Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up other Things #8

4 Jun

Remember the Maine

Several sources say Harry Stees, who played for the 1897 Shamokin Coal Heavers in the Central Pennsylvania League died in the explosion of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898—it would make him the first professional player killed in action.

The Sporting Life also reported that he had died aboard the ship.

A small item in his hometown newspaper contradicts that story.

Nearly a month after the sinking of the Maine, The Harrisburg Telegraph ran the following Headlines:

“A Fool Joke”

Harry Stees was Never on the ‘Maine’ at Havana or Elsewhere

The paper said a letter had been published in The Daily, the newspaper in the nearby town of Sudbury, Pennsylvania signed by “Mrs. Harry Stees.”  The letter asked for the paper if they could locate Robert Durnbaugh, a teammate of Stees with the Coal Heavers, and have Durnbaugh contact her.

In the Letter Stees is referred to as Theo.  Contemporary references in the Telegraph and census records refer to Stees as T. Harry Stees. The paper said:

“A ‘Telegraph’ reporter located Mr Harry Stees without difficulty at the Peipher Line warehouse, on Walnut Street, this morning, and showed him the clipping.  He stated that he was undoubtedly the individual referred to in the letter, but was positive that neither his wife nor mother had written such a communication to The Daily.  ‘It’s some fool joke, put up on me by someone in town,’ he said.  ‘I have been away from Harrisburg since last September when I returned with Durnbaugh from Shamokin, where we had been playing ball, and I never set foot on the Maine.’  Mr. Stees proposes to investigate the origin of the communication.”

There was no follow up on the story, but T. Harry Stees was a prominent figure in amateur and semi-pro baseball in Harrisburg into the 1930s.

T. Harry Stees, circa 1915

T. Harry Stees, circa 1915

It appears he was not the first professional player killed in action.

Stees, 1919

Stees, 1919

Anson’s Old Bat

Despite a broken ankle received while sliding on May 23 sidelined “Silent” John Titus for much of the season, the Philadelphia Phillies’ outfielder had his highest single-season home run total–eight in just 236 at bats, his previous high was four in 504 at bats in 1904.

John Titus

John Titus

The Philadelphia Record claimed it was due to a bat he had acquired that season:

“Cap Anson’s old base ball bat is helping the Phillies in their flight toward the National League pennant.  This relic of early baseball is now owned by John Titus.

“When everything broke badly for Anson and he lost his fortune…that bat had to be auctioned off.  Pat Moran, then a member of the Cubs, but now (Phillies Manager Charles “Red”) Dooin’s first lieutenant, was the purchaser of the club.  He bid against several members of the cubs team.

“Moran had the bat shortened as soon as it was his, so that today it doesn’t look much like the clubs that Anson used, but Moran says that ‘the wood is there.’

“Titus was looking over Moran’s club one afternoon toward the close of (the 1910) season and asked to be allowed to hit  a ball to the outfield with it…’Silent John’ used the bat just once and after that nothing but the possession of it would satisfy him.

“Immediately Titus began to negotiate with Moran for the bat…Finally Moran yielded, knowing that the bat would do Titus more good than it would do him.”

The Record described the bat:

“(D)irty and black from tobacco juice and frequent oiling, but the wood is in perfect shape.  Probably no bat in baseball is as thick as this one.  From the pitcher’s box it is said it reminds one more of a cricket bat in width.”

Titus told the paper:

“Anyone can hit with that bat of Anson’s.  When a fellow is hitting, he feels that there is something to life, after all.  What pleases a fellow more than to see a ball dropping over a fence?  Another one I guess.  Every player likes to hit home runs.  It gives a player lots of ginger and confidence when he is hitting them on the nose.”

Several newspapers picked up versions of the story throughout the season, but there was no later mention of the bat, or its eventual fate, in the Philadelphia press.

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3 Responses to “Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up other Things #8”

  1. Chuck June 4, 2014 at 4:39 pm #

    I believe Stees may have lived until 1967. Searching for him on newspapers.com, he was hired to manage a local team in 1936. The article said he worked as an engineer for the Pennsylvania Railroad (http://www.newspapers.com/clip/630676/harrisburg_telegraph/?). Another article about him getting hurt at work (http://www.newspapers.com/clip/630682/harrisburg_telegraph/?) gave his age as 57, thus born in 1882, and his address. The then became a policeman for the railroad. He appeared in articles into the 1940s. The last definite mention was in 1949 (http://www.newspapers.com/image/58643733/?terms=%22harry+stees%22), but this might be him in 1957 (http://www.newspapers.com/image/5384721/?terms=%22harry+stees%22) Finally, there’s this record at Find-A-Grave for a Harry Stees: http://findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=69876748

    • Thom Karmik June 5, 2014 at 8:10 am #

      Thanks for the information Chuck. I have been able to track him into the 1950s living in Harrisburg, but can’t find a definitive death date–I’ve been unable to get the cemetery record that corresponds with that grave, or the Pennsylvania death record. The 1882 date on the grave and from the article–if that is his grave–is almost certainly wrong. Other articles and census records indicate he was at least three years older–it is unlikely that in 1898,at 16-years-old, he would have already played a season of minor league ball, gotten married, and been reported dead aboard the Maine.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. “It ain’t been Overestimated None.” | Baseball History Daily - August 26, 2015

    […] Sand Crabs in the Texas League, but he refused to sign.  In June, with Phillies outfielder John Titus injured, he was sold back to Philadelphia for […]

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