“Chief” Bender’s Catcher

3 Sep

Umpire Billy Evans, in one of his syndicated newspaper columns in the fall of 1910, said: “Most every ball player is more or less superstitious, but the pitchers, I believe, are more susceptible to beliefs uncanny than any of the other diamond athletes.”

Evans singled out Charles “Chief” Bender, who had just completed a 23-5 season with a 1.58 ERA for the World Champion Philadelphia Athletics, as one of the most “susceptible.”

Chief Bender

Chief Bender

According to Evans, Bender preferred throwing to catcher Ira Thomas over the team’s other two catchers Jack Lapp and Paddy Livingston:

“Bender has won lots of games with other catchers doing the receiving, but he never seems quite so steady as when Thomas is paired up with him.”

Evans said the preference extended to warming up as well:

“While there are scores and scores of pitchers who have their favorite catchers, still they are content to let one of the other receivers warm them up between innings, but not so with the Chief.  When Bender starts a game he absolutely refuses to throw to anyone other than Thomas.

“It is often the case that when the side is retired, the catcher happens to be a base runner.  Naturally much time is consumed by him in hurrying from the base he occupied to the bench to get his mask, glove and protector, and then back to the plate.  It is customary for most managers under such circumstances, to send one of the other catchers up to the plate to keep the pitcher warmed up.  I have seen Bender refuse at least a dozen times during the past summer to warm up with one of the Athletics other than Thomas.  He waits for Ira and takes a chance on getting cold in preference to putting the “jinx” on himself by tossing the ball to someone else.”

Bender's favorite catcher Ira Thomas

Bender’s favorite catcher Ira Thomas

The feeling was mutual.  In a 1911 article in The Pittsburgh Press, Thomas, who in addition to Bender also caught Jack Coombs (31-9, 1.30 ERA), Cy Morgan (18-12, 1.55 ERA), and Eddie Plank (16-10, 2.01 ERA) in 1910, said of Bender:

“I don’t take my hat off to…any other pitcher when Chief Bender is around.  He is a wonder of wonders.  No one can show me where there is a better pitcher in general.

“Bender has everything a pitcher needs and in a series of seven games he is almost invincible.”

Thomas remained with the Athletics organization for another 40 years as a coach, minor league manager and scout; he finished his scouting career with the Yankees, retiring in 1956.  He died in 1958.

Bender left Philadelphia in 1914 when he jump the Athletics for the Federal League; he returned to the Athletics organization in the 1930s.  He died in 1954.

Bender and Thomas shared a baseball card--the 1912 T202 Hassan Triple Folder

Bender and Thomas shared a baseball card–the 1912 T202 Hassan Triple Folder

The two remained close for the rest of their lives and often appeared together at baseball banquets.  One story Bender always told; the “greatest thrill” of his career, his May 12, 1910 no-hitter against the Cleveland Naps (this version was related in The Trenton Evening Times in 1936).  With two outs in the ninth Cleveland’s Elmer Flick hit a pop-up in front of home plate, the ball initially popped out of Thomas’ mitt before he secured it for the final out:

“Watching Ira juggle that ball and then hold it was my greatest thrill.”

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11 Responses to ““Chief” Bender’s Catcher”

  1. Randy January 21, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

    Nice article, but the May 12, 1910, no-hitter was against the Cleveland Naps (not the Red Sox).

    • Thom Karmik January 21, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

      Thanks Randy. A dumb error. Thanks for catching it. Correction has been made.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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