Ninety years ago, Ross “Brick” Eldred had an eight-year career with the Seattle Indians remarkably like the one 200-hit maestro Ichiro had for the Mariners from 2001-10.
By David Eskenazi and Steve Rudman
The Baseball Museum of the Pacific Northwest and Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame, on the Main Concourse along the third base line at Safeco Field, offer a rich collection of artifacts, photographs and interactive exhibits that link the region’s baseball present with its fascinating past.
One of more instructive displays is a “Connecting the Generations” presentation that compares Mariners of relatively recent vintage — Edgar Martinez, Ken Griffey Jr., Jamie Moyer, among others — to players of long ago. The idea: a pairing of skill sets, then and now.
“Crafty Pitchers” matches Moyer (1996-06) with “Kewpie” Dick Barrett, who toiled for the Seattle Indians and Rainiers from 1935-42 and 1947-49. “Pure Hitters” pairs Mariner icon Martinez (1987-04) with Hillis Layne, who played for the Rainiers from 1947-50. And “Five-Tool Players” contrasts Griffey with Jungle Jim Rivera, the 1951 Pacific Coast League Most Valuable Player who led that league in batting average (.351).
Ross C. “Brick” Eldred, who toiled in these climes 90 years ago, easily could have been matched opposite Martinez if for no other reason than this: Edgar became famous regionally for his penchant for rapping doubles, 514 in all. Eerily, Eldred beat him by two, 516.
Instead of designating Eldred a “Pure Hitter,” which he most assuredly was, museum curators slotted him alongside Ichiro under the category of “200-Hit Machines,” probably a good choice.
Until Ichiro arrived in 2001 and flourished through 2010 with a slap-hitting style that produced 10 consecutive 200-hit campaigns, Seattle fans had not seen that type of player since Eldred.
Starting in 1920 at the same age (27) Ichiro was when he became a Mariner, Eldred had five 200-hit seasons in a six year span – 231 for Sacramento/Seattle in 1920, 260 for the Indians in 1922, 262 in 1923, 240 in 1924 and 242 in 1925, almost a carbon copy of Ichiro’s heyday.
Talk about a hitter’s league: Eldred enjoyed his final 200-hit season in 1925 with 242. Of the 242, 66 were doubles. Eldred finished with a .327 average and an Ichiro-like seven home runs, but wasn’t even the best hitter on the Indians that year.
Teammate Frank Brazill, one Seattle’s great one-year wonders, practically made Eldred look like Brendan Ryan by batting .395 with 280 hits and 29 home runs (see Wayback Machine: Frank Brazill Vs. Seattle Indians). A third Indian, 22-year-old Babe Herman, who would go on to a 13-year career with Brooklyn, Cincinnati, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Detroit, had 206 hits, including 15 home runs.
Due to the Pacific Coast League’s bloated schedule in those years, Eldred played in many more games than Ichiro, averaging 187.5 over the course of his 200-hit seasons.
But Eldred’s per game production didn’t differ significantly. Elred had 995 hits in 936 games over the five seasons, Ichiro 1,317 in his first 936 games.
Eldred was certainly no Ichiro, who obviously played on a major league level, but he was as good as they came in the old Coast League and he “thrilled,” according to newspapers of the period, Seattle fans for eight full seasons and parts of two others.
Ross C. “Brick” Eldred was born in Sacramento July 26, 1892, and, according to Gold On The Diamond, a book about Sacramento’s greatest players, excelled in baseball and football at Sacramento High School, from which he graduated in 1910.
Eldred’s first involvement with more experienced players came when he made the Trolley League, a circuit of semipro clubs that represented towns such as Sacramento, Marysville and Chico.
In 1916, the Salt Lake City Bees signed Eldred and, after a tryout, was pronounced not quite seasoned enough for the Pacific Coast League. So in May the Bees sold Eldred to Dan Dugdale’s Seattle Giants, a Class B club in the Northwest League (see Wayback Machine: Seattle Struck Gold In Dugdale).
Eldred, anywhere from 20 to 23 years old, depending on the source (ballplayers routinely fudged their ages at that time), flourished against Class B pitching, compiling a .332 average, including 19 doubles and eight home runs, in 92 games.
Deciding to cash in on Eldred’s batting splurge, Dugdale sold him in 1917 to the Chicago White Sox, who farmed him to Newark of the AA International League. Eldred’s hometown Sacramento Senators purchased him in 1918 and he hit .269, .311 and .339 over the next two and a half seasons.
Eldred might have remained with Sacramento for many years, but an incident in 1920 scotched his career there.
On May 12, Sacramento manager William “Raw Meat” Rodgers fined Eldred $50 for “loafing” and failing to respect team management. Eldred not only objected, insisting he’d never loafed, he refused put on his uniform and play. Rogers suspended Eldred indefinitely and, three days later, traded him to Seattle for Pete Compton, an outfielder for the Rainiers in 1919.
Built like a stump at 5-6½ and nearly 180 pounds, thus the nickname “Brick,” Eldred became an immediate favorite of Rainiers patrons – the Seattle team played as the “Rainiers” from 1919-21, as the “Indians” from 1922-37 and as the “Rainiers” from 1938 on — and player/manager Clyde Ellsworth “Buzzy” Wares, who played in 92 games for the St. Louis Browns (1913-14) and knocked around the minors for 13 seasons before arriving in Seattle.
Sidebar: For most of 1913, Wares played for Birmingham, not because he wasn’t good enough to head north out of spring training, but because Browns manager George Stovall decided to loan Wares to the local minor league team for the season in order to pay off the Browns’ spring training stadium rent.
Although Wares lasted only two seasons in Seattle (1920-21), he may have been the beneficiary of Eldred’s greatest one-game performance, about four months after Eldred arrived in town.
In a July 8 game against Oakland at Dugdale Park, Eldred hit a double, singled in his second and third at-bats, tripled for his fourth hit, drew an intentional walk in his fifth plate appearance and blasted a two-run, walk-off homer in the 11th to give Seattle an 8-6 victory.
Tagging lefty Harry Krause and right hander Ray Kreamer with equal facility, Eldred, batting cleanup, figured in six of Seattle’s eight runs and became the first member of the Rainiers, and quite possibly the only (more research required) Seattle professional, to conclude a cycle with a walk-off home run.
Three weeks later, Eldred drove in five of Seattle’s seven runs, including three in the first inning, in a 7-2 win, also over the Oakland Oaks.
“It was about as large and juicy a day as any ballplayer has known in a long time,” The Seattle Times wrote about Eldred’s heroics that afternoon.
Buzzy Ware’s 1920 Rainiers sported an astonishing four 200-hit men. Including Eldred, who led the way with 231, Sam Bohne (another one-year Seattle wonder) had 228 (.333 BA), Rod Murphy 207 and Robert Middleton 206. Two other Rainiers, Duke Kenworthy and Merlin Kopp, tied with 193 each.
Kenworthy replaced Wares midway through 1921, when Eldred delivered another spate of monster games, including his effort of July 30, when he had five RBIs in a 7-2 win over Oakland, and his four hits, including two doubles, in a 3-2 win over the Vernon Tigers Aug. 25.
The Rainiers morphed into the Indians in 1922 and had three managers – Walt McCredie, Bert Adams and Harry Wolverton — over the next season and a half before Wade “Red” Killefer took over after Wolverton’s 46-49 start in 1923.
Killefer’s tenure marks the only time in Seattle’s long engagement with professional baseball that its manager worked as an offseason walnut and avacado grower.
In fact, Killefer used $4,000 from one of his walnut harvests as a down payment on a stake in the Seattle ball club.
Indians players initially objected to Killefer, but by 1924 he had assembled a team capable of becoming Seattle’s most exciting championship squad since Dan Dugdale’s 1912 Giants (see Wayback Machine: ‘Seattle’ Bill James And The 1912 Giants).
Vean Gregg, who reached the major leagues in 1911 with the Cleveland Naps, was famous for becoming the first (and the only) pitcher in the 20th century to win 20 or more games in each of his first three big league seasons. Gregg, who subsequently experienced a series of arm injuries, anchored the pitching staff (see Wayback Machine: Sylveanus Augustus Gregg).
The 1924 Indians broke slowly, winning three of their first 13 games while the San Francisco Seals roared off to a fast start. As May began, the Seals stood 19-9, the Indians 11-6. Seattle finally reached .500 May 17, at which point San Francisco was already 26-15.
But the Indians also continued to win and moved into second place June 6 when they defeated the Vernon Tigers 4-3 in 19 innings.
In the seven weeks after starting out 3-10, the Indians produced a 32-17 record, won five series and lost two, to San Francisco’s 32-20. By June 26, after losing six of eight on a road trip through Portland and Sacramento, the Indians found themselves 5.5 games out of first.
The Indians tied San Francisco for first place July 8, but then fell 2.5 games in arrears after the Seals came to Dugdale Park and took three of four despite three home runs by Ray Rohwer.
The Indians spent the rest of the summer lagging in the standings by two to five games. For most of August and September, the race involved the Seals and Indians. But Los Angeles began to surge. So did Seattle. Between Oct. 6-12, the Indians took six out of seven from from the Seals and moved into first place.
Ultimately, the Indians needed 109 wins to hold off San Francisco (108) and Los Angeles (107).
To reach 109, the Indians also needed a season-ending 11-game winning streak, which they accomplished Oct. 19 by defeating Portland 12-4 in the first game of a doubleheader in the Rose City on the last day of the season (pennant clinched and apparently gassed, the Indians lost the nightcap 15-1).
A brief snapshot of Eldred’s 1924 season illustrates the role he played in the Indians pennant.
Eldred had a habit of yelping “Caw! Caw! Caw!” whenever he got excited, which he apparently did often.
“When Brick is feeling good and the base hits are ringing merrily off his bludgeon, that’s when you’ll hear it,” reported The Times. “It’s a good yell and it lends color to his efforts.”
Eldred played 191 games for the 1925 Indians, but suffered a knee injury that began his inevitable decline as a player. He played in 125 a year later.
Reported Alex Shults in The Times May 27, 1927: “Brick Eldred made Coast League pitchers moan for a decade. But two years ago Fuzzy Huffit drifted out of the Middle West to oust Eldred from his regular job in right field. For two seasons, the pair alternated, Eldred batting only against left handers.”
Eldred’s knee injury never did heal properly and as the 1928 season began he had not, to use Schults’s description, “rounded into shape.” Figuring it was time to replace him with a younger, cheaper player, owner William Klepper made a deal to sell Eldred to Wichita Falls of the Texas League. When Eldred refused to report, Klepper suspended him.
Eldred finally came to the conclusion that his days in Seattle were over and reported to Wichita Falls for the balance of the 1928 season.
As Eldred headed or Texas, The Times described him as “the niftiest sticker ever to wear the spangles of the Seattle Indians. When some young pitcher got the idea that he could breeze a fastball past Brick or fool him with a change of pace, it was cruel to watch. Brick would dip his knees, level the hickory and knock the pitch off the boards.
“We recall years ago when Brick whammed Satchel Paige’s change-of-pace over the left wall at Bakersfield in a spring training game for one of the few hits off the speedy hurler.”
Eldred played two seasons at Wichita Falls, one year with Milwaukee of the American Association and his final season, 1930, with Sacramento. He hit .369 in 79 games for the Senators at the age of 37.
During his Pacific Coast League career, Brick appeared in 1,709 games, had 2,034 hits, 516 doubles (25 percent of his hits were doubles), stole 219 bases and finished with a lifetime average of .332.
Eldred retired after working for many years at the California Almond Growers Exchange. He was an avid golfer, playing for nearly 70 years, and shot a 79 when he was 79 years old. He was elected to the PCL Hall of Fame in 2003, 27 years after his death in Sacramento (Dec. 22, 1976) at age 84.
Many of the historic images published on Sportspress Northwest are provided by resident Northwest sports history aficionado David Eskenazi. Check out David’s Wayback Machine Archive. David can be reached at (206) 441-1900, or at firstname.lastname@example.org