Sign of the Times: The 12-Man Road Rosters

While recently researching an obscure player from 1900, I found his name listed two Sundays in a row as the backup catcher for a one-day road trip. Tacks Latimer only played four games for the Pittsburgh Pirates, so there isn’t a whole lot to talk about during his time in Pittsburgh. Part of the fun of researching old players is that the search sometimes leads you to other articles. Finding his name listed as “going on a road trip with the team” wasn’t important when you’re writing a short bio on a player, but those two notes led to this particular article. So I thought I’d put those two Latimer mentions to good use and go a little more in depth into a practice that was quite common back in the early days of baseball.

The Pirates never played Sunday games at home during their first 52 seasons because it was against Pennsylvania blue laws. What they would often do back then if they were playing at home on Saturday and the following Monday as well, is go on a road trip to a nearby town for one day and play a Sunday game. It happened very often in Cincinnati, and also took place in Cleveland (when they had an NL team) and Chicago. When the Pirates went on these one-day train trips, they would bring the bare minimum as far as players. In these particular instances mentioned below, that meant the starting nine for the day, plus an extra catcher, one extra pitcher and one guy who could fill in anywhere else, including catcher or pitcher if necessary. The simple reason was to save on travel costs.

This practice wasn’t saved for one-day trips. Teams back then would leave extra players home to train while they went on long road trips, and if they needed those players during the trip, they would send for them. While a one-day trip only saved the team train fare, a long road trip also saved the team hotel expenses and any other potential added costs. If they were on the road and only needed a player for one day as a fill-in, they would often use a local player that day, and those players rarely got paid. There are numerous one-game MLB players who were just in the right place at the right time. They didn’t have to sign contracts if they were with the team for a short time. The longer trips would usually include a few more players though, so only bringing 12 is quite a low number.

On May 13, 1900, the Pirates were in Cincinnati and defeated the Reds 7-6 on a walk-off two-run single by Claude Ritchey. Another practice from back then was having the home team bat in the top of the inning. It didn’t always happen, but it was much more common than the home team choosing to bat in the bottom of the inning. That practice led to the Pirates picking up a walk-off win in Cincinnati on this particular day.

The lineup that day was as follows:

  1. Duff Cooley, 1B
  2. Ginger Beaumont, CF
  3. Jimmy Williams, 3B
  4. Honus Wagner, RF
  5. Tom O’Brien, SS
  6. Claude Ritchey, 2B
  7. Tom McCreery, LF
  8. Chief Zimmer, C
  9. Sam Leever, P

It was announced before the game that the Pirates were taking Tacks Latimer as the backup catcher and Jesse Tannehill as the reserve pitcher. Tom McCreery was announced as the substitute, but Fred Clarke was nursing a shoulder injury, so he sat out that day, though he would have played if needed.  The 12-man roster for May 13th included an injured player, who was only there because he was the manager too. The players left home that day included some great all-time pitchers, with Pirates great Deacon Phillippe, as well as Hall of Famers Rube Waddell and Jack Chesbro. Tommy Leach was also at home. He had a great (under-appreciated) career with the Pirates, but during his first season he was just a backup who hit .213 in 51 games.

One week after the Cincinnati Sunday game, the Pirates had a Sunday game in Chicago. They lost to the Cubs, who weren’t called the Cubs yet. The most widely accepted nickname for that team is the Orphans, because they were without Cap Anson after 22 years playing/19 years managing for the team. Former Pirates pitcher Frank Killen was the opposing pitcher that day and he won 6-3. The lineup for the day was as follows:

  1. Beaumont, CF
  2. O’Brien, LF
  3. Williams, 3B
  4. Wagner, RF
  5. Cooley, 1B
  6. Ritchey, 2B
  7. Bones Ely, SS
  8. Latimer, C
  9. Phillippe, P

The reserves included Clarke once again, who remained doubtful to play. Pops Schriver was originally scheduled to start behind the plate, but he served as the backup to Latimer. Once again, Jesse Tannehill was the reserve pitcher. Tom McCreery and Chief Zimmer got to stay home this time, along with Tommy Leach, Sam Leever, Rube Waddell and Jack Chesbro. Unlike the first game, the Pirates actually went to their bench in this contest. Both Clarke and Schriver pinch-hit in the ninth inning.

As mentioned, this was a common practice back then, so I only used these two particular examples to highlight it because they came up in my recent research. During my extensive 1890 research last year, I found a game in Boston with just 11 players available.

As a side note, the Pirates used just 26 players during the entire 1900 season, including a group of eight players (including Latimer) who combined to play 23 games.