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The Long Wait Behind The Plate:

 BUBBLES HARGRAVE  

         

    Eugene "Bubbles" Hargrave is the perfect example of a baseball player who wouldn't give up. Way down deep, he knew he'd make it some day. Indeed, he did make it - as a great catcher with the Cincinnati Reds.

Starting a professional baseball career at the age of 19, Hargrave didn't make it to the major leagues for good until 11 years later. Following that, at the age of 34 when most catchers are ready to do something else, he won the National League batting title.

 

It was the first time in the modern era of baseball that a catcher had won a hitting crown. Since Hargrave, only one other catcher has equaled that feat ­the Reds Ernie Lombardi.

 

Hargrave began his career in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1911. Two years later the Chicago Cubs signed him to a major league contract. He caught very little and batted even less, so the Cubs sent him to the Class AA Kansas City team. After two years there, Hargrave was sent deeper into the minor leagues, landing at Memphis in the Class A Southern League.

 

He was 26 years old by then, but he wouldn't give up. The following year, 1919, Hargrave went to St. Paul, Minnesota.

 

Suddenly he began hitting. Major league clubs took notice and, after the 1920 season, the Reds plunked down $10,000 and purchased Hargrave from the St. Paul team.

 

Bubbles batted .289 his first season in Cincinnati. Six straight years after that, though, he hit at least .300 and established himself as one of baseball's premier catchers.

 

He was the perfect backstop. He had sturdy legs, a strong arm and a cool head. Few base runners dared run on him. For good reason, too. In 1923 he threw out 90 would-be stealers.

    To win the batting championship in 1926, Hargrave had to beat the great Rogers Hornsby, who had won it six straight years. Hornsby slumped badly to .317 and Hargrave wasn't challenged, except by teammate Rube Bressler. Bressler actually batted higher for the season, .357 to .353, but since he didn't play in at least 100 games, he wasn't eligible for the batting title.

Hargrave credited a spring sickness with his big year. He had an attack of appendicitis during spring training, but he refused to allow his appendix to be removed. Instead, he went on a strict diet and lost 14 pounds.

 

He got off to a great start and enjoyed the best year of his life.

 

Hargrave ended his baseball career in the early 1930s and settled in Cincinnati where he was a supervisor at a valve company. He kept a close eye on baseball and didn't like some of the things he saw.

 

"There's too much delay - too much changing of pitchers and running out to the mound every time a pitcher gets in a jam," Hargrave said in an Associated Press interview in 1956. 'I'd stop all consultation between pitcher and manager out on the rubber.

 

"When we were going to make a change, the manager announced to the umpire who was coming in to pitch and that was it, except for a short session between the pitcher and the catcher to make sure of the signs.

 

"In my years under Pat Moran (the manager) he would ask me about a pitcher with 'How is he?' If I replied, 'Not so hot,' he'd just pitch somebody else."

 

         
       

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