(The following is being syndicated from The Captain’s Blog).
After missing almost two weeks of action with a groin injury, Andrew Brackman finally made his spring debut for the Yankees in yesterday’s exhibition game against the Braves. Even before the setback, it was going to be a tall order for the young right hander to head north with the club, but his eventual promotion seems to be less about if and more about when and in what role.
When Brackman finally does get the call, history will be waiting for him, and all he’ll need to do is throw one pitch. At 6’ 11”, Brackman would not only become the tallest Yankees’ pitcher of all time, but he would join the Blue Jays’ Jon Rauch as the tallest player in major league history. Of course, to accomplish that feat, Brackman will have to beat Loek Van Mil to the majors. At 7’ 1”, Van Mil would blow away the competition, but considering his 6.37 ERA with the Twins’ double-A affiliate last year, he isn’t likely to make the major leagues.
If Brackman does join Rauch as the tallest pitcher in baseball history, he’ll become only the second Yankee to hold that distinction. The first was a 6’ 7” lefthander named Edward Haughton Love, but better known as Slim.
Head and Shoulders Above the Rest: Progression of Tallest Yankee Pitchers
|1901||Frank Foreman||6′ 0″|
|1902||Crese Heismann||6′ 2″|
|1903||Ambrose Puttman||6′ 4″|
|1908||Hippo Vaughn||6′ 4″|
|1916||Slim Love*||6′ 7″|
|1982||Stefan Wever||6′ 8″|
|1988||Lee Guetterman||6′ 8″|
|1996||Jeff Nelson||6′ 8″|
|1996||Graeme Lloyd||6′ 8″|
|2005||Randy Johnson||6′ 10″|
|2011?||Andrew Brackman*||6′ 11″|
*Tallest in major league history to date.
Slim Love was born in, where else, Love, Mississippi on August 1, 1890. Otherwise, little is known about the early life of the tall and lanky southpaw. In fact, it seems as if he just dropped out of the sky onto the baseball landscape. Considering his height, Love would have been a perfect bridge between the two.
Maybe it isn’t a stretch to suggest he just materialized out of thin air? Unlike most major leaguers, Love wasn’t a highly sought after prospect uncovered by a scout beating the bushes. He wasn’t even a journeyman who first opened eyes pitching for a local squad. If Love was playing baseball somewhere as a youth, no one knew anything about it, and considering his abnormal height, he would have been hard to miss.
According to an account in The Washington Post, Love’s baseball career evolved from his own barroom bragging. As the story goes, Love, who had traveled up from his hometown to Memphis, Tennessee, walked into a local watering hole, took a seat at the bar, and ordered everyone a drink. Then, the affable giant boasted about his prowess on the mound and boldly claimed that he had come to Memphis with the sole purpose of leading the town’s ballclub to the pennant.
Slim made his advent into professional ball via Memphis, and the way he happened to land with the Turtles was on account of his bucolic disposition and odd appearance.” – The Washington Post, August 31, 1913
Although Slim wasn’t the first guy to walk into a bar and start spinning yarns, he must have been very convincing. Impressed by both his confident demeanor and commanding size, the proprietor of the tavern reached out to Bill Bernhard, a friend who also happened to be the manager of the Memphis Turtles (known as the Chickasaws starting in 1912). In no time, the lanky lefty found himself working out with the Memphis team, and soon thereafter was given the chance to prove that he was more than just a fast talker.
During an exhibition game against the Cleveland Indians, Bernhard brought Love in to face Nap Lajoie with the bases loaded. Within days, Love had gone from talking tall in a tavern to squaring off against one of the best players in the history of professional baseball. If he hadn’t already had second thoughts about his exaggerated claims, now would have been the time, but despite battling a bundle of nerves, Love managed to compose himself and strike out the future Hall of Famer. In an instant, a legend was born. Well, not quite.
Love began to quake at the knees. He looked over at the bench where Bill Bernhard, then manager of the club, sat, and pleaded for instructions. ‘Muss I pass him, Bill?’ Love inquired. But Bernhard’s assuring message was, “Pitch, you big boob, pitch!” And be durned if he didn’t fan the Frenchman!” – Associated Press, October 6, 1915
Although his performance against Lajoie was impressive, it soon became obvious that Love really wasn’t much more than a thrower. You see, the same thing that made him an attractive prospect also presented several unique challenges: his size.
After bouncing between the Greenwood Scouts of the Cotton States League (CSL) and the Chickasaws, Love was eventually released and finished his season playing independent ball. While serving his exile, however, the tall lefty must have learned a lesson or two because his performance improved considerably. Arthur Riggs, manager of the Selma Centralites, took notice of Love’s progress and invited him to return to the CSL with his team. This time, Love earned the promotion with his left arm instead of his big mouth.
While with Selma, Love continued to impress, and even threw a no-hitter. That drew the attention of William Smith of the Atlanta Crackers, who purchased the lefthander from Selma to help fortify his team’s championship aspirations in the Southern Association. Not only did Love help pitch the Crackers to the title, but he helped Smith earn a return on his investment when the Washington Senators purchased his contract at the end of the minor league season.
In two seasons as member of the Angels, Love dominated in the PCL, which was widely believed to feature the best talent in the minor leagues and even considered by some as having the potential to become a third major league. So, after going 23-15 with 1.95 ERA in 1915, the big leagues came calling once again.
During the 1915 campaign, the Highlanders reportedly tried to pry Love away from the Angels, but after their efforts proved unsuccessful (the Angels wanted too much money), they selected him in the postseason minor league draft. That offseason, Love was just a “small part” of the Yankees’ strategy to sign as many promising pitchers as possible. By the end of the winter, the team, led by the efforts of scout Joe Kelly, had inked no fewer than 22 hurlers, of which 16 were at least six-foot tall.
Unfortunately, Love was unable to translate his success in the PCL to the major leagues. Although he had a few highlights in his three seasons with the Yankees, including a 12-strikeout performance against the White Sox on August 17, 1918, Love did little to standout, figuratively of course. Despite attempts by Miller Huggins to teach Love how to throw a curve ball, the lefty really never evolved beyond his erratic fastball, which wasn’t quite good enough for the big leagues. So, after leading the league in walks in 1918, Love was traded to the Red Sox in December, who in turn dealt him to the Detroit Tigers.
After one solid season with the Tigers in 1919 and then one brief appearance in 1920, Love returned to where he was perhaps most comfortable: the minors. In exchange for a player to be named later, the Tigers sent Love to the San Francisco Seals (the team from which the Yankees later obtained Joe DiMaggio), effectively ending his major league career.
Over the rest of the decade, Love enjoyed a very successful career in the minors, most notably as a member of the Dallas Steers (Texas League) from 1922 to 1928. After losing his form in 1928, Love bounced around the Texas League, going from Dallas to San Antonio to Wichita Falls, before his season was cut short by a case of appendicitis. The following year, the tall lefty wrangled a tryout with his old team the Atlanta Crackers, but when that didn’t pan out, he wound up splitting time with the rival Birmingham Barons and Chattanooga Lookouts in the Southern Association. Love’s early success with the Barons (he won four of his first five starts and even batted .350) hinted at a revival, but by the end of his time in Birmingham, it was once again obvious that the elongated lefty was on his last legs. In 1930, the now 39-year old veteran returned to the CSL and pitched in nine more professional games with the Baton Rouge Highlanders. Then, following an early release in May, he hooked on with the Osceola Indians, a highly regarded semi-pro team in Arkansas, where he remained before retiring after the 1931 season.
*Note: An extensive search of various newspaper archives unveiled a handful of references to a “Slim Love” pitching for the Indianapolis Indians of the America Association. The sources placing Love on the Barons and Lookouts are much more descriptive than the ones claiming he was in Indianapolis. What’s more, that Indians’ ballclub featured a pitcher named Ruel Love, who was a teammate of Slim on the 1927 Dallas Steers. So, it seems likely that Ruel Love was either also nicknamed “slim”, or an incorrect assumption was made by the writer of the “Indianapolis articles”.
Exactly when Slim Love stopped playing baseball is hard to say. Considering how much he seemed to enjoy the game, it’s easy to imagine him going from league to league and level to level until he could no longer lift his left arm over his head. Semi-pro, church league and even softball…it probably wouldn’t have mattered to Love. What we do know, however, is that after 1931, there are no new accounts of the towering lefty taking the mound. Instead, what emerges is a kind of nostalgia for the era that he represented. This level of fondness is particularly evident in newspapers from towns near Dallas, where Love enjoyed his greatest success. Stories about Love’s colorful personality, odd appearance, and peculiar motion all breath life into what otherwise would be a rather anonymous figure in baseball history. The tales also tell of an accomplished pitcher (in a story from the Dallas Morning News, former Steers’ manager Happ Morse named Love to his all-time Texas League team alongside Dizzy Dean), who although not good enough for the big leagues, made a significant impact throughout the minors.
Bring back those bitter Dallas and Fort Worth games. They made Texas League baseball. Slim Love and Snipe Conley trying to fool Big Boy Kraft, king of Texas League homerun hitters.” – Galveston Daily News, February 21, 1932
On November 30, 1942, Slim Love’s unique life can to an abrupt end when he was killed in a traffic accident. By the time of his death, Love returned to being an anonymous figure…at least as anonymous as a man who is 6’ 7” can manage. Not surprisingly, his untimely passing went largely ignored outside of Texas. Despite playing three seasons for the Yankees, the New York Times archive makes no mention of the tragedy. Only a search of Dallas-area newspapers uncovered an obituary, and even those accounts were short on details, leaving his death somewhat shrouded in mystery. Considering how he first appeared on the scene, that’s probably just as well.
I’d like to think that before meeting his demise, Love was nestled up to another Memphis bar regaling the patrons with stories of his pitching prowess. If so, this time, Love wouldn’t have needed a vivid imagination to convince the crowd. A good memory would have done just fine.
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