Another “Rube”

4 Mar

Hall of Famer “Lefty” Grove and Jack Ogden were the best known pitchers of the great Baltimore Orioles teams that won seven straight International League Pennants from 1919-1925, but in 1923 both were out-pitched by James Arthur “Rube” Parnham.

Parnham began his professional career in 1914 with the Huntington Blue Sox in the Ohio State League.  In 1915 he joined the Raleigh Capitals in the North Carolina State League, managed by Connie Mack’s son Earle.  The 21-year-old was an unspectacular 9-15 for Raleigh, but caught the eye of the elder Mack and spent the spring of 1916 with Jacksonville with the Philadelphia Athletics.

Rube Parnham, 1917

Rube Parnham, 1917

Parnham returned to the North Carolina State League for the 1916 season, splitting time between Raleigh and the Durham Bulls, posting a 17-19; his contract was purchased by the Athletics in late August.  Nearly a month later Parnham made his Major League debut; he appeared in four games for Mack’s last place (36-117) ballclub, he was 2-1 with a 4.01 ERA.

Parnham was with the Athletics in Jacksonville again in 1917, but was sent to Baltimore before the beginning of the season.  He won 16 games for the Orioles and earned one more shot with Mack in Philadelphia; Parnham was 0-1 with a 4.09 ERA in two September appearances.

As Parnham started winning games for Baltimore he developed a reputation as a work horse; in 1917 he won both ends of a double-header against the Rochester Hustlers, pitching a total of 24 innings in two 3-2 victories; in 1919 he won both games of a twin bill twice.   At the same time he began to earn a reputation as “eccentric’ and “erratic,” the inevitable comparisons to Rube Waddell and his small time roots earned Parnham the nickname “Rube,” he was also known as “Uncle.”

Baltimore sold Parnham to the Louisville Colonels in the American Association in March of 1918, but within two months was sold back to Baltimore, where he rejoined manager Jack Dunn, with who he had, and would continue to have, a contentious relationship.  He won 22 games in 1918 and followed with 28 in 1919, leading the Orioles to their first championship since 1908.

As the Orioles jumped out to a quick lead in 1920 (Parnham was 5-0, and was joined on the pitching staff by Ogden and Grove) the erratic Rube Parnham surfaced again. He was prone to disappearing for days at a time and also appears to have been hurt.  By mid-season he was gone.

More recent accounts have said Parnham jumped the Orioles to play semi-pro ball in Pennsylvania; just as likely, Parnham, who was suspended in June by Dunn for being out of shape, and who was clearly overshadowed by Grove (12-2) and Ogden (27-9); as well as Jack Bentley (16-3) and Harry Frank (25-12), was let go.

Lending credence to Parnham not having jumped is a January 1922 Associated Press item that said the pitcher “whose arm went on him” would rejoin “the Baltimores for the 1922 season.  Parnham wrote Dunn that he believed he could come back next season and pitch successfully.”  He won 16 games for the Orioles in 1922.

The following season would be Parnham’s best; the 29-year-old pitcher led the Orioles with a 33-7 record, Grove was 27-10, Ogden 17-12.   In addition to out-pitching his two teammates, Parnham set an international League record by winning 20 consecutive games.

Parnham’s old ways returned before the 1924 season when he failed to report to Florida for spring training.  The Associated Press said:

“Rube never reported at the Oriole training camp in the south and never even deigned to notify Jack Dunn whether he was going to play ball this year.”

Parnham eventually reported, but had another stormy, abbreviated season.  With a 6-5 record and a 4.84 ERA, Dunn suspended the pitcher in June, and he appears to have not pitched for the Orioles again that season.

The only reference to Parnham in 1925 was a May game he pitched for a semi-pro team in Duquesne, Pennsylvania and was beaten 8-0 by the Homestead Grays.

His career appeared to be over, but Dunn, it seems was willing to give his pitcher one more chance.

The Baltimore Sun said shortly before the 1926 season:

“Uncle Rube Parnham, the most colorful figure in the International League, will be back on the mound for the Orioles next season.”

Parnham was 13-9 with a 5.05 ERA, and spent the entire season feuding with Dunn; It was the end of the Orioles dynasty, the Toronto Maple Leafs won the championship in 1926 and Baltimore would not finish first again until 1944.

The Orioles were finally through with Parnham, The Baltimore Sun said:

“There was so much trouble between Parnham and Dunn last year that it was apparent Rube had spent his last season with the Orioles.” “

The 32-year-old was still considered valuable enough that the Milwaukee Brewers in the American Association purchased the pitcher from Baltimore.

The Brewers expected big things from their new pitcher, The Milwaukee Journal said:

“At times his playfulness leads him away from the straight and narrow, and he nearly drove Jack Dunn nutty last season…But Parnham is a great pitcher, despite his eccentricities, and if (Brewers owner) Otto Borchert can hire a good keeper for him is certain to be a winner with the Brewers.”

By March Parnham had worn out his welcome with another manager when he didn’t bother to report to Hot Springs, Arkansas for spring training.  The Journal said:

“Disgusted with the dilatory tactics of Rube Parnham, Jack Lelivelt, boss of the Brewers, hinted Saturday night that unless the eccentric righthander reports at once that he would probably be turned back to Baltimore.  Former International Leaguers …have told the Milwaukee leader about some of Reuben’s idiosyncrasies  and Lelivelt is beginning to feel that he will become a stepsister to Kid trouble if he had the former Oriole on his club.”

Parnham never played for the Brewers, and was returned to Baltimore, but Dunn was finished with him as well and he was shipped off to the Reading Keystones.  After a 2-8 season split between Reading and the Newark Bears, Parnham’s career was over.

rube

Rube Parnham, 1923

Parnham retired to McKeesport, Pennsylvania, where the troubles that followed him throughout his career seem to have continued.  James Bready, an editor for The Baltimore Sun went to Pennsylvania to interview the former Oriole hero in 1961:

“The story was that he had gone downhill. Falling asleep in the snow, recently, he had lost several toes. On the phone, the director of a home for indigents said he would notify Parnham of the interview project. He gave me the street address — and a caution: ‘Try to get here before noon.’

“Paper, pen — I knocked and Rube beckoned me inside what today would be called a shelter. He was wearing an overcoat (I understand that better, now) and had not shaved recently. We sat down, facing, on two of half a dozen cot beds.  I tried a question. ”Gbbmhdahlr,” he replied. I stared at him; slowly, the meaning penetrated. I reached in my pocket and handed him a dollar.”

Parnham died two years later in McKeesport.

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4 Responses to “Another “Rube””

  1. Karen M. Poorman April 19, 2014 at 8:35 am #

    http://www.milb.com/documents/2008/01/09/337584/1/Parnham.pdf

    James “Rube” Parnham was elected to the International League Hall of Fame in 1957.
    To address just a few of the details in the article: He was nicknamed “Rube” when he was a first year player on the Athletics. The old team took the new players to the woods and gave them flashlights. They were told that there were valuable animals called snipes in the forest and they should shine a light to blind them and catch them. James Parnham stayed in the woods all night looking for snipes and was named “Rube” after that.
    His injury occurred around 1920 when he flipped a car full of baseball players in a car accident. He was seriously injured and had a plate put in his head. It was after that that his behavior became more erratic and the injuries referred to were probably a result of that accident.
    The picture in the article does not look like him to me.

    • Thom Karmik April 19, 2014 at 8:56 am #

      Thanks for the additional informtion. The pictures are from contemporary news sources and identified as Parnham, it is certainly possible those newspapers were incorrect.

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