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Thursday, November 17, 2016

The "Cubbies Hero From Pennsylvania Dutchland" Story

Plaque in Galtfelter Field.  Click to enlarge.
It was an ordinary day.  Grandson's final game of the fall baseball season and Carol and I made the trip to nearby Galtfelter Field in Columbia, PA to support Caden and his team members.  As we left the game after the final out, I noticed a monument near the ball field and walked toward it to see what it might contain.  On the granite stone was what appeared to be a bronze plaque bearing the photo of Jimmy Sheckard.  Stone and plaque were dedicated May 4, 2013 as an inspiration to the youth of Columbia, PA.  Samuel James Tilden Sheckard, Jimmy to everyone, was born nearby in Chanceford, York County, PA on November 23, 1878.  Ten years later the Sheckards moved across the mighty Susquehanna River to Columbia where Jimmy learned how to play baseball.  
Early card with Jimmy's name spelled wrong.
He learned so well that when he was called upon, six years later, to fill in for an injured player on his team, he hit a triple.  In 1896 he began his professional career when he played outfield for four minor-league clubs, appearing in a combined 76 games and batting .310.  The following year he moved to shortstop and led the New England League with a .373 batting average and 53 stolen bases.  The change to shortstop didn't work though, since he committed 19 errors in 11 games at that position before switching back to the outfield.  Then in 1898, he ended up in Brooklyn where he batted .277 before being sent to the Baltimore Orioles where he played for John McGraw.  
Jimmy's Chicago Cub Baseball Card.
Then in 1905 he was traded to the Chicago Cubs for four players and $2,000.  The trade tilted the balance of power in the National League from the New York Giants to the Chicago Cubs.  In 1906 the Cubs, lead by Jimmy, played in the World Series for the first time as the Cubs.  As the Chicago White Stockings, the team played in the World Series twice in the mid-1880s, but never winning it.  They lost the 1906 World Series, but won the Fall Classic in 1907 and 1908.  Sheckard was the left-fielder in all those games.  He was one of the few men of Pennsylvania Dutch heritage to play in the major leagues.  According to the plaque, famous sportswriter Ring Lardner said: "Jimmy Sheckard is the greatest ball player in the world."  
Neat pin featuring Jimmy.
Legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice said, "Jimmy Sheckard deserves a place among the game's greatest outfielders."  Jimmy was called the finest defensive left fielder of his era and an outstanding all-around player known for his speed, arm, and heads-up style of team play.  His stats show: He reached base 3,311 time, led the National League 18 times in 12 different offensive and defensive categories: Home Runs (1903), Stolen Bases (1899, 1903), Outfield Assists (1903, 1911, 1912), Outfield Double Plays (1899, 1911), Walks (1911, 1912), Sacrifices (1906, 1909), On-Base Pct. (1911), Runs (1911), Triples (1901), Putouts (1902), Fielding Avg. (1906), and Slugging Avg. (1901).  He also had or played in: 2,122 Games, 2,084 Hits, 1,135 Walks, .375 On-Base Pct., .274 Avg., 1,296 Runs, 465 Stolen Bases, 4,203 Outfield Putouts, 80 Outfield Double Plays, 136 Triples, and Stole Home 18 Times.  
Rounding third and heading home.
With all his records and superlative statistics, he never made it into the Baseball Hall Of Fame.  He ended his career playing for the St. Louis/Cincinnati teams in 1913.  What a great influence he must have been to all who knew him.  After retiring at age 34,  he moved back to Columbia where he spent some time in the U.S. Navy as the Great Lakes Naval Training Station athletic director during WWI as well as helping coach the Cubs for a few years.  In 1929 he lost everything in the stock market crash and ended up working at a job hauling giant milk containers for farmers around Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  He eventually got a job at a gas station near Lancaster's minor league baseball ballpark, Stumpf Field.  He served as baseball coach at Franklin & Marshall College and managed the Lancaster Red Roses for a season at Stumpf Field.
Old uniform for Chicago.
He did turn down an offer from Connie Mack to manage the Philadelphia A's farm team in the Eastern Shore League.  Then in January of 1947, while walking to his job at the gas station near Stumpf Field, he was hit by a car from behind and died three days later at he age of 68.  He was buried in a cemetery in Columbia, PA with a headstone that doesn't even mention his time as a major league baseball player.  For years and years he played on the Cubs team that had won only two World Series in their lifetime.  Recently the Cubbies once again won the Fall Classic and the baseball world is alive with stories from the past.  This is my contribution to those stories.  A young boy in love with the sport of baseball who makes it big and ends up winning the World Series two years in a row.  And finally, after all those years, the town of Columbia saw fit to place a plaque on a monument in honor of one of their favorite sons.  A true hometown hero. Glad I stopped to read that plaque after watching my grandson beat the hometown team.  Well done, Columbia.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.  

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