My wife Corinn arrived, donning her best New York Yankees cap, and sat down next to me. The Inn’s owner, Mr. Loring Schultz, was there getting his place ready for a busy afternoon. He walked passed us and stopped to comment on my wife’s hat. He asked her if she was a baseball fan, she replied yes and I said I was as well. Mr. Schultz then asked us if we knew the name of a Hall of Fame player who was born and raised in Gettysburg. My wife looked at me for help, and I turned, scratching my head, to Chris. None of us had any idea. No matter how many hints he gave us, we had no clue.
“Eddie Plank of the Philadelphia Athletics”, he said. “Have you heard of him?”
I answered that I had heard of him, but truth be told, a faint memory of the name was the extent of my knowledge of Eddie Plank. Mr. Schultz told us a bit, like how he played for the Philadelphia Athletics and just how good he was, but it left me with a lingering curiosity. How could I know so little about a Hall of Fame pitcher that was being described to me as one of the best southpaws ever? I was determined to find out more.
I began researching Plank as soon as I returned home. I first reached out to the folks at the Farnsworth House again, hoping to get some details. Eileen heightened my curiosity even more when she told me that Eddie Plank once gave Connie Mack a tour of the battle field. She also stated that Ty Cobb had said he was the greatest pitcher he ever saw. This guy must have been something else. So I hit the library and the Internet, and contacted every old-time baseball fanatic I know.
Born in Gettysburg in 1875, Plank grew up on a farm. At the age of 25, he was enrolled into the Gettysburg Academy prep-school which at the time made him eligible to pitch for the Gettysburg College varsity. He never graduated from the college, a fact often missed by even the most reputable of baseball historians.
His short time on the Gettysburg College team was enough to earn him an offer from Philadelphia Athletics’ owner and manager Connie Mack. “Gettysburg Eddie” went straight to the major league club, never once taking the mound in the minors. His first year was successful, going 17-13 with a 3.31 ERA for the fourth place Athletics. But Plank would get much, much better.
By the time Plank retired in 1917 at 42 years old, he left behind a legacy that still fills the record books. In fact, Plank’s name comes up so often on “all-time” lists that reading through them made me more and more embarrassed that I didn’t know him better. His 69 career shutouts are more than any other lefty in baseball history and fifth overall, better than Warren Spahn and only 7 short of the great Cy Young. He’s 13thon the list of all time wins, with 326, and his 2246 strikeouts puts him in the top 50. This is probably the most accomplished Hall of Famer you’ve never heard of.
While Plank was dominating hitters on the mound with a sidearm delivery that must have had lefty batters ducking for cover, he was also aggravating them to no end. In an era long before the current trend of pitchers taking their time on the mound, Plank would routinely get on the batter’s nerves, by walking around the mound, fidgeting with his cap, and anything else that would knock their rhythm off. Opponents complained endlessly, but there was nothing they could do about it and none could argue with the tactic’s success.
With all of Eddie Plank’s achievements and eye-popping statistics, he was considered a “hard luck” pitcher in the World Series. He appeared in 7 games, and in over 54 innings of work he only gave up 8 earned runs. From looking at those numbers, you would think Plank would have won more than only 2 games, but 2 and 5 was his postseason record. In more than one start, Plank’s dominating performance was lost to an error, or an equally dominating opposing pitcher.
One of those dominating pitchers was a man who overshadowed Plank for most of his career, the great ChristyMathewson of the New York Giants. But on one autumn day in 1913, Gettysburg Eddie got the best of his nemesis. Leading up to the decisive Game 5 of the World Series, Matty had beaten Plank in their previous two postseason meetings, including Game 2 when the Athletics lost a heart breaker in extra innings. But the A’s won the next two, and had a chance to win the title. Despite the pressure, the worthy opponent, and his 38 years, Plank delivered a complete game shutout and the championship for Philadelphia.
After losing yet another hard luck game to the Boston Braves in Game 2 of the 1914 World Series, Plank was traded the following year to the St. Louis Terriers of the Federal League, a short lived attempt to establish a third independent major league. In 1916-17 he pitched for the St. Louis Browns and then retired. Despite his retirement, he was traded to the New York Yankees, but he was well into his forties and no longer interested in pitching. Instead, Gettysburg Eddie went back to his hometown and sold cars. He died in 1926.
Many ballplayers, especially those from the era before Babe Ruth, are lost to time. Despite Eddie Plank’s storied success, many baseball aficionados can’t tell you much about him. But if the folks at the Farnsworth House are any indication, the great southpaw has not been lost to Gettysburg’s time. In fact, few things ever are.
Posted by: David McBride