The Cincinnati Enquirer ran a small item about Nick Altrock in February of 1914. The paper said of the left-handed pitcher and one of baseball’s greatest clowns:
“(E)xcellent control, combined with a stolid indifference to the surroundings and trimmings which go to make up the big league contests, were the stock and trade of Mr. Altrock and the principal asset which made him a great pitcher.”
Altrock is 31st all-time, and third among left-handed pitchers, having walked just 1.6169 batters per nine innings.
A month later a letter arrived at the paper. The writer, Frank Torreyson, the man who discovered Altrock in Cincinnati, and signed him to his first professional contract with Grand Rapids in the Interstate League in 1898, told the paper that it was under his tutelage that Altrock got “the idea that control was everything almost in the pitching line.”
“During our exhibition season we had much rainy weather and had very few chances to play games and the championship season was upon us before we had much chance to secure any line on our players…Well, Altrock had not done any too well in his one exhibition game, although his work looked good to me and I saw that although he was somewhat green , that he had possibilities and he then was full of comedy, just as at present.”
Torreyson said he decided to leave Altrock behind in Grand Rapids when the club made their first road trip of the season:
“I took Altrock into the clubhouse and told him I was not going to take him along, and you should have seen his face. His lip fell down and he says, ‘Are you going to can me?’ I told him I was going to leave him at home to see if he could get control during the week we were away, telling him that he had no control over his curveball.”
Torreyson said when Altrock learned he wasn’t going to be released, he “took heart and said he would work hard,” on his control:
“I had a friend who lived near the park and he told me when I came home that Altrock came out at 9 AM and never took his uniform off until 5 o’clock. Then before supper, he would go down the street and watch to see what the boys did on the trip.”
“Poor Nick told them all that he guessed it was back to Cincy for him.
“Well, when we came home for the opening game Nick didn’t know whether to put on a uniform or not. I sent him to the grounds early while the other boys were on parade, and when practice came I told him I wanted to see if he could put a few of his curveballs over the plate, and you should have seen them coming over with speed—ins, outs and every ball he pitched right over the center. “
Torreyson said shortly before the game began he informed Altrock that he would be Grand Rapids’ starting pitcher:
“Well, that was the time you should have seen him open his eyes. Then he went in and only gave up a couple of hits, struck out 12 and never gave anything like a base on balls.”
Torreyson got some of the details wrong. Altrock did pitch the opener and went the distance in a 12-inning game that ended in a 3 to 3 tie; he struck out eight and walked two.
Altrock went 17-3 for Grand Rapids before the cash-strapped Torreyson sold him to the Louisville Colonels in July.
Torreyson said of Altrock:
“His work with us that season was of the most sensational character. Besides his great work he was one of the easiest men to handle I have ever seen in the game; always ready and willing and never shirking. Many a time have I seen him after pitching a winning game, keep his uniform on and play with the kids for an hour or two. He was always a general favorite with the public and players and was a credit to the game.”
As for Altrock’s success, well, Torreyson was fairly sure who to credit for that:
“I feel confident that the week he was left at home to learn to get them over had much to do with his having such great control during his later career.”