Charles Andrew Barngrover pitched in just a handful of minor league games, but his career as an itinerant professional baseball player in the first decade of the 20th Century provides a window into the world of the hundreds of young men who traveled the country earning a living on the fringes of the game.
He was born on January 1, 1883 in Ellinwood, Kansas, and started his career with a team in Great Bend in 1902; the league was comprised of most of the Central Kansas cities that would make up the Kansas State League when it was formed in 1905.
In 1903 he joined a team in Larned, Kansas and was involved in an incident that that made headlines across the state.
The Topeka Daily Capital said Barngrover and his teammates “fought their way from the hotel to the Hutchinson & Southern depot in Kingman last night after a disagreement concerning a 17-inning ballgame.” When the fleeing ballplayers reached Hutchinson, Barngrover described the chaos to a reporter from The Hutchinson News:
“The Kingman boys have a good club and they managed to put it on us by a score of 3 to 0 in Monday’s game. We had a series of three games in sight and were to receive $25 a game. The game yesterday (Tuesday) was a hard one and there was a tie at the end of the ninth inning. The tie lasted until the seventeenth inning.”
In the seventeenth, the umpire, a Larned player, called a close play at the plate in favor of his team, which gave the visitors a 7 to 6 victory.
“When the decision was made (a $60 side bet) was turned over to us and five of us started for town. The Kingman club and the citizens generally went after the other Larned) boys (about the call) saying it would have to be changed of the $25 a game would not be forthcoming. “
According to Barngrover the umpire was forced to reverse his decision, and the four remaining Larned players told to take the field. Kingman quickly scored a run and claimed victory.
“A short time after this the crowd came into town. The Kingman boys found that we had the side bet money and they came to the hotel and demanded it. We refused to turn loose and the fight started…There were about forty Kingman boys in the mob and they said they were going to get us. Baseball bats and everything else in sight were used and we fought all the way from the hotel to the depot and stood them off until the train came in…As we got on the train we heard someone say that there were several broken heads in the crowd…We were lucky to get out alive, as the Kingman people are the worst we ever went up against.”
The following year, Barngrover’s hometown paper, The Ellinwood Leader reported that the pitcher “was lynched at Fort Worth, Texas a short time ago. It is said that during a ball game he disputed a decision of the umpire and struck him over the head with a bat, killing him. The crowd was so angered they avenged the murder by hanging him.”
The Hoisington (KN) Dispatch added:
“(Barngrover’s parents) are fairly well to do and highly respected…He pitched several games for Hoisington last spring but was not so popular among the ballplayers here on account of being accused of throwing a game.”
Several weeks later The Leader reported that the rumor was wrong; Barngrover’s parents had received word from him that he was in San Francisco, the paper gave no explanation for how the rumor arose, or whether or not Barngrover was involved in any such incident in Texas.
It’s unclear where Barngrover played after arriving in San Francisco in the spring of 1904, but he turned up two years later in Reno, Nevada. The Nevada State Journal said the local agent for the Rainier Brewing Company had organized a team which “will defeat any Nevada team,” and signed Barngrover, who the paper said was “reputed to be the best amateur pitcher in California.
The stop in Nevada lasted just three months, and by June he was back in Kansas pitching for a team in his hometown and pitched for them on and off for the remainder of the 1906 season. In August The Kansas City (KN) Globe said he had joined a barnstorming club called the National Bloomers:
“(He) is wearing bloomers and appearing as ‘Lady Rupert, one of the two World Renowned Lady Pitchers.’”
In 1907 he made his first appearance with a team recognized by the national agreement when he was signed by the Springfield Midgets in the Western Association—The Hutchinson News was not thrilled with his prospects:
“Hutchinson fans are wondering whether or not Barngrover can stick at Springfield. He got off extremely lucky in three of his games but in the other four or five he has been radically wrong.”
After just 10 games, and a 4-6 record, he was released and returned to Kansas to play for a semi-pro team in Kinsley. Barngrover then went from Kansas to Colorado to New Mexico and back to Kansas the next two years, playing with various semi-pro teams.
And, while he does not appear on any published rosters, Barngrover pitched in two games for the 1909 Western League Champion Des Moines Boosters in September; a 15-8 victory over the Topeka Jayhawks and he pitched the final two innings of an 11 to 4 loss to the Sioux City Packers.
He began the 1910 season, according to The Sporting Life, under the name “Smith” pitching the Quincy Vets of the Central Association to a 13-inning opening day victory over the Burlington Pathfinders—the game was later awarded to Burlington and after just one game, Barngrover was on the road again, to the Minnesota-Wisconsin League, where he was a combined 2-9 in eleven games with the La Crosse Outcats and the Rochester Roosters.
The wandering pitcher spent the next two seasons bouncing back and forth from the semi-pro fields of Kansas to La Crosse for a handful of games in 1911; then to Utah in 1912, where he spent a month with the Ogden Canners of the Union Association, and back to Kansas again.
He spent one more season pitching in Kansas before retiring.
Barngrover went to work for the Fort Worth & Denver Railway; it was as a result of his second career that he received the most media attention.
In the fall of 1921 he was indicted by a United States grand jury for theft of interstate shipments. Barngrover cooperated with the government and, according to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram “was the government’s star witness in the prosecution of four men indicted with him.” In all twenty-three men were indicted for stealing more than $100,000 in goods; the indicted men would hide in rail cars and throw “stolen goods along the tracks as the trains left Fort Worth, which were picked up by other members of the gang in motor cars.”
On March 10, 1922, Barngrover was preparing to testify at the trial of several more co-conspirators. While he had been fired from his job after the indictment, he was at the rail yard talking to former coworkers when he was shot and killed. Two days after his murder, The Star-Telegram said:
“The body of C.A. Barngrover, ex-railroad man, self-confessed boxcar robber and Government witness, was placed in a modest grave in Greenwood Cemetery Saturday afternoon.
“And while the funeral services were said over his grave, police were endeavoring to solve the mystery surrounding the identity of the assassin who, concealed in a boxcar, shot Barngrover to death…Barngrover had 3 cents in his pockets when killed.”
A railroad employee was indicted for the murder, but there is no record of a conviction in the case.