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Hometown Hero: George Chalmers

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Or, as close to my hometown as we’re going to get...

George Chalmers, Philadelphia NL, at Polo Grounds
Photo from the Library of Congress

Inspired by Michael’s discovery that D-backs prospect Taylor Clarke is from the same town as him, I thought I’d dig into baseball history and see if my hometown had produced any major-league players. Given I was born in a small (< 10,000 people) town in the North of Scotland, unsurprisingly, the answer was no. Indeed, the entire roster of Scottish-born MLB players would only fill an infield if you brought your own catcher, according to B-R.com, for there have been just four. Other sources say as many as seven, so almost a full starting lineup!

The most recent is Tom Waddell, born in Dundee, who played from 1984-87 for the Cleveland Indians. The most famous is Glaswegian Bobby Thompson; he fired the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World’, the home-run that won the NL pennant for the New York Giants in 1951. But the closest to me is George Chalmers, born in Aberdeen; about 80 miles away, and where I went to university and got married to Mrs. Snakepit, so good enough! Chalmers pitched for seven years, from 1910-1916, and was the first ever player born outside America to pitch in the World Series, starting Game 4 for Philadelphia against Boston in 1915. But that’s likely getting ahead of ourselves...

Though he was born in Aberdeen, on June 8, 1888, it was less than two years later that the family moved across the Atlantic. The father, also George, plied his trade as a carpenter in Manhattan. but when George Jr. entered the workforce, it was in a range of jobs, from bellboy to driving a pacemaking motorcycle in bicycle races at Madison Square Gardens. However, he also became a semi-pro ballplayer, getting paid $25 or so to pitch for various teams in the area. In 1909, this became his full-time occupation, when he was signed by the Scranton Miners of New York State League. They weren’t a good team, going 55-71, but Chalmers had a winning record, going 16-15 (shades of Randy Johnson going 16-14 on the 2004 D-backs).

His sophomore season was even better, going 25-6 - second in wins to future Hall of Famer, Grover Alexander, who went 29-11. The two were often compared at this early stage, and as the quote above shows, Chalmers was seen by some as the better. Chalmers’s services had been bought by the Philadelphia Phillies for $4,000 and after the end of the Miners’ season, he joined the big-league club. George made his major-league debut on September 21 vs. Cincinnati, but was roughed up and only lasted four innings. However, a writer covering it said, “[T]he errors column in the scoring rules isn’t provided with sufficient elasticity to fully account for the Phillies shortcomings in the field during the innings that young Chalmers had to stand out there.”

“Chalmers came with an elaborate trousseau, together with lots of pinch neckwear and considerable toggery that aroused the brunette population of Birmingham to deep, empurpled envy. “
The Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger discussing 1911 spring training in Alabama

I feel the word “toggery” deserves to return to common usage. Ah, just me then... Anyway, 1911 saw Chalmers start out in relief, but quickly moved into the rotation, and was 9-2 by the end of July. However, he faded down the stretch, and a post-season tour of Cuba proved problematic for him on a couple of levels. Chalmers hurt his arm pitching in the first of the nine games, and was detained by authorities on his return to America: The Philadelphia Times said the ship’s manifest listed Chalmers as American, but on landing, “He told the officials that he was Scotch and never naturalized… Chalmers was reprimanded and the ship company was fined for carelessness.”

It was the arm which was the real problem, as health problems bedeviled Chalmers for the next three years. In that time, he only started a total of 25 games - in contrast, teammate Alexander tossed more than 300 innings each season. He was released by the Phillies in June 1914, after going 0-3 in three appearances, with a 5.50 ERA (a 54 ERA+). Many at the time considered Chalmers done, The Baseball Magazine writing, “It was the general consensus of opinion that his pitching days were over.” But Chalmers continued to rehab and by Opening Day 1915, was on the fringes of the New York Giants roster, under John McGraw.

He didn’t make the cut, but quickly got his revenge. For the Phillies re-signed him and his first start came against the Giants. Chalmers two-hit them. Or, to quote a more poetic contemporary account, “In the first battle of his come-back career, the bonnie Scot duplicated the marvelous work of his debut, and again McGraw's serfs only scratched a brace of hits from his delivery.” [I trust SnakePit recappers are paying attention to this florid prose!] He started 20 games, and his ERA+ of 111 deserved a better record than 8-9. Still, he helped the Phillies win their first National League Pennant, setting up a World Series against the Boston Braves.

Photos by the Library of Congress

Philadelphia got off to a good start, taking the opener 3-1, but dropped the next two by the same 2-1 margin. Game 4 took place on October 12, 1915 at Braves Field. While Chalmers held the Braves to two runs on eight hits, the offensive futility which had plagued the Phillies all series (they ended up batting .182) continued, and they lost their third consecutive 2-1 game. A fourth one-run loss in Game 5 then gave Boston the Series. The following month, Chalmers married Elizabeth Ann Hechler at the Scotch Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. The couple would go on to have two children, but Chalmer’s major-league career thereafter was short-lived.

Indeed, he only pitched 53.2 more innings after his World Series start, as his arm troubles resurfaced the next year. He played one more season as a pro, with the Kansas City Blues of the American Association, then retired from the game, working as a boilermaker in the Bronx, then for insurance companies as an adjuster. He seems to have been well-regarded: The Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader called him “a fine, upstanding, intelligent young fellow, with all the sturdy Scotch virtues as well as a Scotch burr in his speech, and The Baseball Magazine said after the World Series, “Chalmers is a splendid chap, and is as popular in the club house as he is on the field.”

He lived in the Bronx the rest of his life, passing away in 1960, at the age of 72, after a series of strokes. As hometown heroes (give or take 80 miles!) go, I’ll settle for anyone about whom could be written the following:

Bruce and Wallace upheld Scotland's glory in the dim days of long ago, but Scottish grit and intelligence is upheld in these times by men like George Chalmers — the spitball king of Philadelphia.

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