Apr 29, 2014

the short baseball life of Luther Lane Stuart

I'm not sure what drove me to imagine a major league ballplayer who had one monstrous at-bat, and then never did anything at the plate again. That vision, of course, led me to Google, which led me to a Wikipedia page that is both insightful and tragic. If the Wikipedians are to be trusted--and the Baseball Almanac corroborates--as of this date, there are 114 big-leaguers who smacked a home run in their very first at-bat. Eighteen of those men have since retired from the game with only that single dinger to their name. (Four others are still active, and who knows what glory awaits?)

None of those players exactly fits the description, as all had plate appearances to follow their lone homer.

One comes close, though: Luther "Luke"
Lane Stuart.

Luke Stuart played a grand total of three games for the St. Louis Browns in the late summer of 1921. In his first time up, he walloped an inside-the-parker off the inimitable Walter Johnson, becoming the first of only two MLBers to clear the bases the hard way in their debut. (The other: Johnnie LeMaster.)

Stuart is one of eleven alumni of the Guilford College Quakers to reach the big leagues. As Charlie Bevis describes in his biography of the one-hit wonder,
On August 8, at Griffith Stadium in Washington, Stuart again played in the late innings of a blowout, this time for McManus. Washington scored seven runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to push the score to 16-3 when St. Louis came to bat in the top of the ninth inning against future Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson. With a 13-run lead, there were likely few spectators left in the stands, and probably even fewer newspaper writers. Those who stayed witnessed Stuart crack a two-run home run off Johnson to make the final score 16-5.
After an 0-2 outing in his next game, Stuart was sent back to the minors, where he spent the rest of his career--three short years. After time away selling insurance and real estate, Stuart circled back to baseball, scouting for the Yankees.

Perhaps already succumbing to a fatal condition, Stuart died at his own hand 21 years later.

The North Carolina Room blog has a great two-part summary of his life and context. In the first part, you learn that Luke Stuart once saved a teammate from an opponent / gangster by the name of Snipes. In the second, you learn more about Stuart's career, and his post-baseball existence. Both are interesting slices of Americana, and just another reason to love the Internet.