Obituaries

Carl Scheib, 91, youngest player in American League history

NEW YORK — In the summer of 1942, Carl Scheib was working on his family’s farm in Pennsylvania and anticipating another year in high school.

At age 15, he didn’t have a car, but he did possess a nifty fastball and curve, pitching for his high school baseball team.

He had never seen a major league game, but even if he had ventured to Philadelphia to watch the Athletics or the Phillies play, there wasn’t a lot to look at. Both teams had been in the doldrums for years, and baseball was beginning to lose ballplayers to military service in World War II.

Advertisement

Opportunity beckoned.

Get Metro Headlines in your inbox:
The 10 top local news stories from metro Boston and around New England delivered daily.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

A salesman in his hometown of Gratz happened to work as a part-time scout for the A’s, and on his recommendation the team invited Carl to a workout at Shibe Park. Connie Mack, the A’s manager, was impressed enough to ask him to come back the following summer.

Mr. Scheib dropped out of school for good in the spring of 1943 and became a batting-practice pitcher for the A’s.

“I hate to say it, but being born and raised in Gratz, where you worked on farms, we didn’t know about big league baseball,” Mr. Scheib once told The Patriot-News of Harrisburg. “I thought they were crazy to pay you to play ball.”

He made his major league debut on Sept. 6, 1943, relieving against the New York Yankees in the ninth inning of an 11-4 loss. He was 16 years, 8 months, and 5 days old. In all, he got into six games that year, all in relief.

Advertisement

He pitched for the A’s in all or parts of 11 seasons, but when he died on March 24 in San Antonio at 91, Mr. Scheib was most remembered for having been the youngest player in American League history.

In fact, he was the youngest in all of modern Major League Baseball history when he pitched his first game for the A’s. But that distinction was erased when Joe Nuxhall pitched one-third of an inning for the National League’s Cincinnati Reds in his major league debut on June 10, 1944, at the age of 15 years, 316 days. (Nuxhall went on to a long major league career, mostly with the Reds.)

Mr. Scheib, a right-hander, 6 feet 1 inches and 190 pounds, became a mainstay of the A’s pitching staff as a starter and reliever and won 45 games for teams that were usually mediocre or worse.

His best season came in 1948, when he went 14-8 with a 3.94 earned run average and 15 complete games for an A’s team that finished with an 84-70 record, the franchise’s best mark in his years with them. He also batted .298 that year, hit a pair of home runs along with eight doubles and three triples, and drove in 21 runs in 104 at-bats.

Mr. Scheib starred as a pitcher and outfielder for Gratz High School before making that barely imaginable leap to the major leagues. He recalled that when he joined the Athletics, neither his teammates nor his coaches supplied advice.

Advertisement

“I was a shy, bashful kid,” he told Jim Sargent in an interview for the Society for American Baseball Research more than 60 years later. “My parents drove me down and dropped me off in the big city of Philadelphia, and, hey, it was rough. I had to find a restaurant to eat. I didn’t even know how to read a menu. I had never been 50 miles from home. The Great Depression was just getting over, and our family never had the money to go anywhere or do anything.”

‘We didn’t know about big league baseball. I thought they were crazy to pay you to play ball.’

Mr. Scheib pitched in 15 games for the Athletics in 1944 and in four games for them in 1945, all in relief, before being drafted into the Army that May. He pitched for an Army ballclub that won the GI “World Series” of occupied Germany in September 1946, then returned to the A’s in 1947.

Mr. Scheib saved 11 games in 1951 and posted an 11-7 record in 1952. After developing arm problems, he was sent to the St. Louis Cardinals early in May 1954.

He pitched in three games for them before his major league career ended at age 27.

Mr. Scheib returned to Gratz in 2005 for a ceremony in which the community ballpark where he once pitched was renamed for him and a bronze plaque with his likeness was dedicated. The small-town boy who had gone so far was awed by the tribute.

“Nobody knows what a man feels like when they put a monument up for him,” Mr. Scheib said. “I love this town, and I love the people in it.”