“Old Pete Probably Saved my Life”

7 Dec

In a syndicated article for World Wide Features in 1942, writer Jack Smith talked to the “Chippewa Indian whom grandpa called ‘the game’s greatest money pitcher,’” Charles “Chief” Bender.

Smith said at 58, Bender “can still toss a pretty mean baseball.”

bender.jpg

Bender, 1942

Bender told Smith “he might be around,” anymore if not for Grover Cleveland Alexander, who “performed an operation” on Bender with a pen knife:

“It started on a lurching train carrying a Pullman-car-load of Phillies towards Boston in 1917, Bender, then a National Leaguer, started a playful wresting match with Eppa ‘Jeptha’ Rixey—and inadvertently stuck his arm through a Pullman window pane.”

Mike Dee, who was the Phillies trainer treated the six-inch gash in Bender’s arm, but he told Smith:

“’(T)here weeks later on another train my arm swelled like the head of a rookie pitcher after a no-hit game.

“’So I rolled out of my bunk and awakened Grover.  I showed him the poisoning and offered him my knife.  Old Pete said he wouldn’t mind at all.’”

Bender said he and Alexander sterilized the knife in boiling water, then after tying off the infected area, Alexander used the knife to drain the wound.

Bender said when he showed his arm to Dee the following day, “’Doc told me he couldn’t have done a better job himself.  He said Old Pete probably saved my life.’”

oldpete.jpg

Old Pete

Smith said seeing Bender work out with the Philadelphia Athletics during the spring of 1940 in Newport News, Virginia, and in 1941 in Wilmington, Delaware,

“At an age when most men creak at the joints and swell in the middle, he is still rangy and trim, still has that powerful arm, those long, sinewy fingers.”

Most importantly, Smith said, Bender was extremely humble:

“This man whose name is mentioned in the same breath with those of Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson, whose million dollar arm helped make baseball the national pastime, who’s been in the game since he started playing for Pop Warner at Carlisle back in 1902 (note: Bender graduated from Carlisle in 1902, and began playing for Warner there in 1899) will tell you his career is without highlights.

‘”All games were the same to me,’ he says.  ‘I worried about each pitch and that was all…In 1910 I pitched a no-hit no-run game and didn’t know it—not until somebody told me.”

A few days after Smith’s article appeared, Bender was named minor league pitching instructor for the New York Yankees.  The Associated Press said the Yankees minor leaguers should “Get your track pants on…’When a man’s legs and wind are right, he’ll be able to pitch.”

Bender kept running and continued pitching batting practice into his sixties.  He died at age 70 in 1954.

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