Walt Hammond

Walt Hammond

This article was written by Chris Rainey


Walt HammondA graduate of Colgate University, Walter Hammond excelled as a multi-sport athlete while earning his Bachelor of Sciences degree. His first professional sports action came when he joined the touring Oswego Indians basketball team as a forward. In addition to playing basketball, Hammond served as an instructor of athletics and head basketball coach at his alma mater.1 He began his professional baseball career in 19142, which led to short stays in the majors in 1915 and 1922. In his final season of professional ball (1923), he gained attention as the only college graduate on the Kansas City Blues roster. An article in the Kansas City Times noted that he was “about as sweet a second baseman as you’ll find in our league today. Going to his left, especially, Walter has no peer in the league.”3

The small city of Amsterdam, New York, lies along the Mohawk River about 20 miles west of Schenectady. Thanks to the Erie Canal, the city blossomed in the mid-1800s and became a manufacturing center. It was here that Elmer Hammond met and eventually married German immigrant Rachel Saulwater in 1887. The carpet (Mohawk among others) and clothing/knitting industries were thriving in Amsterdam and Elmer worked in the mills. The 1900 census showed that Rachel’s sisters were also living with the family and worked in the mills. The 1910 census specifically listed Elmer working in an “underware [sic] mill.”4

Rachel Hammond gave birth to four children, three of whom survived infancy. Walter Charles Hammond was born on February 26, 1891, and was joined by Raymond in 1897 and George in 1902. He attended school in Amsterdam and was a member of the 1909 graduating class. An “all round student, athlete, and musician,” he served as a class officer all four years. Showing his love and talent for baseball, in his “senior will” he bequeathed a “book” (no doubt imaginary) on base running and bunting to a deserving underclassman.5

Hammond took his brains and athletic talents to Colgate. He earned freshman football numerals while playing left halfback but did not return to the gridiron after that, opting to concentrate on his two best sports; basketball and baseball. He had the build of a runner, standing 5-foot-11 and weighing 170 pounds in his prime, and could run “as fast as a scared rabbit.”6

Hammond made a spectacular debut on the hardwood in 1909. Colgate faced the 44th Company squad stationed in Utica in their opening match. Playing forward, he had a quiet first half before breaking loose for eight baskets in the second half to lead all scorers in the Colgate win, 33-21.7 He cemented his reputation in a January victory over Syracuse that opened a new gymnasium on the Colgate campus. He led all scorers again with nine points in a 16-13 win.8

Hammond earned letters all four years in basketball, serving as captain his senior season. The team posted winning records in three of his four years, finishing at .500 his senior year. In the spring he turned his attention to the diamond. As a freshman he played third base, left field, and pitcher while batting cleanup. He sported a 1-3 pitching mark going into a match-up with the Army Cadets on June 8 at West Point. His pitching career was ended by the Cadets, who smashed 22 hits for a 20-4 victory.9

Hammond excelled on the diamond over the next three seasons, finally settling in as the second baseman and continuing to anchor the middle of the lineup. In college he acquired the nickname “Wobby” (aka Wobbie). It appeared frequently in the college paper but no explanation for its meaning or origin was offered. Some players just seem prone to earning nicknames. For Hammond, the obvious were “Walt”, “Wally,” and “Wallie.” During his career he also was dubbed “Flash” and “Ty.”10

Batting leadoff for Colgate during Hammond’s senior year was outfielder/pitcher James “Kid” McLaughlin. McLaughlin appeared in three games with Cincinnati in 1914, making him the first Colgate attendee to play in the majors, followed by Hammond. Hammond’s 45 appearances in the majors place him fifth on the all-time Colgate list.11

After touring with the Oswegos from the East Coast to Wisconsin, he left the squad in 1915 just as they were heading to San Francisco for the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition. His first professional baseball season came with the 1914 Springfield (MA) Ponies in the Class B Eastern Association.

The Ponies were managed by future Hall of Famer Billy Hamilton, who had stolen 100 bases on four occasions. Obviously, he embraced the game of small ball — and Hammond fit in perfectly, leading the team in steals with 41 while adding 17 sacrifices. As an added benefit, Hammond’s six home runs tied for the team lead and were second in the league. Installed at second base, he debuted on April 30 by turning two double plays in the 2-0 win over Bridgeport. The Ponies played over .500 ball but still finished in the second division.

Hammond turned his attention to basketball but in February he was visited by Cleveland manager Joe Birmingham.12 Cleveland needed a replacement for Nap Lajoie; Hammond decided to accept the challenge and signed with Cleveland, but would not be able to report until March because of his coaching obligations.13

Colgate wrapped up Hammond’s first winning season (11-4)14 before he headed to Texas for spring training. Ray Chapman and Terry Turner were penciled in for two infield spots, leaving five men to battle for the second base opening. With a crowd like that, Hammond found himself in left field, literally, on March 16 when Cleveland faced San Antonio. His triple was the highlight of the 6-3 defeat.15It was one of his few displays of power as the Plain Dealer sports staff lamented that “he has not shown any signs of being a fence buster.”16

Hammond suffered from a sore arm in camp but still went north with the team. He made his major-league debut as a pinch runner on April 15 in a loss in Detroit. His first start came when the teams returned to Cleveland. On April 23 he played second base and batted second against Harry Coveleski. He had a single and a sacrifice before being lifted for pinch-hitter Elmer Smith in the 8-4 loss.

The Indians struggled, and to make matters worse, Turner fell ill and had to be replaced. Walt Barbare took over at third and Bill Wambsganss at second. That left Hammond and Bill Rodgers as backups until Rodgers was released in mid-May. A week later Lee Fohl took over as manager. Hammond, whose arm was slowly rounding into form, was used sparingly as a pinch-runner or pinch-hitter until June 23. That day he played second base in both ends of a doubleheader with Chicago, getting his first double and his first RBI.

The next day he was back at the keystone for a 19-inning marathon against the Sox. According to box scores he went hitless in seven trips in the 5-4 loss. The offerings of Jim Scott, Eddie Cicotte, and Red Faber bewildered him — he struck out four times. In his defense, he had not seen many spitballs or sharp major-league curves in the minors.17

The 0-for-7 does not appear on Baseball Reference, nor does it appear on his daily record filed in Cooperstown. That ledger sheet, done neatly in pencil, lists him with two hits and the four strikeouts. Why the discrepancy between newspaper and official records? Human error seems to be the logical explanation. The daily ledger sheet for Steve O’Neill, who batted eighth behind Hammond, shows O’Neill going 0-for-8. However, game stories that appeared in Cleveland and Chicago newspapers mention O’Neill with singles in the seventh and 19th innings.18 Trent McCotter, SABR member and head of the Records Committee, noted in an email “There are, unfortunately, thousands of issues like this.”19

Turner broke a finger in the long affair. Barbare was hitting poorly, so Fohl used Wambsganss at third and kept Hammond at second for the next 15 games. Hammond saw his average drop to .217 as he recorded just 11 hits and 11 strikeouts over that time. He was benched and a few days later was sent to Portland in the Pacific Coast League.20

The Beavers were mired in the second division and Hammond was a welcome addition at second base. He was installed as the number-two batter and returned immediate dividends. On August 10 he was listed with a .458 batting average (22-for-48), all on a lengthy road trip, according to the local paper.21 If home fans were eager to see this new hitting star, they were severely disappointed. According to statistics posted in the Oregon Daily Journal, Hammond’s average began to tumble as he went 2-for-18 over the next few days. He slowly descended in the batting order; by late August he was batting eighth and had gone hitless for a dozen days.22

Judge McCredie, the Beavers’ manager, had seen enough and sent Hammond to Tacoma in the Class B Northwestern League. Hammond did not react well to the demotion but joined the Tacoma squad. His stay was very brief as he “ate a meal with Joe McGinnity’s team, and made tracks for the Eastern Coast.”23

Hammond returned to New York and his duties at Colgate. He finally commented on his actions in February. telling a West Coast reporter that there were only three weeks left in Tacoma’s season and he saw little reason to stick with the team.24 The dismal batting slump could not have helped his peace of mind, though he did not use it as an excuse. His actions and attitude could have earned him a suspension or even a blackball. He was fortunate that the new ownership in Cleveland arranged for him to play in 1916.

The original plan was for Hammond to go to New Orleans for spring training with the Pelicans. Hammond, however, wanted to play on the East Coast. When he failed to appear in camp, the Pelicans obliged him by selling his rights to Springfield, now in the Eastern League.25

Hammond made his presence known immediately. He surged to the top of the league’s hitter rankings as he batted cleanup with manager/first baseman John Flynn behind him. He led the team in many categories, including being the first to be ejected.26 New London sprinted to the lead in the standings and Springfield was never able to make a serious challenge.

Hammond’s strong offense continued through the summer until he started to fade in August. As he tailed off slightly, finishing at .319 with 42 stolen bases. On June 24 he slipped away from the team and married Ruth Crane in their hometown of Amsterdam. The following June the couple welcomed Benton Crane Hammond to the family. Three years later he was joined by a sister, Jean.

Hammond returned to Colgate after the 1916 season and guided his basketball squad to a 15-4 record. The team was known for their toughness and intensity. A freshman recruit named Charles Calnan (aka Calnon) led the team in scoring. Hammond employed two Walter Camp All-American football stars — Oscar Anderson and D. Belford West — to control the inside game and the boards.27

He moved from the hardwood to the ball diamond to guide Colgate baseball in the spring of 1917. He had been drafted by the Boston Braves28 but his collegiate commitment foiled their plans. Instead he signed with Springfield again and reported on May 8 after his college season ended.

The Eastern League opened on May 10 with Hammond at second base for Springfield in their 9-8 loss to Worcester. It was a typical Hammond game: a sacrifice, a stolen base, a double, and two runs scored.29 Springfield had a strong infield anchored by Hammond but struggled for production from the outfielders and pitchers. On July 25, the team traded Hammond to New London for outfielder Jake Becker.30 When the deal was made, New London was third in the standings and Springfield seventh. The trade did nothing to alter those positions.

Hammond left the team batting .292 (52-for-178) with 12 doubles, a home run, and 19 stolen bases.31 He was openly criticized in the press for being interested only in his own statistics and not the good of the team. In a harsh farewell the reporter opined that “Such fellows do not belong here.”32 He finished at .286 overall.

Hammond would coach Colgate basketball for two more seasons. His team went 9-12 in the winter of 1917-18, and 13-6 the following year. In 1918 he served as athletic director for the school. Between his duties there and the sharp curtailment of minor-league play because of the war, he did not play professional baseball in 1918.

Hammond joined Joe Birmingham and the Pittsfield (MA) Hillies in the Eastern League from 1919 through 1921. He was primarily a second baseman in 1920, but played third and the outfield the other two years. During the winters he kept in shape playing basketball.

In 1921 Hammond, now 30 years old, was appointed manager of the team. His roster was vastly different from 1920 as he returned shortstop Henry Bates and pitchers Colonel Snover and Johnny Tillman. He guided Snover, a lefty with control issues, to the top of the league in wins, 25, and got another 16 victories from Tillman. Hammond anchored the lineup and played the most games of any year in his career, 151. The results were spectacular: he led the league in hitting at .351, doubles with 42, and placed second with 17 triples. Pittsfield won the pennant.

Hammond’s performance earned him a return ticket to the majors when Cleveland purchased his contract for the second time. Hammond was no longer a “green kid” in training camp as he had been in 1915.33 He had confidence and fit in easily with his teammates by playing the piano in the hotel lobby in the evenings and on off-days. Louis Guisto would sing along with “great gusto” as would Lefty Weismann, a member of the training staff.34

Wambsganss, Joe Sewell, and Larry Gardner anchored the infield, so the competition was for backup/utility roles. Riggs Stephenson, who had hit over .300 as a rookie in 1921, was the frontrunner. Hammond left camp with the Indians for the exhibition swing northward. He gained headlines from Marshalltown, Iowa, when he handled 16 chances in a game and added a double and single.35

The Indians were in Detroit on April 21 when Wambsganss was spiked by Lu Blue in the first inning. Hammond replaced him but struggled, making an error on his first chance that led to three unearned runs. At the plate he hit into two double plays before leading off the ninth with a single and coming around to score on Guisto’s double in the 15-7 loss.

Soon after, Hammond was diagnosed with a “bone felon” on his right thumb. The inflammation/infection kept him sidelined and eventually needed surgery.36 During this time, he was used as a base coach and his strong voice was both an asset and source of entertainment. During his recovery he was put on the waiver list; when healed. he was sold to Pittsburgh.37

The Pirates were on their way to a third-place finish and had a strong infield with Cotton Tierney settling in as the second baseman and batting .345 on the year. Hammond saw very little action in the month that he was in the Steel City. He made four appearances at second and did some pinch-hitting, going 3-for-11 before being sold to the Kansas City Blues in the Double-A American Association.

The Blues were a potent offensive team, with eight players batting over .300 in 200 or more at-bats. The only regular who did not reach that mark was 21-year-old Glenn Wright, just a shade beneath at .299. Hammond took over at second base and batted .321 in 76 games, but his slugging percentage of .392 was one of the poorest on the team.

The Blues made only a couple of changes to their roster for the 1923 season. Their hitting attack was still potent, but the numbers dropped for most of the men. The pitching staff stepped it up and the team captured the pennant in a tight race over the defending champion St. Paul Apostles. Hammond batted .300 in 121 games.

Hammond ended the regular season on a sour note. He had slumped and then committed a base running gaffe.38 The combination earned him a seat on the bench as Lena Blackburne took his place. The Blues’ championship sent them to the Junior World Series against the Baltimore Orioles. Hammond watched the first two games before getting a start in Game Three. He sparkled at the plate with a double and two singles while scoring twice and driving in two in the 7-1 victory.

The performance removed him from manager Wilbur Good’s doghouse (called the “Nile Valley team” by a local scribe39), enabling him to play the rest of the series and lead the team with a .345 average. Blues pitcher Ferdie Schupp made four stellar appearances and the team took the series in nine games.40

Hammond’s life was at a crossroads. His 33rd birthday was approaching and while he had hit .322 over the past four years), he had failed to stick in the majors. He had managed a team to a title, led a league in batting, and won the Junior World Series. At home in Amsterdam with Ruth and the children, he decided it was time to change directions.

Hammond assembled his resume and sent out applications. The Simmons Company in Kenosha, Wisconsin, brought him to the city for an interview in February. They offered him a position as a chemist with the company but also offered him a spot on the company’s Midwest League team. The Midwest reached from Wisconsin to Ohio and featured high-caliber independent baseball. Two days after the meeting Hammond telegraphed his acceptance.41

Hammond arrived at the “Bedmakers” spring training camp in Dawson Springs KY in early April.” He had alerted Kansas City that he was not returning. Technically he was reserved by them and could not play ball without their permission lest he be declared an “outlaw”.

Heopened the season as the third baseman but eventually moved to right field while handling leadoff duties, leading the team with 12 stolen bases. The league started with eight teams but shrank to six; in the redrawn schedule, Beloit emerged as champions with Simmons second. Hammond batted .329 in 74 games.42

When the independent Wisconsin State League (later the Wisconsin-Illinois) was formed in 1925, Simmons combined with Kenosha-based Nash Motors to form a team called the Twin Sixes, in honor of Nash’s engine. Hammond played right field. The team captured the title with a 33-18 record.43 He played two more seasons before hanging up his glove and spikes.

Hammond headed up the plating department for Simmons. He was active athletically in Kenosha as a bowler, occasional basketball player, and supporter of youth sports as well as joining the local Masons. In 1942 he was felled by an undisclosed illness and the family kept his condition quiet. He died on March 4 in the local hospital. His services were held on a Saturday afternoon followed by his cremation.44

Over the last 70 years Hammond has been referred to as Jack in baseball records. In the early part of his career he shared newsprint with a boxer named Jack Hammond and a Princeton football star of the same name. At the end of his career there was a Jack Hammond starring on the gridiron for Harvard. Infielder Hammond was not called Jack by the contemporary press; it is likely the name crept into use when the first baseball encyclopedia was published in 1951.

Sources and acknowledgments

Thank you to Matthew Ganias at the Lawrence, Massachusetts library, who helped identify the Hammond that played there in 1909. A tip of the cap to Lauren Hutton at Colgate University, who supplied access to the Colgate student newspaper, the Madisonensis, and the yearbooks. Susan Tallmadge at the Amsterdam, NY Library supplied guidance in navigating the Internet to see the Amsterdam newspaper.

This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Bill Johnson.

Notes

1 Amsterdam (New York) Recorder, January 19, 1915: 9.

2 He has been confused with an infielder named Leo Hammond. The statistics posted by Leo in 1909 in the New England League have been attributed to Walter for many years in some sources. The Fall River (Massachusetts) Evening News from July 20, 1909 on page 3 identifies Leo as the player for Lawrence, Massachusetts, not Walter. Walter in fact was still in high school when the name Hammond was listed as shortstop for Lawrence and Worcester.

3 “Up and At’ Em, Walter,” Kansas City Times, August 25, 1923: 12.

4 https://www.ancestryheritagequest.com/imageviewer/collections/7884/images/4449900_00038?treeid=&personid=&hintid=&queryId=a69939354d52780076850a141f5b21bb&usePUB=true&_phsrc=fJX969&_phstart=successSource&usePUBJs=true&pId=103101373 Last accessed August 30, 2020.

5 “Commencement Day for High School Students,” Amsterdam (New York) Recorder, June 24, 1909: 1-2.

6 “Six Players Seek Two Positions on Indians’ Infield,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 13, 1915: 14.

7 Colgate Madisonensis, December 21, 1909: 15.

8 “Syracuse is Beaten by Colgate’s Team,” Post-Standard (Syracuse, New York), January29, 1910: 16.

9 “West Point, 20; Colgate, 4,” Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Daily Independent, June 9, 1910: 4.

10 “Bedmakers Sign Kansas City Slugger,” Kenosha (Wisconsin) Evening News, February 29, 1924: 13. Note that the article makes no mention of “Jack.”

11 https://www.baseball-reference.com/schools/index.cgi?key_school=15004de1 Last accessed August 31, 2020.

12 “‘Dode’ After New Player,” Star-Gazette (Elmira, New York), February 24, 1915: 9.

13 “New Stunts to be Tried by Indians at San Antonio,” Plain Dealer, February 24, 1915: 11.

14 https://gocolgateraiders.com/documents/2020/7/22/Men_sBasketball.pdf?path=mbball last accessed September 2, 2020.

15 “Weird Work Costs Birmy’s Men Game with San Antonio,” Plain Dealer, March 17, 1915: 11.

16 “Six Players Seek Two Positions on Indians’ Infield.”

17 “Lost Star Bobs Up,” Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), February 5, 1916: 13.

18 Newspapers used to piece together a game story include the Chicago Daily News on June 24 page 1; The Chicago Tribune on June 25 page 13; The Cleveland Leader on June 25 page 15; The Cleveland Press on June 25 page 14; Cleveland Plain Dealer on June 25 pages 13-14.

19 Email from Trent McCotter on September 16, 2020.

20 “Cleveland Sends Infielder Hammond to Portland,” Plain Dealer, July 14, 1915: 11.

21 “Doc White here with 18 Bengals to Play Beavers,” Oregon Daily Journal (Portland, Oregon), August 10, 1915: 10.

22 The Oregon Daily Journal had “Batting Averages of Beaver Players” posted every few days in the sports section. These numbers come from those reports.

23 “Hammond Spends Fare; Then Leaves for Home,” Los Angeles Express, August 30, 1915: 18

24 “Lost Star Bobs Up.”

25 “Infielder Hammond Sold to Springfield Club by Pelicans,” New Orleans States, March 22, 1916: 16.

26 Low at Short for Green Sox,” Springfield (Massachusetts) Daily News, May 6, 1916: 8.

27 “Fifteen Victories in Nineteen Games for Colgate Quint,” Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), March 14, 1917: 22. https://waltercamp.org/walter-camp-all-america-team-by-year-copy/ Last accessed September 2, 2020.

28 “Walter Hammond,” Springfield Daily News, September 15, 1916: 1.

29 “Worcester Nearly Loses in Ninth to Springield,” Boston Globe, May 11, 1917: 5.

30 “Jake Becker with Green Sox,” Springfield Daily News, July 26, 1917: 8.

31 “Batting Averages,” Springfield Republican, July 30, 1917: 2.

32 “Jake Becker with Green Sox.”

33 “Hammond is Tickled Man,” Plain Dealer, February 26, 1922: 1B.

34 “Finds “Lost Chord”,” Plain Dealer, April 4, 1922: 18.

35Stuart M. Bell, “Walter Hammond Shines in 5 to 2 Win,” Plain Dealer, April 7, 1922: 20.

36 “Indians Aren’t Bothered by Heat in St. Louis Now,” Plain Dealer, April 29, 1922: 18.

37 “Hammond Released to Pittsburgh Pirates,” Plain Dealer, May 13, 1922: 15.

38 “Sporting Comment” and “Welcome Back, Hammond,” Kansas City Times, October 15, 1923: 13.

39 “Welcome Back, Hammond.”

40 Bob Bailey, History of the Junior World Series (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2004), 67-71.

41 “Bedmakers Sign…”

42 “Official Midwest League Averages,” Journal Times (Racine, Wisconsin), September 29, 1924: 13.

43 “Boots and Bingles,” Kenosha News, October 5, 1925: 15.

44 “W.C. Hammond, Chemist for Simmons, Dies,” Kenosha News, March 5, 1942: 1.

Full Name

Walter Charles Hammond

Born

February 26, 1891 at Amsterdam, NY (USA)

Died

March 4, 1942 at Kenosha, WI (USA)

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