Grave Story: Bob Peterson (1884-1962)

Here lies Bob Peterson, briefly a catcher in the major leagues and a long-time, infamous grouch in the minors. While none of the stones in the Peterson plot bear his name, I believe he is buried by the far left marker, along with his wife Ethel and daughter Doris, who was killed when she was 10 years old. Peterson played for the Boston Americans in 1906 and ’07 – they wouldn’t become knows as the Red Sox until the following season.

Robert Andrew Peterson was born in Philadelphia on June 16, 1884. According to the 1900 census, the family was still living in town. His father, George, worked at a theater – presumably behind the scenes, and not on stage. Bob, then 16 years old, was listed as “at school.” While he was a youth hanging around the Philadelphia sand lots (or so the story goes), he was watching two local newspaper teams playing a game. The catcher on one of the teams was injured, and Peterson was asked to fill in. “What do I get?” he asked. He was promised $2.50, and he jumped into the game in his street clothes. Not only did he play well, he hit a walkoff two-run home run in the 14th inning. Onlookers were so impressed that they passed the hat, and Peterson came away with $5 — not bad for a day’s work back then.

The Peterson Family plot at West Laurel Hill Cemetery. Bob Peterson’s name is not listed on any of the stones, but I believe he is buried by the far left stone, with his daughter Doris and wife Ethel.

By 1904, he was a catcher for the Fall River Indians of the New England League. He hit .243 in 110 games, but it sounds like the low average may have come from being overused. In a game on August 25, Peterson got three hits but hobbled to round the bases when teammate Tim Dwyer hit safely behind him. He tried to score from first on a double, and the Fall River Evening News noted that he might have scored if he had a crutch.

“Peterson will need a long rest this winter,” the paper noted. “He has been overworked this summer in Fall River, and his catching is not as good as it was a month ago.”

With that in mind, there might be some truth to this anecdote that was published once Peterson cracked the majors. Peterson went to Fall River boss Tom McDermott on the day of a doubleheader and said, “This is my birthday McDermott, what are you going to give me?” McDermott looked at his catcher and said, “I think I shall let you catch both games.”

Source: The Boston Globe, March 29, 1906

Peterson was contracted to stay with the Indians in 1905 but jumped to the independent Harrisburg Senators of the Tri-State League. His statistics are unavailable on Baseball Reference, but he performed well enough that the Boston Americans bought the rights to him in late July, for the upcoming 1906 season. At the time, Peterson was out with a season-ending broken collarbone. “He stands 6ft 2in, is a splendid catcher, a dead arm on throws to the bases and an exceptional hitter,” bragged The Boston Globe. The Americans outbid Clark Griffith of the Senators and several other managers to claim him. The paper in Fall River also reported the news, adding that Peterson “had the material of which good backstops are made” but that he also suffered from “sulkiness.” It wouldn’t be the last time that his attitude was reported to be a problem.

The ’06 Americans were a pretty horrendous team that went 49-105. Starters Cy Young and Jesse Tannehill won 13 games each, so two pitchers accounted for 53% of the team’s victories. Catching was a weak spot in particular. Veteran Lou Criger, who had handled most of the catching duties since the team came into existence in 1901, was injured and limited to seven games. Backup Charlie Armbruster couldn’t hit his weight, and he weighed 180 pounds.

A total of six Americans got behind the plate in 1906. Peterson batted .203, and he was one of the better-hitting catchers. He also played at first base, second base and left field. He didn’t field well at any position, though. In 30 games as a catcher, Peterson had an .899 fielding percentage, committed 9 passed balls and threw out 36% of baserunners. Those were pretty poor defensive numbers for a catcher, even by 1906 standards.

Peterson did have a few highlights at the plate, however. He went 2-for-3 and drove in every Boston run in a 3-0 win over the White Sox, breaking a 20-game losing streak. He also made a couple of nice catches on pop fouls to help preserve starter Tannehill’s 3-hit shutout. That performance brought Peterson’s batting average up over .300 for the only time that season. He hit his only major-league home run, an inside-the-park shot off New York’s Tom Hughes, in the last game of the season on October 6.

The headline of the May 26, 1906 edition of the Fall River Daily Globe. Bob Peterson drove in 3 runs to help end a Boston Americans 20-game losing streak.

Boston sold Peterson to the Providence Grays of the Eastern League in 1907; the catcher got a measure of revenge in April when the Grays beat the Americans 3-1 in an exhibition game. He hit .229 and returned to Boston for a final 4 games in the big leagues, after his season with Providence was over. He collected 1 hit in 13 at-bats to conclude his major-league career.

In 43 games, Peterson slashed .191/.259/.237, with 25 hits that included 1 double, 1 triple and 1 homer. He had 9 RBIs and stole a base.

Peterson’s career continued in the minors for several more years. He stayed in Providence until 1911 and then moved on to stops in Scranton and Binghamton, both of the New York State League. He hit a career-best .283 in 1914, when he was 30 years old, for the Binghamton Bingoes. He also gained a reputation as, to quote the papers, “being the worst ‘crabber’ on the circuit, his inability to control his temper getting him into trouble in about every game in which he has participated while wearing a Providence uniform.”

It seemed to be his temper that caused him to wear out his welcome in Providence. While he was at Scranton, he rehabbed his reputation somewhat and became a pretty popular figure. Not only did he play every position on the field in 1913, including a pretty effective 3-inning stint as a reliever, but he also took over the reins as interim manager for the Miners for a few games.

Peterson officially left professional baseball after the 1916 season. He had tried to get a manager’s job with teams in the Mid-Atlantic area, but nothing came of the attempts. He hit .238 in his 11 seasons in the minor leagues.

Peterson played for a team in Elmira in 1917, which is not on his Baseball Reference page. I’m assuming it’s the same person, because it involves a grouchy player being suspended by team management. Peterson refused to catch in a game, so he took off his uniform, watched the game in the grandstand, and failed to show up for the next few games. That incident happened in June. By October, Peterson, now playing for a team in Chester, was banished for assaulting an umpire.

Source: The Tribune-Republican (Scranton, Pa.), April 19, 1912.

He kept up with baseball for a few more years in the semipro ranks. There was a notice in May of 1918 that Peterson had joined a team in Steelton for a new Bethlehem Steel Corporation League, which featured a handful of former major leaguers. Peterson listed his profession in the 1920 census as a ball player. He was a catcher on a team ran by J.J. Dobson of Philadelphia in 1922 and was part of a roster that faced off against the Bachrach Giants, a powerful Negro Leagues team headed by Dick Lundy. In 1923, there was a backup catcher named Bob Peterson who was released from a team in Shenandoah. This Peterson hit well, but age was catching up to him, and he didn’t impress on the basepaths or in the field. It could be the same Bob Peterson, as he would have been pushing 40 years old by then.

In the 1920 census, Peterson lived in Philadelphia along with his wife, daughter and father, George. George Peterson was working as a carpenter for a theater, and his son would follow him into the theater world when he hung up his spikes for good. By 1930, Peterson and his wife lived in Philadelphia with his father-in-law. He was a “stage employee” for a theater. In the 1940 census he was a cigar store clerk. Two years after that, he was listed as “unemployed” on his World War II draft card.

The Petersons suffered a devastating loss on April 9, 1930. Their 10-year-old daughter Doris was killed as she was roller skating on Smedley Street in Philadelphia. She was hit by the rear wheel of a truck and dragged underneath the trailer, which was carrying a steamroller. She died as she was being brought to the hospital. The driver of the truck was arrested.

According to Peterson’s SABR bio, he and Ethel spent their last years at a Methodist retirement residence in Marlton, N.J. Bob Peterson died on November 27, 1962 in Evesham, N.J. He was 78 years old and had been suffering from colon cancer. Heart disease and senility were also noted on his death certificate. He is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, Pa.

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