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Aug 25

The Daringer Family: a History Told Through Baseball

In terms of baseball families, the Daringers never gained the notoriety of the Alomars, Boones, or Molinas, but the histories of brothers Howard, Cliff, and Rolla Daringer and cousin Paul Derringer are fascinating. In truth, the Daringers probably mean a whole lot more to the good people of Hayden, Indiana and to me than they do to you. Up until a week ago, they didn’t mean all that much to me either. Such is the century-long intermingling of personal histories and bloodlines that men who existed solely in black and white now have their names carved upon the dark brown branches of a family tree.

Oh, it’s not my family tree exactly, but the Daringer’s history is now my history . . . more or less. So, in the words of Colin Meloy and The Decemberists, “But, I remember you / And I will relate to you / How our histories interweave.”

The Daringers are the distant relatives of my brother-in-law’s wife, and more specifically, on her mother’s side, the three brothers are the children of her fourth great grandfather’s brother’s daughter while Paul Derringer was fourth cousins with the three brothers, having the same third great grandfather. Believe me, this is far easier to understand as a chart than it is written out, but read it aloud and consider it an oral history. Howard, Cliff, and Rolla were three of ten children of Lorenzo Dow Daringer1and Margaret Carr, with Howard being born in 1883, Cliff in 1885, and Rolla in 1888. Paul Derringer was born in Springfield, Kentucky in 1906, and for all the ballplayers born in that wonderful year, Paul had the third highest bWAR, which is of course meaningless but nevertheless there you are.

Howard Daringer

Moving from least “major league” service time to most, Howard spent the entirety of his professional career bouncing around the B-Level Three-Eye League between 1907 and 1920 with a break from 1918-1919 to presumably attend to other worldly matters. As an outfielder, he was a career .279/.279/.164 hitter for those seasons where the statistics still exist and if you can believe in the validity of such things, but he was by all accounts a good player who topped out with eight home runs in 1913 for the Dubuque Hustlers, placing second on the team. Howard joined brother Rolla on many of those teams, playing alongside his younger sibling from 1910-1913 with Dubuque, on the same Peoria Distillers team in 1914, and for the Bloomington Bloomers in 1916. He played alongside Cliff for the Dubuque-Freeport Commons in 1915. Howard never saw action in one of the major leagues like his brothers, but he certainly was an accomplished player that had a long, productive career.

And, in case you’re wondering, the Three-Eye League produced quite a bit of extraordinary talent in its time. Howard and Rolla played alongside future Hall of Famer Red Faber on the 1910 Dubuque squad, and though I can’t confirm if they played at the same time, Howard and Mordecai Brown were on the same 1920 Terre Haute Browns. Before moving along to brother Rolla, I’d like to first take a moment to explain what exactly the nature of the minor league system in the 1900s via Bill James’ Historical Baseball Abstract:

The minor leagues as they existed a hundred years ago were something more like today’s Mexican League, or perhaps a Japanese baseball league, except that rather than operating in another country in a foreign language, they operated in the hinterlands of the United States. They were independent. My experience has been that it is difficult to get people to internalize this concept to the point that they can stop coloring their understanding of what happened then with notions about “minor league” baseball.

The point, then, is that these men weren’t toiling away in the minors, hoping fervently to make it back to the big leagues. They were playing professional baseball in a well-established league that just so happened to not be either NL or AL. To continue, here’s one more quote from James: “But the difference between the majors and the minors was a difference in degree, a difference in calibre—not an inequality of status. The Baltimore team was just as important to the Baltimore fans then as it is today.”

Ok, well now that that’s cleared up.

Rolla Daringer

Rolla spent the least amount of time in one of the actual major leagues, playing parts of two seasons from 1914-15 as a shortstop with the St. Louis Cardinals. At the time, the Cardinals alternated between seasons of awful and mediocre, finishing in sixth or worse (out of eight teams) 14 times from 1902-19, with 1914 being the one winning season in that 18 year window. The St. Louis Browns (later to become the Baltimore Orioles in 1954) in the American League were often thought of as an embarrassment during that time, but the Cardinals had a lower winning percentage (.409 to .430) than their city rivals, and it wasn’t until 1926 until the team went on to win their first World Series being named the Cardinals (the franchise had tied one Series in 1885 and won another in 1886 when they were the Browns of the American Association), but Rolla’s Cardinals were not those Cardinals.

The history of old-timer ballplayers is like walking through Cooperstown and hearing the faint echoes of bats cracking at every turn. In 1914, Rolla Daringer made his debut against the Philadelphia Phillies and promptly struck out. On the mound for the Phillies that day was none other than Pete “Grover Cleveland” Alexander. Bill James places Alexander third in his rankings for pitchers all-time. In 1914, Alexander went 27-15 with a 2.38 ERA and threw a whopping 355 innings.

Along with Alexander, Rolla also shared the field with another future Hall of Famer, Miller Huggins (then manager and second baseman). In his next and final game of that season, Rolla finished 2-for-3 against the Chicago Cubs Larry Cheney. On that day, Rolla played against future Hall of Famer Roger Bresnahan and the very good Heinie Zimmerman and Frank Schulte. These weren’t exactly the Cubs that so thoroughly dominated the early 1900s, those of Tinkers, Evers, Chance, and “Three Finger” Brown, but the 1914 version still finished two games above .500.

Hooray!

Rolla played in just 10 more games for the Cardinals in 1915, and the left-handed batting utility infielder had his troubles with another lefty, Hippo Vaughn. Perhaps the coolest thing about Rolla’s experience in the big leagues is that he hit against King Lear and went 0-for-3.2  If it’s any solace to Rolla, which being deceased some forty years now it’s doubtful, 1915 was also the debut of Rogers Hornsby at shortstop. Their paths never crossed, not on the Major League diamond anyway, as Rolla’s last game was on April 23rd and Hornsby didn’t debut until September 10th. Hornsby would soon go on to become arguably the greatest second baseman in baseball history, and by all accounts, Hornsby being the thorny personality that he was, perhaps it was a good thing they never met. Still. Small world we live in. Rolla never made it back to the big leagues, settling instead with the Bloomington Bloomers during the 1916-17 seasons before enlisting in 1918 for service during World War I.

Cliff Daringer

Cliff played but one season, in 1914, but his history is just as rich as his brother Rolla’s. In fact, Cliff played his one season with the Kansas City Packers of the Federal League, a renegade league established to challenge the NL and AL as another major league. That it didn’t succeed is in no small part due to the outbreak of war in 1914 and a world-wide recession that affected all sectors of business, but the Federal League hired away legitimate players at higher salaries than their more established brethren. All in all, five future Hall of Famers made stints in the Federal League: Joe Tinker, Edd Roush, Eddie Plank, Mordecai Brown, and Chief Bender. Roush was the only one of that group that was in the flower of his youth, playing his first full professional season at the age of 21 with the Indianapolis Hoosiers in 1914 (he played nine games with the Chicago White Sox in ’13), so if there’s one thing to take from this is that the Federal League did employ quality ballplayers.

Chicago_Examiner_Vol_14_no_41 (2)

Chicago Examiner, April 12, 1914 – Federal League Managers

In his one season, Cliff batted .263/.322/.288, driving in 16 while swiping nine bags. In his debut, Cliff went 2-for-2 against the Hoosier’s George Kaiserling. If you’re wondering, Roush went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI. For the season, Cliff had 10 multi-hit games and five games with 2 RBIs. Cliff also happened to appear in the first game ever played at Weegham Park against the Tinker led Chicago Whales. You’d probably best recognize Weegham Park by its current name of Wrigley Field. In that game, Cliff started at shortstop and went 0-for-3 at the plate, but he did have five assists in the field without an error. The Whales won that game 9-1 as catcher Art Wilson hit two home runs and drove in three.

The Federal league folded after 1915, though it seems like Cliff had lost interest in playing professional baseball after his one season. He certainly was good enough to continue playing, but he was 29 in his rookie season, so perhaps he decided to make his fortune elsewhere. He married Alice Feeney in 1914, and by 1917 he was living in Sacramento where he remained until his death in 1971. Though the Federal League lasted but two years, it certainly affected baseball in other ways. Once more, here’s Bill James:

But while the Federal League did not survive, it changed everything. The Federal League sent salaries sky-rocketing. The salary rocket forced the breakup of the best team in baseball, the Philadelphia Athletics, whose players were sold off. The salaries forced Jack Dunn, owner/manager of the minor league Baltimore Orioles, to put his 19-year-old star pitcher, Babe Ruth, up for sale (otherwise Ruth would have spent several years, perhaps even a decade, in Baltimore.)

Not that it mattered after the fact, but here’s another bit of information about the Federal League I found fascinating. According to Zack Hample in The Baseball: Stunts, Scandals, and Secrets Beneath the Stitches, in 1914, the ball was probably juiced:

The Federal League played the first of its two major league seasons and used the Victor ball. The American League hit 148 home runs, the National League 267, and the Federal League 295—so people suspected that the Victor ball (which was made by a company owned by Spalding) was extra lively. …Later in the [1916] season, Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss disassembled a Victor ball and discovered that it had a two-ounce rubber core. (This was twice the legal limit, but because the Federal League had folded a year earlier, nothing could be done about it.)

Paul Derringer

Paul Derringer enjoyed the most success out of all the men, winning 223 career games and making the All Star game six times. He also came in third and fourth for the NL MVP award in 1939 and 1940. I won’t go too much into Derringer’s personal demons during his life (there’s a great article here if you care to read), but Derringer was the staff ace on the Cincinnati Reds teams in 1939-40 that won the NL pennant and he won one World Series title in ’40 against the Detroit Tigers, and he won Game 7 in that series against Bobo Newsom.

While Cliff played in the first game ever in what would become Wrigley, Derringer pitched in the first night game ever in Major League history on May 24, 1935. He won that game 2-1 against the Philadelphia Phillies and starter Joe Bowman. Derringer pitched a complete game, allowing one earned run on six hits while striking out three. As was typical of the man nicknamed the “Control King,” at least on the diamond, he didn’t allow a single walk, and for his career he only walked 761 in 3,645 innings. That comes out to a 1.9 BB/9, and for pitchers that have thrown more than 3,000 career innings Derringer ranks 18th all time, just behind Lew Burdette and tied with David Wells.

The Curious Case of Hayden

Before concluding this trip down memory lane, I’d like to make note that Hayden, IN was something of a professional hotbed in the early 20th century. According to the Jennings County, IN Historical Society, no fewer than eight men from Hayden went on to play professional baseball: Mike Simon; Ray Ryan; Howard, Cliff, and Rolla Daringer; Walter More; Forrest More; George More; and Arnold Marshall. Simon, who was a rookie on the 1909 Pittsburgh team that won the World Series against the Tigers and Ty Cobb, and Rolla Daringer were the only two to play in either the AL or NL.

Simon was a backup catcher that played on a team with future Hall inductees Vic Willis, Honus Wagner, and Fred Clarke, and he played against future Hall of Famers Cobb and Sam Crawford. If there was such a thing as MVP in 1909, Simon likely would have played against the AL’s recipient in Cobb and with the NL’s in Wagner.

Simon also played on the 1916 Bloomington squad that employed Rolla and Howard, and he played on the same 1906 Peoria team as Howard.

Summary

Certainly there is more to these men’s lives that what is recounted briefly here. There were marriages and children, joys and sorrows, and plenty of baseball. Always, it seemed, there was baseball with the Daringers. This was in no way meant to be a full recounting of their stories, but here in brief was just an introduction. I hope to add more. There without a doubt will be more with additional research, chance newspaper clippings, a photo from somewhere or a relation confirmed.

I look forward to learning more.

  1. Lorenzo served in the 6th Indiana Infantry during the Civil War and was wounded three times: once at Peachtree Creek, Georgia; once at Stones River, Tennessee; and finally at Simpson Ridge, Tennessee. Lorenzo died in 1892, and Margaret passed in 1940.
  2. How did I not know Lear played professional baseball?  Only my favorite Shakespeare play, and here he was in America in 1915.

4 comments

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  1. Rodger Ruddick

    I found your article very interesting but with good reason. I’m one of the directors of the Hayden Historical Museum in Hayden, Indiana. We have a nice exhibit about all of the pro baseball players from our little town and have corresponded with the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. They confirmed that, to their knowledge, no other town in the USA as small as Hayden has had as many boys make it to pro baseball.

  2. Scott Bline

    This article was one of the more interesting and fun ones I’ve done. Hopefully I didn’t leave too much out or completely flub some of the facts. I looked through the provided URL but I didn’t see the exhibit. You wouldn’t happen to have that online would you? Curiously enough, I was out relatively close to Hayden a few months back when I was over in New Albany. Too many memories of Boo Berry and Saturday morning cartoons at my grandmas as a kid we’re going through my head to think of anything else, though.

    Thanks for the comment! I’d love to hear about the town’s history some more.

  3. Ed Banta

    Howard Darringer is my great grandfather. Do you have any pictures of Howard or his brothers that you might be able to send or publish?

    1. Scott Bline

      Let me check. I thought my brother-in-law had sent me some, but I can’t seem to find them at the moment.

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