The Youngest Major League Players

This article was written by L. Robert Davids

This article was published in the 1973 Baseball Research Journal


The public accent on youth in recent years has had little effect upon major league baseball.  Clubs have been restricted from signing young stars until they are out of high school, and this reduces the ranks of fuzzy-faced youngsters on Big League rosters.  The youngest player in 1972, for example, was Rowland Office, outfielder for Atlanta, who played in two games about 2-1/2 months before his 20th birthday on October 25.  This is enough to make Joe Nuxhall turn cartwheels in his broadcast booth.  Nuxhall, you may recall, was only 15 when he made his debut with the Reds in 1944.

The contribution of teenagers to major league baseball has been somewhat limited over the years, although there have been more than 25 who made their playing debuts at 17, and about a half-dozen who broke in at 16.  That doesn’t mean that they really took hold at that age, however.

The question comes up, for example, was there a hurler who won 20 games in a season prior to his 20th birthday?  We have a recent example of Wally Bunker winning 19 for Baltimore in 1964 when he was 19.  And bob Feller won 17 for the Indians in 1939 when he was 19.  However, it looks like long-forgotten Jake Weimer was the only one to do it in this century.  He won 21 for the Cubs in 1903 when he was 19, and then to prove it was no fluke, he won 20 the next year.  But he seemed to be going down hill, as he faded to 18 in 1905.

Going back before 1900, there were a number of outstanding young hurlers who carried a man-sized load prior to their 20th birthday.  Hard-throwing Amos Rusie made his debut with Indianapolis of the NL in 1889 when he was still 17, and the next year when he was 18-19 years old, he won 29 games for the Giants.  Hall of Famer Monte Ward started off big in 1878 with Providence when he won 22 games as an 18-year-old.  The next year he pitched Providence to the pennant with 47 victories, and by the time he celebrated his 21st birthday, he had won 107 major league games.  Of course, his arm was then about shot and he soon had to shift to the infield.

The youngest of the young hurlers in the 19th century was probably Wee Willie McGill, a gifted lefthander picked off the Chicago sandlots by Cleveland of the Players League in 1890.  Although his precise age was not publicized at the time, he was only 16 years and six months when he started a game against Buffalo at Cleveland on May 8.  He was not only very young, but very short, about 5-1/2 feet tall, and his prospects did not look very good.  But, this is what the writer of the Buffalo Express had to say:

“A young man named McGill, a regular Davy Force sort of ballplayers (very short), was in the box for Cleveland.  He is like the little girl’s definition of a sugar plumb, round and rosy and sweet all over, and he throws barrel hoops and corkscrews at the plate.  Once in a while he varies these with a swift, straight ball that is as full of starch as though it had just come from the laundry.”

McGill, backed by such Cleveland stars as Ed Delahanty and Pete Browning, defeated Buffalo 14-5 in a complete game victory.  He gave up 7 hits and 7 walks, but fanned 10.  He had little trouble with the Buffalo Squad, which included such stars ad Dummy Hoy, Connie Mack, and Deacon White, who, at 42, was the oldest player then active in the majors.  McGill collected a single himself, and knocked in a run.

The young hurler, called Kid or Baby, did not travel with the Brotherhood team at first, but when Buffalo came back to Cleveland on June 6, he beat them again 14-4.  He had them biting at his curve ball, but the Buffalo writer this time said: “He was wild enough to lose 9 out of 10 ordinary games.  Only the hard hitting of his mates saved him.”  McGill contributed to the attack himself with a  single, double, 1 run scored, and 2 RBIs.

On June 9, Cleveland brought the youngster (accompanied by his father) along to Buffalo.  Although he walked 7, McGill beat them again 14-7.  He was getting the reputation as a Buffalo beater, the only team he had faced thus far.  But his team could not give him 14 runs on each outing, and on July 9 he lost his first game.  He had good stuff, but he was wild, and this showed up on his season record of 11 wins and 9 losses.

With the Players League closed out after the 1890 season, McGill pitched for St. Louis of the American Association in 1891.   On June 3 he shut out Baltimore 11-0 for the first whitewash of his career.  He was only 17½ and probably the youngest to achieve that feat.  He was pitching quite well, and in addition, on June 30 he stole his first base, and on July 6 he hit a triple.   The pressure might have been getting to him, though, for in August he was fined by President Chris Von der Ahe for drinking too much.   He left the club and went to Chicago, but after a week he returned and won a game for Charlie Comiskey’s forces on August 12.   In September he was traded to Cincinnati.  The 17-year old finished the season with a 20-15 mark.  But now the AA folded, and for 1892 McGill pitched only briefly for Cincinnati in the NL.   The next year he won 17 for his hometown Chicago NL team, but he appeared to be about “over the hill” at 20.

At least one other 16-year-old made his debut before 1900.   This was Joe Stanley, a Washington boy who posted scores and did odd jobs for the Senators in 1897 when be wasn’t pitching for amateur teams.  On September 11, in a game being hopelessly lost to Cincinnati, Stanley was sent in to pitch the 8th inning.   He set down the side, but in the 9th he gave up 5 runs in a 19-10 loss.   Stanley spent the next few years in the minors but came back up as an outfielder in 1902.

The main influx of very young players in the 20th century came during World War II when the desperate manpower shortage resulted in a need to tap talent that had not reached draft age.   Consequently, at various stages of the 1944 season, there appeared in major league box scores one 15-year old hurler, two 16-year-old infielders, and four l7-year-olds, one of whom was in his second season.  This was the year when the aforementioned Joe Nuxhall first dented the pitching rubber at Crosley Field.

The circumstances of this record book entry at age 15 years, 10 months, arid 11 days were somewhat unusual and Nuxhall himself would just as soon not talk about the results of the game.  In the spring of 1944 Joe was a big, strong, hurling star for the Hamilton, Ohio, high school team, and looked a couple of years older than he was. The Redlegs, desperately in need of playing talent, signed the youngster for their farm system.

However, in a game with the Cardinals on June 10, an excellent opportunity presented itself to give the teenager a bit of Big Time experience.  St. Louis was leading 13-0 so Manager Bill McKechnie of the Reds sent Nuxhall in to pitch the 9th inning against Stan Musial and company.  He walked his pitching rival Mort Cooper, which was an ominous sign, but was able to retire the next two hitters.  Nervous, and admittedly scared, he then walked four more batters, uncorked a wild pitch, and gave up two singles and a total of five runs before he was rescued by a fifth Cincy hurler.  The final score was 18-0.

That was the extent of Nuxhall’s major league experience for several years.  After finishing high school, he worked his way back up to the Redlegs in 1952 and eventually became one of the most dependable southpaws in the Senior Circuit.   He is now a broadcaster for the Reds.

Hurling only 2/3 of an inning in his debut, Nuxhall failed to acquire any significant record-book distinctions for young hurlers. Essentially the same can be said for Carl Scheib, the youngest player ever to take part in an American League game.   He made his debut for the Philadelphia A’s in the second game of their September 6, 1943 twinbill with the Yankees when he was 16 years and 8 months old.  He gave up two hits in 2/3 of an inning, but got the side out.   Schieb made five more relief appearances in 1943.  He hurled moderately well, although he was charged with one loss.  Schieb was a good hitting pitcher and Connie Mack called on him for pinch hitting duties in later years, but in his few chances at bat in 1943 he failed to connect.

The youngest hurler to start a game in the Majors since 1900 was Jim Derrington, bonus boy for the White Sox.  He hurled six innings against Kansas City on the last day of the 1956 season, losing 7-6.  He was then 16 years and 10 months old.  Another distinction he gained was collecting a single in two trips, the youngest AL player ever to collect a hit.  Derrington pitched briefly for the White Sox the next season, but that was the extent of his Big League activity.

Most of the important youthful pitching laurels of the modern era belong to Bob Feller, and rightly so.  He was 17 years and 8 months old when he broke in, but had enough ability to put his name in the record book.  After several relief jobs, the young speedballer started his first game on August 23, 1936 against the St. Louis Browns.   He won 4-1 and fanned 15 Browns in the process.  Feller started seven more games that season, winding up with 5 wins and 3 losses.  On September 13, he beat the Athletics 5-2 on two hits, and fanned 17 for a new AL strike-out record.  At 17 years of age, he had outdone the best strike-out performances of Rube Waddell, Walter Johnson, and Lefty Grove at full maturity.    About the only significant performance that Feller failed to achieve that first season was hurling a shutout.   Wildness hurt him there.

Other modern hurlers making sparkling beginnings include the Cardinals’ flash Von McDaniel, who hurled a brilliant 2-hit 2-0 shutout over the Dodgers in his first start on June 21, 1957.  He was 18 years and 2 months when he tossed this gem.  Later in the 1957 season, the younger McDaniel brother hurled a one-hit shutout, but the next year he faded badly and was shipped to the Minors.

Four years later, Law Krausse, Jr., of Kansas City, blanked the Angels 4-0 on 3 hits.   Making his debut on

June 16, 1961, Krausse was about two weeks younger than McDaniel was when he hurled his first shutout.    Joey Jay was slightly younger than both when he pitched an abbreviated 6-inning shutout over the Dodgers on September 20, 1953.

While the pitching records for young hurlers are pretty well spread around, most of the modern, batting records and fielding records as well belong to one man – or rather one boy.  Tommy Brown of the Dodgers was one of several young infielders who made their first appearances during World War II.  However, Brown was younger and played more often than teenagers like Ralph Caballero, Cass Michaels, Eddie Miksis, Granny Hamner, and Eddie Yost.

Brown was 16 years and 8 months when he was called up from the Minors and played shortstop in both games of a Dodger double-header with the Cubs on August 3, 1944.   He doubled and scored in the first game and also made an error.  His first RBI came several games later.   He played regularly with the Dodgers the remainder of the 1944 season.  However, as he batted only .164 in 46 games, he was sent down to St. Paul the next spring.

On August 3, 1945, exactly one year after his debut, Brown was back in the Dodger line-up.   Although now 17, he was still young enough to corner two more NL firsts.   On  August 20 in a game against the Pirates, Brown belted one of Preacher Roe’s tosses into the upper left field section at Ebbetts Field.   He thus became the youngest player ever to hit a homer in the Majors, and it was a very impressive wallop.   He connected again on August 25.

He kept up his long-ball hitting on August 28 in a game against the Phils.  He hit a triple off the centerfield wall and then stole home under a high pitch by Rene Monteagudo.   His triple was another distinctive first for a modern player, but his stolen base, impressive as it was, could not quite squeeze out of the record books a feat accomplished several years earlier by a more familiar name.

Hall of Famer Mel Ott, well known for his slugging feats, was probably the youngest to steal a base since 1900.   Used sparingly by Giants’ Manager John McGraw in his rookie year, Ott played five innings of a 17-3 romp over the Braves on September 3, 1926, and was credited with one theft.    (It was not a steal of home.) Ott, then 17 years and 6 months, also went 3 for 3 at the plate, which contributed to a lusty .383 batting average in 35 games.  Ironically, Ott did not collect either a homer or triple in his first season.

Jimmie Foxx was another great slugger who played his first games when he was only 17, but he also went homerless in his brief appearances n 1925.  The same thing happened to Harmon Killebrew when he broke in at 17 in 1954.  In fact, available records indicate that Brown was the only player to hit round-trippers when he was 17, collecting two The most hit by a teenager was the 24 hit by Tony Conigliaro of the Red Sox in 1964 when he was 19.

Brown was not the only youngster on the Dodgers in 1944.   They also had Eddie Miksis 17, infielder Gene

Mauch 18, and pitchers Ralph Branca and Cal McLish, both 18.   However, this teenage quintet was balanced by such veterans as Johnny Cooney 43, and Paul Waner 41, so there was no opportunity to field a fuzzy-cheeked squad like the Houston Colts did in 1963.  In a game against the Mets on September 27, Houston fielded an all-rookie team that had an average age slightly under 20 years.   It included pitcher Jay Dahl 17; catcher Jerry Crote 20; lB Rusty Staub 19; 2B Joe Morgan 20; 3B Glenn Vaughan 19; SS Sonny Jackson 19; and outfielders Brock Davis 19, Aaron Pointer 21, and Jim Wynn 21.

Of course not all of these players made it in the Big Time.  Pitcher Jay Dahl, for example, was killed in an auto accident when he was only 19.  However, their appearance in the same box score served as a reminder that youth is no barrier to major league play.

 

DEBUTS OF YOUNG PLAYERS IN MAJOR LEAGUES

Age

Player and Club

Pos.

Debut

Born

         

15-10

Joe Nuxhall, Cin. NL

P

6/10/44

7/30/28

16-6

Will McGill, Cle   PL

P

5/8/90

11/10/73

16-6

Joe Stanley, Wash.NL

P

9/11/97

4/2/81

16-8

Tommy Brown, Bkn. NL

SS

8/3/44

12/6/27

16-8

Carl Scheib, Phil.AL

P

9/6/43

1/1/27

16-10

J. Derrington, Chi.AL

P

9/30/56

11/29/39

16-10

R. Caballero,Phil.NL

3B

9/14/44

11/25/27

16-11

Rog. McKee, Phil. NL

P

8/18/43

9/16/26

 

YOUNGEST PLAYERS EACH YEAR, 1959-72

Year

Age

Player and Club

 

Pos.

Date of Birth

           

1972

19-9

Rowland Office, Atl.

NL

P

Oct. 25, 1952

1971

18-6

Jay Franklin, S.D.

NL

P

Mar. 16, 1953

1970

19-2

Bert Blyleven, Minn.

AL

P

April 6, 1951

1969

19-1

Mike McQueen, Atl.

NL

P

Aug. 30, 1950

1968

18-7

John Mayberry, Hous.

NL

lB

Feb. 18, 1950

1967

18-11

Gary Nolan, Cin.

NL

P

May 27, 1948

1966

18-0

Will Montanez, Cal.

AL

lB

April 1, 1948

1965

18-8

Joe Coleman, Wash.

AL

P

Feb.  2, 1947

1964

17-11

John Odom, Oakland

AL

P

Sep. 10, 1946

1963

17-10

Jay Dahl, Houston

NL

P

Dec.  6, 1945

1962

17-10

Ed Kranepool, NY.

NL

lB

Nov.  8, 1944

1961

18-2

Lew Krausse, K.C.

AL

F

Apr. 25, 1943

1960

17-10

Danny Murphy, Chi.

NL

OF

Aug. 23, 1942

1959

17-11

Tim McCarver, StL.

NL

C

Oct. 16, 1941

 

July 26, 1934 was the 18th wedding anniversary and 42nd birthday for “Sad” Sam Jones of the White Sox.  He celebrated by shutting out the Senators 9-0.

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