped the NL with 140 games played.

The 1920 season was barely two weeks old when Boeckel took part in a historic 26-inning, 1-1 tie against visiting Brooklyn on May 1. His single in the sixth inning drove in Boston’s lone run. At the time, Boeckel was in the middle of a 12-game hitting streak helped to some degree by changes to the ball itself and by the abolishing of certain trick pitches.24 However, the Braves were beset with so many injuries and illnesses that Stallings’s major goal was simply to avoid the cellar, and they indeed finished seventh by one-half game over Philadelphia. He led the club in games played (153), runs (70), doubles (28), and stolen bases (18), but modern analytics have rendered his value below that of teammate Ira Townsend who appeared in just four games.25 He appeared in every game the Braves played, however, for the second year in a row and led the NL in most games played over the same period.26 His third home run of the season on September 27 in the ninth inning snuffed out any chance the Giants had to win the pennant.27 Despite leading the National League in putouts, double plays, and total chances per game, he was called an “erratic guardian” at third base by the Boston Post, ranking seventh in fielding average with 33 errors.28

Boeckel became embroiled in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal through the affidavits he and teammate Art Wilson submitted claiming that Rube Benton boasted of winning $3,800 betting on the World Series. To what degree Tony Boeckel was involved is unknown.29

The 27-year-old remained busy during the winter of 1920-21, playing most of the time for Joe Pirrone’s All Stars in and around Southern California.30 As a result, he showed up in good condition when he joined the Braves for spring training in Galveston, Texas. The club was now managed by Fred Mitchell after Stallings retired. Boston became an up-and-coming team, finishing in fourth place aided in no small way by Boeckel’s key moments with the bat, if not his glove. Appearing in every game again, he batted .313, stole 20 bases, and led the team with 84 RBIs, ranking ninth in the NL. Basically a singles hitter, he walloped eight inside-the-park home runs, six at cavernous Braves Field.31 He was hailed as Boston’s most popular player.32

The Braves moved spring training operations to St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1922. Boeckel decided to hold out for more money, but was enticed by club owner George Washington Grant to The Sunshine City in March to renegotiate, eventually signing for $7,500.33 The 1922 season was a nightmare for the Braves. The team was ravaged by a multitude of injuries as only two regulars managed to escape the crippling jinx. Boeckel was no exception. Plagued with a lame back through June, his streak of 506 consecutive games played came to an end on June 25 when Philadelphia’s Jesse Winters plunked him in the ribs in the sixth inning of the second game of a doubleheader.34 He was sidelined for 14 games. Forced to play with one ailment after another throughout the season including a bad or weak toe,35 he still managed to appear in 119 games, 13 as a successful pinch hitter. Overall, he batted .289. One of the more interesting oddities came on July 26 when he defended third base without a single chance during a doubleheader against the Cubs at Braves Field.

Boston fell from the bottom of the first division in 1921 to the bottom of the 1922 National League, 39½ games behind the New York Giants. After the season, Boeckel departed for his Los Angeles home and a less strenuous schedule to heal from all his aches and pains suffered during the past season. He might be seen at ringside to watch boxing or at the golf course to either play or caddy. In February, he took part in a benefit game for disabled players along with Bob and Emil “Irish” Meusel. But because the offseason was less grueling than past winters, the 30-year-old showed up in St. Petersburg out of shape and overweight.36

Boeckel hovered above the .300 mark through much of the second half of 1923 and put together a decent season, batting .298 with 32 doubles. However, he was still one of the less proficient third-sackers.37 The Braves languished near the bottom of the second division but escaped the cellar by four games over Philadelphia. With the Braves floundering, he was ejected by umpire Ernie Quigley for arguing a called third strike on June 25 that caused National League President John Heydler to suspend him for two games. On October 7, he played his final major league game, the first game of a doubleheader that went 14 innings.

Boeckel’s offseason in and around Southern California included the odd exhibition game, and participation in his father’s White King Soap Company’s team, known as the Soapers.38

Bird hunting was also on the schedule. It was on an excursion in late November near California’s Salton Sea that his hunting party found themselves stranded by flood waters from the New River and had to be rescued.39 A few weeks later, he received a very generous offer from the Boston management. “They made me a liberal offer,” said Boeckel, “And I’m rarin’ to go. Feel so good that I am going down and order three pairs of ball shoes this afternoon. Watch me burn things up this year.”40

However, it was not to be. In the predawn hours of February 15, 1924, Tony Boeckel, Bob Meusel and a friend at the wheel, were driving south on their way to Baja California for quail hunting. As they entered the city of San Diego along Torrey Pines grade, they were clipped by an oncoming truck that spun their car around. They were then T-boned by a following car. Although the friend and Bob Meusel were banged up with cuts and bruises, Boeckel was pinned under the vehicle, unconscious. He suffered a crushed arm and internal injuries, including a fractured pelvis and punctured bladder. At 6:30 a.m., he arrived at La Jolla Sanitorium where he underwent surgery. However, his prognosis was not good, and he died the following afternoon at 3:40 p.m.41 He was survived by his parents, his sister and her husband, and an aunt and uncle, and was buried at the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.

Tony Boeckel finished his six-year major league career with 777 games played, 2,880 at bats, 372 runs, 813 hits, 27 home runs, a .282 batting average, and a .339 on base percentage. Among the many tributes around the baseball world, a wreath was placed by the Braves at third base surrounded by players from both the Phillies and Braves in a pregame ceremony on April 23.42 Team President Christy Mathewson earlier said, “There are many of those in the game who know him only through his reputation of being sarcastic and indifferent, but personally I know him to be a fine, clever, warm hearted gentleman.”43

Last revised: February 12, 2021 (ghw)

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Norman Macht and fact-checked by David Kritzler.

 

Sources

Sources for the biographical information provided herein include the Norman Doxie Boeckel file maintained at the Baseball Hall of Fame Library; U.S. Censuses of 1900, 1910, and 1920; Ancestry.com; The Library of Congress for Alaskan Newspapers, and by various newspaper articles cited below; Harold Kaese, The Boston Braves: An Informal History (New York: G.P. Putnam, 1948). Statistics have been taken from Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org, with references to the Spalding, Reach Guides, and others.

 

Notes

1 “Boeckel Born Ball Player,” Galena (Kansas) Evening Times, October 31, 1921: 2.

2 The other living child was Norman’s older sister, Isabelle, born in 1888.

3 Los Angeles city directories and various censuses.

4 His parents were married on Oct. 22, 1884, according to records accessed via Ancestry.com.

5 Information was taken from his military registration card. Boeckel’s Sporting News Player Contract Card records his weight as 170 pounds.

6 Three sources: Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University; “Boeckel Just Natural Player,” Paul H. Shannon, Boston Post, July 31, 1921: 18; and file marked “Who’s Who, Norman D. Boeckel—Boston Braves,” from the Baseball Hall of Fame Library. St. Vincent’s College became known, for a brief time, in 1911, as Los Angeles College. In 1912, it evolved into Loyola College. Currently, the school is known as Loyola Marymount University.

7 The San Joaquin Valley League was an unaffiliated league.

8 Information gathered from several California newspapers.

9 The other three clubs were Fresno, Vallejo, and San Jose. In the second week of July, Vallejo was replaced by Watsonville.

10 “Baseball,” Evening Mail (Stockton, Ca.), May 22, 1913: 10.

11 Ernest A. Phillippe, “Diamond Dust,” San Bernardino County Sun, May 2, 1914: 3.

12 His nickname “Tony,” sometimes written ”Toney,” came about because a Tacoma newspaper once published his picture with Catcher Tony Brottem’s name below it. Revealed by the Los Angeles Evening Express, January 7, 1922: 34.

13 The undisclosed charges may have involved accusations of a night life or possibly jealousy by certain members of the club.

14 “Boeckel Canned,” Tacoma Times, May 10, 1915:. 2. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Boeckel hit .283 for Tacoma.

15 Various issues of the Alaska Empire and Douglas Island News.

16 “Norman Boeckel May be Signed by Denver,” Los Angeles Express, March 1, 1916: 21.

17 “Arizona Haven of Refuge for Ex-Coasters,” Oakland Tribune, May 18, 1916: 11

18 “Cooper Restricts Giants to Ciphers,” New York Times, July 24, 1917: 8

19 Harry Keck, Tony Boeckel is Injured, Pittsburgh Post, July 27, 1917: 9

20 “These Two Baseball Stars Help Make Naval Training Team Champion Club,” Palladium-Item (Richmond, Indiana), August 26, 1918: 8

21 “Barbare Takes Boeckel’s Place at Third Base,” Pittsburgh Press, June 17, 1919: 40

22 Harold Kaese, The Boston Braves: An Informal History (New York: G.P. Putnam, 1948), 182.

23 “Braves and Giants Cut Double-Header,” Boston Globe, June 29, 1919: 15.

24 Eight NL pitchers were allowed to continue the practice of throwing splitters. Boeckel hit over .300 against the six he faced.

25 “Hornsby Leads National League,” Boston Post, January 5, 1921: 15; January 14, 1921: 19, and May 21, 1921: 21.

26 Boeckel tied George Burns of the Giants with 293 games played.

27 “Boeckel’s Home Run Gives Dodgers Flag,” Boston Globe, September 28, 1920: 7.

28 “Peculiar Baseball Feature,” Boston Post, January 7, 1921: 16.

29 Three sources: Martin Donell Kohout, Hal Chase: the Defiant Life and Turbulent Times of Baseball’s Biggest Crook (Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland & Company, Inc., 2001),, 240, 248; Eliot Asinof, Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series (Pocket Books, a Simon & Schuster division of Gulf and Western Corporation, 1963), 179-180; John Thorn, The Black Sox: You Are There (MLB.com), January 30, 2017.

30 Ed O’Malley, “Walter Mails Gets Jarring,” Los Angeles Times, November 22, 1920: 21.

31 According to Philip J. Lowry, both left field and left center were 402 feet from home plate and center field was 461 feet. The deepest corner in right center was 542 feet. Philip J. Lowry, Green Cathedrals: The Ultimate Celebration of Major League and Negro League Ballparks, (New York: Walker & Company, 2d ed., 2006), 31-32.

32 This assessment was according to the Los Angeles Evening Press, January 7, 1922: 34.

33 “Tony Boeckel Departs,” Los Angeles Evening Express, March 13, 1922: 6.

34 At the time, Boeckel’s streak was the sixth-longest in history if we discount Candy LaChance’s unsupported record.

35 “Billy Evans, In South, Writes That Braves Will Vacate Cellar,” Fitchburg (Massachusetts) Sentinel, March 26, 1923: 8.

36 James C. O’Leary, “Two Brave Hurlers Go Seven Innings in Box,” Boston Globe, March 24, 1923: 9.

37 Baseball-Reference.com scores his fielding a minus one (-0.1) and ranks him last among third basemen. He also led the National League in errors with 28.

38 “Boeckel Pastimes With White Kings,” Los Angeles Express, October 20, 1923: 38.

39 “Ed Maier Party In Flood,” Los Angeles Evening Express, December 4, 1923: 1

40 Stub Neilson, “Boeckel Satisfied,” Los Angeles Evening Express, February 4, 1924: 15.

41 Various articles across the nation from February 15 through 17, 1924

42 “Braves Victors, 3-2, In 15-Inning Home Opener,” Boston Globe, April 24, 1924: 1, 8.

43 “Matty Asks Landis for Diamond Holiday in Boeckel’s Honor,” Pittsburgh Post, February 21, 1924: 13.

Full Name

Norman Doxie Boeckel

Born

August 25, 1892 at Los Angeles, CA (USA)

Died

February 16, 1924 at La Jolla, CA (USA)

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