By Glen Sparks
Unless you follow Canadian baseball history, or you’re a long-time Cleveland Indians fan, you might not know much about Jack Graney of St. Thomas, Ont.
Fair disclosure: I am neither Canadian nor a die-hard Indians supporter. But, I did click on Graney’s name this afternoon on the Today in Baseball History web site. I’m glad I did. Just a few clicks later, I had found a life story worth reading about.
But first, are you familiar with Today in Baseball History? The site offers a summary of baseball goings-on for any particular date, in-season and off-season, Jan. 1- Dec. 31. Just fill in a date and select “Historical Baseball Events,” “Baseball Birthdays” and “Baseball Deaths.”
For instance, if you fill in “Sept 10, ALL YEARS” (or, you can fill in a specific year), you’ll find out that, among other things, Ted Kluszewski was born on that date (1924), Shano Collins died (1955), and Joe DiMaggio hit three home runs at Griffith Stadium (1950).
Anyway, back to Jack Graney, born June 10, 1886. I clicked on his name and saw that he played several seasons for the Cleveland Naps/Indians (1908-22). He only batted .250, but he did have a .354 on-base percentage. He even pitched a few innings.
So, I went to a few other web sites, including Baseball-Reference.com and SABR.org, in search of more information about Graney, his life and career. What an interesting guy. To wit:
- In 1908, he took part in the first tour of Asia by Major League ballplayers.
- Graney stepped into the batter’s box on July 11, 1914, for Cleveland. He looked to the pitcher’s mound. About to go into his wind-up was 19-year-old Babe Ruth. Graney was the first hitter the Babe ever faced. He got a hit.
- Graney came up to bat on June 26, 1916. The Indians had decided to wear uniform numbers on their sleeves that year. Graney, a lead-off hitter, was the first batter to bat in a Major League game while wearing a uniform number. (Graney wore No. 1, corresponding to his position in the batting order. Cleveland discontinued this innovation after just one season.)
- Following his retirement, Graney became the first former player to enter the broadcast booth. He called Indians game from 1932-53. Later, he broadcast games for the Cleveland Barons of the American Hockey League. (I’m guessing that Graney was the first former ballplayer to call minor league hockey games.)
I thought that Graney might also have been the first Canadian to play in the Major Leagues. I was way off on that one. Baseball has a long and rich tradition in Canada. Apparently, the first Canadian to play in the Majors was Bill Phillips of St. John’s, New Brunswick. Phillips made his debut May 1, 1879, for the Cleveland Blues, a now-defunct National League team. He’ll be the subject of a future post.
Graney’s parents hailed from Buffalo, N.Y. James Graney worked for a rail line and was a big baseball fan. Young Jack starred in both baseball and hockey as a boy. A former National League umpire saw him throw a semi-pro game and recommended him to a scout. From there, the 5-foot-10-inch right-hander went off to the minor leagues.
He only pitched in two games and for 3 1/3 innings for Cleveland. Graney made his mark in baseball as spray hitter with a good eye at the plate. He led the league in walks two times. In 1919, he only batted .234, but thanks to 105 free passes, he had an impressive on-base percentage of .380.
Graney never hit better than .269 in any full season. He did lead the league in double in 1916 with 41, and he stole more than 20 bases three times. But, he was best known for working the count. Some players called him “Three-and-two Jack.”
Following his playing career and broadcasting stint, Graney, along with his wife, moved to Bowling Green, Mo. He died April 20, 1978, at the age of 91. “Three-and-two Jack” was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984, one year after the Hall was founded in St. Mary’s, Ont., less than an hour from Graney’s boyhood hometown.