Fred Badel was the first player in professional baseball (and most likely the only one) who suffered from Kyphosis, the over-curvature of the upper back. In less sensitive times, the first decade of the 20th Century, this led to his nickname: Humpy.
Badel was born in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, March 6, 1881, although contemporary newspaper accounts implied he was much older. He never learned to read or write, and despite his medical condition developed into a solid ballplayer.
The Altoona Tribune said:
“He is a little left-handed hitter, fast on his feet, and an excellent baserunner.”
The Tribune also said he was “(A) protegé of (Honus) Wagner.”
The Pittsburgh Press said he was:
“[E]xtremely fast on his feet, can hit like a fiend, and fields his position in a most finished manner.”
That description of Badel’s abilities appeared in an article about “The assertion…there are three classes of men who do not succeed in fast company in baseball, namely Hebrews, hunchbacks and Negroes,” the article failed to mention the concerted effort of organized baseball to keep at least two of those “classes” out of the game.)
His professional career began in 1905 with Johnstown in the independent “outlaw” Tri-State League, although earlier he appears to have played for the Youngstown team in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League, and independent teams in Pennsylvania.
No statistics survive, but Badel appears to have played well. He was described variously by Pennsylvania papers as a “picturesque character” and “odd,” but there seemed to be general agreement that he was destined for the big leagues. He also had a reputation for playing dirty, The Williamsport Sun-Gazette said he had “a nasty trick of trying to spike basemen.”
At the close of the 1905 season, Badel was signed by the Buffalo Bisons in the Eastern League, managed by George Stallings. Stallings, who had managed the Bisons since 1902, took the team south for spring training for the first time.
The trip was so successful that Stallings said he’d never again hold spring training in a northern climate—a regular practice at that time.
When the Bisons stopped in Cincinnati for an exhibition game with the Reds on April 10, Badel made an impression.
The Cincinnati Enquirer said:
“Humpy Badel was the bright particular star of the game…Badel is humpback, but a great athlete, with great speed and a fine arm. An outfielder who cuts into two double plays in one game is going some. He also made a fine catch on (Jim) Delahanty‘s drive in the second, which would have gone on for three bags…Badel was the main Bison slugger, securing two of the four hits off (Orville) Overall and one of the three off (Leo) Hafford. Toward the end of the game, the bleacherites were cheering him on with cries of ‘good work, Humpy,’ and applauding every move he made.”
The Enquirer reported that Stallings turned down a $4000 offer from Cincinnati–it was later reported to be $5000– to purchase Badel’s contract; the paper said Reds Manager Ned Hanlon badly wanted Badel.
Within months everything changed. He was with Buffalo until July, 6, when without notice he jumped the team and returned to Johnstown.
The Buffalo Courier blasted Badel; under the headline “Humpy Badel is a Foolish Man” the newspaper detailed how well he had been treated in Buffalo. While acknowledging that Badel “Has the makings of a great player in him,” the paper repeatedly mentioned his illiteracy, claimed he “Lacked common sense,” missed or ignored signs, refused Stallings’ attempts to help him, and was the subject of ridicule from his teammates who considered him ignorant.
The Buffalo Times summed up their view in verse:
“There was an outfielder named Humpy.
Whose work was decidedly lumpy;
So one bright summer day
He asked George for his pay,
And went back to the farm rather grumpy.”
Badel’s hometown papers in Pittsburgh and Sporting Life were somewhat less harsh, but all said that Badel’s leaving Buffalo probably ended a sure chance at a major league career. Rumors that he jumped because oil had been found on his Pennsylvania land and he no longer needed to play ball were quickly dismissed.
There is no record of Badel ever having been asked for an explanation for why he left Buffalo and effectively ended any chance he had to play in the major leagues.
Badel hit over .300 in Johnstown during the second half of 1906. He did not play professional ball in 1907, some reports said he had been blacklisted, others claimed he was ill–The Washington Herald said he was “in the grip of consumption,” although that report was likely false.
He appeared briefly with Johnstown again in 1908, but it appears he was not the same player. The Harrisburg Star-Independent said:
“‘Humpy’ Badel has degenerated. The eccentric one is no longer the valuable player which he showed himself to be in 1906.”
Badel is listed on the rosters of several independent, C and D league teams between 1910 and 1914, including the “outlaw” United States League in 1912 and the Federal League in 1913. As was the case throughout his career, there are few extant statistics for Badel during this period.
The last mention of Badel in the press was the report of his release from Maysville in the Ohio State League in June of 1914. According to census records and his World War I registration card, he lived in Cincinnati, then Akron and worked as a carpenter until 1919.
After 1919, there are no records of Badel, a suitable, enigmatic end to the story of an enigmatic man.
A shorter version of this post was published on August 21, 2012