This article was written by Darren Gibson
Right-handed pitcher “Wild” Bill Luhrsen spent three weeks in the major leagues, winning each of his first three games, only to lose to Christy Mathewson in his final appearance. Advancing from the low Class D Cotton States League to the majors in two months, the spitballer was a minor bright spot during the tail-end of a middling 1913 Pittsburgh Pirates season.
William Ferdinand Luhrsen was born in Buckley, Illinois, on April 14, 1884, to George Luhrsen (1847-1917), a German-born store clerk and merchant, and Catherina (Langehenning) Luhrsen (1855-1886). William was the sixth of seven sons, two of whom had died before their first birthdays. William’s mother passed away when he was two years old. His father remarried in 1890, to Elizabeth Jane “Betsy” (Forkner-Yates) Luhrsen, who had two daughters.
By 1900, two of the brothers were living with relatives in Little Rock, Arkansas. William and his brother George remained with their father and stepmother in Illinois until early in the new century, when they also moved to Arkansas to live with their aunt and uncle.1 In 1906, the two brothers played semipro ball together for the Iron Mountain Shops team in nearby Argenta.2 .
William Luhrsen’s first professional baseball experience came in 1908, pitching for the Poplar Bluff (Missouri) Tigers in the new Class D Arkansaw State League (the league spelling was changed to Arkansas for the 1909 season). After the Tigers lost their first five games, Bill’s first appearance on April 27 was a complete game victory, 7-1, over his hometown Argenta.3 The twenty-four-year-old Luhrsen benefited from 14 Poplar Bluff stolen bases. Less than a week later, he struck out 11 in a 3-2 victory over Pine Bluff.4 One of Luhrsen’s teammates was infielder Ray Rolling, who hit .368 on the season, and later briefly played in 1912 for the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Poplar Bluff franchise, however, was on shaky financial ground. Manager Art Sullivan left after two weeks. The team was soon administered by league president Thomas Craighead. In early June, the franchise, an awful 16-58 at the time,5 relocated to Brinkley, Arkansas,6 and was renamed the Infants. At the same time, Luhrsen was granted his release, in order to join his local Argenta squad.7
Luhrsen lost in his maiden outing for Argenta on June 6 to Pine Bluff, 5-3, in the first game of a doubleheader. He played center field in the nightcap, collecting two hits in each game.8
Argenta faced Luhrsen’s former Poplar Bluff, now Brinkley, team two days later, with Luhrsen manning right field and ripping two doubles. For their first game, Brinkley manager Lee Dawkins was forced to borrow multiple players from other teams. Hot Springs manager Arthur Riggs left his post for a day and played first base for Brinkley. Fellow Hot Springs players John Keathley and Sidney Jehl manned left and right field respectively. R.B. “Buck” Miller, recently released by Argenta, caught for Brinkley. A.L. “Lawton” Greene, an outfielder by trade, and also recently released by Argenta, subbed at shortstop. Charles Durmeyer, formerly of multiple Cotton States League teams, played center field. N.E. Hoeschele, still another former Argenta Shamrock, pitched for this motley Brinkley crew. The players’ uniforms, mostly borrowed from Argenta, were “a mixture of blue, green, gray and black … which lent an appearance of the awkward squad.”9 Still, the ragtag bunch took Argenta to 10 innings before falling, 6-5.
The next day, Luhrsen, “the auburn-haired youngster,” was wild, allowing seven walks10 in a 4-2 loss to a quickly-reinforced Brinkley squad. However, in his third game on the mound for Argenta, Luhrsen, “in magnificent form,” held the Helena Ponies to three hits in a 4-2 victory.11 At the end of June, “Billy Luhrsen, the flaxen-haired youth from the Fifth ward,” walked four more batters in a loss to Hot Springs.12 At the end of July, Luhrsen’s wildness, including three wild pitches, cost him a fourth straight loss, 3-2, to Newport.13 He also dabbled at second base for the Shamrocks.14 Surprisingly, three players from this low minors squad would eventually make the major leagues: Jack McAdams, Hank Griffin, and Luhrsen.
On August 24, Luhrsen was seriously injured while batting, hit in the head by a pitch … from a teammate. Luhrsen had been loaned by Argenta manager Arthur Riggs to Luhrsen’s former team, the terrible Brinkley squad. Luhrsen was batting for Brinkley when “Long John” Harris, Luhrsen’s Argenta “teammate,” unintentionally beaned him. He suffered a broken eardrum and a concussion, and was hospitalized for four days.15 His season ended with a composite 16-17 league record. Still, he was placed on Argenta’s 18-player reserve list submitted to the National Association after the 1908 season.16
Luhrsen started 1909 back with Argenta. “Billy Luhrsen was on the mound, and was somewhat wild”17 in an April victory against Hot Springs. He was released by Argenta in late May,18 then quickly picked up by the Alexandria Hoos Hoos of the same league. Coincidentally, Luhrsen’s first appearance for the Hoos was a Sunday exhibition against his former Argenta team. The game was organized to raise funds to pay for Argenta salaries, to “relieve the Argenta association of its temporary financial embarrassment.”19 The only problem was that Sunday games were a violation of Arkansas law. Thus, the local sheriff had the players arrested after the game. They were all forced to face the local judge the next morning and pay a fine. Luhrsen had thrown a two-hit shutout to win the contest, 1-0.
Just three days later, Argenta exacted revenge, roughing up hometown boy Luhrsen for seven runs in an official league contest.20 On July 7, the Arkansas State League disbanded.21 Undeterred, Luhrsen quickly joined the Marianna Brickeys of the new Class D Northeast Arkansas League, managed by former Argenta teammate McAdams. In late August, Luhrsen threw a three-hit shutout, striking out ten batters, at Paragould.22
Luhrsen bolted for brighter pastures in March 1910, accepting an assignment with the El Reno (Oklahoma) Packers of the Class C Western Association.23 His pitching was labeled “spectacular” even in an April defeat to Sapulpa (Oklahoma).24 One of Luhrsen’s rotation mates in El Reno was future major-leaguer and fellow Arkansan Hank ‘Rube’ Robinson. Luhrsen was listed as one of the top prospects in the circuit, even though he was described as “a trifle erratic.”25 He posted a 10-6 record for the Packers, including a shutout of Muskogee on July 3.26 The Western Association’s season ended on August 14, although Luhrsen had departed before that, to the Great Bend Millers of the Class D Kansas State League.27 He twirled a shutout with 10 strikeouts for the Millers against McPherson on August 25.28 Great Bend graduates to the majors that year included Rolla Mapel, Ovid Nicholson, Farmer Weaver, and George Kaiserling. Between El Reno and Great Bend, Luhrsen posted a 17-10 overall record for 1910.
Bill’s brother George also played some professional baseball. He drew the 1910 opening day nod on June 8 for Little Rock of the new semipro Central Arkansas League29 against Lonoke.30 He bolted for the rival Hot Springs squad two weeks later,31 before later playing for the J.D. Martin’s Arms Store team in Little Rock City League.32 After the season, Bill and George traveled to Champaign, Illinois, to visit their parents, who had relocated there from Buckley.33
In the winter of 1911, it was hoped that Billy Luhrsen would make an appearance on the local Little Rock semipro fields.34 However, he had other priorities. In March, the Arkansas Democrat (Little Rock) wrote that “Billy Luhrsen landed in Cupid’s toils,” marrying Annie Miller, a “popular and accomplished” stenographer.35 The paper added that Luhrsen was entering into “a contract for life with a manager who would have him on the bench in a jiffy if he did not live strictly according to rules.”36 The Luhrsens had two children, William in 1914 and Marilynn in1919.
Luhrsen, now 27, returned to Great Bend to begin the 1911 season as the player-manager. However, the league disbanded on July 11 due to crop failures and drought.37 Newspaper records show Luhrsen with a 10-4 record in 141 innings.38 In August he landed with the Superior Brickmakers of the Class D Nebraska State League. Luhrsen won his own complete game against Kearney on August 15 with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 12th inning.39 Superior took the league crown by two games over Fremont.
For 1912, Luhrsen joined the Huntsville (Alabama) Mountaineers of the Class D Southeastern League. Huntsville’s spring training was conveniently held in Little Rock, as manager Riggs, his old Argenta skipper who picked the location, also resided in nearby Argenta.40 The team would co-train with the St. Paul Saints of the Class AA American Association, who also set up camp around Little Rock. Luhrsen picked up the unofficial save on opening day with three shutout innings over Gadsden (Alabama).41 The Gadsden Times was soon very impressed with Luhrsen:
This Luhrson [sic] is a great pitcher and a great all round [sic] ball player. He stings the ball on the nose and is equal in batting, fielding, pitching and headwork to any man in the league. He is big league timber all right.42
Luhrsen lost, 1-0, to Earl Woodruff and Anniston (Alabama) on May 27. After that, Wild Bill went on a tear, winning nine games in a row for Huntsville. Lack of community support forced the franchise to move to Talledega on July 9, then disband less than two weeks later. The Southeastern League itself ceased operations on August 4. When Talledega disbanded, he joined the Mobile Sea Gulls of the Class A Southern Association.43 Mobile provided Luhrsen, “a recruit from the Southeastern League, poor support” in a 5-3 loss to Nick Cullop and the New Orleans Pelicans on September 13.44
In 1913, Luhrsen caught on with the Selma Centralites in the Class D Cotton States League, playing for a third time for manager Riggs. He won 11 games for the Centralites, tying him with Slim Love for the team lead in less than two months. Albany (Georgia) of the Class C South Atlantic League bought Luhrsen’s contract for $50045 on July 10.46 Wild Bill was sensational over a six-week period for the Babies, posting a 6-2 record with a miniscule 1.30 ERA. He also seemingly had gained much better control, walking only 45 batters over 245 minor league innings on the year.
Pittsburgh, desperate for pitching reinforcements, purchased Luhrsen from Albany on August 20 for $3,000.47 He became the second prospect from the state of Arkansas to don a Pirates uniform in 1913, following Roy Wood.48 Three days later on August 23, Luhrsen made his major league debut, relieving starter Wilbur Cooper early in the second inning, with the Pirates already down, 4-0, in the second game of a doubleheader with the cross-state Phillies. Luhrsen proceeded to pitch the final eight innings of the contest, surrendering four runs (two earned), 10 hits and four walks. Surprisingly, the Pirates rallied to win the game, 13-8, handing Luhrsen the victory..
On September 2, “the young spitball artist”49 pitched “a fine game” in beating the Cincinnati Reds on seven hits,50 albeit with five walks. Two of those walks were to the first two batters of the game, Al Wickland and Johnny Bates, who scored the only runs Wild Bill surrendered. This second victory for Luhrsen wasn’t witnessed by many, unfortunately, with the Pittsburgh Daily Post commenting that it was the smallest home crowd of the season, due to it being the day after the Labor Day holiday. Luhrsen followed up that performance with a complete-game victory against the St. Louis Cardinals on September 6, improving his record to 3-0. One writer gushed that manager Fred Clarke “found a real pitcher when he dug up the young spitballer from the depths of the South Atlantic League.”51 He added a scoreless inning of relief on September 10 against the New York Giants. Even his local newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat, took notice, commenting that “one week in the big show, and his name in headlines. That’s going some.”52
On September 13, Luhrsen matched up with legendary Christy Mathewson and the same Giants. Luhrsen’s day was, sadly, over early; he was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the second inning, down 2-1, after allowing two hits and three walks.in the first two frames. Mathewson and the Giants beat the Pirates, 4-2. Thus, Luhrsen’s perfect record was tarnished. Two days later, he was sent by Pittsburgh to the Columbus Senators of the Class AA International League to complete an earlier trade for pitcher George McQuillan. Over the span of Luhrsen’s three weeks in the majors, he posted a 3-1 record with a 2.48 ERA, yet he walked 16 batters in 29 innings, a ratio far from acceptable for the highest rung of the baseball ladder.
Although many a ballplayer in 1914 was being aggressively wooed by the upstart Federal League, Luhrsen eschewed any potential overtures, signing again with Columbus.53 However, his time with Columbus would be brief. On April 18, the visiting Indianapolis Indians beat the Senators, 9-4, by “taking advantage of the wildness of Pitchers Luhrsen and Turner in the early innings.”54 Luhrsen was released by Columbus, then signed by the Omaha Rourkes of the Class A Western League, where he had an unremarkable two-game audition. After leaving Omaha, Luhrsen stayed in the Western League, moving to Sioux City, debuting for manager Josh Clarke and the Indians on May 23. He allowed one hit, three walks, and two wild pitches in two-and-one-third relief innings in a 19-9 victory over Wichita.55 Just two days later, the “Omaha castoff” Luhrsen tossed a complete-game victory over Topeka. On May 30, in his third appearance for Sioux City, he faced his former Omaha squad. He “was hammered by his former teammates”56 for six runs on 13 hits and four walks, but the Indians roared back for a 7-6 victory.57 Luhrsen authored multiple poor relief appearances for Sioux City and was released in late June.
Luhrsen returned home to Little Rock, and pitched for the Gay Oil semipro squad in the local city league in early July.58 Later that month, he signed with his fourth professional team of the season, pitching for a different Albany and a different Senators, this time the Albany Senators of the Class B New York State League. He tossed a seven-inning three-hit shutout for these Senators over Scranton on July 25.59 He also won, 6-3, over Troy in a seven-inning contest, both walking and striking out seven Trojans.60 He tossed 82 innings for Albany that summer. Back home after the professional season, he pitched a two-hit shutout for the city league all-stars against the league champion Rustlers in October.61
Before the 1915 season, Luhrsen was signed by his hometown Little Rock Travelers of the Southern Association.62 One of his battery mates was his cousin, Leslie “Drap” Hays,63 also from Argenta. Luhrsen surrendered seven runs in the ninth inning, breaking a 2-2 tie against Chattanooga on April 24, with Wild Bill “living up to his appellation in the one frame.”64 The Arkansas Democrat penned an ode to the struggling hurler:
A wild, wooly chucker, Bill Luhrsen,
Stood out in the box, gently cuhrsen
Because his spit-ball was not breaking at all,
He nigh threw a fit, but he duhrsen.65
Luhrsen was left at home before the Travelers’ next road trip66 and released two days later,67 as the Travelers got down to their 15-man roster limit. He was then given a trial in June by the Sherman (Texas) Hitters, who were sitting in first place in the Western Association.68 He fell, 5-2, to Muskogee on June 28, was cut by Sherman, and signed by the Corsicana A’s of the Class D Central Texas League on July 1. After three consecutive losses, he was released by Corsicana on July 22. The league itself disbanded two days later.69 Back home in Arkansas, he won a semipro game in the Little Rock Commercial League for Magnolia over Camden, on August 13.70
Luhrsen popped up in 1916 twirling for the league-winning Allies textile mill team, representing the communities of Eagle Mills and Millville, Arkansas, of the independent Cotton Belt League. He struck out 15 batters in a 6-1 win over Camden in July.71 He later struck out 14 , only to lose, 1-0, in an arranged state playoff series against Dermont, regular season winners of the Southeast Arkansas League.72
Luhrsen registered for the war effort in 1918, listing his occupation as a steam fitter for Pratt Engineering and Machinery. His draft card listed him at 5’8” and 145 pounds, instead of the 5’9” and 165 in his official bio. After the war, he pitched for the semipro Missouri Pacific team out of Little Rock in 1922.73 As of 1920, he worked as a coppersmith, in 1930 as a machinist at a railroad shop, and later as a lumber buyer.74
Bill Luhrsen passed away at the age of 89 on August 15, 1973, in Little Rock, Arkansas. He is buried at Edgewood Memorial Cemetery in North Little Rock. At his request, “Wild” Bill was inscribed on his tombstone.75
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Chris Rainey.
The author would like to acknowledge the fine biographical work completed by the Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia, discovered during the author’s research.
MyHeritage.com Birth, Marriage, Census, and Death Records
1 “Bill Luhrsen Bio,” Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia, http://arkbaseball.com/tiki-index.php?page=Bill+Luhrsen
2 “Argenta Loses Again,” Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock), June 7, 1906: 12.
3 “Poplar Bluff Takes First,” Arkansas Democrat (Little Rock), April 28, 1908: 2.
4 “Poplar Bluff 3, Pine Bluff 2,” Arkansas Gazette, May 4, 1908: 6.
5 “1910 Poplar Bluff Tigers/Brinkley Infants Roster,” StatsCrew website: https://www.statscrew.com/minorbaseball/roster/t-pi13840/y-1908
6 Arkansas State League: Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia http://arkbaseball.com/tiki-index.php?page=Arkansas+State+League+%281908-1909%29
7 “Leaves from Shamrock Side,” Arkansas Gazette, June 5, 1908: 8.
8 “Argenta 3-4, Pine Bluff 5-3,” Arkansas Gazette, June 7, 1908: 10.
9 “Brinkley Loses to Argenta” Arkansas Gazette, June 9, 1908: 8.
10 “Brinkley Beats Argenta 4 to 2,” Arkansas Gazette, June 10, 1908: 8.
11 “Argenta Again Beats Helena, 4-2,” Arkansas Gazette, June 13, 1908: 8.
12 “Argenta Loses to Hot Springs,” Arkansas Gazette, July 1, 1908: 8.
13 “Shamrocks Lose Second Game,” Arkansas Democrat, July 29, 1908: 2.
14 Arkansas Gazette, August 9, 1908: 8.
15 “Luhrsen Seriously Injured,” Arkansas Democrat, August 27, 1908: 8.
16 “Argenta Reserves Players,” Arkansas Democrat, September 16, 1908: 2.
17 “Argenta Wins Fifth Game,” Arkansas Democrat, April 21, 1909: 7.
18 “Pitcher Luhrsen Released,” Arkansas Gazette, May 21, 1909: 8.
19 “Sunday Game is Played in Argenta,” Arkansas Democrat, May 31, 1909: 7.
20 “Argentines Slam Former Comrade,” Arkansas Gazette, June 3, 1909: 8.
21 “1909 Northeast Arkansas League,” https://www.statscrew.com/minorbaseball/l-NEAR1/y-1909
22 Arkansas State League: Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia, http://arkbaseball.com/tiki-index.php?page=Arkansas+State+League+%281908-1909%29
23 Arkansas Democrat, March 26, 1910: 8.
24 “El Reno Loses Close Game,” Oklahoma State Capital (Guthrie), May 1, 1910: 13.
25 “Good Material Still in Minors,” Grand Forks (North Dakota) Herald, July 21, 1910: 3.
26 “Miners Take First, Packers Take Second,” El Reno (Oklahoma) American, July 5, 1910: 1.
27 Hutchinson (Kansas) News, August 15, 1910: 3.
28 “Benders Defeat Macks,” Hutchinson News, August 26, 1910: 3.
29 “Semi-Professional League Planned,” Arkansas Gazette, May 5, 1910: 7.
30 “Lonoke 7, Little Rock 4,” Arkansas Gazette, June 9, 1910: 9.
31 Arkansas Gazette, Jun 22, 1910: 9.
32 “Benton Takes Two from Martin Arms,” Arkansas Gazette, August 13, 1910: 8.
33 Champaign Gazette, September 30, 1910: 6.
34 “City League Fandom Dots,” Arkansas Democrat, February 28, 1911: 6.
35 “Luhrsen Lands in Cupid’s Toils,” Arkansas Democrat, March 7, 1911: 3.
36 Arkansas Democrat, March 7, 1913: 3.
37 StatsCrew website: 1911 Kansas State League, https://www.statscrew.com/minorbaseball/l-KSSL/y-1911.
38 “Millers Batting and Fielding Averages,” Great Bend (Kansas) Weekly Tribune, July 21, 1911: 3.
39 “Superior Trimmed Kearney,” Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln), August 17, 1911: 3.
40 “Huntsville is to Train Here,” Arkansas Democrat, March 20, 1912: 12.
41 “Huntsville Copped the Opener,” Gadsden (Alabama) Times, April 19, 1912: 4.
42 “Baseball Notes,” Gadsden Times, May 21, 1912: 4.
43 Chattanooga News, July 22, 1912: 9.
44 “Gulls Fail to Support Recruit,” Arkansas Gazette, September 14, 1912: 10.
45 “Wild Bill Luhrsen Sold to Albany,” Nashville Banner, July 14, 1913: 2.
46 “Two Games are Added to List of the Beavers,” Selma (Alabama) Times-Journal, July 11, 1913: 7.
47 “Selma Players Get Big Jobs,” Selma Times-Journal, August 22, 1913: 1.
48 Arkansas Democrat, September 3, 1913: 10.
49 “Buccaneers Vanquish Reds with Bill Luhrsen in Box,” Pittsburgh Post, September 3, 1913: 11.
50 Arkansas Democrat, September 3, 1913: 10.
51 “Pitching of Bill Luhrsen Proves Undoing of Cards,” Pittsburgh Press, September 7, 1913: 7.
52 “Sport Gossip,” Arkansas Democrat, September 12, 1913: 13.
53 “Pitcher Luhrsen Signs a Contract,” Pittsburgh Press, March 3, 1914: 21.
54 “Indianapolis 8, Columbus 4,” (Louisville, Kentucky) Courier-Journal, April 19, 1914: 40.
55 “Slugging Match to Indians,” Wichita (Kansas) Eagle, May 23, 1914: 7.
56 “Sioux Take Opener from Omaha and Climb into First Place,” Sioux City (Iowa) Journal, May 30, 1914: 12.
57 “Soos Rally — Win Game and 1st Place,” Wichita Eagle, May 30, 1914: 7.
58 “Shamrocks and Pine Bluff Cleggs to Meet,” Arkansas Democrat, July 10, 1914: 13.
59 “Scranton Drops Two to Albany,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 26, 1914: 45.
60 “Albany Beats Trojans in a Doubleheader,” Star-Gazette (Elmira, New York), August 3, 1914: 8.
61 “All-Stars Beat Rustlers, 3 to 0,” Arkansas Gazette, October 12, 1914: 8.
62 “’Lil Artha’ Marcan Comes in Trade with Birmingham,” Arkansas Gazette, March 2, 1915: 11.
63 “Travelers Have Only All-Argenta Battery in the Entire Universe,” Arkansas Gazette, March 11, 1915: 9.
64 “Luhrsen’s Bad Ninth Massacres Travelers,” Arkansas Democrat, April 24, 1915: 8.
65 “Baseball Notes,” Arkansas Democrat, April 24, 1915: 9
66 “Travelers Off on Trip Tonight,” Arkansas Democrat, April 24, 1915: 9.
67 “Luhrsen is Released,” Daily Arkansas Gazette, April 27, 1915: 9.
68 “Luhrsen to Try Class D,” Arkansas Democrat, May 31, 1915: 8.
69 “League Throws Up Sponge,” Corsicana (Texas) Semi-Weekly Light, July 27, 1915: 4.
70 “Wild Bill in Form — Wins,” Arkansas Gazette, August 14, 1915: 6.
71 “Allies Defeat Camden,” Pine Bluff (Arkansas) Graphic, July 23, 1916: 6.
72 “Dermott Blanks Allies, Scoring Just One Tally,” Pine Bluff Graphic, September 5, 1916: 6.
73 “Local Team is Beaten,” Arkansas Gazette, July 27, 1922: 11.
74 “Bill Luhrsen Bio,” Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia.
75 The Sporting News, October 13, 1973 as referenced in “Bill Luhrsen Bio,” Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia.