A year’s worth of baseball history: the best of RIP Baseball’s Grave Stories

Given the death count of 2020, writing stories about the gravesites that I’ve visited has had to take a back seat to keeping up with current obituaries. That’s unfortunate, because it’s a lot of fun to dig through newspaper archives to glean information about a forgotten outfielder or someone who pitched in a single game. You never know what amazing and forgotten stories you’ll unearth.

So here are a few of the Grave Stories I wrote this year that I particularly like. If you want to go through the full Grave Stories archives, I have a page just for you.

Frank Bell’s short baseball career and violent end: Bell played in 10 games for the 1885 Brooklyn Grays. After that, he became something of a security guard/bouncer in a rough part of Cincinnati, where he was known for excessive force. He was shot to death after a card game turned into a drunken brawl.

Cliff Carroll and his wardrobe malfunction: Carroll was an outfielder and teammate of the legendary Old Hoss Radbourne. A pretty fair hitter and a unrepentant prankster, he is the reason why ballplayers no longer have pockets in their uniform tops.

Dean Chance, throwing fast and living hard: Chance had a couple of outstanding seasons in the 1960s and won the Cy Young Award. A good chunk of the headlines he made detailed his off-the-field exploits with his teammate and fellow troublemaker, Bo Belinsky.

Charles Comiskey, one of baseball’s most misunderstood legends: When people think of Charles Comiskey today, they probably think of the miserly owner of the Chicago White Sox who was such a skinflint that he drove his players to throw the 1919 World Series. That’s not really who he was, and his career in baseball is much, much more than that one season.

Jim Delahanty’s unofficial ban from baseball: I wrote about all four Delahanty Brothers who are buried in Cleveland: Ed, Frank, Joe and Jim. You probably know about the tragedy of Ed Delahanty, but the other brothers had interesting lives of their own. Jim Delahanty, for instance, may have been blackballed from the game because he dared to stand up for Ty Cobb and organize the first ever players’ strike.

Steve Evans, a forgotten flake: Steve Evans was a pretty good outfielder at the turn of the century, but he had some quirks. Like his tendency to steal third base when a teammate was already occupying the bag. Or the time he trotted to his outfield position with a parasol to beat the heat. Or the time he tried to avoid a minor-league demotion by outrunning his manager.

Lee Fohl and a fatal managerial mistake: Fohl wasn’t much of a ballplayer, but he was a pretty good manager. In fact, he might be remembered as one of the few managers who led Cleveland to the World Series — if not for a mistake that cost him his job.

Ralph Miller, baseball’s first centenarian: Ralph Miller had a couple of mediocre seasons as a pitcher as a tail end of the 19th Century. What was remarkable about him was that he lived to the age of 100, making him the first major-leaguer to ever reach that mark.

The incomparable Satchel Paige: There are too many Satchel Paige anecdotes out there to include in a reasonable-length story, but he is one of baseball’s larger-than-life heroes. Follow that link above for a good story about how he pitched one game like his life depended on it — because it probably did.

Hank Small’s one-game career: Small was a Georgia-born slugger who set college home run records and was drafted by his hometown Braves. It had all the hallmarks of a Hollywood movie — until his major-league career ended after one token game. It’s a sad story with a tragic ending, though Small did turn his life around for the better before an untimely death.

Patsy Tebeau was a hellraiser: Baseball saved Patsy Tebeau’s life, as it was his way out of a rough-and-tumble adolescence that seemed destined for an early end. Instead, he became a fierce ballplayer, a canny manager, and the leader of a Cleveland Spiders team that was feared for their sharp spikes and aggressive play. Sadly, Tebeau couldn’t escape a tragic demise, dying by a self-inflicted gunshot in his own bar. He’s another one who left a string of good stories behind.

The life and crimes of Theodore Turner: This is my most favorite thing I wrote all year, because it was a story that had been pretty much lost to history. Ted Turner pitched in 1 game for the 1920 Chicago Cubs. What had been forgotten was that he was the son of Kentucky’s most notorious poultry thief, was in and out of prison all his life and broke out of jail twice after receiving a life sentence. Oh, and he may have murdered a Cincinnati patrolman.

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