Ball, Bat, and Ad

This article was written by Robert Cole

This article was published in 1979 Baseball Research Journal

The two-column advertisement in the New York Times last summer read:

“Employment wanted by Baseball Player / Earl Williams / 1971 National League Rookie of the Year/ 8 yrs. in major leagues as catcher/ 1B / 138 hr’s-457 rbi’s’/ SALARY: Very Reasonable/ Excellent Health-No Police Record / HAVE BAT-WILL TRAVEL-WILL HUSTLE / Reply to: 37 Draper Terr., Montclair, NJ 07042.”

Williams, a good hitter stunned at being out of work at 29, had the ad run in desperation. The Times reporter who wrote the story about it observed that while such ads are common in the business world, “in the baseball world, a conservative world, such ads are quite uncommon.”

That was not so when I was a boy reading The Sporting News, the base­ball weekly out of St. Louis, 30 years ago. The Sporting News was full of such ads in those days of numerous and unstable minor leagues.

Players advertised for second chances. Managers wanted back into Organized Baseball. Faltering clubs wanted low-cost players. Hustling businessmen wanted to buy low-cost clubs. Once a Class D club advertised for a spring training site in south Georgia. Another time a Class C club advertised to sell that traditional symbol of minor league baseball, its bus:

“1941 White Bus / For Sale / Reclining Chairs / Seats 24 / Good Condition / Call or Write / Tampa Baseball Club / Tampa, Florida,” (June 7, 1950)

Most of the Sporting News ads were for jobs wanted or jobs open, and they were typically one-column-by-one-inch notices such as this one: 

“Ex-Major Leaguer/ Now Free Agent. Wants pitching job with Class AA or higher baseball league. Would consider job throwing batting practice in majors. Vernon Kennedy, Mandan, Mo.” (Feb. 8, 1950)

Kennedy was 43, and had been out of the majors for five years. In 1936 he had won 21 games for the Chicago White Sox.

This was a typical advertisement for jobs available:

“Free Agents Wanted / Limited Service and Veteran Players/ Address details of previous experience to- / Post Office Box 227 Gloversville, N.Y. / Several defense industries are in area for pro­spective off-season employment. / Gloversville-Johnstown Base­ball Club/ Canadian-American League.” (Feb. 7, 1951)

The league folded after that season.

A large two-column ad even bigger than Earl Williams’ was placed by Bert Shepard on Feb. 8, 1950. Shepard, 29, a left-handed pitcher, also had been a major leaguer — he pitched one game for the Washington Senators in 1945 and also coached — and he now would settle for a “player-manager position in Class B or better.” His situation was special. He had been shot down over Germany as a P-38 pilot in World War 11, and as a prisoner of war had had his right leg amputated below the knee by German doctors. Here’s what he had to offer in 1950:

I’d like a job as a Player-Manager in Class B ball or higher, but will take a job in any classification if the price is right.

“Formerly with Washington Senators, 1945 and 1946, as player coach, only man ever to play in an official major league game after losing a leg.”

“I managed Waterbury, Conn., in Colonial Class B League in ’49, starting with one veteran and finishing with four veterans, placing fourth in a league that allowed 12 veterans.

“My leg is in fine shape and will never bother me any more, so expect to have a good enough year to earn me another chance at major league baseball. In past season, I was bothered by lack of spring training, and injuries, and only won five games pitching, but pinch hit and played first base about 20 games, getting 27 hits (four homers) and driving in 33 runs. Present age 29 years. 

I know I can help any club as a player as well as the league at the gate and can prove that it’s possible to play baseball with comfort and grace.

“Write, wire or phone Bert Shepard, Shelton Hotel, 49th and Lexington Ave., New York 17, N.Y.” 

Shepard did not get a job with that ad, and did not play again in the majors (nor did Monty Stratton, the White Sox pitcher, after he lost his leg in 1938 in a hunting accident). But Shepard did later hold jobs as a door-to­-door typewriter salesman, security guard, and construction worker.

The reader rarely ever learned if the ads got results, but some of us were pulling hard for these nearly desperate old ballplayers, such as the anon­ymous man who was seeking a “position in front office after “serious injury precluded professional career.” The headline on his ad read, “Baseball is my religion,” and concluded with a reminder to the minor league moguls who might hire him: “Remember: you had to get started once yourself.”

Two particularly poignant personal ads appeared in 1950. On June 28 and July 5 was this sad plea, apparently to some wandering ballplayer:

“Phil / (PWK) / Needed and Wanted Home / as Soon as Possible/ Meantime, Please Write / Immediately / If Help Is Needed, Wire/ MAMA and PAPA.”

And on Oct. 4, this sadder one, headlined “Bob Kelly”:

“Dear Bobby: Please, oh please come home or call us collect. We are nearly crazy with grief. Daddy and I have shed enough tears to last a life-time/We sit down to the table but no one can eat. Drop us a card if nothing else. When night-time comes, Bobby, I think I can’t stand it, not knowing where you are. We love you and nothing will be right till we hear or see you. 

Your Mother”

Sometimes, like Earl Willia1ns, players would advertise for baseball work in the daily newspapers. The lowly St. Louis Browns, who were going to finish last in the American League that season) answered this job-wanted ad in a St. Louis daily in 1951:

“Outfield-Sit., major league specialty, place-hitting curves and stealing third. Jodie Patricia, 911 Orville, Kansas City, Kan.”

President Bill DeWitt of the Browns justified his interest as follows:

“We don’t want to let a fellow like that get away from us. We’re not so impressed about his curveball hitting; it’s his ability to steal third that interests us. For if he’s an expert at stealing third, he certainly must find ways of reaching first.”