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Swede Carlstrom

Swede Carlstrom

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Position(s):
SS
Born:
October 26, 1886
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
6'
Weight:
167 lbs
Major League Debut:
9-12-1911 with BOS

Swede Carlstrom
by Bill Nowlin
Two days in the major leagues – back to back. Swede Carlstrom’s big-league career began on September 12, 1911. He wrapped up his career on September 13. He didn’t enjoy an auspicious debut with the Boston Red Sox. The Boston Globe noted that Carlstrom, “late of the Lawrence [Massachusetts] club,” had a difficult game at shortstop. “The young fellow fell down badly. He acted very nervous; on the first ball he picked up he fell flat on the ground as he went to throw the ball, and later in the game he ran over and knocked the ball out of Yerkes’ hands after Yerkes had taken a fly.”[1]

Carlstrom also made a “wild throw to first” in the fourth, and a runner reached first base in the sixth on a “fumble by Carlstrom.” Oddly enough, the Red Sox committed five errors during the 6-5 win over the Washington Senators – but none were charged to Carlstrom. The right-handed hitter singled, 1-for-3 at the plate. He had helped set up a run in the sixth, successfully sacrificing Duffy Lewis to third after Lewis had doubled. Lewis scored on a wild pitch.

Swede got another chance the very next day. This time he was 0-for-3, but Tim Murnane, covering the game for the Globe, listed a litany of bumbling plays in the field: In the first inning Washington scored a run due to “Carlstrom’s failure to stop a grounder.” This came after pitcher Larry Pape had fielded a ball hit back to the mound, with a runner on first, but when he turned to throw to second to start a double play, he “found Carlstrom and Gardner mixed up on the base.” In the second inning Carlstrom “threw to second too late to get the runner.” Washington got another run in the sixth, when the leadoff batter was safe “as a ground ball went through Carlstrom.” The hapless Swede was lifted for a pinch hitter in the ninth. Again, he wasn’t assessed an error, but he definitely didn’t get any more chances that year.

Before Carlstrom came to Boston from the Lawrence Barristers (New England League) in September, there had been reports that the Chicago White Sox were interested in him in August, but it was Boston that bought his contract. The Washington Post was not impressed. “If Washington ever had a chance or thought of buying Carlstrom, it saved some money by being beaten out by Boston. He may have some mechanical ability, but he hasn’t learned how to play a ground ball, and he is in some other player’s way too often.”[2]

It was just his second year in Organized Baseball. After several years of semipro ball, Carlstrom had begun his professional career at age 23 and spent his first four seasons with Lawrence.

Albin Oscar Carlstrom was both in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on October 26, 1886, the son of Emil and Charlotte Carlstrom. Emil was a machinist who had emigrated to the United States around 1880. Charlotte made the journey from Sweden to America the following year. Swedish was the language spoken in the home. Like many a first-generation American, young Albie enjoyed playing baseball and started early with a neighborhood team, the Bushtown Athletic Club. He left school after completing the eighth grade in the Elizabeth public schools.

John J. Hall, sports editor of the Elizabeth Daily Journal, knew Carlstrom in those days and wrote that he played efficiently, but without flair or fanfare –  “never hurried, never excited – completing his plays with an ease and symmetry that made the most difficult chances seem easy. Plays that brought opposing players ringing applause passed almost unnoticed when executed by Carlstrom.”[3]
Hall’s memory was that Elizabeth captain Flick Luyster recommended Carlstrom to Lou Pieper of the Lawrence club and a deal was done. In his first year in the New England League, he was chosen all-star second baseman over Rabbit Maranville. Carlstrom stood an even 6 feet tall and was listed as weighing 167 pounds. He was a .300 hitter for the Bushtown AC, and soon caught the eye of the Elizabeth Stars and played with them in 1909.

Lawrence played as the Colts in 1910 and Carlstrom hit .234 in 145 at-bats, with one home run. Lawrence changed its name to the Barristers beginning in 1911. Carlstrom appeared in 120 games and hit .244 with five homers. The September call-up to the Red Sox was disappointing and Swede’s contract was sold back to Lawrence. He attracted some attention again (depicted in the Globe as Albion Carlstrom) in August 1912 when the Red Sox – well on their way to the pennant, purchased his contract again from Lawrence. He was leading the Barristers in runs scored and was “regarded as one of the fastest men playing his position in the New England League.” In at least one later account, he was assigned the nickname Speed.[4] He was due to play out the season for Lawrence, and then be available if needed for the Red Sox.[5]

He wasn’t needed in Boston, though he helped the Barristers win the 1912 New England League championship, batting .275 that year. Carlstrom was one of only two backup infielders who trained in Hot Springs with the Red Sox in the spring of 1913, the other being Everett Scott, and he hit .250 in exhibition action, but was released back to Lawrence near the end of March. He hit .289, his final year with the Barristers – though he still had nine more seasons ahead of him. There were allegations that his late 1912 signing may have been a “wash sale” one in which Lawrence purportedly sold his contract to Boston to keep him from being subject to draft by another International League team, only to buy him back for the same price later in the year. Papers alleging “covering up” were filed in court in November 1913.[6]

Red Sox scout (he’d been manager as recently as 1911) Patsy Donovan saw Carlstrom as having more of a future at first base than at shortstop, and in the spring of 1913 he worked out with the team at first base and drew the occasional notice in the press for his work there.[7] For the third year in a row, the Red Sox bought his contract from Lawrence in August 1913, this time for a reported $2,500. “His batting and fielding have been such as to make the Boston Club want him back again,” the August 3 Globe informed readers. He was to report after the New England League season had ended. He never saw game action, despite the 1913 Red Sox being out of contention for anything but fourth-place money.

On the last day of 1913, Carlstrom was sold to the Montreal Royals.

By May he was with Buffalo, though perhaps still with some strings held by Boston even at this remove. Hall, the sports editor in Elizabeth, New Jersey, wrote that Carlstrom had been loaned to Buffalo on the provision that he play nowhere but at first: “I met Donovan during that summer and he told me, ‘When Carlstrom comes back to us next spring nobody will be able to shake him out of the first base job,” Hall wrote.[8]

Carlstrom played for both Montreal and Buffalo in 1914, and had played first base both in his final year with Lawrence and his first year in the International League. He played the next five years (1915 through 1919) for the Bisons as well, though his career was interrupted by the First World War. Buffalo placed second in 1915 (with Albie batting .246 for manager Patsy Donovan, and “playing a brilliant brand of ball” at third base, still catching the eye of some major-league scouts.[9] He got in a full year’s work in 1916 (.284), and was active in helping organize ballplayers; he was Buffalo’s player rep to Dave Fultz’s Player’s Fraternity.[10]

Carlstrom’s season was cut short in 1917, but not by going out on strike (in fact, he was the first player to sign his 1917 contract). He found himself drafted into military service.

He left behind a large family. The 1920 census showed Charlotte, his mother, as head of the household, with her children Walter (a boilermaker), Lillian (a teacher), Charles (machinist), Ruth (teacher), and Emil (a cafe manager). Though he had taken up a career in real estate, Albin – known simply as Al to his sister Ruth – was still listed as a professional ballplayer at age 43, in the 1930 census. He remained living in the family home, as did most of his siblings. Walter had become a lunch-wagon cook and Charles a toolmaker for a sewing-machine company.

Carlstrom appeared in 14 games for Buffalo in 1918 before he left for war. He stayed on well after the war had ended, doing duty as a military policeman stationed in Paris, but returned in 1919 with enough time to get into 38 games. He hit in the .260s in the two years. He’d seen combat during the brief time he had served in the 346th Infantry before the Armistice. Hall reported: “Soldiers who served with him have told me that the war ... was just another ball game – nothing to get upset about. No matter how heavy the bombarding was – well, it had to end some time. No matter how thick the bullets flew – after all, they were only bullets and you can’t expect a shower of apple blossoms when there is war to be fought. Somehow the bullets were never able to stop him any more than flashing spikes, but the muck and the grime of the trenches took their toll, and Carlstrom hobbled home crippled with rheumatism. Care and rest relieved him of his lameness, but when he went to Buffalo to try again he couldn’t ‘dig ’em out of the dirt’ the way he used to and he was no longer a streak heading down to first.”[11]

Swede was 33 years old in 1920. He played for Jersey City and then for the Syracuse Stars, appearing in 125 games and hitting close to his .259 career average (at .251) but his fielding at second base resulted in a poor .946 fielding percentage (he’d played the outfield for Buffalo at the end of 1919). In 1921 he gave it one last try for Syracuse, but hit only .195 and he realized he didn’t have it. Hall wrote, “Gamely he tried to fight his way back, but the old stuff wasn’t there and without waiting to be told that he was through he packed his dufflebag and retired.”[12]

Strangely, at the age of 45, in 1932, Carlstrom reappeared in baseball on a New York Yankees farm team, the Cumberland (Maryland) Colts of the Middle Atlantic League. He played second base and hit .245 in 41 games. He’d been working as a bartender at the time, real estate not being a lucrative profession during the Depression. Perhaps he was trying to impress Mary Agnes Dick by playing baseball; the two married in November 1933. The marriage didn’t last long, ending tragically when he was stricken with spinal meningitis and died in April 1935.

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed his player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the online SABR Encyclopedia, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.


[1] Boston Globe, September 13, 1911. The Washington Post wrote, “Carlstrom made a high tackle on Yerkes, after the latter had the ball in his mitt, causing him to spill it, and put a man on.”

[2] Washington Post, September 14, 1911.

[3] Elizabeth Daily Journal, May 1, 1935.

[4] Sporting Life, April 7, 1917.

[5] Boston Globe, August 19, 1912. The Christian Science Monitor reported that the deal cost the Red Sox $2,000.

[6] Sporting Life, November 29, 1913.

[7] See, for instance, the Boston Globe of June 5, 1912.

[8] Elizabeth Daily Journal, op. cit. Hall’s memory may have been slightly off as to timing, but there is no reason to doubt the gist of his remarks.

[9] Sporting Life, September 11, 1915.

[10] Sporting Life, February 3, 1917.

[11] Elizabeth Daily Journal, op. cit.

[12] Ibid.

This biography can also be found at SABR

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