Many of them became famous thanks to a new national fascination with the game but life as a professional baseball player was not all fun and games a century ago. There were no guaranteed, big money contracts. Little freedom to change teams. Travel to road games was in the steaming passenger car of a smoke-filled train. There was no pension waiting at the end of the line and except for a few lucky players, little endorsement income.
Some fared better than others.
Eddie Plank, the pride of Gettysburg, PA, born a dozen years after the famous Civil War battle, saw both sides. He would win three World Series titles with the Philadelphia Athletics as the ace of the staff. He was first lefthander to win 300 games and recorded the most shutouts by a lefty with 66.
“Eddie Plank was not the fastest, not the trickiest and not the possessor of the most stuff,” fellow Hall of Famer Eddie Collins once said. “He was just the greatest.”
Great as he was, though, Plank found security to be elusive. After a dozen years in the game and three championships he bolted for the Federal League, chasing a paycheck more befitting one of the game’s best. When that league didn’t last, he tried to become a free agent but was ordered to play for the St. Louis Browns. Soon, arm trouble caught up to him and his plans to play “another ten years” came to an end. Plank retired after the 1917 season and returned to his Pennsylvania farm where he also became a Gettysburg Battlefield tour guide. He was dead by age 50, struck down by a massive stroke. He’d already suffered a nervous breakdown, believed to have been brought on by the pressure and stress of making a living as a ballplayer.
That anxiety is written in his face on a photo coming to auction for the first time. Taken between 1910 and 1912, the 6 1/2 x 8 1/4″ image shows him wearing the Athletics’ famous striped hat and buttoned up color while posing for an unknown photographer. A faint stamp from a news organization is barely visible on the back.
The Plank photo is one of more than 1,000 images on the block through RMY Auctions. Bidding ends this Saturday night.