Three score and seventeen years ago, on this very date, the first group of inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame were announced. You all know those five names, and you’d recognize most of the ballot: of the 47 guys who got votes, 40 of them eventually wound up in the Hall (and one of the other seven is Joe Jackson). This post is about one of the guys who didn’t. Norman Elberfeld got a single vote that year, and dropped off the Cooperstown radar altogether after picking up two votes in 1945.
Though he has no place in the Hall, “The Tabasco Kid” shouldn’t be forgotten. For a few years in his prime, Elberfeld was regarded as one of the best-fielding shortstops in the game, as well as a high-IQ .300 hitter with speed and a prodigious knack for getting beaned (he still ranks 13th on the all-time HBP list). But far more than his stats, it was his notorious demeanor — that of “the dirtiest, scrappiest, most pestiferous, most rantankerous, most rambunctious ball player that ever stood on spikes” — that earned him his nickname and his status as the first real star on the fledgling Detroit Tigers. This was a guy who said he’d “walk through Hades” to win a game, a guy who drenched his spike wounds in whiskey, a guy who threw mud into one umpire’s open mouth and had his head whacked by another’s mask, a guy with the balls to knee Ty Cobb in the neck (which was supposedly the last time Cobb ever slid headfirst). The Kid took three pitches to the head in a single game, stole home twice in another, got himself ejected three times in an eight-game stretch, and surely led the league in police escorts. He also became a respected coach and mentor who ran youth baseball camps, promoted women in sports (his daughters formed a legendary barnstorming basketball team called the Elberfeld Sisters), and dropped $22 to buy a young Casey Stengel his first suit.
Kid Elberfeld died in 1944 on Signal Mountain, Tennessee, surrounded by apple orchards. Let’s raise a drink to him today, and agree that men like this deserve their own Cooperstown.
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