Thursday, July 7, 2011

By George (Blaeholder)!

This handsome fellow, looking for all the world like a silent movie star, is George Blaeholder.

Blaeholder, a right-handed hurler, came up with the St. Louis Browns organization, and played most of his major league career in Sportsman's Park before finishing with brief stays with the Philadelphia Athletics and Cleveland Indians. Along the way, he pitched well for some very bad teams, resulting in a single winning season in his eleven big-league seasons.

He is generally credited with inventing the slider, or at least popularizing it. A 1936 Baseball Magazine article had this to say about his singular "fast ball" delivery:
Blaeholder's strong point is his fast ball. He generally throws this with a side-arm motion which gives the ball a curious sweep to one side as it crosses the plate. Disconcerted batters have christened it the "slide ball." Evidently this deceptive sweep is due to some peculiarity in holding and throwing the ball. But Blaeholder takes no special credit.

"It's just my natural style," he says ...
It was from Cleveland that the Brewers acquired him in December of 1936. He came to the Brews as a veteran presence in the starting rotation. The Brewers were coming off an Association pennant.

Blaeholder pitched for the Brewers for six years, beginning in the starting lineup and moving into a relief role. Those six years saw some very mediocre Brewer teams take the field at the Orchard.

Blaeholder took his share of the lumps for that mediocrity. On September 20, 1940, the Milwaukee Journal reported an unusual interaction between George and the Brewer brass:
One of the finest fellows ever to wear an "M" on a baseball uniform is George Blaeholder, the California sphinx. When George called at the Brewer office a few days ago for his final pay check of the year, he apologized for "my poor record." Big George is just a modest old-timer. He owers nobody an apology for his fine work this year.

Every manager and every rival player in the league will tell you that Blaeholder with a top flight club would have breezed to 18 or 20 victories. With the stumbling Brewers he won 10 and lost 10. Several of his defeats were by one run margins. Better clubs would have avoided such reverses.

"Let George do it" has been on old Brewer battle cry. In the four or five years he has pitched for Milwaukee, we have heard the silent Californian explode just once. On the second eastern trip this year, after errors had whipped him 3-2, he barged into the clubhouse and growled

"If you fellows would bear down just a little more, an old man like myself would win occasionally."
Alas, it was not to be. After six years in Milwaukee, with no return to the majors in store, Blaeholder retired to his home in California. Sadly for Old George, that was the spring of 1943, the year the Brewers finally put together a run and brought the flag back to the Cream City. His Brewer career was bookended by the pennants he couldn't win.

Four years later, at the age of 43, George Blaeholder died after what was described as "a lingering illness." Today he is most known for his slider.

I love the depth of field in this photograph; his eyes and cap stand out, with the soft folds of his white flannel falling away into the background. Team photos rarely exhibit this level of artistry, opting instead for the mugshot approach.

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