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The Mystery of Bull Durham

This article was originally written by Bill Haber and published in the July 1983 issue of The Trader Speaks

On June 1, 1980 when Rube Marquard died, he represented the last survivor of the 358 major leaguers featured in T206. That is, with an asterisk. There remained one obstacle to be overcome until all those players could be accounted for. That one obstacle was Louis “Bull” Durham, major league pitcher from 1904 through 1909 who was featured in T206 as a member of the New York (Nat’l) Giants.

As of 1969, there were ten players featured in T206 who were listed among the “missing”. With the help of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) based in Cooperstown, New York, nine of those ten players were found, or, to be specific, their unreported deaths were located. Through painstaking efforts on the part of SABR members, Rube Geyer, Heinie Batch, Jerry Freeman, Bill Graham, Jack McAleese, Pat Paige, Lee Quillen, Ike Rockenfield and John White were ultimately found.

Bull Durham remained the last mystery to be solved among this elite group honored by depiction in this tobacco series.

The Encyclopedia of Baseball states that Louis G. “Bull” Durham was born in Bolivar, New York in 1881 and was a brother of James Garfield “Jimmy” Durham, a pitcher-outfielder with the Chicago White Sox in 1902. Both facts ultimately proved incorrect.

In reading newspaper accounts of the travels of Bull Durham during his baseball career, one would learn that he was married about 1907 and that he spent the winter of 1906-07 studying law in Geneva, Ohio. A marriage record could not be found, nor could any such learning institution located in or near Geneva, Ohio be located. Bull Durham enjoyed a long and extensive minor league career, and much was written about him between 1904 and 1913, but nothing of any substance could be learned about him until October of 1982.

At that time, Ray Nemec of Naperville, Illinois located a note in a 1906 Pennsylvania newspaper indicating that Bull Durham’s correct name at birth was Charles Staub. This reference was reported to Al Kermisch of Alexandria, Virginia with whom the name Staub rang a bell. Al checked his extensive files of minor leaguers and found that our man’s correct name was actually Louis Staub, a righthanded pitcher he had traced through the 1900-02 seasons. Staub was last shown in the records of Al Kermisch to have been pitching at McSherrystown, Pennsylvania in August of 1902, so Al made an additional effort to turn up a note or two about him.

It was in early January of 1983 when A1 turned up the note which proved most significant. A newspaper item had indicated that Staub was born in New Oxford, Pennsylvania in 1879. Upon learning this, a check was made of the current New Oxford telephone directory, only to find nearly one column of Staubs. A call was placed to three such numbers, strictly at random. The third of the three was able to refer the caller to a woman in York, Pennsylvania who has compiled a genealogical study of all the Staubs of southeastern Pennsylvania dating back to the 1700’s.

A call to this woman resulted in the learning of Staub’s correct birth data. He was born Louis Raphael Staub in New Oxford, Pennsylvania, June 27, 1877, the eighth of nine children. Subsequent efforts resulted in the locating of two daughters of the ballplayer. They reported that their father died in Bentley, Kansas, June 28, 1960, one day after his 83rd birthday. He had changed his name to Louis Staub Durham in late-1902, and continued to use the pseudonym for the rest of his life.

When asked the reason why Mr. Staub chose the name “Bull Durham” upon deciding to change his name, the two daughters were of the opinion that their father had taken a liking to the smoking tobacco of the day. What they didn’t know was that he was a teammate of Jimmy Durham at Cedar Rapids in 1902 and the two had developed a close friendship. They were also teammates at Louisville in 1907 and were pictured alongside one another on the Louisville team photo. They also didn’t know that their father, upon settling in Kansas in 1926, chose to live the rest of his life in Jimmy’s home state. And, they didn’t know that their father’s early occupation of being a patent medicine specialist was closely related to Jimmy’s occupation of pharmacist. Is it possible that Bull worked for Jimmy in some capacity during the years? And, did he idolize Jimmy enough to honor him by adopting his surname?

These questions probably will never be answered. However, it’s nice to know that the T206 series can now rest in peace.

Ed. Note:  According to Durham/Staub’s Wikipedia entry, “After he began playing minor league baseball he got into trouble with the league due to a fight in a bar. He was banned, but found a loophole by changing his name to “Bull Durham”. Once he finished his baseball career in 1909, he began acting and had roles in several silent films. He died in Bentley, Kansas.”

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