Moose Baxter’s Play

4 Nov

Jimmy Ryan played 18 seasons in the major leagues from 1885 through 1903, and appeared in more than 2000 big league games and nearly 500 in the minor leagues.  But he said the greatest play he ever witnessed took place in 1908—his final year in organized ball–when he was player-manager of the Montgomery Senators in the Southern Association.

He claimed the play was made by John “Moose” Baxter, who he released later in the season for allegedly placing bets against his own team.

1908 Montgomery Senators.  Ryan is sitting center of middle row, Baxter is standing second from right.

1908 Montgomery Senators. Ryan is sitting center of middle row, Baxter is standing second from right.

Ryan told the story to Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Herald.  He said it happened during a game against the Atlanta Crackers:

“(T)he bases were full and no one was out…I think it was (Louis “Lou”) Castro at bat, and he hit the first ball pitched, a line drive about twenty feet inside of first base.  I was playing right field and I sprinted forward, fully expecting to catch the ball on the line and throw home.  But I never got a chance.

“Moose took a running jump at the ball; he hadn’t a chance to catch it.  Instead he flew up into the air, and striking at the ball with his mitt, hit it and knocked it forty feet as straight as if he had thrown it, and right into the hands of the second baseman (Clay Perry)…Baxter, when he hit the ball (with his glove) turned half over and fell heavily, but without waiting to get up started and rolled back toward first.

“(Perry) tossed the ball up there, and with one hand stretched out to touch the base, Baxter stuck up the other, caught the ball and completed the double play.  The runner on third, seeing what was coming off, started home at top speed, and Baxter, sitting near first base, threw from that position to the plate and caught the runner.”

Moose Baxter

    Moose Baxter

Despite executing “the greatest play” Ryan said he ever saw, Baxter quickly became more trouble than he was worth.  In May, he was suspended for a week.  The Montgomery News said, after he had “engaged in a tussle” with an umpire named O’Brien.  “Baxter threw the umpire to the ground and pummeled his face.”

Baxter was released on May 17.  Ryan said only that it was “for the good of the team.”  Later in the week, The News said:

“The reasons assigned by the management are that Baxter has incurred displeasure of the spectators and has bred dissention among the players.

“Reasons given on the street are that Baxter has been betting against his own team in one of the recent games.”

Whether Baxter ever placed a bet against his team is unknown, but no action was ever taken by the league and he signed with the New Orleans Pelicans within a week.

Baxter was never far from trouble during his career.  While playing, and operating an illegal business in Canada in 1910, Baxter ran afoul of the law and was escorted to the border.

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