October 11, 1882: Buck Washer
Now that we're into mid-October, it's time to start commemorating "cup of coffee" birthdays rather than "cup of coffee" debut dates. We start with Buck Washer, who was born in Akron, Ohio on this date 137 years ago. He's long gone, but his stats will live forever.
William "Buck" Washer was born in the United States, but his parents, William and Alice, were both born in England. Once in the States, his father ran saloons and restaurants in Akron and was well-known around town. Conveniently for Washer, his father also made quick friends with Barney Dreyfuss, the owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates. After becoming what the Canton Repository called "the best pitcher on any college team in the state," Washer signed with Pittsburgh in 1902.
However, when Dreyfuss gave him instructions to report to Dayton of the Southern Ohio League to get himself in shape for the big leagues, Washer refused. Apparently, he thought he was ready to go straight to the majors. After supposedly also signing with Cleveland, which earned him the ire of many locals, Washer decided to go to the University of West Virginia with a scholarship plus $75 monthly stipend. When Dreyfuss again asked if he would go to the minor leagues, Washer refused. Dreyfuss made it clear they had too many pitchers at the big league level for him to make an impact and finally, Washer relented and reported to the Providence Grays.
He made his debut for Providence in July, but within just a few weeks, he was again becoming a headache for the Pittsburgh franchise. Washer clashed with manager Billy Murray, who benched him and threatened not to pay him. Eventually, the team president did get him his money, but he was reassigned to the Toledo Mud Hens of the American Association.
It was clear Washer was a great all-around athlete, but he wanted to do things on his own terms. He returned to play baseball at West Virginia and also played football for the team, scoring a touchdown in a pivotal game. To stay in shape during the winter of 1903, he played on the East Akron basketball club. Washer's subsequent move to West Chester, Pennsylvania ended up making all the difference in his baseball career. He played for a talented independent team there and by 1905, no longer under contract with Pittsburgh, he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Early in the 1905 season, on April 25, Washer's number was finally called as he entered in relief for the Phillies in the seventh inning against the New York Giants in Philadelphia. Pitching with what the Harrisburg Patriot later called a "bad arm" Washer struggled, allowing runs in the eighth and ninth innings while struggling with his command. The general consensus after the game was that if he could dial in his command, he could be a valuable piece for the Phillies. However, a week later when the team made its way to Brooklyn, Washer wasn't on the train with him. Soon, he was released.
He actually ended up pitching against those same Giants less than a month later while playing in an exhibition game for the Newark Sailors of the Eastern League. His team lost 5-3 and with every successive start, it was growing more and more apparent that Washer had not been as ready for the major leagues as he had thought. He couldn't catch on anywhere in 1906 primarily because he couldn't throw strikes.
Washer lingered in random leagues like the Western Pennsylvania League, the George's Creek League, the Pennsylvania-West Virginia League and the Central Association through 1909. In 1910, while playing in Billings, Montana, he suffered a serious hip injury sliding into home during a July game and it appears that is the injury that ended his career, because he did not play professional baseball again after that point.
Washer ended up marrying soon after and had two children, who he supported as a tire repair vulcanizer. Ultimately, he passed away at the age of 73 due to heart disease, having gotten a taste of the big leagues, but not nearly the taste he had anticipated getting more than 50 years earlier.
Much of this story would not have been possible without SABR researcher Charlie Weatherby. To read his full description of the life and times of Buck Washer, click here.