Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Great Names in Baseball: Barney "The Yiddish Curver" Pelty

[Editor's note: This is a guest post written by good friend, fellow baseball enthusiast, and ambiguously names Steve Davis. Thanks for contributing Steve!]

Greetings, faithful reader. My name is Steve - unless you're hispanic, then my name is Esteban. Despite an irreconcilable disagreement in regard to how one is intended to spend time at a bowling alley1, Eric and I have a mutual appreciation for projectiles that are dispatched skyward from ground level and the people that make this possible.

You may be asking yourself, "why is this man2 who is not Eric writing things to me on Eric's blog?" This is a valid question; let me assure you that your concerns are important to me and will be addressed in the order which they were received. It's quite simple, really - I'm here to tell you about Barney "The Yiddish Curver" Pelty, who hailed from Farmington, Missouri. While I'm not from Farmington or even Missouri at all, chances are I'm more from Farmington than you are3, and that gives me a decided advantage in the knowing of things about people from there.

In the days before baseball was racially integrated, any number of other factions were targeted and ridiculed. Among many people of the day (and, sadly, also in the current day), the Jewish were unwelcome. This caused many Jewish baseball pros to conceal their beliefs and even change their names in an attempt to make a peaceful living. Barney Pelty was not one of these pros.

Born and raised in the aforementioned Farmington, Pelty played college ball at the Carlton Institute in said town. After a transfer that saw him briefly play at Blees Military Academy, he began his professional career in 1902 by signing on with the minor league Nashville Vols. An arm injury saw him bounce back to semipro ball before resurfacing the next year with the Cedar Rapids Rabbits4. However, the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Browns quickly took an interest in the young man with a large nose5. The Browns purchased his services for $850, making him among the first Jewish players in the American League. Unlike other players, he was proud of this fact and openly touted the nickname “Yiddish Curver.”

Over the course of the next 10 seasons in St. Louis6, Pelty proved to be a very solid pitcher on a generally terrible team. He experienced what was certainly his greatest success during the 1906 season7, going 16-11 with a 1.59 ERA over 260.2 innings and allowing a WHIP of only 0.951. This gave him the second lowest ERA in the American League that season, and it is telling that he still barely managed to eclipse a .500 win-loss record behind that performance. As it turns out, that season’s 1.59 ERA still ranks as the lowest mark in the history of the St. Louis Browns/Baltimore Orioles franchise.

Pelty retired at the end of 1912 with a tidy 2.63 ERA for his career, which still stands as the best mark ever recorded by a Jewish pitcher. It should be noted, though, that he put these numbers up in the deadball era and was only moderately better than the average pitcher over the course of his career – in this context, he falls well below more notable Jewish hurler Sandy Koufax by a wide margin. Despite his useful pitching, Pelty finished his career with an unremarkable record of 92-117.

During the offseason and after his retirement, Pelty kept himself busy running a bookstore, managing semipro teams, working as an inspector for the Missouri State Food and Drug Department, and participating in local politics back in his hometown of Farmington. He did resurface in 1937 to face off against the great Grover Cleveland Alexander in an exhibition game which, in keeping with his career norms, he lost. Pelty would die two years later in his hometown at the age of 58.

1 Eric’s idea vs. Steve’s idea

2 Not actually me. Googling my name is not fruitful.

3 May not be true. I don’t know where you are from.

4 I long for the days when a major professional sports franchise would exist in a place like Cedar Rapids. Bless you, Green Bay Packers.

5 I wanted this not to be true. Unfortunately, it was.

6 Much like the Yiddish Curver, I also work in St. Louis. Even more reason for me to know things.

7 Interestingly, Pelty spent the 1906 season with the historic Branch Rickey as his catcher.

1 comment:

  1. Another interesting player featured. Thanks.

    Eric's mom