Tag Archives: Baseball

Professional Baseball’s Last HBP Death

1 Aug

On June 2, 1951 at Peanut Stadium in Headland, Alabama, John Ottis Johnson an outfielder with the Dothan Browns of the Alabama-Florida League stepped to plate with 10 home runs and a .394 average in 155 at bats.  The pitcher for the Headland Dixie Runners, Harry Repard “Jack” Clifton had just returned to professional baseball after an eight year layoff.  Clifton had been a good hitting outfielder and occasional pitcher from 1940-43 playing in the Coastal Plaines, Bi-State and Piedmont Leagues.

Johnson was born April 5, 1923 (incorrectly listed as 1926 on Baseball Reference) in Alabama and was in his second season with Dothan, having hit .313 the previous season.  His brother Edsel, who was attending the game that evening, had played for Brewton in the Alabama State League in 1948.

Clifton threw an inside fastball that froze Johnson and he was struck in the head, fracturing his skull.  Johnson, who was a high school teacher in Midland City, Alabama, never fully regained consciousness and died eight days later.  He left a wife and child.  It was the last instance of a player being killed by a pitched ball in professional baseball.

Jack Clifton

 

The fallout from Johnson’s death nearly resulted in the folding of the Alabama-Florida League.  Dothan owner Charles Smith forfeited two games against Headland in the following weeks when Clifton was slated to pitch.  The franchises in Ozark, Panama City and Enterprise threatened to pull out of the league and form a four team league with Dothan if Headland did not release Clifton and suspend manager Bubba Ball.  Johnson’s wife supported Clifton, telling reporters “We’re willing to forget the accident, the rest of the people ought to be broad minded enough to do the same.”

As negotiations continued to keep the league intact, Clifton continued pitching.  As late as June 30 newspapers were reporting the league would fold, but on July 5 an agreement was finally reached that allowed Clifton to continue pitching and kept the league intact.

Escorted to the Canadian Border

31 Jul

John Morris “Moose” Baxter made it into six games for the 1907 St. Louis Cardinals hitting .190.  Baxter was born in Chippewa Falls, WI and played throughout the Midwest and Western US before his April ’07 cup of coffee with the Cardinals; he seems to have spent parts of each season between 1903 and 1906 playing independent ball in Canada—he appears on the rosters of independent teams in Calgary, Wetaskiwin and Banff during that period.

Many ballplayers of his era lived on the edges of the law, but Moose had the distinction of being escorted to the border of Canada and asked not to return.  Moose’s troubles began in 1908 while playing Montgomery in the Southern Association.  Baxter was unexpectedly released in June and Montgomery manager Jimmy Ryan said the move was “(F)or the good of the team.”  Within weeks, the newspapers in Southern Association cities reported that Moose was released for betting against his team.  He finished the season in New Orleans.

Moose Baxter Sioux City 1902

Moose played parts of two more seasons in the New York State and Western Canada Leagues but spent most of those two seasons playing independent ball in the Northwest United States and Canada.

Sometime in 1910 Moose ended up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada where he quickly made a name for himself and was described by the local papers as “The boss of the Tenderloin District.”  Moose ran Turkish baths and sold liquor in several establishments without bothering to get a license.  His brother Henry, who pitched for Edmonton in 1911 and also played independent ball in the Northwest, was his partner in the business.  After several run- ins with the law both brothers were arrested late in 1911, Moose was sentenced to six months in prison at Lethbridge, Alberta.

According to newspapers in Canada and Washington, upon his release Moose Baxter was given a week to sell off his considerable property in Calgary; and “Immediately placed in charge of Immigration Agent A.E. Humphries to be taken to the boundary line and given his freedom.”

After returning to the Northwest in 1912, Baxter split his time between Spokane, Washington and Portland, Oregon, appearing in city directories for both towns.  He died August 7, 1926, in Portland and was buried at Greenwood Memorial Terrace in Spokane.