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Hack Eibel

Hack Eibel

Position(s):
OF, 1B, P
Born:
December 6, 1893
Bats:
Left
Throws:
Left
Height:
5' 11"
Weight:
220 lbs
Major League Debut:
6-13-1912 with CLE

Hack Eibel
by Bill Nowlin
“The Washington public went enthusiastically, almost insanely, baseball mad” on the day of Hack Eibel’s debut. So wrote the Washington Post.  This happened when “Clark Griffith’s ambitious climbers batted the ‘13’ hoodoo all to pieces.”[1]  It was the 13th of the month of July and the Nationals had 13 hits, adding another win to a 13-game winning streak. Playing right field and batting fifth was Henry “Hack” Eibel, and he didn’t do much to help Cleveland, 0-for-3 at the plate and then pulled (fruitlessly) for a pinch-hitter in the ninth. Eibel recorded no putouts, assists, or errors in the game, but Washington won, 6-3, over the Cleveland Naps.  The streak reached 17 wins, but even then Washington remained a game and a half out of first place behind the Boston Red Sox.

Eibel was a stocky 220 pounds on a 5-foot-11 frame, batted left, and threw left. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, on December 6, 1893, and attended public elementary school there, starting as a pitcher who “had a barrel of smoke and lots of stuff,” but his hitting was so good that he was converted to an everyday player, eventually signing in January 1912 with Albany. His first play, however, was at first base, with Reading (Pennsylvania) in the United States League in May 1912, shortly before his brief time with Cleveland.[2]  Before the month was out the league had failed, and Richmond played its final game on May 30.

Cleveland manager Harry Davis brought Eibel in from Reading when his right fielder, Joe Jackson, developed a “severe case of charleyhorse.”[3]  After the one game, Davis never gave Eibel another shot. Eibel had to wait eight long years for another stint in the big leagues.

Henry Eibel was born to foreign-born parents. His father, Henry, had come from Germany to America in 1870 and worked as a blacksmith in 1900 and a baker in 1910. His mother, Elizabeth, had been born in England, but to two German parents; she came to America in 1864. The parents had two children, each of which took a parent’s name – Henry had a sister Elizabeth. The bakery work was sufficiently lucrative that the family actually had a servant living in the home, also a German native. 

After his cameo appearance with Cleveland, Eibel spent the rest of 1912 playing for the Dayton Veterans at first base and appearing in 81 Central League games. Sporting Life noted that “Eibel, the high school boy who played one game in right field for the Naps, is proving to be a regular bear” with Dayton.[4] He hit .245, with one home run. 

For the next five years Eibel continued to toil in the minor leagues, first dropping down two levels to Class D and the Michigan State League, where he played for the 1913 Saginaw Ducks, hitting .313 in 125 games.[5] That helped secure him a slot in the Southern Association (Class A) with the Atlanta Crackers in 1914 and the beginning of 1915. He hit .284 in 1914 with eight home runs. He wasn’t nearly as successful in 1915, starting with the Crackers and ending with the Memphis Chickasaws (but hitting only a combined .233).

Eibel spent the next two years in Double-A, playing for Richmond in the International League, the team known as the Climbers the first year and then (perhaps having successfully made the climb) the Virginians in 1917. His average climbed from .254 in ’16 to .301 in ’17.  He was highly regarded for his work in 1917, described in early 1918 by the Boston Globe’s Edward F. Martin as “a regular Steve Efficiency for the tail-end Richmond club last season.” Few in the league batted better, and he committed only four errors in 125 games, leading the league’s first basemen in fielding. He stole 14 bases and was adept with the sacrifice, executing it successfully 13 times.[6] 

Eibel also pitched, appearing in 21 games with an 8-9 record. Richmond was a last-place team and had been having a rough time trying to win games, manager Otto Knabe crying out in frustration, “Is there anybody here who can really pitch baseball? The outfielders are all worn out from chasing doubles and triples and it’s time they were given a rest.” Eibel volunteered and acquitted himself reasonably well for a team that finished 53-94.[7]

The Red Sox had taken note, and signed Eibel on March 1. But, Martin asked, why? Perhaps for trade bait, given that the Sox seemed to already be set at first base (and Eibel’s pitching was not really major-league caliber).

The Red Sox train left Boston on March 9, 1918, headed to Hot Springs, Arkansas, for spring training. Owner Harry Frazee, manager Ed Barrow, and three players (one of whom was Eibel) were expected to join the train as it passed through Albany. Four of the five made the connection, but the next day Eibel earned himself his only headline in the Globe: “Eibel Fails to Join Red Sox at Albany.” He had refused to take the train up from New York City to Albany. Edward Martin commented that he “must have something on his mind besides his hat,” opining that he’d received a number of glowing write-ups after signing the week before and had “probably figured that if he is good as the papers say he is, he is worth more than what the club offered him.”[8] He did turn up a few days later, in Hot Springs. In early April, he sprained his ankle badly enough to be sent home, but Barrow still thought he might prove of value once he recovered. In the meantime, Eibel had invested in a billiards parlor in Richmond, Virginia.

As 1918 developed, many players were called to serve in the war effort, including Boston starting first baseman Dick Hoblitzell. There might have been an opening for Eibel, but he wasn’t around to take advantage. Instead, the Red Sox went with the newly acquired Stuffy McInnis – and won a pennant and the World Series. 

Still under contract to the Red Sox, in early March 1919 Eibel was returned to the Richmond club. He took work in shipbuilding, and played some ball for the Robins Dry Dock team. Once again the Sox took a chance on him in 1920, purchasing his contract from Richmond on February 27, and this time he made the team during spring training. He debuted in the bottom of the 12th inning at Fenway Park, hitting for starting pitcher Sad Sam Jones against the Washington Senators with the scored tied, 1-1. Eibel made an out, but the Red Sox won it in 14. The Red Sox next hosted the New York Yankees and their newly purchased center fielder, Babe Ruth. Eibel pinch-hit again for the starter, Roxy Walters. It was the bottom of the ninth and he singled, driving in the tying run. Sam Jones pinch-ran for Eibel and scored the go-ahead run a few batters later. 

After playing fairly steadily for about a week, Eibel reverted to pinch-hitting duties exclusively, only twice accumulating as many as two plate appearances in a game. In 43 at-bats over 29 games, he hit safely eight times (.186), driving in six runs. The Red Sox used him in three games as a pitcher, first in a lost cause of a game on June 22, with Cleveland ahead, 11-4. He threw the final 3 1/3 innings, faring better than either Bullet Joe Bush or Gary Fortune. On July 2 he came into a game the Red Sox were losing to the Senators, 9-6, and threw two scoreless innings of middle relief as the Red Sox scored single runs four innings in a row to win in the bottom of the 10th, with Benn Karr collecting the win.

Karr started the July 7 game and gave up three runs; so did Eibel in relief, and Boston lost 6-0 to the Athletics at Shibe Park. Eibel’s ERA was 3.48 in 10 1/3 innings of work. He had appeared in the field – three games in left field, two games in right, and one at first base. The only error he made was in right field. Eibel’s final game came on July 17. He finished out the season with Shreveport, hitting .251 for the Gassers in 54 games. He pitched in six games, going 1-0 with a Texas League ERA of 4.71.

Eibel’s 1921 season with Shreveport was stellar, with 35 home runs and a .337 average in 160 games. His pitching line was 1-1, with a 3.60 earned run average, in 20 innings. His 145 RBIs led the Texas League, as did the 35 homers. The next season was another split year, as 1915 had been, starting with Shreveport and ending with the Galveston Sand Crabs, another Texas League team. He was still showing power, hammering 27 homers, but his average declined to .275. With Galveston again in 1923, Eibel got into only one game. His last year was 1924, with the Macon Peaches in the Sally League, and he went out on top, hitting .313 in 37 games.

In the spring of 1915, while playing with Atlanta, Hack had married Claire Whitmire of Atlanta. They settled in Macon, Georgia, and after baseball was over, Eibel managed a poolroom or “recreation center.” The couple had two children, Evalee and Mary. Eibel died at the age of 51 on October 16, 1945, the cause of death given as a gunshot wound to the head, a suicide. His widow completed a player questionnaire for the Hall of Fame and gave the cause of death as cancer. It’s quite possible that the ravages of the cancer had precipitated his pulling his pistol and putting an end to his life. 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Eibel’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.

[1] Washington Post, July 14, 1912
[2] Sporting Life, May 11, 1912
[3] Sporting Life, June 22, 1912
[4] Sporting Life, July 1, 1912
[5] The Boston Record reported that the Red Sox had heard about him and sent scout Patsy Donovan to Saginaw to try and sign him, but before he could get there, Donovan was re-routed and sent someplace else, it becoming several more years until the Red Sox eventually got their man. See Eddie Hurley’s column in the March 14, 1918 edition. There may have been some confusion in Hurley’s story as to just when this purported assignment was; he put it in 1912.
[6] Boston Globe, March 2, 1918
[7] Boston Record, March 14, 1918
[8] Boston Globe, March 10, 1918

This biography can also be found at SABR Bio Project

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