September 22, 1911: Rookie Conwell's inglorious debut
On September 22, 1911, three rookies made their major league debuts for the St. Louis Cardinals, including 21-year-old third baseman Ed “Irish” Conwell, who took over the hot corner in the top of the eighth inning with his team trailing Red Ames and the first-place New York Giants, 3-0.
The game was of consequence to neither team: The Giants boasted a comfortable lead over the second-place Cubs and were well on their way to their third pennant of the modern era; the Cards were mired in fifth place, 17 games out of first.
None of the three newcomers would distinguish themselves in the annals of big league history, but that afternoon at Robison Field, Conwell set a mark that has never been equaled, at least in the modern era.
Roy Radebaugh, a 30-year-old six-year minor league veteran who would go 161-91 in 11 minor league seasons got the start for the Cardinals, making his first ever major league appearance after going 27-6 for Columbus of the Class C South Atlantic League. For four innings he looked like he belonged in the bigs, holding the Giants scoreless while surrendering only a walk and a single. "Radabaugh [sic] had the Giants groping about in the dark until the fifth inning," wrote the New York Times.1
But Ames was equally stingy, allowing no runs despite surrendering three hits and two walks through four frames. The Giants finally broke through in the fifth when Buck Herzog singled, Art Fletcher walked, and Chief Meyers doubled to give New York a 1-0 lead. Josh Devore followed an Ames pop out with a single that plated Fletcher and Meyers, and the Giants went up 3-0.
Even with little to play for Cards manager Roger Bresnahan wasn’t about to roll over for anybody and started bringing players off his bench in the seventh. Denney Wilie, a 21-year-old outfielder who batted .360 and slugged .509 for Corpus Christi of the Southwest Texas League before making his major league debut on July 27, was called upon to pinch-hit for Wally Smith and promptly grounded out to Ames to start off the frame. Catcher Jack Bliss lined out to second and Radebaugh fanned to end the inning.
Enter Ed Conwell, who took over at third base to start the eighth. Conwell had starred for the Portsmouth Cobblers of the Ohio State League, hitting .306 and leading the team with 197 total bases, while committing only 14 errors in 140 games before getting his big break. Portsmouth manager Pete Childs called Conwell "one of the most promising players I ever saw" and Conwell responded with his best season to date.2
Radebaugh retired the Giants in order in the eighth, then the Cardinals took advantage of some sloppy play in the bottom of the inning to cut the score to 3-1. Miller Huggins singled, Rube Ellis reached on a two-out error by second baseman Larry Doyle, Meyers allowed a passed ball, Steve Evans walked to load the bases, and Ames tossed a wild pitch that sent Huggins home with the Cards' first run.
The Giants went down easily again in the ninth and St. Louis came to the plate down by two with only one more shot to win or tie.
Conwell led off the inning and became Ames’ seventh strikeout victim when he fanned against the veteran righty. But Bliss singled, pinch-hitter Ivey Wingo walked, and Huggins singled to load the sacks again and knock Ames from the box in favor of southpaw Rube Marquard, who was en route to a 24-7 record on the season. Marquard had just beaten the Cardinals two days earlier on a complete-game four-hit shutout to earn his 22nd win of the year. In fact, in his previous four starts against the Cardinals, Marquard had allowed only 14 total hits and two runs in 36 innings, throwing three shutouts, including a one-hitter on August 28.
Bresnahan countered John McGraw’s move by bringing in rookie outfielder Otto McIvor to pinch-hit for center fielder Rebel Oakes, but McIvor fanned for the second out and it looked like Marquard was going to save the game for Ames. Ed Konetchy spoiled things for the Giants, however, by doubling in the tying runs before Marquard could retire Ellis for the final out. With the game tied 3-3, the teams moved into extra innings.
Bresnahan continued to rely on youngsters and brought in rookie hurler George Zackert, who was also making his major league debut after going 17-12 for Seattle of the Northwestern League in his sixth season of professional ball. His career got off to a promising start when he struck out Fletcher for the first out of the inning. Then he coaxed Meyers to ground to Conwell at third for what should have been the second out, but Conwell booted the ball for an error. Marquard batted for himself and fanned, then Devore doubled in Meyers to give the Giants a 4-3 lead. Zackert got out of the inning without further damage and the Cards stepped to the plate one last time with their backs against the wall.
St. Louis staged another rally when Evans drew a leadoff walk, followed by an Arnold Hauser single that put runners on first and second with no outs. Conwell prepared to take his place in the batter’s box with a chance to redeem himself, but Bresnahan was taking no chances and replaced the rookie with veteran infielder Mike Mowrey, who sacrificed the runners to second and third with a bunt to the left side. Bliss walked to load the bases, but Marquard retired pinch-hitter Jim Clark, yet another rookie, and Huggins to end the game and earn his 23rd win of the season.
After only two major league innings, in which he struck out in his only at-bat and committed an error in his only chance in the field, Conwell witnessed the beginning and end of his major league career on the same day. He never played in a major league game again.3
1 New York Times, September 23, 1911.
2 Portsmouth (Ohio) Daily Times, March 28, 1911.
3 Conwell is the only non-pitcher in modern day major league history to strike out in his only at-bat and commit an error in his only chance in the field.