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Baseball & Trapshooting
 

"Hey, get your scorecard" and your box of shells.

Read on to learn more about Chief Bender (Philadelphia A's), Frankie Frisch (NY Giants), Steve Hamilton (NY Yankees), Catfish Hunter (NY Yankees), Lester German (NY Giants) ,Sam Leever (Pittsburgh Pirates), and Steve Hamilton (NY Yankees)

In the early 20th century, famous trapshooters were as popular as any baseball player and received as much publicity and many endorsements. The Sporting Life was a popular magazine which gave equal space to the trapshooters and the baseball players and teams. To read more on baseball, hunting and trapshooting, read Dick Baldwin's October 2002 "Road to Yesterday" column in Trap and Field

Lester German

Lester German, born in 1869, was a major league pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles in 1890, the NY Giants from 1893 to early 1896 and than traded to the Washington Senators in 1896 and finished his career in 1897 with Washington. He won 34 and lost 63 major league games and played on the winning Temple Cup NY Giants in 1894. The Temple Cup was equivalent to today's World Series.

German had a remarkable career as a professional shooter for the Parker Gun Co. and DuPont. Prior to his association with Parker and DuPont, he played major league baseball, pitching for the New York Giants and Washington Senators. With his lifetime pitching record of 34 wins and 63 losses, German won far more trapshooting tournaments than baseball games. In 1915 he established a new trapshooting world record by breaking 499 of 500 singles targets at the Westy Hogans shoot in Atlantic City, NJ . At this tournament he broke 647 of 650 singles, doubles and handicap targets. Lester German, a born athlete, was hired by the Dupont Powder Company to do trap-shooting in exhibition matches after his 19th century baseball career ended. He often performed with the famous Annie Oakley.

Sam "Deacon K" Leever

Late in the 1903 season, Sam "Deacon K" Leever hurt his right shoulder in a trapshooting contest in Charleroi, Pennsylvania. Leever was an avid and accomplished trap shooter his entire life, but his injury dearly cost the Pirates in the 1903 World Series (first ever played). As a result he had a sore arm during the 1903 World Series (he won 25 games in 1903) and lost twice to the Red Sox. Leever still holds major league pitching records that are over 100 years old. He won 194 games and lost only 100 during his 13 seasons, all with the Pirates. He threw six consecutive shutouts in 1903, still a major league record. His lifetime winning percentage of .656 is third (after Christy Mathewson and Sal Maglie) among NL pitchers in the 20th century and tenth all-time. Sam Leever might be one of the best pitchers in history that nobody ever heard of. He died in 1953.

"Chief" Bender

Chief Bender, a Chippewa Indian, Hall of Fame pitcher and trapshooter. He pitched for Connie Mack's Philadelphia A's from 1903 to 1914. In 1915 he jumped to the outlaw Federal League's Baltimore Terrapins. He won only 4 while losing 16. In 1916 he came back to the major leagues, this time with the Philadelphia Phillies. He pitched two years and retired. However, at the age 41 he returned to the Chicago White Sox and played in one game, pitching one inning.

While pitching for the A's, his team won 5 AL Championships and 3 World Series. In his last year with the Athletics he won 17 and lost only 3. He died in Philadelphia in 1954, the last year the A's were in Philly. The previous summer he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

During his playing days with the A's and the Phillies he lived in the Philadelphia area and was seen shooting trap for many years at two local Philadelphia clubs, the Roxborough Gun Club and the Quaker City Gun Club. Both these clubs are long gone.

In addition to his baseball career, Bender had many other interests.  He was an excellent marksman with a shotgun and toured for a time as a representative of the Winchester Arms Company. He was good enough to be ranked among the top ten trap shooters in the country. In a 1915 tour sponsored by the DuPont Powder Company, Bender hit a total of 1,658 targets out of 1,800 thrown, a 92.11 average. The 1915 Interstate Average Book show Bender with an average of 92.20 on 500 registered targets, an exceptional average for that time period. 

In 1950 Connie Mack wrote that Chief Bender was one of the top six pitchers in history. If you are interested in more of the life of Bender, click here.

Steve Hamilton

An important Yankee reliever (40-31 lifetime record) who had played pro basketball with the Minneapolis Lakers, the 6'6" Steve Hamilton threw a nasty slider with a three-quarter sidearm motion that froze left-handed hitters. He saved the sixth game of the 1964 World Series. In 1965, he recorded a 1.39 ERA in 46 games, and in 1968 saved a career-high 11. Late in his career he added a blooper pitch, thrown with a hesitation delivery, fashioned after Rip Sewell's "Eephus" ball. Hamilton called it the "Folly Floater," and it helped extend his career. He recorded 42 ML saves.

Hamilton along with Yankee team mates of the mid 60's had a life long love affair with hunting and trapshooting. Many times they would go to the Lordship Gun Club in Connecticut, and under the direction of museum director Dick Baldwin, would shoot trap in their off days during the summer. He never competed at local or registered trapshoots but just shot at Lordship for the love of the "Sport Alluring."

Dick Baldwin writes in his October 2002 Road to Yesterday article; "One day in the early 1960s, I received a call at Remington from Gene Porter, our regional manager in Kansas City and a baseball fan like me. The Yankees had just played the Kansas City Athletics (now the Kansas City Royals), and Gene spent some time with a Yankee relief pitcher named Steve Hamilton. A hunter and shooter type, Hamilton expressed interest in shooting some trap at Remington's gun club in Lordship, Conn. During the baseball season, he lived in New Jersey, about an hour from our gun club.

Baldwin continues; "I called Hamilton and invited him to shoot with us at Lordship. He asked if he could bring a couple of other Yankees who liked to shoot as well. Of course I said yes. The two others turned out to be second baseman Bobby Richardson and star pitcher Mel Stottlemyre (now the Yankee pitching coach)."

"Hamilton and I hit it off right away. A backwards Kentucky boy who loved to shoot trap and talk about shooting, he and I became the best of friends. He often took me into the Yankee locker room, where I met many of the players who were once my boyhood idols."

After his baseball career he returned to his Alma Mater and coached baseball. Morehead State University has long been known for its prowess on the diamond, racking up six Ohio Valley Conference regular season championships and over 1,000 wins in over 75 years of Eagle baseball. Morehead University saw perhaps their most successful run under the direction of former Morehead State standout, trapshooter, hunter and major leaguer Steve Hamilton, who guided the Morehead Eagles to 305 wins over 14 seasons from 1976 until 1989.

Hamilton died a very young man at the age of 62 in 1997.

Jim "Catfish" Hunter

Baldwin also writes in his Road to Yesterday column in October of 2002; "In the summer of 1966 Gene Porter and I arranged for many of the Kansas City Athletics to shoot trap at the Remington Gun Club while they were in New York playing the Yankees. Among them was a shy young pitcher from North Carolina who loved to hunt quail. His name was Jim Hunter. A few years later, the Kansas City Athletics moved to Oakland, and Jimmy Hunter became known as "Catfish" Hunter."

"On New Year's Eve 1974, Catfish signed a $3 million, five-year contract to pitch for the Yankees. We became good friends and spent time together on many occasions. He shot trap with me on his off days, and I hunted quail and deer with him on his North Carolina farm during the winter months."

"I featured him for two years in Remington Model 3200 magazine ads. In return, he asked for nothing more than a Remington Model 3200 "one of 1,000" serial #27, his uniform number. Our competition would ask me what I paid Catfish to be in our ads. My answers ranged from $1 million to $4 million, and they would say, "Boy, you got a real buy there." Now they know what we really gave him."

"In 1979 I took Catfish and a third-string Yankee catcher to the big New York Athletic Club shoot. Catfish joined the ATA and shot in a preliminary 16-yard event. A lot of shooters knew who he was, but the four others in his squad didn't. Two shooters in Jimmy's squad, Lou Bocciarelli and Chuck Tumey of Connecticut, told me later, "We couldn't understand why so many were following our squad from trap to trap. No one was going to break in the 90s, but everyone was watching us."

Catfish Hunter retired from baseball in 1979. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987. Hunter died at age 53 of Lou Gehrig's disease. Ironically, he died on the ninth day of the ninth month in the year 1999, and there are nine innings in a baseball game.

Frankie Frisch

Frankie Frisch, played on 8 NL pennant winners in 19 years with NY and St. Louis; hit .300 or better 11 years in a row (1921-31); MVP in 1931; player-manager from 1933-37. "The Fordham Flash," an all-around athlete who jumped directly from college to the New York Giants, played on eight pennant-winners in 19 big league seasons. A fine switch-hitter, Frisch compiled a run of 11 straight .300 seasons and set fielding records for chances and assists with the Cardinals in 1927. He died in 1973.

Baldwin writes in his Road to Yesterday column in October of 2002; "On many Saturdays, a portly man around 50 years old followed me down the line. When the shooting ended, he always headed for the bar. Everyone referred to him as "Frankie." For some reason, he took a liking to me. He tried to shoot, seldom breaking in the 20s, but he didn't seem to care. He'd just go back to the bar."

"One afternoon my dad said to me, "Do you know who that fellow is that likes you so much?" "No, he's just a drunk," I replied. Father said, "Well, he may be now, but he wasn't always. That's Frankie Frisch, one of the best major league ballplayers of all time. He's in the Baseball Hall of Fame."

"At the time, I had never heard of Frankie Frisch, but later I found out how famous he was. Known as the "Fordham Flash," he played for the New York Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals in the '20s and '30s. When the Cardinals won the 1934 World Series, Frankie was their player-manager. They were called "The Gashouse Gang ." Obviously, he played baseball better than he could shoot trap."

"Once I was in a shootoff at the NYAC for a giant Easter basket filled with Schraft candy in fancy boxes. I don't know if Frankie didn't like the fellow I shot off against or if he just tried to encourage me, but right before we went out on the line, he put his arm around me and gave a big pep talk on how much better I was than the other fellow and how he knew that I'd win. As I look back, he spoke to me like he would to a pinch-hitter in his old baseball days, coming to the plate in a critical situation. Dad said that more than likely he had bet money on me to win. If this was the case, he won, and the Baldwin's ate lots of good chocolates for a long time."

Article about Chief Bender in Baseball Magazine (1916)

Of course you’ve heard that “Big Chief” Bender has joined Pat Moran’s tribe (Phillies, 1916), and will again twirl the horsehide pill as a regular, law-abiding player after a rather disappointing deflection to the ranks of the late, unlamented “outlaw” league (Federal League in 1915).

Now get ready, fans, to read the effusions of newspaper syndicate dopsters on “Chief Bender Comes Back.”  The Chippewa’s “coming back” recalls a story. It runs something like this: A white man passing a cabin in the South heard a terrific commotion and, fearing that murder was about to be committed, looked in. The sight that met his gaze was of a massive colored woman belaboring a diminutive Negro man.

Hey, there,” the intruder called, ”what are you beating that man for?” “Ah beat him if I wants to, he’s mah husband,” came the answer. “Well, what’s he done?” inquired the peacemaker. “Done? Done?” repeated the colored woman, “Why he done left dat chicken coop doah open an’ dem chickens all done got out.”Oh, that’s all right,” said the white man, “they’ll come back.” “Come back? Come back? dey’ll go back”.

And so it is with the Chief; he has gone back to organized baseball (after a year in the outlaw Federal League in 1915), but no ”coming back” enters into the matter, at least, so far as physical form goes, for the “redskin” has never lost it. Not that last season’s experience (won 4, lost 16 for Baltimore in the Federal League), either physical or mental, was conducive to keeping him in shape for ball hurling, but the real reason why the great winner of league pennants and world’s series arguments has survived knocks that would have sent other players to the “bushes,” is that the Chief has persistently stuck to the clay bird game—the sport that, more than any other, keeps eyes keen, steels the nerves and cultivates instant and accurate judgment of speed, distance, the effect of wind, etc.; things that are invaluable to a pitcher.

Hundreds of thousands of us know the Chief as he stands in the pitcher’s box—a stolid giant with the unemotional characteristics of his race, yet comparatively few of the admirers of this wonderful moundsman know the other side of his personality as revealed when toeing the “firing line” at a trapshooting club. Here, “the boy in the man” asserts itself and a string of broken targets will make Bender as gleeful as a debutante who has just received her first invitation to a dance.

My, how the Chief likes to win a shooting match! But, at that, the Chief is also a good loser, and he will no more make excuses for an occasional low score at the traps than he would explain to the bleachers why an opposing pitcher got the jump on him in an important game. Yes, Chief Bender has gone back to baseball, and, gee, how glad we all are to say: Welcome back.

 

Editors note: This article on Bender was taken exactly from the article written in 1916. The racial slander of African Americans and Native Americans, very common in 1916 America, certainly do not reflect the views of the Trapshooting Hall of Fame and we find such wording deplorable.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 June 2010 10:04