August 8, 1921: Browns rookie Luke Stuart hits inside-the-park home run in first major-league at-bat

This article was written by Mike Huber


In a game characterized by lots of hits (27) and lots of errors (7), an unknown St. Louis rookie made history. The Washington Senators hosted the St. Louis Browns in the second game of a four-game series at Griffith Stadium. The attendance was reported to be a mere 2,500 fans.1 Veteran Walter Johnson took to the mound for the home team, opposed by Bill Bayne, a 22-year-old southpaw for St. Louis who was making his first start since July 2 and only his sixth of the season. A late-inning replacement named Luke Stuart “ascended from total obscurity to be accorded official recognition for being the first American League player to hit a home run in his first plate appearance.”2 Even more obscure is the fact that it remained his sole hit in a career that consisted of just three at-bats.

Johnson had had an off-season in 1920, when “a combination of bad cold, a sore arm, and pulled leg muscles limited him an 8-10 mark in 21 appearances.” A season later, the Big Train entered this game at 9-10 with an earned-run average of 3.84.

The Browns scored first. In the top of the second inning, Ken Williams singled to right to lead off. Baby Doll Jacobson followed with a single, as he “put it in the same territory,”3 sending Williams to third. Hank Severeid lifted a fly ball to left fielder Bing Miller, and it was deep enough to bring Williams home. The Senators answered in their half, duplicating the Browns’ effort. Miller and Bucky Harris led off with back-to-back singles (both to left field), and Howie Shanks sacrificed them up a base. An out later, Frank O’Rourke stroked the third single to left, plating both runners and giving Johnson a lead he would not relinquish. The Washington hurler helped his own cause by doubling to center, and O’Rourke’s run made it 3-1.

In the bottom of the third, the Senators started again by getting the first two batters aboard. Clyde Milan singled to right and Sam Rice beat out a bunt fielded by the pitcher Bayne. Washington continued with its small-ball approach. Miller attempted a sacrifice bunt but popped out. Harris then bunted successfully, advancing the two baserunners. Shanks rolled a grounder to shortstop Wally Gerber, who fumbled the ball, allowing Milan to score (Rice stayed at third). With Val Picinich at the plate, Washington skipper George McBride called for a double steal. Browns catcher Severeid made a poor throw to second, and Rice raced home safely. After the run scored, Shanks was caught in a rundown for the third out.

St. Louis tried a comeback in the fifth. With two outs and Jack Tobin on first, Frank Ellerbe launched a triple to the scoreboard in right. Harris took the relay from Milan and fired to Shanks at third in an attempt to get Ellerbe, but the ball sailed over the third baseman’s head, and Ellerbe ran home, cutting the score to 5-3 in favor of the Senators.

Washington then scored in each of the next four innings, with one run in the fifth, two in the sixth, and one in the seventh. Browns reliever Ray Kolp had replaced Bayne in the fourth and was tagged for three runs before giving way to Bugs Bennett in the seventh. While Bennett took his warm-up tosses, the rookie Stuart came on as a defensive replacement, taking over at second for fellow rookie Marty McManus.4 He fielded one ball, a line out by Johnson to end the inning.

The Senators came to bat in the bottom of the eighth leading by 9-3. After the first five hitters reached, Bill Burwell took over for Bennett. Washington sent 10 batters to the plate, scoring six times before an out was recorded. They added a seventh tally on a sacrifice fly. and at the end of eight innings, the score was 16-3.

In the top of the ninth, with the game virtually out of reach, Browns manager Lee Fohl let 19-year-old Stuart swing the bat. Gerber had singled to left to lead off the inning, and Stuart settled into the batter’s box for his first official plate appearance. He stroked a Johnson offering for a “vicious liner which carried to the limits in left field for the circuit,”5 with Gerber scoring ahead of him.

St. Louis starter Bayne took the loss, “for the reason that he happened to be the starting pitcher, but he looked no worse than any of the three who followed him.”6 As far as the Senators were concerned, they enjoyed batting practice against four Browns hurlers. According to the Washington Evening Star, “None of the Nationals failed to help his batting average at the expense of the visiting flingers.”7 Every player on the Washington nine had at least one hit. Johnson helped his own cause with two hits and two runs batted in. Center fielder Rice was 4-for-5 for the Senators, with two runs scored and two driven in. With two doubles, he was a home run shy of hitting for the cycle. Johnson pitched a complete game, scattering 10 hits (eight of them singles), while walking only two and striking out five Browns batters. He evened his record at 10-10.

In the field, the Browns committed four errors. Senators shortstop O’Rourke made his 50th error of the season, one of three Washington miscues.8

In looking for something positive, the Evening Star reported, “Soundly trounced though they were, the Browns maintained their first-division berth.”9 Their record fell to 49-54, keeping them in fourth place in the American League. Washington improved to 59-50, still in third place. By the end of the season, though, St. Louis would climb into third position, a half-game ahead of the fourth-place Senators.

Although he made history with his first hit as a homer, Luke Stuart finished his big-league stint with only three career at-bats. His first major league game was July 28, 1921 against the Giants at the Polo Grounds. He entered the contest as a defensive replacement for Jimmy Austin at second base but did not get a plate appearance. In his “career,” he sported a batting average of .333, a slugging percentage of 1.333, two runs scored, and two runs batted in. He also played on August 9, starting at second for St. Louis, and the game was his last in the majors. After two at-bats without a hit and one run scored, he was replaced by McManus. That game lasted 19 innings, with McManus going 3-for-7.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources mentioned in the Notes, the author consulted baseball-reference.com and retrosheet.org. Play-by-play information was taken from the St. Louis Star and Times.

baseball-reference.com/boxes/WS1/WS1192108080.shtml.

retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1921/B08080WS11921.htm.

 

Notes

1 “Walter Johnson Tans Fohlmen in Second of Series,” St. Louis Star and Times, August 8, 1921: 13. The attendance figure is not provided by either Retrosheet or Baseball-Reference.com.

2 Charlie Bevis, “Luke Stuart,” SABR biography found online at https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/1bdc8ea1. Accessed February 2018.

3 St. Louis Star and Times.

4 McManus made his major-league debut in 1920, but he played in only one game that season. In 1921, the rookie played in 121 games, mostly as the starting second baseman for the Browns.

5 Denman Thompson, “Nationals Go on Rampage With Their Bats: Major League Races Are Strikingly Similar,” Washington Evening Star, August 9, 1921: 18.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 O’Rourke led the American League with 55 errors in 1921, and he missed five weeks of the season, beginning two days after this game.

9 Thompson.

Additional Stats

Washington Senators 16
St. Louis Browns 5


Griffith Stadium
Washington

 

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